Balanced Audio Technology VK-56SE power amplifier

I had never been alone with a Russian-manufactured 6C33C tube. At least not at night, in the dark. The first night Balanced Audio Technology's VK-56SE tubed amplifier was in my system, I sat on the floor studying the unusual shape and dark orange glow of its four 6C33C-B output tubes. I noticed their brightly lit, cathedral-like innards. My Russian neighbor told me they were used as regulator tubes in MiG jets during the Cold War. I could believe it—their exposed cathodes were the exact color of the Soviet flag. From more than a foot away, I could feel the heat from their high-amperage filaments.

The next morning, I pulled a cold 6C33C-B from its socket and examined it in sunlight. Its glass envelope seemed thick. It felt like a tube that wouldn't break if I dropped it. I was fascinated by its vast crown of chrome-colored getter-flash, punctuated by three support-rod nipples. I was impressed by the thickness of the bronze side rods and the laminated graphite-titanium plate structure (footnote 1).

Sitting at my desk in the winter sun, I remembered: Once upon a time I was skeptical of using industrial-strength series-regulator tubes as audio-frequency amplifiers. Why? Because in my DIY experiments, 6AS7/6080 dual-triode tubes had sounded clean, but decidedly not subtle or rich of tone.

Historically, smart engineers designed vacuum tubes to operate in specific ways under specific conditions. Rarely did tubes excel at jobs they were not created to perform. Typically, audio designers repurpose tubes for one of two reasons: they don't want to spring for an expensive audio-frequency triode like a 2A3, 211, or 300B—or they want more power than the few watts those Hall-of-Fame triodes can deliver. But in the case of the 6C33C-Bs in the VK-56SE, I suspect BAT had another, more relevant reason.

Balanced Audio Technology's chief of design and engineering, Victor Khomenko (the "VK" in VK-56SE), was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) and grew up two blocks from the Svetlana tube factory where 6C33C-B tubes were manufactured. According to Stereophile's Robert Deutsch, who interviewed Khomenko in 1995, he "attended the prestigious Leningrad Polytechnic Institute and received an M.S. in physics and electronics, specializing in electronic emissions. He spent his early working life in the Russian electronics industry, then emigrated to the US in 1979—with $400, a family, no home, and no job."

I imagine Victor Khomenko dreaming about these hot-filament tubes at an early age. He probably began designing this amp way back then. He knew the 6C33C-B was a sturdy, indirectly heated triode tube capable of dumping substantial current into low-impedance speaker loads. He knew it would work well with low-turns-ratio, wide-bandwidth output transformers. Khomenko knew the 6C33C-B would repurpose well, and deliver a unique and gratifying sound in audio-frequency applications of his own design.

Description
The VK-56SE is the deluxe version of Balanced Audio Technology's VK-56 stereo amplifier. Both are three-stage, fully balanced, push-pull, class-AB amplifiers designed around the 6C33C-B triode tube, and include full-time, active, automatic tube biasing. Both are capable of putting out 55Wpc into 8 or 4 ohms at 3% THD, and of doubling that output when bridged for mono. Each comes in a heavy, painted-steel case measuring 17"W by 8"H by 16"D and weighing 52 lb. The VK-56SE's 3/8"-thick, machined-aluminum faceplate matches the sweeping arch of the aluminum handle at the amplifier's rear. The standard VK-56 costs $4995, the VK-56SE $8495.

Because this would be my first in-home experience with a BAT product, I choose the VK-56SE—I wanted a full dose of Victor Khomenko's unique design aesthetic without going full dose on the price.

I asked Khomenko how the SE differs from the standard VK-56.

"In the SE version, the first gain stage is changed from our standard 6SN7 twin-triode to a 6H30 super-tube. Then [the first stage's] passive current source, formerly a resistor, is replaced by an active tube-based one. The polypropylene decoupling capacitors are replaced with oil parts. The power supply is substantially beefed up—there are two additional power reserve boards added to the VK-56SE as well. Finally, the electronic protection circuit, similar to that found in our REX II Power amplifier, is added, replacing the standard VK-56 rail fuses.

"The 56SE is a three-stage design, fully differential from input to output. It has no phase inverter, but if a single-ended signal is connected to its input, then the first gain stage generates both phases.

"The VK-56SE uses only 3dB of global feedback. The power supplies use a very simple, straightforward architecture. There are no voltage regulators, but there are very high quality capacitors, including oil capacitors in the SE version. The last capacitor your circuit sees is usually the most important in terms of its quality, and we are using oil capacitors in that application. We use very high quality custom toroidal power transformers with low turns ratios and wide bandwidth."

