TVC preamps: good or bad?

I was wondering what the advantages and disadvantages are of a TVC preamp? I have read elsewhere that transformers introduce coloration and aberrations in the frequency response, which is why we try to get them out of the output stage of valve amps. But ... what are the pros and cons of TVC preamps?
I don't know if they introduce colorations and aberrations, but they do seem to be very transparent and quiet and don't appear to be much bother by impedance matching issues that you sometimes get with resistor based passives. Some folks with pretty good equipment seem to swear by them, especially the Bent units and those made with S&B transformers.
I'm curious and a bit confused about these as well. On the one hand these transformer based units seem to offer much the bonuses of passives, without the impedance issues of passives. On then other hand, some tube manufacturers are willing to deal with impedance issues to avoid using transformers. Some of those same manufacturers claim that transformers introduce phase issues. What's the real story?

I currently have Promitheus Audio Reference C-core TVC and I can confirm that this unit is extremely transparent and extremely quiet. Soundstage definition and resolution is the best I've heard in any system at any price. Each instrument has its own well defined space. Dynamic contrast is top notch. This TVC doesn't have the midrange magic that tubes provide, but it gets pretty close.

This is the top-of-the-line TVC that Promitheus Audio makes, so I don't know how their other units compare to this one. From what I've read, these TVCs don't work well on systems where there is not enough gain. I don't have that problem at all. The sound is already too loud if I pass the 1 o'clock mark.


As far as I know resistors also introduce colorations. TVC is just most transparent and neutral preamp solution I have ever tested. It lets you hear everything that your other components will allow. It doesn`t add any warm or cold colorations. If other components sound good it will sound good and if other components sound bad it will sound bad. It is dead neutral. I usually don`t go very deep about different technical theory's. I just listen and keep what sounds best. If sound matters most there are no cons with TVC. I am pretty sure that a good TVC can stand against any preamp prize no object. It seems that this is just superior technical solution. Just don`t place it near power amp because hum may appear. I suggest you to find some balanced Promitheus TVC. With balanced connections there will not any hum problem. These usually go for some $500 used and you can sell it at same prize if you dont`t like it.
Thank you everyone for your responses. I think that Unsound has rephrased my question very well. I am hoping that someone with more technical knowledge will come along and shed some light on the subject.

I have heard a passive TVC pre in my system and I was not impressed. But I know better than to generalize a single bad experience to the technology as a whole.

BTW, I am not looking to buy a TVC preamp ... so please don't email me with offers to sell me one :)
What was the system setting when you tried the TVC?
TVCs can be considerably more neutral than many active line stages. But not **all** line stages!

A lot depends on how careful the design of the TVC actually is. The issues of TVCs are: bandwidth, hysteresis loss (introducing a loss of low level detail) and ringing (introducing brightness).

The advantage of a TVC is of course no noise and circuit simplicity. If designed properly, ringing attributes can be reduced, but one should note: in order to do this, the TVC has to have a loading resistance that is different for every volume control position. The reason for this is that the TVC must present an amenable load to the sources (DAC, phono preamp etc.) while at the same time being able to change the turns ratio. This is usually accomplished by having the multiple taps of the transformer on the secondary side, selected by the switch. Without an appropriate loading resistor for each position, the TVC will express the inter-winding capacitances rather than the actual turns ratios. Most designers set up an approximate loading resistance, but this ignores the ringing issue, which can only be addressed by a different loading resistor for each tap. With only one loading resistance, the bandwidth and ringing issues will be different with each volume control position. It is likely that many have found that there is a particular volume position that seems to sound the 'best' as a result.

To date I've seen no TVCs that pay attention to this issue. Anyone who has worked with audio transformers will realize how important this is.

Even with proper loading, hysteresis losses inside the core of the device will rob the signal of low level detail in much the same way that push-pull output transformers in a tube amp will (part of the reason SETs have made such a comeback in the last 20 years).

It is a testament to how bad some line stages are that TVCs often outperform them. Circuit simplicity is a good thing in audio (less places for the signal to get messed up) and TVCs are not only simple, but can provide gain and impedance control of the output if designed properly.

