Like eczema and Bob Monkhouse, Croft simply refuses to go away. And, boy, am I glad. Y'see, there's this element in the audio community that feels no company with a turnover of less than, say, £5,000,000 deserves to have its products reviewed...forgetting all the while that every company had to start somewhere. Meanwhile, I (and other reviewers who think that every product justifies a review regardless of the size of the company) get hassled for 'promoting' these small firms. And while Croft probably isn't doing anywhere near five big ones per annum, it has or is just about to complete its first decade, thus depriving the enemies of fringe companies of any satisfaction due to its disappearance. And, as if to celebrate its maturity, Croft has launched a new line with front panels which don't look like WWII surplus spray-painted with Halford's matte black underseal.
Well, not quite. Croft purists will be pleased to know that the stylists up in Birmingham still need eyeglasses and that nobody will ever mistake the new Croft units as anything other than 'British: cottage-industry type'. The Series V Power Amplifier (which I believe is the company's only non-OTL power amp) and the entry-level Micro pre-amplifier both sport the company's 'new look': round cornered, black fascia with gold accents and identical, 15.5x12x3.5in, well-ventilated chassis which suggest a close reading of the Maplin catalogue (First Edition). But, dear readers, I have decided -- after nearly a decade -- to stop chiding the folks at Croft because I know in my heart of hearts that they will never hire an 'aesthetician' and that Croft products will forever be, at best, utilitarian in appearance. But what you lose in perceived value you gain in sonics. And this stuff is, after all, severely underpriced. Think of it in the way you used to be able to justify the existence of a Citroen 2CV -- ugly but unique.
Series V is rated at 30W/channel into loads of 4-16 ohms, though it seems much more powerful. The rear contains extra multi-way binding posts to allow the user to choose between 4-8 and 8-16 ohm taps. The input sensitivity is 0.3V RMS and input impedance is 270k ohms, and the operating mode is single-ended triode. As with all Croft components, the Series V is "hand-crafted", or should that be hand-crofted; no-one could ever accuse the company of owning a surfeit of CAD/CAM equipment. There is, as all Croft nuts know, a complete absence of circuit boards because all Croft components remain entirely hard-wired with solid core cable. The valve complement consists of eight EL84s for the power section and a pair of ECF82s in the driver section. Power freaks can, of course, have their Series V mono'ed for 60W output.
As one of Croft's other signature features has always been non-relational model numbers or names (though Roman numerals now predominate), I'm eternally grateful that the company has resisted adding a 'Mk' suffix to the Micro. It's come a long way from the days when £149 bought you a three-valve, cream'n'black, hardback-book-sized pre-amp which compensated for its noise and sheer funkiness with sound quality light years beyond its price-tag. Along with what must be Mk VI status comes the new cabinetry, the retention of separate left/right volume controls, dual-mono construction, top-quality components (0.5% Holco resistors, Roderstein capacitors, etc), silver-plated switches, a valve-regulated power supply and gold-plated sockets for pre-out and phono-in. And the Micro still features a moving-magnet phono section, the company remaining vehemently pro-analogue.
The three line/tape inputs are specified as 550mV/47k ohms, with the phono section set at 1.5mV sensitivity, 47k ohms impedance and 100pF capacitance; the unit's output impedance is 470 ohms. Inside it's pcb-free, with all wiring of the solid-core variety and the valve complement now consists of a pair of ECC83s, one ECC82 and one ECL85.
As you'd expect of components which are accompanied by an owner's manual which dumps on digital and promotes horn systems, the Croft pairing benefits from all manner of neurotic fine-tuning and tweakery. While I did try some tube swaps for luxo glassware, the change of valves made less difference than the addition of Pearl Tube Coolers. Isoplats, Flux Dumpers, myriad wire types -- all of these compounded the problem of assessing the Crofts au naturel, so I avoided everything that involved actual parts changes or additions. I reviewed 'em instead 'straight out of the crate', placed on the floor sans trick feet or platforms, weights or clamps or Harmonix stick-ons.
Sources consisted of the Marantz CD52 MKIISE and Primare 204 CD players and the Michell Gyro/SME IV/ Transfiguration cartridge and MC Kinnie ROIII step-up for analogue duties. Wires connecting the two Crofts were XLO of the purple'n'green variety, as were the speaker cables. Since the Series V never behaved like a 30-watter, I felt no need to baby it. Among the many speakers I had it drive were Linn Tukans, JM Labs Micron Carats, Rogers LS3/5As, Sonus Faber Minima Amators and Wilson Watt III/Puppy II. At no time did I, a non-headbanger feel any need for extra juice or even more headroom, so you could say that I was not unimpressed with the sheer grunt on offer from four EL84s per channel. (Hmm. I thought they were only good for about 6W apiece...)Read more about the Croft Series V on Page 2.