Octave Audio V 40 SE integrated amplifier Page 2

My review sample benefited from generous run-in time; moreover, during every listening session, the V 40 SE sounded notably richer and more natural after 15 minutes or so of playing time. One day, immediately after powering up the Octave, I put on a fine LP reissue of selections from the first two suites from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, performed by Dimitri Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic (Columbia Masterworks/Speakers Corner MS 6023); it wasn't until the fourth excerpt, Masks, that strings began to have a really good sense of touch. Consequently, I went back to the first selection, the well-known The Montagues and Capulets, and heard strong gains in the amount of presence and tone in the celeste and solo saxophone, both of which now sounded tactile and, again, vivid.

Coincidentally, the V 40 SE was especially well suited to the next record I tried: a 1978 recording, by Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, of Brahms's A German Requiem (LP, London OSA 12114). While lacking the sense of mystery for which recordings of this work by Furtwängler and Lehmann are noted, Solti draws from the players and singers exquisite tone and very precise phrasing, both of which the Octave amp succeeded in getting across. The amp was also notable for remaining poised—and big—in the forte passages at the end of "Selig sind. die da Leid tragen" and the recurring fortissimo passages in "Denn alles fleisch, es ist wie Gras."


The Octave's ability to accurately portray—or at least not distort—musical timing and momentum was superb. Naim-caliber superb, in fact. I sampled my mono copy of Eric Weissberg and Marshall Brickman's New Dimensions in Banjo & Bluegrass (LP, Elektra EKL-238); the opening bars of "No Title Yet Blues" had me nodding and moving along with Weissberg's driving, Scruggs-ian banjo, and the wonderfully offbeat timing of Clarence White's crosspicked guitar came across as well as I've ever heard it. I heard the same sense of drive in Earl Scruggs's own "Dear Old Dixie," performed by Béla Fleck on his Crossing the Tracks (LP, Rounder 0121). But because the decidedly bright recording—unusually bright for Rounder Records—wasn't shown to its best advantage by the combination of Octave amp and vintage Altec Valencia loudspeakers, I switched over to my far less ruthless Orangutan O/96 speakers, from DeVore Fidelity.

With acoustic music of other sorts, the V 40 SE proved its mettle and its apparent lack of timbral colorations. In the title song of Jerry Garcia and David Grisman's Shady Grove (AIFF file ripped from CD, Acoustic Disc ACD 21), both the acoustic guitar and mandolin sounded "woody" and natural, and Garcia's voice was present and clear, displaying well both its distinctive character and its frailties at that point in his life. Gillian Welch's even better-recorded "That's the Way the Whole Thing Ends," from her The Harrow & the Harvest (AIFF file ripped from CD, Acony ACNY-1109), sounded just perfect in every regard—especially the limber, colorful tone of David Rawlings's weird old Epiphone Olympic archtop guitar. The natural impact and force of note attacks were acceptably good, but not at the level of quality exhibited by the best tube electronics of my experience.

Yet the Octave's lack of coloration did not, as so often happens, bring with it an absence of texture or timbral richness, both of which qualities I heard in good measure while playing the absolute finest-sounding CD in my collection: the 1998 recording, by Marianne Rônez and Affetti Musicali, of Heinrich Biber's Mystery Sonatas (Winter & Winter 910 029-2). I could say the same thing about the more accessible, not to mention popular, music on the Electric Light Orchestra's eponymous debut album (LP, Harvest SHVL 797), where everything from the electric guitar that begins the record to the low C in the stacked cellos at its close was sumptuous and rich and very engaging.

I love Gordon Jenkins's wonderfully over-the-top arrangements for Frank Sinatra's September of My Years (LP, Reprise FS 1014), especially the big plunk in the strings that heralds the rest between the intro and the body of "September Song." The V 40 SE got that pretty well—well enough for a satisfying experience—but not as well, and not with the same electrically intense attack, as my Shindo separates. Similarly, the German amp did a fine job of communicating the sense of force in Bob Cranshaw's bass playing in "Yesterdays," from Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins' Sonny Meets Hawk! (LP, RCA Living Stereo LSP-2712), but it missed the very last word in physicality.

