12 Most Significant Preamps Of All Time

Discussion in 'General Audio Discussion' started by hadrian333, Apr 30, 2012.

  1. hadrian333

    hadrian333 Active Member

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    The Absolute Sound had an interesting article this month about the 12 most significant preamps of all time. I don't want to plagiarize their article so if you want to see their results, please purchase their magazine and keep them in business. I agreed with some of their results but not all. It would be interesting to hear what all of you feel about this topic

    In my opinion, the 12 most significant preamps that affected me are the following:

    1. Marantz 7 tube preamplifier 1958

    If money was not the issue and could afford the premium preamplifier in the late 50's, the Marantz 7 was in a class all its own. The 7 had excellent construction, feel, and look of a superb preamplifier. The sound was clear, natural and unobtrusive. Saul Marantz provided every bells and whistle imaginable on this preamp and became a runaway success among wealthy audiophiles. I was 5 years old when this preamplifier first was introduced and it wouldn't be years later until I fully comprehended its quality. It was so way ahead of its time.

    2. Dynaco PAS2 thru PAS3X Tube Preamplifier 1960

    My first experience with separate components was with the Dynaco tube equipment. In my middle school days, I grew up on an American military base in Japan. When my dad informed me that the craft shop on base was blowing out the audio kits (Dynaco FM3 tuner for $18, Stereo 70 for $35, and the PAS3X for $35) because they couldn't get rid of tube gear, I bought them all and assembled the kits. When I added the Dynaco gear to my system, I couldn't believe how much it improved my system.

    I consider the Dynaco PAS 2 thru PAS3X as the same preamp that went through constant changes. This preamp probably has more modifications and variations than any preamp. The insane range of the tone control (+/- 14db in treble and +/-20db in bass) probably holds the record for the greatest compensation for a standard bass/treble control. The modest price tag of the preamp and the ability to sound so great floored me.

    3. McIntosh C22 tube preamplifier 1963

    How do you describe a preamplifier that is awesome in every aspect? From the solid metal knobs to the back lit glass front panel, the McIntosh embodies class and quality in every respect. I can see why this preamp was reissued. It's a true classic.

    4. QUAD 33 solid state preamplifier 1967

    On the other side of the pond, the British was busy developing unique products of their own. The Quad 33 with its unusual cosmetics caught my eye. The preamp with its unusually small size was able to fit anywhere. The brown, white, and orange unit looked nothing like any preamp before. This was Peter Walker's first foray into solid state electronics. The unit had a pull out printed circuit board to change phono equalization. It was equipped with variable slope filter and defeatable Baxandall tone controls, When I first heard this preamp with the Quad 303 power amp and the Quad 57 electrostatic speakers, I was blown away with its transient response. The clarity of the instruments was like nothing I have experienced previously.

    5. Sony TA2000 solid state preamplifier 1968

    In my opinion, this is the first high end entry from Japan that really made its mark. The robust construction of the preamp and the attention to detail finally made me realize that the Japanese audio manufacturers were starting to take audio seriously. The front panel was made of beautiful, thick aluminum extrusion. Each part of the circuitry was encased in a shielded compartment. The solid metal knobs, the 2 VU meters and the precise feel of the knobs made this preamp seem so much more professional than my Dynaco PAS 3X. In phono mode, the preamp was absolutely quiet. Although it still lacked transient response compared to the American counterparts, this preamp put the Japanese products on the map. The age of silicon bipolar transistors have arrived.

    6. Crown IC150 solid state preamplifier 1971

    The Crown IC150 broke ground in signal to noise ratio and quality volume attenuation. The cascode phono preamplifier in the IC150 broke the 80dB hum and noise threshold to minimize noise. Until now, the tracking of stereo potentiometers used for volume control was acceptable at best. The Crown IC150A volume control brought accuracy to within + or - 0.2dB between the left and right channel at any operating point. Most importantly, Crown recognized the importance of phase linearity and starting publishing the phase characteristics of the preamplifier.

