Tube Preamp Reviews

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J. Gordon Holt  |  Dec 22, 1998  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1971  |  0 comments
We thought Audo Research's previous-model SP-2C (footnote 1) was excellent, but this is even better—the closest thing available, in fact, to the ideal straight wire with gain. Our sample had a minor glitch—there was a slight "plop" if you rotated the tone controls rapidly—but we could find nothing else about it to criticize. Currently, by far the best preamplifier than money can buy. And would you believe it uses tubes (at reduced heater voltage, for extended life and cooler operation)!
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.
Robert J. Reina  |  Jun 02, 2014  |  0 comments
When I began my journey into audiophilia, I was in awe of the Audio Research Corporation's flagship SP preamplifiers. As I sat there in the early 1980s with my modest Apt Holman preamp, all of my friends had ARC SP6Bs. By today's standards, the SP6B was colored, did not portray a realistic soundstage, and lacked sufficient gain to amplify the low-output moving-coil cartridges of the day. But it had an intimacy in the midrange that was intoxicating. (Still considered a classic design by many, the SP6B's price on the used market has remained virtually unchanged for 30 years.) Then, still in the early '80s, ARC raised the bar with the SP-10 ($3700). It had 15 tubes and an outboard power supply, and set a new standard for delicacy, drama, and authority. (John Atkinson still has the SP10 he bought in 1984.)
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.
Robert Deutsch  |  Aug 17, 2003  |  0 comments
For those who frequent the audio discussion groups on the Internet, the method by which Stereophile selects products for review seems to be a continuing source of fascination and conjecture. Supporters of fledgling manufacturers—whose products these Webcrawlers just happen to own—rail against the rule that products to be reviewed in the magazine must have at least five US dealers. Some suggest that Stereophile's selection of review products is all about catering to advertisers and friends in the industry, a process that seems intended to exclude their favorite products from consideration.
Robert J. Reina  |  Jul 25, 2009  |  0 comments
We audio writers have our niches. Mikey loves analog, Artie likes to play with horn speakers and assorted oddball British kit, and I really enjoy reviewing affordable speakers. There's something exciting about hearing the fruits of the labors of a creative designer who's applied his talents to meet a stringent price point and created a speaker that can entice into our hobby the financially challenged music lover.
Art Dudley  |  Aug 18, 2007  |  0 comments
I'm not sure what motivated me to read the owner's manual for the Audio Valve Eclipse, but I'm glad I did: As it turns out, this line-level preamplifier has at least one distinctive feature that I would have missed otherwise.
Michael Fremer  |  Nov 29, 2018  |  0 comments
The digital ground seems to shift weekly. While firmware and software updates over the Internet somewhat slow the constant upheaval, when you do buy something, you just know that as soon as you plunk down your cash, something new will come along.

So, especially with preamplifiers, why not produce a design based on modules that the user can swap in and out, to custom-configure the preamp to that user's current needs while leaving room for later expansion? Why pay for six inputs' worth of stuff when at present you need only two? Upgrades? New features? No problem—swap out a module. Or, if a circuit in one module malfunctions, you can send only that module back for repairs, not the whole thing.

Fred Kaplan  |  Dec 30, 2015  |  2 comments
A quarter-century ago, when we were just getting into wine, my wife and I took a trip to Napa Valley. At one premium vineyard, we took a taste from the $20 bottle, then, for the hell of it, a taste from the $50 bottle. The first taste was nice; the second was alarming—an explosion of flavors, a gateway to sensory delights that we hadn't known could be had from a barrel of crushed grapes. We wobbled away, concerned that high-end wine might be a dangerous hobby.
Michael Fremer  |  Feb 23, 2008  |  0 comments
If any single link in the audio chain should be free of sonic personality, it's the preamplifier. Though a preamplifier's basic job description is "source selector with volume control," from hi-fi's earliest days preamps have been the designated dashboard: the more dials, switches, and lights, the better. All that control came at the cost of quiet, transparency, and tonal neutrality. Still, the quixotic quest for the mythical "straight wire with gain" continued to lead to minimalist designs, including impractical unbuffered "passive" preamps, in which cable length, thus capacitance, affected frequency response.
Robert Deutsch  |  Nov 26, 2005  |  0 comments
It's been 10 years since Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) introduced their first products: the VK-5 line-stage preamplifier and the VK-60 power amplifier. (I reviewed both in the December 1995 Stereophile, Vol.18 No.12.) The success of these and other BAT products has allowed designer Victor Khomenko (the "VK" of the model designations) and partner Steve Bednarski to quit their day jobs at Hewlett-Packard; they were joined by Geoff Poor as a partner to handle the sales end of the enterprise. BAT's current lineup includes several preamps, phono stages, a CD player, and tube as well as solid-state amplifiers. The top of BAT's preamp range is the VK-51SE, which costs $9000; their top tube power amp is the VK-150SE monoblock ($17,000/pair); if you want their best phono stage, the VK-P10 will set you back $8000.
Robert Deutsch  |  Dec 02, 1995  |  0 comments
How important is the use of balanced circuit typology in the design of preamplifiers and power amplifiers? Ask the top audio designers (I didn't, but just play along, okay?) and you'll get a wide variety of opinions. Some reject the balanced approach outright, arguing that it represents a needless duplication of circuit components, and that better results can be achieved if the same attention and resources are devoted to perfecting a single-ended circuit. In his provocatively titled article "Balance: Benefit or Bluff?" (Stereophile, November 1994, p.77), Martin Colloms questioned the advantages of balanced designs, suggesting that while the results may be better in certain respects (eg, noise level), the reproduced sound may suffer in other, perhaps more important ways (eg, rhythm and dynamics).
Jonathan Scull  |  Jun 06, 2004  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1999  |  0 comments
I suppose that most high-end designers dream about making a Statement Product—their best effort, without regard for price. Victor Khomenko, majordomo of Balanced Audio Technology, got the bug and came up with the VK-50SE. This hugely full-functioned line-stage preamp derives its Special Edition (SE) moniker from the eight hot-running, super-hush-hush Russian 6H30 Reflector SuperTubes that populate the circuit board.
Paul Bolin  |  Dec 07, 2003  |  First Published: Nov 01, 2003  |  0 comments
Rudyard Kipling said that "never the twain shall meet." He was speaking of East and West, but in the world of audio, his adage has most often been applied to what has been the traditional chasm between the sounds of tubes and solid-state. Tube advocates thump the tub for the timbral and spatial glow, the absence of harsh, odd-order harmonic distortions, the harmonic completeness and holistic spatiality that only fire bottles can provide. Solid-state advocates point out the superiority of their preferred gear in terms of bass depth, power and control, low noise, and ultimate detail resolution. That chasm between the characteristic sounds of tube and transistor has narrowed appreciably in the latest generations of gear, as each type of circuit has become capable of embodying some of the other's trademark characteristics. But between the camps, friendly competition continues.
J. Gordon Holt  |  May 30, 1995  |  First Published: May 30, 1979  |  0 comments
Several issues back, we reviewed rather enthusiastically a pre-production prototype of this preamp. The original was an unprepossessing-looking device on two chassis, interconnected by a 3' umbilical, with a squat little preamp box and an even squatter power supply with humongous cans sticking out the top. We averred that it sounded nice. The production model is so nicely styled and functionally smooth that we wondered if it might not be another Japanese product. 'T'ain't.

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