Athur Salvatore full Doge 8 full review
By of full transparency, it was important for us to let Doge 8 in its context by respect for Arthur Salvatore, not to delete what before and after.
We have preferred to put the review of Doge 8 here rather than redirect you to Arthur website because high-endaudio.com is an extraordinary bible for audiophiles, but also extraordinary messy presentation as Arthur on purpose wanted it to look vintage style. Of course we don’t make any secret and you can read it as well on www.high-endaudio.com directly, (if you find it 😀 )
To make a brief summary, Arthur lists his top recommendations in four categories:
A are the cream of the cream gears, regardless of the price. Only high priced gears are there.
B are the top high end. That Doge 8 class
C are high-end gears
You can now scroll down, we highlighted the Doge 8 section in red.
The Audio Quattro is the finest stock preamplifier ever made to our knowledge. Its phono stage can accommodate only low output moving coils, and its line stage is just a cathode follower without any gain. It has the benefits of both simplicity of design and superb execution (with only 4 tubes in the entire signal path, a 4 chassis totally dual-mono construction and the power supplies use only polypropylene capacitors).
Once modified, this preamp has the extremely rare quality of both speed and precision along with a total sense of immediacy and completeness. It is extremely rare, so it is almost impossible to find used. The last retail price was $9,000. Audion has a much less expensive model called the DUAL, which is the same basic design except it has two chassis and it’s not hard-wired. I don’t know anyone who has heard it, but it should be almost as good for a lot less money.
GOOD NEWS!- Audion has announced that it has re-started production of the Quattro. According to an e-mail from Ray Lombardi, of Ray of Sound, the former North American importer-distributor of Audion tube electronic products:
“The Audion Quattro preamplifier is available in 2 versions, a 2-chassis model, and a 4-chassis model. The 2-chassis model will retail for $10,995, the 4-chassis model will retail for $15,995.”
There is also now a separate Audion phono stage. One reader purchased a phono stage based on this website’s reference designation of the full preamplifier. He is very happy with it. We have no experience ourselves with this model.
Further- No one in my group has had any direct experience with the most recent version of this preamplifier. I did receive a letter from a reader who did have some experience with a Quattro, and even compared it to another one of the finest preamplifiers ever made. This is what he wrote to me:
“I am in possession of the very first reincarnated Audion Premier Quattro Moving Coil and Line Level 4 Chassis Pre-Amplifier to reach these shores. It has the only two upgrades available: Silver point to point wiring and stepped attenuators. The chassis colors are black and silver as opposed to the standard dark blue and silver. I tested it in my system against my Michael Elliott SA-9 (Magnum Opus Version) and Magnum Opus Line Stage combination. The Audion Quattro is a very fine performer. However, in my system, as it is now set up, I prefer the two Opus One Units.“
After I requested further information, the reader sent me this second letter:
“There was break-in time put on the unit at the factory and at the importer. We tried the unit with the stock tubes as well as with two different sets of NOS E88CC – Telefunken and Siemen. Briefly, the Audion had shortcomings compared to the Opus in bass energy below 60 Hz, and with dynamics, along with less extended upper frequency range. For the most part, I feel that the huge tube power supplies of the Magnum Opus, compared to the solid state power supplies of the Audion probably accounts for most of the differences. I will send you a much more detailed report later. The system includes the big Sound Labs, Walker turntable with Koetsu Onyx Platinum, and a special pair of Viva Auroras (Special Transformers through-out, transformer input, and 845/211 tubes) with Silent Source Cables.“
Personal Notes- While I am not in a position to verify his observations, I also have no legitimate reason to challenge either his competency or his veracity. Of course, the Audion is a currently available component, while the ultra-rare Magnum Opus model (a “dressed-up SA-9” according to Michael Elliott) must be found used.
These two preamplifiers are most likely the two finest that can be purchased “ready to use”. However, based on my experiences, I still strongly believe that neither of them can equal a heavily modified Jadis JP-80, with a Class A Reference Step-Up, in its ability to capture the most basic essences of music, though they both will be superior to the Jadis/”A” Step-Up combo in other sonic parameters which are less important to me. 7/03
I have some important news concerning this Reference preamplifier. The price for a new Quattro* is now $ 16,000**, but there is also a version with all V-Cap Teflon capacitors in the signal-path. This option costs an extra $ 1,500** (parts and labor). Needless to say, I strongly advise anyone purchasing this unit to also add the V-Cap modification.
