Review: Supratek Cortese Tube preamp

Category: Preamps

Review of Supratek Cortese Preamp

First of all let me give you a history of my experience with the Supratek preamp. I bought a Syrah 3 or 4 years ago not really knowing much about the preamp other than loving the looks of it. After I received it, I could not believe how great it sounded. As beautiful as it looked (mine was Jarrah wood and chrome), it was even more beautiful to hear. I wanted to spread the word about this wonderful preamp, so I started the “Preamp of the Century” thread on Audiogon. As great as the Syrah was, the Cortese is even better.

My Cortese is the Sheoak with black top. The Sheoak is a beautiful lace wood. The pictures on Mick’s web site do not do it justice. You must see it in person to see the real beauty of it. I chose the black top because it would be much easier to take care of than the Chrome (finger smudges and such). The black also looks great with the Sheoak. Mick said his personal system is also in the Sheoak with black.

My Cortese has the following tube configuration:
E180F 1 pair for primary phono
6922 1 pair for secondary phono
6sn7 1 pair for line stage
5881 1 pair regulators
5ar4 1 rectifier

After living with the Cortese for a little over 5 months now I have decided that there is no need for NOS tubes in this preamp. The stock tubes sound fantastic. Mick has done an excellent job of tuning the preamp to the stock tubes. If you feel the need to experiment with tubes, be my guest. NOS tubes do sound different in the Cortese, but I do not feel they sound better. You are getting a WORLD CLASS PREAMP with sound that will rival anything out there and you don’t even need to spend big bucks on tubes!

Now for the sound of this great preamp. Let’s start with the line stage. One of my favorite cd’s is Johnny A “Get Inside”. Track number 7 “Krea Cato” really shows off Johnny’s guitar prowess. The Cortese mates beautifully with my Berning ZH270 amp. This pair reacts with lightning speed to the music. “Krea Cato” starts out slow and builds to a guitar frenzy, then Johnny slows things down as fast as he built them up. The Cortese handles this cut like a formula 1 racer handles twists and curves at high speed. Johnny’s guitar has the most beautiful tone I have ever heard, and the Cortese really brings this sound across. I have had the pleasure of hearing Johnny A live, so I know what his signature Gibson guitar should sound like. The Cortese nails it!

Next up was jazz fusion band “Steps” and their double live cd “Smokin’ in the Pit”. This is a real Jazz Jam band in every sense of the word. These guys cook in a live setting. Every cut on this cd is Killer! The band tears through these songs like a freight train and the Cortese hangs right in there doing a great job of conveying the feeling of sitting in the audience at this great concert. Steve Gadd’s drumming has tremendous power, Michael Brecker’s sax has just the right amount of bite. Mike Mainiri’s vibes sparkle with life.

Now for an SACD. The Steve Davis Project’s “Quality of Silence” on DMP records. This is a beautiful example of how good SACD can sound. If you are not familiar with Steve, he is one of the best drummers I have ever heard. Steve plays with such control and finesse. The cymbal work is so natural sounding through the Cortese. This preamp excels at showing off the depth of Steve’s drum kit. Cymbals and each individual drum is in it’s own space along with the other instruments. Track number 3, “One, Two, Free” will really test your system with Steve’s unique drum solo. The sound at the beginning of this track is Steve’s brush being shaken as it crosses in front of one of his drum microphones. Bass is very deep and tuneful. Each drum and cymbal comes across with it’s own unique sound. The Cortese conveys the pace and rhythm of this track beautifully.

As good as the line stage is, let’s move on to the real “meat” of this preamp, the phono stage.

First up is David Crosby’s “If I Could Only Remember My Name” on Classic records. Upon first listen, I was struck with how wide and deep the sound stage was. The Cortese really did a great job of conveying both the sound stage and the weight of the music. Bass was earth shattering. There was plenty of air and space between the instruments. The Cortese is a champ with vocals. David Crosby’s voice came across with a wonderful texture to it. On “Traction in the Rain” the top end just sparkles with energy. The vocal harmonies on “Orleans” are breathtaking through the Cortese. On the final cut of side 2, “I’d Swear There was Somebody Here”, the sound stage of the vocals is huge in every way (height, width, and depth).The Cortese does an excellent job of conveying the power of the vocals on this cut.

