Quad 33 Preamp and 303 Amp Reviewed

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We started to get reports of intermittent performance and again we had a lot of internal arguments. I said, Look, something is wrong; we're getting far too high a failure rate. No, it's not, it's fine, it's fine. Because, of course, when we looked at it, it worked, because the first time you take a board out and put it back in, you get a connection. We had about a year of arguing before I could persuade people that there was a real problem out there. We then had to gold-plate the contacts. Unfortunately, because we had cracking after-sales service, everybody always thought the 33 was a very reliable product, when the first 20,000 all went bloody wrong.

Peter used to do the industrial design, including the 33/303, did it all and the office was just littered with mock-ups of what it might look like. The 303 was easy because the Quad II was this shape and we had a cabinet that it fitted in. 303 was exactly the same shape [as the II]. That was the way power amplifiers should be - actually, no good logic why a transistor amplifier ought to be like that other than that we had to get the power transformer in somewhere and what do you do with the electrolytics?

That was another interesting thing. The original electrolytics were installed this way up. As they warm up, they expand and when they cool down they contract, so they suck air in. The air bubble eventually rises to the top of the electrolytic so eventually they all void themselves onto the printed circuit board. Blaaap!! If you put them this way up, though, they just puff in and out at the top. We did that after about 50,000 of them. (Laughs.)

In many respects, actually in many ways [Peter] made life more difficult for our customers, although he thought he was doing them a favour. When the 33 came out, people said, 'I'm not buying it with that bloody marigold thing on it.' Well, Peter loved that, he thought this was great. And customers would come up and say, 'Well, I'm not going to buy that unless you take that marigold thing off. You'll have to change that.' And he'd say, 'Well, I'm not. Bugger off. Go and buy a Leak. Go on, bugger off.'

And actually, we did manage to sell quite a lot of those, but we'd have sold an awful lot more. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if we'd been a bit more - we were customer-friendly, but not 'customer-centric'...if you bought it, you got jolly good attention, but what about the other 99.99 percent of the population that didn't buy the bloody thing? Because they didn't like the fact that it was marigold, and actually it looked a bit peculiar and rinky-dink and of course that's why Yamaha and Pioneer and Sony came in and took over the world. Yes, they were good at manufacturing and we were absolutely crap at it.

No question, it went off like a rocket - I should imagine our business just about doubled the year that we brought [them] out. And it greatly expanded the overseas markets, too.

We got lots of flak from the press when we carried on making valve amplifiers when everybody else was making transistor amplifiers. And Mr. Walker said, 'We're not going to make transistor amplifiers until it's as good as our valve ones. As good as it sounds, its reliability, its price.'

A lot of the inside detail of the 33 was mine, but not the 303, and I did the test gear for the pre-amp. John Collinson - a clever chap, quite important to my training - designed the main circuit and it was finished by Mr. Walker. We started with Quad 22 test gear and a switch box. We did it all very carefully, we fed the same signal through and tested the prototype, and through the set under test, and used a differential amplifier to look at the difference. So as long as you looked at all the different circuits within the pre-amp, the semi-trained technical operator had to see a straight line all the while, whatever they did.

I might also have done some honing of the circuit, like the pre-amplifier for disc. I did the actual values selection; I didn't change the actual topology of the circuit. It's a detail thing. We didn't do anything for 78s at all, but we made the RIAA as close as we possibly could - nowhere near as good as the 44, but a lot better than the 22.

We were looking for a new preamplifier while the 33 was still running. So the 33 went on for a few years while we were making the 44. The things we wanted to do were all in the 44 - marketing wanted all of the inputs on separate modules so that it could be made to measure. They wanted more inputs than the 33. Mr. Walker and the senior engineers had been doing tests on tone controls, because no doubt you've heard Mr. Walker say that we put them on as a marketing exercise because our dealers said they couldn't sell the stuff without it. But we also put on the cancel facility, so that customers, having paid for these expensive tone controls could then switch them off. (Laughs.) The old-fashioned tone controls hadn't really much use once you'd got into the 1970s. They had when you were playing 78s, but not into the 1970s.

 
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HTR Product Rating for Quad 33 Preamp and 303 Amp

Criteria Rating

Performance

3

Value

3

Overall

3

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