OTHER INTERESTING PREAMPLIFIERS
There has been only slow progress with preamplifiers (with phono stages) in the last 15 years, caused obviously by a continually dwindling demand. The best preamplifier of the 1980ís is still one of the very best 15 years later (though only with serious modifications). Most of the improvements have come about from the availability and use of superior passive parts (capacitors etc.).
Still, the 1990ís gave us the first great high-gain preamplifier, and even the next best models are still superior to all but one of the best of the 1980ís. The real problem now is the pathetic lack of choice compared to the past. Much of this "lack of choice" is caused by the mainstream audio magazines policy of ignoring small manufacturers who are producing some interesting designs, and at reasonable prices. Readers will have to mainly rely on their own efforts to search out these components. Any we find will be eventually discussed here.
Note- For Reference dedicated phono stages, see their own separate file.
The inclusion, and description, of each tube preamplifier (and tube phono stage and tube amplifier) assumes that high-quality tubes are being used in the signal path. That usually means New Old Stock tubes (NOS). This is especially true of "small signal" tubes, 12AX7 or 6SN7 etc.
There is some news (from Vacuum Tube Valley) that good small signal tubes are actually being made today, mainly in China, but I haven't been able to verify that yet. The bottom line here is that the owners of these components should never compromise their sonic performance with modern and inferior tubes. Good tubes are the best investment for long-term satisfaction.
Fortunately, there are excellent "output" tubes (6550, EL-34, 300B etc.) currently being manufactured, mainly in Eastern Europe and Russia, plus, very recently, China.
I recently received a depressing letter from a reader who purchased a VTL Ultimate* preamplifier, on my advice, only to see it break down after a few months, with the required repairs too expensive to be economical, at least for this reader, who is in the tube elctronics business no less. So readers, please...
When you are buying an audio component used, especially an older tube unit from an unknown source, make certain there is some previous "feedback" or some resource if there are problems. Either that, or make sure the price you pay is low enough to allow you to still spend something to bring it up to top "stock" performance. (Modifications can come later.) Ideally, you should hear the component in your own system, and check it out personally, BEFORE the purchase. Fortunately, the nightmare this upset reader experienced is relatively rare, at least in our audio world, but always be careful before you make your commitment.
*This preamplifier is generally reliable, so I'm not trying to make an "example" out of it, but the reader informed me that the (VTL) factory won't be of any help (with schematics or parts lists), so be extra careful with it.Top
The Audio Quattro is the finest stock preamplifier ever made to our knowledge. Its phono stage can accommodate only low output moving coils, and its line stage is just a cathode follower without any gain. It has the benefits of both simplicity of design and superb execution (with only 4 tubes in the entire signal path, a 4 chassis totally dual-mono construction and the power supplies use only polypropylene capacitors).
Once modified, this preamp has the extremely rare quality of both speed and precision along with a total sense of immediacy and completeness. It is extremely rare, so it is almost impossible to find used. The last retail price was $9,000. Audion has a much less expensive model called the DUAL, which is the same basic design except it has two chassis and it's not hard-wired. I donít know anyone who has heard it, but it should be almost as good for a lot less money.
GOOD NEWS!- Audion has announced that it has re-started production of the Quattro. According to an e-mail from Ray Lombardi, of Ray of Sound, the former North American importer-distributor of Audion tube electronic products:
"The Audion Quattro preamplifier is available in 2 versions, a 2-chassis model, and a 4-chassis model. The 2-chassis model will retail for $10,995, the 4-chassis model will retail for $15,995."
There is also now a separate Audion phono stage. One reader purchased a phono stage based on this website's reference designation of the full preamplifier. He is very happy with it. We have no experience ourselves with this model.
Further- No one in my group has had any direct experience with the most recent version of this preamplifier. I did receive a letter from a reader who did have some experience with a Quattro, and even compared it to another one of the finest preamplifiers ever made. This is what he wrote to me:
"I am in possession of the very first reincarnated Audion Premier Quattro Moving Coil and Line Level 4 Chassis Pre-Amplifier to reach these shores. It has the only two upgrades available: Silver point to point wiring and stepped attenuators. The chassis colors are black and silver as opposed to the standard dark blue and silver. I tested it in my system against my Michael Elliott SA-9 (Magnum Opus Version) and Magnum Opus Line Stage combination. The Audion Quattro is a very fine performer. However, in my system, as it is now set up, I prefer the two Opus One Units."
After I requested further information, the reader sent me this second letter:
"There was break-in time put on the unit at the factory and at the importer. We tried the unit with the stock tubes as well as with two different sets of NOS E88CC - Telefunken and Siemen. Briefly, the Audion had shortcomings compared to the Opus in bass energy below 60 Hz, and with dynamics, along with less extended upper frequency range. For the most part, I feel that the huge tube power supplies of the Magnum Opus, compared to the solid state power supplies of the Audion probably accounts for most of the differences. I will send you a much more detailed report later. The system includes the big Sound Labs, Walker turntable with Koetsu Onyx Platinum, and a special pair of Viva Auroras (Special Transformers through-out, transformer input, and 845/211 tubes) with Silent Source Cables."
Personal Notes- While I am not in a position to verify his observations, I also have no legitimate reason to challenge either his competency or his veracity. Of course, the Audion is a currently available component, while the ultra-rare Magnum Opus model (a "dressed-up SA-9" according to Michael Elliott) must be found used.
These two preamplifiers are most likely the two finest that can be purchased "ready to use". However, based on my experiences, I still strongly believe that neither of them can equal a heavily modified Jadis JP-80, with a Class A Reference Step-Up, in its ability to capture the most basic essences of music, though they both will be superior to the Jadis/"A" Step-Up combo in other sonic parameters which are less important to me. 7/03
I have some important news concerning this Reference preamplifier. The price for a new Quattro* is now $ 16,000**, but there is also a version with all V-Cap Teflon capacitors in the signal-path. This option costs an extra $ 1,500** (parts and labor). Needless to say, I strongly advise anyone purchasing this unit to also add the V-Cap modification.
I have heard this new model, with the V-Cap modification, for many hours at an associate's home. This same associate also had the older Quattro, though it was heavily modified, including Rel Cap Teflon capacitors in the signal path. We both agree that this new model is noticeably superior in every way, even beyond the improvement obviously guaranteed just by the change in the coupling capacitors. At this time, we also both agree that this is the finest preamplifier, we are aware of, that you can purchase new or used, at any price. Accordingly, it is the only preamplifier now in "Class A".
Further- I was just informed by one of my associates, who actually owns the first Audion Quattro built with V-Caps, that he also had the stock volume controls replaced with those made by Gold Point, using Vishay resisitors. They are $ 1,500 for the pair, but he claims that are absolutely necessary if you want to hear the full potential of this design.
*This has 4 chassis. There is also a 2 chassis version, which sells for $ 11,000, but we haven't heard it. The cost for the V-Cap Teflon modification is also $ 1,500.
**For further details, contact Gary, of True Audiophile, who is the North American importer of Audion. The website is: www.trueaudiophile.comTop
A few of my most experienced associates have auditioned this model, and in-depth. Their standards, and the revealing system they used to evaluate this phono stage, are at the highest level. Direct comparisons were even made with a modified original, and the most recent, ("Class A") Audion Quattro (see above). I have not heard this unit myself. There is some minor editing and my bold:
"The Doge is built in China, but the quality of construction and parts used would put many North American components to shame. This preamp uses very high quality transformers, circuit boards, and resistors. The caps could be improved, as they are low end metallized polypropylenes, but they are pretty much to be expected in a unit at this price point ($ 1,199 US). The preamp weighs in excess of 30 lbs, and the cosmetics are very pleasing.