519bat.baC

On its back side, the VK-56SE has only balanced (XLR) input jacks; single-ended RCA-to-balanced-XLR adapters can be ordered at a nominal price. Output speaker connections offer more choices: Low (2–4 ohms), Med (4–6 ohms), High (6–8 ohms). I experimented with all three, but 90% of my listening was done with my speakers connected to the Low terminals.

I include all of these arcane engineering details so you can understand how little this pure triode push-pull amplifier has in common with generic EL34/KT88/KT120 pentode amplifiers.

Listening with Harbeth M30.2s
The BAT VK-56SE arrived the day after the deadline for the previous month's reviews. Usually, those first days after submitting copy, I space out, read books, do laundry, and visit friends. I also install the gear I'm to review for the next issue. This little post-deadline "vacation" gives me a week of absent-minded, uncritical listening, and a general feel for a new component.

On my second day with the VK-56SE, I was folding laundry and listening, purely for pleasure, to Ladilikan, by Trio Da Kali and the Kronos Quartet (24-bit/96kHz FLAC, World Circuit 93/Qobuz). Suddenly, I had to stop pairing socks, turn around, face the speakers, and admire the sound. Damn! I thought. This amp sounds really good.

Trio Da Kali is a traditional African group whose main instruments include the xylophone-like balafon and a bass ngoni—a skinny, guitar-like instrument. The Kronos Quartet, founded in 1973 by violinist-composer David Harrington, specializes in parlaying surprising musical collaborations into challenging new musical experiences. Ladilikan is a captivating, audiophile-quality recording whose best feature is how its idiosyncratic mixture of African and European instruments frames the powerful voice of Hawa "Kassé Mady" Diabaté, who sings in Bambara, a language spoken in Mali. I thought the VK-56SE sounded better than the Rogue Stereo 100 amplifier because the pure-triode BAT exposed more complex harmonics in the sound of the balafon, and revealed more power in Diabaté's voice. The Rogue reproduced Ladilikan with greater detail and sharper focus, but the VK-56SE made the more sensuous, more tangible sound.

519bat.close

In the quiet of night, with the VK-56SE driving the M30.2 Harbeths, I listened again to Ladilikan and noticed how earthy—though not warm-tubey earthy—it sounded. I also noticed more non-earthy digital artifacts, but their effect was minimal. The sound was still liquid and clear, effervescent and richly toned.

I'm pretty certain that the effervescence I heard was generated not by the BAT but by the PS Audio DirectStream DAC. Later, with the HoloAudio Spring "Kitsuné Tuned Edition" Level 3 and Chord Qutest DACs, the VK-56SE sounded less bright and not bubbly.


Footnote 1: From the tube data sheet: "The 6C33B-C consists of two triodes (A and B) in the same hard glass envelope. Cathodes, grids and plates are internally connected in parallel. The filaments can be wired in series for 12V at 3.3A or parallel for 6.3V at 6.6A."
COMPANY INFO
Balanced Audio Technology
1300 First State Boulevard, Suite A
Wilmington, DE 19804
(302) 999-8855
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
jeffhenning's picture

Well, then, if you love noise & distortion and also love spending lots of money for it, this is the amp for you!

Low fidelity at the low, low price of just $8,495. Awesome!

johnnythunder's picture

After 50+ years of Stereophile and TAS, you're still equating minute, inaudible distortion measurements with ultimate fidelity and musical enjoyment? I feel sorry for you as you are denying yourself musical pleasure. It would be like judging the artistic worth of a photograph solely on the absolute correctness of the lens used and not the emotional or artistic component of the art.

Long-time listener's picture

Let's take this a little further, from photography to oil painting. For my money, the more closely paintings approach photorealism, the less interesting they are. I prefer ones that are only vaguely representational, while being highly colorful (or perhaps "colored"?) in which I have to use my imagination to reconstruct any notion of a real image. I find those the most engaging and interesting. Perhaps stereo reproduction too is an art, as well as a science?

But another question is why reproduce with zero distortion a recording that has lots of it? When I listen to Andre Previn's Vaughan Williams recordings from the early '70s, some are so dry that I welcome any kind of "bloom," "coloration," and "softness" that I can get, so that I can listen without wincing. Musically they are great, and sonically, quite detailed, but they can be dry and harsh.

