|The last preamp review I wrote was on the Audiovalve Eklipse that gave me great pleasure producing lovely music in my system for the last year. I had heard other very highly regarded linestages, often they were way more expensive then the Eklipse, but did not find them to offer anything sonicly that would motivate me to replace the Audiovalve piece. Until I heard the subject of this review, the Concert Fidelity CF-080.|
This preamp is designed and built by Masataka Tsuda in Japan who has been working for over twenty years refining his philosophy of a minimalist approach and the shortest signal path as possible. Mr. Tsuda also has a credo of perfectionism towards parts/build quality in his pieces. The appearance of the CF-080 is somewhat "Plain Jane", however, the built quality is very apparent when you look at how the external case is constructed and the lay out front and back. As always I do not get long winded regarding specs in my reviews, for all the technical details you can go to Concert Fidelity's website, contact Mike Kay of Audio Archon[more about him later], take a look at Dick Olsher's review on enjoythemusic or Mike Wechsberg on postive feedback online, I rather center on the sonic performance. Just briefly, the CF-080 uses 12AU7's and a EZ81/6CA4 rectifier tube in the power supply. The entire signal path from input to output is an amazing four inches! I immediately changed out the stock tubes and put in my favorite 12AU7's NOS Mullard long plate getters and a NOS GEC rectifier tube. This brought the performance of the CF-080 to a much higher level then with the stock tubes. This preamp also uses a special proprietary volume control using digital circuitry and software that took years to develop.
Let me get to the details of the sonics of the CF-080 now:
1) It is the most transparent preamp I have ever heard. Forget using terms like no noise floor or a sense of blackness, a good analogy would be that you broke out a window to get to purity, rather then cleaning a plane of glass. I have had in my system two of the highest regarded passive preamps and the CF-080 is less there sonicly then they were. Amazing.
2) The overall macrodynamics of the CF-080 are the best I have ever had in my system. I thought my system was pretty dynamic to begin with, however when I put this linestage in it was if my whole system "woke up" and became more lively without any etch/irration at all.
3) The top end offers beautiful details, natural timbres,and decay trails. It's the most extended and natural high end I have experienced in my system.
4) The low end response of the CF-080 is powerful,taut, with fantastic transient quickness/speed. Yet, it's still full with natural timbres, but dynamic as hell.
5) I can't say that the CF-080 produces a larger sound stage then the Eklipse, however the layering of the players is more percise, with more air around individual players and greater image density.
6) The midrange of the CF-080 is hard to describe, it does not sound either tube like or solid state, warm or thin, because of the pristine clarity/transparency. It just sounds natural and lifelike.
When Mike Wechsberg of ,postive-feedback-online, reviewed the CF-080 he summed up his experience with this statement,"overall the CF-080 made beautiful music". I could not agree more with him.
When the highly regarded reviewer Dick Olsher auditioned the CF-080 he made it his personnal reference, along with Steve Hoffman who also owns it, and gave it a best of the year award. Mr. Olsher made this remake regarding the CF-080,"What is most amazing about the sound of the CF-080 is that I found it impossible to characterize as either tube or solid state.I'm still shaking my head in disbelief: a tube gain stage and tube rectification, yet transient speed and low-level detail retrieval rivaled or exceeded the performance of all linestages I have auditioned over my entire audio lifetime".
I know it sounds so subjective, but the CF-080 makes my system sound more like real music and just gets out of the way sonicly, allowing me to relax even more then before and just get into the music. There is no "BEST" in the world, but in my humble opinion this linestage ranks with the best of the best. It often has been said that you pay a lot more money for the last 10% of sonic performance, the CF-080 is quite expensive yet it truly delivers the magic of the illusion of real music at a high level.
Finally, I would like to thank Mike Kay of Audio Archon who is a great/good guy and makes everything so easy in the auditioning process and has vast array of knowledge regarding the audiophile world. If you have any specific questions regarding technical details about the CF-080 give him a call, I just know that it sounds superb in my system.
Click to view my Virtual System
by Teajay on 04-08-10