Creek Passive Preamp
Thinking that your preamp doesn't really need to preamplify? Wanting some creature comforts? Well, then...
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There are a lot of audiophiles, and even videophiles, who don't need a full-featured preamplifier. Though they may spend scarce money on a preamp (and then possibly "save" by getting one that is not up to the quality standards of the rest of the system), in many cases they would be as happy with a passive preamp. No, make that happier.
What they may not want to do without is remote control. Even if we don't aspire to the status of couch potatoes, we would prefer to adjust volume from the chair in which we will be listening. We would also like to kill the sound when the phone rings without getting up. But of course passive preamps don't even plug into the wall, so they can't have remote control, right?
In fact they can, though of course that does require a power supply plugged into the wall. QED used to have a very good (though pricey) remote-equipped passive. And now, at a more palatable price, so does Creek, a British company known for amplifiers whose value appears to defy the laws of economics.
This pleasantly-styled little unit is in the same box the company uses for some other accessories, such as phono stages and headphone amplifiers (we've reviewed both in our pages). It is no larger than it absolutely has to be to accommodate the motorized volume control, the switching relays and the in and out jacks. The power supply is a small "brick" (and there's no point in upgrading it, since it has zero incidence on the sound).
There are two inputs selectable from the remote control, suitable for a CD player, a tuner, a VCR or -- with an outboard phono section -- even a turntable. The full-function tape loop can act as a third input. A small motor turns the volume control up or down on order from the remote, and there is also a "mute" button to kill the sound instantly. The illuminated input indicator changes from green to red until you push the mute button again. We might have wished for one or two more inputs, but few systems need more than it offers.
The OBH-12 is light as well as small, and plugging in large cables, such as our Pierre Gabriel ML-1's tipped it over backwards. We solved the problem with a well-placed wad of Audio-Tak under the bottom plate.
We substituted the OBH-12 for our reference preamp, and we listened to the same discs we had used to evaluate the other passive preamp in this issue, though in reverse sequence. Though the speakers in our Alpha system are not as efficient as some current models, we had no trouble getting more than adequate volume. We ran the volume knob around the two o'clock position.
We began, then, with the Fanfare for the Common Man. Albert was astonished by the considerable impact the Creek transmitted, and especially by the tiny low-level details that came through. Reine was also pleasantly surprised, though with reservations. The rhythm wasn't as quick, she said, and the bottom end was less dense than with our reference preamplifier.
Model: Creek OBH-12
Warranty: 2 years, transferable
Dimensions: 10 x 13 x 6 cm (not including brick power supply)
Excerpted articles from this issue: