In the context of this magazine, you’d expect me to say that the Hi-Fi Show, at London’s Heathrow Airport, was tube-laden. That’s because I’m not here to tell you about the CD players, speakers, turntables, solid-state amps or any of the other stuff which made its debut. But you’ll see that, without stretching things one bit, the Hi-Fi Show was tube’d to the rafters. Indeed, as I write I’m listening to one of the neatest of the new valve items, significant in that it’s part of a trend.
The trend is that of affordable integrated tube amps. Those of you who have read any of the reports following the summer CES will recall that Jadis of France launched its first-ever integrated amp, but that’s a cost-no-object luxo-item with a loony tunes price tag. The UNISON RESEARCH Simply Two has a retail price in its native Italy of around US $1200, a far cry from the pricing of the earlier, floor-filling Unison Research 845 Absolute which popped up a few years ago. (If a product weighing 85kg can ‘pop up’, that is.)
The Simply Two, on the other hand, is a tiny jewel of a device weighing 16,5kg and taking up no more floor or shelf space than an LP sleeve. The chassis is black, with a black cage covering the transformers. At the front, a chromed surface from which sprout the four tubes: one EL34 and one ECC82 per channel, for an output of 12W/channel in true Class A mode. Then there are the wooden surfaces, the front, vertical panel sporting an LED; to its left a black surface containing the volume control and tape switch. Back to the upper wooden surface, and there’s a large black knob to select any of four line inputs. At the back are top quality terminals for 4 or 8 ohm speakers. Used with small monitors like the new BBC LS5/12, the Simply Two belies its size and power rating. For me, it’s a Dynaco SCA35 for the 1990s.
Tim de Paravicini’s ESOTERIC AUDIO RESEARCH launched its first integrated, the handsome EAR834. Employing four tubes per channel, it’s rated at 2x50W and Tim will fit it with whatever EL34 equivalent you like. The tubes are self-biasing and the user can experiment with tube types to his or her heart’s content. All six inputs operate at line level, and the company has just announced the optional EAR 834P phono section for £290. This can also be purchased as a standalone phono pre-amp with its own level control for £310. It employs three ECC83s to deliver 1V output, the version with level control being ideal for directly driving most power amps for purist installations. The 834 itself measures 15x16x6in (WxDxH) and weighs 20kg; the 834P measures 9x4x4in and weighs 4kg. Oh, and the 834 integrated amp sells for £1295, which seems to be something of a hot price point for integrated tube amps.
CR DEVELOPMENTS has not one but three line level integrateds in its range, including the Kalypso for £468, the Romulus (with or without pre-amp output) at £907-£948 and the Remus (also with or without pre-amp output) at £1890-£1931. All feature cleanly-styled, plated chassis with the valves on display at the front and the controls on a small vertical front panel. Tube cages and a variety of finishes are optional, and the Romulus and Remus are also available in power-amp-only form. Working from the bottom of the range on up, the basic specs are: Kalypso, 15W/channel; Romulus, 35W/channel; Remus, 60W/channel.
GROOVE TUBES, best known for supplying raw valves, has been building its own vintage-look amps for some time, inspired by classic guitar amps of yore. The British wing of the company has branched out into amplifiers aimed sqaurely at domestic rather than pro users, including a pre-amp under the SOUND DESIGN banner selling for £850, and a series of proudcts marketed as AMESON COOPER products. These include the Twin 44 monoblock power amps rated at 44W RMS ans selling for £1300 per pair, the 244 phono preamp for £200, the 444 line pre-amp at £650 and the 644 which combines the two pre-amps for £850. Naturally, these are Groove Tubed front to back.
One of the most attractive new tube products at the show was the sloped Synergy from TUBE TECHNOLOGY, and, yes, it’s another tube integrated, but not at entry level. Rated at 140W/channel, the Synergy offers true dual mono construction, fully-regulated individual power supplies, an EL34 pentode output stage and an active, remote control pre-amp section. The remote manipulates volume, mute and on-off, there’s user adjustable bias supply and a digital display. With a footprint of 19x19in and a weight of 36kg, the Synergy is as impressive as its £4000 price tag.
PAPWORTH AUDIO TECHNOLOGY, the keepers of the TVA/Mentmore flame, launched a new pre-amp, the PPA6. I didn’t have a chance to study the innards, but the hand-oout tells us that the line stage is simplicity itself, with a cathode follower output and no problems driving up to 100 metres of cable to the amps. The output stage’s gain is 8dB. A low-noise double triode is used in the phono section. Papworth has employed an input selector that uses simple gold contact relays as a switching medium, controlled by DC selection. All heater supplies are stabilised and fully regulated, with separate power supplies for each channel. The prototype featured three line level inputs plus phono, and the price should be under £1200 in the UK.
