Best looking / worst looking amps & preamps

OK, this week we garnered opinions on the best looking and ugliest speakers. Now it's time to assess the best looking and worst looking amps and preamps. To make the discussion more focused, let's confine choices to amps and preamps manufactured since 1980. Ready....GO!
Best looking pre-amps: Sonic Frontiers Line series w/ black faceplate & ARC LS25/MKII/Ref 2 in silver-- ML 38/380S series also looks good. In amps, I was always partial to the sexy looking Classe's-- before the Omega series. There are many really cool looking tube amps around, and I like the Cary's and VAC just to name a couple. I'm sure others can nail this down better-- if they have good taste;>).

Ugliest components I've ever seen were the Perreaux (sp?) amps and pre-amps-- the face plates looked like the snout of a walrus or maybe like a mini bumber off a '55 Oldsmobile or Buick. I also don't particularly care for the present ML amp style, but wouldn't call them ugly. Cheers. Craig
Craig, i gotta agree about the "sexy" tube gear that seems to be coming out of the woodwork lately. I also second the "chrome Cadillac bumper" look of some of the Perreaux line. What in the hell were they thinking ??? Sean
Good looking is Pathos and YBA Passion, ugly is Nagra and Krell.
Perreau clams the #1 spot for Fugliness along with the OM-1 preamp. Everyone knows the Hovland HP-100 and the tenor amps
are tops.
I like the look of the Sim gear especially the moon rok.For ugly, well, I always thought the N.E.W. preamp was "beauty challanged" However it sounded very good to my ears. I'm partial to those blue laser leds on the moons when you walk into the room.....luckily they sound pretty good too....I always admired the SF styling....the original krell pam1 has a nice clean, understated syle I liked....I really like the brand-new copland preamp....wish I could afford one....
Best Looking: Audio Devices (ultra-expensive Japanese components made in the late-'80's) champagne gold and ivory components, and Mike Maloney's MAN (Scientific Fidelity) triangular amp and handlebar preamp.

Worst Looking: I thought my Krell FPB with the old-style faceplate was ugly until I saw Bongiorno's Ampzilla 2000. The CTC Blowtorch preamp's appearance doesn't say, "I want a big hug" either.
I'm real partial to the BAT stuff but that may be cuz it sounds so damned good that I've become biased. The Lehmann Black Cube is one ugly little critter IMHO
I have always liked the Audio Research stuff in silver.
Very classic. Quad and Naim both have produced some real
ugly items through the years.
I guess I would call Blue Circle funky. Most like the glowing blue circle, but few are neutral about the wood knobs, which seem to have a love/hate response. I agree that the YBA gear looks nice. There are lots of nice looking tube amps.
Steve, you hit that one on the head with the Ampzilla and Blowtorch. The Blowtorch reminds me of Klaus' Odyssey preamp that's been out for a few years now. They both make use of those steroid sized knobs. Sean
I see in Audio Advisor that Perreaux has redesigned and dramatically (improved) the appearance of their amps and pre-amps. They now look more "industrial" and more conventional (and pretty good!). It was a previous series that was so gross-- don't want to grind Perreaux into the mud-- they probably sound good. Cheers. Craig
Well, on the Ampzilla 2000, don't go to the SAE website and suggest you think its ugly, as your heritage, your manhood/womanhood, heritage, taste and upbringing will be brought into question in an attempt to leave it forever smarting.
I like blue lights so I'd like to nominate the new Pass X Series and the Hovland amps for good looks. I agree the Perreaux blob style was a turnoff, and their new look is much more palatable.
jeff rowland gorgeous
I like the looks of the Graff SET amplifiers made in Italy...absolute works of art. I also like the more utilitarian estetics of the Audio Research gear (silver only). The Hovland amp and pre look very impressive as well. I don't care for the gold Acuphase look at all.
My all time favorites are the Audio Research Ref1 and vt100 in black. I just like the well-built minimalism. Silver is good too.

Other greats include Hovland pre and amp, and of course the Tenor amps !

Left Field: I also really like the Funky pass labs aleph series (with the right decor).
OMG! I just saw the Ampzilla 2000. WOW! I think I may need to vomit. Looking at it's like having a sharp object crammed into your retina. You win James. No one can top that(I hope)unless they hire some designers from the old AMC automobile company.
I like the MACINTOSH gear,have taht timeless classic look.I second on the AUDIO RESEARCH,simple look and understated but elegant.For bodacious I would have to go for the PERRAUX,were they on crack when they made up that design or style.Looks like a fireplace mantle and a real fireplace mantle looks better.
Some of my favorites have already been mentioned above, but here are some of the preamps and amps I like best, followed by those I don't much care for:

Best looking preamp/power amp combos from same manufacturer:
1. Hovland (HP-100 pre and Hovland Sapphire amp)
2. Classe Omega Mark 2 preamp and power amps
3. YBA "Passion" series (in silver)
4. Pass X-2.5 preamp and XA-150/200/300 series amps
5. Spectral DMC-12 preamp and DMA-100S power amp
6. Accuphase (sumptious quality and finish on their whole product line)
7. Rogue Audio R99 preamp and M120 monoblocks
8. Ayre K-5 pre and V-5 amp
9. Aloia pre/power combo
10. Mark Levison Reference Pre No. 32 and No. 336 amp
11. BOW Technologies ZZ Reference series
12. Bryston BP-25 pre with 4B-ST or 14B-ST power amps
(with 17" silver faceplates; amps without handles)

