Audio Research SP14 Preamplifiers

SP14

User Reviews (8)

Showing 1-8 of 8  
Richard Loh   Audiophile [Sep 02, 2000]
Strength:

Detailed and rythmic

Weakness:

Slightly lean on vocal

I agree with Jp. The SP14 is a great buy in the used market with an excellent line stage and a great phono stage.

The best part of the SP14 is its ability to produce the micro-details that my recent buy of CAT SL Mk2 failed to deliver (the CAT is about 3 times the price in used market and 2 times the price when new - just this fact makes it worth your while to grap the next piece available piece !).

While the CAT deliver emotions and warm to vocal and has excellent transparency (MUSICALITY?? of tube), the SP14 has the capability to produce a wide and very well-balanced soundstage and presence to all music which I believe it due to the micro-details.

When music travels thru' the slightly ajar door of my small music room , there is no doubt that there it is amplified music but sounds just like any amplified music in a concert, pub or nightclub i.e. real (ACCURACY?? of SS).

Except for orchestra and isolated pub gig, where have you heard music that did not get amplified thru' mike and electronics?? My preference is clear.

While having compared the CAT in a slightly negative light against the SP14 (CAT lovers, love to hear your comments), I do suspect that my opinion will change if my music room get larger. The SP14 may sound thin (or lean) and lack coherence when driven loud while I suspect that the CAT is highly regarded by audiophile with large listening room at a higher volume that what I do with my small room.

Associated Equipment:
Wadia23 CD Player (Siltech IC)
SP14/CAT SL-1 Mk2
CEC ST930 with Dynavector DV10X4 Cartridge
Audio Analyse A9 (AQ Diamond IC)
McIntosh MC2205 (JPS Superconductor IC)
Alon 4 Speakers (Cardas Golden Cross and AQ Midnight)
Assortment of power cords, isolators and line conditioners

Similar Products Used: McCormack TLC-1, ARC 10, ARC 22, CAT SL1 Mk 2
OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
J p   Audiophile [Jun 25, 2000]
Strength:

Neutrality, superb phono stage

Weakness:

Very good line stage, but not a great as the phono section
perhaps a tube in the stage would have helped

Simply put, a superb piece of equipment in the Audio Researc line! Exquisite phone section that is hybrid. The line section is very good, but something seems missing compared to the phono section. The line stage is all solid state, so perhaps a tube in that stage would have helped.

I do not agree at all with Stephen's review below. Perhaps he has fallen in love with the "euphonic" tube type sound and does not like the reality of the SP-14. It reveals your system for what it is, and imparts very little. Don't get me wrong on the line stage, it too is good, but the phono section is just so good. Of course, my taste is for Lp's so that could make the difference to these ears.

I have tried the SP-14 with several different amps, and I like it best with hybrids. Harvey Rosenberg's Moscode amp is my current favorite, and my personal reference (and yes, I am biased towards hybrid gear).

I think the product year was 1989, but don't have my manual handy to confirm this.

Recorded examples:

Pink Floyd Meddle Harvest (British pressing)

Hear Roger Waters lips part very clearly and cleanly just before the vocal track on Echoes. Hear Rick Wright's secondary organ line right after the electronic section ends
It is recorded very low, but it comes through very clearly with the 14.

Casino Royale Colgems COSO-5005

Ah, Dusty's low, sensuous purr comes through sweetly with the 14. You can almost hear the walls of the chamber as she sings. The Getz like tenor (who is that playing sax on this?) has the velvety smoothness of this style of player, glissing between the notes like a boat on a quiet river.
The loud passages are very clean, telling you why this album is so very special to audiophiles.

Mavis Rivers It's a Good Day Delos (cd)

My very favorite cd for sound, and Mavis swings hard with her son and his band. This might be the airiest cd I have ever heard, clearly done in an audiophile miking pattern. This is one of those cd's that sounds good on any system, but on a good one, everything just comes to life. Ths small group is full of energy and verve, backing up Mavis exquisitely. The 14 gives it energy and pace, opening up the soundstage even more than others.

Responses encouraged!

Associated equipment:
NYAL Moscode 300 amp, JVC 1050 cd (modified), Magnepan IIB
speakers, Nakamich BX-300 cassette deck, NAD 4300 tuner, Sota Sapphire turntable with van den hull one MC cartridge on a MMT tonearm, Monster M-1 speaker cable and M-1000 interconnects.

thanks!

Jp
pjaizz@hotmail.com

Similar Products Used: Preamps by New York Audio Labs, PS Audio, NAD
OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
4
Paul Barrow   Audiophile [Dec 28, 1999]
Strength:

Phono section is outstanding when quality tube is employed, tonal quality is nuetral. Loves to be mated with tube amps. Excellent build and sound quality.

Weakness:

Ruthlessly revealing of inferior source components. Line stage has a touch of grain. This amp sounds a bit lean with solid state amps.

