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Croft Acoustics Phono Integrated (integrated amplifier)

January 16, 2019

Every few years I do some kind of upgrade to my stereo. I have never really thought of myself as an audiophile, since I prefer to spend most of my disposable income on software (music) vs. hardware (gear). However, I am at the point where I have spent enough on stereo gear that it is pretty hard to avoid the label of audiophile. All the same, I am on the budget side of the audiophile spectrum. I like high quality gear, but I am looking for value. I don’t think you have to pay the price of a car for a component.

This year’s upgrade was a new amplifier. It replaces a Jolida FX10 (a 10 watt tube amp which has served me well, but had some limitations). How ended up with the Croft is a long story that I will save for another post. This post will focus on reviewing the Croft.

I was unfamiliar with the Croft brand and did no research – instead I completely relied on the fine crew at the Needle Doctor for their recommendation (a special shout out to @cellphono for his patience and insights). They did not lead me astray. It turns out this is a highly recommended component from Stereophile magazine and other experts. Croft is in that class of gear that is moderately priced (but still not cheap) and considered at the top of its class. This amp is $1,895.00 USD which makes it the most expensive stereo component I have ever owned. I got a small discount by purchasing a demo model (no risk and broken in by guys who know what they are doing). Finding the Croft was serendipitous, but again that story will have to wait for another post.

What I learned is that Glenn Croft, designs and builds hand crafted audio in the UK. This is like buying art from an artist, it is brilliantly designed and crafted. Croft has been at his craft for 30 plus years. I am very curious as to who this guy is. I have met these kinds of dudes before. For example, in my own town, there is Frank Van Alstine. He is serious about sound and oblivious to gimmicks and fads. I am still trying to learn more about the Croft brand and Glenn Croft the man. Don’t expect to learn anything on the Croft website. This is one low profile company.

This is an austere unit: an input selector, right and left volume knobs, a mute switch and an on/off switch all in an unassuming black case without a remote. It does not have a headphone jack (which has turned out to be a weird kind of benefit – the opportunity to head down the headphone amp rabbit hole).

The backside is a set of gold-plated jacks for a phono, three other inputs and a line out. In addition, there are speaker connectors, a phono ground and power.

The Croft is a tube hybrid amplifier. It has a top-notch MM phono preamp – that is its most prominent feature. LPs sound outstanding through the Croft.

No piece of gear can be considered on its own, you need to understand the context of the listener. My inputs to the Croft are a Pro-Ject RPM 1 Genie 3 (turntable) with an Audio-Technica VM540ML cartridge (another new arrival due to tragedy – another teaser to an upcoming post) and an Oppo 105D (disc player and DAC). I predominately listen to vinyl  through this rig.

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The outputs are Klipsch KG2s (speakers) and a Schiit Vali 2 (headphone amplifier – this is a new addition to my rig along with the Croft – remember no headphone jack) with some AKG K240 Studio (ancient) and Grado SR80e headphones – depending on my mood (the Grados are my preference for sound, but the AKG are physically more comfortable on my head and provide some isolation).

The Klipsch are my oldest component. I picked them up in 1985 when I got my first bonus from my first “real” job. They were the best speaker I could afford at the time. I have listened to them consistently since I got them. Other stereo components have come and gone, but the KG2s still prevail. I have listened to a lot of other speakers over the years, but in the end I am loyal to the Klipsch. They pair well with the Croft (this is not a given – I tried a Rouge Audio Pharaoh and it conflicted with the Klipsch). It was a requirement that the new amp complement the Klipsch. The Klipsch get along nicely with the Croft.

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All the hardware is connected with AudioQuest Evergreen cables and the speakers are connected with Monster Cable XP HP 14 Gauge High Performance speaker wire.

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I am not qualified to explain the electronics of the Croft, so I will defer to Stereophile:

Phono-stage gain is provided by a stereo pair of ECC83 (12AX7) dual-triode tubes, made by JJ Audio of Slovakia, while RIAA equalization is applied by passive parts. A third ECC83, using a pair of P9NK50 MOSFETs as a constant-current source, is the voltage amplifier for the output section, which is built around a complementary pair of J162 and K1058 MOSFETs. In the right-rear corner of the Croft amp—as far as one can get from those small-signal tubes—is a simple and very cleanly executed analog power supply, with separate rectifiers for tubes and transistors. Apart from a small circuit board containing the bipolar timer and relays for the amp’s warm-up circuitry, the Phono Integrated is hand-wired, point to point, with neatly made solder joins and Bakelite terminal strips.

I will provide a subjective review. The overall sound is clear, lifelike and “tube warm.” As mentioned earlier, the phono stage is outstanding, but it handles digital inputs just fine. My Oppo sounds great through the Croft (CDs, SACDs, DVD-Audio and Tidal Hi Fi). I listen to pretty much every genre, with exception of Classical and EDM. The Croft sounds great with everything I listen to. It has a nice stereo sound stage. Everything is even keeled – not too much bass and not too bright – it is just right. I seek a non-biased reproduction from a stereo and not an opinion. The Croft tells the story straight up (the audio equivalent of neat if you are a whiskey drinker).

Besides the overall sound, my favorite feature is the dual left/right volume knobs. My listening space is a loft, where my right side is a large open space. It is great to have independent channel volume controls to compensate for the room – much better than a balance knob.

I love the no-nonsense look of the face and case of the unit.

I am very satisfied with the Croft. It is a good match with my other equipment. It plays into my listening habits, as it is a vinyl focused unit. With so many options on the market I feel lucky to have found the right amp for my needs and taste. It is a reminder of the importance of a quality retailer and informed salesperson (thanks again Needle Doctor and @cellphono). I am not suggesting the Croft for everyone, but it is the one for me.

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