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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Opera Audio Reference 2.2 Linear; Raysonic CD128 [on extended loan]
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Bel Canto Design PRe3; Melody I2A3 [on extended loan]; Wyetech Labs Jade; Supratek Cabernet Dual [on extended loan from owner]; Raysonic SE-30A [on review]

EQ: Rane PEQ55 active merely below 40Hz
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; FirstWatt F3 & F1; Bel Canto e.One S300; Eastern Electric M-520
Headphones: AKG K-1000 w. hardwired Stefan AudioArt harness; audio-technica W-1000
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Pro in custom lacquer; Anthony Gallo Acoustics Ref 3.1; The HornShoppe Horn; Mark & Daniel Ruby with matching stands [on review]

Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Zu Cable Varial, Gede, Libtech and Ibis; Stealth Audio Cable Indra, MetaCarbon & NanoFiber [on loan]; SilverFi interconnects; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer; Crystal Cable Ultra loom [on extended loan]
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular five-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option; smaller AudioSector Plitron balanced power step-down transformer on headphone system (Raysonic CDP, Wyetech Jade, FirstWatt F1, AKG K-1000s)
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room

Review Component Retail: TBA

Croft. Lara Croft. Even if delivered with the cool chutzpah of James Bond, Lara Croft is the even more implausible figure. And it doesn't really get much more implausible than old James, rest his misogynist expiration date. Yet Glenn Croft is rather implausible himself. While never yet having made much of an impact in the American colonies, he has operated Croft Instruments in the UK for decades, making a reputation for selling some of his wares at silly -- low -- prices while sandbagging marketing efforts altogether. This caused one reviewer to caution against asking for sales brochures. There weren't any to be had. Period. And this as little as two years ago. Making a success or at least surviving for some 25 years in such anti-commercial fashion is a bit implausible as you will agree. However, here we are in 2006 and Croft, Glenn Croft, is still plying his trade. Yet how much have you heard of him? If at all? See what I mean? 

Asking the google on the internets about Croft Audio turns up the Eminent Audio site, with both and extensions. Besides Croft electronics, the latter offers Croft Acoustic Hologram speakers, Blue Note electronics and Eichman cables. This could suggest an import/distribution or retail deal. Yet digging a wee bit deeper, there are Croftology articles - authored by Eminent Audio. And they use the inclusive "we" in a first-person narrative. This suggests a more
profound connection than mere importation. Eminent Audio indeed turns out to be the marketing arm for Croft. The narrator is Amar Biswas, Croft's main collaborator and chief interfacer with the public. His involvement with Glenn goes way back to the beginning. His evangelical tome "How it all began - the man behind the myth" sheds light on the formation of their joint venture.

Picking up in 1981 (whether recounting or creating a myth in the process is open to debate), Amar's Croft story delivers us at Wolverhampton's underground audio scene of the late 70s. Its active solder slingers were then funded by one Clive S. and Peter Bruty. Vintage and contemporary electronics were acquired, tested, disassembled and variously discarded in an insatiable quest to learn the secrets to superior sound. Among the tools left intact for subsequent tests? Quite the list it was: Klipschorns, Mission 770 MkIIs, Harbeth HL1 MkIIIs, LS35As, Klipsch La Scalas, an array of Quad electrostatics more old than new, IAS Beaulies, Lowthers, The Dais, Garrard 301s/401s, Thorens 124s, Nottingham Analogue Super Mentors, virtually every Stereo Decca cartridge and arm ever designed, the SPUGTE, SUPEX 900, SME 3012, 3009 Mk I/II, SME III & IIIS, Dynavector DV505, Leak Stereo 20s, Point 1s, Marantz 10B, Radford STA 25, Dynaco Stereo 30s, Audio Research SP8/ST70, Luxman MQ3600/CL32 and many, many others.

One outcome of these investigations was perceived superiority of electrostats (Quads) and horns (Klipschorns) over more conventional competitors. Another was tubes over transistors. Then the most recent addition to their collection, the Futterman HG1 copy from Germany, redefined the group's reference point. It was this group of DIY audio investigators that Glenn Croft joined, as initially a repair man for especially valve equipment whenever it failed. One anecdote recounts him rebuilding a Luxman CL32 with point-to-point wiring and to rid it of the stock circuit board and its myriad cut and boost filters, balance and loudness circuits. He also added a proper regulated power supply. The importance of output transformer quality in valve amps was tested with the legendary Williamson Partridge C-core design.
Then Harvey Rosenberg's New York Audio Labs OTL1s hit the scene. One Chris F. of the Wolverhampton gang purchased cheap German copies of the Futtermans for £600 over the phone to verify the dumbfounded British review of the originals. He found his clones to outperform the Williamsons in every respect. This is were the Croft Instruments story begins in earnest.