Eva Cassidy’s “Songbird” is a beautiful LP. Eva has the most pure and powerful voice I have ever heard and her songs can bring me to tears. What a shame she died so young. The Cortese really shines on this album. On “Wade On the Water”, Eva proves that the human voice is truly the most powerful instrument. Again, the Cortese brings it all out, the huge sound stage, the powerful vocals, Chris Walkers great trumpet sound, and Eva’s delicate acoustic guitar. If hearing this LP on the Cortese can’t convince you of the superior sound of analog, then nothing will.

The other day a good friend of mine brought over an SACD of Gary Burton’s “Like Minds”. This is a killer recording with Pat Metheny, Chick Corea, Roy Haynes, and Dave Holland. We did a direct comparison with the same LP on Pure Audiophile records. It was no contest, the LP was the clear winner. It had dynamics and weight to the music that the SACD could not reproduce.

To anyone thinking about buying a Supratek product, I only have to words for you. DO IT! I will give you one piece of advice. Even if you don’t play LP’s in your system at this time, buy the Chenin, Cortese, or Grange. The phono section of these preamps is the biggest bargain in audio. Once you have heard what an LP sounds like on a Supratek, you will be hooked.

Thank you Mick Maloney for your dedication and commitment to building the best audio equipment in the world! I have not had the pleasure of hearing Mick’s amps, but I am sure they every bit as good as his preamps.


Supratek Cortese (the heart and soul of my system)
David Berning ZH270 amp
Gallo 2 nucleus Reference speakers
VPI mk4 Turntable/JMW10 arm/ZYX Yatra cartridge
Sony SCD-1 SACD player with Vacuum State Electronics mods

Associated gear
David Berning ZH270 amp
Gallo 2 Nucleus Refernce speakers
VPI mk4 Turntable/JMW10 arm/ZYX Yatra cartridge
Sony SCD-1 SACD player with VSEI mods
Nice review, Slowhand. You did a great job describing what even more of what I've heard of the Supratek Chenin in my system as well as in Slipknot1's.
We obviously are fans of the same type of sound, as our systems have plenty of similarities. I'd love to hear the Cortese in my system sometime. It's a beauty, no doubt. Cheers,

Thanks Spencer,

I loved my Syrah, but the Cortese does take things to another level for me. What I really like is that I no longer worry about what tubes to put in. I love the sound with the stock tubes. I spend all my time now listening to music and that feels good. The other thing that I forgot to mention in my review is that I like having the flexiblity of the gain adjustments on the Cortese. There is a hi/lo gain switch on top next to the 6sn7 tubes and a 6 position gain knob on the back to fine tune the gain. This really helps to tune in the sound for each your system needs.
Nice review Slowhand...

I have a Grange preamp resplendid in gold & jarrah timbers and I love it! I agree, once you have heard vinyl on a Supratek pre its hard to go back to CD replay. My digital front is pretty respectable too, being a Sony XA-7ES with Bel Canto DAC-1, however my Koetsu Rosewood leaves it all for dead really!

I have around 500 CDs and enjoy listening to them independently, but as soon as you compare digital playback (including SACD) with vinyl - its no contest. Some very well recorded CDs come close to vinyl, but when you put a record on you can hear straight away the increased air, vividness and palpability of the music lift to another level.


Steve M.
I meant to put at the end of my review that I am in no way affiliated with Supratek or Mick Maloney. I am just one of the hundreds of very satisfied owners of a Supratek.
What a great review! My unit is a hybrid Chenin with the Cortese phono stage. My system is analog based so Mick upped the phono section for me.

My experience pretty much mirrors yours with respect to tube rolling. I tried some -replacing the stock 6SN7s and the stock 6922s, but always found the way it was shipped is the way it sounds best.

When people ask me what I think about the Supratek - i point out to them that it is so good, I had to upgrade my turntable to the Walker Prosenium Gold Signature with a Micromagic Magic Diamond cart in order to get everything the Chenin is capable of giving...
Hello Slipknot1,

WOW! that is quite a testimonial for the Chenin. I have heard a turntable like yours. It is an amazing turntable. Micks phono sections are so good, they blow me away.