Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review

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Whitestix

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Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« on: 20 Oct 2015, 10:50 pm »
I had a Harmon Kardon Citation I and II for years in my closet that I had been trying to get Jim McShane to upgrade.  Jim was too busy so he suggested I contact Don Sachs to have the upgrades performed.  Don has a long history of doing upgrades on tube electronics and is Jim's go-to guy for such work.  Don upgraded both the HK amp and preamp and they were absolutely stunning, dead quite in operation.  Don has now taken the great SP14 tube preamp design from Roy Mottram at "tubesforhifi" and is selling these preamps with several upgrades and optionality for buyers.  In contrast to Roy's original design, Don puts the basic SP14 circuitry in a custom-made wood cabinet with the tubes exposed on top for better cooling and access for those of us who like to roll tubes (brilliant).   Don has spend countless hours listening to the preamp with a variety of upgrades caps, as well as the very fine 48-step Khozmo volume pot and has come up with a winner. 

I got the preamp a few months ago, with XLR connectors and upgraded Mundorf Silver Oil caps that Don prefers.  I use it with a Emovita UPA-200 to drive Linkwitz LXmini speakers, quite amazing DIY speakers if you are not familiar with them.  I had been using a Dared SL200a tube preamp and loved the sound of the system with the modestly-priced preamp.  Well, it was a moment of magic when I swapped the Dared out and hooked up Don's preamp.  OMG, the clarity of the sound was instantly far more vivid and the increase in the frequency extension on both ends was profoundly different than with the Dared.  I could have sworn that a subwoofer had been added with the increased presence of the LF response!  The music literally hung in a 3-D soundstage in front of my eyes, with enormous air around each instrument.  Each instrument had a weight, vididness, and presence that was totally lacking with the Dared preamp.  Don's preamp is, to my ears, a much more detailed preamp even than the venerable HK C-I, no question about it.

Now if we compare Don's preamp topology to that of the C-I, there is a noticeable difference and therein lies the magic of Don's preamp.  The C-I uses a total of nine tubes, including 12AX7's and 12AU7's if I recall correctly, but Don's new preamp uses four 6SN7's and one rectifier tube.  Don has long believed the 6SN7's are perfect for tube preamps and inherently have the ability to create the immense soundstage and clarity in presentation of music that the 12XX7 variants are unable to.  Don's preamp is the quite simply the greatest improvement I have ever experienced in my 45 years of listening to my system.  I have rolled some fantastic, and not very expensive, NOS GE and Sylvania 6SN7's tubes into the preamp and I enhanced the sound of my system to a degree over the already very good NOS Russian tubes that Don uses in his preamp.  I got a cache of these NOS 6SN7's, so by my estimation, I have enough stock to run the preamp the rest of my life. 

I think Don's preamp will compare very favorably with a lot of mega-buck tube preamps on the market today, but in fact sells his preamp in the range of about $1700 depending on what upgrades the buyer might choose.  I might swap every other piece of gear in my system at some point, but I concluded that I will never look to upgrade Don's preamp.  Don is an analogue guy through and through and will tell you that he prefers tube amps as well (in fact, he is designing one at the moment to go along with this fantastic tube phone preamp and the SP14), but to my ears, a fine tube preamp with a SS amp is the best of both worlds (and I need a 4-channel amp for my Linkwitz speakers).  I encourage all the C&C folks here to check out the website below if this review has piqued your interest.  I have spent a boatload of money over the past 10 year on different amplification (the latest was the top-of-the line Modwright gear), and Don's preamp is the stellar performer in my system.  Literally, I had no idea what I was missing in the performance of my system until I got Don's preamp and other audiophiles who have heard my system before and after have come to the same conclusion.  And, on top of it, Don is one of the nicest guys you will meet in the business and has a profoundly great ear for music. Highly recommended, to say the least. 
http://www.tubes4hifi.com/DON.htm

santacore

Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #1 on: 21 Oct 2015, 12:43 am »
That's a nice looking unit!

Letitroll98

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Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #2 on: 22 Oct 2015, 04:29 am »
Sounds like a great preamp, worthy of consideration by any audiophile.  However it's insanely far above C&C pricing guidelines.  Let's move this excellent post over to the Tube-o-Phile circle were it will probably get better response anyway.

Rocket

Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #3 on: 22 Oct 2015, 09:48 am »
Hi,

Thank you for the comprehensive review.  Whilst not C&C its a serious consideration for someone looking for an affordable preamplifier.  Just wondering whether the preamp has a remote control for volume etc.  I currently run tube preamp and SS amps as this is also my preference, especially with inefficient speakers.

