As expected, the taste by-pass continues unabated at Croft. The Series Vc power amplifier and the Vitale SC pre-amp arrived in the new finish called "Antique Gold" - beyond question the most hideous colour scheme I've EVER seen applied to hi-fi equipment. Textured and looking like beaten, aged metal...the last time I saw anything similar was on a souvenir hookah in a street bazaar in Istanbul. If you're picking out a system for a brothel in Babylon, by all means order this option. If not, stick with the black or the wood. Tacky? I've seen more tasteful offerings from Frederick's of Hollywood.
A thought: this is absolutely
Which is a shame, because this latest pairing from Croft is nothing short of remarkable. And you don't know how much it hurts me to say that, for the package commits no less than two of Kessler's Kardinal Sins. The ugliness you know about. The second is that Croft persists in using separate left and right volume controls which are impossible to set equally without using an SPL meter and test tones. (Go on: do it by eye and by feel, and then see if you can get it out of the back of your mind that you're probably off by a couple of dB...) But after a decade-and-a-half of reviewing Croftware, I'm learning that it comes with the territory, just like Mercedes-Benz's foot-activated parking brakes, the non-instinctive operation of Philips remote controls and Labour's need to rape taxpayers.
At the heart of this review is the Series Vc power amplifier, because the pre-amp is actually a hot-rodded version of the model I reviewed last year. (See sidebar.) The Vc uses the exact same case as the Vitale, Croft sensibly ameliorating costs by not tooling up twice. This, for the last time, is the reply to those who whine, "But the inside of the Vitale is virtually empty!" Clearly, GC knows how to get the most out of the least; the low weight is down to a lean and mean circuit, and the wide open spaces are merely the result of using the same 17.5x14x4.25in (WDH) case,
Unlike the Amps Which Made Croft Famous, those devoid of output transformers*, the Series Vc is the latest incarnation of the company's entry-level, transformer-coupled, ultralinear stereo power amp. Its first stage is a simple phase splitter stage, designed to require only two coupling capacitors (paper-in-oil, natch) in the entire circuit. Bias is fixed, and the valve complement is a pair of ECF82s driving eight EL84s to yield 30W/ch. As with all Croft units, it's hard-wired throughout, using a mix of PTFE-coated silver wires and PTFE coated solid-core copper wires. And the entire unit is a showcase for Croft's in-house designed double-C-core transformers.
Differing from the Vitale only in the simplicity of the front panel, the Vc has a Croft badge back-illuminated in red - more whorehouse chic - and a tiny on/off toggle switch in the lower right hand corner. The back contains gold phono sockets, multi-way binding posts and an IEC mains input. That's it. The unit weighs a solid but not overly awe-inspiring 8kg. It runs cool, but then the top is absolutely filled with ventilation slots. A good thing, too: you're less tempted to vomit on it, knowing that the outcome would mean an unwanted light show.
Although the unit is only rated at 30W/ch, that didn't stop me from trying it with Wilson WATT Puppy System 6 and the hungry Avalon Avatars. It rose to both occasions. But then I remembered: GC is a man after my own heart. Aside from his appreciation of horns (we're all allowed one perversion), Croft is a long-time supporter of both the original Quad ESL and the BBC LS3/5A. And both took to the Series Vc like ducks to the proverbial, especially the latter.
Sorry to keep going on about the now-obsolete Beeb mini-monitor, but the upcoming survey has overtaken my life; my listening room looks like the old Rogers warehouse. As I had plenty of differing pairs to hand, it was a simple case of disconnecting the Krell FPB300 and slotting in the Crofts. And, wow!, does the Vc love that baby! I even had a Croft rival visiting during the sessions, an LS3/5A user, and he was staggered by the result. What the Vc does is extract a shade more solid, palpable bass from the wee system, at the same time lessening the distraction caused by that hump around 125Hz.
Now I'm not, in my wildest musings, suggesting that Croft designed this amplifier to drive LS3/5As. In fact, I suspect he used some vile horn system, as is the norm for tube amp makes in this most odd of audio eras. (OK, OK, I still have a soft spot for smaller Lowthers and the occasional Klipsch...) Rather, what we have is a blissfully accidental synergy which - by sheer serendipity - found a Vc in the hands of someone who hooked it up to LS3/5As.Continue reading about the Croft Series V-C on Page 2.
