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full - symetrical reference preamplifier masterpiece

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13 950,00 €

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Handmade Refined Supercar

Germany`s AudioValve CONDUCTOR

Written by Liu Mingcheng

Audio Art Magazine

Reference Pre-amplifier

It adopts the design of two boxes of power splitters, and the dual-mono design beginning from the power supply, with full-balance amplification but without global feedback. Input impedance: 47kΩ; output impedance: 300kΩ; frequency response: 5Hz – 200kHz; gain: 14dB; input terminal: two sets of XLR and two sets of RCA; the used valve: 6N6P×2 and 6N1P×6. Dimension: 480×140×380mm (main unit) and 480×80×380mm (power supply), weight: 25kg. Import agency look our website for your countrie..

In the past we always conducted the audition at the place of the audio dealers or the agents, but this time the audition arrangement is quite special in that it’s held at the home of a audio fan and the subject is not a very large machine but a two-piece pre-amplifier. Why we take so much effort to try a pre-amplifier only? Is there any problem to bring it to our place?Actually, there is no. But the question is that this new flagship AudioValve Conductor is truly of hot sale, so such products are always sold out just upon the arrival. It will take quite a long time to wait for the dealers to have some spare machine for display and audition. To convey the information about this machine to the readers as soon as possible, I have no other choice but to appreciate it in the user’s house.

Wait, how does the dealer sell it if no machine for display? That's exact the interesting point. Almost all customers bought it without audition, just due to their confidence in the AudioValve brand. Another question is: what’s matter with this AudioValve company? Can it manufacture the machines at a faster pace, so the dealers are able to have some goods in stock?If you have studied its website, you must have the idea that this company is a “family handicraft” which is under the management of a couple for several years and recently their son has also been involved as an accountant. Think about this: how fast can a company with three people deliver goods to the whole world?

Charm of Blue-Ray Words

The first sight of the Conductor’s appearance makes you hard to believe it is manufactured by AudioValve.The glass panel in the center certainly attracts the focus of attention, because the frosted words AudioValve in the middle, as lighted by the beneath blue LED, turns to be blue words floating in the windows, embodying a quite innovative idea. What surprises me more is that on the right panel there is a color LED with quite high resolution.

Does AudioValve use advanced technologies like digital volume controls and digital logic operations? No.

The operation of Conductor is still an extremely "analog" task, because its volume control still relies on the left wheel, and the signal source switching and output switching are also achieved by lever-type switches. Well, is this beautiful screen merely a gimmick? I have thought so. Later during the audition I accidentally pressed the power switch of its remote control, and as the Conductor was rebooting, I found on the screen the heating status of the valve, with graphical representation showing the temperature increase. When the chart reached the peak, the equipment stepped into the normal operation state. This type of display is also different from those of all traditional valve equipments, from which we can see AudioValve is not a conservative manufacturer that uses only traditional technologies.

Co-existence of Technology and Tradition

Having the courage to embrace new technology, why it still manufactures all the audio-signal-related circuits of Conductor in so traditional way? For instance its volume control adopts the six-section variable resistor for attenuation, which is even installed directly behind the panel and through a long internal wire connected with the circuit board. Why not to use a connecting rod to shorten the signal path? AudioValve gives the following explanation: variable resistor is still the best volume attenuation method that is, in their opinion, of the best sound quality.


Able to present the width of a large stage and the first-class sense of the scene.

Relaxing and charming, without the slightest pressing feeling even for the grand-scene music played in a large system.

Having the unique warm, stereo and thick features of valve equipments.

         Neutral and non-rendered sounds.


There is still room for improvement in details and enhancement on the aspects like signal sources and wiring.

It’s better to work with the speakers with high resolution and open sounds.

It’s safe to work with large systems, without shrinking the sound.

