Started By DeanG, Jan 21 2014 11:31 PM:
I enjoy my weekly call from Dave Harris since it always
provides an opportunity for a good rant. This is cheap
entertainment for Dave, and I’m pretty sure it’s the main
reason he calls. Sometimes we’re forced to talk business,
since we often share customers, and other times we actually
talk about the things that make music sound better.
“So, I’ve got this amp over here.”
“What is it?”
“A tube amp.”
“I’m sick of tube amps.”
“You might like this one.”
“I like all tube amps, but I’m still sick of them.”
“This one’s different.”
“They all say that.”
“No, this one really is.”
“Okay, so what is it?”
“Single Ended Pentode.”
“I’m sorry you ended up with it.”
“Uh, no, it sounds really good.”
“No it doesn’t.”
“I think you need to hear this thing.”
“What kind of output tube?”
“Didn’t they use that for clock radios?”
“I didn’t think it would sound good either.”
“Who built it?”
“Justin Webber, from the forum.”
“I don’t have a preamp.”
“You don’t need one, it has a volume control.”
“How much power?”
“I really don’t have time for this.”
“It has a headphone jack.”
“Okay, send it.”
The days of emptying out the checking account on big
speakers and expensive gear are over, and have been for a
long time. Watching my house fall apart around me and
putting a kid through college probably had something to do
with that, and then of course there was that other thing.
Also, working during the day and running a small business
leaves very little time to pursue other endeavors, even
something as simple as sitting down to listen, which is one
of the reasons I adopted IEMs. It’s a win-win, they sound
great, block out distractions, don’t disrupt others, and I
don’t have to put down the soldering iron. To be honest, I
really haven’t missed 2-channel listening in the
conventional sense since getting into IEMs and headphones.
Now, before I talk about Justin’s amp, I want to talk a
little bit about what I’ve be using to listen to it.
My source is the Oppo BDP-93, which has an admirable analog
output stage. There is certainly better, but there’s also
far worse. I believe the unit ran me around $550.00. I have
no complaints, and considered it a major step up from the
Denon transport I was using (in conjunction with the DACs in
the Denon 3808ci receiver).
The loudspeakers are my home-brew monitors using Radian
5208C coaxials mounted in 1 cu. ft. ported cabinets.
Sensitivity is 95dB/2.83v, they go down to 50Hz, and
can handle 200wpc. The crossovers are Radian designed
(12dB octave/12dB octave), and I built them using Jantzen
Supremes and Mills resistors.
I built these for quasi-near field listening in a small
space, using a sub, preferably two, which is how they’re
currently set up. Since the set up is primarily for HT and I
have a center channel, the speakers are about 12 feet apart
and just off the corners, which is good, because since I
won’t be able to use the subs — I’m going to need the
The box shows up on one of the coldest days of the year.
It’s been sitting on the porch most of the day. I bring it
into the house and put it in a safe place. Okay, this is my
house — there is no safe place. I ask everyone to try and
not kick the box as they make their way to the bathroom.
It’s been a few days. I want to play, but I can’t. I’ve been
completely buried since October, and I’m working on my last
set of crossovers. Finally caught up, I decide it’s safe to
open the box. To be honest, I’m mostly interested in the
performance of the output jack for headphone use. The amp
only has three watts, so it’s of no real use to me as a
long term solution.
I go to Justin’s website to see what I really have. I notice
it’s $900.00, and start thinking that’s pretty expensive for
a headphone amp. Well, not really, but it’s still $900.00
for a guy that’s perfectly happy with his FiiO E-17.
Dave did a nice packing job, it took me about about an hour
to find the amp.
The amp is about the size of one of those big family Bibles.
Compact and dense – heavier than I expected. Nicely finished
all the way around. The output and power supply iron is
small, but sporting a high quality painted finish. IOWs, it
doesn’t look like some guy did it in his shed with a can of
Rustoleum. Same with the top plate, gorgeous. The wood
finish is as good as I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot. There’s
nothing to down-rate cosmetically speaking — A1, very nice.
Time to dig out some cables. Really, do I even care about
this? What’s wrong with what I have up here? Hmm, let’s see
… Some nice Monster from the Denon to the speakers, and
then all HDMI. Okay, that won’t work. I go down to the
workroom and find my bag. This is the bag with all of my
retired “audiophile” cables. I feel a tinge of guilt and
I see my Cardas 300B Mircotwin interconnects — yes, those,
grab the short ones, .5 meter will do nicely. Litz wire with
a teflon/cotton dielectric, probably still one of the best
deals in cable. I grab my spool of Supra 1.6 Classic and
decide to go with bare wire terminations between the amp and
the speakers. Hardcore.
