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August 2009
Enjoy the Music.com
World Premiere!
Jungson JA-88D(09) Class A Integrated Amplifier
Not only a World Premiere, it is the first one in North America!
Review By Nels Ferre

Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

Jungson JA-88D(09) Class A Integrated Amplifier  While reviewing audio gear can be fun, it does have its downsides too. The big one for me is deadlines (although I am getting much better.) Our deadline at Enjoy The Music.com is the 10th of the month. I know I have a deadline, then look at the calendar. There is plenty of time... wait, how can it be the ninth already? I had two weeks till deadline... it seems like yesterday! What are the other negatives? How about gear that does not arrive when scheduled?  Yes, for me there is a schedule. First, I cannot have too much gear on hand at once, as this will throw my reference system all akimbo. Second, it makes reviews go slower, adding pressure to the deadline issue. I have also come to discover that those who do not ship in a timely manner are the same manufacturers that pester for a review to be completed quickly.  Remember, this is not my day gig; I have a wife, a career and other interests.

Ok, rant over, but it will make sense. You see, when I finished the review of the Shuguang Treasure Series vacuum tubes, distributor Ian Grant of Grant Fidelity asked me "What do you want next?" I declined. It was not that I was not interested, it was that my plate was already full and I was feeling the pressure of looming deadlines to come.  Not long afterwards, my Bella Extreme 3205 Signature power amplifier developed a problem that required it to be returned to the factory for service.  I now had a major stumbling block to deal with- I cannot review anything (except books) without an amplifier. Also, there was the Leslie factor. She loves movies as much as I love music. If we are awake (and even while I am napping on the couch) our system is on.  We use it for both movies and music.  No amplifier equals a very unpleasant existence in our home- our system has really weaved its way into the fabric of our lives. I had figured out a way to limp my amplifier along until a suitable substitute could be arranged. It was then that I remembered Ian's offer. Two weeks later, I received a text message from Leslie: a large heavy box had been delivered as scheduled from Canada. The Jungson JA88D-09 Class A integrated amplifier had arrived.

 

Beer Helps With The Delivery Of Our Gear
This is what Ian Grant of Grant Fidelity told me when I remarked that there had been an issue with the delivery of the amplifier. It turns out that the delivery driver gave Leslie some static regarding delivering the 88 pound box to our second story condominium. He expected her to come to the truck and bring it upstairs herself. When Leslie told him to put it back in the truck, and that I would pick it up at the shipping depot, be finally relented. I can totally relate. The JA88D-09 (henceforth referred to as the JA-88D(09) ) is a beast. Potential buyers will want some frosty cold brew in the fridge for this one. If the delivery driver does not have an issue delivering it, the new owner will want one after unpacking and setup. (Editor's note: being drunk and carrying heavy gear in not suggested. Being drunk and listening to music, well, that is entirely a different matter.)

 

Initial Impressions And Further Ramblings
Jungson is the premier audiophile brand in China. From what I gather, being a music lover in China is hip, and some of the youngest, hippest Chinese designers work for Jungson. When I first unpacked the JA-88D(09)  (and retrieved a Mountain Dew from the refrigerator) I was stunned at the build quality, which was far beyond what I expected considering it is priced at $2300 including shipping anywhere in the continental United States or Canada. I immediately thought of the McIntosh MC162 power amplifier that I owned for a year or so some time back, which listed for $2200. As I examined the JA-88D(09)  further, it I realized that it was built to an equal  (if not better) fit and finish as the McIntosh, something I do not expect from Chinese hi-fi.  When I think the best examples of Chinese gear, I think of value for the dollar. The big Jungson made me think of precision manufacturing.

