How important is the use of balanced circuit typology in the design of preamplifiers and power amplifiers? Ask the top audio designers (I didn't, but just play along, okay?) and you'll get a wide variety of opinions. Some reject the balanced approach outright, arguing that it represents a needless duplication of circuit components, and that better results can be achieved if the same attention and resources are devoted to perfecting a single-ended circuit. In his provocatively titled article "Balance: Benefit or Bluff?" (Stereophile, November 1994, p.77), Martin Colloms questioned the advantages of balanced designs, suggesting that while the results may be better in certain respects (eg, noise level), the reproduced sound may suffer in other, perhaps more important ways (eg, rhythm and dynamics).
Not only does the venerable vacuum tube refuse to lie down and die, as everyone predicted when audio went solid-state; it continues to deliver better performance than anyone had imagined it could. Only a few years ago, we could characterize "the tube sound" as being sweet but soft at the high end, rich but loose in the midbass, deficient in deep bass, and bright and forward, usually with excellent reproduction of depth. Since then, we've seen the introduction of what might almost be called a new generation of tube amplifiers, which rival solid-state units in those areas where tubes used to have weaknesses, but have given up little of the tube's sonic strengths.
I love being seduced. I'm shocked to learn that not everyone does. The very qualities in live music that excite and intoxicate me are denigrated by many audiophiles as "colorations." It would seem they prefer the lean, chilly sound that they've dubbed "accurate." While I concede that almost all of their preferred audio components have ever-more-extended high frequencies, I'm not certain that that's the same thing as having greater accuracy. It sounds to me—to use Stravinsky's description of electronic music—"spayed for overtone removal." The overtones that I miss are those stripped from the middle ranges—the ones the clinical crowd (footnote 1) disparagingly refers to as the "warmth" region.
"The only tubes that I want to see in my household are...the picture tube in my TV and the magnetron in the microwave oven," a Glendale, CA, reader recently wrote, and I guess his feelings reflect those of many when confronted by a supposedly "obsolete" audio technology. Forty years after the invention of the transistor and 20 after the widespread introduction of solid-state amplifiers (footnote 1), it must come as a shock to readers of the mass-market "slicks" that not only do a number of American manufacturers manufacture amplifiers and preamplifiers using tubes, but some of those companies—Counterpoint and Audio Research in particular—are among the more successful. It is the Classic 60 power amplifier from Minnesota-based Audio Research that is the subject of this month's lead-off equipment review.
It was back in the mid-'70s that David Berning made a name for himself in the Baltimore-Washington area as an avant-garde designer—someone with a truckload of fresh ideas about tubes. At the time, though Audio Research was starting to crank out pretty decent amplifiers, tube design was pretty much reduced to a rehash of the Williamson circuit and the Dynaco mod of the month.
The D-250 is the flagship of Audio Research's power amplifier range and, at 250 watts per channel, is the most powerful all-tube stereo amplifier currently available in the US. Under the circumstances, then, it is not surprising that it should also be one of the heaviest and largest.
Lee de Forest filed for a US patent on his "Audion"—the first triode—on October 25, 1906, but never could explain why it worked (footnote 1). It was up to Armstrong and Langmuir, in their pioneering work, to place the hard-vacuum triode on firm scientific ground. When the US entered World War I in April 1917, the Army had to rely on French tubes. Six months later, Western Electric was mass-producing the VT-1 receiving tube and the VT-2 transmitting tube. However, it was only in the decade following World War I, as designers became conversant with the triode amplifier, that many of the crucial elements of tube amplification were nailed down. Technical issues such as coupling two gain stages and selection of optimal coupling impedance were already resolved by the mid-1920s. The triode ruled supreme until the tetrode came along in 1926, followed in 1929 by the pentode from Philips's research laboratories in Holland.