Best looking preamps:
1. Conrad-Johnson Premier 16 and 17 Series, and ART
2. Klyne 7LX
3. Bel Canto PRE6 (multichannel)

Best looking power amps:
1. Linn Klimax 500 Solo and Twin
2. Jeff Rowland
3. Kora Concept Cosmos monoblocks
4. Art Audio PX25

Least attractive preamps:
1. Hafler DH-110 (I owned one and it did a good job for the money, but it looked a piece of equipment in the armored personnel carrier I had as a unit commander in the Army)
2. Nagra PL-P

Least attractive power amps:
1. Manley Snappper and Stingray; Manley Steelhead phono
2. HeadRoom "The Max"
3. The Hafler DH-200 and DH-220 (I owned one of each in the early 1980's and thought they were a good value, but they sure weren't much in the looks department)
4. Niro (the one that looks like a cross section of a jet turbine)
Don't know about being the "best" but very fine looking (and sounding) nonetheless:

Preamp/Amp: Graaf 13.5B, Graaf GM-20 OTL (stereo block) -- I own this (italian) preamp/amp combo at the moment.

Also Supratek "Syrah" preamps are something to look at. I have one in order. Also agree with Hovland Pre and Tenor OTL amps.

The prize for "expensive but ugly" goes to LAMM.
Worst: the current Krell stuff is ugly, they lost their way sometime after the first series of heat-sunk amps. The early fan-cooled amps up to '88 or so were cool--even under the hood (ever seen the inside of a KRS2 preamp from that vintage?). Early VTL was ugly, even the interiors showed signs the PCBs were laid out with marking pens! VTL always sounded much better than it looked. Naim comes to mind as well, I initially liked it for it's minimalist sensibilities but when you really study the cosmetics, it's ugly.

Best: ARC (past and present) and Levinson up to the very early '90s(silver knobs and pretty engraving) are so classic in my mind, that they transcend what is thought of as pretty or ugly. Early Krell was even cool looking, as was the natural aluminum look of Cello gear with instrumentation-style knobs--it looked serious. Most of the open chassis tube gear of today is pretty, current stuff like the big Wavac HE-833 which has a chassis milled from solid is especially sexy. Italians have a flair for style, like the Pathos and Unison Research but I'm told they don't sound nearly as good as they look...
Ugly: Pass Labs Aleph

Best Looking: Pass Labs x-250 and up
I think the Audio Research units with the silver face
plates are "True Classics". Of course being a McIntosh
owner; I have to give the last decade or so McIntosh
Amps & Preamps the nod for having timeless good looks.
Those blue meters never seem to go out of style!
The ugliest amps and pre-amps I've ever seen have to be those made by Linear Technology. Baby-poop brown glossy plastic faceplates, cheap-radio-style brown plastic knobs (or somestimes large aluminum knobs), and glossy bright yellow plastic sideplates. They are only slightly outdone by the single ugliest component ever made, the Linear Technology channel divider, which has more knobs. I was dying to find a good picture to add here but find only the following link (which but hints at greatness):
- 3rd picture down in bottom left shows mono power amps (M-151)
- 7th picture down top of rack shows pre-amp P-101 Mk II
I'm surprised no one has mentioned the Jadis equipment, which is nice eye candy. Lamm is great equipment, but given its price it has to go in the ugly category, at least the amps.
Interesting topic. Unfortunately high end gear is pretty darn ugly.

McIntosh does a good job of producing a unique looking product - which is attractive - to some. See the Tube MC2000 for a splendid example.

Rcprince is correct about both the Jadis and LAMM gear. However, I have always wondered why Jadis puts the tubes in the back. It seems they would look better if the tubes were front facing.

T_bone! You might have found the ugliest gear ever! That Linear Technology stuff is horribly ugly.

Enjoy the Music's Tube Lust page has quite a few examples of beautiful equipment.

Beautiful Preamp??
Supratek Syrah preamp

ugliest-Nagra, some of the older Naim. Prettiest-Wadia, Hovland pre.,McIntosh tube.
How about the Art Audio Jota? It loooks nice to me. Emotive amps or preamps are beautiful too. I just dislike "tank" look... would prefer more tubes gears' look.
I think Mcintosh is seriously ugly in that timeless way you cant really get around. I like their look.
Sean, you ever try to turn a Shallco selector with a 1" knob? There is a reason the Blowtorch knobs are 2.25" in diameter and it ease in use as prefer not to modify the contact pressure Shallco chose........

