Brooks Audio Western Electric 448a Tube Preamplifier

Brooks Audio is one of those mysterious builders in the uber hi-end audio world that you’ve seen a few times in the for sale ads on Audiogon or another site, but have never seen or heard in person. The work of Kevin Brooks from Utah, he makes big bold amplifiers with copper tops and Tango transformers, often employing archaic tubes like the 101D or the Eimac 75TL. Looking for all the world like some kind of 1920s Frankenstein’s lab equipment, you know they just have to sound good. When this “super” preamp, using the Western Electric 448a came up on Audiogon, I snatched it right up.

In person this is a very heavy duty (and heavy) preamplifier with a big footprint, an oak chassis, ¼ solid copper nickel plated top and a forest of Cardas input and output jacks behind custom wound Electra-Print transformers. With two oversized metal knobs on the front, one for volume and one for input selection, this is a well put together, super expandable preamplifier. It even has a headphone jack. All in all this is an impressive piece of gear by anyone’s measurement.

Hidden behind the huge polished knobs are a pair of Western Electric 448a tubes, providing quite a bit of signal gain. Originally made to run the Western Electric 437a tubes, this was apparently sent back to Kevin Brooks at some point and converted to the far less expensive but also superb sounding Western Electric 448a.

The WE 448a dates to the mid-1960s and seems to have been designed to transport early video across country using microwave radio repeater stations. Because of the many hops required to move the signal, this required a tube with amazing linearity, and in fact the 448a was designed to have less than 1% distortion over bandwidth from 20Hz to 10Mhz and noise less than -45DB. This is said to be one of the rarest tubes Western Electric ever made, but due to relatively low demand, to this point it is still somewhat affordable, at least in the world of new old stock Western Electric!

I can attest that it is indeed an incredible sounding tube in the Brooks Audio preamplifier, making all program material sound realistic and in the room. Big bold images with sound coming from many directions. Gain on the other hand turned out to be a bit much for my system, and with many of my amplifiers I could only turn the volume control a few clicks, making it hard to adjust to a suitable level. I can only imagine that paired with a good solid state amplifier, or a low gain tube design, this might be just what the doctor ordered to warm things up. I think this might be the only 448a preamp that Brooks Audio created, but if you ever run across this one, or another Brooks Audio piece, its definitely worth your time.

This is one beautiful preamplifer!

The large polished knobs are a pleasure to use, and dwarf the WE448s tubes behind them.

The Western Electric 448a tubes are small but mighty. Quite a tube and I would love to hear one used as a driver stage in a Single Ended design.

This should be enough expandability for just about everyone. Evan a balanced output.

Tube rectified with the venerable 5AR4. I tried a variety of 5AR4 from my stash, with the Mullard saw tooth being a good choice.