What else? Uh, let’s see. Well, I guess that’s it. Wow, this
2-channel stuff is pretty simple. I wire everything up and
hit the power switch.
I suppose I should let the thing warm up a little. Man, what
a hassle. I start looking for a CD, which is a challenge
since they’re all downstairs in the basement with the other
system. I find a little stack over by the movies and don’t
recognize any of them. I turn to Deb,
“What are these?”
“Where did they come from?”
“I bought them.”
“So I could listen to them.”
At the top of the stack is “The Very Best of Cream”.
I really don’t feel like listening to Cream, but the
basement is really far away. I open the case and on the
inside jacket it says,
“Remastered from the original master tapes utilizing Apogee
Electronics’ AD1000 Reference Standard 20 Bit Analog to
Digital Converter and UV22 Super CD Encoding.”
Impressive. I have no idea what any of that means. I
decide I’m going to just put it in and hope that it
doesn’t sound terrible like most of my other stuff.
I notice that the tubes are lit up, and that’s warmed up
enough for me. In goes UV22 Super Encoded Cream.
The first song is called “Wrapping Paper”. I’ve never heard
it before. I’m not sure if I like the song or not, and the
mix is typical of the time period – some instruments coming
out of the left speaker and the rest coming out of the
right. It sounds nice though. I got lucky, it’s a good
recording. I get up to go sit in the chair, and before I do,
I turn it up just a little. UV22 Super Encoded Cream is
sounding pretty good.
Deb wants me to tell her about the amp. I tell her I don’t
know anything about the amp. She wants to know why I don’t
know anything about the amp. I tell her that I’m a speaker
guy and that I’m not supposed to know anything about the amp.
She asks me why my speakers sound different. I ask her if
she’d like to know something about the amp. She asks me if I
plan on buying the amp. I remind her that we have to buy
Colter’s LaScalas first. I tell her that one good recording
isn’t enough to go on. She says that maybe we should think
about buying the amp. Yeesh woman, seriously?
You guys know how this works. It’s new, it’s different, it
puts a different spin on everything in your collection, and
it’s fun. We listened for several hours before shutting down
for the evening. Deb never once asked to watch TV, and in 25
years of marriage, this was the first time she ever spent an
entire evening listening with me.
I’m having a terrible time critically evaluating this amp,
since in effect, the music keeps getting in the way. It’s
been since Saturday, and I’m sill waiting to get used to the
sound so I can honestly approach it. Single Ended anything
is not my thing. I’ve only had two experiences with it, once
with the Wrights, which I thought produced some of the most
wretched sound I’d ever heard, and the Welborne Apollos,
still on my short list as producing some of the most amazing
sound I’d ever heard. What a contrast between those two
sets of monoblocks, having nothing in common whatsoever
except for the Single Ended designation. So where does
this thing fall?
This particular amplifier is Single Ended Pentode — and I
always thought pentode was a “dirty” word of sorts. However,
after four days of non-stop listening, and the flashing of
the television screen reduced to about zero, it’s obvious
we’ve stumbled onto something special. I can see why Dave
felt compelled to send it to me.
This amplifier’s strength lies in its ability to spread
things out and pull the layers apart a bit. Everything is
laid bare, and it’s done in a wonderfully rich and non-
fatiguing way. The sound is textured and vivid. We found
ourselves watching a lot less television and listening to
a lot more music. Notice I keep saying “we” and not “me”,
and this is because the whole family has been enjoying it.
Ian and me played Yugioh for three hours on Sunday night,
completely forgetting about the movie we had planned to watch.
Ian is 10, and really digs Elton John — so we did a lot
of Elton John that night. I was trying really hard to
listen to the amp, but it was impossible because of Ian’s
singing. I instead found myself wondering why he was so
engaged. Ian is not shy by any stretch, but he’s not the
the type to burst out into song either.
This small amp is a music machine. I never once thought
about the fact that I only had three watts at my disposal. I
think one of the bigger surprises is how balanced it sounds.
I was really expecting the sound to be somewhat tipped up,
but that’s not how it sounds at all. It has all of those
things that good tube amps are supposed to have, and then
I’m glad I no longer feel the need for the higher SPLs, as
it affords me the ability to get back into tube audio
without the sizable investment. I also never felt the need
for a preamp, which can only mean that I was dialing right
into the sweet spot. I’ve been hovering between 7 and 9
o’clock on the attenuator for the majority of the time, and
apparently, this is the place to be with this speaker/amp
There is a “rightness” to the sound that makes you want to
keep on listening, and the imaging is phenomenal. Regardless
of cost, I think the sound is scary good, and this amp
should be given strong consideration.