Octave Audio V 80 SE integrated amplifier Page 2

Once the sound of a reference audio system is known, any new kid on that block must meet the mature listener between his or her ears. Some listeners want their imaginations fired and set free by a sound system, some seek thrills, some ruthlessly pursue auditory and musical information, and others listen only for the facts. And everyone's audio heart beats at a different rate.

When a new product enters my reference rig, I listen for tone, dynamics, texture—and, to lesser degrees, resolution, soundstaging, and leading-edge definition. For me, replicating music is ultimately about color and shape and tone. Taken together, those elements fire my emotions more than does critical resolution or smack-down dynamics. I want to feel.

One of double bassist Dave Holland's finest offerings is Triplicate (LP, ECM 1373), a 1988 trio session with alto saxophonist Steve Coleman and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Holland is always in fine fiddle, as is the burly Coleman, but DeJohnette is a mercurial performer. I've seen him lay back and play time—and, alternately, shred the walls of a club with volcanic commentary. Holland's trio excels here in Duke Ellington's "Take the Coltrane," which sounds dark and weighted on the low end—precisely where the V 80 SE tended to excel. I'd never heard DeJohnette charge out of the gate on a recording as I heard him do, through the Octave, in this track, his drums smacking my senses with excellent depth, generous weight, and potent cymbal smashes. The Octave was very transparent to this LP, issuing a deep soundstage, with mighty bass extension from DeJohnette's bass drum and Holland's double bass. In his solos, Holland's knotty, chewy, fingers-on-strings funk was propulsive and to the fore, drawing me deeply into the music.


Red Garland's Red in Bluesville (LP, Prestige PRST-7157) features bassist Sam Jones and drummer Art Taylor in a buoyant, breezy, hard-bop outing. The Octave produced vivid sound from this disc, its swinging musicianship framed in a sunnily transparent soundscape. Garland's upper piano accents sprang from the mix, hard and clangy, while Taylor's brushwork, though concisely elucidated, sounded smaller than I've heard it in the past. But the Octave allowed the music to swing and swell; I was more caught up in the music than in examining it with an aural microscope.

It was while listening to Red in Bluesville that I first became aware of the Octave's depictions of piano, cymbals, and upper-register notes in general. While the V 80 SE unfailingly stormed the gates of dynamic extremes with liveliness, punch, and often profound bass extension, with some recordings, upper piano notes and cymbals could sound hard and peaky, as if the recording studio's VU meters were slamming into the red zone. Though this trait depended on the recording, it was consistent and repeatable. The peaks were grainless but noticeably hot.

Though Contemporary Records recording engineer Roy DuNann has never enjoyed the levels of recognition and respect won by Blue Note's Rudy Van Gelder, he was easily Van Gelder's equal: his Contemporary LPs sound consistently natural. The Poll Winners Ride Again! (LP, Contemporary S-7556) revels in jolly performances by guitarist Barney Kessel, bassist Ray Brown, and drummer Shelly Manne. This 1958 album confirmed the Octave's divergent traits, from Manne's wonderfully airy and resonant bass drum to his not-so-pretty, hard-edged ride cymbal and hi-hat. Kessel's smooth'n'clean guitar and Brown's double-bass solos drove mightily, with full-on thrust and exemplary definition.


Record after record, the Octave was absolutely surgical and resolving, yet always musical. LPs I know well, such as Hank Mobley's Soul Station (LP, Blue Note/Music Matters Ltd. MMBST-84031), revealed surprises via the Octave. Proud Jazz Messengers papa Art Blakey is at his explosive best on Soul Station, but much to my amazement, I clearly heard him dropping a stick in the opening seconds of "This I Dig of You"—a first for my ears, and something I credit to the Octave's precision. But the V 80 SE achieved such heights of resolution without ever sounding analytical. While I longed for more saturated tonality overall, the Octave attempted to compensate for that lack with outstanding bass extension and image depth coupled to surging energy and dynamics. Sounding unfailingly intimate, the V 80 SE remained slightly cool in the upper registers.