I have heard this new model, with the V-Cap modification, for many hours at an associate’s home. This same associate also had the older Quattro, though it was heavily modified, including Rel Cap Teflon capacitors in the signal path. We both agree that this new model is noticeably superior in every way, even beyond the improvement obviously guaranteed just by the change in the coupling capacitors. At this time, we also both agree that this is the finest preamplifier, we are aware of, that you can purchase new or used, at any price. Accordingly, it is the only preamplifier now in “Class A”.
Further- I was just informed by one of my associates, who actually owns the first Audion Quattro built with V-Caps, that he also had the stock volume controls replaced with those made by Gold Point, using Vishay resistors. They are $ 1,500 for the pair, but he claims that are absolutely necessary if you want to hear the full potential of this design.
*This has 4 chassis. There is also a 2 chassis version, which sells for $ 11,000, but we haven’t heard it. The cost for the V-Cap Teflon modification is also $ 1,500.
**For further details, contact Gary, of True Audiophile, who is the North American importer of Audion. The website is: www.trueaudiophile.com
A few of my most experienced associates have auditioned this model, and in-depth. Their standards, and the revealing system they used to evaluate this phono stage, are at the highest level. Direct comparisons were even made with a modified original, and the most recent, (“Class A”) Audion Quattro (see above). I have not heard this unit myself. There is some minor editing and my bold:
“The Doge is built in China, but the quality of construction and parts used would put many North American components to shame. This preamp uses very high quality transformers, circuit boards, and resistors. The caps could be improved, as they are low end metallized polypropylenes, but they are pretty much to be expected in a unit at this price point ($ 1,199 US). The preamp weighs in excess of 30 lbs, and the cosmetics are very pleasing.
What features can you get in a well made $ 1,200 tube preamp? For starters: 4 -12AT7s in the line stage and 4- 12AX7s in the phono.* The volume is remote controllable. The Phono has MC capability as well as 2 settings for cartridge impedance. Outputs include RCA and XLR. It’s hard to ask for much more.
The sound- Let’s start with the line stage. Magnificent sums it up. This line stage will compete with any in models costing $ 5,000. It is that good. Not only is it highly transparent and pure, this thing kicks ass. The dynamics, the weight and impact are staggering. If your system is in need of an adrenaline boost, the Doge is the remedy. The Doge line stage makes listening to digital viscerally thrilling in a way a live concert does. Having the remote volume control is a treat, since so many CDs are mastered at varying output levels. It is nice to be able to adjust volume while you sit on your keester. If the Doge was only a line stage preamp, it would be a bargain at its selling price.
Phono- While the phono section of the Doge (both MM/MC) is very good, and certainly an overachiever at its price, it does not measure up to the stellar performance of the line stage. The sound on LPs, still in the league of competing $ 3,000-$ 4,000 units, exhibits audible flaws. The unit in MC (a combination of 4 – 12AX7s) is a little noisy with low output MCs. It could and should be quieter.
More importantly, while vinyl reproduction is very clean, highly resolved and dynamic, with excellent reproduction of the frequency extremes, there is a slight thinning out of harmonics in the midrange. Voices are rendered a tad leaner than they should. A little more body is required. Additionally, the midbass could be more weighty and impactful.
I attribute the sonic anomalies to the transistors in the high gain MC stage. The Doge MC stage does take on a solid state quality. If preferences lie with good solid state sound, the Doge will definitely be satisfying. If your preferences include Conrad-Johnson or Joule Electra musical presentations (meaning soft, warm and forgiving), the Doge is not the unit to tickle your fancy.
A suggestion for those who are not transistor fans would be to obtain a high quality moving coil transformer and use it with the MM section of the Doge. That combination could be a killer.
Bottom Line- For $1,200, the Doge offers tremendous value. The quality of construction, variety of user features and most importantly, sonic performance is unavailable anywhere near its selling price. A great buy.“
*To obtain the sonics described, the stock Chinese tubes must be upgraded to either NOS or reissued Mullards.
Personal Note- I was also informed by my associate that, sadly, the Doge 8 can not be modified (unless it is completely taken apart, which will take many, many hours of tedious, difficult and highly detailed work). A real shame.
This preamplifier should have been listed years ago, but it was another oversight on my part. I have not heard this component myself, but one of my associates has considerable experience with it, and he was greatly impressed. Since he has extensive experience with virtually every preamplifier discussed within this file, and ALL of the top preamps, that is saying quite a lot.
While he still hasn’t given me a detailed description, he did emphasize that the Atma-sphere is able to convey a considerable amount of musical information; has an extended frequency response and that it also sounds “very natural”. It is definitely one of the finest full preamplifiers currently available. Unfortunately, he also informed me that purchasers should be aware of two potential problem areas;
Caveat 1- The Atma-sphere is prone to noise unless you get the proper tubes, which means you must do some “tube-rolling”.