What features can you get in a well made $ 1,200 tube preamp? For starters: 4 -12AT7s in the line stage and 4- 12AX7s in the phono.* The volume is remote controllable. The Phono has MC capability as well as 2 settings for cartridge impedance. Outputs include RCA and XLR. It's hard to ask for much more.
The sound- Let's start with the line stage. Magnificent sums it up. This line stage will compete with any in models costing $ 5,000. It is that good. Not only is it highly transparent and pure, this thing kicks ass. The dynamics, the weight and impact are staggering. If your system is in need of an adrenaline boost, the Doge is the remedy. The Doge line stage makes listening to digital viscerally thrilling in a way a live concert does. Having the remote volume control is a treat, since so many CDs are mastered at varying output levels. It is nice to be able to adjust volume while you sit on your keester. If the Doge was only a line stage preamp, it would be a bargain at its selling price.
Phono- While the phono section of the Doge (both MM/MC) is very good, and certainly an overachiever at its price, it does not measure up to the stellar performance of the line stage. The sound on LPs, still in the league of competing $ 3,000-$ 4,000 units, exhibits audible flaws. The unit in MC (a combination of high gain JFETS, in addition to the 4 - 12AX7s) is a little noisy with low output MCs. It could and should be quieter.
More importantly, while vinyl reproduction is very clean, highly resolved and dynamic, with excellent reproduction of the frequency extremes, there is a slight thinning out of harmonics in the midrange. Voices are rendered a tad leaner than they should. A little more body is required. Additionally, the midbass could be more weighty and impactful.
I attribute the sonic anomalies to the transistors in the high gain MC stage. The Doge MC stage does take on a solid state quality. If preferences lie with good solid state sound, the Doge will definitely be satisfying. If your preferences include Conrad-Johnson or Joule Electra musical presentations (meaning soft, warm and forgiving), the Doge is not the unit to tickle your fancy.
A suggestion for those who are not transistor fans would be to obtain a high quality moving coil transformer and use it with the MM section of the Doge. That combination could be a killer.
Bottom Line- For $1,200, the Doge offers tremendous value. The quality of construction, variety of user features and most importantly, sonic performance is unavailable anywhere near its selling price. A great buy."
*To obtain the sonics described, the stock Chinese tubes must be upgraded to either NOS or reissued Mullards.
Personal Note- I was also informed by my associate that, sadly, the Doge 8 can not be modified (unless it is completely taken apart, which will take many, many hours of tedious, difficult and highly detailed work). A real shame.
Doge Audio now sells direct to the consumer. The present price of the most current Doge 8 is $ 1,399. A direct link to Doge is below:
This preamplifier should have been listed years ago, but it was another oversight on my part. I have not heard this component myself, but one of my associates has considerable experience with it, and he was greatly impressed. Since he has extensive experience with virtually every preamplifier discussed within this file, and ALL of the top preamps, that is saying quite a lot.
While he still hasn't given me a detailed description, he did emphasize that the Atma-sphere is able to convey a considerable amount of musical information; has an extended frequency response and that it also sounds "very natural". It is definitely one of the finest full preamplifiers currently available. Unfortunately, he also informed me that purchasers should be aware of two potential problem areas;
Caveat 1- The Atma-sphere is prone to noise unless you get the proper tubes, which means you must do some "tube-rolling".
Caveat 2- Early models supposedly had some reliability problems, which may have been fixed, but he's not certain. Check out websites like Tube Asylum and Audiogon for the latest information and contacts. The manufacturer has a website, which can be found in the Links File. A Google search may also be helpful.
A detailed description of these units are in the Phono Stage file. They are also here because they can be used as phono only preamplifiers.
CAVEAT: Their stock "volume control" does not have fine adjustments.
These are both full preamplifiers with line stages. Both are superb, with the Reference model slightly superior with its advantage of a separate and larger power supply. These units, as well as the SA-9, subtract some low-level information and also lack some immediacy compared to the Class A models. Both the Control Master and the Reference have a built-in moving coil transformer; itís very good, but not close to the Expressive.
FURTHER- Manley now has released a phono stage that can used as a full preamplifier in a simple system. It is called The Steelhead. Preliminary listening was very impressive. Readers should seriously consider this unit before committing to any preamplifier.
The VTL is an excellent preamplifier stock and superb after modifications and replacement of tubes. It is totally dual mono and has enough gain for most moving coils. This was VTL's greatest achievement in preamplifiers. The line stage is also outstanding. It has no major weakness. The sound is a little warmer than pure neutral, but it is still less colored than most Conrad Johnson designs. The bargain in this class. The Ultimate is also well built, but it is no "beauty queen". This preamplifier is no longer made. The replacements were not quite as good.
Caveat- I've been told that some of the Ultimate preamplifiers had "reliability problems", despite the fact that it is relatively "well built". They should be checked out carefully, and also auditioned (by a trusted 3rd party if necessary), before the purchase is made.
FURTHER: I have recently heard some good things about one of the replacements for The Ultimate. It is the VTL Model 5.5. It is very well made, especially for the money, with an exceptional power supply which includes a large number of MIT polypropylene capacitors. The only serious sonic weakness is the (somewhat noisy) moving-coil stage, which can be bypassed if necessary. This model should be checked out since its price is quite reasonable.
This preamplifier (the "Lumi") became a cult item even while it was still being manufactured, more than 20 years ago now. It had unique sound characteristics and was phenomenally well built, especially for the money.
The Luminescence is an "all-out" design with a huge, separate power supply that has at least four large transformers, chokes, plus (2 or 4 tube) regulation. The actual preamplifier is hardwired and uses octal tubes throughout, both rarities at the time it came out, and even today. (Earlier versions of this preamplifier, with less than 4 transformers, do not qualify for this class, but are still excellent.)
The Luminescence is full-bodied, with a huge soundstage and it doesnít fall apart when the music gets loud. It may have as much low-level musical information as any other preamplifier in existence, with the one exception of the Jadis JP-80 series. These rare and valuable sonic strengths are the reasons this preamplifier is in such constant demand. However...
It is not particularly fast, neutral, precise or immediate sounding, but it can be noticeably improved in all those areas with modifications. These modifications; improved coupling capacitors, better NOS octal tubes, removing RFI filters etc., are required for this preamplifier to reach its full sonic (Class B) potential. The Luminescence's sound is so unique that it should always be auditioned before the purchase by a first time listener. My associates are split on its performance; some love it and some dislike it. I lean closer to the "love it" position.
The MFA Luminescence has proven to be a very reliable design.
MFA Reference- This recent model was even more "all-out" than the Luminescence. From what we have been told, and what we have read, the sound and character is very similar to its predecessor, but none of us has properly heard it in conditions which would allows us to make a serious evaluation or even an opinion.
Further- A reader, who has extensive experience with the Luminescence, recently sent me this letter, which included some (edited) observations that I felt should be shared:
"Some comments on the MFA Reference. It is of completely different design from the Lumi, it uses regular tubes (not octal base), it uses solid state regulation throughout (which rumors say was designed by John Curl). It is much quieter than the Lumi, a lot drier, cleaner, sound SOMEWHAT similar in general character to the Lumi. Definitely faster. Scott Frankland's personal favorite.
My Lumi C, which was severely modified with solid state regulation, sounds somewhat similar to Reference but is noisier and still not as clean. The Reference was used by somebody in The Absolute Sound circa 1990, or thereabout, as its reference at some point, but it didn't stay in production for long. They said it definitely sounded darker than the CAT which, in my opinion, is easy to do for any preamp. It played any MC above .15 mV with ease. Everybody I know prefers the Lumi over it, that is to say the Reference is a more "regular" sounding preamp. The last time I was in communication with Scott, he had enough parts left to build one, if anyone's interested." (8/03)Top
These models are all very good to excellent. There's a large variety of them out there since the manufacturer has been around now for 20 years. The more recent models are a little better, but the most recent model, the Ultimate, is both overrated and overpriced, in our experience. (There are plenty of people who disagree with that statement.)
