Tube Preamp Reviews

Sort By: Post DateTitle Publish Date
Dick Olsher  |  Jul 05, 2017  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1992  |  0 comments
Better known for their speaker cables and interconnects, The Absolute Reference Audio Labs (TARA Labs) has quietly branched out into electronics and loudspeakers. Their Passage is a line-level–only preamp. I actually favor such a modular approach to preamp design. Standing as we are at the dawn of the digital audio age, the breakup of the traditional preamp into separate phono and line-level stages represents a more flexible, cost-effective design approach.
Jack English  |  Jul 29, 2007  |  First Published: May 29, 1992  |  0 comments
Conrad-Johnson launched the all-tube Premier 7 in 1988 as an all-out sonic assault on the state of the preamplifier art. A great deal has happened since then. For starters, C-J has gotten a great deal of feedback from customers, dealers, and reviewers. None other than J. Gordon Holt (Stereophile, November 1988, Vol.11 No.11) concluded that: "It appears that nothing which could possibly have improved its sound had been omitted....It is, in fact, about as close as any tubed preamp has come to being perfectly neutral in sound—in nearly all respects." In the now-defunct Sounds Like... (issue 3), Sam Burstein concluded that "It is, with certain reservations, absolutely delightful to one's musical senses." And, speaking of absolutes, even Harry Pearson gave the Premier 7 a rave in the first round of his preamplifier survey (TAS, issue 58). As icing on the cake, John Atkinson (Stereophile, Vol.12 No.8) concluded that the 7 had "the requisite degree of sonic magic to make it a Class A recommended preamplifier."
Robert Deutsch  |  Dec 27, 2011  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1991  |  3 comments
I must admit that, for a long time, I found it difficult to accept the idea that a major portion of one's audio budget should be spent on the preamplifier. Speakers, yes—they produce the sound; amps drive the speakers, so they're important. And source components? Well, everyone knows it's garbage in/garbage out. But a preamp? Even the name suggests something that's not quite the real thing, like pre-school, pre-med, or premature. Unlike amplifiers, they don't have to contend with loads that sometimes approach a short circuit, and heat dissipation is not normally a problem. What's the big deal?
Dick Olsher  |  Oct 30, 2005  |  First Published: Nov 30, 1990  |  0 comments
A "CD processor," is how I distinctly heard Cary Audio's Dennis Had describe it. The venue was Stereophile's High End Hi-Fi Show in New York last April. Nothing really unusual in today's digital marketplace, I thought to myself, though a bit out of character for a company dedicated to vacuum-tube technology. But wait a minute. Dennis had described it as an analog CD processor. Analog!? Well, yes, the unit processes the analog signal from a CD player.
Guy Lemcoe  |  Nov 29, 2010  |  First Published: Jun 15, 1990  |  0 comments
The name "Audio Research" will be familiar to many readers of this magazine. It belongs on the list of that select group of manufacturers who continue to offer the audiophile and music lover equipment which enables him or her to truly enjoy the muse. With equipment of this caliber, one is no longer caught up in the anxiety-inducing process of listening to (evaluating) the equipment used in the presentation of the music. Instead, the listener can focus attention on the much more important message uncovered in the music via the performance and conveyed through the network of transducers, cables, tubes or FETs, more cables, more tubes or FETs, and more transducers, to the brain. If this process has been successful and our sensitivities heightened, our souls will be touched.
John Atkinson  |  Jun 16, 2008  |  First Published: May 16, 1989  |  0 comments
As I write, it is garage-sale season here again in Santa Fe, and a recent sign near my home advertised "Over 3000 LPs, good condition, low prices." To my surprise, the seller wasn't a yuppie enamored of his new CD player but a true collector discarding the duplicates and dogs from his collection. 30 minutes later, many LPs heavier—including a mint Flanders & Swan At the Drop of a Hat (footnote 1)—and not too many dollars lighter, I returned to a great night's listening courtesy of the black vinyl disc.
Dick Olsher  |  May 06, 2015  |  First Published: May 01, 1989  |  0 comments
The Lazarus, a slim, quite elegant unit finished in black with red and gray legends, lived up to its advance billing: it literally rose from the dead! Out of its coffin (ie, shipping box) and plugged into the wall, it showed no signs of life. Troubleshooting revealed a blown AC mains fuse. That in itself was not a major problem, but what worried me was the root cause of the trouble. Preamplifiers as a rule are not power-hungry, so a current surge at turn-on sufficient to destroy the 250mA slow-blow mains fuse appeared symptomatic of a major circuitry failure.
J. Gordon Holt  |  Jul 02, 2008  |  First Published: Nov 02, 1988  |  1 comments