Caveat 2- Early models supposedly had some reliability problems, which may have been fixed, but he’s not certain. Check out websites like Tube Asylum and Audiogon for the latest information and contacts. The manufacturer has a website, which can be found in the Links File. A Google search may also be helpful.
A detailed description of these units are in the Phono Stage file. They are also here because they can be used as phono only preamplifiers.
CAVEAT: Their stock “volume control” does not have fine adjustments.
These are both full preamplifiers with line stages. Both are superb, with the Reference model slightly superior with its advantage of a separate and larger power supply. These units, as well as the SA-9, subtract some low-level information and also lack some immediacy compared to the Class A models. Both the Control Master and the Reference have a built-in moving coil transformer; it’s very good, but not close to the Expressive.
FURTHER- Manley now has released a phono stage that can used as a full preamplifier in a simple system. It is called The Steelhead. Preliminary listening was very impressive. Readers should seriously consider this unit before committing to any preamplifier.
The VTL is an excellent preamplifier stock and superb after modifications and replacement of tubes. It is totally dual mono and has enough gain for most moving coils. This was VTL’s greatest achievement in preamplifiers. The line stage is also outstanding. It has no major weakness. The sound is a little warmer than pure neutral, but it is still less colored than most Conrad Johnson designs. The bargain in this class. The Ultimate is also well built, but it is no “beauty queen”. This preamplifier is no longer made. The replacements were not quite as good.
Caveat- I’ve been told that some of the Ultimate preamplifiers had “reliability problems”, despite the fact that it is relatively “well built”. They should be checked out carefully, and also auditioned (by a trusted 3rd party if necessary), before the purchase is made.
FURTHER: I have recently heard some good things about one of the replacements for The Ultimate. It is the VTL Model 5.5. It is very well made, especially for the money, with an exceptional power supply which includes a large number of MIT polypropylene capacitors. The only serious sonic weakness is the (somewhat noisy) moving-coil stage, which can be bypassed if necessary. This model should be checked out since its price is quite reasonable.
This preamplifier (the “Lumi”) became a cult item even while it was still being manufactured, more than 20 years ago now. It had unique sound characteristics and was phenomenally well built, especially for the money.
The Luminescence is an “all-out” design with a huge, separate power supply that has at least four large transformers, chokes, plus (2 or 4 tube) regulation. The actual preamplifier is hardwired and uses octal tubes throughout, both rarities at the time it came out, and even today. (Earlier versions of this preamplifier, with less than 4 transformers, do not qualify for this class, but are still excellent.)
The Luminescence is full-bodied, with a huge soundstage and it doesn’t fall apart when the music gets loud. It may have as much low-level musical information as any other preamplifier in existence, with the one exception of the Jadis JP-80 series. These rare and valuable sonic strengths are the reasons this preamplifier is in such constant demand. However…
It is not particularly fast, neutral, precise or immediate sounding, but it can be noticeably improved in all those areas with modifications. These modifications; improved coupling capacitors, better NOS octal tubes, removing RFI filters etc., are required for this preamplifier to reach its full sonic (Class B) potential. The Luminescence’s sound is so unique that it should always be auditioned before the purchase by a first time listener. My associates are split on its performance; some love it and some dislike it. I lean closer to the “love it” position.
The MFA Luminescence has proven to be a very reliable design.
MFA Reference- This recent model was even more “all-out” than the Luminescence. From what we have been told, and what we have read, the sound and character is very similar to its predecessor, but none of us has properly heard it in conditions which would allows us to make a serious evaluation or even an opinion.
Further- A reader, who has extensive experience with the Luminescence, recently sent me this letter, which included some (edited) observations that I felt should be shared:
“Some comments on the MFA Reference. It is of completely different design from the Lumi, it uses regular tubes (not octal base), it uses solid state regulation throughout (which rumors say was designed by John Curl). It is much quieter than the Lumi, a lot drier, cleaner, sound SOMEWHAT similar in general character to the Lumi. Definitely faster. Scott Frankland’s personal favorite.
My Lumi C, which was severely modified with solid state regulation, sounds somewhat similar to Reference but is noisier and still not as clean. The Reference was used by somebody in The Absolute Sound circa 1990, or thereabout, as its reference at some point, but it didn’t stay in production for long. They said it definitely sounded darker than the CAT which, in my opinion, is easy to do for any preamp. It played any MC above .15 mV with ease. Everybody I know prefers the Lumi over it, that is to say the Reference is a more “regular” sounding preamp. The last time I was in communication with Scott, he had enough parts left to build one, if anyone’s interested.“ (8/03)
These models are all very good to excellent. There’s a large variety of them out there since the manufacturer has been around now for 20 years. The more recent models are a little better, but the most recent model, the Ultimate, is both overrated and overpriced, in our experience. (There are plenty of people who disagree with that statement.)