I seriously advise comparing the Ultimate to the above Reference (Class B) models; from Manley and VTL (and don't forget the Hovland HP-100), before making any serious commitment. At the same time, at their used prices, the older models can be a much better value than virtually any new preamp for the same price. They have high gain, enough for most (but not all) MC cartridges.
The "sound" of the CAT is almost the exact opposite of the Luminescence, and should also be auditioned before the purchase. This is another "love it or hate it" component, literally. For many audiophiles, these preamps will be much better performers than the other preamplifiers in this class, with the exceptions of the ARC SP-10 and SP-11, meaning they should really be in Class B. Personally, I'm torn about this myself, but they're here just because I'm being conservative and cautious, maybe overly so.
Caveat- The volume control on many of the older CATs doesn't allow a soft volume, either on phono or line sources. They tend to get very loud very fast, and sometimes without recourse for the listener.
These preamplifiers are the best ARC made during a 10 year period; from the late 1970ís to late 1980ís. That was their "Golden Age". Personally, I (or my store) owned every single model, with the single exception of the SP-10. Sadly, ARC hasnít been the same since then. The big change for them started with the SP-11, which sold for more than the SP-10, despite being cheaper to build. If anything, the ratio of their retail price to their manufacturing cost has appeared to grow even worse over time.
Their newer models are now overpriced, much cheaper in construction and most of them have pitiful power supplies. None of them, except the grossly overpriced "Reference" models, can match these in overall performance, and even the new "References" do not equal the best of the earlier models in overall naturalness, at least according to the observations of my associates. (Avoid the overrated "hybrid" models, the SP-9 and SP-14. Their power supplies are a disgrace for the price.)
At their used prices, the Reference models above are all bargains compared to units made today, not only in sound quality, but also in build quality. These can, and should, all be modified because their passive parts are now obsolete, especially their coupling capacitors. This is equally true for all the other preamplifiers within this class.
Among all the different models, the SP-10 is the most preferable, because it has the greatest potential, though the SP-11 will still have some sonic advantages. Of the lower-gain models, the SP-8 series is generally preferable to the SP-6 series.
ARC also made preamplifiers in the 1970ís, the SP-3 series and the solid-state SP-4. They were very well made for their day, but their sonics (the very best of their time) are not up to standards of their later models (or today). However, their phono-stages may still be excellent on their own.
These were excellent preamps made in the late 1980ís and early 1990ís. Both have separate power supplies and combine a lot of detail with good low-level retrieval. It has very neutral sound with excellent speed and precision. Their gain is higher than the SP-6 and SP-8, but still less than either the SP-10 or -11.
The Magus is one of the best preamplifiers ever made for the money. It is even a better value used. It has relatively high-gain and even has a separate power supply.
It is warmer and darker than pure neutral, and it also blunts transients, but it can be improved in the areas of neutrality, transparency and speed with better coupling capacitors. The RIAA curve can also be changed, but that requires reliable information from an expert.
These are also excellent units. There must be around 5 or 6 different models, and all of them are References. They are similar in character and general performance to the best (low-gain, all tube) preamplifiers from Audio Research, though not quite as clean, extended or dynamic.
These are two of the three finest preamplifiers ever made for the money (the other is the Precision Fidelity C-7). How do they compare? The Modulus is cleaner, more neutral and has greater detail than the Magus, but it's not quite as warm and full bodied. It also doesn't have the high gain of the Magus. However, the Modulus is also a little better built, and, unlike the Magus, Audible Illusions is still in business.
The III is a little better than the finest of the II series, with its separate power supply and superior passive parts, but it is not worth the large premium you will pay if you buy it new at full retail price. Itís a lot smarter to buy a used CAT of any vintage than a new Modulus III. However, a used III can be a great deal.
If you must buy brand new, the III may still be the finest preamplifier, with phono, available today for the money.
Audible Illusions is even coming out with some new components and there is now a link to their website in the Links section.
These were "all-out" preamplifiers manufactured in the early 1980s (before I was an Audible Illusions dealer.) I later had some experience with them when my former store took them in as trade-ins. (I had a very liberal trade-in policy back then, particularly for tube equipment.) By the time I heard them for myself, they were long out of production.
The only difference I know of between the Model I and Model II, was that the II had a 12AU7 as the output tube, and the I had a 6DJ8. The price was increased with the II also, of course. (I never compared them directly, but I assume the II has some advantage.)
They had a good build-quality and the sound was excellent on both of them. They were very natural and full-bodied. The frequency extremes weren't the best, but this was a common problem back then, and even today, with most tube equipment. They were also clean and detailed. I even remember being reluctant to resell them and considered keeping them for myself, which is about the highest compliment I could give.
I haven't seen one of these for a while now, and I have no idea what they would go for used. They do need to be modified with the best capacitors, both in the signal path and power supply. Their gain is just average, meaning you will require a step-up for a typical low-output moving coil.
I sold this model when my store opened back in 1981. This is a "Classic Preamplifier", with a design far ahead of not only its own time, but even up to today. In fact, our current audio market is begging for an updated version of the C-7.
The C-7 was essentially a high quality (tube) phono-stage with two volume controls, a couple of extra (passive) inputs and no line-stage. This is "the dream design" of today's audiophiles who have phono-centric systems, like me. (My own preamplifier, the Jadis JP-80, was heavily modified to copy the basic design of the C-7.)
It's been some time since I heard one of them, but I remember their sheer natural quality and the cleanness and quietness that is consistent with no line-stage. The people who bought them, if they could live with the low-gain, loved them. (I'd love to hear a modified version, with the best caps available today. I would love even more to hear an all-out modern version of this design.)
I remember that the original C-7 had some design problems that translated into sonic problems, so look for the "A" or "Revised" versions. (I can not provide the schematics to make these revisions.) The C-7 should be modified with better capacitors, just like all the other preamplifiers from this era. They also require a high quality step-up device for low-output moving coils.
Recent- One reader just purchased a C-7 based on the above advice. His take:
"...soundwise - Wow! Lumi is taking a long rest. This thing sounds a bit dark (like most passives in my system, probably the amp), but it is so dynamic, immediate, transparent, and not greasy or euphonic or juicy. I'd venture to say it is rather accurate. Of all medium priced preamps that I've tried, and I've had many, including many Bruce Moore designs, this one is by far the best sounding, with great MM phono. It beats Magus by a wide margin and phono is a lot quieter (uses two solid state regulators). Thanks for a great suggestion..."
Bottom Line- If I was on "a strict budget" for a preamplifier, and with the choice of ANY model ever made, the C-7 (modified) would be my first choice.
Precision Fidelity C-8- This preamplifier was introduced at a later time, along with a few revisions. I sold a number of them. They had higher gain, but they used transistors, so a sonic price was paid. They also had a linestage. They are still "good", but they don't have the obvious natural musical qualities of the C-7.
Precision Fidelity C-9- This was their "all-out" preamplifier. It had high-gain, more than the competition, and enough for a typical moving-coil cartridge, but it used only tubes. These were very rare. I had just one in my store and, after I sold it, I wasn't able to replace it.
This was the finest high-gain preamplifier of its day. It was better than the CJ Premier II and III and the Audio Research models of its day, but it didn't receive any "hype" from the audio magazines. It was very dynamic, full-bodied, transparent and detailed. The extremes were also better than the (tube) competition. It had a somewhat "complicated" circuit, with something like 9 tubes, if I remember correctly. As a reader reminded me, the high-gain phono stage also had more noticeable tube noise than its competitors.
It had a lot of components within its single chassis, and it ran hotter than average. My model had some problems that were easily repaired, but I have no information concerning its long-term reliability. Of course, if you can find one that is still working, it must have passed that test also.