Referenced software

Each album of The Chieftains has wonderful recording effect, often leading fever recommendation lists. This "Tears of Stone" is a result from their cooperation with quite a strong team of artists, with guest performers ranging from Joni Michelle, Bonnie Raitt, The Corrs, Diana Krall to Zhu Zheqin. It can also be seen from such a combination that The Chieftains has transcended the traditional Irish music, and integrated different music genres such as folk, rock, jazz and even world music. More valuable is that though each song is recorded in different conditions, it's still of great acoustic effect. (BMG 09026-63442-2, Sony Music)

Illustration: Twenty Factors of Audio Equipments

01 Tone quality

02 Timbre

03 High frequency, sweetness of

04 Medium frequency, thickness of

03 Low frequency, solid degree of

06 Sound stage

07 Weight and Density of the sound

08 Transparency

09 Layering

10 Orientation of sound

11 Vitality of music

12 Imaging and dimension

13 Resolution

14 Speed and transient response

15 Strength contrast and dynamic contrast

16 Instrument sounds and human voices: proportion

17 Instrument sounds and human voices: texture and air sense

18 Reproduction of details

19 Sense of space

20 Overall equalization

The above is a kind of subjective moving index of the reviewer for a single equipment, and the indicated results will vary due to the coupled equipments, spatial conditions and the mental state of the reviewer. It will be biased to use this to compare two equipments.

Five-element Diagram for the Audio Equipment

Metal:open, lively, bright

Wood:warm, modest, amiable

Water:tender, neutral, mild

Fire:swift, passionate, striking

Earth:thick, full, solid

1.The most distinctive feature of Conductor must be the 2.1-inch LCD control panel. Its left lever is responsible for the switch of signal sources, the right lever for output switching or mute operation, and the bottom panel for standby or shutdown switching. The scale of volume will be indicated on the topmost part too. On boot up the display will show the heating status of the filament of the valve. 2Two gold-plated volume knobs are exclusively added for the special edition in Taiwan. On the back remains a traditional variable resistor, which is regarded by AudioValve the best way to improve sound quality. But you can use remote control and it can memorize the positions of each set of volume control. 3. The AudioValve trademark of the "window" on boot up will generate bright blue light, which seems to be floating in the glass. It is a pity that such special visual effect cannot be revealed from the photos here. 4. On the top left backplane there is written "Special Edition for Taiwan R.O.C".This proves that the edition is specially augmented for Taiwan market. All the metal parts are gold-plated. Why there are two low-cost wires like computer cables on the right? They are used to connect the power supply case. Since the control circuit and amplifier use separate power supply, two cables are needed. 5.Only these components can be seen through the roof window. You can see although AudioValve is in heavy use of hand-made manufacturing, the circuit board layout is very beautiful, and assembly quality and cleanliness are very good. This reflects the essential skills that the high-class valve equipment is supposed to satisfy. AudioValve even customized its own dedicated capacitor for Conductor, so it can be said to be the most luxurious model since the foundation of AudioValve. 6.Baldur 300 now also uses a golden plate in its front, which further underlines the nobleness of the high-power valve equipment.

It is even a little bit more spacious than the house of Liu Ming Cheng, the consultant of our magazine. Genesis loudspeakers still can produce large and solid sounds. The charming of such a large system is what the most audio fans can hardly have a taste of.

The reason for the use of six-set control is: the equalization and amplification need four sets of volume controls, and the additional two sets are used in the server circuits, allowing Conductor to remember the volume of the input of each signal source, and to reach its position automatically after switching. How is the wiring? After the input of signals, Conductor first uses buffer to amplify them, and then apply volume attenuation, so the signal is strong enough to overcome the attenuation even if it traverses along a range of the wire.

