Hovland-Pre,anyone heard it ?

Curious if anyone has spent any time with Hovland's preamp and if so what your impressions are-thanks.
As always, my impressions are based on MY tastes, preferences, system and room and relative to my experiences with other equipment so, YMMV. With that disclaimer out of the way, I can start by saying that I have owned a CAT Signature MKII, an Audible Illusions 3A, a cj-pv10, a Sonic Frontiers Line 3 (still have) a Blue Circle BC-21 (still have), an Aesthetix Io and ARC PH3SE and heard many many more. For your reference the rest of my system is comprised of Lamm M1.1 amps, Hales T8s speakers, Sonic Frontiers T3/P3 and Processor 3 digital front end, VPI TNT-V (w/JMW 12.5 arm and Crown Jewel SE and Helikon)) analog front end, Nordost Quattro fil interconnects and SPM Reference speaker cables (leaving out the power cords and conditioners and isolation stuff).

Based on my system, I can say that the Hovland is the BEST preamp I have had to date. It is very liquid and musical with an extended top end that is not harsh or etched. I was able to take a 4 chassis, 36 tube, 155 lb., $12,500.00 line/phono stage (Aesthetix Io and Line 3) and replace it with the one box, 6 tube, $6,500.00 Hovland (with 66db step up MC phono stage) and eliminate a $1,600 interconnect in the process.

The Hovland has me listening to more vinyl than I ever have (before I was a 75% CD, 25% vinyl listener -- now I am listening to 75% vinyl). This preamp is a joy to own. It has a beautifully detailed and full bodied midrange, extended taut bass (that I even prefer to the Line 3 which is a bass king - I like the timbre of the Hovland's bass better). It is NOT a c-j kinda preamp though. No rolled off soft or mushy tubey sound here. It also allows the already incredible soundstaging of my Lamms to extend beyond my walls (when the source has the goods) and the MC phono stage has enough gain to drive any low output moving coil.

I find its imaging and focus as good or better than any I've owned or heard and I like the fact that it only uses 6 tubes - 3 in the line stage (12AX7 and 12AU7) and 3 in the phono stage (12AX7 and 12AY7). I liked and enjoyed the Io, but it, in my opinion, has REAL reliability problems and cost a fortune to retube if you are an NOS kinda guy. I actually prefer the sound of the Hovland in MY system.

Are there better preamps out there? Only you can answer that. Maybe the new Lamm L2 Reference? The ART? The Blowtorch or the Expressive Technologies? The JRDG or the Levinson? Who knows and, for me for now, who cares. Right now I'll sit back and relax and stick to the KISS principle.

