Preamplifiers


  • Audible Illusions Modulus 3A

    A wonderful preamp with plenty of dynamics and musical authority. You can get a better performance at the frequency extremes but only if you are willing to invest quite a bit more cash. Regarded as 'absolute best buy' especially if bought second hand.

  • Audio Note Preamp Kit

    A good way to start DIY projects; good value for the money. Performance can be increased quite a lot by swapping tubes to NOS ones (Brimar, Mullard, Mazda to name a few) and changing the coupling capacitors to paper in oil (Jensen copper foil for example)

  • EAR 868 Preamp (with Phono)

    For years this was my reference preamp. A great Tim de Paravicini tube preamp design around the
    PCC88 triode with output transformers and thus low output impedance (ca. 600 ohms). The built in MM phonostage also uses the PCC88 tube. A MC step up transformer with 3 gain options makes it highly flexible for most of the MC cartridges on the market. The sound is dynamic with excellent rhythm and timing. Gain is on the high side (18dB). As for most of the EAR products the design and layout are superb, the parts quality only average. This preamp's performance can be further improved with an expert upgrading sound critical parts. Recommended!

  • Thomas Mayer Octal Preamp with Phono

    This is Thomas Mayer's mid-priced line stage with phono using different octal tubes (6N7, 6SN7 and 6SL7) and a separate tube-rectified power supply. A wonderfully-musical preamp which gave my beloved EAR 868 some strong competition and surpassed it with phono. A hand-built preamp with wonderful musical talents. Highly recommended!
     

  • Thomas Mayer DHT 801A Line Stage

    Top-of-the-line preamp around the tungsten filament 801A DHT with separate tube-rectified power supply. Superb linestage plus excellent workmanship . Extremely musical and neutral with incredible resolution. Gain is lower than the octal preamp. That is the only thing which has to be taken into account, when matched with a power amplifier. A statement in line-level tube amplification. Highly recommended!

     

Phono stages & Step-up devices


  • LFD MCT SE Phono Stage

    The best phono stage I've ever had the pleasure to own. And the surprise is, it is a non-tube design! Dr. Richard Bews the owner and designer of LFD audio products is a true master of the audio arts. All his products are hand made by himself and a statement in british audio engineering craftmanship. The MCT SE is the current top of the line phono stage from LFD with an upgraded power supply and a built in MC step-up transformer of highest quality. The internal cabling is LFD's own silver wire. It is a MC-only phono stage without any switches (besides the power switch on the back of the chassis). It sounds organic, smooth and open with fantaqstic rhythm and timing and regarding speed and fluidity of the reproduced music from vinyl one could believe to listen to a superbly designed tube phono stage. And there is one extra advantage: You never have to worry about replacement tubes :-)
    Price wise it is on the higher end of the spectrum for phono amps (approx. GBP 5000), but it is definitely worth the money in my opinion! Highly recommended!

  • Thomas Mayer 6AM4 LCR RIAA phono stage

    The LCR RIAA EC8020 or WE 437A based phono stage is Thomas Mayer's statement in phono amp design. Due to the scarcity and price of the EC8020 as well as WE 437A tubes, he came up with this 6AM4 triode tube version, which according to Thomas comes 90% close to the performance of the EC8020 / WE 437A phono stage. The advantage is that the 6AM4s can be found easily and don't cost the bank. I heard this phono stage lately and it sounded extremely good. One day, I maybe will order a 6AM4 based phono stage from Thomas for myself. The gain in performance you get in comparison with the excellent transistor designs of Graham Slee is definitely worth the five-times higher price. Highly recommended!
     

  • Graham Slee Era Gold V

    MM phono stage of amazing grandesse (with no tubes in). The phono stage to beat in it's class and beyond. Superbly musical, a fantastic performer and an absolute bargain for the money (see also TNT-Audio, Stereophile Jan. 2004, UK hifi press, etc.). Beats hands down all stages I own / owned and most of the ones I've had the chance to audition (for example Omtec Antares, EAR 834P deluxe, Lukaschek PP1, ...). Graham Slee uses active RIAA equalization and special selected op amps over a wide bandwidth frequency spectrum. He is not only a really nice guy, but he also seems to know an awful lot about how to build a killer phono stage without taking away all of your money. A real bargain!

  • Graham Slee Elevator EXP

    Active MC step-up device based on an op amp circuit which is matched perfectly to the Era Gold V above. Only needed if you use a low to medium output MC cartridge. Excellent performance in combination with the Era Gold V.
     
    Caveat for all Graham Slee products: They need a quite long 'burn in' period of about two weeks to perform at their best level; its definitely worth waiting that long.

    More information on Graham Slee products can be found at www.gspaudio.co.uk
     

  • Lundahl LL1678 MC Transformer

    The passive way to run your beloved MC cartridge into an MM only phono stage. With a little soldering practice you can save money and start a fun project; you'll be pleased at how great a step-up transformer like this high quality Lundahl design serves your musical pleasure. Amorphous core material is used for the LL1678. This kind of core material is said to have advantages over conventional mu-metal core material due to the fact that amorphous core doesn't store energy. LL1678 transformers can be terminated for 1:8, 1:16 and 1:32 step-up ratios and thus will perform well with a variaty of different low to medium MC cartridges. You find technical specs at www.lundahl.se/catframe.html.