Ideally, I'd like to have two systems, one highly accurate, and another with a healthy dose of euphonic distortion.

doak's picture

Need I write more?
By no means am I a specs/numbers nut though even I have my limits.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Rogue Audio Stereo 100 power-amp which costs $3,500 (Stereophile Class-A), has better measurements :-) ..........

JD85's picture

I find the yin-yang terminology to be ineffective and pretentious. At least once many years back one of the TAS writers used the terms wrong.

Archimago's picture

1% at 5W into 8-ohms can be seen with the recent Air Tight ATM-300R and Cary CAD-805RS also. That's just the way it is for these designs.

While I've never heard the BAT, I do agree that the tube sound has a sweetness which is great for vocals, jazz, classical probably imparted by those distortions. I agree that it's not strictly high-fi and clearly one doesn't need to bother with hi-res music when using these amps (since noise and distortion will just drown out any benefits 24-bits might add to resolution).

Nonetheless, there is joy to be had especially on a cold winter night, perhaps with a loved one, a glass of something or other in hand, marveling at the seductive glow with some relaxing tunes.

Ultimate cost value will be determined by these subjective benefits than the extent of fidelity the device can actually maintain to the source recordings.

Ortofan's picture

... (and a lower acquisition cost) is available from the McIntosh MC275.
To quote JA1: "Good audio engineering is timeless."
https://www.stereophile.com/content/mcintosh-mc275-power-amplifier-measurements

Good luck with pointing out the futility of listening to 'hi-res' recordings using 'lo-res' equipment. I've tried before and some fail to comprehend. They should go to the following link, do the conversion from noise and distortion to bits and see for themselves just how low is the effective resolution of this amplifier.
https://www.maximintegrated.com/en/design/tools/calculators/product-design/data-conversion.cfm

Archimago's picture

Indeed, there are certainly better measuring tube amps like the Mac. But even there, the distortion characteristics are rather significant compared to good ol' solid state and maybe Mr. B Haranath can tell us how many effective bits the Mcintosh achieves...

What would be fun is if someone can compare this BAT with the Mcintosh side by side and tell us which has more "wetness", "bloom", "smoothness", "warmth", etc...

Nice link to the calculator. Hadn't seen that one before!

One more link for folks to think about. Someone sent me this on Twitter recently from 2017 where Bryston's CEO spoke about their thoughts on making a tube amp:
https://www.alpha-audio.nl/achtergrond/interview-met-chris-russell-ceo-bryston-ltd/4/

Just goes to show there are multiple sides to every story even if there are objective judgments we can make (like how many effective bits of resolution based on noise levels and such).

Bogolu Haranath's picture

McIntosh 275 has approx. 10 to 12 bit SNR (resolution) according to my estimation ........ Pretty decent for a tube design ........ Of course, not as good as some of McIntosh's own transistor designs, which can reach up to 16 to 17 bits ........ Distortion levels are below 1% up to 10KHz for 275 ........ Overall good measurements for a tube design for good old Mac 275 :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I can feel your pain Ortofan :-) ........

supamark's picture

people can generally hear 10 to 20dB into the noise floor of analog, which those calculators don't account for. so even a tube amp that has a s/n of, say, ~76dB you'll generally still be able to hear music down to 90 to 96dB (15 to 16 bit equivalent) below full signal.

also, outside of classical/jazz most music today has very little dynamic range so point is moot for most these days.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Looking at the Stereophile measurements ....... This amp has approx. 8 to 10 bit SNR (resolution) ... raising distortion levels from 500 to 600Hz and below, depending upon the output tap used and reaching 10% and more at 20Hz ...... and, 3 to 7 Ohms output impedance ........ need anything more? :-) ........

grantray's picture

Who knew listening to calculators and measured calculations would be the drug of choice for so many audio hobbyists?

It's like listening to photo hobbyists with their digital Leicas huffing and puffing that perfect bell curves from the image histograms is the definition of good photography, of a moment framed, captured, and represented, and long past.

Archimago's picture

Since when did audiophiles stop caring about "high fidelity" especially?

By all means, enjoy whatever you like. I don't think folks here disagree with however anyone wants to spend a few grand. But the truth is that these things color the sound and have reduced level of ability to uncover all that's in the signal.

HR liked the sound and that's great for him. But not all audiophiles are cut from the same cloth and many have good reason to disagree with the "goodness" of the machine for their purposes and based on their (also subjective) perspective on value.