Bob Crump
CTC Builders
Tenor Hybrids are the best looking amps I have seen or can think of. I think the Pathos Logos and Viva amps looks pretty nice as well. I agree with most everyone here that good looking gear that also sound good is a rarity.
Bob: Nope, never messed with Shalco's but from what you've said, the tension must be pretty high. From what i can gather, you're using the larger diameter knob as sort of a "gear reduction torque multiplier". In this case, form follows function, so i can understand the use of such a part. I know from what you've told me, those knobs and the entire chassis is PHENOMENALLY expensive to have machined. I also know that you don't like to throw money away on unnecessary items, so i knew there had to be a reason for it. Thanks for the explanation.

As a side note, i've made similar comments about Atma gear i.e. that if the looks of this gear are directly related to how it sounds i.e. "form following function", leave it alone. Otherwise, i don't exactly like the "vintage sci-fi submarine" and / or "electronics lab as seen in 50's & 60's B-movies" cosmetics of these amps, etc... From what Rushton recently posted in another thread here on Agon, it looks like Ralph has come out with some newer designs that are more cosmetically appealing.

The "funny" thing is, the CTC and Atma product lines are both excellent products built by people that i have a lot of respect for. Sorry for stepping on your toes, guys : ) Sean

PS... I wear a size 15 EEEE shoe and Crump's "monster sized"* feet make mine look like i'm wearing doll shoes. As such, i might only have stepped on one or two of Bob's toes whereas i might have covered up Ralph's entire foot : )

* I'm not aware of any trademarks of that term, so i think i'm safe in using that description : )
Sean, I wear 13D or 14B so my feet are just average sized compared to those wingtips you had on at a Chicago Audio Society meeting a while back......Most of the Blowtorch owners are well over fifty and with the spring tension of the Shallcos it makes it easier to change inputs to have huge knobs. I could have gone smaller for the pot knobs, but chose to use the 2.25" knobs there as well. For decent shielding aluminum needs to be 3/8" thick and that and 56 heatsinks needed to be attached to the case and my machinist found a cheap way to hog out billets with blind holes so there aren't 56 bolts sticking out of the thing......Now that would have been ugly! I always liked that old Yamaha tuner made in the 70s and chose a similar look for the Blowtorch. At least it is distinctive........

Bob Crump
CTC Builders
Tandberg amps and preamps looked cool back in the 80s and they look cool now. Especially the tuner.
I know many manufactures use chrome finishes on their components. My vote for worst, are those. Chrome belongs on Harleys!
Interesting, to see a very old thread come to live again...... Anyway, the prettiest pre IMHO is the Musical Fidelity X-pre, especially with it's separate X-psu power supply. Heee, what a coincidence, I own both! And the ugliest amp would be my homemade poweramp, but since it tend to eat Krell/Mark Levinson etc. for breakfast, I don't really care.

My votes for the best and worst looking amps and preamps??

The "Best" Looking Gear (at least........ to me):

(01). Jeff Rowland Model 3 and 7 Mono Power Amplifiers and Coherence One Preamplifier (1984-92)(loved the gold front panels especially).

(02). Musetex (at least, I think that's how you spell their name........ small and unimposing looking amplifiers with the rosewood side panels........ also..... late 1980's).

(03). Threshold Stasis Series (mid 1980's until their last gear was produced in the mid 1990's).

(04). Counterpoint (if I was ever into tubes back then, this would've been the gear I would've purchased. To me, Counterpoint's gear (just like Audio Research) had a simple but elegant look about them).

(05). Convergent Audio Technology (I was always in awed of the CAT SL-1, later on, their monoblock tube amps wasn't all that bad either).

(06). Hovland (best looking modern tube gear if I say so myself).

(06t). Balanced Audio Technology (I rank them up their with Hovland, but compared to Hovland, BAT has more of a utilitarian look).

(08). Sim Audio.

(09). Mark Levinson (I have always loved the way their gear has looked (I loved the hell out of the "No. 26" Preamplifier back in the late 1980's...... and had the privilege to listen to it three times), and their modern gear DEFINITELY looks great now).

(10). Spectral Audio.

(10t). Sutherland Engineering.

(12). McCormack (late 1990's to present).

(13). Accuphase.

HOWEVER (!!!!) -- I am kind of in between when it comes to McIntosh's gear. They don't make bad gear at all. In fact, their gear stands the test of time. But I just wish McIntosh would produce some more stylish gear.

The "Worst" Looking Gear (to me) is:

(01). Hafler.

(02). Perreaux.

(03). Cambridge Audio (at least...... before their Azur Series........ at least, their Azur Series looks a hell of a lot nicer than their older gear).

(04). Adcom (their amplifiers could use some sprucing up, but they make of for their lack of style by producing a nice sound at an affordable price....... the GFP-750 Active/Passive Line Stage Preamplifier is a looker however).


Air Tight AT10-A
Ear Preamp Pravinichi 302 and Elctronluv Preamp

MBL amps and pre-amps and on
Niro amps:

Pathos Amps (all good/great)

Best Infinity speaker photo TOP right (and left)
and this one of the Soundlab:

Jeff Rowland gear (ALL great)

THOR GEAR is ALL UGLY and plastic name tags/facades

THE NUMBER ONE MOST UGLY PRE-AMP/AMP is on the bottom of this page