Audion Premier Quattro 2 and 4 Box Pre-Amp
What's the best car? The best guitar? The best wine? The best loudspeaker? The best watch? In most categories, there is no "best," just contenders. In high-end audio preamps, however, this is the best, right now in 2006 and probably next year too: The Audion Quattro in 4 box or 2 box configuration. Preamps are troublesome components, having to accept a small magnitude and delicate signal and amplify its voltage so that same signal can inform the muscle needed from the power amp. Along the way, there are sockets, switches, volume and balance controls, and myriad solder connections to degrade that signal and, by extension, your sound. Then there's noise to be dodged, various amplifier input impedances to be mated to, and the circuit has to make as little imprint of its own on the sound as is possible in an imperfect world. At the end of the chain before hand-off to the power amp, the original signal must maintain its fidelity and meaty tone. All this is why many audiophiles are frequently heard declaring, "Preamps suck!" Well, they don't. There are always a few good ones and while nothing outward about an Audion Quattro suggests why it is the best preamp, it nevertheless is. From their first preamp well over a decade ago, Audion has consistently demonstrated special insight about preamp circuits. Using vacuum tubes, their circuits combine speedy transient response with seamless, fluid tone that preserves the emotion and expressiveness in any music you play. If you play vinyl, Audion phono sections have always excelled as well. The new generation Quattro delivers these qualities same as before, but just more so. Even driving other manufacturers' power amplifiers, the full-bodied holistic tonal fidelity of the Quattro preamp informs the performance of everything downstream from it. Not the last word in convenience, the Audion Quattro is a multi-decade purchase with dual-mono construction, so yes you have separate switching and volume controls for each channel in a stereo system, but effort is low and the rotary volume switch makes channel-to-channel matching quick and repeatable. No, there isn't a remote control option either, at least not yet. I've owned or heard every preamp worth mentioning in high-end audio for the past 40 years and owned several during that time. This preamp will place more tonal realism and impactful emotion in your system than any competing preamp you can buy. If you look through my list here on ThisNext, you're probably getting the idea that an Audion + Zu soundchain is something you ought to be playing your music through. Americans can contact Ray of Sound at the link, to find a US retalier. Everyone else can find what they need at Audion's UK web site, below.
The equivalent of alt- or indie music in the audiophile realm is "SET," Single-Ended Triode amplification. SET is embraced and admired by what the Best Buy and Magnolia crowd thinks of as the lunatric fringe of hifi, for its beaut... The equivalent of alt- or indie music in the audiophile realm is "SET," Single-Ended Triode amplification. SET is embraced and admired by what the Best Buy and Magnolia crowd thinks of as the lunatric fringe of hifi, for its beautiful, holistic, liquid tone, honest presentation, and achingly emotive fidelity to the original music. In an SET amp, there is no splitting of the positive and negative waveforms during amplification, as there is in the more common "Push-Pull" topology. The price of having one tube (or a pair in parallel) do all the work is inefficiency. On a per-dollar basis, you don't get much power in conventional terms, but you do get heat. But well-executed, an SET amp can deliver uniquely glorious sound. The trouble with most SET amps is deficient power. You need hyper-efficient speakers to get satisfying volume and dynamics from two to seven watts per channel. Zu speakers have the efficiency to make those watts go a long way, but not everyone has Zu. Nor a small room to limit the challenge of filling it with satisfying music. The answer is the Audion Elite, the best 845 tube amp going. Built around the big, sexy, retro, illuminating, Fritz-Lang-meets-Tesla vibe of the fistful-of-glass 845 triode, the Audion Elite pumps out 24 honest watts per channel with enough drive to sound like 3 times that into real speaker loads, while keeping that heavenly triode tone intact. A simple 3-tube circuit per side, this 3-box stereo amp is inexpensive to own and maintain, thanks to robust build and good contemporary Chinese tubes that sound great in this circuit. The Audion Elite amplifier has a big-toned dynamic sound that's also refined, subtle and fresh. The sonic, tonal and drive match with Zu speakers is sensationally synergistic, but in most rooms, this amp has the muscle to pump triode tone at satisfying level through any speaker with at least 88db/w/m efficiency. Unlike most euphonic triode amps with round sound that also seem a trifle slow, all of Audion's amps have their trademark transient speed, transperancy and definition, including the big-tube Elite. Most digital disk players can drive the Elite inputs directly, and each channel has a level control so a single-source system can get by nicely without a preamp. Still, tone is even more truthful with a preamp, so if you have the eggs, mate the Audion Quattro preamp with the Elite power amp for an experience at the very top echelon of musicality in audio gear today. There are a ton of decent SET 845 tube amps around right now, thanks to an explosion of discerning music loving EEs in China, the US and Europe. Hard to go wrong with any of them, but this one is the best so far, making everything from Government Mule to Drive-By Truckers, to Tom Waits to Rosa Passos to Shostakovich sound convincing, penetrating and true.