RH's picture

I like the perspective you bring to this (and your blog). Probably because it aligns so closely with my own :-)

The notion of "value" and the interplay of subjectivity can be vexing. As you say, one can subjectively value "accuracy" in the sense of seeking the least distortion of the source signal. The virtue there is that it's quantifiable via measurements, and people sharing that value can agree that this amp is, for instance, ill-suited to that goal.

But even having acknowledged that, we can still ask "to what end, accuracy?" If it's something like "to hear what the engineer heard in the mixing room" then there are obviously intractable problems with that goal - e.g. the vast majority of the recordings most of us listen to were made on a variety of different-sounding speakers, including some very colored monitors, in different-sounding rooms, that we would not be recreating at home.

So a version of "I want to hear exactly what the artist put down in that source signal" while noble and a sort of "north star" by which hi fidelity can be guided to some degree, is still unreachable.
And still we can ask "to what end?" I'd think a reasonable "end" would be "so that I can enjoy music on my stereo system." Or taking the artist in to account who would no doubt hope we enjoy their music "to give myself the best chance to enjoy the music created by the artist."

But in that case, it doesn't seem obvious that the simple goal of being a sort of audio scientist in your home would suite that goal. Simply subjecting yourself to whatever comes through your system: "I don't care if many albums sound awful, I just care about hearing an undistributed source signal." This is why even Floyd Toole has no qualms about using EQ to make bad recordings sound more listenable and enjoyably (which is therefore a departure from accuracy).

Personally, while I very much endorse the quest for "hi fidelity" in terms of low distortion - at least as a "north star" - I've concluded that my answer "to what end" is that I enjoy music through my system. That's what it's for. And I've found I just seem more attracted to the sound when employing my good ol' tube amps - some classic Conrad Johnson Premier 12 monoblocks. They may be adding a subtle form of distortion to the signal, but it "sounds better" to my ears overall than whenever I throw in a solid state amp. I just want to listen more with the tube amps doing duty. And the level of distortion, while subjectively pleasant, is in the big picture utterly minuscule in terms of "losing accuracy to the source."
There is nothing that I'm aware of musically relevant information that I am "not hearing" if I switch between the SS and tube amp.
All the musical and production/mixing decisions which form the gross characteristics of any recording are preserved. Best of both worlds, to my ears :-)

Archimago's picture

Yeah, I can totally dig what you say.

Ultimately, I agree that it is all for the end of one's musical enjoyment. With this in mind, it really isn't important to me how people spend their money or what they take pleasure in. I do believe that the distortion characteristics can pull listeners in and that's great. No need to argue about personal opinions on what is "beautiful".

Having said this, if there were no component of "fidelity" in this audio pursuit, then much of what we also obsess about won't make sense! This is where I think "hardware audiophiles" (more than likely the folks reading reviews like this) differ from "music lovers". We audiophiles tend to care about the sound quality itself...

While I can enjoy my music through a simple Squeezebox Boom in the sitting room or Apple AirPods on a hike, there is something special about sitting in front of the main system listening to a hi-res DAC that can reproduce what's on that HDTracks file fully, monoblock amps that can effortlessly pump out the dynamics with low distortion, and good speakers that I know can achieve the full audible frequency response that's reasonably flat in a spacious room with some care given to the acoustic properties. Likewise this is why I enjoy a nice headphone amp and the "speed" and "cleanliness" of my Sennheiser HD800's in a quiet room.

This is what I've always thought "high fidelity" is about. This is why I hold in high regard those engineers who over the years have pushed these technical parameters toward better, cleaner, more precise, and more efficient ways of achieving the "faithful" reproduction of what was in the source.

I know there are many audiophiles who are more "euphonophiles" - those who care deeply about "good sound" regardless of the technical attributes. Again, nothing wrong with this either, but that concept of "good" follows a different and more personal definition which does not as directly provide a shared "North Star" for others to follow. I actually believe that many in this group will appreciate the sound of "accuracy"/"fidelity" as well, just that they might not be as comfortable with the technical discussions or objective methods.

If we erase the concept of "fidelity" from the audiophile pursuit, immediately a couple of things we likely obsess over as audiophiles stop making sense, for example...

Why care if it's lossless vs. MP3? In my blind test back in 2013 (as well as a comment on my blog post this week), I could detect that some people liked the sound of MP3 when they didn't have a reference to compare to. Should we then disregard the importance of lossless digital? Why should audiophiles champion Qobuz or Tidal in this case; might as well go lossy Spotify, Amazon Music, and Apple Music?

