Line Magnetic Audio LM-518IA integrated amplifier Page 2

But until I began the more serious critical listening required for this review, I never realized how classically well balanced the LM-518IA's sound actually is. I knew it sounded elegant, colorful, and exciting, but I hadn't known how capable it was of opening doors on hitherto hidden inner spaces of my music.

With the Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a
The Line Magnetic LM-518IA mated especially well with the Falcon LS3/5a that I reviewed in August. The amp's 16-ohm taps loved the 15-ohm Falcons, and the Falcons really let those 845 tubes strut their stuff: The bright emitters wrung every last drop of midrange color and bass texture from these classic minimonitors. The Falcons are masters at showing me what an amplifier—or recording—really sounds like, and the LM-518IA didn't escape their scrutiny.

The LM-Falcon combo not only played records with astonishing color and limitless inner detail, it let me peek inside the tubes and access the vital energy of the 845s: a free-flowing energy that resuscitates lines of notes and can take recordings of baroque and renaissance music—madrigals, harpsichord music, choral music—to goose-bump levels. And solo acoustic pianos had rock-solid spatial presence. I experienced an almost primal connectedness to the whole SET experience—something I hadn't felt in more than 12 years. The one noticeable downside of this revealing amp-speaker combo was that the LM-518IA clearly emphasized the Falcons' rising top end.

With the KEF LS50
With my reference KEF LS50 speakers, the LM-518IA let Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions, on their Through the Devil Softly (CD, Nettwerk 0 6700 30848 2), sing and play their way into my lustful artistic dreams. Having set the volume to late-night levels, I listened to the reverie-inducing "For the Rest of Your Life" and was reminded what a sucker I am for this former Mazzy Star artist and her own warm inventions: art meets ennui. Usually, the sound of the KEF LS50s has a damped, almost metallic thickness or membrane-like quality, a hesitance or squeezed-hose restriction of musical flow, that very slightly constricts the dynamic range. It's almost imperceptible, but mediocre amps can't penetrate or eradicate it. The LM-518IA's aforementioned vital energy seemed to unhesitatingly penetrate this constraint: This amp-speaker partnership was a free-flowing, satisfying, highly recommendable combination.

With the GoldenEar Technology Triton Five
The Triton Five speakers (review in the works) were voiced by GoldenEar Technology's founder, Sandy Gross, who used as his reference Line Magnetic's much bigger (but technically and sonically very similar) LM-219IA integrated. Therefore, I figured the LM-518IA might drive the Triton Fives with some aplomb.

I was right! While playing Kate & Anna McGarrigle's Dancer with Bruised Knees (1977 LP, Warner Bros. BS 3014), the LM-518IA sprinted down the music's halls, excitedly opening one hidden door after another. It did especially well with the swaying, syncopated "Be My Baby," featuring Anna on vocals and piano and John Cale on marimba. Everything felt natural and human-scaled. The song's structure, as well as that McGarrigle primal feminine charm, jumped right out at me. And the LM-518IA showed me an appealing organic softness. The complex tones of the Hammond B4 organ, highly textured and fully revealed, filled my room. I experienced heaps of new admiration for the McGarrigles and their songwriting, and for producer Joe Boyd.

Incidentally, the Triton Five uses the company's own fundamentally smooth and transparent air-motion transformer tweeter—referred to by GoldenEar as a high-velocity folded ribbon—which seemed to mate especially well with the LM-518IA's natural incandescence. Stay tuned for more about this interesting amp-speaker combo, when I finish reviewing the Tritons.

With the DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93
This is where it all began. Before there was Herb at Stereophile, there was Herb listening like a keen-eared dog to the DeVore apes singing by the light of the bright emitters. This combination did virtually everything I need a system to do: tuneful, clean, big-magnet, organic, paper-cone bass; rich, present, colorful, real-human-being–sounding voices; and instruments with consistently right-on timbres. The DeVore O/93s are chameleon-like speakers that have helped me discover that class-D, class-A, solid-state, push-pull, pentode, single-ended triode—all can be perfect paths to musical pleasure. The pairing of Orangutans and LM-518IA blazed one of those perfect paths.

Most high-end audio components can be easily divided into categories of Good, Better, and Best. But there is a difficult group of audio things that fall into a different category, somewhere between Better and Best: the Really Good. And sometimes, a Really Good component can be better than the Best—when it matches up with your tastes.

The Line Magnetic LM-518IA is that sort of product. I'd been using it almost mindlessly as my reference integrated simply because it was here and it always sounded better than whatever I was reviewing. But now, under full review-level scrutiny, I at last recognized the LM-518IA's complete array of virtues. It is musically alive and vigorous. It moves forward like a caffeinated child chasing a scared cat. It is strong. It has easily driven every speaker I have tried with it. It plays music with rare charm and sensitivity. Its beguiling light illuminates one of the most detailed soundstages I have ever heard as a reviewer. It is reliable: I have used and abused this 77-lb machine for more than a year and, more than any other amp I have reviewed, it seems indestructible. Most important, the LM-518IA plays like an amp costing many times $4450.