Whenever an audio high-ender thinks about tubes, he usually thinks about Audio Research. This is only natural, because Audio Research Corporation was almost single-handedly responsible for saving tubes from oblivion in the early '70s when everyone else switched to solid-state. But ARC was soon joined in its heroic endeavor by an upstart company called Conrad-Johnson, which entered the fray in 1977 with its PV-1 preamp, priced at an affordable (even then) $500.
John Atkinson  |  Dec 05, 2008  |  First Published: Oct 05, 1988  |  0 comments
If I had to pick one amplifier designer as having had the greatest continuing influence on the high-end market, as much as I admire John Curl, Audio Research's Bill Johnson, and Krell's Dan D'Agostino, the name of David Hafler inexorably springs to mind. Not because he challenged the very frontiers of hi-fi sound, but because he combined a fertile, creative mind (footnote 1) with a need to bring good sound to as wide an audience as possible, both by making his products relatively inexpensive and by making them available as kits. (The Major Armstrong Foundation apparently agrees with me—they presented David with their "Man of High Fidelity" award at the summer 1988 CES.) It remains to be seen if the Hafler company will continue in this tradition, now that David has sold it to Rockford-Fosgate. But there is no doubt that many audiophiles were first made aware of the possibilities of high-end sound by Hafler products in the late '70s, and by Dynaco in the '60s.
J. Gordon Holt, Various  |  Nov 29, 1995  |  First Published: Nov 29, 1987  |  0 comments
Following the introduction of their very expensive, tube/FET hybrid SP11 preamplifier, there were rumors that Audio Research was working on a hybrid tube/transistor preamplifier targeted to cost less than $2000. The rumors were confirmed when ARC showed a black-and-white photo of the SP9 at the 1987 Winter CES. Obviously, like all magazines, we were impatient to receive a review sample, but the first review of the SP9 actually appeared in the summer '87 issue of Peter Moncrieff's IAR Hotline. Peter's review was almost intemperately enthusiastic, comparing the SP9 positively with early samples of the SP11 and suggesting that its sound quality was considerably better than would be expected from its $1695 asking price. Naturally, we were anticipating good things when our review sample arrived in Santa Fe in late July.
Anthony H. Cordesman, Various  |  Nov 10, 1996  |  First Published: Nov 10, 1986  |  1 comments
It takes more than passing courage to make another assault on building the world's best tube preamplifier. You face stiff competition from well-established firms like Audio Research, Conrad Johnson, and Counterpoint. Such units can't be made inexpensively, and you face the steadily growing problem of tube supply: it is getting harder and harder to get tubes that are stable, have predictable sound and performance characteristics, and are long-lived. And you have to show audiophiles who have been burned before that you will still be around when they need service.
Anthony H. Cordesman, J. Gordon Holt  |  Jun 10, 1995  |  First Published: Jun 10, 1986  |  0 comments
If there is indeed a renaissance of tubes in high-end audio—and it is clear there is—much of the blame lies with Audio Research Corporation.
Steven W. Watkinson  |  Jun 05, 2018  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1984  |  1 comments
In appearance Conrad-Johnson's PV4 is distinctly plain: a basic black and silver box with a few simple knobs and buttons. The controls are logically laid out, clearly labeled, and work properly. The two channels track well through the volume control, maintaining balance; pushbuttons and control knobs have a smooth, solid feel (except for the noises audible through the system when switching inputs). Don't forget the turn-on and turn-off thumps mentioned above; the PV4 is the only one of the preamps I review in this issue—the others are the Audible Illusions Modulus ($450) and the Counterpoint SA-7 ($595)—that lacks a mute switch.
Steven W. Watkinson  |  Jun 28, 2018  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1984  |  23 comments
Once upon a time, all audio equipment used vacuum tubes. In recent years, however, tubes have become the exclusive province of super high-end audio. It is more expensive to accomplish any particular task with tubes than with transistors, and few manufacturers (with the exception of Conrad-Johnson) seemed willing until now to refine their techniques and pare back their budgets to make tube components more affordable.
Steven W. Watkinson  |  Apr 10, 2018  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1984  |  5 comments
In appearance the Counterpoint SA-7 tube preamplifier is quite attractive, possessing the thin, low-profile look currently in vogue. There is a mute switch which (if you remember to use it) protects your amplifier from the preamp's turn-on and turn-off thumps. Unfortunately, the volume control on my unit didn't track accurately, and it was necessary to adjust balance with each change in volume. One unusual feature: the balance control allows very fine gradations in balance adjustment (a large movement of the control results in a small change in balance).

Pages

X