Why bother with "hi-res" music? It's already hard to make a case for audibility with even the best speakers and DACs... But when you have something like this tube amp in the chain, why even bother with 24-bit HDTracks, or even (ahem) MQA?

We all are free to mix and match ideologies as we see fit... The thoughts above are the broad strokes that have made sense to me over the years. Thanks RH for the philosophical alignment. I believe there are many out there with similar ideas even if not as outspoken about these matters.

I trust the philosophy above isn't too contentious. What really is contentious in audiophilia for me however are the half-truths, apocryphal stories that make no sense, unintelligent claims, snake oil, and at times IMO lies. This too is the power of using "fidelity" as one's trajectory - because hanging on and understanding the science that points the direction towards that "North Star" opens up avenues of objective analysis to answer many questions. But that's a different topic for another time... :-)

ok's picture

..truth be told I personally find the timbre (whatever that is) of Spotify's Ogg Vorbis codec totally addictive. Bad recordings –the main corpus of recorded music that is– also sound considerably better when tranferred to 320 or even 192 kbps mp3: a reason why mainstream providers insist on using lossy formats for their audio streams. Countless ways to simulate “tube sound” as well, my less invasive one consisting in using some decent smartphone as a source. I once even considered buying a gramophone or something in order to mesmerizingly watch it spinning away my last vinyl over and over while spring rain pours down on warm earth by cold window caressing my wistful heart with muddy water groove hiss – but ultimately I found such a cozy expense a bit of extreme.

RH's picture

Re: your last paragraph.

I agree in wanting B.S. claims to be called out. I certainly don't go in for some post-modernist version of "truth." I think both of us recognize, with some frustration, that the very subjective end of the high end audio hobby has epistemic characteristics shared by any number of pseudo-scientific or "alternative" beliefs systems, such as alternative medicine, new age beliefs, astrology, or any number of claims that can be found at the local Psychic and New Age fair.

The deep irony about subjectivism in high end audio is that the more "subjectivist" the audiophile, the more likely he is to accuse the critical thinker/skeptic/objectist of being "dogmatic" in his beliefs. And yet if you look at it the roles are reversed. The reason the skeptic wants a more reliable method of vetting audio claims than "I heard it;it must be true" is due to a recognition of our fallibility and tendency towards error. It starts with "I could be wrong!" In other words, I may feel very convinced about what I perceive...but I could be quite wrong due to any number of cognitive bias variables. Given my fallibility, how can my method account for these variables?" (Hence, blind testing for one).

Whereas the subjectivist tends to be unshakable in his conviction: "I believe what I heard!" is their axiomatic bedrock for "knowledge." "You aren't going to tell me I"m not hearing what I KNOW I heard!" So it's actually this form of subjectivist who has the unshakable personal dogma, a level of confidence in his own perception that the skeptic would never claim for himself, and which the subjectivist may be unwilling to challenge. This accusation of dogmatic confidence is one of the deep ironies about the dialogue that happens between the skeptical audiophiles and the deeply subjectist audiophiles.

My own response is to come up with the best balance I can of subectivism and objectivism as it concerns my high end hobby. There is obviously inherent subjectivism in listening and enjoying sound/music. That subjective experience is what this is all about.
And I've always deeply enjoyed the subjective talk in high end audio. Speakers, for instance, sound different and I enjoy trying to describe my perceptions of how different speakers sound, and listen to the experience of other audiophiles. I've found that while my objectivist-side aligns very strongly with what I find in the more "objectivist" audio forums in terms of evaluating B.S. claims, the overall pure emphasis on measurements becomes just too dry; I miss the richness of sharing subjective experience and description.

And while subjective descriptions of "how something sounds" clearly has big liabilities in terms of reliability, as compared to a measurements-based approach, I don't find it to be *entirely* fruitless. For instance, I've been researching and listening to a couple of speaker brands recently and I'm frankly amazed at how the descriptions of those speakers, from reviewers to other audiophiles, converge on describing exactly the sonic characteristics I myself hear. Sound through any audio system "sounds like seething" and it's fun to describe what it sounds like, especially if the sound has created an enthusiasm in the listener.

So my balance is that I embrace and enjoy the subjectivist side of the hobby - sharing subjective impressions and ultimately relying on my own subjective impressions to buy gear (where the audible difference is fully plausible or not controversial on technical grounds,e.g. speakers).