     

    Power Amps

  • ASL Tulip 2A3

    A bargain single-ended triode (SET) stereo power amplifier with excellent built quality and musical strength. Matched with the right speakers this amplifier lets music speak to the listener with heart and soul. Uses input 'step-down' transformers feeding a shunt regulated push pull (SRPP) 12AX7 dual triode, the latter driving the grid of the 2A3 triode. An unusual but clever design. In the words of Herb Reichert, who did a superb review on the Tulip in summer 2002 for the legendary but sadly out of print Listener Magazine 'Weird but clever (design). Almost Zen.' For speakers from 97 dB efficiency upwards this amp is a perfect match, especially considering the low price tag (approximately EUR 1,200 here in Europe).
     

  • First Watt amplifiers

    First Watt is "transistor guru" Nelson Pass's approach to build exceptional and affordable low power audio amplifiers intended for use with sensitive loudspeaker systems. Hand built by the master himself and in limited quantities only, they definitely are built to become cult objects. Nelson Pass has always believed in the advantages of Class A designs and his single / 2-stage single-ended Class A power amplifier designs are truly legendary. Here you can read reviews about two of his First Watt designs, the F3 (using new power JFETs as the gain device) and the Aleph J (a 2-stage design using output MOSFETs operating in single-ended Class A mode). Both are said to provide world class music reproduction without the need for tubes. There is also the new J2 (a 2-stage JFET design using power JFETs as the gain device) which apparently sets new standards for a sand amp and together with the F3 is definitely on my short list of "most desired gear to listen to". Nelson Pass has always had a heart for the DIY-scene (see my link section), so it's not surprising that at the end of each First Watt product's sale cycle he posts the schematics and technical details of these designs for the benefit of the "DIY" community.
     

  • Thomas Mayer 45 / 2A3 SE stereo amplifier

    This is a wonderfully-musical SE stereo power amplifier where you have the choice of using either 45s or 2A3s as output tubes. Driver tube of choice is a 6N7 triode. As with mainly all of Thomas Mayer's designs, there is a tube-rectified power supply in a separate chassis. The driver tube is interstage coupled to the output tube, output transformers are made by Tango. I have to confess that this amplifier, used with 2A3s, easily outclasses my Welborne Labs Moondogs. The 45 / 2A3 amplifier is in a higher price class, though. World-class tube amplification, no doubt! If 1.5 watts of single-ended magic are all you need to drive your speakers, then you have to listen to this one with 45s as output tubes. Magical sound...
     

  • Thomas Mayer 801A SE stereo amplifier

    The best amplifier I've had so far in my system. Period! 3.5 watts of class A power combined with coherence, resolution and musicality adds up to unforgettable listening experiences. Also in this design the driver tube is a 6N7, interstage coupled to the 801A output tube per channel. A separate tube-rectified power supply is of course mandatory. A lot of iron is used in the power supply to provide the 801As with as clean as possible DC. This can be heard, believe me. After about 4 weeks in my system, I bought this amplifier from Thomas, because to go back to my beloved Moondogs as well as my WE91 300Bs was no longer possible. This amplifier gets my highest recommandation and looks wonderful, too!
     

  • Welborne Labs Moondog 2A3 mono block amplifiers

    A true SET power amp classic. In my opinion they are superb sounding amplifiers, if you don't need more than 3.5 watts of class A power. This design introduced me to the magic of SET tube power amplification. With one NOS Mullard GZ37 rectifier, choke filtered power supply, a pair of NOS 6SN7 drivers for each mono amp (RCA, Sylvania, Brimar or whatever 6SN7 you like best) and your 2A3 triode of choice these amps deliver the soul of the music with color, drama and feeling. Another strength is the exceptional open top end these amplifiers deliver.

    They were available ready built and as a kit version. The first production line used Magnequest output transformers, but later on Ron Welborne switched to Electra Print output transformers (which are the ones to go for). Besides their magical performance, the Moondogs deliver more punch and feel more powerful than other 2A3 amps I know. From 92 dB efficiency onwards - given that the mating loudspeaker is an easy load to drive - you will have real fun.
    Ron Welborne's new SET power amplifier range (with 300B or 45 triodes) uses Direct Reactance Drive (DRD). I would assume these are also outstanding products, although I haven't had the chance by now to listen to his new designs (by the way, they look extremely nice in their new Bubinga hardwood bases). You can read Scott Faller's entertaining 2006 review of the current Welborne Labs 300B DRD SET amplifiers as kit version done for Enjoy the Music.com here.
     
    Caveat: The Moondogs are no longer in production but can be found on the second hand market for a fair price (Ebay, etc.).
    Update of early 2013: In the meantime, a friend and tube amp expert did a revision of the Moondogs with fantastic results. (One 6C8G driver stage replaced the two 6SN7 drivers per mono bloc of the original Moondog design; the ps was also improved, now choke loaded.) The amps now have less gain, but the sound is in another league. I've never heard better mids and top range in my system -> 10 watts power instead of the 3.5 watts of the 2A3 output tube would make it my universal dream amp! Thanks Christoph :-) My learning curve regarding tube amp designs has further grown!
     

