The Sound and the Fury

Jeff Rowland Criterion Preamplifier

Tech : Electronics By Photo by Jeff Rowland

The dictionary defines criterion as “a standard of judgment or criticism; a rule or principle for evaluating or testing”, so it goes without saying that christening your flagship product with such a definitive term shouldn’t come casually. It’s a good thing then that “casually” describes anything but the Jeff Rowland Criterion Preamplifier ($18,000). Built to ultra-precise standards with groundbreaking features, the Criterion Preamplifier is designed for total musical transparency — a process that begins with power management and confinement from noise pollutants. This is accomplished primarily through a brilliant use of two industrial grade rechargeable batteries, which allow the unit to operate completely independent of power. Further, the unit switches off its control subsystems after each command execution to even further maximize sonic isolation. And that’s just the power unit (the bottom component pictured).

With sonics that read like rare vintage wine tasting notes, the preamp produces a 3 dimensional sound stage that delivers extraordinary detail and texture without a hint of grain. Complex and material trebles, staggering bass and authoritative mid tone structure come at any sound level, particularly evident in low levels, making the Criterion one of the most sensuous pieces of audio componentry we’ve ever auditioned (our playlist: Wynton Marsalis, Massive Attack and Dave Brubeck). It also happens to be one of the most becoming. A diamond milled, aircraft-grade aluminum ingot facade echoes the internal twin-chassis design and surrounds a massive vacuum fluorescent display. With a breathtaking pricetag (plus the cost of an amplifier), the Criterion Preamplifier isn’t a component to take lightly or a purchase you’ll make easily, but the last time we checked, neither is uncompromising engineering.

Buy Now: $18,000