Cheers Rod

mresseguie

Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #4 on: 3 Apr 2016, 03:12 pm »
Hello, Whitestix.

You are about six months into your SP14 preamp, so I thought I would resurrect this thread to ask you how you feel about it. I'm going to be in Don's area of B.C. in August, so I hope to visit him and listen to the SP14 and (maybe) his new KT88 amp. I have exchanged emails with him, so he knows my plans.

Looking forward to your current impressions.

Michael

Factorz

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Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #5 on: 3 Apr 2016, 04:07 pm »
I would be interested as well. Exchanged a few emails with Don, and he seems like a very knowledgeable guy.

Tomy2Tone

Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #6 on: 3 Apr 2016, 04:12 pm »
Me three... :thumb:

Chris Adams

Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #7 on: 3 Apr 2016, 04:34 pm »
I have one of Don's pre amps arriving on Wednesday. It has the Mundorf Silver/oil upgraded caps and a pair of Shuguang Treasure CV181 that Don said are the best he has heard in the pre. I also had the remote option installed. I will be glad to post my impressions after a bit of extended listening.

My current pre is a PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium.

mresseguie

Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #8 on: 3 Apr 2016, 04:37 pm »
I have one of Don's pre amps arriving on Wednesday. It has the Mundorf Silver/oil upgraded caps and a pair of Shuguang Treasure CV181 that Don said are the best he has heard in the pre. I also had the remote option installed. I will be glad to post my impressions after a bit of extended listening.

My current pre is a PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium.

YES! Thank you, Chris.  :banana piano:

Tomy2Tone

Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #9 on: 3 Apr 2016, 04:43 pm »
I have one of Don's pre amps arriving on Wednesday. It has the Mundorf Silver/oil upgraded caps and a pair of Shuguang Treasure CV181 that Don said are the best he has heard in the pre. I also had the remote option installed. I will be glad to post my impressions after a bit of extended listening.

My current pre is a PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium.

Did Don happen to tell you what the gain is on his preamp with the Shugang tubes?

Chris Adams

Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #10 on: 3 Apr 2016, 05:09 pm »
Did Don happen to tell you what the gain is on his preamp with the Shugang tubes?

Yes, about 19.5db, I believe the same as with any 6SN7.

md92468

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Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #11 on: 3 Apr 2016, 05:48 pm »
I had my Blue Circle DAR integrated modified just so it could accept the larger Shuguang CV181s...took it up multiple steps from the stock 6SN7s in every way that matters to me as a listener. It's a wonderful tube.

tipatina

Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #12 on: 14 Apr 2016, 12:23 am »
Chris, Am interested in hearing your impressions of the SP14. Thanks

Chris Adams

Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #13 on: 14 Apr 2016, 02:25 pm »
I'm back.  Had a little problem with a broken CV181 when the pre arrived so I had to wait a bit to receive two more from Don (I have two more on order for the buffer position).  In the mean time I tried some of the tubes I had hanging around.  A pair of Sylvania GTBs, GE FAA GTBs, and a pair of old stock Ruby GTCs.  The Rubys sounded the best.  I like clear, dynamic, open sound with well delineated images and a wide and deep stage.  So I got the CV181s on Monday and put them in.  Yikes, big improvement in all directions and they are not fully burned in.  I went with the CV181s because Don said they were the best he's heard and from what he told me he has quite the collection of the finest 6SN7s.

I should start by saying that even with the Rubys this pre amp was better than I expected and I had my hopes up for it.  Don is a terrific person to deal with.  Just an out and out nice guy who knows his stuff.  Everything he told me about the pre and the tubes was verifiable with my ears.  No exaggerations.  The price with remote, cherry case and four CV181s plus the 1 uF Mundorf upgrade with shipping was about $2150.  Not cheap but compared to the ARC I had which at full retail was $7500, a bargain.

This pre tops my most recent units, an ARC LS-25 with full GNSC mods (actually was Steve Huntley's personal piece) and the PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium that I currently own.  The Prima is close to my standards but just a bit fuzzy and not quite as crisp.  By that I mean I can hear the distortion from the Prima (which is not a bad thing) but Don's pre is clearer and that makes it easier to hear the individual instruments and voices as they are placed on the stage.  More air around them.  Bass has slightly better articulation as well.

I'll check in later when I get the other CV181s and everything is fully burned in.

