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Compromise need not be a dirty word. After all, almost everything in life is a compromise. Few of us have the ability, financial or otherwise, to get exactly what we want, when we want it. The Blue Circle SBT tube preamp represents compromise at its best. This is because the RESULT of the compromises that Blue Circle has made, with this component, is a preamp that represents outstanding value.
Value is something that Gilbert Yeung, Blue Circle’s founder/designer, is obsessed with. This is just as true of his $30,000 reference amplifiers as it is with his $220 Thingee powerline conditioner. He strives to give the consumer more than they have any reason to expect for a given amount of money. And yes, a $30k amp can sound like a bargain. To accomplish this task, he focuses on what, to his mind, really matters… THE MUSIC!
His build quality is always top notch, whether the component is housed in ABS tubing, gleaming stainless steel, or beautiful hand-rubbed hardwoods. It is true that he tends to have a certain disdain for companies that spend more on their faceplates that they do on circuitry, and he tries to offer less glamorous versions of many of his components that sacrifice cosmetics for a lower cost while retaining performance. The CS-2 integrated amplifier is a great example. The faceplate is actually an option, but the sound of the amp, for the dollars asked, is truly remarkable.
In the case of the SBT, the cosmetics are also less than stunning. The preamp and out-board power supply are housed in simple black metal cases. There are only two things on the faceplate. One is a single volume control knob, but it is connected to a top-of-the-line stereo Shallco attenuator. There is even an internal switch for changing the Shallco’s sensitivity to match it to the gain of your system. The other is a single toggle switch to select between one of only two line inputs. Extra inputs, and an extra amp output, are options. You only pay for what you need. This is truly a bare-bones piece of gear; but then there is the sound.
This preamp does not sound like it costs. No, it is not a top-of-the-line BC 3000, but again, Blue Circle compromised correctly. The things that this preamp doesn’t do are forgivable at this price point. What is more important are the things that this preamp does not do. It is not sloppy. It has surprising low-frequency control. It is very open with that lovely blossoming mid-range that we all look for from tube gear, but it never gets too syrupy. And it does not attenuate the upper frequency range either; top-end extension is surprising. All in all, this preamp is eminently listenable. Here is some of what John Acton said in his Positive Feedback review:
“I didn't hear overblown bass. I didn't hear a midrange that was sterile and cold or conversely warm and syrupy. I didn't hear a treble range that was grainy or rolled off. What I did hear was an extremely open and transparent window to the upstream musical recording...”
There is no way to tell if this is the right preamp for you. But if you have a limited budget, don’t care too much about cosmetics, and want incredible sound per dollar, this may indeed be just what you are looking for. If you have any questions about this, or any other Blue Circle product, contact us through the tlp-audio.com website. We are North America’s oldest and most knowledgeable Blue Circle dealer.
For those of you who are going to be in the Chicagoland area near the end of April, come visit us (and Blue Circle Audio’s Gilbert Yeung) at Axpona Chicago 2014 April 25-27 Room 308. Hope to see you there!
2 Line level inputs (optional additional inputs and loop inputs)
1 Pre-amp output, (optional additional outputs)
Tube complement: 2-6922
Power requirement: 120Vac 50/60Hz 38Watts - available in 100, 220, 240 Vac
Preamp chassis: 5.375" (W) x 3.375" (H) x 8.25" (D)
Add 1.125" for knobs and 0.5" for RCA jacks.
Power supply chassis: 5.375" (W) x 3.375" (H) x 8.25" (D)
Weight (without packaging): preamp: 5 lbs. Power supply: 8lbs.
If you have a special request, like a beefed up power supply, talk it over with us and we will give you a price. If you can dream it up, we can probably make it a reality.
This ad was originally posted on US Audio Mart and the seller ships to Canada, and the United States.