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The Quad 34 is a preamplifier, also known as a control unit. It doesn't actually do much amplifying, as that is done by the power amp.
The 34 first appeared in 1981, and matches the 405 power amp and FM4 tuner. It was the second preamp in the Quad series '4', the other being the larger 44. The 34 has fewer interchangeable modules than the 44. With the 44, all of the inputs at the rear (for radio, aux, disc etc) were replaceable. With the 34, only the disc (turntable) input is swappable. This is so that different turntable cartridges (mm, mc) can be accomodated. It may be confusing to call the turntable input 'disc', but this was before the appearance of CDs.
The 34 was later updated with a CD input and an altered circuitry, but this review is for the original early 1980s 34.
Although DIN inputs are common on vintage hifi, by the 1980s, most products had changed to the more common phono (rca) type inputs. However at this time Quad were still using DIN inputs. They are more convenient in some ways, as a single 5 pin din does the job of up to 4 phono plugs. Nowadays Quad no longer uses DIN sockets, although some brands still do (eg NAIM).
At the time the Quad 34/405/FM4 combination was one of the best hifis available, and it is still highly regarded today. It can be bought relatively cheaply second hand. The modern equivalent will cost you around £3000.
The first thing to note is the size. At 32cm (width) by 20cm (depth) it is very compact. Most hifi seperates are a lot bigger than this, and it is especially nice to be able to have a top quality system which takes up a relatively small amount of space.
The 34 has inputs for TAPE AUX RADIO and DISC. Disc means turntable. As stated above, the disc input is interchangeable and different disc modules are still available today to match any cartridge. One of the astonishing things about Quad is that they are often able to supply things even now, which have long been out of production. I have recently bought a wooden stand to house my 34/405/FM4 units, which were last produced in the mid 80s.
Quads service department is truely excellent. Equipment such as this will greatly benefit from a service, and for around £100 quad can service any of their products, dating back to the 1950s. To buy the 34 second hand will be around £150. So a total cost might be £250 including a service. This may sound a lot. The latest Quad preamp is £750.
Generally speaking Quad hifi has very few bells and whistles. It's usually a plug and play thing. One thing you will have on the 34 is the 'bass lift/step' control, and the 'tilt' control. As opposed to a bass and treble switch. To explain this as best I can, the tilt control 'produces a very gradual change in balance across the musical spectrum without changing the overall subjective level' (to quote from the manual). While the bass lift/step control will either lift the bass or drop the output level at particular frequencies, depending on which way it is turned.
There are also filter controls, primarily for vinyl, which help to filter out distortions from some (particularly older) vinyl LPs.
There are some notable problems with the original 34, largely due to it's age. The AUX input is not really suitable for a CD player. The way around this is either to use an attenuated cable, or use the tape input for the CD player. A CD player has a high output. Luckily the tape socket is set at the correct input level (300mV), whereas the AUX input (100mV) will be overloaded and the volume will consequently be too high. An attentuated cable has resistors soldered in to reduce the output from a CD player.
Although it may be becoming more common now, for some years amplifiers have dispensed with phono (turntable) inputs, meaning that a seperate phono amplifier is needed. If you play the occasional LP, it is far more convenient to have a phono input built in to the amp, which this amplifier does of course have.
In terms of sound quality, this amp may sound rather dated to some. But it's quality is obvious even today, and you will not be able to buy better for the same money. The Quad sound is a very distinctive one. Quite flat and not at all overstated. It's the "closest approach to the original sound". And the build quality is second to none. If you can't afford £750 for a new one, and want something that will stand the test of time, and won't ever need to be thrown away, then this amplifier is certainly worth a second look.