Replacing FM Acoustics

The speaker used by this AV fan is Genesis I.1 and the signal sources are MBL 1611/1621 turnplate and digital analog converters. The power amplifier, certainly an AudioValve product, is the Baldur 300 I reported several years ago. I have evaluated some audio equipments before in this audition room, and at that time we also used this pair of speakers which impressed me deeply. The owner must love very much the sound characteristics of valves, because when I made the visit last time, what he used is a 300B valve equipment too. However, this time I saw again in the audition room other idle equipments, which even include the pre-amp and power-amp of FM Acoustics! Although the owner has famous Switzerland equipments, after hearing the news that AudioValve pre-amp and power-amp are introduced to the market, he decided to obtain them too. However, his major audio system has been based on AudioValve equipments, and the pre-amp and power-amp of FM Acoustics are used only when he is at the whim of the equipments. Does it mean the sound of AudioValve pre-amp and power-amp outperform those of FM Acoustics? No, I believe FM Acoustics definitely has its own charm, or it would not enjoy such a high position in the industry. However, it indicates at least that for this set of system AudioValve sound is more attractive and delightful than that of FM Acoustics.

Magnificent and Relaxing Momentum

What is my first impression on Conductor? It is a feeling of magnificence and relaxation. In the past I always thought the feeling of magnificence and relaxation can only be achieved by high-class crystal equipments. Particularly it will be very obvious that the equipment with the 4-set giant speakers cannot produce magnificent and relaxing sound. It’s quite amazing that Conductor can give me a sense of broad space and huge sound that is not bloated. How hard is it to achieve magnificence and relaxation? I can say that after appreciating audio equipments for so many years, I have never heard of any system capable of using inexpensive equipments to produce a characteristic of magnificence and relaxation. Many audio fans probably have no chance to hear in their lifetime so magnificent and relaxing sound I heard here, which is a realm only achievable by large speakers coupled with really expensive equipments, as well as careful adjustment.

Authentic and Rich Sound

At first I played my recent favorite album, “Tears of Stone” of The Chieftains. Its first song, a chorus on the background, has already been very charming, which precisely conveys the gentle stir of the group members and apparently it’s recorded differently from the foreground poem recitation, leading to a very clear expression of the front and rear levels. The second song, an electric guitar blues by Bonnie Raitt, with the company of bass, is also full of charm. The glissando of the pipe casing on his left-hand fingers brings out a strong feeling of metal friction, and the deep, low and plump bass sound is also extremely good. It was my first time to listen to the album in such a large system, and the impression of the huge and plump sound was “temporarily saved” in my mind for several days before I can get rid of it.

With the replacement of the album "Dialogues with Double Bass", at the early beginning a cello and a double bass are staged on both sides, also having the huge audio effect. Even the finger movements, string wiping and the breathing of musicians during the performance are clear to hear. I originally had the concern about the imperfectness of a huge system in reproducing the sound of simple instruments, but at the end I found the set of system still performed quite well. Further play the New Moon Daughter of Cassandra Wilson. The drum at the beginning of its second track is not very low and deep, but it has a huge and flexible form, demonstrating that the sound of Conductor will not drag feet, and has very good transient response and impulsive force.

Co-existence of Truth and Beauty in the Sound

How about playing symphony? Try the selection of Pentatone. In the waltz segment of Tchaikovsky no. 6 as conducted by Seiji Ozawa, .when the string music flows out like a waterfall, beneath there is the demanding pizzicato performance of double bass. With the smooth and sleek playing of the string music, we feel the real proportion. The not particularly exaggerated pizzicato of the double bass is also of great flexibility and is not submerged in the playing of the bass string section. And then when the album is replaced with Leopold Stokowski's "Rhapsody", the orchestral unison at the beginning has a great sense of tone and luster, which also proves that Conductor can very vividly render the original recording. The more I listened to recordings, the more precious I found the natural and non-exaggerated qualities of Conductor. It can not only present the features of recordings in a real and direct way, but also is able to faithfully convey the intrinsic flavor of the music. Its performance capabilities of combining truth with beauty really makes itself live up to the honorable status of a flagship model.

