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.
Many audiophiles who have only recently subscribed to Stereophile will be surprised to find that those clunky, heat-producing, short-lived tubes that reigned up through the mid-'60s are still Executive Monarchs in the mid-'80s. Why, for Heaven's sake? Because, despite everything, people like them.
It says something for the state of technology that, after a quarter of a century, there still is no authoritative explanation for why so many high-end audiophiles prefer tubes. Tubes not only refuse to die, they seem to be coming back. The number of US and British firms making high-end tube equipment is growing steadily, and an increasing number of comparatively low-priced units are becoming available. There is a large market in renovated or used tube equipmentI must confess to owning a converted McIntosh MR-71 tunerand there are even some indications that tube manufacturers are improving their reliability, although getting good tubes remains a problem.
Conrad-Johnson is one of audio's "marquee" companies, and charges accordingly. The Premier Twelve tube monoblock power amplifier, rated at 140W, sells for a rather steep $3495 each, meaning that unless you listen in mono, be prepared to lay out almost $7000 just for the amplification link in your audio chain. Apparently, many audiophiles feel the money is well spent: according to Conrad-Johnson, the Twelve has been a consistently strong seller during its approximately five-year production history.
I dig tube amps. When all's said and done, good tube amps seem to sound more like real life than most solid-state gear; even after listening to and enjoying the hell out of musical solid-state designs like the Audio Research D-240 II and the Muse Model One Hundred, once I hook up the big VTL Deluxe 225s again it's just like going home. I could go on about timbral accuracy and clearer midrange textures, but the bottom line is, music just plain sounds better when you shoot it through good tubes, and once most people experience that magic, they're hooked.
Most of us have at least some taste for gear that jumps out—for audio components whose sonic and musical distinctions are easy to hear from the start. In audio, unlike in the art of music itself, there's nothing wrong with being obvious.
When I first laid eyes on the Paravicini M100A monoblock power amplifiers at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2001, an audiophile in the room squinted at my badge and cried out, "Hey, J-10, these amps have your name written all over 'em!"
I'm always eager to fulfill my prime Stereophile directive: "To go where no audiophile has gone before," as JA often quips. As it happens, I've long suffered an itch to audition OTL (output-transformer–less) amplifiers, wondering how eliminating the output transformer might affect the sound. Enter the Graaf GM 200, with nothing but wire between its power tubes and the crossover.
Not since Sonus Faber's Amati Homage loudspeakers took up residence in my listening room has a piece of audio gear elicited so many "Oohs," "Aahs," and "Wows" from friends as Hovland Company's dramatic-looking, EL34-driven Sapphire power amplifier—especially when it was switched on and glowing orange and blue. It drew unsolicited attention and admiration even when turned off. Not that, on or off, its unusual looks didn't also have their share of detractors. As with Hovland's chrome-façaded, blue-backlit HP-100 preamplifier, some found the Sapphire too shiny, too gaudy, and generally just too much. Me, I'm thumbs-up on the Sapphire's looks—I found myself staring at it incessantly. But anything that draws such intensity of response, whether love or hate, must be doing something right. B&O shouldn't have a monopoly on striking-looking audio gear.
Remarkably, I set out to audition the Hyperion HT-88 amplifier ($2800/pair) over two years ago, only to be confounded by shipping errors, miscommunications, and, in the end, a stealthily defective tube. I almost gave up.
Owning a powerful tube amplifier is like owning a classic automobile. Great pleasure may be had, but ownership involves a little more care and maintenance than usual.
Jadis, an audiophile company specializing in all-tube amplifiers and operating out of a small French town, has enjoyed a good reputation for some years, even if some of its models have suffered from the reliability problems that occasionally afflict the largest tube amps. Another problem area is that of power consumption and heat output. In common with class-A amplifiers and high-bias A/B types, including solid-state models, larger tube amps give off substantial heat. The Defy-7's 240W idling consumption may or may not be welcome, according to your location and the season.
I've never written a love story before, but then, there's always a first time. This romance concerns the stunningly anthropomorhic Jadis Eurythmie II (mostly) horn speakers and the petite, jewel-like and vivacious Jadis SE300B ampsa 10W single-ended triode design with paralleled output tubes.
Kathleen and I, having flung ourselves into single-ended's embrace, have become, to some fashion, quite experienced. I've described the purity of presentation available with the Wavelength Audio Cardinal XS monoblocks when coupled with the Swiss-made Reference 3A Royal Master Controls in these pages (January '96). Using the Eurythmie speakers, which supplanted the 3As in our system, we've listened to Gordon Rankin's Wavelength Cardinal XS monos, the Kondo-san Audio Note Kasai parallel 300B stereo amplifier (next SE review to come), the ebullient and eager-to-please Cary 301SE 300B stereo unit, and the Jadis single-ended triodes, as well as our reference Jadis JA200s (yes, Jadis also does push-pull).
Based in the Czech Republic, KR Enterprise is headed by an occasionally gruff Dr. Riccardo Kron and his American-born wife, Eunice, who operate the company out of a partially abandoned factory that was once part of the state-owned Tesla High Vacuum Technology facility in Prague. The Swiss-funded company is unique in that it manufactures both amplifiers and the tubes that power them. KR's tubes have found favor with other amplifier makers as wellespecially the 300BXS, electrically identical to a standard 300B but rated at 25W in class-A.