What this doesn't point out is how oddly the speakers responded to the Croft's unexpectedly prodigious output; like the Quad II-40, the Croft doesn't act its (watt)age. Thus, I actually found it too much for the old Quads, my fear for their health making me somewhat neurotic about using them. On the other hand, the (15ohm) LS3/5A makes every amp sound weaker than it is, while the Wilsons seem to run happily off whatever you feed them.
After listening to the Crofts, fed by the Krell KPS25sc both directly and through the Vitale SC, I settled on with the following assessment: the Series Vc goes out of its way to belie its size, power rating and price. It acted more like two or three well-regarded US amps of the 60W/ch variety and bearing prices tags some three times higher. Along with the exceptional lower registers are a sense of scale which was consistent from speaker to speaker; note that while all of the ones I tried are known for being open and sounding "big", they all behave differently and present their soundstages with recognisable differences. The Wilsons and the Quads, for example, beat the LS3/5As for stage depth while the Avalons bettered the others for image height. Whatever the speaker, though, the Croft is a master at portraying huge vistas. Just like the Vitale, as it happens.
At the same time, the Vc seems partial to smaller, more intimate
works than, say, the Kodo Drummers or the remastered soundtrack to
Both units possess a lucidity and "analogueness" which doesn't appear at the cost of detail retrieval or precision. But neither will appeal to those who think that "hygienic" is a virtue when applied to sound reproduction. These amplifiers deliver sound which has no truck with modern times, the system reminiscent of systems which, in the mid-1980s, would have cost 5000 - in old money. Think mid-sized, classic c-j, Audio Research or Dynaco, or mid-period Radford, but with a shade more weight down below. And with a phono section that just loves a certain freakish British cartridge with a tin can for a body.
Also continuing with Croft is an obsession with value for money. The turbo-charged Vitale as heard here costs 750 - not a lot for a killer tube pre-amp with phono section and the kind of looks which, at the very least, will ensure that conversation (and possibly bile) flows. The amplifier? 1250, for a grand total of 2k. If you can get past the nauseating, nay, gruesome looks, and you're a slightly masochistic purist, this is the perfect alternative to the cliché of an over-hyped single-ended triode design.
Eminent Audio, 18 Kidderminster Road, Bridgnorth, Shropshire WV15 6BX. Tel 01746 769156/0121 373-1442; FAX 0121 681-8722
*It appears that Harvey Rosenberg of New York Audio Labs and Futterman fame owns the rights to the term OTL (Output Transformerless), which is pretty rich considering that the term has been around for decades and he shouldn't be so hard-nosed about its use if he's really the warm-hearted uber-tweaker he wants us to think he is. And as far as I can tell, the Futterman brand is dormant, which makes it doubly absurd; surely the term should be generic. Suffice it to say, Croft (and GRAAF, and a few others) are not allowed to use "OTL". As such designs are the mainstay of Croft's catalogue, the company has been forced to create a new name. They've chosen "CTC", which stands for "Croft Transformerless Circuitry".
SIDEBAR: Vitale SC
Unlike the Vitale preamp I reviewed last February, the SC (Supercharged? Super Croft?) is your fully-loaded edition bursting with audiophile tweaks. Ironically, this is the antithesis of Croftspeak, because Glenn Croft has always stood out form the crowd by making sublime hardware using the most mundane of components. The base Vitale, like the Croft Micro of yore, sounds good despite its humble contents. And that's why it sells for 375- 425 depending on finish. The SC clocks in at a heady 750, but here's what you get for the extra gelt: the power supply has been improved, certain coupling capacitors have been replaced with expensive paper-in-oil types, including the use of Oscon high frequency resolution caps, internal wiring is a combination of copper and 99.99 percent pure silver, and the SC uses selected ALPS potentiometers. They also list the antique gold finish as part of the upgrade, but Croft should actually pay any punters who accept it, for having a warped sense of humour.
Alas, I didn't have a standard Vitale on hand for comparison, so I'm relying on memory and my notes from the earlier sessions. Audible gains? Three areas strike me as vastly improved: the phono stage seems quieter, there's greater headroom (or dynamic contrasts) and the deep bass - both the control and the extension - has more impact. But, hey, they were great before.