I have mixed emotions when it comes to Chinese goods. For the most part, I detest them. When I think of products produced in China, I mostly think of the cheap products that Wal Mart is stuffed with from floor to ceiling. The "Wal Mart mentality" has changed the American way of life for the worse, and I believe it is partially to blame for the financial trouble that America is in today. My parents saved for quality items and used them for many years, if not a lifetime. Younger Americans, for the most part I believe, do not think "quality" they think "low price." And that, I think, is a part of the problem with our hobby today. If people even know about it all, it is considered expensive and frivolous. Sad.

I do not feel the same about Chinese hi-fi, though. Chinese hi-fi has come a long way in the ten years I have been reviewing audio equipment. Quality Chinese gear, like the JA-88D(09) , helps to bridge the gap between the gear found at your local Best Buy and some of the more prestigious American or European brands. From what I have seen and heard with the JA-88D(09) , Jungson at some point in the future may actually become one of the prestigious brands.

 

A Walk Around the JA-88D(09)
The first thing one notices when unpacking the 80 watt per channel JA-88D(09)  is that the thick cast aluminum front panel is actually offset from the rest of the chassis, which adds a touch of class to the amplifier's appearance. A pair of large power meters lit in Pacific Blue dominates the front panel of the JA-88D(09) . Think second generation VW Passat or New Beetle dashboard lighting, and you have the color. Fortunately, the lighting can be extinguished. (I do not like the idea of the power supply running things I do not need.) Centered below the meters is a LED display indicating which input is in use and the volume control setting. Below the display is the power switch. To the left are the volume up/down buttons (which activate internal relays) To the right are buttons for mute and input selection- simplicity at is best.

Jungson JA-88D(09) Class A Integrated AmplifierAround back are five pairs of unbalanced RCA inputs, one of which is reserved for the built in phono section with MM/MC switching. There is also a pair of balanced (XLR) inputs for those components with balanced outputs. The speaker binding posts are of quite high quality: if they are not genuine WBT connectors, they certainly look and feel like them. Of note here, there are two pairs of speaker binding posts for those who prefer to bi wire their loudspeakers. Rounding out the rear panel is an IEC power socket, so that one can use the power cable of their choosing. (Ian, I am sure, would like you to choose his Grant Fidelity PC-1.5 power cord priced at $149, which he included with the amplifier for my evaluation.) The JA-88D(09)  is also remote controlled, although the power cannot be switched on and off via remote due to the fact that the power switch is of the mechanical variety. Ian did make an apology for the remote. It is a "system" remote with what seems like a million buttons, not unlike the remotes included with every home theater receiver. It was planned that the JA-88D(09)  would come with a classy wooden remote, but it seems the air is much drier in North America than it is in Asia, and the veneer on the planned remote was prone to peeling, requiring substitution of a multi function aluminum remote. It does work well, though. A two year distributor's parts and labor warranty against manufacturer's defects covers the amplifier.

 

The JA-88D(09)  In Operation and a Myth Dispelled
The JA-88D(09)  was a joy to use for the 6 weeks or so that we used it in our system. There is little to report here except that there is an audible "click" emitted from the amplifier (not through the speakers) as the volume is raised or lowered. While I found it a bit disconcerting at first, I quickly got used to it. I have been advised that the volume control is actually a digital step volume control manufactured by Jeff Rowland, a far more expensive attenuator than is normally found in amplifiers at this price point. I also discovered that holding the volume control button for a few seconds on the remote will make the volume rise quicker without clicking.

Considering that the JA-88D(09)  is a Class A amplifier, in which the output transistors stay on at all times to eliminate the switching distortion that is present in Class AB amplifiers, I expected it to run hot. Placed atop my low boy stereo cabinet, the JA-88D(09)  never became more than pleasantly warm, no matter how long or hard it was driven. This amplifier is child and pet safe. I would recommend, however, plenty of ventilation. I would not recommend putting this amplifier inside a closed cabinet.

Also, due to the fact that Class A amplifiers are by nature inefficient, I did expect to see an increase in my electric bill. I was pleasantly surprised when the bill arrived- it was not more than when I ran the vacuum tube gear that we own. Either our tube gear is equally inefficient, or the JA-88D(09)  is more efficient than I expected.