    7. Audio Research SP3 tube preamplifier 1972

    This is the last of the tube preamp that impressed me with its ability to reproduce sound so eloquently. I never liked the cosmetics of this preamp but I was truly enamored with its sonic characteristics. Although it wasn't the most quiet preamp, the transient capability of this preamp was exceptional.

    8. Phase Linear 4000 solid state preamplifier 1973.

    As Bob Carver was gearing up making the Phase Linear 400 and the 700 power amplifiers, the Phase linear 4000 preamp provided a uniqie preamp to match it amplifiers. The 4000 incorporated 2 unique features not seen in other preamps during its era: The Auto-correlator circuit and the Peak Unlimiter circuit The unit had a joystick controller in the middle for balance between all four channels in ambience mode. This preamplifier had more bells and whistles than you could possible imagine.

    9. Mark Levinson JC2 Solid State preamplifier 1973

    On the stark contrast from the Phase Linear 4000, the Mark Levinson JC2 was the plain Jane preamplifier with no frills whatsoever. With no tone controls or filters, the JC2 designed by John Curl made up for it in performance. In 1973, no preamplifier was able to achieve slew rate of 100V/uS other than the JC2 while maintaining excellent signal to noise ratio. The result was an excellent sounding neutral preamplifier that set the standard for great transient response.

    10. Lecson AC1 solid state preamplifier 1975

    While Americans were approaching audio excellence, the British were incorporating extraordinary cosmetics and testing unusual circuitries. The Lecson AC1 is a flat black preamplifier with rainbow colored slide knobs that dominated the face of the preamp. The cosmetic design of the product was so unique that it was displayed in New York's Museum of Modern Art. The preamp incorporated FET switching instead of mechanical switching to eliminate noise. It used Bessel filters for the filter circuitry. The AC1 reminds us that looks can be striking and important as much as functionality.

    11. Apt Holman solid state preamplifier 1977

    If you are a vinyl aficionado, Tomlinson Holman made a major contribution to making the phono preamplifier sound great by decreasing slew induced distortion. After his white paper at Advent Corporation on TIM distortion in phono preamplifier, all engineers took note on the importance of that parameter. The Apt preamp is Tom's culmination of knowledge on how to design a great preamplifier.

    12. AGI 511 solid state preamplifier 1978

    Audio General's AGI 511 is a no frill preamp with input selection and volume control with modest cosmetics. However under the hood, this baby can do 250V/uS slew rate topping the JC2 and everything before it in speed. THD and IM distortion was under 0.005%. If you can get past the no frill look of this preamp, you should audition one. It's quite a trip.
     
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  2. musichal

    musichal poet emeritus Subscriber

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    Does my Lexicon dc-1 get an honourable mention?

    EDIT: Oops, I missed that this was the opinion of an Absolute Sound contributor on the first read-through - thought it was your opinion. Some of those would be difficult to argue against, and some I just wouldn't know, like #s 4,5,8,10 and 12.

    Oh, and nice synopsis, BTW.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2012
  3. davidguilbault

    davidguilbault Perusing the Bargain Bins

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    Great posting. Thanks very much for this.
     
  4. audiodon

    audiodon Addicted Member

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    It is the OP's opinion.
    I don't know enough about preamps to comment.
    I'm here more to lurk than to opine.
     
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  5. hatrack71

    hatrack71 distracted by everything

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    I don't see the Audible Illusions Modulus 3 in there. It really should be.:yes:
     
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  6. Bigerik

    Bigerik AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Why do you figure it is that significant?
     

     

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  7. hatrack71

    hatrack71 distracted by everything

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    Have you ever heard one? One of the best phono stages around and it also incorporated an external power supply. It would be on my list. Besides the OP rates pres that affected his life, no so much in general for the rest of the population.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2012
  8. JoeESP9

    JoeESP9 ESL's & tubes since 83

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    Interesting choices the writer made.

    I sort of agreee with some of the selections.

    I traded a Dyna PAS-3 in to buy an ARC SP3.