Despite this a **properly** designed line section can easily trump the best TVCs. This is a good example of getting what you pay for.
Atmasphere, while opinions vary on whether a passive preamp can surpass a top-notch active preamp, there seem to be a number of posters who find TVC passives preferable to resistive passives. I don't think I've ever read anyone comment that they prefer a resistive passive to a TVC. Which leads me to wonder, how would a TVC or autoformer volume control sound if used in a top quality active preamp in place of a traditional resistive attenuator volume control? Have you ever tried it? Apart from the issue of sonics, there could be a problem with increased cost & available real estate within the preamp chassis. But maybe the ability of a TVC to increase current drive at high voltage attenuation might off-set somewhat its other theoretical compromises.
I have tried three transformer volume controls and they were considered some of the best. The first was Dave Slagle's Autotransformer Volume Control (dubbed AVC), the next was the S&B TVC, and the third was my own design AVC. I find the AVC has better sound despite the fact that there can be no ground isolation.

The AVC is superior technically to me mostly because it has far greater bandwidth (mine has about 1 Hz - 300 KHz bandwidth, +0, -3 dB) driven by a 50-ohm output impedance source. Notice I didn't say +/- 2 dB because the FR is virtually ruler flat. There is no measureable ringing that I can detect on a scope. The square wave at 10 KHz is almost perfect, even with high load changes, or even with a near open on the secondary.

The reason the autotransformer does this is because it is a built-in power divider even if it loses much of its mutual inductance. It's all on one coil.

It's also a step-down device, and so what comes out is pretty close to a straight division of what went in, a technique used in precision ratio transformers for metrology. And if you drive it with a very low output impedance device, the distortion drops dramatically, overcoming hysteresis distortion and low initial permeability.

To make it perform better under imperfect conditions, I chose a slightly oversized (not gonna saturate or bend much) "SuperPerm 80" nickel based laminations. This material also has the highest initial permeability, which means it takes the least signal level to start moving the magnetic domains. That maintains the best low level detail retrieval. The material is also designed for low hysteresis, much better than any steel based lamination.

Also, my AVC was voiced by using two thicknesses of these SuperPerm 80 laminations: about 5 thin ones (0.006") to one thicker one (0.014"). This actually smoothed down the sound a little and cut down ringing to that "almost immeasurable" point.

S&B uses silver plated copper wire which I don't care for. I used high purity thin gauge copper wire with no splices on the taps, similar technique to Dave Slagle's. Mine is a one-off, and is not for sale. It remains the best preamp I have used, and I'm never looking for another line stage.

Ktstrain, you obviously know something about the subject. Do you think an AVC or TVC could be designed to perform as well with a higher impedance source, such as a tube phono stage with an output impedance up to 5K?
If I remember correctly Antique Sound Lab Flora EX DT must be active preamp that uses TVC as volume control. As is Promitheus Apollo.

It is most interesting to hear and experts option what TVC-s have you tried and which of them are better designed.
Dgarretson, of course I did have to design for the real world, which includes not limiting myself to very low output impedance sources. In fact I do have one input from my input selector that is fed a high 6K output impedance coming from my phono stage. The thing you have to do to make that work is increase the number of winding turns and use that slightly oversized core of laminations.

That increases the LF inductance which pumps back up the LF extension. With that 6K input, the frequency response does reduce with LF -3dB cutoff at about 15 Hz. Also, there will be more FR deviations and some HF ringing as well as increased distortion. So I was forced to design accordingly.

That's why it's important to optimize the core size and the core material and the number of windings for these designs. For one thing, I believe I wound twice as many turns than Dave Slagle's AVC. More turns creates other problems, like possibly degrading performance for low impedance sources by increasing winding capacitance. The capacitance is what limits the HF cutoff.