GAMMA ACOUSTICS featured the Aeon 211 Class A monoblock power amps. These employ directly-heated bright emitter output stages, loads of designer goodies and clean styling reminiscent of the classy VAC stuff from the USA. Wire throughout is silver, Groove Tubes are fitted as standard and the Pure Class A power rating is 30W. The tube complement per chassis? An EF86, a 6350, a G237 rectifier (I think they mean GZ37…), an 0D3 regulator tube and a single 211 bright emitter triode.
Back to the affordable integrateds, and it’s COPLAND with the CSA14 Hybrid. This unit features a brace of E88CCs in the input differentialpre-driver stage, sandwiched between solid-state circuitry. The unit is, as with all Copland equipment, superbly finished, it’s compact, fully-featured (five inputs including phono), rated at 60W/channel and considered something of a giveaway at £999. This unit turned out to be one of the hits of the show.
Probably the cutest new tube product came from K.A.L., who showed a mini-valve pre-amp called the Magician. Measuring only 8.25×2.5×11.25in (WxHxD), it provides three line level inputs, a minimum of controls, negligible microphony and a tube complement consisting of four Telefunken 6247 mini tubes. Still in pre-production form, the Magician should sell for under £600.
ALEMA launched the four box Quattro series, eight boxes in all if you buy both the pre-amp and power amp. The former consists of four chassis — true mono pre-amps with outboard power supplies and four 6299 tubes per channel for a fee of £5000, while the amplifiers deliver 28 single -ended watts from 845 output tubes. Price? Also £5000.
But back to the integrateds. The MIRACLE ITA45 from the Netherlands uses four EL34 and three E88CC Gold Dragon tubes to deliver 45W/channel into 8 ohms, or 23W Class A into four ohms. The unit can play host to five sources, with phono as an option and it weighs in at a healthy 15kg. The Miracle is yours for £1700.
CROFT turned up with – finally – a new look conceived to take them out of the if-it’s-ugly-then-it-must-be-good school of design.Featured were the latest version of the Croft Integrated, providing 30W/channel, four inputs including phono and tape and a price tag of only £599, an dthe new Charisma pre-amp, also with four inputs including tape and m-m phono input for £599. PM COMPONENTS, whose display of Golden Dragon tubes grows ever larger, added a bunch of new models, assuring me yet again that it’ll be some time before the world runs out of valves. Also on display was an early version of the company’s forthcoming ESTi power amp.
TRILOGY introduced two new line level pre-amps, including the 902 for £1495 and the 918 flagship model at £2775. ART AUDIO‘s Integra is a 30W/channel integrated amplifier featuring six inputs and priced at a competitive £1300. It was joined by the Minuet, a 15W triode mono version of the Quintet selling for £1300 per pair. David Manley returned to the UK with the MANLEY ORMAN brand, featuring an extensive range of stereo and mono units.
From DEFINITIVE AUDIO in Brighton came the Border Patrol Charge Hand (I’m not kidding), a 9W single ended triode amplifier designed to work with high sensitivity speakers. Surrprise, surprise. VOLT‘s Tube Preamplifier from the Tubaphon/Orange Audio group in Germany, uses two ECC83s and four ECC82s with a low impedance output stage; it offers four line inputs plus phono, the latter with user adjustable moving-coil impedances. ARION ACOUSTICS showed an integrated amplifier available with or without a phono section, or as a power amp on its own. The power section is rated at 25W/channel Class A, and the target price for the line-only version is £999. Phono adds another £151, while the power-amp-only version will sell for £850, a fairly low price for Class A amplification.
AUDIO INNOVATIONS, who wowed everyone with a £299 solid state amplifier, also showed their complete lineup of tube products, including the integrateds which started the entire trend and an affordable kit amp. AMC, who added fuel to the integrated fire last year with the affordable 3030, moved onto two power amplifiers based around EL34s and 6550s. Surprise of the show? The return to the UK of tape deck wizards UHER, but not with a journalist’s portable tape deck. Uher showed up with the UMA-3000 VT, a 70W/channel tube power amp. Absolutely gorgeous, it houses its EL34s behind a glass panel and it’s finished as you’d expect of German hardware. Price? A bargain at DM4000…or under $2500.
Naturally, there are items I probably forgot to mention, which will only occur to me after I fax this to Mary, but, hey, I’m still suffering show lag, and tomorrow it’s off to Top Audio in Milan. But grant me this: I wasn’t exaggerating about all the new gear, was I?
(Glass Audio, 1993-4)