The SP-14 preamp is especially good for vinylphiles. The phono section is excellent when a high quality low noise tube is employed (type 6DJ8/6922). Detailed yet smooth from top all the way down. As most ARC equipment, it imparts a nuetral "grey" personality, as opposed to a more "yellow" color of CJ gear, for example. For this reason, the SP-14 sounds best when mated to a tube amp. It will contribute great slam and pace in turntable based system.

I have achieved the greatest sound from the phono section by employing a NOS Tungsram 6922 in the phono stage. It is *fabulously* transparent and quiet -- the best 6922 I have ever heard. My main source component is a VPI 19IV with an Origin Live modified RB250 tonearm and Grado Sonata pick-up. The SP-14 feeds the matching ARC Classic 60 triode amplifier (not surprisingly, these two are a match made in heaven), which drives a pair of Meadowlark HR Shearwaters. Cabling is Purist Audio Design Aqueous. This combination of components presents me with a most seductive sound quality that approaches the enjoyment of live music for me (when factoring parking, crowds, smoke, etc :-). It is a very well balanced, synergistic system in which the SP-14 plays an important role.

If you have a large record collection and a high quality turntable, a second hand SP-14 preamp may your ticket to ride -- especially if you like tube amps but need a little of slam in your system. Misses five star rating because the line section has a tad of solid state grain. Otherwise a superb performer with excellent sound quality, build quality, pride in ownership, and musical satifaction that is available on the used market for about a grand. Hard to beat at that price.

Paul
barrow@usa.net

Similar Products Used:
OVERALL
RATING
4
VALUE
RATING
5
Joshua Feldman   Audio Enthusiast [Jan 18, 2002]
Strength:

Incredible phono section, incredibly revealing and detailed. Great ergonomics and massive faceplate and general build.

Weakness:

Line stage is slightly sterile, lacks some of the immediacy you get from the very best tubed line stages. This effect is quite subtle. Will make you want to upgrade your amp unless you have a killer amp.

System used with includes
Amp: AR Classic 60, running with VT90 tubes for 70wpc
Speakers: ProAc Response 2 2
Cable MIT 330/750 shotgun (mostly)
TT Roksan Xerxes, ET2 w/ Wisa pump & surge tank, Monster Sigma Genesis 2000
Digital FE: Phillips 850 w/ PS Audio 1200.

OK - this is a killer preamp and a great buy on the used market. It's one of the few high end products I bought new however, back in '92. It's been there ever since. I had been using an Audiolab 8000 with Dynaco ST70 IIs in a bi-amped configuration with the ProAcs. I knew the ProAcs could give me more in the way of clarity, presence, and dynamics, but I thought the Dynaco bi-amp setup would stay. I was wrong. Anyway, I was comparing the SP14 with the CJ PV9, Counterpoint SA-3k, and Audible Illusions Modulus3. I'll quickly sum up my conclusions:

Audible Illusions unit was line stage only. I was seduced by the incredible line stage performace but was put off by buying a separate phono preamp when I really was using phono exclusively at the time. I've since regretted this decision as I fell in love with digital shortly thereafter. The Modulus is a killer preamp at a great price and I've often looked back and regretted not buying it.
Counterpoint - really sweet. Seemed a little "honeyed". I was looking for honesty and the SP14 struck me as more neutral.
CJ PV9 - lush. This is a beautiful pre-amp. I found the sound perhaps a little too lush. I also wasn't in love with the champagne cosmetics. I know that shouldn't matter. The line stage on this unit may be a tad better than the SP14 - warmer, less analytical. This was a tight call though.
AR SP14. The phono section is utterly revealing, but warm and alive. Ten years later without a retube, this is still the case. The line stage is neutral and smooth. It sounds like total honesty and has great dynamics. In direct head-to-head, it is a tiny bit less immediate than the Audible Illusions. There's a bit of reserve. Not glazed or hooded or anything like that. When you're alone with the SP14 you'd swear it was the last word in immediate, uncolored, and honest. But in the same room ten seconds later, it might be a tad more "polite" than the very best line stages (such as the AR LS15).

Does the line stage ruin anything? No way. In day to day it's totally awesome. It never fails to be musically satisfying. The fact is, on the used market it's worth the price as a phone head amp exclusively - feed the tape loop into a better line stage if you want and it's still money well spent. I've found that, as descriminating as I am, I can very comfortably live with the line stage. It is musical, neutral, and honest. In my system it's engaging and dynamic as well. The fact that it was once bested (in the line stage only - the phone section really took the cake in all my comparisons) doesn't diminish all the joy I experience when using it. You will not go wrong with this one. Try to find one in black.

Similar Products Used: Audible Illusions Modulus3, CJ PV9, Counterpoint SA-3000, Audiolab 8000.
OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
4
S.   Audiophile [Dec 28, 1999]
Strength:

Ultra transparent line and phono section

Weakness:

None

Bought SP14 new in 1989. Couldn't afford SP11. Was never disappointed. Very flexible preamp. Solid build quality.
Audio Research did a factory upgrade for me at no charge when unit was almost 2 years old. Both the unit and the Company are top notch. I have since upgraded to an LS-15 but won't part with my SP-14 for its phono section.