I built a MC phono autotransformer step-up on the exact core form and material as the AVC and it turned out to be the best I've heard of any step-up as well (total serendipity for me). It's driven by a very low 4 ohm output MC cartridge (Koetsu Urushi) and is stepped up 1:10. Low impedance like that really drives down distortion. In fact the laws of physics says that nonlinear distortion approaches zero through a transformer as the winding resistance and driving impedance approaches zero.

But I think SuperPerm 80 is the good stuff responsible for making most of the low distortion and good sound. It's very good at low magnetization, and with copper windings it's slightly warm and sweet, but VERY slightly. Almost dead nuts neutral, but I don't think much of anything is truly dead nuts neutral. And the sound is extraordinarily detailed (transparent) and it actually gets more dynamic as you turn the volume down (increases turns ratio). I have an all Holco (the good old Holcos) 100K L-PAD passive step attenuator on the front end of a 27 line stage (now used as a haedphone amp). It's vastly better than the volume pots I had before, but inferior in every way to the AVC.

I've put the AVC in front of the 27 tube with the step attenuator at max position (0 series resistance and 100K shunt.) This is the best way to eliminate the sound of the step attenuator for trying out how the AVC would do as part of an active tube preamp. Well it wiped clean away the sound of the high quality Holco resistors at all levels. What I was left hearing was the sound of a very good tube, the 27, and its coupling caps. It was dissapointing really. How? Because it sounds so much better to just eliminate the 27 tube circuit and clean it up just that much more. I mean it sounded best standing alone, and it wasn't sounding too "sterile" either.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Any way you will make these or do a how to or sell directions? Im tired of pre amp swapping. Great work
The ASL Flora uses autoformers. Audiogon member Teajay wrote a review of his that you can look up here. It replaced a Bent Audio S&B TVC in his system (which he also wrote a review for).

Bent Audio is now using a custom version of the Slagle autoformers instead of the S&Bs. According to John Chapman the first few units are now in production and as soon as he stocks up on parts he'll be ready to go to full production.

Ktstrain, nice work on your AVC. I'm looking to have a custom one built for me that will include a phono stage (most likely the K&K Audio kit). Hopefully I'll have the details all worked out soon. If you have any advice for me on design feel free to email me.
That's interesting news. I bet those Slagles have been improved since the ones I owned. It really does sound better than S&B. I give it my recommendation without even hearing the newer version. Dave is good.

If you want to roll your own from my recipe, I looked around and found some info for for making these items. You too can have a $2K performing pair of AVC's and $3K performing pair of MC step-ups (judging with my ears against other products I heard on the market) for about $400 in parts, and have enough to do another pair of all of them for a buddy. But there's some difficulties to overcome.

First is finding a decent coil winder that works, one you can borrow if not own, capable of letting you handle 32 AWG wire if you have a careful smooth winder and a steady hand (and patience). This must have a turn counter because you will need to know the exact turn count all the time. Maybe you should stay with 24 AWG to prevent awkward motion from breaking the wire. That's still very good wire if it's Cardas, for example.

I recommend getting really quality magnet wire, preferably Cardas. It actually does sound smoother, more detailed and a little sweeter than Rat Shack type cheap magnet wire. And pure copper is always my favorite even if my Urushi cartridge uses silver clad copper (but so little of it).

You will need to buy about 500 ft of wire to get all these projects done, maybe 1000' to be safe if you're a klutzy winder just learning.

Now to source the hard pieces: The laminations - I can only recommend Magnetic Metals lams ( Ask for a couple of lbs. of 21E1 laminations of grade 8406 and another couple of pounds of 21E1 lams of grade 8414. This will get you SuperPerm 80 (AKA HyPerm 80 in generic sense), but don't trust this to any other manufacturer because I cannot account for slightly different formulations that could be important.

For the bobbins, get them at Cosmo Corporation ( The part number to buy is 1-1254-0-000-00-0. Description for this is "for lams EI-21 x 5/8".

For the channel frames, go to Bahrs Die and Stamping Co., Inc. ( The part to order on their website is "1/2 x 5/8 channel frame", style 1. You might have to speak to a representative for these items. A lot of people want to get them by just asking for free samples. You need to be a corporation to do that and be nice following the rules.