This preamplifier should be in Class C or maybe even Class B, but I don't know how many of them were actually made, and I don't want to inspire a useless wild-goose-chase. So it will stay here, for now.
I was a Quicksilver dealer in the 1980s. Most of my experiences were with their power amplifiers, but I also had their preamplifier in the store for an extended period of time. The owner/designer, Mike Sanders, who resembles Charlton Heston, visited me on several occasions (his wife came from Toronto).
The Quicksilver, there was only one model, was impressive from the first time we played it. It was clean, quiet and both natural and detailed. The gain is average, so a step-up (they also manufacture a transformer) is required with typical moving-coil pickups. In general, it was at least "good" in every sonic parameter, though not "exceptional" in any. The build quality was also excellent.
This model is preferable, overall, to both the Modulus II and the Magus. Compared to the equivalent ARC models (the SP-6/8 series), I would say it was a little more natural "stock", while they had the edge in outer definition and in the frequency extremes. The Counterpoint 5.1 outperformed it.
Quicksilver has made a line-stage and separate phono-stage since the mid 1990s, but I have no experience with these models.Top
The Jadis JP-80 is the only other full preamplifier ever made that is in the class of the Audion. However, there is a big difference, because the Jadis preamps require both extensive modifications and a Class A Reference Step-Up to equal the Audion Quattro's performance when amplifying a phono signal. On the other hand, there are more JP-80s out there so they can be purchased used for a smaller initial expenditure.
Eventually, with all the modifications and a Class A MC Transformer (Expressive Technologies SU-1, Bent Audio Silver or Coincident Statement), you will have an investment which will be quite a bit less the Quattro, even with its own much simpler and cheaper modifications.
Which one is better?
Each model has small theoretical and practical advantages over the other. There canít be significant differences considering that both units are superb in every area of musical reproduction. However, based on extensive listening sessions with the Audion, in an associate's system that I am very familiar with, I am now certain that the Audion does not equal the Jadis in retaining low-level musical information. The Audion does have sonic advantages in other areas, but to me they are less important. So I still feel that the (modified) Jadis/ET combination is the ultimate way to go, as impractical as they are now to both find and then build.
What about the JP-80 "stock"? It would be, most likely, a lower "Class B" preamp in performance, and that ranking assumes that the (poor) MC stage was not being utilized.
Unless you have no choice, you should generally avoid the newer JP-80MC, since you wonít be using their mediocre moving-coil stage. You will need all the money you saved to gut and modify your JP-80 after the purchase. The most you should ever spend on any used JP-80, including the MC, is around $7,000, though this number may change depending on supply and demand.
Some JP-80s have no tubes in the power supply. Jadis took them out for a couple of years beginning around 1990. The preamplifier is faster and more precise without them, but it's also "drier". It's a very small difference, but it's still audible. They went back to using tubes after, I assume, complaints from customers and dealers.
I have received a number of requests to provide the details of the modifications I made to my reference JP-80. I have now began a Modification File. It will take some time to fully complete, but the most fundamental and noticeable modifications have now been posted.
The JP-80 is not their "top of the line" preamplifier. Jadis also makes the JP-200, which is the most expensive preamplifier I know of at $36,000. Itís a four chassis design, and has 9 (EF-86) tubes per channel; 3 each for the moving-coil, RIAA phono and line stages respectively. It looks like two JP-80s, one per channel. Because of its unusually large size, it can be very difficult to position it within typical cabinets. There could also be cable and grounding problems.
Then there are the sonics. Because it is quite rare, not many people have actually heard this component, but we are very lucky in this instance. Back in the early 1990s, just before I bought the Expressive Technology SU-1 Transformer, and while my own JP-80 was still almost pure stock, a good friend of mine purchased the JP-200 (he received a great deal, but he still paid big money).
He soon came over to my place to find out how much better it was then the JP-80. A couple of his friends tagged along, and a couple of my closest audiophile friends were also there. This was a "big event" at the time and a large number of people wanted to attend, but 6 audiophiles was the maximum I would allow in my room at one time (to avoid a "circus" atmosphere).
We ended up spending the entire afternoon comparing the two models. First we played my unit, since it was already "hooked up". Then we took everything apart and installed the JP-200. Then it was back to the JP-80 and then one last listen to the JP-200 (for final confirmation). The system, as I remember it was: Goldmund Studio modified/SME V, Dynavector XX-1*, Jadis JA-80s highly modified, Wilson Watts II modified, Entec top-of-the-line SW-2 subwoofers.
*This was an excellent high-output moving coil cartridge. The unique moving-coil stage of the JP-200 was not employed. If it had, the comparison would have been unfair and useless. Only the basic phono and line stages were used and compared.
Fortunately, there was total unanimity in what we all heard and what I now describe:
The JP-200 was slightly superior in 3 sonic elements. There was a small improvement in image size and focus, bass extension and dynamic shading. In the remaining sonic areas, the two preamplifiers were either equal or the JP-80 even slightly superior to the JP-200. This latter result surprised all of us, but we speculated that it was due to the very modest (at the time) modifications that I had already made to the JP-80. (We were trying to be kind to the disappointed owner of the JP-200 by this time.)
The bottom line...
The JP-200 is not worth the extra money. In fact, the owner** put it up for sale immediately after this comparison. There were some enhancements you might pay a few hundred dollars for, not $10,000 and probably more. As a rule, component cost is not a factor in this class, but paying that much more for such a minor improvement isn't reasonable by any sane standards. The impracticality of this four chassis design is another negative factor that must also not be forgotten.
In simple terms; as superb as it was, the JP-200 was still a major disappointment.
** The owner of the JP-200 sold the preamplifier within a year, but this incident permanently changed him. He completely lost his interest in purchasing "crazy-priced" components and started looking for "value" instead. It was the English poet William Blake who wrote that: "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom".
I was able to hear the JP-30 extensively, during a period around 1990 (with a distributor's loan). I was NOT impressed with it at all. The Class C preamplifiers below, such as the MFA Magus and Audible Illusions Modulas II, were noticeably superior to the Jadis, even when they were "stock". The build quality wasn't that special either. The sound reminded me of the cheapest Conrad Johnson preamplifiers (veiled, slow and distorted), and the JP-30 was still relatively expensive. It was a major disappointment, and I felt that the component was not worthy of the Jadis "name". (I have not heard the more recent JP-30MC.)
HOVLAND HP-100-UNDER CONSIDERATION- This same company was originally well known for its superb and expensive capacitors. This preamplifier has not been heard by my group in a controlled setting, but I have heard and read enough about it to recommend auditioning it. It was designed to retrieve the subtle musical information that I most value. It is also well made and obviously uses top quality passive parts, including the volume control and the selector switch. They have a moving coil transformer too, but we have no word on that either yet. A final determination will be made after it is compared to the others in this class.
Further- Someone in our extended group has properly auditioned the line stage version of the Hovland. He felt it was superior to the Manley Control Master Line stage. He was so impressed that he purchased the Hovland. The phono stage is still a total mystery to us.
PARAGON- This company came out with a few very interesting preamplifiers during the later 1970s. I have fondly remembered experiences with them.
According to former Paragon owner, Mark Deneen, the original Model 10, designed by "consulting engineer" Bruce Moore, was "unmanufacturable" and only 50 were ever made. I never heard one, but I did hear, and even owned, the replacements, the Model 12 and 12A. They were excellent in their day, maybe the best available, with full-bodied sound, spatial information and good retrieval of decay. That was breakthrough performance at the time.
Even more intriguing was their budget model, the System "E". It had a simpler circuit, with no tone controls (unusual at the time), and a large unregulated power supply. Paragon's own (in-house) listeners felt it was actually better than their more expensive models, but only when driving tube amplifiers. I'd love to hear one today, but modified with Teflon coupling caps.
