Many higher end preamps are dated and ugly, why is this?

Conrad Johnson, BAT, VTL are all very good preamplifiers, they are dated and just ugly.  Audio research is a prettier amplifier but it's not very well regarded due to it sounding more like a solid state, ie. Not really a tube preamp despite all those internal lightbulbs.

Cheaper preamps can be more pretty. Schitt makes a pretty preamp for about $1000. People like pretty.

D'Agostino by many is viewed as very attractive but kind of weird. 


I like the appearance of my ARC SP6! Even though the volume pot is on the left! 

Post removed 

Nothing Schiit makes can be considered pretty. They’re inoffensive at best. Not really a great example to drop as your standard of aesthetic, unless you’re saying you like a minimal & simple visual footprint. Any others you like?

And when you mention the "solid state" sound of ARC preamps are you speaking from experience or regurgitating other opinions? From the Ref 6 I would say they truly sound like a hybrid, well done - not the classic tube sound, but not full-bore solid state either.

I think my VAC Master preamp is quite beautiful in person, if perhaps a bit ostentatious with the glossy glossy gold flake clearcoat, big bright logo, and huge faceted chrome knobs.

all very good preamplifiers, they are dated...

If by dated you mean to say no chips, no processors but hard wired with individual component level design. I'll take that every time. 100 years from now, it will be repairable and still sound great.  

My VTL 7.5iii preamp is perennially modern and classic, sleek and attractive. No one can call it "ugly" unless your aesthetic sensibility is, shall we say, singular! Neal

Many higher end preamps are dated and ugly, why is this?

works quite well for dated and ugly customers...

Dated and ugly?  I think you might mean simplistic with no frills, which I am just fine with.

If Schiit is "pretty" to you, I have to seriously question your taste.

Yeah, Schiit to me is very utilitarian… not attractive. But aesthetics change, they are a social / personal construct. I am an old fart, so I like traditional. The stream punk look of Dan d’ Agosino really offends me. As a group the people that can afford high end audio components we dictate through purchases what manufacturers can sell profitably. My violin red Sonus Faber Amati Traditional speakers sound like I want speakers to sound like and look like… to me, speakers should look like a Stradivarius violin. I value a traditional sophisticated look. I / we will die… the next generation decides what to buy.

Not to mention most power amps……uuggggly! Let there be meters, digital displays, touch screens! Even just a few goshdern LEDs! Now we are talking! Something worth looking at!  Lights camera……action!



Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.   One man’s ugly,is another man’s gorgeous.  

maybe you should open up a design studio fabrication and go into business if it is that easy


Those preamps are nothing special either IMO


In my mind, albeit right or wrong line stage with lowest possible noise pre is the only way to go. The harmonic distortion of tubes, although, I understand sounds good to some, for me dulls the accuracy.. maybe that's needed for some speakers. Dunno. I listen to Dunlavy's. Just my personal experience. I'm sure others may beg to differ.

If the manufacturers sell out their production run, why would they change their design?

Pretty is as pretty does! 


Amps got to sound good to look good and the amp looks marvelous. 


Yeah, lame topic but so what? Schiit gear works very well for my tastes regardless of how it looks (my Freya looks cool though), and don’t let women with no pants sit on your me. 

Pretty is in the eye of the beholder. There’s ’art’ that sells for multiple millions that I don’t think pretty.

’Outdated’ ... well ... maybe after some 100 years of evolution in analog signal amplification circuitry it has come to a somewhat optimal design, from where it’s very hard to improve on it any further, or to find a whole new, better, design principle.

Technological progress has brought us transistors, IC’s, and nowadays even powerful digital processing on a chip. Much more sound shaping is possible in the digital realm and this is widely used in the sound studios where the digital master recordings are created. Yet, for play back many listeners still prefer the 'ancient' analog (discrete component) (tube) technology.

All a matter of personal taste.

CJ was dated when I first said no to my sound advice salesman in the early 90s. He didn’t understand. Fortunately the Krell KSA -100S came out soon thereafter (I did with Adcom until then). Using McIntosh Hybrid these days and it looks the part. The brand was too staid for me back then. Wadia, Rowland, Acurus, Gryphon, Levinson have done it for me as well as Krell and Mc. Schiit is just too lacking in style and size to do anything towards a purchase. I’ve looked, but won’t listen. 

now I am making (outsourcing to several companies) an exclusive enclosure for the power system.
Bronze , bone , exotic wood ... development at the jeweler , foundry , CNC milling ...
It turned out to be quite expensive! - the mass market, on the contrary, is trying to save money (for this reason, the external design is very modest)

@ghdprentice +1 

As a group the people that can afford high end audio components we dictate through purchases what manufacturers can sell profitably.