Finally we played the new album "Quiet Nights" of Diana Krall. Since it sounds very plump and grand even in ordinary systems, will it be too huge to keep unbroken in such a system? Fortunately, what I heard was still the performance by a big orchestra, with the sound being very healthy and of a great spacious sense, while the layer and hierarchy of human voices and other instruments are kept with a good sense of separation, without any bloated effect. Many people do not agree with the huge sound, but I always remember what a president of a German manufacturer said to me: the least commendable equipments are those which make the sound shrunk when they are put in the audio system, just "like making people become a Mickey Mouse-like". Please rest assured, Conductor definitely neither produces the "Mickey Mouse effect", nor transforms all into the Hulk.

Be Rich and Patient

Preamplifiers of million-dollar price may be a fantasy a decade ago, but in nowadays audio equipment market, it is not really difficult to find pre-amp of this price level. Is the capability of AudioValve Conductor comparable to these fantastic equipments? I think it has no problem in performance, and in the preciseness of tone and sound quality it is also of a very high achievement. In particular, the characteristic of plump and warm medium frequencies possessed by the valve machine allows it to satisfy the requirement of pleasing sound at the same time achieve high performance, and avoid the issue of producing any annoying sounds. During the telephone conversation with the owner, he also believed that this set of equipment overthrows his traditional impression on valve machines and makes him discover such a valve machine can also achieve such high performance. Hereby he decided to keep it as the major system.

Conductor deserves to be called the flagship pre-amplifier of AudioValve. It has a special design, and implements many advanced technologies that will not adopted by a number of small factories, and produces comfortable and unrestraint sound which can work with huge systems. It's like a handmade super sports car of AudioValve, the possession of which needs a bit more patience in addition to money and vision, because under its strategy of handmade manufacturing in original factories, the number of persons in the world who are lucky to own Conductor is for sure not too many!


Audio Valve Conductor preamplifier



We audio writers have our niches. Mikey loves analog, Artie likes to play with horn speakers and assorted oddball British kit, and I really enjoy reviewing affordable speakers. There's something exciting about hearing the fruits of the labors of a creative designer who's applied his talents to meet a stringent price point and created a speaker that can entice into our hobby the financially challenged music lover.



But I have another passion: expensive tube gear. I so enjoyed my time reviewing the Audio Research Reference 110 amplifier that I bought the review sample (see my review in the August 2007 issue), and when ARC's William Z. Johnson insisted that I listen to the Reference 110 together with ARC's Reference 3 line stage, I got a kick out of comparing the Ref 3 with my own reference line stage, the Audio Valve Eclipse.

Although I was stunned by the refined level of musical realism of the Reference 3 ($10,000), I was also surprised that the Eclipse ($4200) held its own, despite being less than half the ARC's price. In fact, I was so surprised that, when the ARC went back home to Minnesota, I was quite happy to keep on listening to the Audio Valve. Still, I was scratching my head: If the Eclipse is this good, what would a cost-no-object line stage from Audio Valve's Helmut Becker sound like?

Turned out I'd be given an opportunity to find out. I later received a call from Audio Valve's US distributor, Ray Lombardi of Ray of Sound, who told me that AV had designed a "statement" line-stage preamplifier, the Conductor, which would cost $13,995 in the US. Would I be interested in hearing it?

As I dashed off a quick e-mail to John Atkinson—"Please? Please!? Please?!?"—my hands were trembling.

The design is fascinating
A conversation with Heike Becker, Helmut's business partner, revealed the Conductor's origins. It seems that Audio Valve's German dealers and overseas distributors were clamoring for a line-stage preamp that could be paired with AV's top-of-the-line Baldur 300 and Challenger 400 monoblock amplifiers. Designer Becker began with a clean sheet of paper and three requirements: The new preamp needed to be a completely balanced design with fully symmetrical circuitry, to have an outboard power supply with massive storage, and to be completely dual-mono, even down to the power supply. Becker then proceeded to make the finest preamp he could.