Further- Because of their age, caution must be used when checking their condition. They should also be modified. All of the Paragon preamplifires, with the one exception of the Model 10, are in the Reference Phono Stages.Top
PRECISION FIDELITY C-7 PREAMPLIFIER- This preamplifier is my choice for the "best preamplifier ever made for the money". It had a brillant minimalist design, ahead of its time, and decent execution for its day. There are several versions of it, and a reader sent me a letter with some pertinent information about them:
"In your article (on the C-7) you stated that '[you] didn't know if the C-7 could be updated to the C-7A, or C-7 Revised'.
Just to let you know, yes they can. Modifying a C-7A to a C-7 revised is a minor modification, and would take an audio engineer (or electronics tech) with a schematic and the right parts about 1 hour to do. However, modifying a C-7 to a C-7 revised is a little more time consuming, but is still relatively easy and would only take about 4 hours to do the complete job.
Just to let you know, from the basic C-7, the C-7A modifications are primarily updates to the power supply section of the preamp. The C-7 to C-7 revised is a more involved, because it has a greater involvement in upgrading the power supply; some very slight modifications to the phono stage (to increase gain); and, additional modifications to the line stage. Anyone with a complete set of schematics for all 3 versions of the preamp (which I am lucky to have) could easily do the modifications."
A reader sent me a letter asking if I knew which version, if any, of the Luminescence preamplifiers he owned. I felt it was a very early model, but advised him to contact Scott Frankland, who would be the one person who would know with certainty. He did, and this is Frankland's (edited) reply. There is an important personal note at the end. My bold:
"The Luminescence preamp began as a streamlined version of our 3-chassis Venusian preamp. Both models were specifically designed around octal-base triodes. Venusians were built from the late 70s til the mid-80s. Lumi's were built from 1983 to 1990 (see attached revision key*).
What you have is a transition model prototype, probably built in the mid-80s, and intended to be a bridge out of the octal-tube quandry. At a certain point we began to have difficulty finding adequate stocks of 5691 octal triodes (these were needed to keep the noise under control in the Lumi phono stage). We then tried for some years to effect a "Lumi" using 9-pin tubes. Yours was one of the many attempts. At a certain point we realized that we could never duplicate the sound of the Lumi using 9-pin tubes, so we stopped trying. We set out instead to produce a 9-pin preamp that would simply stand on its own merits. The result was the MC Reference, which was produced in small numbers during the early 90s.
As always, I service and upgrade all MFA equipment. I just don't advertise the fact. Word of mouth is usually sufficient to find me. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance..."
11271 Enchanto Vista
San Jose, CA 95127
Personal Note- I have a copy of the Luminescense "revision key" (a PDF file)*, which can be sent to readers upon request.
A reader just sent me an email with some sad news. I would check out Elliot's website (www.altavistaaudio.com/) for the relevant details. While relatively expensive, the owners I've heard from have all been very happy with their upgrades. Some minor editing and my bold:
"I guess it's the end of an era, because it seems Mike Elliot is discontinuing at least some of his most popular upgrades (SA-9, SA-11, SA-4), which has gone into effect this month. I remember that you mention his upgrades on your site so I just thought I would update you on this. I imagine this has something to do with his new Aria amps and preamp..." (5/08)
A reader sent me this letter concerning the Canary preamplifiers, which neither I, nor any of my associates, have any serious experience with (in contrast to their 300B based power amplifiers). There's some minor editing and my bold:
"...www.high-endaudio.com is one of the few sites that has reviewers mentioning products from the boutique manufacturer Canary Audio. I guess the purpose of me writing this is to request that you relay this info to the person who has the 903s driving the Reference Ones that he is not doing the Reference Ones any justice with the 903s.
I happened to have briefly owned CA-301 (someone borrowed it and blew it up), CA-309 (did not have quite enough juice to power the Eidolons), and I am currently using a highly modified (yours truly) CA-801SE...
The 801 circuit wise is very similar to the 903 except for chassis count and tube rectification. They are both based on the Wada Shigeru mod (SRPP instead of single triode follower) of the Marantz 7. The CA801SE handily displaced 3 preamps I had in my system (was in an evaluation frenzy at the time): My trusty Audio Research Reference 1 with Auricaps (huge soundstage buy no emotion at all), SP10 II (has its idiosyncrasies), and Cary SLP98P (gasses out and becomes muddy when challenged by complex passages).
After prolonged listening however, I find the Canary preamp lacking in textural richness of the mid highs, as evidenced by violin music. Violins are never steely or muffled as played through a lot of sub-par preamps but the Canary lacks richness and flavor despite various tube-rolling attempts. I am almost tempted to use the worlds constricted and compressed but that might be too negative. A friend who uses a CA903 setup just sold his because of the same reason.
This stock CA801SE also went to a friend's place with CA309 driving Genesis ribbon towers with the same results: Completely slaughtered by an MFA Lumi.
So I decided to roll up my sleeves and start swapping things out.
* First out goes the 1st 12AX7s interstage coupling cap, in comes a Jensen 0.01 copper oil.
* Then the 12AU7 (SRPP) stage coupling is swapped with a V-Cap reference (a bit of a waste of $$$ but thats what I have)
* Then the Output caps with 4.7uF Mundorf Silver oil
* NFB loop DC blocker with 4.7uF Mundorf M Supreme
Then I checked the NFB loop and thought it could use some reduction in the amount of NFB so out goes the Feedback loop 25k resistor in favor of a 37k one. The sound became a lot more relaxed but at the expense of some bass ooomph disappearing. Still not enough improvement I think.
So, moving on to high Voltage:
The Sprague atom decouplers are swapped with ASC and Sprague Oil cans, that warmed up the sound quite a bit. Finally the violins are passable. I noticed that the biggest difference between the 801SE and the 903 is the power supply where the latter uses a tube rectifier, so I swapped out the 1N54XX diodes with Fairchild Stealth Hexfreds.
Just when I was getting pretty satisfied with the preamp, and think that it's getting close to the sound of an MFA Lumi (I must confess...I wish!), I got the chance to borrow the new Canary 906 to play in my system.
The 906 is somewhat like the Lumi line stage (2 6SN7 per channel), but I think the similarity is limited to tube config only. I think the circuit is quite different. The unit I borrowed was supposedly fresh off the production line. When I turned it on and played Midori-Sibelius violin concerto I was shocked. It *does* sound like my friend's highly modified Lumi! Good 6SN7 based preamps are not easy to make. While they are almost never thin or brittle, I have heard quite a few of them that are either noisy or easily "run out of gas" and convey a blurred soundstage when transients or complex passages are played, momentarily morphing from Hi definition (sorry to have borrowed Audio Research jargon) to AM radio. Absolutely not so with the CA906.
Out of the box the initial impression of the CA906 is a bit dark and buttoned down, but it has all the details and spatial information there is. Instruments in an orchestra are very well delineated and every tiny bit of nuance is passed with no exaggeration, squeaking, thinning, or coloring. These days when I audition any piece of gear I run through one or 2 of my favorite "reference CD tracks" and quickly jump to passages where the not-so-competent gear breaks down in various ways like compressed dynamics, muffled, hard piano notes, violin image unstable, thinning of certain violin notes, overly sibilant sounds, small background noises audible through ultra high resolution systems missing with the equipment in question. The Canary 906 passes each of these listening tests with ease, with everything, I really mean EVERYTHING better than my modded CA801SE.
I will need to return the CA906 soon and I sure hope I can get a chance to pit it head to head against my friend's MFA Lumi." (5/08)
Personal Note- The helpful reader has promised to send further details of his upcoming experiments and comparisons.