But when it comes to MAKING OBJECTIVE CLAIMS about the superiority of X or Y, or the audibility of X or Y, I try to align my confidence in those claims with objective data for their plausibility. And I take the same approach to anyone else making objective claims, especially claims that move from "I perceived this" to "therefore it's a real objective phenomenon." Too often audiophiles move from a strong subjective impression to whipping up dubious technical stories to support those impressions ("Vinyl sounds more natural because unlike digital it gives you the whole audio wavelength without dropping information!" That one still makes the rounds! Yeesh.).

Personally I love when my own subjective perception is turned on it's head, as has sometimes been the case in my blind testing. It's a learning experience, not an occasion for despair.

Viva subjectivity! (As long as it's not used as an excuse for b.s. objective claims).

RH's picture

er...typo...

Sound through any audio system "sounds like seething" and it's fun to describe what it sounds like,

Should be:

Sound through any audio system "sounds like SOMETHING" and it's fun to describe what it sounds like,

*Although, admittedly, some systems I've recently heard "sound like seething" ;-)

Long-time listener's picture

RH says, 'Whereas the subjectivist tends to be unshakable in his conviction: "I believe what I heard!" is their axiomatic bedrock for "knowledge." '

You're missing the point entirely. For subjectivists, the point is not really "knowledge," and it is not whether "I believe what I heard." I think instead it is "I liked (or I disliked) what I heard," and that's all. Isn't that the point of audio -- to listen to things we like? Why go around convincing yourself that the sound you hear is "true" if it sounds dry, thin, and harsh? Music is entertainment; it's escapism; it's relief, and release; and it's uplifting. Do you insist that everything you see in movies must be "true," or do you suspend disbelief and let yourself be entertained for a few moments?

Jeez, since we are talking about an area that is precisely about providing subjectively enjoyable experiences, then by definition subjective perceptions pretty much carry the day, I'd say.

RH's picture

"For subjectivists, the point is not really "knowledge," and it is not whether "I believe what I heard." It is "I liked (or I disliked) what I heard," and that's all."

I'm afraid that's wrong. Subjectivist audiophiles tend to make truth claims about what they believe they are perceiving.

I would think it was clear I was referencing the standard controversies - cables, tweaks etc. It doesn't make sense to say "I like the sound of A better than B" unless they sound different. And it's typical for audiophiles to presume "if I heard a difference, there was a real audible difference" vs "I'm just fooling myself."

I've lost count of how many times I've seen subjectivist-oriented audiophiles say things like "Cables make an obvious difference and if you can't hear it either you need better gear, or better ears."

.

JHL's picture

Objectivists consistently proclaim X to sound Y because of how X looks on paper. Therefore objectivist audiophiles - a contradiction - tend to make truth claims pursuant sighted bias about what they believe others are perceiving. This assumes that objectivists feel audio is about perception at all, of course, instead of academic bench-racing. Objectivists more often make truth claims about a simple price versus data equation that simply lacks a listener component.

Subjectivist audiophiles make claims about what they believe they are perceiving, making their views objective per their senses, the purpose of audio. This offends objectivists who, despite taking audio for its data theory - meaning, assumptions pursuant sighted bias - issue their decisions without associating the purported science behind them with perception.

Now before this descends into tit for tat, it's just a practical, experienced observation on how the two camps generally comport themselves. Subjectivists, for whatever tragic tendency they have to delude themselves with [insert extreme case], obviously have sufficient discernment and authority to simply observe. And objectivists, for whatever true desire they have to tie technology to valid finding, tend to instead subject themselves and everyone else to presumptions how a particular metric should tie to experience. That link generally goes missing, however, which coupled with the gatekeeping tends to miss the point about audio.

The roles are actually reversed. In their objectively exhaustive equipment analysis objectivists would do far better to include rather than dismiss componentry they had assumed was inferior, and to come up with a language to establish these purported deficiencies back in the lexicon. However, unmooring the human component from what's really a fragmented, subjective method is how objectivists lost the point and with it, pertinence.

ok's picture

..if numbers can’t be translated to personal experience and personal experience is, well, personal, then chances of being a lucky customer based on either measurements or third party reviews are no better than being a lucky customer based on, say, pure luck.
..which is absolutely true.

JHL's picture

It's not absolutely true in any context I've ever seen that quality is assessed by data, a 3rd party opinion, or luck. Every realistic, authentic audio experience I've known has been roundly confirmed by the combination of my own experiences and that of those I trust to make similar observations. HR is on that list.