If you have questions, ask away. :D 

md92468

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Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #14 on: 14 Apr 2016, 02:49 pm »
I'm back.  Had a little problem with a broken CV181 when the pre arrived so I had to wait a bit to receive two more from Don (I have two more on order for the buffer position).  In the mean time I tried some of the tubes I had hanging around.  A pair of Sylvania GTBs, GE FAA GTBs, and a pair of old stock Ruby GTCs.  The Rubys sounded the best.  I like clear, dynamic, open sound with well delineated images and a wide and deep stage.  So I got the CV181s on Monday and put them in.  Yikes, big improvement in all directions and they are not fully burned in.  I went with the CV181s because Don said they were the best he's heard and from what he told me he has quite the collection of the finest 6SN7s.

I should start by saying that even with the Rubys this pre amp was better than I expected and I had my hopes up for it.  Don is a terrific person to deal with.  Just an out and out nice guy who knows his stuff.  Everything he told me about the pre and the tubes was verifiable with my ears.  No exaggerations.  The price with remote, cherry case and four CV181s plus the 1 uF Mundorf upgrade with shipping was about $2150.  Not cheap but compared to the ARC I had which at full retail was $7500, a bargain.

This pre tops my most recent units, an ARC LS-25 with full GNSC mods (actually was Steve Huntley's personal piece) and the PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium that I currently own.  The Prima is close to my standards but just a bit fuzzy and not quite as crisp.  By that I mean I can hear the distortion from the Prima (which is not a bad thing) but Don's pre is clearer and that makes it easier to hear the individual instruments and voices as they are placed on the stage.  More air around them.  Bass has slightly better articulation as well.

I'll check in later when I get the other CV181s and everything is fully burned in.

If you have questions, ask away. :D

Love that pre. And if your experience is anything like mine with the CV181 in my Blue Circle DAR integrated, it will shock you how much it brings to the party. Have fun!

RPM123

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Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #15 on: 14 Apr 2016, 03:42 pm »
I have one of Don's pre amps arriving on Wednesday. It has the Mundorf Silver/oil upgraded caps and a pair of Shuguang Treasure CV181 that Don said are the best he has heard in the pre. I also had the remote option installed. I will be glad to post my impressions after a bit of extended listening. 

Interesting. Rachel from Psvane told me that the CV181-TII tubes are selected for very low noise and for use in highend preamps and phono stages and that the Shuguang CV-181's were not screened to that extent. I wonder if Don has heard the T-II's? They are much more expensive though...$299 vs. $199 a pair for the Shuguangs. I have heard the T-II's and found them to be a bit too "lush" sounding for my tastes. Then there are the Treasure Globe 6SN7-SE's at $375/pair and $750 for a quad! :o

mresseguie

Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #16 on: 24 Jul 2016, 05:23 am »
Well, it's been three months since anyone has posted in this thread, but I decided to post here rather than beginning a new thread. I just paid my 70% down payment for my new SP14/Model 2 Custom Line Stage tonight. I'm going to visit Don in mid-August, and probably take delivery at that time.

I have been contacted privately by three different SP14/Model 2 preamp owners, and each one has sung its praises. I decided there was no point putting my decision off any longer, so I contacted Don last night.

I can't wait to hear it! I'll also get to hear his tube amp. This should be some treat.

I'll be sure to post my impressions in a month. Stay tuned.

JLM

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Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #17 on: 24 Jul 2016, 11:47 am »
Well, it's been three months since anyone has posted in this thread, but I decided to post here rather than beginning a new thread. I just paid my 70% down payment for my new SP14/Model 2 Custom Line Stage tonight. I'm going to visit Don in mid-August, and probably take delivery at that time.

I have been contacted privately by three different SP14/Model 2 preamp owners, and each one has sung its praises. I decided there was no point putting my decision off any longer, so I contacted Don last night.

I can't wait to hear it! I'll also get to hear his tube amp. This should be some treat.

I'll be sure to post my impressions in a month. Stay tuned.


Congrats and thanks for being a faithful AC member.   :thumb:

When my ship comes in ...

Guy 13

Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #18 on: 24 Jul 2016, 12:21 pm »
Hi mresseguie,
congratulation for your purchase,
any chance that we can see NOW what you purchase look like
or do we have to wait one month ?
Yes, I know, I am a pain in the neck with all my request.  :duh:

Guy 13

Guy 13

Re: Don Sachs SP14 Tube Preamp Review
« Reply #19 on: 24 Jul 2016, 12:26 pm »

Sorry, is that your new acquisition ?