Solid State Preamp Reviews

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Jim Austin  |  May 17, 2019  |  59 comments
For those who listen with their ears and not their brain, perfectionist hi-fi offers many surprises.

A friend called me up a few weeks ago and asked if the DAC we both own had received an automatic firmware update he hadn't heard about; something had changed, it wasn't good, and he couldn't figure out what it was. His system's sound was suddenly pale and unfocused.

There had been no firmware update.

Robert Harley  |  May 16, 2019  |  First Published: Apr 01, 1994  |  0 comments
Thomas R. Marshall's famous phrase, "What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar," should be modified for the 1990s to be "What this world needs is a good $1500 preamplifier."

It's hard to find a good full-function preamp (ie, one that includes a phono stage) at a reasonable price these days. There are plenty of great preamps on the market, but they tend to be expensive or line-stage only—or expensive line stages. Moreover, many manufacturers are omitting phono stages altogether, on the assumption that people don't listen to LPs anymore.

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 29, 2019  |  0 comments
Our conservative two-channel audio world doesn't easily accept change. Not that many years ago, even remote control was considered a sign of electronic moral decay certain to degrade sound quality. Today, home theater–like operating systems, with their fluorescent-screen hells and microprocessor-controlled functionality are commonplace, even in the highest of fi. Consumers accustomed to the convenience of audio/video processors now demand it on every price tier of two-channel hi-fi, though purists who think sound quality is commensurate with inconvenience can have that if they want it.
Jim Austin  |  Mar 21, 2019  |  11 comments
Like most serious pursuers of the audio hobby, I've known about J E Sugden & Co. Ltd. for years. For many of those years, though, it was easy to forget about them, and I mostly did—until, quite recently, Sugden gear began popping up at audio shows, including the 2016 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. In his report on that show, Herb Reichert described the midrange of Sugden's A21SE Signature, a pure class-A integrated amplifier, driving DeVore Fidelity speakers, as "shroom-like" and contrasted the sound with what he called class-D's "fake cocaine." That got my attention.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Jan 10, 2019  |  0 comments
Although I no longer attend the audio pageant that was once the annual Consumer Electronics Show, I now seem to be traveling more, in hopes of recapturing the excitement CES had once provided. Last May I attended High End, in Munich, and found that while it was entirely as advertised, there was, alas, not enough emphasis on the playback of high-resolution files, and hardly any attention paid to multichannel music.
Ken Micallef  |  Dec 06, 2018  |  6 comments
In the early 1990s, the Compact Disc was all the rage, and vinyl records were being executed en masse. Thirty years later, and oh, how our tables have turned. Mint first pressings of tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley's 1957 album Hank Mobley (Blue Note BLP 1568), which once could be had for $40, now bring upward of $8000. Each. Vinyl continues to enjoy a global resurgence of popularity, while CD sales have plummeted to all-time lows.

What happened? Apparently, yesterday's pops and ticks are today's "warmth," Record Store Day exclusives, and skyrocketing vinyl values. All things old . . .

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.

John Atkinson  |  Nov 15, 2018  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1988  |  0 comments
A few issues back, in my review of the Mark Levinson No.26 and No.20 (May 1988, Vol.11 No.5), I mused on the fact that the preamplifier, being the heart of a system, had a more significant effect on sound quality in the long term than, say, the loudspeakers. It was worth spending more on a preamplifier, therefore, than on loudspeakers. Needless to say, this viewpoint was regarded by many readers as dangerously heretical. I decided, therefore, to investigate the sonic possibilities of budget-priced preamps in this issue, even the most expensive being less than one-tenth the price of the Mark Levinson.
John Atkinson  |  Nov 08, 2018  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1988  |  1 comments
By far the most complicated of the three preamps i review in this issue in terms of facilities offered, NAD's "Monitor Series" 1300 ($398) provides two buffered tape loops, an external processor loop (which can also be used as a third tape-recorder loop), a headphone output, a "null" switch, switchable bass equalization to extend the low-frequency range of small loudspeakers, and treble and bass controls, each with a choice of three turnover frequencies: 3kHz, 6kHz, 12kHz, and 50Hz, 125Hz, 250Hz, respectively.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Nov 01, 2018  |  2 comments
Sometimes, I feel I'm two people. One, a card-carrying audiophile, is always looking for ways to optimize his enjoyment of multichannel music recordings, a purist pursuit that begins with file playback and leads to DACs, amps, and speakers, while eschewing anything that can complicate or compromise the sound. Thus, while his main system may seem elaborate to outsiders, to him it seems streamlined: NAS>player>DAC>preamp>power amps>speakers. In fact, it's possible to combine the NAS and player in a single device, if that device's CPU and RAM are capable of doing all the tasks—but these product categories continue to evolve so quickly that he prefers to keep them discrete.
John Atkinson  |  Aug 09, 2018  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1988  |  4 comments
Introduced at the 1988 Summer CES, this preamplifier from San Francisco-based Parasound costs $395 and is manufactured in Taiwan. It does away with mechanical switching for source select and tape functions, replacing it with CMOS integrated-circuit switches similar to those used in the British Linn LK1 and Quad 34 and 44 models. Construction is to a good standard and the circuit is carried on two main pcbs and three small ones. Following a signal from the phono inputs, the MM-only RIAA amplifier is based on discrete FETs, its output joining the line-level signals at the switching ICs, these controlled by DC voltages controlled by front-panel pushbuttons.
Jim Austin  |  May 29, 2018  |  16 comments
In the March 2018 issue, Art Dudley admired the sound quality of Ayre Acoustics' KX-5 Twenty preamplifier, but didn't love some of its operational aspects. I've staged this Follow-Up as a putative face-off between the Ayre and my current reference preamplifier, the PS Audio BHK Signature, which I reviewed in the June 2017 issue.
Larry Greenhill  |  May 22, 2018  |  8 comments
Each equipment report in Stereophile focuses on a single audio component. When listening to a component for review, I leave unchanged all other components in my audio system. Other Stereophile reviewers experiment with different interconnects, speaker cables, power cords, or stands. As I found while reviewing Bryston's BP-173 (Cubed) preamplifier, being flexible has its rewards.

Description
My first lesson in flexibility was learning what Bryston means by "Cubed" (footnote 1). Jim Tanner, Bryston's VP of sales and marketing, explained that all their Cubed models employ an array of 12 active devices for the first 6dB of gain. Developed by the late Dr. Ioan Alexandru Salomie, this array acts as "a super-linear" input buffer to filter out audio- and radio-frequency noise, particularly anomalies that originate in the power line, reducing the overall noise and distortion to less than 0.001%.

Art Dudley  |  Feb 22, 2018  |  10 comments
The hoary question of tubes vs transistors, once certain and clear, is made ambiguous by recent products from a few solid-state specialists, not the least being Ayre Acoustics—the company that endures in the wake of the passing of its founder, the widely admired Charley Hansen. In their solid-state preamplifiers and amplifiers of the past decade in particular, Ayre has enshrined a number of technologies that are more than just variations on the audio-engineering status quo, and that appear to pay real sonic dividends.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Jan 02, 2018  |  7 comments
I have not been attending audio shows as often as I used to, and this January, for the first time in more than 20 years, I'm skipping the annual Consumer Electronics Show. My personal return on investment has become hard to justify, especially when attendance at each annual CES requires a round trip from New York City to Las Vegas, Nevada. More important, audio shows now seem focused mostly on either two-channel music playback or multichannel home theater, whereas what interests me is listening to music in surround sound.

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