Pre/Power Amplifiers

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Review: Ken Kessler, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 04, 2022
hfnoutstandingIt's taken three years, but it was worth the wait: D'Agostino's Relentless Preamplifier has arrived, and it's as much of a revelation as the matching power amplifiers

You gotta love items with absolutely perfect names: 'Land Rover Defender', 'Rolex Explorer', 'Fender Jazzmaster'. When founder and chief engineer, Dan D'Agostino, dubbed his assault on the high-end 'Relentless', with cost-no-object flagship monoblock power amps [HFN Mar '20], he might have been referring to himself, as that is how he approached the task. With this matching three-chassis Relentless Preamplifier (£159,500), he's raised the bar once more.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 04, 2022
hfnoutstandingHandbuilt in Berlin, this preamp and monoblock power amp defies the industrial look, favouring instead an exquisite finish. And the sound more than lives up to the style

By any standards, the Noble series from Berlin-based MBL is a looker. The components aren't massive – in place of slabby high-end units wearing their audio prowess on their sleeve, as it were, both the £11,500 N11 preamplifier and the N15 mono power amplifiers, at £13,900 apiece, are relatively slender units. They are also immaculately finished in a choice of gloss black or white, with accents for the control elements available in either polished gold or palinux (silver), with black detailing also offered if you go for the white main colour.

Review: Tim Jarman, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 21, 2022
hfnvintageThey're British and they're obscure, but can these pre/power amplifiers lay claim to classic status when it comes to their all-out performance? It's time to find out...

British company Crimson Elektrik started life in the mid 1970s as a manufacturer of ready-built power amplifier modules. Using these, a home constructor could assemble a fairly decent and up-to-date piece of kit, needing only to add a power supply, connections and a cabinet. Complete amps followed in 1979, initially in kit form and later fully assembled. The latter, which were similar to the 1200 series amps seen here, were reviewed in the June '80 issue of HFN.

Martin Colloms  |  Jan 25, 2022
hfnvintageMartin Colloms hears a power amp setting the pace for the 21st century

The development of this completely new power amplifier has been a major undertaking for Naim. Up to now, its designs have been variants on the late Julian Vereker's founding concept, which led to the first NAP 250 stereo chassis some 25 years ago. Even now, the company's biggest current model, the NAP 135, is a monoblock variant of the '250, with more generous power supplies allocated to the separated channels.

Review: Andrew Everard, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 03, 2022
hfnoutstandingLook beyond the ostentatious livery and tongue-in-cheek labelling, and darTZeel's flagships are revealed as sensational amplifiers, with a sound as imperious as it is refined

If you want an amplifier with a face, not a fascia, start saving up for a darTZeel. Designer Hervé Delétraz has a sense of humour – turning an on/off button into a 'nose' with selector/volume knobs as bulbous eyes and grinning LEDs beneath. Then there's this Swiss manufacturer's mix of golden fascias and red casework, already iconic as the brand's house style over its two decade timeline.

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 22, 2021
hfnoutstandingNAD's M33 BluOS streaming amplifier was the first to utilise Purifi's groundbreaking Eigentakt Class D modules. Now they are in a stripped-back 'purist' power amp...

We sometimes hear a hi-fi component described as 'a wolf in sheep's clothing', but the idiom seems particularly apt for NAD's C 298. From the outside, there's little to distinguish this £1700 power amp from market rivals – indeed, its general demeanour is so nondescript it would likely struggle to standout from flashier competition. But NAD, a company that's no stranger to high-tech design style elsewhere in its stable, has opted to keep the chassis simple and make the amp's story about what's going on inside.

Review: Andrew Everard, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 01, 2021
hfnoutstandingWith radical styling, serious room-heating ability and possibly the highest price per Watt ever seen in these pages, these Swedish power amps are the result of a family obsession

To misquote Sly & The Family Stone just a little, Swedish hi-fi company Engström – it only makes tube amplifiers – is a family affair. Founded by engineer Lars Engström and his industrial designer nephew Timo as recently as 2008, the company is based in Lund, just northeast of Malmö, and has its R&D HQ some 600km away in Nacka, south of Uppsala on the Baltic Sea coast. The division of labour in the company sees Lars Engström as chief engineer, having given up work in fields as diverse as navigation, microcomputing and railway signalling systems in 2001 to concentrate on amplifier development, while his nephew is responsible for the look of the products, and the company operations.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 30, 2021
hfnoutstandingThe no-nonsense mountain-inspired aesthetic is unmistakable, but despite the heady pricing this pre/power amp combo is from one of Boulder's more affordable ranges

It's the style of the Boulder 1100 series amplification that grabs you first – very different from the common image of US-made high-end hi-fi, even if the £30,000 1160 stereo power amp lives up to at least some of the stereotype with its 61.2kg mass. Instead of the usual scattergun buttons, grab-handles and menacing – not to mention finger-slicing – heatsinks so common in products of this type, seemingly built with no concession to domestic acceptability, the Boulder power amp and its matching £22,500 1110 line-only preamp have a much softer look.