This tracks quite well with any relatively sophisticated user decision in any other field. In high end audio nobody expects realism from data, infallibility from a review, or trusts the chance of luck.

ok's picture

..are more than enough for me to decide whether or not the sound I hear is worthy of any consideration; it might then take months or even years to recover from murky considerations in order to occasionally return to the clearing that those luminous moments revealed once and for all.

ok's picture

of accumulative total distortion (speakers and room resonances included among others plus the "original" signal) is more important for purely *musical* enjoyment than absolute sample figures per se. Certain –well, infinite– (non)harmonic structures simply sound dissonant to some for they resemble more to noise than to music while there’s no way for one to measure/evaluate them a priori once and for all. Some "highly distortive" systems occationally sing along in tune with the music so to speak; some "accurate" or "neutral" ones prefer to keep it low instead while steadily whispering gossip all along the way.

JHL's picture

Common knowledge about such things as audio tube amps is diminishing. As a corollary, comments about them increasingly include fallacies. This component is simply not the equivalent of low resolution data. Claiming so exposes an insufficient grasp of the basics.

If we don't have sufficient background in amplification, and especially if, to cite the old adage, the knowledge we have is therefore dangerous, we'll come to positions more assumed than real. We'll beg the question about distortion, for example, reducing an entire component, unheard, to one constituent part. We'll nay say it with no other experience with it or even the general camp it represents.

This kind of commentary is incorrect and comprises bias, hardly the objective, factual stance it presents itself as.

Good tube amps are superior ... which is why we call them good. They are because they typically have no feedback, they respond faster - did you know tubes have higher inherent bandwidth and *lower* distortion in this original state - they recover as a circuit faster, they have a more musical HD spectra, and because they generally impose less on the signal. From this state they have to be transformed into lower impedance systems with transformers, or in this case, use a special tube to drive the speaker directly, albeit with naturally higher impedance.

Is this original goodness audible? How would we know without hearing it?

The complaint, therefore, should not be with distortion, but with what kind of distortion. Then we should ask what *it* sounds like relative to live music, which we can, as did HR, gentleman that he is, simply by using it. If we insist on bench-racing it instead, as so many anonymous nay sayers apparently shall, we must also ask about the typical SS amplifier and its complex, higher-order and complex cumulative distortions. Then we can reduce their sound to an abstract, simplify it, and proceed straight to judgement.

However, your reviewer has heard the piece and sufficiently approves. Your reviewer therefore has a more balanced view, one from which we can begin to rebalance our own. Why in the world would the experienced reviewer find this sound - or indeed any sound - compelling? There must be a reason. Maybe it's that this sound is *good*. And as it turns out, there are good reasons for it. Viola.

The bad always drives out the good. Taking one-issue pot shots at a piece that we've developed from *assumptions about a single phenomenon* do not serve high end audio. They reinforce themselves, constrict interest and therefore developments, and turn this artistic science back into a low-end marketplace of relatively undiscerning low-end consumers. The bad should not drive out the good.

CG's picture

Somewhat to your point...

The harmonic distortion thing is well overblown. Not because linearity does not matter - it certainly does - but the whole concept has gotten a bit lost.

Here's a quote from an article by Lynn Olson in Glass Audio, from almost 20 years ago:

The Sound of Different Harmonic Spectra

As mentioned above, odd and even harmonics can be recast as asymmetric distortion and symmetric distortion, thus the very different effects seen with IM distortion tests. As D.E.L. Shorter of the BBC pointed out in the April 1950 Issue of Electrical Engineering, real music is dominated by a great many closely-spaced tones - a choir or massed violins having the most dense spectra of all. Shorter showed that with a few as three closely spaced tones, IM sum-and-difference sidebands outnumber the much simpler harmonic series. In effect, as the number of tones increase, the number of IM sidebands increase at much faster rate than simple harmonics. The boundary case is 3 tones of equal magnitude; for 2 tones, IM is about the same as harmonic distortion, for 4 tones, IM is far greater than harmonic distortion. I leave it to the imagination of the reader to figure out how many simultaneous tones are present in real music — a lot more than three!

The influence of IM vs THD has additional consequences for the type of music we listen to. Jazz and folk music have sparse spectra, thus THD will play a larger role in subjective coloration. By contrast, a cappela singers, large choirs, and massed violins have very dense spectra, with many closely-spaced tones drifting in and out of phase-lock all the time. This type of music will be strongly degraded by even small amounts of IM, but not as sensitive to relatively small amounts of low-order harmonic distortion. Thus the origin of the endless audiophile wrangles that are actually based on the type of music the listener prefers.

