Tube Preamp Reviews

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Herb Reichert  |  Jul 28, 2016  |  1 comments
Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Mary Oliver famously remarked, "attention without feeling . . . is only a report."

After nearly two years of prattling for Stereophile, I am finally grasping the full veracity of that statement. When I read reviews that jabber on about highs, mediums, and lows, and that rely exclusively on nonmusical vocabulary, I come away with feelings of acute cognitive dissonance. Not to mention: if a review has a lot of initialisms—ADD, S/PDIF, DXD, HDMI, etc.—my ADHD kicks in and I stop reading by the third paragraph.

Herb Reichert  |  Feb 21, 2019  |  26 comments
You know I'm a lucky guy. I maintain two separate audio reviewing systems.

The core component of my beloved, daily-driver desktop system is a Mytek Brooklyn DAC-preamp-headphone amp. Through this system I play high-resolution files and Internet sources (Tidal, Qobuz, Netflix, and YouTube). One of the Brooklyn's two line-level inputs delivers NPR news and baseball from my Kenwood KT-990D FM/AM tuner. I mostly use this system with headphones, but currently, the Brooklyn's line-out feeds a pair of Bel Canto Design's compact e.One REF600M monoblocks driving the shelf-mounted Dynaudio Excite X14 speakers I use to play movies and videos.