  • Verdier 2300B - 300B SET Stereo

    J.C. Verdier's 'La Platine Verdier' turntable has become world famous in the high end audio world. Not as famous but excellent as well are his tube amplifier designs (preamplifiers and  various power amplifiers). One of my friends owns one 2300B SET stereo amplifier, which I recently auditioned for some months in my system (the amp is an older model though not the new one with the improved power supply, Mr. Verdier calls 'hum hunting circuit').

    Mr. Verdier believes in the superiority of tubes, so the power supply of his SE amplifier designs is tube regulated. The idea behind is to get rid of the hum where it generally occurs - in the power supply circuit (in my 92dB system there was no audible hum during operation).

    The sound of the Verdier 2300B stereo SET amp is impressive - authoritative in the bass with wonderful mids (male voices are great with this amp). What I miss in comparison to my 2A3 Moondog monos is the extreme openness in the treble section and a little bit of the tonal magic the 2A3 triode can deliver. Overall the Verdier 300B is a great amplifier which puts out 2 x 6 Watts of class A output power with the advantage to drive also most 91dB+ speakers with authority.

    For more information visit www.jcverdier.com


    Turntables, Tonearms and Cartridges

  • La Platine Verdier and La Nouvelle Platine

    J.C. Verdier's designs have cult status, and deservedly so. The Platine Verdier is a legendary state-of-the-art turntable, which I unfortunately don't own. But some of my friends - to be more precise four aficionados of our Viennese audio circle I'm friends with  - own a Platine, one also owns a Nouvelle Platine. So I've had a lot of opportunities to listen to Mr. Verdier's turntables and am more than confident to recommend his designs wholeheartedly. Both turntables are suspensionless mass designs and deliver state-of-the-art performance for true record lovers. The Platine's high-light is its unique 'magnetic suspension', where the platter floats frictionless on a magnetic field, which is created by two huge repellent ring magnets. This results in a true music machine par excellence.

    The Nouvelle Platine is mainly identical to the Platine Verdier but rotates silently resting on an oil bath instead of using the 'magnetic suspension'. Quoting Mr. Verdier, '...this system was achieved after some long research thanks to a very simple means. A pump continuously maintains the oil pressure at the top of the axle.' Read more about his famous turntables on his website (www.jcverdier.com)

    Both turntables are highly recommended!

  • Lenco L75 - upgraded

    Maybe the most underrated idler wheel drive, which can sound fantastic, when modified properly.
    From 2011 my pimped Lenco became
    my favorite turntable. Read the story about my Lenco experience on my site and you will understand why I love the Lenco idler wheel TT. Together with my 12" Schick tonearm, which is a real bargain and fits superbly to the Lenco plus my Lyra Skala MC cartridge, vinyl 'rocks and rules' in my music room and the Lenco + arm + cartrdige combination makes me dance ;-). Highly recommended!

  • Walker Audio Proscenium Gold Signature

Lloyd Walker's turntable creation is regarded as the final statement in turntable design by many audiophiles around the world. As far as I can tell, the mechanical engineering of this product as well as the no-compromise approach are definitely state of the art. Unfortunately, there aren't big chances that I will audition this gorgeous music machine in the near future let alone get the cash needed to buy one. But it's important to have a dream, isn't it...

Below you can find two links to excellent reviews about this remarkable turntable, which maybe whets your appetite. It definitely worked for me...

Positive Feedback Online - Issue 23

6moons.com - October 2004
 

  • The Cartridge Man's 'Music Maker' III Phono Cartridge 

Graham Slee recommended the 'Music Maker' cartridge line made by Len Gregory (a.k.a. the Cartridge Man) to me. And he is absolutely right.
Mr. Gregory's moving iron 'Music Maker' III  (there is also the top of the line 'Music Maker' Classic, which uses silver coils) is musically exceptional. I have been the proud owner of a 'Music Maker' III for quite some time now and I love the way it gets the music out of the groove of an LP - and me into the music. The term 'Music Maker' is no exaggeration at all. Its strength is its absolute musicality, dynamic shading, rhythm and timing when mated with the right tonearm. And this means a tonearm with low to medium mass is the right partner for this low-mass and high-compliance cartridge. Something along the lines of the Hadcock tonearm line, or the SME M2 series will be a great match.

If you have a good to excellent phono stage with an MM input (i.e. 47 kOhm input resistance, the 'Music Maker' line delivers an output of 4 mV, so there is no step up-device necessary) and a fitting tonearm, you owe it to yourself to try this gem out. The 'Music Maker' III is not cheap but in comparison with the sometimes highly expensive EUR 1,500 plus MC cartridges out there, you save some cash for buying more great records and you will enjoy them immensely. It's one of my top recommendations regardless of price. Below you can find a link to a review about this awesome cartridge, ...

Stereo Times - September 2004 (Click on 'Archives', then 'Tonearms')

    Click here to go to the 'Favorite Digital Gear' page


     


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