The Upgraded Croft Epoch Elite Pre-amplifier - Review 2016

Discover the Croft Epoch Elite Pre-amplifier - Upgraded by the late Glenn Croft

The Epoch Elite was a cousin of the Croft Charisma preamplifier made by Croft in the 1990s. Glenn Croft was still involved with Eminent Audio (its marketing arm) at this stage to which that relationship eventually turned sour.

Croft Epoch Elite Preamplifier

The Epoch Elite shared its chassis with the Charisma X and the Twinstar Amplifier which was a lower profile than the other units.

The Tannoyista Croft Epoch Elite preamplifier - Updated -

My experience with Croft has always been pleasant. Previous to buying the Epoch I owned a couple of the current range of preamplifiers and amplifiers. The sound from the Croft engaged me enough to find out what else he made in the past.

The idea of buying the Epoch Elite came from a dear friend who owned a Charisma X which he had upgraded. At that point, I was running the 7R preamp together with the 7R power amplifier which I loved but I found something was missing.
Inside the Croft 7R power amplifier -
Inside the Croft 7R

Although the 7R was an amazing power amplifier, it lacked a little grip which my Tannoys needed. I bought the Epoch on the recommendation of a friend as he presented me with a precise picture of what was missing. That was depth and scale.

For more information about the Tannoy Loudspeakers, click HERE!

One of the things which attracted me about the older Crofts was the use of the larger Octal valves as opposed to the later models using the smaller valves. The difference in sound between the octal and the smaller signal valves is not something to be sniffed at. Each type offers a different flavour and in my case, the octals are juicier and less restrained.

The amplifier I'm using with this is the Tube Distinctions Copper amplifier, for more information, click HERE!

The Epoch Elite

At the start, it was still pretty much in stock form and I could see that it had enough room inside it to update a few things which would deliver real benefits. Internal space is something the new models don't have.

The Tannoyista Croft Epoch Elite preamplifier - Updated -

From what my friend had done to his Charisma X, there were a few things to get done to which, collectively would yield a massive, positive upgrade in the sound.

1. Introducing Obligato SCR caps on the valve stage
2. Updating the power supply caps with ClarityCap MR TC-4 and Mundorf MLytic caps.
3. Externalising the power supply with dual 500vA transformers.
4. Removing the Alps Black Beauty pot to replace it with a high-quality attenuator.
5. Re-wiring all signal connections with flat silver wire.

A call to Glenn confirmed this and with no further ado, it went up to him to undergo the first part of the surgery.

The Tannoyista Croft Epoch Elite preamplifier - Updated -

The Tannoyista Croft Epoch Elite preamplifier - Updated -

Because of the height of the ClarityCap MR TC-4 caps, the height of the unit needed to be increased to around 2cm so the lid could safely clear the tops of the capacitors.

I also had to make a new faceplate. In addition to that, two acrylic side panels together with two chassis spacers also needed to be made.
The Tannoyista Croft Epoch Elite preamplifier - External PSU -
Inside the Epoch Power Supply

The second set of updates shortly followed but this time, Glenn wanted to add some further modifications of his own which led to him being very surprised in how things turned out.

6. 2nd regulator fitted so each channel is independently regulated
7. All line stage and central valves were upgraded to 6SN7s rather than 6SL7s (except the phono stage which still uses 6SL7s)
8. The phono stage was improved making it dual mono.
9. Updated RCA sockets

The Tannoyista Croft Epoch Elite preamplifier - Updated -

The sonic result of these upgrades from stock was phenomenal. The depth of the soundstage is so deep. Instruments and textures have an uncanny realism. The highs are clear, unstrained and precise whilst the bass is voluptuously enveloping. 

It can be a little scary on some tracks, it's like the sound is flying past you, ready to come through to meet you head-on. It handles old recordings really well as modern dance tracks.

One of the updates, namely the Khozmo attenuator marked a major improvement. Although the Alps Black Beauty is a wonderful pot, the Khozmo really cleaned the whole sound, bringing everything together with added clarity.

The Tannoyista Croft Epoch Elite preamplifier - Updated -

The first Khzomo attenuator I had fitted was a Shunt type using the amazing ZFoil resistors. And yes, a marked improvement was noted but I wondered what a series Khozmo would sound like also. Doing an A/B comparison, the Shunt type had a slightly improved and smoother sense of presentation.

At the time of this review, the Series Khozmo was fitted with the series attenuator. The Series was fitted for around 4-5 years and has always been reliable and fabulous sounding, a solid attenuator.

In all the years I've had this preamp its strengths have been its continued involvement without causing fatigue and its ability to reproduce everything without adding any adjusted layer of equalisation or unbalanced presentation.

The phono stage is utterly mindblowing too. Although only its Moving Magnet it matches up with many step-up units perfectly. Glenn is an ardent fan of the Decca Blue cartridges, and that is something I've still yet to try.

My current cartridge loaded onto my Trio L-07D turntable is a Denon DL103C1 and it sounds tremendous.

For a full review of the Trio L-07D turntable, click HERE!

There was also another modification in which I stumbled on something totally by chance. The original top lid of the Epoch, Charisma X and the Twinstar is made from shiny non-magnetic stainless steel. Then, by chance, I found a very limited version which was manufactured from aluminium with a textured black powder-coat finish. I was lucky enough to obtain one of these top lids and decided to give it a try.

The lid is obviously lighter in weight than the stainless lid. Although not as aesthetically pleasing as shiny stainless it still looks great.

The Tannoyista Croft Epoch Elite preamplifier - Updated -

The result in sound is certainly surprising. With the alloy lid, the sound gains an extra layer of fluidity, although admittedly only slightly, it certainly adds that final touch which snaps and gels the sound together even more in those transients. 

Having no real tangible coupling effect, the only reason I can think why this slight improvement in sound is perceived is that the lighter top helps with cooling as it's effects are more pronounced after the preamp has been on for a while.

In addition to this, I've heard over the years that some people prefer to run these amps (and others) with no lid at all because of the sonic improvement. I guess this lid is the next best thing.

Here is the link to Croft Acoustics

Here is the link to Khzomo Attenuators