This is the follow-up letter from the same reader who had a letter about Canary preamplifiers posted in May 2008. There is some minor editing and my bold:
"The story continues with the CA906. It continues to shine in my system which consists of a Sonic Frontiers transport and Processor 3, an Altavista NP220 premium gold power amp (sometimes I still use my VAC Phi 70/70, but recently I am more inclined to favor the NP220s more "honest" sound) and Avalon Eidolon speakers.
Strings are the area which the CA906 shines the most. With material like Gil Shaham playing Glazunov and Seiji Ozawa/Boston Symphony/Joseph Silverstein Vivaldi: Four Seasons, the CA906 made my system sing like never before. This preamp has a wicked way of presenting the crescendo of violins with unbelievable realism. It conveys the right texture of the strings regardless of pitch or loudness. Another area where it shines is jazz saxophone. A lot of preamps tend to make saxophones growl. A well-known challenging track is All Blues in the Reference recordings HDCD sampler. The CA906 not only was able to handle the passage when played loud, but the texture of the instrument is there and never sounds stressed.
Another thing worth mentioning is the over-engineered volume control. You need to dial it up/down 5 clicks to change the volume equivalent to 1 notch in a conventional volume control. This really helps me dial in the optimal listening volume for every track.
Too bad I did not get a chance to put the CA906 head to head against my favorite preamp, a MFA Lumi, which was rebuilt and modified under the guidance of Scott Frankland himself. I had the Lumi in my system a few weeks before I had a chance to evaluate the CA906. As far as I remember the Lumi was more "dramatic" and has more "bloom" where instruments "float" out from the speakers. The CA906 was a bit more laid back. If memory serves me correctly, the CA906, while a bit darker, preserves even more microdynamics and presents a quieter background than the Lumi. Other than that the sonic signatures are very very close.
The CA906 did get a chance to up against the Lumi for one evening. The setup also has a Sonic Frontiers Processor 3, but has a biamped setup with the preamp driving a pair of Tube Research Monoblocks and a pair of Rowland 1s. The speakers were Avalon Ascent IIs. The Lumi was the resident preamp of the setup, and the whole system sounded beautiful given the constraints of the bass extension and the top end of the Ascents.
We were a bit disappointed when we plugged in the CA906. First we had to deal with a hum problem where despite selectively floating each piece of gear with cheater plugs the hum never really went away 100%. But the biggest letdown was that while the CA906 did not sound anywhere close to the Lumi, and did not sound anything like it did in my setup. In that system the CA906 sounded more like my CA801SE before I did the mods. The size of Midori's violin shrank regardless of volume level, and things began to sound marginally thin and stressed. We believe that it might have something to do with the Lumi's capability to swing huge voltage into the additional load due to bi-amping. The CA906 is probably designed for driving 1 set of power amps only (preferably the Canary 300B amps perhaps?).
In my setup the CA906, was definitely better than any preamp I have owned." (6/08)
A European reader sent me his tube rolling observations with the Doge 8 preamplifier. They are more extensive than any person I know of at this time, including my associates. His first language is not English, so I had to do a good deal of editing. Here it is, with my bold:
"I have some observations to make on tube rolling for the last year I have had the Doge 8. On the line section, I used a SIEMENS NOS, and it was dead quiet on every source I tried. This was something I never experienced from any preamplifier I've owned in the last 20 years.
With the phono stage, things were more difficult. The included Chinese tubes were quiet, but with no life or musicality. The Reissue Mullards were good, but were noisy on MM and extremely noisy on MC. The NOS Valvo was better than the Mullards, or the Chinese, but was still nothing special when it came to noise.
Telefunken and Matsuchita brought life and less noise. Of these two, I prefer the Matsuchitas in my system. Then I read about the French MAZDA*. To be honest, I did not expect any huge differences, and the price was too high for four of them, but, on the other hand, I just had to try them. I can claim this after just one month I have had them: NOTHING IS BETTER ON THE DOGE PHONO THAN THESE TUBES. Every Doge 8 owner must try these tubes before they buy anything else!!!!! They are quiet, with enough gain and they also have musicality."
The reader's current audio system:
VPI TNT6 with SUPER PLATER and DOUBLE MOTOR/ADVANCED ANALOG MG1 LINEAR ARM/DYNAVECTOR XV1S
DOGE 8 PREAMPLIFIER
CODA SYSTEM 100 (PURE CLASS A)
SONUS FABER CREMONA (12/09)
*Personal Notes- Until this letter, I've never even heard of the Mazda tubes. Any reader confirmation would be welcome. However, I've now seen their actual NOS prices, and they are extremely expensive, as the reader notes.
A veteran reader has sent me his comprehensive experiences with the Doge 8, a preamplifier which has been sadly ignored by the audio press, both print and Internet. We find the Doge 8 to be an outstanding performer and an amazing value. I believe this reader makes a serious contribution to the now rare Doge 8 literature. Here are his observations, slightly edited and my bold:
"For about a year I used a B&K Pro 10-MC preamp between a rebuilt Lenco L75/Graham 2.2/Lyra Dorian and a pair of Canary CA330 monoblock amps connected to Gallo Nucleus Reference 3.1 and later to Coincident Total Victory speakers. I knew that the B&K was the weak link in my system, but didn't have a budget at the time to do anything about it. That being said, for the $350 I paid for it, I still consider the B&K a great value and a well designed product.
Eventually, I bypassed the B&K phono stage with a Project Phonobox SE and a little later added a pair of Lundahl LL9226 MC step up transformers and used only the MM stage of the Phonobox SE (which has a much lower noise floor spec than the MC stage). Still, I needed to replace the B&K to get better and I eventually acquired a Placette passive line stage. This gave more detail, clarity, transparency and soundstage definition. Over a period of months, I gradually began to feel that I had lost something; the sound was a little lean and a little bright. Eventually, I went back to the B&K setup.
Around the same time that I made this last switch, I started reading your articles regarding the new Coincident line stage and your thoughts on passive vs. active preamps. I also had a long conversation while on vacation with a veteran very high end audio shop rep who was convinced that a very good active line stage would outperform a very good passive stage. Of course if one happens to sell $6,000 preamps, and not sell passive line stages, then there can be some incentive to take a certain point of view of this matter.
In any case, I decided to try a quality active preamp in my system. Now the challenge was to find the best component possible with the budget limitation that I had which was about $1,500. So the new Coincident and all the numerous other contenders at $2k plus were out of the running. I have no problem with buying used components and have done so often in the past. But I came to the conclusion that anything that I might try to pick up on the used market would either be too hard to find or not be as good as the Doge 8.
So I ordered the Doge and set it up in my system. I turned on the Doge 8 and let it run for 16 hours playing random lossless audio files through my Musical Fidelity X-DAC-V3 (another piece that I picked up for $350 and outperforms my $1,000 CD player by a large margin). I understand that the Pacific Valve and Electric ran the unit for 3 days before shipping it to me.
The next day I sat down to do some serious listening. Comparing to my B&K, I found a significant improvement in detail, soundstage definition and a huge dynamic range. However the sound was somewhat hard and complex multi-instrument passages came out confused or unclear. I am not really sure what word to use to describe that lack of clarity of the components of the orchestra that I was hearing. My system couldn't resolve the entire signal! The bottom line is that after several hours on listening I came to the conclusion that if that was the best that I was going to get from this unit it was going back to the dealer. It would definitely not remain in my system.
But I still had something to try. While waiting to take delivery of the Doge 8, I had purchased a matched quad of 1966 NOS Siemens 12AT7s from a very nice company called TCTubes in St. Paul Minnesota. So out came the no-name Chinese tubes in went the Siemens tubes in line stage. The improvement was massive. All of the good things that I was hearing from the Doge were still there and all the bad things were gone. The sound was full and rich and the tonal balance was superb. Large orchestral works were clear and I could pick out easily all the separate instruments. This was definitely a major improvement over both the B&K and the passive pre-stage that I was using.
