Harman Kardon Citation 11
Phono Inputs: Very subtly grainy, ever-so-slightly deficient in deep bass, but very clean, airy and detailed, with a healthy safety margin for overload from high-output cartridges. (This in fact is the most significant improvement we found between early Citation Elevens and recent production units.)
High-level Inputs: Very subtly dry, with a barely perceptible roughness, which virtually vanished when the unit’s equalizers were awitched out of the circuit. Without those, the sound was still just a shade dry but exhibited no perceptible hardness, which makes this the solid-state preamplifier to beat. (The Audio Research SP-3 uses tubes.)
One useful “extra” that H/K has included in the Eleven is a 17-second time delay between turn-on and full-gain operation. During the delay period, the preamp’s gain is attenuated by about 20dB, to prevent switching clicks in it or in any input sources from getting through at full strength to the speakers.
Inevitably, though, there are imperfections. We already noted the fact that the sound becomes slightly rough when the tone controls are switched in. We have excused far worse cases of distortion in multi-band equalizers in the past becasue when the equalizers were needed, their benefits outweighed their flaws, and we certainly felt the same way about the very small degradation of sound that the Eleven’e equalizer circuits introduced. Admittedly, five controlled bands are a far cry from the 10 per channel on some other equalizers, but by and large Citation’s five do a better job of correcting frequency-response problems in program material then do conventional tone controls.