Pre/Power Amplifiers

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Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 02, 2021
hfnoutstandingSteeped in valve lore, this iconic tube brand extends the 'voicing' of its products right down to the choice of passive components and hand-wiring. We test a stack of VAC!

With the Valve Amplification Company, aka VAC, now 30 years old, it qualifies as a stalwart of the 'third wave'. The first was, of course, the original golden age generation of Marantz, Quad, McIntosh and others of the 1940s and 1950s, while the second wave hit in the early 1970s with Audio Research, EAR and other tube revivalists. VAC arrived at the point when tubes were demonstrably here to stay, Kevin Hayes founding the company with his father in 1990. He was, and remains, resolutely focused on the high-end, as this pairing's £69,000 cost attests.

Ken Kessler  |  Mar 23, 2021  |  First Published: Jan 01, 1997
hfnvintageClassic tubes meet modern tech in the £30,000 Project T-1 monoblocks. Is this Marantz's ultimate amplifier, asks an awestruck Ken Kessler

Contemplating the Project T-1 power amplifiers from Marantz, I realise that nothing in hi-fi should surprise us any more. If, in 1990, someone had told you that, by 1997, the hi-fi community would be clamouring for single-ended triodes and horn systems, that Quad and McIntosh and Marantz would reissue their valve classics, that Mobile Fidelity would open a new LP pressing plant and that Krell and Audio Research would introduce integrated amps, you'd have had that someone committed.

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 01, 2021
hfnoutstandingThis flagship monoblock is not only more powerful but features significant design enhancements over other Class D amplifiers in the Stellar range, including a tube input...

The best of both worlds' is an oft-used rallying cry in the hi-fi industry, rolled out to extol the virtues of everything from compact loudspeakers with big bass output to digital network players with phono stage inputs. It's also the self-proclaimed raison d'être of PS Audio's Stellar M1200 monoblock amp. Sold in pairs for £6000, this recent addition to the Stellar range combines a high-power Class D output stage with Class A vacuum tube input, in pursuit of both efficient speaker-driving muscle and spine-tingling musicality.

Review: David Price, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 18, 2021
hfnoutstandingThe REF 6 replaced Audio Research's long-serving REF 5 tube preamp back in 2015 but five years of running production updates have now culminated in this 'SE' refresh

The Audio Research Corporation is a company with provenance, a truth that's instantly apparent when first setting eyes upon its new £16,998 REF 6SE line-stage preamplifier. Indeed, its history shouts out at you, from the iconic styling with shades of its 1970s SP-series preamps, to the industrial-quality construction which underlines that it's built to last. Rather like its manufacturer, in fact.

Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 08, 2021
hfnvintageWith VFETs costing top dollar and facing stiff competition from other semiconductors, the late '70s saw Yamaha unveil a new pre/power amp duo. How does it sound today?

It's always intriguing to see how a company reacts to the realisation that a technology it has championed is reaching its sell-by date. This was the situation faced by Yamaha in the late 1970s. Since the middle of that decade, its top-end products had made use of Jun-ichi Nishizawa's Static Induction Transistor – more commonly known as the VFET – to great effect. This led to the development of designs such as the B-1 and B-2 power amplifiers, and C-1 preamplifier, all of which are still held in high regard.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 17, 2020
hfncommendedWith a rich heritage in the pro audio field, US brand Bricasti is paying closer attention to the high-end consumer market with this new, dual-mono pre/power combination

Few products passing through the HFN review process elicit quite as much discussion as has this Bricasti pairing – or at least one half of it. Our initial listening results were slightly puzzling, with a sound clearly doing many things right when interposed between editor PM's dCS Vivaldi One/Melco front-end [HFN Feb '18] and Bowers & Wilkins 800 D3 speakers [HFN Oct '16], and yet our musical souls were not entirely stirred. Was this an example of unpredictable system matching? Some judicious high-end separates swapping revealed the £19,500 M25 power amp was certainly able to deliver the goods in no uncertain fashion. But did the £13,500 M20 preamp sound just a little too smooth?

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 27, 2020
hfnoutstandingIt looks like the S5 stereo power amp, both inside and out, but the Michi M8 monoblock is altogether more powerful and, as a result, offers a sound with a charm all its own

You'll have to examine the £5399 Michi M8 monoblock power amp very closely to see how it differs from the company's S5 stereo model, reviewed previously alongside the £3299 P5 preamplifier [HFN May '20]. The two are the same price and size, look identical and have much the same 'ask a friend to help' mass. In fact, the M8 weighs marginally less than the S5, at 59.1kg – the difference presumably accounted for by the need for two-channel inputs on the stereo amp whereas the mono version has only single-channel connections, on both balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA sockets.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 12, 2020
hfnoutstandingWith some sensible internal revisions, the German company has made its heavyweight preamplifier even more precise and detailed, without sacrificing any of the music's soul

You can tell a lot about a company from the title it takes for itself – from the name of the founder to classical or musical allusions to the equivalent of go-faster stripes, every brand seems to set out its stall in a somewhat different way. German manufacturer T+A elektroakustik is no exception, except here the name – the initials stand for 'Theorie und Anwendung', Theory and Application – is saying 'we're no-nonsense, and led by engineering'. Or, as the company puts it in a brief bio, 'Actually we're scientists…'.

Martin Colloms  |  Oct 16, 2020  |  First Published: Jan 01, 1982
hfnvintageTiny amp, lashings of power... Martin Colloms lifts the lid on a box of tricks

The long awaited Carver Cube power amplifier is at last available in the UK. Bob Carver, its designer, is not a particularly well known figure in the UK but most people have heard of Phase Linear, which was founded by him, and he also designed its range of products. His special interest has been in high-power amplifiers, with the 400 B and 700 B Phase Linear models now audio legends.

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 05, 2020
hfncommendedWith remarkable power on tap, and very little lost to heat, Emotiva's XPA HC-1 monoblock promises exceptional performance-per-pound. Is it the bargain it seems?

American brand Emotiva's mission statement puts affordability front and centre. Claiming that 'the price of sonic nirvana' had begun to slip out of the reach of many audio fans, it launched in the early 2000s with the goal of dragging it back, using founder Dan Kaufman's previous experience as an OEM supplier as its foundation. This XPA HC-1 monoblock amp is a perfect example of the Emotiva ethos, promising serious power without the serious price. Just £799, in fact.

Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 24, 2020
hfncommendedMasters of retro chic, Yamaha has evolved its one-time flagship A-S3000 integrated amplifier into a fully-fledged pre/power. And there's not a digital input in sight...

Talk to audiophiles that grew up through the 1990s and the chances are they associate brands such as Sony, Yamaha, Onkyo, Pioneer and Denon with meaty AV receivers and, possibly, mini systems. The reason is that it was around this time that the major Japanese corporations began directing their energies into developing products for the burgeoning home cinema market, meaning these younger hi-fi enthusiasts never really saw them flex their design muscles in the stereo arena.

John Atkinson  |  Aug 19, 2020  |  First Published: Jan 01, 1986
hfnvintageJohn Atkinson lives with Krell pre- and power amplification

Streetwise. Now there's a word. I suppose you could say that in a hi-fi context it means being aware of the unwritten myths, such as 'image depth is due to microphony in valve amplifiers' or 'Class A amplifiers sound better than ones operating in Class B' or 'the only truly great preamplifiers use valves'.

Review: David Price, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 13, 2020
hfncommendedWith multiple inputs, streaming functionality and plenty of power, this elegant and compact system promises consummate convenience and super sound. Does it deliver?

Since 1993, Lindemann has been making distinctive products, all with an accent on design and technology. Although the company has also sold loudspeakers in its 27-year history, electronics have formed the staple of the product portfolio – and it has shown a particular interest in digital technology. The D680 of 2001, for example, was the first German SACD player, while the original Musicbook was an early example of a highly advanced streaming front-end [HFN Jun '14]. Lindemann's thinking has been eerily prescient, as other brands have since scrambled to get similarly elegant so-called 'style systems' into their ranges…

Review and Lab: Paul Miller, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 02, 2020
hfnoutstandingThe Chord Ultima range has grown from a single pre and power amp, as the tech becomes more affordable. The Ultima 2 models might just give the flagships a scare

Never let it be said that the Chord Electronics range isn't distinctive in its styling: all the way up from the tiny Mojo DAC [HFN Jan '16] to the flagship Ultima reference preamplifier [HFN Feb '19], the company's products look like nothing else on the market, as if to emphasise that what's going on inside them involves no shortage of proprietary technology, too.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 03, 2020
hfnoutstandingA sleek new look heralds the return of Rotel's premier sub-brand, and its new control amplifier – or preamp – and stereo power amp have the wherewithal to succeed

Michi is back: last marketed in the 1990s, Rotel's elite sub-brand has rejoined the hi-fi fray after a three-year development project, and the establishment of a dedicated facility within the company's factory to hand-build the new products. And I have to admit to a pang of nostalgia for I reviewed the company's RHCD-10 player, slimline RHA-10 preamp and substantial RHB-10 power amp back in the dim and distant, and it was a case of lust at first listen, not to mention sight of the high-quality metalwork with its red-lacquered wooden side-cheeks.

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