Harman Kardon Citation II

Before completing the Citation V, I got an itch to check out a Citation II. I really had no need for another tube amp, but I wanted a "brother & sister" pair of Citations with cages just for sake of completeness. This impulsive decision cost way more than I intended to spend...

The Citation II is, by all accounts, one of "THE" tube amps to have - right up there with the McIntosh MC275 and often seen mentioned in the same sentence. The potted, Freed-wound output transformers are legendary, and are known to be some of the best ever made. Bruce Moore of MFA used Citation II OPTs for his own designs, and many others have used these transformers for their DIY projects. As far as I know, these OPTs are good for 100W across the audio frequency range.

The Citation II was Harman Kardon's statement amplifier (kit) boasting some fantastic specifications including 30dB of feedback in three nested loops with unconditional stability. This was quite an engineering feat that has never been repeated on any other amplifier. The II, as per today's trend of low feedback, SET and triode operation, shouldn't sound as good as it does because of the input and driver pentodes (12BY7), 30dB of NFB, and push-pull pentode output (6550, KT88, KT90), but I'm here to tell you that this amp will embarass many < $5000 new designs. The collector value of the Citation II is not as extraordinarily high as the MC275, but if the collectors from the other side of the world find out, then the used prices will most assuredly start climbing.

This particular Citation II came from the state of Washington and was found on ebay. It was stored in a garage since 1992 complete with Tung Sol 6550 triple getters, and Harman Kardon labeled RCA 12BY7s. The amp looked as though there might have been some biasing issues before storage, so it was not plugged in until a McShane Level II supply was installed and the output tube sockets were replaced. Some parts of the amp were rusty and there were quite a few scratches on the transformers, but otherwise this appeared to be a well built Citation that needed a little TLC before use.

I first used only part of the McShane PS leaving out the extra bias cap and level resistors. I installed a new quartet of SED 6550C, but a small "oops" on my part destroyed the screen of one of the tubes and a screen resistor as well. For the first couple of weeks I broke in the PS with the output wired in triode mode and ran one channel with the SEDs, and the other channel with a pair of GE 6550As. It was easy to not pay attention to the sound as it was unbalanced between channels. Once the new SED arrived, the amp was rebiased with the matching quartet and put back into pentode mode.

What can I say? This amp completely blew me away - clean, accurate, detailed, resolved, smooth, full range, authoritive, effortless, and balanced sound. I simply was not expecting to have it all, but there it was. There was nothing in the sound to indicate that this was a tube amp, nor were there any solid state characteristics - it just sounded like a great amp with no tell-tale "verbs" in the way of the music. The capacitor kits that I ordered were not installed for almost 2 months because I could not bring myself to remove the amp from the system. Even my wife made an unsolicited comment about how she heard things that she never heard before...and from another room!

I think this amp is a keeper!

07/29/05 - Breaking in cap kits & KT90 Type I - stay tuned!

10/10/05 - The unfortunate thing about the break-in process, is that it drives me nuts! One would think I'd be used to it by now, but the sound of caps breaking in is not unlike fingernails on a chalkboard to my sensibilities. Thinking I was clever, I asked a friend to continue breaking in the Citation while I was on vacation. Two days later, I get a call from him - he's cussing me for tempting him so. Apparently he had a few moments of revelation while listening to the amp. He just had to have it....and now he does! While I initially thought that this amp was a keeper, it was really just an extraneous thing that was occupying much time, effort, and money. This amp sounded fantabulous on the downstairs system, but did not have the huevos to properly drive the upstairs speakers. I was (and continue to be) happy with the Citation V, so the Citation II had to go.

Recently, my buddy purchased a Blue Circle BP-3 preamp - his system is truly magical now!




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