Croft Series V-C Amp reviewed

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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 . Using it to audition a rash of new, semi-unplugged blues CDs from Eric Bibb and Keb Mo', it emerged that the midband of the Vc is also a near clone of the midband of the Vitale, leaning toward the rich while maintaining clarity and transparency. Although this isn't what the review set out to discover, it's quite clear that Glenn Croft is able to retain a family resemblance from component to component, high praise for both his skills as a designer, and for the consistency of his hearing.

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".

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.

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