I hope this helps.
Fmpnd, Yo nice system kudos to you. I was wonderin have you compared to CAT Ultimate?
From what I hear Hovland has to be truly wonderfull pre amp. Many thanks for your input in this matter :-)
I also love the Hovland with phono. Truly superb. My previous was a Joule MK3 with BelCanto Phono1. This preamp also simplifies my setup and gives me a lot of enjoyment.
Outsatnding resolving power and musicality. I love it.
Hovland pre is very good, IMO. Very sweet, but not euphonic midrange. The extreme highs are outstanding. Soundstaging is good to very good. It is quite musical. Dynamics are OK, but nothing to write home about. It is a very neutrally balanced preamp. It is absolutely beautiful to look at, if that is important to you. Now that I've gotten all the good stuff out of the way, I would say that the deep bass reproduction was below average to poor. It was just not there. Of course, there are many people who don't care about that, since you don't hear bass below 40-50hz very often on recordings. And although it is over $5000, it doesn't cost what some of the other top preamps are asking. But for my money, I want to hear the bass. All of it. The CAT will give you all the bass and everything else that the Hovland gives you, plus more, EXCEPT it won't give you the highs like the Hovland, which are the best I have ever heard. Not to say that the CAT has bad highs because that is by no means true. It's just that cymbals, for example, don't have the detail or shimmering decay that you hear with the Hovland. In comparing these two products, other than the highs, the CAT will take you to a new level as far as dynamics, soundstage, midrange presence (although the Hovland is quite present), midrange transparency, musicality and, of course, deep bass reproduction. The Hovland is a very good product and I would have thought of picking one up for a second system I want to build but for the bass extension. I would say in all the ways in which I downgraded the Hovland vs. the CAT other than the bass extension, in the Hovland's favor, it does show itself off well at fairly low volume levels. In order to hear how far the CAT exceeds the Hovland, even forgetting about the bass extension, you will need to turn the CAT up a little. Admittedly, I did not compare these units head-to-head. I did audition the Aesthetix Callisto linestage vs. the Hovland. (I liked the Hovland better). Other equipment was Proceed DVD player, Levinson 30.6 DAC, Levinson 336 amp and Watt Puppy Six speakers. Speaker cable and pre-to-power interconnects were Siltech. XLO cable btw DAC and processor. I am a CAT owner. I have a Pass Aleph 4, Snell C/V speakers and a Philips CD80 CD player in this system. Interconnects are Kimber PBJ btw CD and CAT, and either NBS Signature II or JPS Superconductor (the old one) between CAT and Aleph. Speaker cables are Kimber 4tc. It is not a break-the-bank system, and it is not perfect, but in assessing the CAT's capability vs. the Hovland admittedly heard in another system, but remember that I did have the Aesthetix Callisto as a reference, I feel that the Hovland does come up short, even though if you are looking for something close to the best, it can be considered. This is my best effort, given that I am a CAT owner and may therefore carry some prejudice, to give you the most unbiased opinion I can muster. I do encourage anyone who has an interest in either of these preamps to go out and listen, head-to-head, if possible, for themselves.
BTW, all my references to CAT in the previous post refer to the CAT Ultimate.
Yesterday I heard the "First Sound" preamp, the $4k model, and was blown away by the sound (once warmed up). Liquid, present, deep powerful bass, etc. Anyone compared this to Hovland, SF3, CJ, etc?
It's clearly a very fine preamp. I heard it at the Home Entertainment show in NY. You can't go wrong with it, esp. for phono.
I believe Michael Fremer has reviewed this pre-amp in a recent issue of Stereophile, although I cannot remember specifically which month. I remember that he really liked it, but check it out before you buy.
I wrote Hovland directly to find out who my closest dealer is and have not heard back from them at all. Any suggestions?

I'd like to hear it and find a dealer who is selling at less than MSRP


Heard it, bought it. Again, with the comparisons being so subjective based on equipment and tastes, you need to get one of these in to kick the tires and twist the knobs. Mike, from the Audio Outlet worked with me and everything was great. The bass: my experience on the Maggie 1.6's driven by VTL MB250's is that it doesn't bring out the deepest bass but the bass that it does bring is amazing in my opinion. That from having drums seeming to be beaten in front of your own eyes. The skins, the resonance, and the roundness and size of the drum defined. While not as holographic as I have had in the past, it is more natural sounding. Piano has always been a big hangup for me and the Hovland is sure satisfying that area for me like I have never heard. Mine is a linestage being fed from a Levinson #39 CD Processor,
Heard the Hovland yesterday, along with their new amp. Quite impressive, especially the pre-amp; the amp is rated at 40W. and seems to portray a good stage but is a little sterile.
In comparison to my CAT sig, I think the Hovland has it all over on looks. It does seem a little less dynamic and the bass is a tad week. Still a great preamp, but not as wonderful as I was hoping for given the sterling reviews.For now my CAT stays in the system.
Just forgot to mention the what the Audible Illusions did in there days,for the money????
If you do not own it,just keep wishing you could own one of the best preamps,like all of the front runners of there time.This preamp is something special.Go out,and take your current preamp with you,If you do not hear the magic,do not buy!!