The ultimate test of a component's ability to reproduce velvet voices and gossamer sound is Ella Fitzgerald and Frank DeVol and His Orchestra's Like Someone in Love (LP, Verve MGV-4004). If I've given the impression that the V 80 SE lacked lushness when required, this LP proved me witless. The Octave made the best of Fitzgerald's rich voice and effortless singing, her every phrase creamy and smooth. This judgment was confirmed by a youngish lady I shall call Judy, who once worked at a local Greenwich Village high-end audio store and knows her Wilsons from her Dynaudios. "Ella sounds like buttah!" Judy exclaimed, as she slipped out of her heels into something more musically attentive.


The V 80 SE portrayed the Allman Brothers' Idlewild South faithfully, and Gregg Allman's vocal soulfully. It achieved this to a lesser degree with Kraftwerk's Tour de France (LP, EMI 591708-1), which I typically use as a dance-driven, demon-seed, bass-synth torture test. Oddly, the V 80 SE minimized this Krautrock album's low-end-thump warfare, making it sound more polite and cohesive. Perhaps other amplifiers have made of this record something it isn't, and the V 80 SE is the more truthful arbiter.

Super Black Box power supply
Loaded with 12 oversized EPCOS capacitors, Octave's Super Black Box external power-supply upgrade ($3000) increases the V 80 SE's capacitance by a factor of four, and greatly improved its sound. A short run of cord connects the V 80 SE to the Super Black Box; the latter does not require an AC cord of its own. The change was instantly audible, and not subtle. Playing "Midnight Rider," I heard greater studio ambience around instruments, and more depth in Gregg Allman's voice. The instruments on The Poll Winners Ride Again! had greater weight, and the sound was more intimate overall. Formerly frantic upper-frequency goblins were now smoothed and sated. For $3000, the Super Black Box option gives you a V 80 SE that sounds easily better.

The Octave Audio V 80 SE is one unusual integrated amplifier. It packs a wallop, is perhaps the single most transparent and neutral machine ever to grace my Greenwich Village hi-fi rig, and is so acute to the source that I find myself adjusting the volume for every record. The V 80 SE lacked the tonal color, warmth, and shapeliness of textures I've come to love from my Shindo separates, and it could sometimes unleash hard upper-register attacks. But the Octave excelled with a different mien, a different style. Its vast power reserves created authoritative performances with substantial images of superb depth. The louder it played, the more commanding was its sound. Its portrayal of microdynamics was as good as its macrodynamic mettle. And once its bulbous KT150 tubes calmed down, I greatly enjoyed the V 80 SE's residence in Castle Micallef. Given the proper accompanying gear, and perhaps a willing companion, highly recommended.

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

BradleyP's picture

The ability to drive 2-ohm loads certainly indicates power and current, but what speakers in production today present a nominal 2-ohm load? Some full range ribbons of the 80s and 90s presented that and worse, but isn't that behind us, now?

John Atkinson's picture
BradleyP wrote:
The ability to drive 2-ohm loads certainly indicates power and current, but what speakers in production today present a nominal 2-ohm load?

If you look at the impedance measurements I publish with Stereophile's speaker reviews, you will see that quite a few speakers drop below 3 ohms, particularly in the lower midrange, where music has a lot of energy. And when you consider that the electrical phase angle can be often be quite high when the impedance is low, exacerbating the drive difficulty, I think that judging an amplifier on its ability to drive 2 ohms is eminently reasonable.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

BradleyP's picture

I'm honored to be schooled by the best. Thank you, sir.

mrkaic's picture

... the third harmonic is down 54 dB, not 64 dB.

John Atkinson's picture
mrkaic wrote:
the third harmonic is down 54 dB, not 64 dB.

Good spotting. I corrected it.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

mrkaic's picture

Is it just me or are the KT150s some of the ugliest tubes out there? Much prefer the classic look of KT88s.

Sleepow's picture

The review concludes by a high recommendation given proper accompanying gear.
Those are totally different price points, but would the B&W 805D3 or the Vivid G4 be good pairings with the V80?
They source being an eXasound e22 DAC.
I am concerned the 805 would be too lean and bright, the G4 not fed enough power.