I've referred already to the Octave's very good sense of scale—and I noted, while enjoying the stereo selections described above, that it presented those recordings with stage depth and image specificity in abundance. Mono LPs—including Dizzie Gillespie's New Jazz Sounds (LP, Verve/Clef MGV-8135), The Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson (LP, Verve MGV-8351), a nice-sounding late Prestige copy of Sonny Rollins's Tenor Madness (LP, Prestige 7047), and that mono copy of New Dimensions in Banjo and Bluegrass—were enjoyable through the V 40 SE, but the Shindo separates and others of my experience, all of them on the expensive side of the ledger, made even more of the mono experience. I do enjoy electronics that can express all of the sonic flesh and blood that's hidden in the grooves of so many mono LPs, especially those from Verve; the Octave, while good in most other respects, didn't have quite enough color and chunk to run with the best.


The V 40 SE had exceptionally good bass power and grip, as it exhibited with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony's 1962 recording of Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra (CD, JVC JMCXR-0011): a clichéd example, but nonetheless a good one. The Octave also did a magnificent job with the lowest of low-bass pedal notes in a recording, by Torvald Torén, of Franck's Grande Piäce Symphonique (LP, Lyricon LRC 2-5)—and it impressed me with its ability to untangle and follow the dense melodies and sometimes jarring harmonies throughout that work. (Music for plaiting daisies on a summer afternoon it is not.)

The Black Box
Before my time with the V 40 SE came to a close, I had a chance to try Octave's Black Box power-supply upgrade, installation of which took little more than a minute. Octave suggests that the Black Box, which increases the V 40 SE's power-supply storage capacitance fourfold, reduces the impedance interaction of the loudspeaker load, making speaker's efficiency less critical. While I can't speak to the technology behind that claim, I can say the Black Box made a distinct improvement in the sound—and while the Black Boxed V 40 SE played no louder for a given volume setting, it did exhibit qualities that I associate with an increase in loudspeaker drivability: The amp's already good sense of scale got even better, and the sound of stereo recordings took up an even wider portion of my listening room. There was also a much greater sense of touch—the percussive guitar chop following the words "the river may be . . ." in "Hymn 43," from the nicely recorded Graham Nash/David Crosby (LP, Atlantic/Classic SD 7220), went from noticeable to startling—and textures became more distinct and more deeply drawn, whether it was the distinctive growl of the P90 pickup in Neil Young's "Old Black," or the thrum of Jacqueline du Pré's cello, the Davidov Strad.

In use and sound alike, I came to regard Octave Audio's V 40 SE as a tube amp for people who don't like tube amps, in the same sense that an appletini is an alcoholic beverage for people who don't like alcohol, and Blondie is a punk-rock band for people who don't like punk rock. It's instantly enjoyable. It's enduringly enjoyable. And it's safe. The V 40 SE doesn't deliver quite as much tube magic as its most expensive, most exotic competitors, but it did deliver hour after trouble-free hour of tactile, colorful, and very involving musical performance.

The trouble with writing product reviews for a living is that, to do it well—to do it honestly—one must bring to the reader's attention those respects in which the product reviewed falls short of the ideal. That in itself is no crying matter, as long as the reviewer also puts the product reviewed into some sort of meaningful economic context. So it goes here: At $5300, the Octave V 40 SE is only 25% as expensive as the reference components I've compared it with. And while $5300 is not exactly pin money, there's no doubt in my mind that the V 40 SE represents good value, in the quality of its construction and its sound. Especially for those who want tube performance without tube hassle, the Octave V 40 SE Line can be recommended without hesitation. Damn it.

Octave Audio
US distributor: Dynaudio North America
1852 Elmdale Avenue
Glenview, IL 60026
(847) 730-3280

LS35A's picture

With two dollar plastic speaker connectors.

Check out the speaker connectors on the $999 Peachtree Nova65SE. WAY BETTER.

I owned a three thousand dollar amp with cheap plastic connectors once - they broke. Was not fun. No more buying expensive amps with cheap parts for me.

georgehifi's picture

It's only got 2 double triodes serving both chanels. A PP poweramp section needs an input tube and a driver.
This means there is nothing left over for an active preamp, therefore it must be a poweramp with a passive preamp and with input switching???

Please correct me if I'm wrong .
Cheers George

JoeinNC's picture

"I thought the V 40 SE sounded very slightly better without the cage..."

Dude. Really?

Audiofest's picture

Those 'cheap plastics' are the fine German made Mundorf connectors used by many top quality manufacturers.
Speaking from large experience with most brouhaha US Tube amplifiers, rest assured that the Octave build quality and quality control is beyond all USA brands except maybe Audio Research. Octave is 100% Made in Germany. No more Yankee stuff for me. Damn it.