The Conductor operates in full class-A with no feedback. Its balanced preamplification circuit, which provides 14dB of gain to all line inputs, uses four 6922 tubes to amplify each phase of each channel, followed by a motorized ALPS potentiometer, followed by four 6N6P (6H30) tubes in the second amplification stage. There are two outputs and six line-level inputs, each of which can be balanced or single-ended. The elegant but minimalist remote control enables switching of all but one of the inputs, as well as volume, mute, and power. One nice feature is that a microprocessor remembers the volume setting for each input, to minimize the risk of blasts of high-volume blasts when switching among sources with various output levels. There's also a usage meter, calibrated in hours, accessible only via the front panel.

The separate power supply provides 100,000µF of capacitance for the filament circuits, and an additional 10,000µF for the anode circuits. The large toroidal transformer is shielded from static and magnetic effects and supplies eight separate conductor paths: four each for the filaments and anode circuits. The power supply also includes polypropylene capacitors as RF blockers, as well as eight low-resistance voltage regulators to remove ripple from the filament circuit and supply clean voltage.



All capacitors in preamp and power supply are proprietary designs made exclusively for Audio Valve. The units communicate via two umbilicals terminated with printer-style connectors. Although the preamp is designed to sit atop the power supply, Audio Valve and Ray of Sound will provide umbilicals of any length for those who want to separate them.

As the Conductor operates in class-A, which usually generates a lot of heat, Becker suggests that neither power supply nor preamp be placed on a thick carpet, and that the top of the preamp be given adequate ventilation. The units are each 20" wide, which will be too wide for many component racks.

I admire Helmut Becker for designing the best model he could with no concession to any expectations his customers might have had of how a preamp should look. Stacked atop its outboard power supply, the Conductor is unusually large and heavy—far more so than my ARC Reference 110 power amp. The preamp's physical appearance is striking, impressive, and eccentric. I think it's gorgeous, though not every visiting audiophile agreed.

Available in light gray with silver accents or black with gold accents, it sports a central window through which the tubes and circuit boards are visible. The volume pot is to the right; to the left, a color TFT screen displays various types of input, volume, and other data. The Conductor doesn't look mass-produced but handmade—akin to the product of a brilliant, wealthy, mad scientist who has spared no expense.

My only complaint about the Conductor's physical layout is that the display (about as large as a cell-phone's) wasn't easily read by this bifocals wearer unless I stood right in front of the preamp and bent over to peer at it. Other than seeing which input is engaged and looking at the bargraph that shows the selected volume, it's not critical to be able to read the display, but it would be nice if it were a bit larger.

The turn-on procedure has four steps. Flipping on a switch on the preamp section's rear panel puts it into Sleep mode: "Conductor" appears in red on the power supply, while the word remains dark on the preamp itself. Hitting the On/Off button on the remote, one of the toggle switches on the front panel, or the center of the display puts the preamp in Mute mode. On both power supply and preamp, "Conductor" then turns from red to dark blue. The display shows a picture of a tube and a thermometer that changes from black to red to yellow as the filaments heat up. When the thermometer reaches 75%, the tubes' plate voltage of the tubes is applied. When the thermometer reaches 100%, the preamp switches itself to Operate mode and the screen displays the input selected. It sounds complicated, but it's simple, and cool to watch.


The Conductor operated flawlessly during its tenure here, as I would have expected: my Audio Valve Eclipse has proved to be the most reliable piece of audio electronics I've ever owned.

The hearing is believing
As I fired up the Conductor for the first time, I had a thought. Given this preamp's lofty price, it would be nice to be able to say that it was completely uncolored, and had no sonic shortcomings whatsoever.

A few days of listening later, it had become clear that, without equivocation, I could say just that. Three months of listening later, having found no flaws whatsoever in the Conductor's sound, I thought I'd focus on what it did unusually well.

If you read my Follow-Up on the Audio Valve Eclipse preamp in the June 2008 issue, you might recall that I was very impressed with its quick, uncolored, kick-slamming, solid-state–like bass performance. The Conductor shared that trait in the bottom end, but seemed capable of even more. I have known every component in my reference system for many years, and it seemed that, with the Conductor in place, my system was capable of far deeper bass than I'd ever realized it was. I don't necessarily mean some technical lower-limit extension per se. It just seemed that with every well-engineered recording I played that had significant bass content, every instrument seemed to have a more authoritative presence below 60Hz that suggested live music.