Similar Products Used: Melos MA-333
OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
Kent   Audiophile [Apr 18, 2001]
Strength:

Great phono stage, flexibility

Weakness:

Solid State Line Stage
Solid state line stage

I would have to disagree with the review posted by Steve. The SP-14 is a brutually neutral unit capable of producing a large well defined sound stage with images that seem to float in mid-air. Revealing and extremely detailed(maybe to detailed). You may like the euphonic sound of the Mac, but the SP-14 is just as musical. I question the views of your list of friends. I admire the work that Steve Hoffman does at DCC; some of the most fantastic vinyl I have heard. But he has had some real turkeys, and they do confuse me. Tom Port; well I have bought many records over the years from Tom and have been quite pleased. But his recommendations on sonic quality is generally way off the mark. The SP-14 is extremely revealing of other components in the chain; it will show the weaknesses in glaring detail. The MAC would be much more forgiving. And a Yamaha C-4? Pure junk, not even in the same league! A lot of folks don't care for ARC gear, and that's OK. Everyone should have a system that brings them musical enjoyment. But I cannot seriously entertain comments that state that Japanese solid state junk is superior to ARC gear. They are, and have been the reference standard for more than a generation producing high-quality reference standard equipment. Reference standards are not always the best, simply the standard by which others are judged. The original Quad comes to mind. May not be your cup-of-tea but it is still the standard by which all other speakers are judged, even newer Quads.

OVERALL
RATING
5
VALUE
RATING
5
Stephen   Audiophile [Apr 03, 2001]
Strength:

See Previous

Weakness:

See Previous

This is in response to J_P. I am not in love with euphonic sounds, only sounds which approximate the recording. My friends who agree with me are Steve Hoffman of DCC (he wouldn't touch an AR unless it were the 10b), Robert Pincus of Cisco Music, Tom Port of Better Records and acquaintence mastering engineer Kevin Grey. Bernie Grundman is another great mastering engineer who seeks musicality over "detailed truth." AR equipment is overdesigned and lacks musicality, its just that simple (but they are reliable). I have since changed speakers with greater resolution and dynamics. I perform with the LA Jewish Symphony. I know what sound and music should sound like, especially when using our own recordings. Try a McIntosch MC 30 just to get a grip on the mid-range area of music; its very sweet, euphonic, but its also MUSICAL. This response is just for your information and nothing personal. Learning to listen better will result in better choices in equipment (not always more expensive equipment).

Similar Products Used: See Previous
OVERALL
RATING
2
VALUE
RATING
2
Stephen   Audiophile [Apr 04, 2000]
Strength:

Multiple inputs, versatile

Weakness:

Grey, undynamic sound, uninvolving...boring.

I bought this pre-amp and the Classic 60 when they were new. I did not realize that my existing all tube pre-amp had a failing power supply (it was not as well built). This pre-amp was far superior to its cousin the SP9. Due to my late wife's illness, I did not take the time to compare it with other pre-amps. I realized about four years later, that I was bored by the sound and listened to music less despite my need for comforting. I remembered the great sound of my old pre-amp and other wonderful pre-amps like the MacIntosh 20, Marantz 7, the SP10 and other extremely modified Dyna Pases (sic). The amp never sounded right at either 4 or 8 ohm settings playing either Acoustat 2200s or Martin Logan Quests. Yuk. I was so glad to remove this gear from my home and got half my money back. Even the Yamaha C-4 pre-amp from the early 1980s is very superior (including its phono stage). In their place, I have a custom built, 120 watt tube amp based on old Altec theater chassis (6 6BG6Gs run at half their max plate voltage) and their great transformers, ML's Monolith IIIs, and a custom made ultraminature tube pre-amp.

Audio Research tubes burn out more quickly (not as quick as VTLs) because of the high plate voltages. Most modern tube manufacturers drive tubes hard in order to maximize output power. This is dumb unless you want to use cheap Chinese or Russian 6550's, etc. I have 12,000 LPs, 7,000 78s, 1700 CDs, etc. with mostly Classical, Opera, Jazz, other vocal, popular (pre-60's) and musicals. I also have a VPI IV, SAMA motor/SME IV (modified) Lyra Beta, etc. so my phono front end is pretty good. Don't be duped by big name companies, i.e. Krell, Levinson, etc. (worse than AR, CJ, etc.). They are highly profitable companies who do not appear to know music or sound. This is the first time I have written an equipment review and I am rambling, but I warn you, it is only because of my mistake buying AR equipment listed. (Cheap or expensive, listen with your own ears and not reviews a ala Stereophile). Thank you for this forum.

Similar Products Used: None as boring as this pre-amp. See review below.
OVERALL
RATING
2
VALUE
RATING
1
Showing 1-8 of 8  

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