 

Listening
When the amplifier was shipped to me, both Ian and his partner Rachel Zhang knew I was a tube guy. Ian assured me that I would be pleasantly surprised.  Eventually, I was, but that came later. Out of the box, with about 20 hours on it, it did not sound all that great. The word "lean" kept coming to mind. It was as if the bottom octave had completely gone missing. With acoustic music, it was ok, but with rock music or movie soundtracks, I was decidedly underwhelmed.

One night, with about 100 hours or so on the amplifier, I had the system on while I was making dinner. In the middle of a track, the bass showed up with a roar. It was literally as if someone had flipped a switch. The JA-88D(09)  does not gradually break in, it goes through a sudden metamorphosis. I also noticed something else about the amplifier: the new amp smell was gone.  As strange as this sounds, when auditioning this amplifier, I recommend that it be smelled. If it has no discernable smell (I do not want to se the word odor, as that leads one to believe the initial smell is unpleasant, which is not the case) the amplifier is not yet broken in. Once the 100 hour mark was passed, I did not discern any change in sound for the duration of the review period.

I found the JA-88D(09)  to be essentially neutral and transparent, enough so that I was very comfortable using it to compare a few DACs that were on hand, the KECES DA131 ($349) the MHDT Labs Havana ($899) and the Neko Audio D100 ($1299). I found it quite easy to discern the differences in the units. I also found it very easy to hear the differences between the stock 1980's vintage JAN GE 2C51 tube in the Havana (now my reference) and some much older NOS varieties that Scott Faller loaned me for comparison.

Along with a large physical size, the JA-88D(09)  delivered large on the sonic side as well. Bass especially was rendered with an iron fist.  Although my tube rig reaches plenty deep, the JA-88D(09)  reaches deeper. At times (especially with movie soundtracks) I was concerned I was going to get a complaint from the elderly woman that lives downstairs. Looking back, there is no way we shouldn't have: although the volume level was not excessive, there was some serious bass energy going on in our room from time to time. While I have pointed this out, I do not want to give the impression that the JA-88D(09)  was bass heavy- like I said it is pretty neutral, but with the JA-88D(09)  if bass is there, it is there.

The JA-88D(09)  did not seem to favor any type of music over another, Whether I was listening to Spooky Tooth's killer version of "I Am The Walrus" from The Best of Spooky Tooth which begs to be played LOUD, or listening to Mozart's Flute Quartets. "Walrus" was especially enjoyable- the big sonic image that the JA-88D(09)  throws was matched by its macro dynamics, the JA-88D(09) 's strong suit. It sounds bigger than an 80 watt per channel amplifier. I do wonder if that is due to my mind playing tricks on me- it certainly looks bigger than most 80 watt per channel amplifiers as well.

The midrange was delivered with a smoothness that while not rivaling tubes, is certainly easy to listen to for long periods without fatigue. One of my latest rediscoveries is Pentangle's Cruel Sister. The title track is a haunting tale of murder, sung by Jacqui McShee. On the JA-88D(09) , her vocals drew me into the tale (of which of course, I already knew the outcome,) What does one get when one steps a few rungs up the audio "food chain?" voices become more involving- "drawn in" becomes "spellbinding." The built in phono section was a pleasant surprise. I usually do not expect much from a built in phono section, but I found it quite pleasant. While my analog rig costs more than the JA-88D(09)  which is not a fair match, I have no doubt that the JA-88D(09)  will get along well with the turntables and cartridges with which it is likely to be mated. Especially nice was the fact the phono section was very quiet, and had no problem with low output MC cartridges, like my Dynavector. The JA-88D(09) 's phono stage is on par with the Cambridge Azur 640P (street price in the USA $179.) Could one get better performance from a more expensive outboard phono stage? Of course, but that is not the point (or target audience) of this amplifier. While not svelte in size, it is designed to be easy and uneventful to live with.

