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October 2015
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Enjoy the Music.com Special 20/20 Award
Enjoy the Music.com's Special 20/20 Award
High-End Audio Amplification --
Page 2
Steven R. Rochlin chooses the most notable products during the past 20 years.

As Chosen By Editor & Creative Director Steven R. Rochlin

 


WAVAC MD-805m Monoblock Amplifiers
WAVAC MD-805m Monoblock Amplifiers
Japan's WAVAC is widely recognized for fabulous cosmetics, no-compromise build quality, glorious sonics, and of course their design approach. Ok so in 2005 dollars the cost was $19,000 per pair, yet by today's standards that is not truly overly expensive as compared to far more costlier designs today. While Enjoy the Music.com did review the EC-300B and MD-300B stereo amplifiers that prodce around 10 wpc, the WAVAC MD-805m monoblocks output a far more usable 55 watts and thus will easily mate well with a wider range of loudspeakers. Within his review, Wayne Donnelly says, "As always with WAVAC, the question of price/performance value is necessarily part of the equation. Yes $19,000 is a lot of money for any amplifier, and certainly for 55 watts. But tempting as it may be to break out the old "If you have to ask, you can't afford it" cliché, in my opinion it really doesn't apply here. The purity and beauty these amps deliver make them worth strong consideration from any highly discerning listener who values musical truth over audio dazzle. If your loudspeakers and other equipment match up well, and of course if your budget permits, you owe it to yourself to listen to these very special amplifiers." You can read Enjoy the Music.com's review of the WAVAC MD-805m monoblock amplifiers at this link.

 

EAR / Yoshino 834T Integrated Amplifier
EAR / Yoshino 834T Integrated Amplifier
Always expect the unconventional from high-end audio designer Tim de Paravicini. The iconic Mr. de Paravicini who bears an uncanny resemblance to Abraham Lincoln, and packs over 30 years of design experience into a lanky frame, has held since the 1970s that tubes and solid-state can be sonically equal. Here he has developed a solid-state amplifier that looks and feels like a tube design. The circuit topology is tube-like in that the 834T uses a high voltage B+ of 170 VDC as a single supply together with a wide-bandwidth output transformer that works in the same way as in a tube amplifier. The circuit is balanced from input to output and the output stage is push-pull (with several MOSFETs operating in parallel in each half of the circuit) in tube fashion. Senior Editor Dick Olsher says within his review, "It is not my style to mince words or hedge my bets, and this is clearly neither the time nor the place for that. After all, this is an integrated amplifier like no other in my experience. In my book, the EAR/Yoshino 834T is a sonic masterpiece, combining as it does solid-state virtues with a significant subset of tube magic. As such, it clearly vindicates Tim de Paravicini’s technical approach of casting solid-state in the mold of tube amplification. Magnepan owners take note: this may just be the most synergistic amplifier for Maggie amplification — your best bet of reaching the promised land. Its riveting performance driving the Magnepan MG-3.6/R begs for a serious audition." You can read our review of the EAR / Yoshino 834T Integrated Amplifier at this link.

 

47 Labs 4706 Gaincard And 4700 Power Humptye
47 Labs 4706 Gaincard And 4700 Power Humptye
Bringing out the inner Zen way back in 1999 was the 47 Labs 4706 Gaincard with their 4700 Power Humptye power supply. As the first mainstream Internet review to tout the world's shortest signal path within this chip-based amplifier, the copies and offshoot designs flooded the market afterwards for many years. Am truly humbled, and honored, to have helped begun this wave of amplification that hundreds (thousands?) of music lovers are enjoying to this very day. Within my review, it says, "To wrap this up, it seems we have a very unique unit here which totally obliterates all preconceived notions. This solid-state, Class AB, negative feedback using unit totally blew me away. There is nothing, an i mean nothing that my ears have hear that comes close to sounding this good for under $3,000... or even $7,000 that i know of! The next step would probably be one of the better Wavelength Audio single-ended tube audio masterpieces. Many of you remember how i first brought the now seemingly legendary Lehmann Audio Black Cube into the worldwide audience. i can only hope this review has the same affect as the 47 Laboratories 4706 Gaincard is the rarest of musical instruments. Like finding a Stradivarius in a sea of mass produced student model violins. Why settle for the same electrical circuit rehashed when you can own a true handcrafted work of art like the Gaincard?" For an enlightening experience, read my review of the 47 Labs 4706 Gaincard And 4700 Power Humptye here.

 

Manley Labs Stingray Integrated Stereo Amplifier
Manley Labs Stingray Integrated Stereo Amplifier
Made within the USA (Chino to be exact), is Manley Labs with their longstanding Stingray ($2250) stereo integrated vacuum tube amplifier. While their main gig is the pro audio / record studio sector, thank goodness they also occasionally grace us high-enders with their titillating triode tube gear. Senior Editor Dick Olsher felt the need to remind us all that one of the excesses of high-end audio is the unnecessary compartmentalization of the amplification chain. Sometimes, as in the case of the Stingray, simpler is actually better. The Manley Labs Stingray is outfitted with excellent passive-attenuator volume and balance controls, and four selectable line-level inputs. The input stage uses a 12AT7 dual triode for voltage amplification. A 6414 dual triode is used as a cathode-coupled phase splitter to drive two pairs of EL84 power pentodes (per channel) connected in push-pull. The EL84 output stage is connected in Ultra-Linear (UL) fashion to the output transformer; with the screen grids of the output tubes operating off transformer taps at a voltage somewhat below that of the plate. Dick Olsher says, "The Stingray represents a compelling blend of tube virtues that is guaranteed to delight music lovers in search of both form and substance. Don't let its size and looks fool you: this integrated amp rock n' rolls much like those higher-powered and very pricey monoblocks. It offers instant value, as there's no need to purchase a line preamp and additional connecting cable." While DO reviewed the original Manley Labs Stingray back in May 2000, we did a follow-up as Manley Labs upped the ante in November 2009 by adding a Stingray iTube ($3400) version that has more features.