As I like to say, we vote with our wallets. 

Visual appearance is probably more of a factor with speakers than with electronics, which are often tucked away in a rack or cabinet. 

Some manufacturers believe sound and value are more important than looks to many including I. Wyred4sound is a perfect example of that and I thank them.

Aside from Preamps and Amps:

Did Apple designers ever get into Audio Equipment?

Sony made some very nice PCs and Laptops, their Audio not as elegant it seems.

Recently I did searches on hifishark for 'Tandberg', and 'Bang & Olufson' and 'Bang and Olufson', some very cool designs I was and was not aware of.

Luxman has had a simple, practical, still elegant design look over the years

"Italian Speakers' yields some beauties

Audiophiles discussing whether audio components are pretty and/or sexy -- is this a rejected SNL skit?

I really like the industrial design of my ARC LS15 tube pre amplifier 

I bought it in 1995 and still listen to it to this day But moreover l appreciate its build quality and tactile feel  Oh it's also made in the good old USA

The same applies to my VAC PA 100 100 tube amp that l also bought when l bought the ARC LS15 

It is VASTLY more important to me that my preamplifier - amplifier - DAC - streamer - CD transport/player - speaker array - every single one of them - must LOOK good (how they SOUND pales in importance by comparison)! 

My family and friends simply MUST gasp in astonished awe and delight whenever they feast their eyes on the STUNNINGLY GLORIOUS SIGHT of my gleaming high-end audiophile gear each and every time they enter my listening - er, viewing - room.

Seems like you want to impress friends rather than have good sq. Who cares what a preamp looks like, it’s the sound that counts. IMO, what you called high end preamps are just ok in my book, and some of the preamps you stated as ugly or weird are very good sounding.


II'm rather fond of my Musical Fidelity Ms8 preamp and even the wife gave it compliments when unboxing saying it's beautiful !

I think it is really a matter of personal taste. I don’t think the Schiit looks all that great.

I do like the look of my Luxman CL-35 III and Luxman CL-38uC preamps, as an added bonus they also have great sound

Preamp aesthetics may or may not have any bearing on it's sound quality. 

I've stated this before and will repeat it here again.."good preamplifiers are few & far between".

Many are flawed in different areas and it is difficult to execute everything to make a great sounding preamp.

@reubent “Many Audiophiles are dated and ugly. Why is this?”

Good observation.

That is because the sound of equipment gets better with cost and the only ones that can afford really good stuff are old farts. So over time you collect old guys.


"good preamplifiers are few & far between"

I agree.  I went through about 20 before finding one I could live with long term.

High quality audio electronics are costly and will occupy prominent places in the household landscape, so it's important to buy products that not only sound as you wish, but also convey the visual impression of having been acutely designed for their specific functions. Knobs, switches, and lights must positioned and sized in proportion to the nature of their individual functions and their importance in relation to one another and to the the unit as a whole. Fortunately there are few I consider to be as "dated and ugly" as their owners (nerdy old white men). One candidate would be the current Conrad Johnson line -- black chassis, gold-wash faceplate, all buttons identical irrespective of function. Yet I'm sure this very thing is someone's ultimate cup of Ceylonese.

I don't care how preamps look, I don't care how speakers look.  I mix black and silver components.  I mix red back light with blue.  All I care about is, how does it sound.  I admit that glowing tubes in the evening can be somewhat intoxicating. 

I’m an industrial designer and I think Schiit stuff looks very derivative.

It’s minimalist but kind of blah...easy on most eyes. I really like Audio Research aesthetics...especially the older stuff. I think McIntosh and Luxman look wonderful...I like older Conrad Johnson stuff.

But then again, I like the look of my Technics what do I know...

I do think the heyday was the 70s. There were a lot of industrial designers on the books back it’s driven more by that’s why everything looks agreeable but not damn fine.

I am not a fan of the current state of marketing as you can see.



Couldn't agree more wrt VTL and ARC.

What were they thinking?

The VTL 7.5 should be on my radar,  but there is no way I'm buying something that looks like a bad 80's vcr, sharp edges and all. The Siegfried power amps look like 90's pc's. What a wasted opportunity. Much like Wilson speakers...urgh.

The US companies are the worst offenders aesthetically. But a peek in many US living rooms shows a similar indifference to design and ergonomics.

Brutalism rules, apparently 

The Shindo pre-amps are very classy looking, aren’t they? Timeless, understated tasteful elegance.