Tube Power Amp Reviews

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Dick Olsher  |  Nov 10, 2017  |  First Published: Nov 01, 1993  |  10 comments
Ron Cox, Zen master and good friend from Zuni, New Mexico, gingerly navigated the crowded streets of Amp City—the essentially all-tube amp collection sprawled on my listening-room floor between the speakers. Ron had no trouble spotting the four chrome-and-black chassis of the JA 200s. He pointed a tentative finger: "Are those the Jedi?"
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Nov 02, 2017  |  15 comments
Prelude
The setting of the Prelude to our opera, The Margules Saga, is the California Audio Show, in August 2012. There, on first hearing Margules Audio's tube electronics, I wrote in my notebook, "great inner vitality, warm but with a welcome and appropriate bite." An encounter the following January inspired me to write, of a system that included an earlier version of the company's U280 amplifier, "The sound? Beautiful and warm. I've heard these electronics at two shows, and each time, I've left the room feeling good."
Herb Reichert  |  Sep 26, 2017  |  11 comments
I have always been fascinated by audio power amplifiers. I even tried building about a hundred of them. My best friend in high school, Bill Brier, taught me the basics of soldering, wire management, and reading schematics. He loaned me his Dynaco Stereo 70, and gave me a hot-running, 20W, class-A transistor amp that he'd built on his mother's kitchen table. Bill took me to concerts, and taught me about classical and jazz music. He had perfect pitch, tuned pianos for money, played every instrument in the orchestra, and had memorized the complete keyboard works of J.S. Bach before he turned 16. And this stuff was all on the side—mainly, we built drag race cars together.
J. Gordon Holt  |  Aug 01, 2017  |  First Published: Feb 01, 1991  |  0 comments
Manley is not a new company; it's the last name of the president and chief designer of VTL, David Manley, whose Model 300 has been my reference standard power amp for the past two years. In fact, Manley is not even a new brand name; it's the name of VTL's "deluxe" line of electronics, built (ostensibly) to industrial standards of ruggedness and reliability.

It's customary to think of "the tube sound" as being warm, rich, weak through the deep bass, fat through the midbass, forward through the midrange, bright through the middle highs, and soft at the extreme top, with superb rendition of depth and spaciousness. The "solid-state sound," by contrast, is generally thought to be cool, detailed, and pristine, with powerful deep bass, controlled midbass, rather reticent (laid-back) midrange and mid-highs, and a somewhat crisp high end, with variable (roulette-style) reproduction of depth and spatiality.

Herb Reichert  |  Nov 02, 2016  |  6 comments
Let us pretend . . . you have a pair of loudspeakers that have proven themselves to sound articulate and musically responsive in your room, without excess boom, bloom, or frail leanness. They mate with your décor and impress your friends. But maybe you're bored, and feel certain that your speakers would sound better with a better amplifier than the one you have now. Maybe you feel an urge to spend money? Perhaps a new amp will make your records sound the way you imagine they should sound?

I have had these thoughts many times.

John Atkinson  |  Apr 22, 2016  |  5 comments
Driving the Model Sevens at the 2014 CES were Vandersteen's then-new M7-HPA monoblocks, which provide a high-pass–filtered output (above 100Hz) to the upper-frequency drive-units of the Model Seven. At the time, I made a note to myself that I would like one day to try these amplifiers with the Sevens in my own room. That opportunity came later rather than sooner, after Vandersteen had updated the Model Seven to Mk.II status.
Art Dudley  |  Apr 03, 2015  |  1 comments
I was weak and easily led.

In 1978, after enduring four or five years of wretched music made by men with long hair and beards and tendencies toward eonic guitar solos, I suddenly discovered that the only music worth hearing was made by clean-shaven men of limited musical proficiency. I embraced the Clash, the Pistols, the New York Dolls, the Ramones, and the Buzzcocks. I cut my hair and gave away some of my old records. I even threw out my copy of Jethro Tull's A Passion Play—which, now that I think about it, wasn't that bad an idea.

Then I woke up and remembered: I'd left the baby in the bathwater.

Art Dudley  |  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  |  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  |  Aug 13, 2014  |  First 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  |  Jul 01, 2014  |  4 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  |  May 02, 2014  |  2 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  |  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  |  Jan 30, 2014  |  First 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  |  Jan 28, 2014  |  First 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.

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