I seriously advise comparing the Ultimate to the above Reference (Class B) models; from Manley and VTL (and don’t forget the Hovland HP-100), before making any serious commitment. At the same time, at their used prices, the older models can be a much better value than virtually any new preamp for the same price. They have high gain, enough for most (but not all) MC cartridges.
The “sound” of the CAT is almost the exact opposite of the Luminescence, and should also be auditioned before the purchase. This is another “love it or hate it” component, literally. For many audiophiles, these preamps will be much better performers than the other preamplifiers in this class, with the exceptions of the ARC SP-10 and SP-11, meaning they should really be in Class B. Personally, I’m torn about this myself, but they’re here just because I’m being conservative and cautious, maybe overly so.
Caveat- The volume control on many of the older CATs doesn’t allow a soft volume, either on phono or line sources. They tend to get very loud very fast, and sometimes without recourse for the listener.
These preamplifiers are the best ARC made during a 10 year period; from the late 1970’s to late 1980’s. That was their “Golden Age”. Personally, I (or my store) owned every single model, with the single exception of the SP-10. Sadly, ARC hasn’t been the same since then. The big change for them started with the SP-11, which sold for more than the SP-10, despite being cheaper to build. If anything, the ratio of their retail price to their manufacturing cost has appeared to grow even worse over time.
Their newer models are now overpriced, much cheaper in construction and most of them have pitiful power supplies. None of them, except the grossly overpriced “Reference” models, can match these in overall performance, and even the new “References” do not equal the best of the earlier models in overall naturalness, at least according to the observations of my associates. (Avoid the overrated “hybrid” models, the SP-9 and SP-14. Their power supplies are a disgrace for the price.)
At their used prices, the Reference models above are all bargains compared to units made today, not only in sound quality, but also in build quality. These can, and should, all be modified because their passive parts are now obsolete, especially their coupling capacitors. This is equally true for all the other preamplifiers within this class.
Among all the different models, the SP-10 is the most preferable, because it has the greatest potential, though the SP-11 will still have some sonic advantages. Of the lower-gain models, the SP-8 series is generally preferable to the SP-6 series.
ARC also made preamplifiers in the 1970’s, the SP-3 series and the solid-state SP-4. They were very well made for their day, but their sonics (the very best of their time) are not up to standards of their later models (or today). However, their phono-stages may still be excellent on their own.
These were excellent preamps made in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Both have separate power supplies and combine a lot of detail with good low-level retrieval. It has very neutral sound with excellent speed and precision. Their gain is higher than the SP-6 and SP-8, but still less than either the SP-10 or -11.
The Magus is one of the best preamplifiers ever made for the money. It is even a better value used. It has relatively high-gain and even has a separate power supply.
It is warmer and darker than pure neutral, and it also blunts transients, but it can be improved in the areas of neutrality, transparency and speed with better coupling capacitors. The RIAA curve can also be changed, but that requires reliable information from an expert.
These are also excellent units. There must be around 5 or 6 different models, and all of them are References. They are similar in character and general performance to the best (low-gain, all tube) preamplifiers from Audio Research, though not quite as clean, extended or dynamic.
These are two of the three finest preamplifiers ever made for the money (the other is the Precision Fidelity C-7). How do they compare? The Modulus is cleaner, more neutral and has greater detail than the Magus, but it’s not quite as warm and full bodied. It also doesn’t have the high gain of the Magus. However, the Modulus is also a little better built, and, unlike the Magus, Audible Illusions is still in business.
The III is a little better than the finest of the II series, with its separate power supply and superior passive parts, but it is not worth the large premium you will pay if you buy it new at full retail price. It’s a lot smarter to buy a used CAT of any vintage than a new Modulus III. However, a used III can be a great deal.
If you must buy brand new, the III may still be the finest preamplifier, with phono, available today for the money.
Audible Illusions is even coming out with some new components and there is now a link to their website in the Links section.
These were “all-out” preamplifiers manufactured in the early 1980s (before I was an Audible Illusions dealer.) I later had some experience with them when my former store took them in as trade-ins. (I had a very liberal trade-in policy back then, particularly for tube equipment.) By the time I heard them for myself, they were long out of production.
The only difference I know of between the Model I and Model II, was that the II had a 12AU7 as the output tube, and the I had a 6DJ8. The price was increased with the II also, of course. (I never compared them directly, but I assume the II has some advantage.)
