Having owned a wide range of hi-end preamplifiers over many years, I recently purchased the very latest version (2017) of Audio-valve Conductor preamplifier to alternate with my Tidal Preos. I have not made this decision because I am unhappy with the Tidal, but I wanted to add a high quality valve preamplifier into the mix of my system, to replace my Audio Research Reference 5 SE, which was very good, but there were a few compatibility issues.
The focus of this review, however, is not to offer a head to head comparative evaluation of different preamplifiers, but rather to share my initial impressions of the Conductor (at 50 hours burn in) within the context of my system.
Design and Construction
The Conductor is different in concept, appearance and execution from other preamplifiers I have owned. It is beautifully constructed from sheet steel and polycarbonate to minimise EMI and RFI, with a large see through central front window that provides a clear view of the high quality components on its superbly engineered circuit boards. It has a very well thought out boot up software programme that is easy to understand and intriguing to observe in action. IMHO the more uniform lines of the 2017 version of Conductor are more aesthetically pleasing than before.
The controls of Conductor are silky smooth, yet robustly engineered, conveying reassuring confidence that they will last a very long time. It is endowed with distinctive personality, individuality and class, which I find refreshingly appealing. The head unit is linked to a substantial external linear power supply with its anode potential alone being nearly 10,000µF/400VDC and 100,000µF for the heater section.
The Conductor is spookily quiet with a very black background. It is dynamic with an organic texture that is very musically satisfying. It is punchy and explosive, yet delicate with accurate timbre in accordance with the demands of all genres of music. It conveys how good or bad a recording really is without rendering any piece of music unlistenable.
As I listen to a lot of jazz and opera with female vocals, I place musicality and emotion very high on my list of sonic priorities. However, I also love a high level of detail retrieval and resolution, but not at a cost of losing the heart and soul of music.
The Conductor is incredibly transparent, without the slightest hint of glare or edge. It delivers its magic consistently with lots of emotion and sensuous involvement. Sound stage depth, breadth and the ability to place instruments in their correct position within the stage…. with top to bottom dynamics and engaging tonality are among the best I’ve heard.
When consideration is given to the Conductor's exceptional value for money, evolutionary upgradability and longevity (the basic design concept of Conductor has undergone progressive development and refinement throughout the past 10 years), it will be very difficult to find a preamplifier that performs with such holistic brilliance at anywhere near its price. It’s really that good across the board.
In conclusion…the Conductor just sounds real, natural and effortless with spectacular refinement, coherence and cohesion…. nothing seems exaggerated or diminished.
Bravo to Mr Helmut Becker and his Team…Your latest version of Conductor is an amazing achievement.