Vitale SC preamplifier and Series VC amplifier

I first recall coming across Glenn Croft's amplifiers when I was editing this magazine some 15 years ago.

Although a reclusive individual, he was one of the pioneers who helped reintroduce valve amps to the UK - yet the amplifiers themselves looked very 1950s, and were a lot more reasonably priced than most of the thermionic competition. Very little seems to have changed. The amps are still reasonably priced, still look like 1950s throwbacks, and Glenn still hides behind his answering machine, though now he's got someone a little more extrovert to help out on the UK distribution.

Why 1950s? Because their brown and gold hues remind me of those venerable Leaks and Rogers, before everything went silver and/or black from the late 1960s. Actually, I think they look quite fetching - the nice wooden fascias, and brown hammerite finish chassis and cover fit in rather better with typical soft furnishings than regulation black 'n' silver.

The Vitali SC preamp costs 750 and the Series 5C power amp is 1,250, or 2,000 in toto . The manual is full of a hi-fi philosophy that's both entertaining and contentious.

The preamp includes a vinyl disc input, of the moving magnet variety, but just three line level inputs, which is a bit limited for the modern world. There's no remote control, and just three knobs, one to select the inputs or 'mute', the other two separately adjusting the volume of each channel - tricky at first, though I guess you get used to them. The power amp is rated at 30 Watts/channel, and uses classy components like C-core output transformers and paper-in-oil capacitors.

SOUND QUALITY

I was quite shocked when I first put the Crofts into the system. After the Rothwell combo, the contrast in sonic presentation was quite dramatic. Whereas the latter has a somewhat laid back neutrality, this Croft duo seems to strip away veils and deliver an astonishingly tangible presence, with superb voice reproduction, and exceptional stereo focus, transparency and dynamic drama.

The Tannoy TD12 speakers are also neutral with laid back tendencies, yet with this amplifier they sounded quite forward, punching the midband into the room with great gusto and enthusiasm. Christy Moore's chuckling asides on Live at the Point were eerily realistic, as if the guy was standing there on the stage in front of you, while Tom Waits' often mumbled delivery on Rain Dogs was much more lucid and easier to figure out than usual. And if the Croft combo does have some innate forwardness (relatively speaking and under our conditions), most loudspeakers tend to do the reverse, so the combination should be quite complementary.

The vinyl input also gave splendid results, again with that uncanny tangibility and quite superb stereo imaging. Indeed, by adding a little extra warmth and a little less presence, this medium seemed an altogether more comfortable match for the Crofts than CD.

CONCLUSIONS

The sheer vividness of the Croft combo's voice rendition brings a real slice of high end performance to the party. But optimising system performance might be tricky, and it does has its idiosyncracies, but is definitely worth close investigation if you can handle the ergonomics.

 


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