The group assigned Glenn the task to improve upon their new amplifier reference while the members all pursued their various university courses and exams. Here's a witty repartee from those times: "The American 'comics' rave about Apogees, Mark Levinson and Krells and the type - surely they must have something to offer!" It was Glenn's turn to interject. "When's the last time you heard the 'Apologies'; and have you ever thought about why they find it necessary to design an amplifier that produces enough current to power an arc welder?"

This quote suggests a rather level-headed, well-toothed character even then, one who was determined to get to the bottom of things which at the time included understanding what made the group's Quad/OTL combo so superior. Glenn's emerging amplifier topology became known as the Croft Series II type OTL amplifier. Finalization of his circuit coincided with the closure of his university existence. Peter Bruty then suggested going commercial by using the nearby Midland HiFi Studio store as beta testing grounds and the upcoming Himley Hall HiFi show as debut event. A Croft SIP preamp afterwards apparently blew a Luxman CL32 into the weeds and the legend of Croft Instruments in Birmingham began to escape from the underground to be noticed above ground.

If you deduced from the above that a corner stone of the Croft enterprise was in OTL amps -- and that as such, examples thereof had to make up or even dominate the present offering -- you couldn't be blamed. There's indeed the 50/110w stereo/mono Dakshini. It's a 12 x 6AS7G OTL to supply a logical conclusion to your deductions. However, it's presently pretty much the exception. The rest of today's Croft amp lineup employs a zero-feedback, output capacitor less hybrid circuit dubbed TransValve. It sports a Class A-biased singe-triode input in line with Croft's recently developed SVT single-valve throughput principle and direct-coupled
MOSFET outputs, with the speaker terminals connected directly to the 3rd leg of the transistors. Four differently powered TransValve hybrids group together under the Twinstar umbrella. The Twinstar models 1 thru 4 offer from 25 to 120 watts per channel and can be had in non-stabilized or output-stabilized guises. Input stages use valve-based super regulation, true dual-mono in the top incarnation. Output stabilization refers to a given voltage reference against which the circuit is constantly stabilized, a trick refinement that took three years to nail.

Regardless, the power buffer for each Twinstar model uses a mere pair of push/pull transistors per channel. The Twinstar Four uses 6080/6336, ECC83 and 85A2 regulators -- one each -- and ongoing experiments over the last eight months might substitute the 6080 with "a super-expensive MOSFET regular for improved longevity and precision". Claimed frequency response for all models is 3dB down at 0.35Hz to 60KHz. That LF spec is no sloppy misprint. It's a point of great pride at Croft engineering where it is made directly responsible for certain sonic qualities in the audibly relevant portion of the bass band.

Considering how OTLs led up to the point-to-point wired TransValve Twinstars with Eminent Audio Transcapacitors™, Carbon-comp resistors and custom-made polypropylene film/foil coupling caps in the input stage (a total of 22 core components make up the circuit), one would expect sonic OTL echoes in the hybrids. 25 grueling years of optimizing simple valve circuits with a focus on eliminating output transformers has to inform the Twinstars. Albeit done up with transistors now for real power transfer into low impedances.

With circuits refined and perfected over two decades, Croft now spends a whopping 40% working capital on R&D. That's a rather sizable investment into advancing their take on the art. Where is it spent? Parts orientation and circuit miniaturization
mainly. Croft believes in low component mass, fewer superior parts and short signal paths. Unlike Linn's 3D surface-mount technology of sophisticated circuit boards packed tightly with ICs, he pursues point-to-point wiring to the same ends. Besides listening to 200+ resistors to determine which one to use in a particular junction, he'll also agonize over the physical orientation of each part in the circuit. That's the advanced stage of persnicketiness at which Croft Instruments works now, having mastered the basics of preferred topologies years ago. Croft's active output stages run less than seven components for example. Plainly, the fewer parts remaining must be ultra precise and of high quality especially since feedback is categorically rejected to address nonlinearities. Croft expects his circuit to be linear without feedback. If that mandates designing his own parts and taking longer to perfectly tune a circuit, so be it. Low circuit mass is equated with low energy storage, better dynamics, superior micro-detail transmission and less micro hash (to name just a few advantages). Recall that OTL precedents inform Croft's expectations for speed, transparency and "direct-coupling". And that 25 years of valve obsession finally led to the appearance of transistors in Croft kit.

Hence less is more also pertains to valves. How many to use - and where? Croft now favors valves in first stage amplifiers, preamp phono and output stages. And for high-voltage regulation.

Brit reviewer Haden Boardman, in his HiFi World 2004 review (the amplifiers have purportedly undergone significant refinements since) paints some of the recent changes as follows: "From deepest darkest Birmingham hails Glenn Croft. He is something of an audio maverick and about as 'anti commercial' as you can get... For the past twenty years or so Glenn has hand-crafted his wares, manufacturing some of the most exquisite valve gear from the Micro series through a range of output transformerless valve power amplifiers to conventional 'EI' and 'C' core transformer designs with complex regulated power supplies. Although Glenn never went down the single-ended triode route, he has stuck fairly close to his valve roots. But -- shock horror -- what is this? Not a new valve amp but a hybrid design using 'TransValve' circuit topology, to give the official title. Two octal-based dual triodes drive the four-MOSFET output and - erm, that is it! I have seldom seen such a simple circuit, no feedback, two power supplies (separate left and right power supplies for the output stage) and nothing but a handful of very high quality components."

