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REVIEW: Quicksilver Audio Full function preamp Preamplifier (Tube)

Model: Full function preamp
Category: Preamplifier (Tube)
Suggested Retail Price: $1995.00
Description: Full function preamp, made from 1986 to 1991 (or so...)
Manufacturer URL: Quicksilver Audio
Manufacturer URL: Quicksilver Audio

Review by Marc Bratton (A) on October 31, 2005 at 22:45:21
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for the Full function preamp

I'm something of a tube preamp affectionado. I've had at one time or another most of the 'affordable' (ie 1k or less new) tube preamps of yore thru my system, including a CJ PV1, 2a, 5, and 10, an MFA Magus A2, a Music Reference RM5MkII, and an AVA T7. These in addition to my EAR 834P/FT Audio FT LW-1 passive combo. I've gotten very good sound out of all them, (except the CJ PV1, 2a, and 10, those were colored sounding mediocrities, IME), but there is a certain ceiling you can't quite get past with 'affordable' preamps, be they tube or SS. I think it has to do with the power supply. As Sam Tellig once said many years ago, you don't GET a balls-to-the-wall power supply in a 1K preamp. That was true then, and it's true now. And it's the power supply and its implementation, I submit, that differentiates a good preamp from a truly great one, which brings us to the Quicksilver full function preamp.
Made 'back in the day' when phono was STILL king, this preamp is WAY overbuilt for its price, like most of Mike Sander's gear. The things chassis is the size of a 150 watt or so SS power amp, and when you get a load of the power supply, you see why this was necessary. The mains transformer looks a LOT like what you'd see as an output trannie for a 35 watt or so tube amp...it is MASSIVE. The 8 huge electrolytic power supply caps again look like something that belongs on a moderate sized tube power amp. The power supply section is completely partitioned off the rest of the circuitry by a steel partition wall. It might as well be a separate box, as far as electrical noise goes. The power cord is a captive 14 gauge. The tube complement is as follows: Power section (2)6x4 rectifier tubes (or later versions, one 5AR4 rectifier), Phono section, (1)12AX7, (1)12FQ7, the line stage (1)12AU7 input (I used another 12FQ7 to very good effect here) (1)12AX7 line amp, and (1)12FQ7 output. The output impedance is a very low 12 ohms, so its a good guess that the final 12FQ7 is a cathode follower, and that there is some use of negative feedback. Mine's the earlier 6X4 version; there's been some reports of the earliest ones going thru a lot of tubes and fuses, but mine's given me no trouble in that regard.
You've got a power switch that lights, a switch marked 'Outlets' for the convenience outlets on the back (remember those?)and a mute switch.
You've also got a -20db toggle switch, and dual detented volume pots which are a joy to use, because they have 80(!)detentes, so it's never a prob to get precisely the volume you want. Source selector gives you a 5 sources, and you get a switched tape monitor (which, if you forget and leave it engaged, definitely veils the sound-you've been warned). You get Stereo, Mono, Reverse, Left Only and Right Only, typical of preamps of the day. The fit, finish, and build quality of this unit is impeccable. Mine is now almost 20 years old, and it's never seen any tech to my knowledge. Would they were all built this way.
The sound. I have been pretty happy with my Bill Thalmann hotrodded PV5. It is an intensely musical preamp, with a lot of the things you get a tube preamp for. That said, I was actually taken aback how much refined the Quicksilver sounded. Across the board, it is smoother, cleaner, quicker, more articulate, and detailed than the PV5. Its diction is veddy British, by which I mean its presentation is always impeccable. The bass is more tuneful, articulate and tighter than the PV5. Especially in concert with my Quicksilver M80's (these units literally WERE made for each other), the music just sounded all more of one piece. The mids are slightly more recessed than with the PV5-actually it sounds to me more like the PV5 can sometimes have a slight upper mid glare. Not bad mind you...this tends to happen with very forte passages. I think what I'm hearing is the superior power supply of the Quickie just keeps a better grip on things when the going gets rough. That's what I mean when I say the Quickie sounds veddy British...it just NEVER loses its cool. Which is not to say it sounds in the least dynamically restrained. It is a more dynamic sounding preamp than the PV5-it just accomplishes this so easily that it just doesn't get excited. The treble is also more extended and refined.
The phono stage is simply a LOT better than any of the above mentioned preamps, including the EAR 834P. Hate to use a cliche, but it's like getting a whole new set of LP's. Sometimes I am mildly shocked when I hear an old favorite for the 1st time with this preamp...there is SO much more information, it almost doesn't sound like the same record. The linestage by itself is also a treat. Normally, linestages can only detract, I've never heard one that makes a source sound better than it does by itself, via the tape outs, until I heard this one. It makes the source whatever it may be, just sound more like it SHOULD sound. I think this is possibly a function of a very kind input impedance (100kohm), in tandem with a very transparent and simple linestage just making things easier for the source's output device. In fact, this is the FIRST preamp I've heard I'd put up against a good passive, in that regard. So is there ANYthing the PV5 does better? Well, yeah...PRAT. Not that the Quickie sounds restrained, or slow, or downbeat. Not at all. My right foot still can't sit still, listening to it. But the PV5 was a NO negative feedback preamp, and for its slight lack of refinement, it still just lets you have it ALL, PRAT wise. This is a tradeoff I can happily live with; you may not agree.
In short, the Quicksilver full function preamp REALLY delivers the goods. I got this one for less than I've paid for a lot of the above mentioned preamps, and it is clearly in a whole nother class. CAVEAT:It DOES pass some DC when you 1st turn it on. The manual CLEARLY warns about this. You need only mute it the 1st 60 seconds or so, then it's safe to unmute it. This measure is not necessary at all if you use Quicksilver amps, or indeed any tube amp with an output transformer, as these won't pass DC to your speakers. But if you have a direct coupled SS amp, well...I think I'd be a little wary. But especially if you have Quicksilver amps, and you're using any other preamp, you MUST give this one a try! I'm sorry that I can't compare this unit's sound with Mike's comtemporary outboard phono unit and linestage. Maybe someone else can. But this preamp is a CLASSIC...it will ALWAY sound good! This is by far by the best preamp I've had in my system, and, just like with my amplifiers, I'm done looking!

Product Weakness: Definitely a little laid back (to me, this is a strength). Burps a little DC with turn on; easily avoided by deploying the mute button.
Product Strengths: Clear, articulate, smooth, detailed sound.

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Quicksilver M80's
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Quicksilver Full Function
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Teres/MorchUP4/V15VxMR/Rega Planet
Speakers: Magnepan MG 12's
Cables/Interconnects: DH Labs
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Everything except rap and country
Room Size (LxWxH): see x my x friggin
Room Comments/Treatments: system because I'm tired of typing this stuff...
Time Period/Length of Audition: 1 mo.
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): BrickWall
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: Quicksilver Audio Full function preamp Preamplifier (Tube) - Marc Bratton 22:45:21 10/31/05 (2)

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