They had a good build-quality and the sound was excellent on both of them. They were very natural and full-bodied. The frequency extremes weren’t the best, but this was a common problem back then, and even today, with most tube equipment. They were also clean and detailed. I even remember being reluctant to resell them and considered keeping them for myself, which is about the highest compliment I could give.
I haven’t seen one of these for a while now, and I have no idea what they would go for used. They do need to be modified with the best capacitors, both in the signal path and power supply. Their gain is just average, meaning you will require a step-up for a typical low-output moving coil.
I sold this model when my store opened back in 1981. This is a “Classic Preamplifier”, with a design far ahead of not only its own time, but even up to today. In fact, our current audio market is begging for an updated version of the C-7.
The C-7 was essentially a high quality (tube) phono-stage with two volume controls, a couple of extra (passive) inputs and no line-stage. This is “the dream design” of today’s audiophiles who have phono-centric systems, like me. (My own preamplifier, the Jadis JP-80, was heavily modified to copy the basic design of the C-7.)
It’s been some time since I heard one of them, but I remember their sheer natural quality and the cleanness and quietness that is consistent with no line-stage. The people who bought them, if they could live with the low-gain, loved them. (I’d love to hear a modified version, with the best caps available today. I would love even more to hear an all-out modern version of this design.)
I remember that the original C-7 had some design problems that translated into sonic problems, so look for the “A” or “Revised” versions. (I can not provide the schematics to make these revisions.) The C-7 should be modified with better capacitors, just like all the other preamplifiers from this era. They also require a high quality step-up device for low-output moving coils.
Recent- One reader just purchased a C-7 based on the above advice. His take:
“…soundwise – Wow! Lumi is taking a long rest. This thing sounds a bit dark (like most passives in my system, probably the amp), but it is so dynamic, immediate, transparent, and not greasy or euphonic or juicy. I’d venture to say it is rather accurate. Of all medium priced preamps that I’ve tried, and I’ve had many, including many Bruce Moore designs, this one is by far the best sounding, with great MM phono. It beats Magus by a wide margin and phono is a lot quieter (uses two solid state regulators). Thanks for a great suggestion…“
Bottom Line- If I was on “a strict budget” for a preamplifier, and with the choice of ANY model ever made, the C-7 (modified) would be my first choice.
Precision Fidelity C-8- This preamplifier was introduced at a later time, along with a few revisions. I sold a number of them. They had higher gain, but they used transistors, so a sonic price was paid. They also had a linestage. They are still “good”, but they don’t have the obvious natural musical qualities of the C-7.
Precision Fidelity C-9- This was their “all-out” preamplifier. It had high-gain, more than the competition, and enough for a typical moving-coil cartridge, but it used only tubes. These were very rare. I had just one in my store and, after I sold it, I wasn’t able to replace it.
This was the finest high-gain preamplifier of its day. It was better than the CJ Premier II and III and the Audio Research models of its day, but it didn’t receive any “hype” from the audio magazines. It was very dynamic, full-bodied, transparent and detailed. The extremes were also better than the (tube) competition. It had a somewhat “complicated” circuit, with something like 9 tubes, if I remember correctly. As a reader reminded me, the high-gain phono stage also had more noticeable tube noise than its competitors.
It had a lot of components within its single chassis, and it ran hotter than average. My model had some problems that were easily repaired, but I have no information concerning its long-term reliability. Of course, if you can find one that is still working, it must have passed that test also.
This preamplifier should be in Class C or maybe even Class B, but I don’t know how many of them were actually made, and I don’t want to inspire a useless wild-goose-chase. So it will stay here, for now.
I was a Quicksilver dealer in the 1980s. Most of my experiences were with their power amplifiers, but I also had their preamplifier in the store for an extended period of time. The owner/designer, Mike Sanders, who resembles Charlton Heston, visited me on several occasions (his wife came from Toronto).
The Quicksilver, there was only one model, was impressive from the first time we played it. It was clean, quiet and both natural and detailed. The gain is average, so a step-up (they also manufacture a transformer) is required with typical moving-coil pickups. In general, it was at least “good” in every sonic parameter, though not “exceptional” in any. The build quality was also excellent.
This model is preferable, overall, to both the Modulus II and the Magus. Compared to the equivalent ARC models (the SP-6/8 series), I would say it was a little more natural “stock”, while they had the edge in outer definition and in the frequency extremes. The Counterpoint 5.1 outperformed it.
Quicksilver has made a line-stage and separate phono-stage since the mid 1990s, but I have no experience with these models.