Because I just recently relinquished a 20-year US residency -- meaning that for over two decades, I remained informed nearly exclusively by what the US press reported on audiophile goings-on -- I felt the need to acquaint myself with the Croft marquee through reviews that had published on it over the years on the other side of the world. The first one I could find dates 1984, by HiFi Answers. In it, reviewer Paul Boak opens with "'Valve amplification designed and built the proper way' is the slightly contentious advertising slogan in the Croft Acoustics brochure" and continues "no, I hadn't a clue who Croft were either, until I stumbled upon a demonstration at the Wolverhampton show that was actually good enough to entice me into the room." A reference to Croft's OTL reads "£2500 per 110 watt stereo pair" and the report concludes with "the bass was much more controlled than I expected, and the Croft must now be classed along with the excellent EAR power amplifiers as
having virtually all the best points of both valve and solid state designs, combining both midrange transparency and sweetness with tight, powerful bass."

By 1985, HiFi News' Ken Kessler had done the honors. He summed up with "the Croft power amplifiers are frighteningly good, an incredible achievement from so small a firm. If they can sort out the buzz of the toroidals, then they'll be offering us poorer folk a shot at near Futterman performance. I hope these guys make it." A year later for the same book, Martin Colloms spent time with the Croft Series 4 amplifier and found it comparative "with models at two or three times the price."

In 2002, HiFi+ proclaimed that "over twenty something years Croft has been one of Hi-Fi's better kept secrets, supplying sparklingly superior sound quality at surprisingly realistic prices. Its quirky individuality should ensure it remains a small specialist/enthusiast brand, but in truth I wouldn't really want it any other way (and I don't think Glenn would either)." For his 2004 HiFi News review on the Croft integrated, Ken Kessler found that "the Croft manfully delivered ample -- and more than ample -- levels with two of the toughest speakers around. This little bugger appears to drive anything. It turns out that the GCI has been confounding Croft ever since the first samples hit the stores. The amplifier has been taking on bigger, beefier competitors and slaughtering them."

As anyone will determine after their own Google search for Croft Instruments, the common thread running through each and every review of Croft amplifiers, integrateds or preamps is good to excellent performance, few concessions to convention, occasionally quirky ergonomics or cosmetics, surprising performance especially in Croft's entry-level models - and from a goodly whiff to full-on eccentric underground mystique. Put differently, this clearly is not a paint-by-numbers outfit. What's more, what unmistakably has informed Croft and collaborators over a consistently applied 25 years is a stubborn, near relentless commitment to achieving complete understanding of what makes an amplifier circuit tick. Call it a self-imposed endless apprenticeship. Not with a human mentor however but the art itself. A lonesome road for sure. And one only appreciated by the very few who've done likewise.

As it stands, the UK has its own celebrity designers for valve electronics. Unlike their US counterparts however, they seem often less inclined to make the international audio media part of their global image building. (Or perhaps that's merely my skewed perspective from having lived in the US from 1985 to early 2006.) There's Graham Tricker of Tron; Tim de Paravicini of E.A.R; Tom Evans of TEAD; Peter Qvortrup of Audio Note; and -- if Amar's retelling of the Croft myth is accurately weighted -- Glenn Croft of Eminent Audio. To just name five I did manage to hear of despite relative isolation in the colonies. Still, none of them have enjoyed much if anything of a US presence though enthusiasts here and there and on and off
have assumed importation. Whereas William Z. Johnson, Mssrs. Conrad and Johnson, Dennis Had, Victor Khomenko, Luke Manley and Joe Fratus became known quantities to most American audiophiles, their British design counterparts haven't really. So consider it a reclaiming of my Euro roots that we now feature a Croft Instruments review in these pages. Hopefully this will be followed by many more maverick underground maestros from this side of the ocean whose commercial longevity proves out the viability of their vision - if only to those shoppers who trust their own ears enough to dare own non-mainstream kit and damn the funny papers.

And no, I don't yet know what Croft Instruments will dispatch for review. It's exciting to remain in the dark for a bit. In the meantime, there's plenty of reading material on the websites below to get you started on your personal background check on Croft - Glenn Croft. (As you'll note, it's exclusively what others have said about him. The man himself doesn't address us outside his creations. If those don't speak for themselves, he remains silent. As though to imply that nothing else really matters then. And it really doesn't. We likely wouldn't understand much about the esoterica that concern him these days about circuits, parts and their microscopic interactions.)

Amar submitted the following shots of Glen Croft working on a Syntegra 5 integrated.

The section shown has approximately 200 separate connections done by hand.

180 connections are necessary to wire up the rear panel.

Manufacturer's website
Canadian distibutor's website