This review page is supported in part by the sponsor whose ad is displayed above
Silver versus copper. One of our readers put together an S&B balanced passive about 2 years ago. Back then, Bent Audio was the only domestic source of these parts for DIYers. Finalized TVCs weren't available yet as a product or category. Solder slingers experimented solo, reporting back to the maker. In this way, many got involved in the design process by providing feedback and requests. This chap warned that, from experience, these transformers take forever to break in. It makes it impossible to know how far along I managed to condition them. On a side note, this same reader recently visited Les Turoczi who runs a $9,000 ARC Reference preamp. Les got to hear the DIY passive with the first-Gen S&B transformers (we're now in Gen 3). Les apparently was pretty rattled by how much better it was than his tubed ARC.

Accounting for the possibility that the silver-wired PRE-T1 might still undergo long-term changes, my current assessment is not only plain but shared by George Tordai and Peter Daniel. For this team, copper is in, silver is out. While the silver could be viewed as having subjectively greater detail and a deeper soundstage, it's tonally lean and a bit hollow and thus, apparently subtractive. Marja & Henk heard it while in Taos pre RMAF. They had the same reaction: put back the copper. With a number of listeners on George's informal panel -- plus his own findings -- it seems pretty much decided that a silver version of the PRE-T1 will not go into production. Besides, it'd have to come in at quite a surcharge. So nothing is lost by chucking the silver option.

Running the Consonance Droplet CDP-5.0 amp direct versus through the copper PRE-1 settled one argument for certain: this piece isn't guilty of taking something away. In fact, at subdued volumes, the curtains stayed up arguably longer. This is a hard call to make conclusively but my suspicion of its accuracy is rather high. One other area where the insertion of what in this context was a redundant component suggested minor dividends? The extension of high frequencies. Why and how this could even be is beyond me. Still, I feel satisfied that this passive isn't subtractive in any domain I was able to hone in on. If it acts as a buffer and voltage/current converter, this action was essentially invisible and neutral with the impedance scenarios of my components on hand. If anything, it actually was modestly beneficial rather than superfluous.

On the NuForce Reference 9 monos with the latest upgrades, the level of crystalline transparency was truly spooky. It also lacked the kind of grain or brittleness a lot of transistor amps can elicit. And yes, this combo was drier than my Yamamoto run off the AudioZone preamp and drier than the NuForce Class D amps fronted by my ModWright. But the amount of microscopic detail responsible for enhanced visibility of spatial cues was of an extremely high level of resolving power and nothing in the treble suggested any form of chalkiness. The hooding, thickening or opaque'ing which lesser tube preamps cause nearly by default was non-existent. Running the NuForce monos direct further showed the subsequent insertion of the PRE-T1 to imbue the sonics with just the slightest surface sheen or texture. I actually preferred having it in the chain though technically, it wasn't needed - the Droplet player performed all the volume control changes.

Ditto for the Pateks. Those gained a bit of extra bite run direct, were -- in a good way -- a skoch less energetic on the leading edge with the TVC and bestest with the ModWright that added tone and more texture.

Curiously enough, in any and all circumstances, I preferred the PRE-T1 in its +6dB gain setting. Step-up gain instilled a few degrees of added fullness even when the levels were perfectly matched.

Again, I don't profess to understand why or how. That's where life as a subjective reviewer is swell - we get to call 'em as we hear 'em and let the scientists and engineers and bench jockeys figure out the reasons.

In conclusion, I'm not completely sold on the TVC concept when it comes to matching them to solid-state amps. That's solely due to my personal tube bias: I believe most transistor amps need help in the tone, texture and space departments. That necessitates insertion of a superior active preamp (preferably valves in my book but that's just me).

Where I'm completely sold is on the marriage of direct-heated triode amps and TVCs. From the Yamamoto A-08S to the Fi WE 241A to the Canary CA-308s and Hyperions HT-88s (pentode monos, those), the PRE-T1 was my favorite volume control in residence.

As we'll find out in Michael Lavorgna's review of John Kalinowski's Fostex two-ways, he too fancied a passive -- albeit a more traditional resistive unit by way of RedWine Audio -- to drive his tube amp into those speakers. This particular combination will be an old hat to those hip to and sold on it. For yours truly though, it's been an unexpected realization. Besides the elimination of redundant gain and thereby noise, the PRE-T1 carries another advantage in its back pocket. It essentially can't break. Unless you somehow managed to screw up the stepper switch, there's nothing inside this piece that could conceivably give up its ghost. The only minor liability I can see is impedance matching. Some combinations of source - pre - amp should be more copasetic than others. Having used the copper Canadian more than the silver, I must also report that it seems to have gotten - yes, sweeter over time to make it far less objectionable on my AudioSector chip amps than originally criticized (though my valve preamp still kicks its butt into those amps). So there you have it - a minimalist machine that's built to the nines as anything from the Daniel/Tordai stable. The PRE-T1 is most warmly recommended especially to devotees of high-efficiency low-power system where noise is always an issue and purity should be (that is, purity of amplifier voicing without additional signal enhancements elsewhere). With a Stevens & Billington TVC is how I shall henceforth enjoy my new Yamamoto 45 stereo amp. I'm opting for the Music First Audio unit purely because it has balanced and single-ended inputs and outputs which makes it a more flexible reviewer's tool. Cosmetically, the PRE-T1 is more upscale and finessed. Costwise, the British piece already is $500 more at its current introductory special price and -- if the exchange rate with the British pound is any indication -- likely to eventually increase by at least that much again. If you want an S&B transformer volume control that's turnkey rather than kit, the PRE-T1 appears to be the most cost-effective solution on US soil at the moment.
Manufacturer's website