I listened to Jon Hassell's latest album, Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (CD, ECM 2077), one week after I'd heard the entire CD performed by Hassell and his group at Carnegie Hall. This quintet, consisting of electronically manipulated trumpet, violin, and bass guitar, as well two musicians retrieving sampled sounds from laptops, create delicately atmospheric yet powerful soundscapes that are both intellectually challenging and accessible. On "Time and Place," the lower register of Peter Freeman's bass as it filled Carnegie Hall created an "air of thunder" more reminiscent of pipe-organ pedal notes in a great cathedral. The Conductor perfectly reproduced this effect from the CD, with a sound so arresting I held back a bit on the volume—I was worried about damaging the woofers of my Alón Circe speakers.

What you might expect from a preamp with such a massive—some might say overengineered—power supply is impressive dynamic range. This was indeed one of the Conductor's greatest strengths, best illustrated by Helmuth Rilling and the Oregon Bach Festival's recording of Krzysztof Penderecki's Credo, a blockbuster work for chorus and orchestra (CD, Hänssler Classic 09.311). When, in the opening passage—very difficult to reproduce accurately—the full-throated chorus breaks out, there was no hint of congestion or coagulation, no trace of distortion. I flinched when the bass drum kicked me in the face, and lower-level passages were equally impressive. When bass Thomas Quasthoff entered in Credo in Unum Deum, his holographically reproduced body appeared midstage, and it was easy to "see" his vocal phrasing technique.

The Conductor brought out every little subtlety in the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival performance of Tomiko Kohjiba's The Transmigration of the Soul, from Festival (CD, Stereophile STPH007-2). In the opening passage, I could hear clearly when the melodic lines of soprano Kendra Colton and flutist Carol Wincenc "de-linked." I could also clearly follow the slightly enhanced downstrokes of cellist Peter Wyrick's bowing. From my notes: "pinpoint staging, gobs of space and air, flawless timpani, shattering dynamics."

The Conductor's dynamic range was so wide that I sometimes had trouble deciding where to set the volume control. I began "Mansour's Gift," from my jazz quartet Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2), at a level at which I could comfortably follow every subtle, low-level electronic effect in bassist Chris Jones's introduction, while marveling at the subtle dynamic envelope of Mark Flynn's Korean tuk drum. At this level, however, the crashing fortissimo in the descending passage for piano, bass, and drums near the end of the track was so loud that my wife demanded I turn the volume down.

That's not to say that the Conductor didn't excel at delicate jazz passages. "Tears Transforming," from the Tord Gustavsen Trio's The Ground (CD, ECM 1892), enveloped me in a warm, delicate bath of liquid piano sound. On "Original Faubus Fables," from Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus (LP, Candid 9005), the Conductor presented Mingus's warm bass lines as a clearly defined bedrock for trumpeter Ted Curson's biting, brassy, burnished solo.

I also cued up the great rockabilly version of Duke Ellington's "Caravan" from Santo and Johnny's eponymous first album (LP, Canadian American CALP 1001, footnote 1). As I noted how tightly and tunefully the uncredited studio bassist and drummer churned through this tune, I was able to study every lick of Santo Farina's (then a teenager) masterful upper-register lap-steel solo, as the Conductor reproduced every nuance with pristine splendor.

The Conductor's upper-register purity went hand in hand with its rapid and undistorted transient abilities to make it a spectacular showcase for percussion recordings. The wide, deep soundstage of Charles Wuorinen's recording of his Ringing Changes for Percussion Ensemble (LP, Nonesuch H71263) placed every instrument in its appropriate space, each on its own bed of air. The entrancing low-level pianissimos leading into "barking and crashing" fortissimos presented a similar challenge in volume control to what I'd faced when playing the Attention Screen disc.