Upper frequencies mirrored the midrange: while the highs were easy on the ears, and never brittle or harsh, they were not as captivating as more expensive amplification. Any faults that theJA-88D(09)  may have are faults of omission, not commission, exactly as it should be. This is not always the case with lower priced electronics, especially solid state. Some feel that solid state amplifiers running in Class A are as close to the sound of tubes as once can get with transistors.

 

Leslie Drops The "F Bomb"
I work during the day. Leslie's work schedule varies depending on what class she is teaching at the University where she works. One night, I was listening to music as Leslie came in the door. As she closed the door, she turned and stared at the JA-88D(09) , then at me, then back at the amplifier again. As her gaze moved to me again, I asked "What?" She turned and exclaimed "Anything with a display that big and bright had better tell the f--king time!" I was flabbergasted. "Excuse me?" Then she proceeded to explain. When the JA-88D(09)  is powered up, the number farthest to the left indicates what input was in use. The way it was set up here, input 4 was the Philips DVD player, input 5 was the output of whichever DAC was in use at the time, input 6 is the phono input. The remaining two digits to the right indicate the volume setting. One day Leslie was listening to music while doing other activities. She glanced up and saw the display: 5 14. She thought it was 5:14 P.M. which would put her at least an hour late for work already. She ran through the shower and drove to the office like a woman possessed, only to find she was arrived to work two hours early. I have told the story to a few friends. We all` think it is hilarious. Leslie- she is still not so amused. She thought the JA-88D(09)  sounded great though, and she enjoyed the fact that it comes with a remote, which our preamplifier lacks.

 

An Aside - I Get 'Schooled'
Manufacturers and distributors will commonly send accessory items along with review samples. When I opened the box, inside were a couple of Grant Fidelity's upscale signal cables, in balanced and unbalanced terminations. Also included was the aforementioned Grant Fidelity PC-1.5 power cord.  Ian Grant had raved about how good the cord was, but at $149, it is on the low end of the price spectrum. I did not expect to hear a difference, much less an improvement over the (now discontinued) Sonic Horizons power cords that I have owned for years. Boy was I wrong! I tries it with not only the JA-88D(09)  but also all three DACs as well. All of the components benefited from the Grant Fidelity PC-1.5. to varying degrees. The noise floor dropped, bass tightened up, and there was increased clarity in the midrange. I plan to outfit my entire system with the Grant Fidelity PC-1.5. The PC-1.5 performs far above its relatively modest cost.

 

Recommendations
In its price category, the Jungson is an easy recommendation. It offers an attractive combination of performance, features and quality of construction at a fair price. Although I generally prefer tube gear, I realize that many do not want to have the "hands on" relationship with their amplifier that most tube amps demand. Those who want "plug and play" but want a higher level of performance than the gear commonly found at the big box merchants should put the Jungson JA88D-09 on their shopping lists. While there are plenty of different sounding solid state amplifiers in the marketplace, I doubt any, for the price, will be appreciably better.

 

A Final Note
For all my ranting and raving at the beginning of this review concerning the scheduling of items shipped for review, I have to say the Grant Fidelity is one of the most professional distributors I have dealt with in the past ten years. All review samples arrived exactly on time, making my job easier. I appreciate that. If my experience is any indication, I expect their customer service for 'regular folks' will be top notch as well.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise
Enjoyment

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Integrated stereo amplifier
Output Power: 80 wpc at 8 Ohm
Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20 kHz (-0.2dB)
THD: 0.05% @ 1kHz, 1W
SNR: 98dB
Input Impedance: 100kOhms
Output Impedance: 8 Ohms
Size: 17 x 7.5 x 19 (WxHxD in inches)
Weight: 64 lbs.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor
Price: $2300 including shipping to USA and Canada

 

Company Information
Grant Fidelity
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Voice: (403) 251-0466
E-mail: grantfidelity@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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