Right from the off, Quad has done things its own way. It built its reputation on it compact preamps, power amps and tuners, and of course is perhaps best-known for its ESL range of electrostatic speakers, which have been in near-continuous production for over 50 years.
In that time, the company has undergone the odd change of ownership, and the products now come out of IAG's state-of-the-art factory in China, but the quirkiness remains.
The casing is a one-piece casting, giving a solidity nothing much at the price can match. And this preamp is an ultra-flexible unit with a variety of tone adjustments, including Quad's traditional tilt function: this pivots the tonal balance around the midrange, increasing bass while reducing treble or vice versa.
It's also rare at this level in incorporating a phono stage, and not just any old turntable provision: it can not only be switched between moving magnet and moving coil gain from the remote handset, and you can also adjust cartridge-loading.
A touch of quirkinessBut here comes more quirkiness: the inputs marked CD and Tuner only apply to Quad components connected through Quadlink, which is a computer-style flat cable that carries music and command signals between components. If you use non-Quad 99 series units you'll need to connect through the auxiliary inputs. Some of the icons shown on the 99 preamp's display aren't easily understood, either, and its buttons feel imprecise.
More after the break
Despite these shortcomings, this Quad preamp is still one of the best at this price. Its even-handed nature and high levels of insight make it a star, and when partnered with one of Quad's power amps it has a rich and weighty bass performance that goes very deep without losing grip.
Fast-moving basslines thunder along and give a firm foundation to a clear and full-bodied midrange. Outright clarity is good – impressive enough to make even rappers' rapid-fire rantings easy to follow, not to mention delivering fine insight into complex classical pieces.
Above all, there's a strong sense that the amplifier isn't messing around too much with the signal. Listen to it before you buy anything else.