I won't go into detail about the countless familiar recordings with which the Conductor's resolution of inner detail let me hear, say, woodwind countermelodies under a dense orchestral passage, bassoons doubling choral baritones, or bass-synth countermelodies—none of which, at the risk of using an audiophile cliché, I'd ever heard before.

And don't let the Conductor's name fool you into thinking it's only for lovers of classical and jazz. Playing the title track of Hole's Celebrity Skin (CD, Geffen DGCD-25164) at about 97dB, as I twitched around the room to the slamming drum and kick-ass bass lines, I was still able to clearly follow the lyrics sung by the backing vocalists over the din of distorted guitar.

The comparing is revealing
I had no other preamps on hand that were anywhere near the Conductor's price to do a fairer comparison, and it's been some time since the Reference 3 was sent back to Audio Research. However, readers can refer to my comparison of the ARC and the Audio Valve Eclipse in my Follow-Up on the latter in the June 2008 issue.

It was fascinating to compare the Conductor with the Eclipse with a wide range of recordings. The two preamps, clearly cut from the same sonic cloth, both had ultra-low levels of coloration. However, there was a slight difference in their midrange perspectives. The Eclipse seemed a bit more forward, the Conductor a tad laid-back. With the latter, it was as if I'd moved 10 rows back in the orchestra section of a concert hall. Although one of the Eclipse's greatest strengths was its tight, clean, deep, kick-ass bass, the Conductor, as mentioned above, seemed even better in this area. The high-frequency characteristics of the two preamps were virtually identical.



One area in which the Conductor bettered the Eclipse: No matter how densely modulated the music, the Conductor never sounded as if it was working hard to produce its effortless, pristine, crystal-clear sound. With some of the more demanding orchestral works and recordings, the Eclipse never sounded congealed or congested, but I sensed it was giving all it had to ensure a realistic reproduction of the music. By comparison, the Conductor always sounded effortless: for all it cared, it could have been reproducing a string quartet rather than an orchestra.

These characteristics were directly related to the preamps' reproductions of soundstages. While the Eclipse presented detailed, pinpoint images on a wide, deep soundstage, the Conductor's stage was even wider and deeper. But the differences went further than that. There was an openness to the Conductor's soundstaging that I hadn't heard before from a preamp. Although the Conductor's superb presentation of detail rendered ambience and hall cues perfectly, I never had the sense that it was reproducing music that had been recorded in a confined space, as I felt with the Eclipse. It was a paradox: The Conductor sounded so open that it seemed to almost make the walls of concert halls disappear, while simultaneously rendering ambience cues that made it easier to hear those walls.

The Eclipse's wide dynamic contrasts were bettered by the Conductor's. A case in point: With the Eclipse hooked up, I cued up Attention Screen's "Mansour's Gift" and began listening at the same volume level as I had with the Conductor. But this time, when the cacophonous fortissimo crash came near the end of the piece, my wife did not tell me to turn the volume down. I could say that, while the Eclipse is capable of ppp/fff dynamic contrasts, the Conductor is capable of pppp/ffff.

While this comparison clearly revealed the superiority of the Conductor over the Eclipse, it also reaffirmed what a rare bargain the Eclipse is.

Sadly, the Conductor is leaving the podium
Without exception, the Audio Valve Conductor produced stunning, flawless sound during the three delightful months it spent in my house, and exceeded the performance of my Audio Valve Eclipse—no easy task. I unhesitatingly recommend its consideration to anyone able to spend $13,995 on a line stage. Unfortunately, I am not a member of that club, so it's back to the Eclipse for me.

I also strongly recommend that, given the Conductor's unusual size and appearance, you see the preamp in the flesh before buying—and take your significant other with you. But still—at no time during the Conductor's tenure here did my wife comment on its appearance or the amount of space it occupied in our living room.

Well done, Herr Becker, and keep up the good work!

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