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The C-600’s looks, brand name and website filled with technical information all might predict a ‘technical’ sound which in high-end parlance hints at precise and accurate but perhaps also devoid of soul and perhaps even cold. Such assumptions would not be without a solid foundation. In the past solid-state preamps sounded just like it. They usually offered excellent resolution and selectivity but in return they sacrificed qualities like plasticity and meatiness, the so-called ‘presence’ factors. The customer had to decide which sonic qualities were important - what he or she expected from the system and how the preamp should modify the overall sound. Because each preamp changes the sound even if someone doesn’t believe it.

For some time now I have observed a paradigm shift however, a major structural change in how audio designers approach sound in general and their own designs in particular. It’s as if they finally came to terms with the limits of technology, be that tube or transistors where the best of them have managed to find the golden means within a given approach. In this instance and in terms of tone color, the C-600 sounds like a good modern tube preamplifier. The color is very similar to that of the fully tubed Audio Research Reference 5 SE preamp which I reviewed in the same issue of The main feature is the total absence of any lightening or sharpening of the sound. These two traits are normally associated with solid-state technology to have been the reason why many a music lover and audiophile eliminated transistors from their sphere of interests once and for all. But perhaps it’s time to rethink these assumptions.

The C-600 is a good example of this change. It demonstrates sonic characteristics so far reserved only for vacuum tube devices. These characteristics are natural tone color, organic textures and a large soundstage. Yet we also get familiar characteristics of solid state such as contoured excellent bass with great reach and control as well as the ability to organize the soundstage. And it is that latter trait, the proper ordering of what is shown between the speakers, which becomes the biggest advantage of the machine under review. The TAD preamplifier finds order and the internal rhythmic hierarchy in literally each and every recording. By comparison the Audio Research on that particular count sounds somewhat messy. Even the Ayon Polaris III, my reference preamplifier in a custom version, cannot step into the internal structure of a recording with equal precision. Only the Soulution 720 managed to do it to the same high degree.

I think this is due to a remarkable ability of signal differentiation. I started my listening session a little differently than usual and deliberately with an old album by Clan of Xymox, a re-issue of their 1983 debut album Subsequent Pleasures which includes a demo recording of their hit album Clan of Xymox from 1984. These recordings all bear the mark of time, of very simple recording techniques, poor engineering and even weaker productions. But like any interesting music, they have that certain something which piques our interest regardless.

Today’s Japanese preamp presented them really beautifully because it somehow managed to put order into the chaos that reigns in these recordings. It found their inner rhythm and a kind of backbone on which everything was built and referred to. Moreover the C-600 presented vocals originally hidden deep within the mix—and which are usually rendered as blended into the background with fuzzy contours by nearly all preamplifiers—very well. That selectivity and sorting were not burdened with the original sin I already mentioned. It was not done by lightening or sharpening the sound. Getting a little ahead of myself, I will say that the TAD’s tone color could even be described as dark. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration but it certainly was not bright or garish.

Perhaps that’s why vocal-based recordings worked so well. On the Clan of Xymox album this was a secondary quality. The selectivity of vocals was an aside since the voices here do not constitute any central musical element. But with recordings by Beverly Kenney, Sarah K., Jorgos Skolias, Anna Jantar and Sigur Rós—an agreeably random selection from completely different musical worlds—this quality revealed itself as vocal stability, sonority, weight and certainty. That quality was startling each time as it put accents elsewhere from where other less capable preamps do it.