Review: Tim Jarman, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 24, 2021
hfnvintageAn outlier in its day, this preamp was marketed as a match for products from rival brands yet its real purpose was to drive the company's MFB speakers. We fire it up...

The Philips Motional Feedback loudspeaker was one of the great advances in audio technology. Launched in 1975, the series would eventually encompass four distinct generations and remain in production for over a decade, its key technologies jealously guarded by Philips patents [HFN Jul '13]. However, the partnering equipment designed to help these speakers perform at their best is less well known, arguably due to Philips endorsing the use of third-party sources and amplifiers.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 16, 2021
hfnoutstandingThe evergreen Uniti Atom all-in-one platform, complete with custom streaming solution, is adapted to service the needs of the most demanding headphone users

Never let it be said the product name isn't long enough – in the 12 years since Naim launched its network audio all-in-one, to which the buyer need only add speakers, it's grown from the simple NaimUniti of the initial model, all the way to this, the £2399 Naim Audio Uniti Atom Headphone Edition. And yet here, less is more.

Review: Ken Kessler, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 13, 2021
hfncommendedInfineon Technologies' Class D solutions have been seen before in audiophile amps, but this is the first to feature gallium nitride FETs. The 'tubes', however, are pure decoration!

Unlike its meaning as a show of arrogance, in a design context a 'conceit' is, variously, 'an ingenious or fanciful comparison or metaphor', 'an artistic effect or device', or 'a fanciful notion'. AGD's £18,000-per-pair Gran Vivace is all three. To understand the utterly bizarre use of a valve's glass envelope as a housing for a solid-state amplifier, think of a similar conceit in another field: smart watches which, instead of emulating Apple's genre-defining rectangle, look like analogue timepieces.

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 23, 2021
hfnoutstandingThis flagship, fully balanced preamplifier comes with Bryston's BDA-3-inspired DAC plus updated BDP streaming platform and full network control. It's busier than it looks!

There's so much functionality under the bonnet of Bryston's BR-20 that you might wonder where to start. I would suggest the manual – this £7500 networked USB DAC/preamplifier isn't, it must be said, the most instantly intuitive of system hubs I've ever auditioned. But the effort is worth it though, because what the BR-20 can do, and how it does it, is quite special.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 02, 2021
hfnoutstandingClassé is back with a bang – its third-generation Delta amplification carrying 'does what it says on the tin' model designations, and sounding as thrillingly no-nonsense as ever

When it comes to prosaic model naming, Classé has it nailed: its latest Delta series preamp, selling for £9999, is called 'PRE', and the matching monoblock power amps at £10,999 apiece, are called 'MONO'. The only other model in the lineup is the Delta stereo power amp, at £11,999, which is unsurprisingly called 'STEREO'.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 07, 2021
hfnoutstandingNamed after founder Prof. Gordon Edge, Cambridge Audio's flagship series is reinforced by the new 'M' monoblock amp. With the NQ Streamer, does this combo have an edge?

Nothing if not ambitious, Cambridge Audio's Edge series first broke cover three years back as part of the company's 50th anniversary celebrations. It took its name from Gordon Edge, one of the company's founders and the brains behind its first product, the P40 amplifier. Designed to take on the best in high-end audio, these Edge separates also serve as 'halo' products for the company's lower-tier ranges.

Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 03, 2021
hfnoutstandingSince last year's management buyout, Audio Research has been very busy reimagining its ranges of the future – the Reference 80S (REF80S) is just the first step on the road

If life is a journey, rather than a destination, then some brands, Audio Research included, have rather more air miles under their corporate belts than others. From a boutique audiophile business to a period swept up in the fast lane of venture capital, Audio Research has now returned to its roots. It's a gloriously niche brand that understands 'what it does' and is now, once again, driven and engineered by a team that is passionate about serving the diehards of the audiophile community.

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