Tube Power Amp Reviews

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Art Dudley Posted: Nov 12, 2014 13 comments
It's no secret, especially to those who've been following Stereophile for more than a short time: In the first half of 2007, I took the plunge and bought a Shindo preamplifier and monoblock amplifiers—handmade products characterized by low output power, generous numbers of vintage parts, steel casework finished in a signature shade of green, and richly textured, impactful sound with lots of sheer musical drive. And while we tend not to alert the major newspapers whenever someone on staff buys new electronics, the change was notable for two reasons: The compatibility of Shindo's amplifiers is limited to loudspeakers of higher-than-average sensitivity and impedance; and, throughout the seven years that followed my switch to Shindo (footnote 1) both my system and my point of view regarding domestic audio in general have evolved in the direction of the artisanal and the vintage.
Michael Fremer Posted: Oct 10, 2014 0 comments
Among the biggest buzzes at the January 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, and at Munich's High End Show the following May, was the sound in the room of Siltech BV, a Dutch company best known for its high-end cables. Siltech was demonstrating an innovative new power amplifier, and using it to drive the company's glass-cabineted Arabesque loudspeakers ($90,000/pair). The sound was unmistakably lush yet also remarkably linear, notably dynamic, and seemingly free of electronic artifacts. It sounded like the sound of "nothing"—which was really something!—and so much of a something that it caught the attention of many reviewers. But while there's often controversy and disagreement about a given product's sound quality, this time the enthusiasm seemed unanimous.
Corey Greenberg Posted: Aug 13, 2014 Published: Aug 01, 1991 0 comments
891vtl160.250.jpgWhen I reviewed VTL's 25W Tiny Triodes in April 1991, I found them to be incredibly fun little suckers to play with, but got frustrated with their inability to drive my Spica Angeluses to reasonable levels with most of my recordings. I loved what I was hearing, but there wasn't nearly enough of it! As it turns out, John Atkinson was listening; not just to my plea, but also to the new VTL Compact 160 monoblocks in preparation for a full review. However, while all this was going on, David Manley decided that the power-supply voltages in the 160 weren't beefy enough to exploit his new KT90 output tubes; back the amps went for a transformerectomy.
Art Dudley Posted: Jul 01, 2014 3 comments
It's going to happen very soon.—Leonard Cohen, "The Great Event"

With a parts list that includes 18 new-old-stock Black Cat capacitors, 16 vintage-style Cosmos potentiometers, two Tango chokes, one Tango power transformer, and some of the loveliest steel casework I've seen on a contemporary product, no one could accuse Noriyuki Miyajima of skimping on the build quality of his company's only power amplifier, the Miyajima Laboratory Model 2010 ($9995, footnote 1). Then again, because the 2010 is an output-transformerless (OTL) tube amplifier, Miyajima-san spent considerably less on iron than would otherwise be the case. Think of the money he saved!

Art Dudley Posted: May 02, 2014 1 comments
No one can say precisely how or when the ancient 300B triode tube made its cross-kingdom leap to the modern world of consumer audio, but we've got the where pretty much nailed down: It all began in Asia, where the best of the West is sometimes held in reverence rather than left to drown in consumerism's wake. Asia is the final resting place for the great Western Electric cinema systems of the 1940s—and that's where the 300B earned its un-American second act. By the mid-1990s, the tube had captured the hearts of hobbyists who, consciously or not, sensed that the audio refineries of the day had lost the plot, not to mention the body.
Michael Fremer Posted: May 02, 2014 0 comments
Big tube amplifiers were once scary monsters reserved for those who didn't mind heavy maintenance, careful tweaking, and the occasional explosion. Blown tubes required replacing, preferably with pricey matched pairs, then biasing with a voltmeter. Optimal sonic performance required regular bias monitoring and adjusting, and because of current surges on startup, you had to choose between leaving the heat-producing monoliths on, or turning them on and off for each listening session, thus shortening the life of the tubes.
Art Dudley Posted: Jan 30, 2014 Published: Feb 01, 2014 1 comments
The road to hell is paved with good inventions: clever ideas that appear, in hindsight, motivated more by a desire to sell clever ideas than to make musically superior products.

The DiaLogue tube amplifiers from PrimaLuna have, at their heart, a clever idea of their own: an output circuit that is user-switchable between triode operation, in which the screen grid of a tetrode or pentode power tube is defeated by means of connection to the tube's anode; and Ultralinear operation, in which the screen grid of a tetrode or pentode carries a portion of the AC music signal, supplied by a tap on the output-transformer primary, in a feedback-like effort to reduce distortion and increase power. Fans of the former often report a sweeter, more tubey sound, while fans of the latter report a tighter, more detailed, more timbrally neutral sound. Audio enthusiasts are given to reporting any number of things.