    The Crown IC150 was the worst sounding preamp I've ever heard. It was almost painfull to listen to. Who cares about specs when you sound like that?
     
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  9. motorstereo

    motorstereo AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Having owned one I don't believe it belongs on that list. Those pita dual volume controls made mine a dust collector when I had it. The sound wasn't that special to put up with those foolish knobs.
     
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  10. hatrack71

    hatrack71 distracted by everything

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    Everyone has their opinion. Might as well list the 12 most significant in my life. Now this doesn't mean I have owned them all but I have heard them all and they had their affect on me personally

    1)Audio Electronic Supply AE-3 DJH (own)
    2)Audio Research SP-11 (heard)
    3)Rogue 99 (heard)
    4)Audible Illusions Modulus 3 (heard)
    5)Precision Fidelity C-4 (heard)
    6)McIntosh MX-110 Z (own)
    7)Quad 22 (own)
    8)Conrad Johnson PV-2 (own)
    9)Bottlehead Fourplay (own)
    10)Sonic Frontiers SFL-1 (heard)
    11)H/K Citation 1 (heard)
    12)Audio Research SP-3 (heard)
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2012
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  11. Bigerik

    Bigerik AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Yup. I had one for a while. Thought it was a monstrous pain in the ass, the way it went through tubes, and that you could only use certain tubes in it. A lot of otherwise good tubes have gone to tube heaven after too short a time in one of those. And I thought the dual volume controls were a pain.

    Significant would mean something more than the fact you like it. Lots of pre-amps have good phono stages.
     

     

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  12. kirk57

    kirk57 Some guy on the Internet Subscriber

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    The 3a is in fact #8 on the referenced TAS article. The list posted by the OP is the opinion of the OP, not TAS.
     
  13. ConradH

    ConradH Addicted Member

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    Few people, myself included, have owned enough preamps to comment intelligently. The Dynacos are certainly significant. I've had the PAS-3x and probably both PAT-4 and PAT-5. All good for their time, though the control quality left a lot to be desired. The Ace Audio kit was very good for the money (also easy to clone). I've had several IC-150s and though the build quality was good, the sonic quality was never satisfying. It's the preamp I can't resist when I find a cheap one, then sell it ASAP! They had that cool control that went through mono, then on to reverse the channels. The SP3A1 is often said to be an ultimate pre, though I've never had one. Listened to a friends and enjoyed it. Agree about the Holman in terms of technical progress. I had a Carver briefly, but had to do some service on it. IMHO, the miserable mechanical design and lack of reliability made up for any sonic virtues.
     
  14. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

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    I think for simplicity the Kenwood Basic pre-amps should be listed. They are simple, work well and pretty much bullet proof. Besides, they don't break the bank to buy one. Often times, these are the first steps to better pre's and other equipment.
     
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  15. hatrack71

    hatrack71 distracted by everything

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    The OP is stating the 12 HE THINKS are the most significant- not Absolute Sound. You are certainly entitled to your opinion and if the Modulus 3 is not your cup o tea- so be it. I get that. There are quite a few I don't agree with on that list- IN MY EXPERIENCES.
     
  16. hatrack71

    hatrack71 distracted by everything

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    How about a link to the article? I got that these were the OP's choices.
     

     

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  17. JohnVF

    JohnVF Lunatic Member

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    My most significant, in my own journey, was my Klyne SK-6L. It pointed out that I had been playing on a lower playing field than I thought I was. Prior to that it was a McCormack TLC-1 deluxe, for pointing out how colored my previous pres were. Its significant to me that both of these pres are post 1980s.
     
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  18. Bigerik

    Bigerik AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Significant? Not surprising, to me.
     
  19. kirk57

    kirk57 Some guy on the Internet Subscriber

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    Sorry, I know of no link.
     
  20. hatrack71

    hatrack71 distracted by everything

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    That's cool. I tried finding it to no avail. I see you are an Audible Illusions fan though. Tough crowd here.
     

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