The next day I started evaluating the phono stage. I reasoned that the ideal configuration would be to use the step-ups into the MM input on the Doge with the switch set to the high resistance position. I think that a good transformer should easily outperform the JFET stage of the preamp. Nothing I tried would give me as good a sound as I had using the step-up transformer/Project Phonobox combination connected into a line input on the Doge.
I decided to try the same solution that worked so well on the line stage. I found a local guitar store that had a large supply of 12AX7s of various companies. I bought 4 Tung Sols as that is the type that Pacific Valve and Electric offers as an upgrade to the no-name Chinese tubes and the price was quite reasonable at $19 each.
When I installed these tubes the improvement was pretty much the same as when I replaced the Chinese tubes in the line stage. I was quite encouraged with the results, the overall sound was better than what I was getting with the Phonobox, but not by a significant margin. It was a little lean and bright. I reasoned that I needed to work on getting the cartridge loading right and played with various values of shunt resistors on the output of the step up transformers.
I couldn't get anything to sound good using the low resistance setting on the Doge so I concentrated on the high setting which I knew from talking to PV and E was 47k ohms. After a few tries I found that 29 ohms net cartridge loading gave me pretty much the same full rich sound and tonal balance that I was getting from the line stage. At 18 ohms the top end started to fade whereas at 50 ohms it started to get too bright again. My ability to adjust this value was limited by the selection of 1% metal film resistors that I have to work with.
So the Doge 8 is definitely staying in my system. With good tubes it beats by a wide margin anything else I have ever tried. However, in my opinion, unless the original no-name Chinese tubes are replaced it's not even worth considering. Besides the qualities that I have already mentioned I find it has a quite acceptable noise level and sound-floor. It's important to keep in mind that I am using Canary amps with 300B output tubes which are not the quietest things around so my analysis of noise levels may be somewhat skewed. One really standout change that I have already mentioned is the dynamic range; it's absolutely huge. The variation of sound level from quiet passages to loud passages on classical recordings is really beyond anything I have heard before on any system. This may in fact be partly due to good sound-floor performance also.
As with pretty much every set up there is something that is not quite perfect. The output of the Doge 8 is about 2.2 volts and the input sensitivity of the Canary monoblocks is about 0.75 volts. Together with the sensitive Coincident Total Victory speakers, the result is that the useable volume range on the Doge is 0 to 25% of full scale. Anything above that is just too loud. As a consequence the volume control is a little too sensitive and a light finger on the remote volume button is necessary in order to not overshoot the desired setting.
I have found that over the past few days I have come to use a lower volume setting for my listening sessions. At first I attributed this to the oversensitive volume control and the big dynamics but I am starting to think that it may have to do with the fact that there is more harmonic content in what I am hearing now as compared to previous configurations; going back again to the fuller or richer sound and tonal balance that may preclude the tendency to increase the volume to get the full musical experience out of the recording.
The Doge 8 has improved my system in pretty much every area of sound reproduction; clarity, detail, balance, speed, soundstage definition, dynamics, harmonics, Ö. The Placette passive stage matched it except for a tendency to be lean and bright as well as for the dynamic range capabilities. The B&K gets beat all across the board, which of course is no surprise as it really isn't in the same category. THE NO-NAME TUBES MUST BE REPLACED IN ORDER TO GET A LEVEL OF PERFORMANCE THAT MAKES THIS UNIT A VALID OPTION. OTHERWISE ITS NOT WORTH CONSIDERING. I invested about $350. In tubes however, I suspect that a good result could be obtained without using NOS tubes for about $200.
I hope these notes may contribute to building some user experience data on this product."
The same reader, a few days later, added these addendums:
"I forgot to mention in my long winded email the other day that I received confirmation from Pacific Valve and Electric on the input resistance values for the phono stage; you may already know this - the low resistance switch setting gives 20 ohms and the high setting is 47k ohms.
Another interesting discovery; I was on a Chinese (I think) web site yesterday that said that the two RCA outputs of the Doge 8 had different gains! Output 1 being V gain = 20 and Output 2 being V gain = 10. I tried it for fun and it's not true. They are the same. Maybe some Chinese version?" (07/11)
Here is some potentially wonderful news I just found out about from a reader. More information can be found on the importer's website. Minor editing and my bold:
"I wanted to inform you about the new Doge 8 Clarity. This is the newest offering from Pacific Valve. I have just ordered a new Clarity. The old Doge 8 has been on back order for some time, so I decided to take a chance. Apparently it is the same circuit, but with 'upgraded' caps using Clarity and Hovland musicaps. I will be putting 5751 GE black plates in the phono stage and some JAN 12at7 in the line stage. I will be using the MM phono stage with a Ypsilon SUT. I will report back after some extensive listening and break in." (08/11)
Personal Notes- The new model is $ 1,900. This is $ 460 more than the original model, which is still available (as far as I know). According to the importer's website, there was a "redesign" of the phono stage, which is the model's "weak link", though the details are hazy. (Though the JFET appears to have been removed.)
I will post the reader's Doge Clarity observations as soon as they become available to me. Maybe this website's criticisms of the original model, posted back in early 2009, and since then, finally bore some fruit.
The First Report...
A reader has sent me his observations of the new version of the Doge 8 preamplifier, which has long been a "Reference" (Class "B") on this website. It is called the "Clarity". Here now is his letter, with very minor editing and my bold:
"A few months have passed since I purchased my Doge 'Clarity'. I feel that after about 200 hours of break in that things are settling in.
To review my system; VPI HMW 19 Mk IV (Sorbothane)/Audioquest PT6/Denon 103 (cocobolo wood body) table, Ypsilon MC16 SUT, Adcom GFA555, Acoustat 2(medallion),
Morrow cables (#6) throughout.
A budget system by many standards.
The Doge came with reissued Mullards 12AX7 in the phono and JAN 12AT7 tubes (No need for immediate change). It was tested at Pacific Valve for 4 days before shipping. It came double boxed and in perfect condition. Their customer service kept me abreast of the entire process and even emailed me for feedback after initial listening.
Their customer service was impeccable. This point needs to be made since most dealers/manufacturers don't seem to care after the credit card clears. It is doubly important since we are talking about a Chinese product, and many are afraid of their quality.
I opened up the Doge and the same exceptional build quality is there, but more so; with the bright blue Clarity and Hoveland Musicaps lined up and soldered with what looks like great care taken in manufacturing.
I have a good friend that has the original Doge and I am very familiar with its excellent sound. I was immediately impressed by the sonics of the Clarity. It had the same incredible quiet line stage with dynamics, pace, inner and outer details. With vinyl, the differences really showed up with a lower sound-floor.
Both the line stage and phono had a more pinpointed and defined soundstage. Voices and instrument placement seemed easier to hear. The new design seems to require more volume (less gain?). My friends volume knob is usually around 9 o'clock where the Clarity is more like 11.
After break in:
The phono has gotten quieter and the soundstage wider. Micro dynamics are more defined and pleasing. The line stage the same, but there is less difference from the old Doge and when the Clarity was new, maybe a tad smoother and extended.
This is a wonderful preamp. Being paired with a SUT that costs more than the preamp isn't hurting it any, but that is the hobby we live with. I got to listen to the Doge with the Ypsilon phono stage and that combination was the best I have ever heard anywhere, but of course the Ypsilon phono stage is silly money at $30k.
This gave an opportunity to compare the Doge phono stage with what the audio press says is the nirvana of phono stages and it came away respectively. The much more expensive Ypsilon had a lower sound-floor, but because they both had the same source and SUT, the sound was very similar. With its lower sound-floor, the Ypsilon inner details were strikingly good, but not $28k better. Indeed, I believe their SUT is a big part of their magic.