Kalman Rubinson  |  Dec 09, 1997  |  0 comments
In just a few years, Sonic Frontiers has evolved from a parts and kit vendor to a full-line audio manufacturer (footnote 1). Their initial offerings were well received, but their kit origins were apparent in the layout and cosmetics of their products. While SF still offers kits (like their high-value Assemblage DAC-2), the new line of vacuum-tube electronics has world-class construction, design, and packaging. This generation of SF equipment is evidence of their advanced evolution, even though their constructor genome can be detected in the use of audiophile-preferred, as opposed of OEM, components.
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.
Brian Damkroger  |  Oct 03, 2002  |  0 comments
I had a wonderful audio moment the other night. It was late in the evening, after a long day. I was standing in the middle of my makeshift listening room—Trish's dining room—and in spite of the fact that we were moving in just a few weeks, I'd just unpacked and set up my combo of VPI TNT Mk.V-HR turntable and tonearm with Grado Statement cartridge and dug a box of LPs out of the stacks in the garage. I cued up Dave Brubeck's Time Out (Columbia/Classic CS 8192), and the first notes of "Blue Rondo à la Turk" froze me in my tracks.
Chip Stern  |  Nov 24, 2002  |  0 comments
Over the course of several months, during which time I auditioned the Vacuum Tube Logic TL-5.5 tubed line-stage preamp with a variety of power amps and loudspeakers, I began to reassess many long-held notions about the "characters" of solid-state and tube components. Sometimes the TL-5.5 revealed its musical pedigree with all the midrange juiciness and sublime textural detail that one traditionally associates with a triode front-end, while at others it evinced a level of focus, transparency, and frequency extension I more readily associate with solid-state purity—all in a stylish package featuring a remote volume control and a full range of performance enhancements that belied its affordable price.
Paul Bolin  |  Oct 12, 2003  |  0 comments
What comes to mind when you think of VTL? If you're like most of us, enormously powerful tube power amplifiers are inseparable from the name. To contemplate VTL is to think of some of the finest-sounding, most potent amps ever built—from the late-1980s, 400Wpc Ichiban, the first massively powerful tube monoblock of the audiophile era, to the mighty Wotan and Siegfried amplifiers of today. All well and good, as far as it goes.
Robert J. Reina  |  Jun 05, 2015  |  9 comments
For me, the highlights of any audio show are finding a room with great sound and visiting it often throughout the show, to relax and absorb a wide range of great music. At the NY Audio Show in April 2012 in New York City, it was the room occupied by the Valve Amplification Company. There, I fell in love with the sound coming through the Signature Mk IIa line-stage preamplifier, and remembered that while I'd heard many VAC products at audio shows over the past two decades, and had enjoyed the sound every time, I'd never had a VAC product in my house. I requested a review sample.
Wes Phillips  |  Nov 12, 2008  |  0 comments
You know me. I'm not perzackly an audio slut, but I am easy. When Audio Advisor's Wayne Schuurman called me to pitch the Vincent KHV-1pre tube-transistor headphone amplifier, he pretty much had me at "tube" and "headphone." But I wasn't familiar with Vincent Audio.
Robert J. Reina  |  Jun 14, 2013  |  0 comments
As I've lately had the pleasure of reviewing some impressive tubed components, I asked myself why I hadn't ever reviewed anything from VTL Amplifiers. My history with VTL goes back to the 1986 Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago (wouldn't it be great if CES returned to that city?), where Vacuum Tube Logic cofounder Luke Manley and his father, the late David Manley, made a big splash with David's preamps and amplifiers. To publicize the fact that amps were designed and made in Britain, the Manleys wore the cheesiest Union Jack T-shirts I'd ever seen—the kind they sell in those cheap tourist traps in Piccadilly Circus. When I recently ribbed Luke about those shirts, he admitted that "They fell apart as soon as we returned home." I told him that I hoped his products were more rugged.
Larry Greenhill  |  Jun 24, 2007  |  0 comments
I've long admired Vacuum Tube Logic's line of amplifiers and preamplifiers. Owners Luke Manley and his wife Bea Lam routinely appear at the Consumer Electronics and Home Entertainment shows with luxurious, microprocessor-controlled tube gear, soothing new music, good-sounding rooms, and a friendly, unhurried manner. Their show setups are dialed in so well that I often find myself taking refuge there, sitting and listening for hours with other Stereophile writers.
Fred Kaplan  |  Jul 28, 2016  |  2 comments
When I first met Luke Manley, proprietor of VTL, he and his father, David, with whom he ran the company at the time, had recently emigrated from the UK to California. I asked Luke how he liked the West Coast. "Great," he replied. "Much better parts availability." This was about 30 years ago, when I was just immersing myself in high-end audio at a high-toned level. Our exchange gave me a taste of the obsessions ahead, though Luke Manley's single-mindedness through the decades since has been more dogged than many—and, at the same time, less dogmatic.
Larry Greenhill  |  Aug 26, 2007  |  First Published: Feb 26, 1995  |  0 comments
I had been sent a sample of the Woodside SC26 tube preamplifier during my June 1994 review of Woodside's MA50 monoblock amplifier (Vol.17 No.6). Although I used a number of preamplifiers during that review, I was most impressed with the MA50s' spacious, three-dimensional soundstage when driven by the SC26. At the time, I had an impression that the SC26's sonics combined a midrange richness with a good dynamic range. Although I had to return the Woodside MA50s to the importer after I reviewed them, I continued listening to the SC26.
Michael Fremer  |  Jul 22, 2011  |  0 comments
Though essentially a two-man operation based in Athens, Greece, Ypsilon Electronics has been, since 1995, turning ears and eyes throughout the audiophile world with purist, hand-crafted electronics whose sound seems to defy characterization. Even under audio-show conditions in difficult hotel rooms, and often driving unfamiliar loudspeakers, the sound of Ypsilon electronics seems to evaporate in ways that few products manage, leaving behind less residue and more music.
Robert J. Reina  |  Apr 07, 2014  |  0 comments
When Carolyn Counnas, co-founder of Zesto Audio, contacted editor John Atkinson to ask about getting the Leto, the company's tubed line stage preamplifier ($7500), reviewed in Stereophile, JA suggested that I do the job. I'd recently reviewed competing designs from Nagra and VTL (see reviews in April 2013 and June 2013, respectively) and I was thrilled—I always look forward to hearing a tube preamp from a company I'm unfamiliar with, and besides, I'd seen pictures of the drop-dead-gorgeous Leto. After nearly 30 years of reviewing all sizes and pedigrees of preamps, power amps, and integrateds, I'm weary of staring at nondescript rectangular boxes in various shades of silver and black.

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