And, one dreamy, candlelit night . . . I did see a wizard with a wand and pointy hat!

Line Magnetic Audio Co. Ltd.
US distributor: Tone Imports

RobertSlavin's picture

This amplifier may sound very good but, personally, I wouldn't want glass tubes whose contents were 3140 degrees fahrenheit in my living room. It sounds too dangerous to me, setting aside how much heat they would generate.

Even if the amplifier had tube cages (it would have been nice to have seen them in this review), I suspect the cages themselves may get so hot to be dangerous to the touch.


John Atkinson's picture
RobertSlavin wrote:
This amplifier may sound very good but, personally, I wouldn't want glass tubes whose contents were 3140 degrees fahrenheit in my living room.

When I tested the amplifier, it was sitting on my test bench just 2 feet away from me. I got a tan!

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I thought you would be 'glowing' :-) ........

SET Man's picture


Beside making a nice space heater in winter and turn your room in to sauna in summer! A pair of 845 tubes are also make a great night light! Very pretty brightly warm glow.

On a serious note, I like 845 tubes. A well designed and executed one can sound amazing with power to drive more than horn speakers.

Metalhead's picture

I heard this at pitchperfect in LA with Devore speakers. Unlike Herb I have a small speaker=small sound bias. I fell in love with big horns and stats decades ago. Having said that it was a fantastic combo and I was certainly impressed with the demo. Enough so that I am going to to try to get chair time in front of it again and perhaps spring for it.

Heat is welcome here in Alaska so no worries on that front.

Wonderful review that captures what this integrated can do.

lo fi's picture

What a beautiful amp.

iosiP's picture

I currently read most ampilfier reviews in Stereophile (well, less the digital stuff) and most of the time I give more attention to JA's measurements. Now I've read many conclusions like (quoting from memory) "This amplifier behaves quite well for a low-powered SET design", "Yes, as it's a single-ended-triode design, its bent transfer function leads to a nonlinear signature dominated by second-harmonic distortion. And it's noisier than I like to see. But for such a design, it offers high power." and other similar qualifications.
Now do I have to remind you the underpowered Audio Note Jinro or the similarly grossly underpower Wavac SH-833?

So here comes my question: why would I opt for a tubed amplifier that sounds good "for it's class", i.e. with qualifications (or even does not deliver a shade of what it promises), generates heat, is a danger for kids and pets and uses... well, consumable output devices when the same amount of money can get me a decent - even class A - SS amp that would reproduce faitfully the signal that is fed in?

Milesian's picture

Having run the LM518-IA for close to a year in a house with three cats a dog and occasional grandchildren, I can attest that no creatures were harmed during the playing of my music. Nor was my listening room overbearingly hot during the sweltering Ontario Summer. Come on folks get serious, you do realize you can turn it off when you're not listening right? I'm more afraid of the electric stove and light bulbs in my house.

Marc210's picture

In the past, I've listened extensively to two tube amps, ARC Classic 30 and Yves Cochet ALP2, and many others briefly.
And it's no surprise I prefer ss even as pre and of course digital to analog.

james's picture

but the filaments get to 3140°F, not the glass itself. I could be wrong. I have one of these and it puts out some heat, but I don't feel it until I'm flipping a record.

I agree with Herb's review of this amp. It is fantastic

doak's picture


jmsent's picture

depends on the current in the filament. In this case about 3.25 amps. That's the same as a pair of KT 88's so the overall heat output of a push pull amp using those tubes would be about the same. The worst burn I've ever gotten from a tube was when I inadvertently grabbed onto a 6CW4 nuvistor in a tv tuner. Those tubes may be tiny, but they get hot as blazes because there's no surface area for heat dissipation.. At least the 845 has a huge glass envelope and has a filament with a large surface area.

james's picture

Hey, Line Magnetic...please make a phono stage to match the 518 and the gold series DAC!

MusicT's picture

Been running one of these for 18 months. I've not found the heat to be any issue at all - wondering if the reviewers are making good humor at the expense of accuracy. (i.e. I'm got a tan. ??) It does get warm but even in a small room, I've not found it bothersome.

Wonderful amp indeed. I picked this over PrimaLuna which I see you have rated as Class A in your annual roundup.

Patrick Raffin's picture

would you recommand an adress un Europe, in China, in America ?

piebia's picture

Dear All
I know that the new 508 has been released. did you have listened it?
How abaout the comparison with the 518 one matching with devore gibbon 3xl.

Thank you