PS: I tried tube rolling the Mullards for GE Blackplate 5751s and put the Mullards back. The 5751 was too soft and not as excitingly dynamic or as well defined. Clearly, the phono stage circuit has been changed from the original. I also tried the MC section and it was quieter, but still not as good as the MM due to the jfet topography.
I hope that this review is clear and concise. I feel that the Doge is a great product and a true bargain in our increasingly overpriced hobby.
In the future I plan on trying a Soundsmith modded Denon 103. I will let you know my findings on it." (11/11)
Some More Observations...
This time from France, where the reader has made some modifications on the stock Clarity model, with results he is obviously very satisfied with. (Needless to say, such modifications, without authorization, will cancel the warranty in North America.) Here's his letter, with only minor editing for now, and my bold:
"...the technician of the French distributor has suggested a modification to improve the security (coupled capacitors are very strong and may destroy some loudspeakers on direct coupling amps. There have been some examples in France and in US too). Therefore, the 'temporisation' has been modified up to 30 sec first, and in fact he tested last week that this is not sufficient. On his recommendations, the factory is being issuing a new chip with a 1 min temporization.
Another important modification to do is to change the cathode resistors to drastically reduce the noise. For strange reasons, the Chinese have made a mistake on the circuit, and their resistor values are not what they should be! When this modification is made, there is absolutely no noise anymore, and the technician said to me that he NEVER tested such a quiet preamplifier! (Line stage AND Phono.)
I am testing the Doge modified by him and there is a huge improvement on noise (absolutely nothing can be heard now on line stage AND on Phono) and also on musicality. He also suppressed all resistors situated at the MM input (probably to reduce the gain on the MM switch ?). This was nonsense also, and now the SRPP has a very high gain, but absolutely no noise anymore. This is also a HUGE improvement of the quality of this Phono stage which is now EXCEPTIONAL.
The phono stage modified by him is by far the very best I ever heard (I personally use a SRPP Anzai, Mcintosh MX 110, Adyton Temper and Adyton Chorus and used to listen some very high level phono stages by some friends of me).
This week I compared Doge 8 + Conrad Johnson MV55 to my Leben CS 600 on Proac D18 and Harbeth HL 5.
The Doge (modified version) + MV 55 is at least as musical as the Leben! (This was not the case before the modifications).
This modified Doge 8 is now an exceptional preamp." (02/12)
Personal Notes- I'd like to see some confirmation from other users. Also, I asked the reader to send some specifics concerning the cathode/resistor modification (which I will post). Based on the above letter, I assume the Doge 8 emits a potentially dangerous pulse when it is turned on, or off (like the Jadis JP-80 and many other preamps/phono stages), so caution is advised. This is the main reason why it is always best to turn preamps on, and off, only when the power amplifiers are off.
Some Pertinent Information...
The U.S. distributor of the Doge 8 Clarity has sent me some important information concerning this new version of the preamplifier. He hopes to clarify some previous reports from Europe, posted above. Here it is with my bold:
"With regard to the posting on 2/2012 from the gentleman in France, we want to let you know that:
1) The Clarity is our design with components sourced in North America and built in China. We never authorized a Doge 8 Clarity to France nor have we ever built a 220v version of the Doge 8 Clarity. I believe that this gentlemen is working with a stock Doge 8.
2) Our Clarity model follows a different circuit diagram that this gentlemen has, so the incorrect values for the cathode resistors is moot with the Clarity. We still sell the stock Doge 8 and we confirm on our units that the value is correct.
3) All of our Doge 8s have an extended turn on sequence.
4) We do not have the resistors in the phono stage. As a matter of fact, the gain on our Clarity models was so high, a -10db switch was installed inside our units for better amplifier gain matching.
I hope this clears up the posting. I also hope that this does not generate confusion for your readers." (03/12)
I recently received this letter from a veteran reader who performed many of the modifications I always wanted to make on this preamp, but never had the opportunity to do so. There is some minor editing and my bold:
"Having discussed this particular phono centric preamp with you in the past, I decided to have it upgraded (you expressed interest in what a modded one would sound like).
I put around $1,000 in parts and labor into this, including Dynamicap capacitors, some Caddock resistors, Mills resistors, new ceramic tube sockets, new RCA plugs, all new power supply caps and wiring, new selector switch and Alps volume pots. Quite an extensive rebuild. All work was done by GAS Audio in Chesterfield, VA. The unit was brought up to full C-7a Revision spec.
We could not replace all of the Dale resistors in the phono sections, as I could not find appropriate values in preferred brands. It is filled with 12ax7 Amperex Orange Globes and 12az7 Japan made tubes (Raytheon). While it only has maybe 75 hours on it, some sonic character is starting to emerge.
My system, as this certainly affects what I am hearingÖ
VPI Scoutmaster, with all the goodies (heavy platter, speed controller, ring and weight) and a 10.5i arm
Precision Fidelity C-7a and other listed preamps
Coincident MB300b amps (last production run)
Daedalus DA1 speakers
Quicksilver speaker wire
Please note that I will struggle to find the appropriate words hereÖ.
For comparative purposes, I compared it to a VTL Ultimate, VTL Super Deluxe, Counterpoint SA 5.1 (fully upgraded by Mike Elliot).
Quick and dirtyÖit easily bests the VTLs. The Counterpoint has it at the extremes, top and bottom, but the C-7 is simply superior in the midrange. The Counterpoint may be slightly bright in comparison to the PF, or is the PF slightly warm? We are really splitting hairs here. There is better bass definition from the Counterpoint, along with a slightly extended high end. The midrange is owned by the PF. Guitars really sound more like guitars than I have ever heard. Piano has better scale, they sound like large instruments. Decays are simply unbelievable, breath taking. You can hear voice inflections, mike distance changes, blended but distinct harmonies in a way the Counterpoint cannot produce. Please do not misunderstand, I love the Counterpoint, but this is something different.
Is it possible that the 300b amp is exaggerating the neutrality of the PF making it warmer, with less bass definition and control? This could have a very positive effect on the slightly leaner (cleaner) Counterpoint.
Please note that all of the caps in the phono section are now Dynamicaps as the Wima caps were temporary. I have to keep using this so that it can get fully broken inÖ." (11/13)
I received two letters this month, from different readers, concerning the Doge. I felt both of them were relevant. There's some minor editing and my bold:
"I own a Doge 8 preamp and have tried the recommended 12AT7 line stage tubes--Mullard CV4024 and Siemens E81CC triple micas--but have found them to be unsatisfactory for the near-field listening I do in my system.
That is, these tubes sound 'too hot' in the high frequencies. I feel that Telefunken E81CC tubes are a much better choice for the Doge 8 line stage because the treble presentation is more laid back and much more natural sounding for acoustic instrument reproduction.
Hope this might help some of your other readers in making tube choices to get the best sound out for this outstanding preamp."
"There appears to be much confusion around the Doge 8 MC phono stage? I've read several comments on many boards that claim the Doge 8 uses JFETs for their MC stage.
I found it interesting to discover that on the Doge web site, they deny this:"
"In all Doge 8 models, four tubes are used for the Line stage and four tubes are used for the Phono stage. We take this opportunity to mention that there has never been any version of Doge 8 released with JFET transistors. We realized that when Pacific Valve had given a unit for test to StereoMojo, they made a mistake and gave the journalist incorrect information that then spread on forums that some previous version of Doge 8 has JFET MC stage.
As sole designer and manufacturer of Doge 8, we wanted to rectify this little misunderstanding and wanted to clarify this point that we never used any JFET transistors in the Doge 8 Phono stage. We did use JFET transistors on the Phono stage of our integrated amp Doge 3, as the lack of space in the chassis didn't allow us to use tubes. So if you think you own a version with JFET Phono stage, please know that you own a full tube Phono stage. The confusion was done by a small PCB at the back side which purpose was to choose between high gain MC input or low gain MC input." (11/15)
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