 

Wavelength Audio Cardinal X-1 Monoblock Amplifier
Wavelength Audio Cardinal X-1 Monoblock Amplifier
Today many audiophiles know Gordon Rankin from his industry-leading work with USB DACs, yet he started out decades ago by handcrafting single-ended triode amplifies. As one of the first music lovers worldwide to acquire his original Cardinal 300B monoblock, over a decade later it was upgraded to X-1 status. According to Gordon, he basically gutted my original Cardinal and a plethora of new parts repopulated the chassis. The results were outstanding! My review says, "To say i was impressed with the upgrade from regular Cardinal to X-1 standard would be an understatement. For those who have never have the opportunity to experience either amplifier, the X-1 is now "standard" form and should bring many years of musical bliss. The use of a single 6C45PI as drive tube, Black Gate WKZ filter capacitors, tube sockets and other changes has made a relatively small, yet overall more coherent package. it is these small improvements in top-echelon products that make for one amazing end result. To say i highly recommend the Cardinal X-1 would be an understatement!" Read my review of e Wavelength Audio Cardinal X1 300B vacuum tube monoblock at this link.

 

VAC Statement 450 iQ Monoblock Power Amplifier
VAC Statement 450 iQ Monoblock Power Amplifier
Designer, engineer and artesian Kevin Hayes started Valve Amplification Company (VAC) with a passion about breathing realism and life into reproduced music. Their lasted reference model, the VAC Statement 450 iQ monoblock power amplifier, continues the company's decades of innovation. The Statement iQ power amplifier is the first in a series of VAC components featuring the new patented VAC iQ Intelligent Continuous Automatic Bias System. This new iQ System is the result of 18 years of research and development by the engineers at VAC, and represents the first time in history that each tube in the output stage of a vacuum tube amplifier can be held precisely at the optimal bias point (underlying true quiescent current) at all times. This happens regardless of the music's dynamics or volume level. VAC says that "the result is sound that is always the best it can be, reduced distortion and noise, longer tube life, elimination of gas current 'run away' tubes, and increased reliability, all without any effort by the user". VAC's iQ System will alert you when a tube is growing weak or has failed. Frequency response is from 4 Hz to 75 kHz and can drive virtually every speaker on the planet with upwards of 450 watts of power! being a true statement piece, you get both unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR inputs, with very high quality speaker wire binding posts and an overall build quality that should last a lifetime, and your children's lifetime too! 

 

Silbatone Acoustics JI-300B Integrated Amplifier
Silbatone Acoustics JI-300B Integrated Amplifier
Let us say for a moment that you love music. Ok, that's sounds about right as you're reading this on Enjoy the Music.com. Then, for a moment, let us assume you are worth about $300 million USD (that's only $300,000,000). Ok, then multiply that 'worth' by five or so. Ahhh, ok, now we're finally talking some serious currency! So, well then, if you had that much worth and wanted the very best audio system in the world what would you do? While some of you are right now naming off expensive brands of electronics, what if you, instead, you decided to hire the very best engineers in the world, created your own parts and thus produced the very best audio gear without any notion of what the final pricing/costs would be. That, my friends, perfectly describes Silbatone Acoustics. As perhaps the world's best 300B vacuum tube integrated amplifier in the world at the time, my May 2002 review says, "All in all i feel this integrated amplifier is easily capable of portraying an enhanced emotional, musical reproduction. With an error on the side of musicality over extreme accuracy, those with systems leaning towards analytical or sterility may find the Silbatone JI-300B to be a great match. A type of musical equalizer at it were. Of course we can not simply overlook the stunning chassis and delectable mechanical operations of the front knobs. Did i mention the feel of those knobs are addicting! It is hard to say this $16,000 unit is a great bargain on a strictly sonic basis. There are other amplifiers that meet my preferences at lower costs. Of course they also do not look as lovely nor operate and sensually. Still, if you are in the marketplace for an integrated amplifier within this price range and desire great looks and operational feel, it would be hard to beat the Silbatone JI-300B. While you are at it, auditioning this unit with the mesh plate Sophia/TJ 300B is a must in my humble opinion." You can read my review of the Silbatone JI-300B integrated amplifier at this link.

 

 

While the below does not explicitly meet the 20 year cutoff, i'd feel a bit remiss in not mentioning them.

 

Marantz 8B
Audio Note Zero Oversampling DAC 1.2

 

McIntosh MC-30 Monoblock Amplifier
McIntosh MC-30 Monoblock Amplifier


The original Marantz 8B and McIntosh MC-30 monoblock. Do i really need to say anything more?

 

 

And so there you have it, Enjoy the Music.com's Special 20/20 Award. If you missed part one for amplification, click here to see our first page of choices. Oh, hold on a second. At the beginning i said there would be 20 products chosen and yet only 17 appear if we include the Marantz 8B and McIntosh MC-30 monoblock. This simply illustrates how rare awards are here at Enjoy the Music.com. We're not here to pander or make some longwinded listing just because we can or to pander to advertisers. Awards and certificates just because someone does something are worth ziltch when everyone gets an award. Perhaps it is more an American mentality thing where everyone is a winner, even the losers (LOL). Each month i'll be choosing up to 20 products to receive Enjoy the Music.com's Special 20/20 Award within different categories such as preamplification, loudspeakers, etc. I hope you found something that benefited you within our Digital, Turntable/Cartridge and now Amplification Special 20/20 Award series. As always, in the end what really matters is that you...

Enjoy the Music,

Steven R. Rochlin

 

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