Review: Concert Fidelity CF-080 Preamplifier

Category: Preamps

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.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System
It is not the most important thing by any means, but the description of the NOS Mullard 12AU7's long plate square getters, square was left out. I just put in back in, so it will make sense now.
Hi Lak, thanks for the kind words regarding my review. I know you like to write reviews also and I have enjoyed reading yours. By the way I only live about forty minutes away from Ridge Street Audio here in IN. I know your a fan of Robert's wires, do you also live in IN?
Hello Teajay,
Robert's a great guy and makes good products.
I live in Perrysburg Ohio.
I had a chance to hear this preamp, as well as the entire line of Concert Fidelity products at CES. I was very impressed with the sound and thought it was one of the best rooms at the show. For those on a lower budget the new Si2 micro integration line that has some trickle down technology from the Concert Fidelity designs is also very good. I have the Si2 DAC in my system right now (a gift from Mr. Tsuda) and have been very pleased with the sound.

This is a company to watch. The products are well designed. They now have expanded presence in the US so hopefully more people will learn about the products.
ClioO9, thanks for sharing your experience concerning the CF-080 and other Concert Fidelity gear. This is a great company with a terrific musical house sound through out its preamp, DAC, and amps. Not well known yet here in the states or widly discussed among audiophiles, but hopefully that will change in the future. I recently had the pleasure of having over to my house a rather well known and respected professional reviewer who thought that the CF-080 was beautful in its performance and one of the best preamps he has ever heard.

If the new and very inexpensive Si2 preamp or DAC offers any were close the sonic performance of the reference line that would truly be staggering in prespective.

ClioO9, I'm just curious, how did you met Mr.Tsuda and how did it come about that he gave you such a wonderful gift? If I'm asking questions for some reason that are to personnal, I understand why you might not share, just curious, that's all. Hope to hear from you.
Hi Teajay,

Sent an email in response to your question. Felt it more appropriate to respond in that manner. If you don't receive it feel free to email me through Audiogon.
Last week I had one those "you got to be kidding me" moments regarding the CF-080.

I was aware that Mr. Tsuda highly recommended tube rolling and experimenting with footers or isolation devices to get the maximum performance out of the CF-080 preamp. Well, I had done the tube rolling with great results, still love the NOS Mullard long plate square getters, but the Mazda's and short plate 50's Amperex Bugle Boys are great sounding in my system too.

So, I finally got around to running the experiment regarding isolation from vibrations. The clear winner is the Townshend Seismic Sink air bladder isolation platform. Everything got better, a bigger more airy sound stage, more liquidity, more image density, and even more natural timbres. I was truely amazed at the difference this isolation platform had on the CF-080, taking it to an even higher level.

This proves that the designer, Mr. Tsuda, knows how to get the best performance out of his gear, and if anyone is considering the CF-080, or owns it already, experiment in this area or go get the Seismic Sink and be ready to be shocked that this already wonderful sounding linestage can go to even a higher of sonic performance.
Just discovered another wonderful sounding tube for the CF-080 based on a Brent Jessee suggestion.

This 12AU7 is a 1960's Amperex Medical Grade, which were very highly tested and graded for use in medical applications. They have the speed/punch/transparency like the great Telefunkens/Seimens with a touch of that Bugle Boy warmth in the lower midrange/upper bass region. Another "taste" that sounds great in my system.
No, it is zero gain with active circuitry. It uses the same volume control as the CF-080.
I really don't know about the use of a buffer. The Si2 products are meant to work together. I have the DAC, preamp, and amp. Short interconnects are recommended between the components so I don't think a buffer is being used. I'll inquire and see if I can find out more.
From looking insie the preamp from the website it does not seem to be a design that is the shortest signal path but if it works great.
Hi Bigkidz,

I'm no engineer, but my understanding is that from input to output, in the the CF-080 preamp, is only four inches total. Seems pretty short to me.

I just completed another round of listening to very highly regarded tube and SS linestages and still have not found a better sounding piece then this preamp. Not the "BEST" in the world, but ranks in the top ordering of great linestages.
Teajay: I use a Pass Labs XP 30 with the CF 040 dac. I wanted to know if you had the chance to compare the CF-080 with the Pass since you use the Pass XA60.5