Art Dudley Posted: Jan 28, 2014 Published: Feb 01, 2014 17 comments
Domestic audio is based on two simple processes: transforming movement into electricity and electricity back into movement. Easy peasy.

Audio engineers have been doing those things for ages. Have they improved their craft to the same extent as the people who, over the same period of time, earned their livings making, say, automobiles and pharmaceuticals? I don't know. But if it were possible to spend an entire day driving a new car from 50 years ago, treating diabetes and erectile dysfunction with the treatments that were available 50 years ago, and listening to 50-year-old records on 50-year-old playback gear, the answer might seem more clear.

Art Dudley Posted: Dec 12, 2013 1 comments
"We put music in the souls of our amplifiers. Every amplifier, every tube, every transformer has music in its soul."

Not to be cynical, but I've heard, over the years, countless variations on that sentiment. Not to be naïve, but it rang with somewhat-greater-than-usual sincerity when given voice by 45-year-old Richard Wugang—founder, with his late father, of Virginia-based Sophia Electric, Inc.

Michael Fremer Posted: Sep 06, 2013 Published: Sep 01, 2013 12 comments
Even as the gulf narrows between the sounds of the best solid-state and the best tubed amplifiers, most listeners remain staunch members of one or the other camp. Similarly, when it comes to video displays, the plasma and liquid-crystal technologies each has its partisans, though that conflict's intensity is relatively mild, perhaps because video performance, unlike audio, is based on a mastering standard that establishes color temperature, gray-scale tracking, color points, and the like (I'm deeply in the plasma camp). But in audio, the "standard" is whatever monitoring loudspeaker and sonic balance the mastering engineer prefers, which makes somewhat questionable the pursuit of "sonic accuracy." Still, in a power amplifier, a relative lack of coloration is preferable to amps that Stereophile editor John Atkinson has characterized as "tone controls"—usually, if not exclusively, of the tubed variety.
Robert J. Reina Posted: May 07, 2013 2 comments
After I read Brian Damkroger's rave review of the Audio Research Corporation's Reference 5 SE line stage in the November 2012 Stereophile, I was excited about getting the review sample into my system so that I could do a Follow-Up (February 2013). However, the sample had already been returned to the factory, so I called ARC to see if it could be rerouted eastward to me. Chief Listener Warren Gehl answered the phone.

"Sure, you can listen to the Ref 5 SE, but I'd assumed you were calling about the Reference 75 amplifier."

"Reference 75? What's that?"

"It's our newest amplifier—a half-power version of the Reference 150."

Art Dudley Posted: Apr 05, 2013 1 comments
The challenge is biblical in character, if not in scope: A half year after railing, in these pages, against our industry's overabundance of products that cost more than $20,000, fate has given me such a thing to review.
Michael Fremer Posted: Mar 29, 2013 Published: Apr 01, 2013 6 comments
I knew nothing of Ypsilon when I first saw its products in a room at an overseas audio show. Even though the speakers in this system were complete unknowns, I was convinced that it was the electronics that were responsible for the magical balance of what I was hearing. That was confirmed when I reviewed the VPS-100 phono preamplifier in August 2009 and PST-100 Mk.II preamplifier in July 2011.
Dick Olsher Posted: Feb 19, 2013 Published: Dec 01, 1989 0 comments
666rm9amp.jpgDo you believe in beginner's luck? If so, some of your personality traits should be quite predictable. Let's see. You're very likely an optimist with a "bull-market" mentality, play the lottery, and, most important, bought a CD player within a year of its introduction, or a solid-state amp in the '60s. You're apt to mail in a profusion of bingo cards (you know, the kind Stereo Review is full of) and spend hours perusing specifications in the hope of finding a kernel of truth in all of that chaff. You'd particularly be appalled at that fellow I ran into the other day, who had bought an AR-1 in 1956 and waited another decade before buying another speaker—just to make sure stereo wasn't a fad. Hey, relax, I won't turn you in; the mere fact that you're reading Stereophile is sufficient reason for redemption.
Erick Lichte Posted: Jan 04, 2013 0 comments
Ever since I became a Stereophile contributing editor, people have asked me, "How do you determine what equipment you're going to review? Do you get to pick your own, or does John Atkinson tell you what to do?"

I've chosen roughly 85% of the components I've reviewed for Stereophile, those choices made on the bases of what I find interesting, and what I think readers would like to know about. It's as simple as that.

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