I recommend a full single winding of 2000 turns. For -3 dB, you would send the input to the top of that coil, the 2000th turn, and then tap out on winding 0.707*2000=1414 turn. I recommend taps every 2.0-2.5 dB apart. Less than that and there's too many taps that will make a horrible rats nest out of it along with too many switch positions required. More dB apart means too coarse a series of volume steps for most people. You will need to do the proper math and have all windings taps pulled out and labelled appropriately so you don't lose where they go.

The taps can be free of splices by running a twisted loop out from the transformer at the tap position, and use a solder pot to melt the magnet wire insulation at the end.

Use a quality switch for these. I went to Michael Percy to buy a stereo ladder multiposition switch. The cost was a bit high, but so well worth it with a very high quality contact and smooth operation and lasting durability. I forgot the name of those switches he sells.

Plan ahead accordingly. I chose to wind up from the low taps on the inner core and moving out from there. The first tap was just one turn, or 1/2000th voltage out as voltage in. Amazingly excellent sound from that huge ratio. Wind end to end along the width of the bobbin and try to remain flat. The beauty of this simple winding scheme is, well, it's ease of construction, and you still get all the bandwidth. No fancy winding technique that amateurs can't try for themselves.

For the 1:10 MC step-up, use the same materials but wind 200 turns for the input (a tap out to the input) and then wind the rest of the 2000 turns for the output. Place these tranformers in a magnetic iron shielding box and maybe add a big extra layer of unmolested mu metal for a second magnetic shield. This is where microvolts of signal are happening and magnetic shielding is the challenge here.

Stacking the lams is another new trick to learn, so be patient on this. Again I recommend using 5 of the thin 8406 lams and then 1 of the thicker 8414 lams. Repeat this pattern all across the transformer.

You do not need to seal or varnish the lams after they are installed. The high nickel lams pretty much won't corrode in a home environment that steel lams could.

Good luck if you try this project.

Dgarretson, I agree, it seems that TVCs have a number of advantages over straight passives. One of them is low output impedance, essential for interconnect control.

Kurt's approach optimizes the TVC approach, but at the price of his own admission, that you don't design for the real world. Having sources that have the ability to drive low impedances on their own really helps you with performance if you optimize the TVC for that.

Obviously, this approach is no good for production. In the 'real world' you have to accommodate the output impedance of a simple tube phono stage, which might be rather high. Its tricky to wind high impedances on the primary side while getting good bandwidth- in fact you can regard them as mutually exclusive.

On this account is why this is an on-going conversation that will likely never be solved. IMO its easier to build a high performance tube line section (we can reproduce a 10KHz square wave quite nicely too, and do a 20Hz square wave with no measurable tilt) than it is to get a transformer 'right', and still work with the real world.
I have a tvc ref-3 that I'm very happy with, although I'm now moving to the c-core tvc with silver wiring.
This thread is a bit old and the Bent TAp with autoformer has been released. I did not own the previous version with the S&B trannies, but I did own a highly regarded S&B passive by K&K. I don't know if the difference is due to the difference in manufacturer, but I find the autoformer version of the TAP clearly superior to the S&B passive I previously owned. No leaness I can detect running my Music Reference RM9SE and incredible presentation of intonation by which I mean tracking changing levels of volume and and pitch which to me is critical to getting the musical message; that is, the new Bent Tap is very musically articulate. No loss of dynamics that I can detect compared with some highly regarded tube actives I have owned. With the right matching amp and source voltage, this passive is about as good as it gets; I think - worth an audition, especially if you own a tube amp with a 100kohm or higher input impedance and sensitivity half the output voltage of your source.
Are you using the Bent TAP with your Merlin BBAM upstream or downstream of TVC? If you're having good results, I assume that the BBAM must be upstream. The BBAM's 47K input impedance and capacitive load reportedly don't mate very well with a passive.
The BBAM is between DAC and BENT. That is the recommended approach?
If I understand Bobby correctly, the BBAM is almost always preferred no matter what preamp you are using.