Don Garber's Fi 6922 linestage

Here we have a beautiful little 6922 linestage by Don Garber. Mr. Garber’s amps have become scarce on the used market, but his preamps and linestages are now almost unobtainable, and I think I can count on one hand the number that have been sold in the past few years. So I was excited to see this one hit the market, and snatched it up within hours of the listing. You've got to be fast these days!

I have mixed feelings about active preamplifiers, ultimately I feel that they homogenize everything and step on the sound of the amplifier itself. But I’m always curious, and never more so than with a rare bird like this one. In the past eighteen months I’ve auditioned quite a few preamplifiers; Audible Illusions, Decware, Bottlehead, Dennis Had, Tortuga and Schitt, none of which have been presented here on the website because frankly my little Luminous Audio Axiom outperformed all of them except for the Bottlehead. But I’m hopeful and an optimist, and in this case the Fi linestage did not disappoint!

So how does it sound? The Fi linestage makes the sound bigger and fuller, giving things almost a turbo charged feeling. Program material becomes more focused and sharper, but also slightly larger and more spread out. The Fi fleshes out the soundstage, adding density and a sense of weight, and if the program material has the ability to throw an image, the players can come more alive and feel more convincing. Everything is subtly more golden and overall somewhat more electrified sounding, but not edgy or stiff as with some other preamplifiaction. Of the 7 power amplifiers I have used with the Fi, it has worked well with everything, adding its glow to the presentation but in a thin veil, not a bucket of ice water. It does everything a preamplifier is supposed to do without having too much of a heavy hand.

With four inputs and two outputs, the Fi linestage is a no nonsense piece of gear that adds its bit and then gets out of the way. Inputs 1 and 2 are lower gain, while inputs 3 and 4 are higher gain, allowing this preamp to work well with a wide variety of power amplifiers and their differing input sensitivities. Although the linestage itself has no hum, there is a small amount of tube hiss at idle in some combinations as well as some fuzz when turning the volume knob on the 20-year-old piece. And like most all of the tubed preamps I’ve owned there is a small amount of low-level crosstalk between source inputs.

I was fortunate to be able to make back-to-back comparisons of the Fi linestage to both my long-serving Luminous Audio Axiom as well as a strange, one-off Bottlehead prototype preamp based on the 6AV11 compactron. The Fi 6922 linestage paints with a bigger brush than the Axiom, and has a more energized and “romantic” sound than the little passive does. The Fi embellishes, but the Axiom just reports faithfully. The Bottlehead 6AV11 sounds “as good” to me as the Fi, but has an even bigger and more spread out presentation that, while not as sharply defined as the Fi, is bouncier and more jubilant. Overall I prefer the Fi’s evenhandedness, but the Bottlehead’s jauntiness is certainly fun. The sound of the Fi linestage reminds me a bit of the Eastern Electric Minimax, which has so far been the high water mark for me in tubed preamplifiers.

Preamps are a quandary for me. In the old days they were needed to bring voltages up prior to the final amplification stage, but with most all sources already at line level these days, an active linestage seems like putting a mile of wire between the signal and the speaker for no good reason. However, I can see the appeal of the more energized feeling and the convenience of switchable sources and volume, so I keep coming back to them. I think most would agree that Don Garber’s Fi linestage is a pretty basic, no frills preamplifier. But it is the instantly recognizable work of a master builder who is no longer with us, and it is sure to be a cult classic. I very much enjoyed my time with it, and if you are looking for a clean and nicely open sounding preamp this is certainly an excellent choice. Hardly ever seen for sale, but worth watching out for, and highly recommended if you spot one.

Clean and classic Don Garber design, complete with signature at the rear of the chassis. I really like the style of these amps. This would look awesome mated to a pair of Fi 2A3 or 300B monoblocks!

Good quality connectors of course, and neatly laid out. The third and fourth inputs are higher gain and I've found them to match well with power amps that need just a bit more push.

A very clean and well executed underside, as with all of Don Garber's amps. A beautiful build.

The Music Reference OTL-1 proved to be an almost perfect match with the Fi linestage, and together with Oleg Rullit’s Aero 8 alnico drivers it made one of the most magical sounding combinations I’ve heard with the Fi.

Here is my stash of fine 6922 tubes. I liked the CCa (always do) as well as the Mazda 7308 and Mullard E188cc. But the Electro Harmonix 6922 that came with the amp sound very good as well.

Here it is alongside the Bottlehead 6AV11 preamp.