Line Magnetic Audio LM-518IA integrated amplifier Tube Rolling

Sidebar 1: Tube Rolling

The most important thing you can do with a thermionic valve is to hold it in your hand and study it with your eyes. More than you might think, what you see is what you get. High-energy electrons are boiled off the heater or cathode, pass through the wire control grid, and collide forcefully with that big black, gray, or silver thing—the anode, or "plate"—that occupies most of the space inside the bottle. What that anode structure looks like is probably what your midrange will sound like—ie, if the anode looks smooth and big and richly textured, those same qualities are likely to apply to the sound of the midrange. Study the texture, shape, and color of any tube's anode, then use it play to some Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald: You might be surprised to discover the usefulness of this maxim!

For more than a year, I used the Line Magnetic LM-518IA with its stock, Chinese-made Shuguang tubes: They sounded first rate, never misbehaving or making me wish for better. Everything I've written in this review is based on my experience with the standard Shuguang tubes.

Then I told Jonathan Halpern of Tone Imports, which distributes LM products in the US, that I was writing this review. He urged me to at least try the LM-518IA with some new old stock (NOS) tubes. "You will be surprised," he swore. I asked him and several of my friends to loan me some 12AX7s and 6L6s; I already had a few cool 5AR4/GZ34 rectifiers. I was hoping to cop some RCA, G.E., Elrog, or Psvane 845s, but no luck so far—yet I did score some vintage smooth-plate Telefunken 12AX7s, and some vintage East German Siemens box-plate ECC8035/ECC83s.

The LM-518IA uses as input-voltage amplifiers a pair of 12AX7s, and changing from the stock Chinese versions of those tubes (which have a somewhat dull and flavorless character) to these vintage exotics made a significant, enjoyable, but not earth-shaking difference. The box-plate Siemens tubes jacked up the richness and color quotients, while the legendary smooth-plates made it sound as if someone had sent a team of maids to clean my apartment, fold my clothes, and set a vase full of fragrant flowers on every horizontal surface.

Switching from a Chinese 5AR4 rectifier tube to a Dutch Amperex Bugle Boy 5AR4/GZ34 made a change that was a bit subtler but perhaps even more rewarding. The Bugle Boy removed a previously unnoticed "electricalness" from the overall sound and replaced it with an unmistakable organic naturalness. (Note: Tube amps can be divided into two distinct types: those with tube rectification and those with solid-state diodes. The sounds of amps with tube rectifiers tend to be more natural and less mechanical, and to flow better, than those with solid-state rectifiers.)

Then I went crazy. I replaced the 6P3P driver tubes, first with a pair of metal-envelope G.E. 6L6s (a nice, slightly richer-sounding upgrade at very low cost) and, finally, with some expensive NOS Western Electric 350B beam power tubes. The WEs gave me the impression that the LM-518IA was capable of reaching even deeper into the music, yet there was also a reduction in that "May–June" bright-emitter lighting that I found so engaging. The WEs further enhanced musical textures and made the LM-518IA sound like a more luxurious and expensive audio product—but I still preferred the simpler, more lively neutrality of the G.E. and Shuguang tubes. My experiments in tube rolling were rewarding and fun. They also proved that Shuguang makes good tubes.—Herb Reichert

COMPANY INFO
Line Magnetic Audio Co. Ltd.
US distributor: Tone Imports
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
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.

Robert

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

SET Man's picture

Hey,

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 ?

Miyabi's picture

Hello! You can easily find Line Magnetic line up in Moscow, Russia.
Here the store, you can buy it: www.mvert.ru

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
Peter

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