Audio Research SP-8 MKII Preamplifiers


Stereo Tube preamplifier with MM phono section.

User Reviews (1)

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fe911   AudioPhile [Jun 02, 2010]

This is a great, but long story. I am a guitar player and audiophile with champagne tastes, and a beer budget! My brother and I scour local pawnshops for good deals on guitar equipment. You'd be surprised, there are a few out there still. But decent audio equipment never ends up on their racks.
So, one day my brother calls me and says there's a shop with a pretty nice stereo system for sale, at a price that guarantees that no one will be purchasing it very quickly. He said the magic words "Krell amplifier". I was out the door, and driving. When I showed up there was a system that consisted of: Thiel speakers(oldies, but goodies), a Krell KSA250, Audio Research Sp-8, and a Newer California Audio Labs CD player, and all connections were synergystic research. The price tag was $4000, and it sounded like a million bucks! Not a horrible price, but they wanted it sold as a set. I didn't want the set, I only wanted the amplifier and the connects. They were willing to come down on the price to make it more tempting, but I just didn't have the money. And so I left my phone number and hoped they would change their mind.
I forgot about it, and a month later, the manager called and said that they had offers on the speakers and if I could come up with the difference, I could have the rest. He was still talking about full price, and I told him that his salesperson was willing to go down to that price, including the speakers. Then it was on! He got pissed, I got pissed. I got in my car and drove down to the store to give the guy a piece of my mind. Unfortunately, I did, and ended up walking out with the Krell and audio research preamp for what I was willing to pay for just the amp. I knew people love the ARC stuff, but they were having problems with it popping the amps fuses, and wanted it gone. I had my heart set on the interconnects- too bad!, they were gone.
So, I went home and hooked up the amp. Wow, those old Krell's pack a wallop! My newer Krell's in my main system were a little better, but they also costed me ten times what I payed for the 250. And for my Second system with really low efficiency speakers, it was a perfect combination. I ended up selling the tube amp from that system for what I payed for the 250, and was happy to be even after the upgrade in power.
Now back to the SP-8, which I didn't touch for over a month. I was worried about the issues the salesman described having with the preamp, so I did a little research. I found out that their warm up switches decline over the years and release dangerous DC voltage into the amp during warm-up. No problem, just leave it on "mute" for five minutes.
I pulled out my trusty tube tester and variac to make sure everything was in good shape. Hmmm, original Telefunken tubes, not bad! Now, I was intrigued. Pulled out the BAT preamp that I love so much, switched to single ended interconnects and balanced adapters to give it a try on my main system. I knew that the preamp couldn't compare to my BAT with balanced connections, but I wanted to hear how it sounded.
Something happened. My system changed its personality. At first I couldn't believe that one piece of equipment could completely change the dymanics of a stereo system so much, but I was dumbstruck. I took a break, left it running to get the electronic juices flowing together in unison- single ended connectors! I had some errands to run, and my room-mate wanted to listen to some music while he did laundry.
I came home five hours later to find my room-mate with all of my records(and beer bottles) strewn around the living room. I asked him what was up, and he said that for some reason he really got into listening to some music. Then he started with the old line,"you really got to listen to this on your stereo!" We spent the next few hours pulling out the rest of the old vinyl and CD's, lots of Jazz, Classic Rock, Funk, ETC. It was like we were teenagers again getting into the music.
Before that day, I would maybe listen to my stereo 10 to 15 hours a week. Now, with the sp-8 in place, that thing is running 8-10 hours a day. When either of us get home, the first thing we do is turn the power on to warm up the preamp. I could go into detail regarding background, soundstage, harmonics, resolution. It's got it all in spades. The funny thing is, my other preamps did too. They all were highly regarded and reviewed pieces, and each was probably better in some way to the ARC( And modern- to boot)! But the Sp-8 rewards the listener. Enthralls the listener. Engages the listener! There has never been one single piece of equipment that I have ever owned that single handedly took over my system and made the music come alive. I never thought it could happen....

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