(Musicians can and do maintain phase-lock for a few seconds, despite the seeming impossibility of this. I found that out the hard way on my work on the Audionics Shadow Vector quad decoder. Every now and then on certain records the dynamic matrix circuits would go crazy — this turned out to be brief periods of phase-lock by the musicians. The SQ-encoded Loggins & Messina "Full Sail" album had one track with a violin in Left Back, and a harmonica in Right Back. Sounded great in stereo and on headphones, but with quad decoding, the logic detector would whirl the sound round the room as the musicians drifted in and out of phase-lock. Truly weird effect, and not apparently intended by the producer.)

So, depending on the type of music you listen to, the spectral distribution and class of distortion (symmetric vs asymmetric) will affect the subjective tonal character. It is much more complex than the simplistic "2nd Harmonic is Always Better" guff reprinted in the popular press.

Preference for spectral distribution plays a major role in the "tone color" of an otherwise flat-response amplifier. Thinking about "spectral tone color" in a more sophisticated way shows just how far off-course we have drifted in The Age of Digital.

(Full article here: http://www.nutshellhifi.com/library/FindingCG.html

See also: https://www.stereophile.com/reference/406howard/index.html.

Both are well worth the time reading. If you can find the cited articles, there's even more great information available there.)

Note that that Shorter fellow showed simply by the mathematics that IMD dominates the linearity performance of analog electronics (communications systems and other non-audio applications, too), except maybe when you have a single instrument playing. If you are really experienced in such things, you might be able to infer the general IMD performance of any piece of electronics by examining the very simple harmonic structure of a single tone, but even that is dubious.

Even though the science and math behind distortion - albeit maybe not the solutions - has been described for over a half century, somehow the discussion always drifts back to THD. I don't get it.

JHL's picture

Both your comment and Senior Associate Editor @ Positive Feedback, Lynn Olson's (on everything audio, not just distortion) should be required before commenting or even before doing serious audio. Indeed, how much we've forgotten.

Thank you. This is exactly what I alluded to.

mrkaic's picture

You are obviously not an electrical engineer, but rather an audiophile who picked up a few EE terms from audiophile magazines and reviews. Read the articles on negative feedback by Bruno Putzeys (I hope you know who he is), in particular the paragraphs on the confusion about feedback and amplifier speed -- the confusion that exists in the minds of many audiophiles. If you can manage to understand his articles, then the bizarre nature of your claims about "faster response" and "goodness" of no feedback amplifiers should become all to obvious to you.

JHL's picture

You're projecting, and projection and false assumptions are a bedrock of the non-technical objectivist. In your case you assume I'm unfamiliar with NFB because that's the nail you're hammering. While my EE credentials are not the point - if they were I'd be enabling your fallacy with *that* irrelevant discussion - recovery time and high order harmonics and distortion spectra *are* very much in play. That I spoke in common language shouldn't induce the objectivits's most common fallacy and yet here we are...

mrkaic's picture

I know that you are ignorant of EE -- it is obvious from your pseudo-scientific lingo that you cobbled together from audiophile publications and internet fora. It is not just NFB -- all your statements that involve any reference to electrical phenomena in general and amplifiers in particular have been equally baseless. You have proven that with your uninformed posts right here and you are the one who is projecting that I think your ignorance is limited to NFB. It is not, your ignorance of EE in general and amplification of signals in particular is truly comprehensive.

Jim Austin's picture
This has gone from being about amplifiers to being personal, so cool it. Address the topic, not each other's competence. I direct this at both of you. Jim Austin, Editor Stereophile
Herb Reichert's picture

there was Norman Crowhurst; and, any discussion of the relevance of THD measurements should be filtered by an understanding of what he and Lynn Olsen say in this brilliant essay posted above:

http://www.nutshellhifi.com/library/FindingCG.html

hr

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be HR could review the new Krell K-300i integrated amp ($8,000) with I-Bias and built-in DAC? :-) ......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be HR could also review the new Hafler transistor amp, which uses the Transnova circuit (Hafler designed) $2,000? :-) .........

JHL's picture

*

jeffhenning's picture

A few points:

• It's always funny to see people getting this upset over a comment about something that they have no stake in. Really, why are you getting so bent out of shape about me commenting that this is a substandard amplifier?

• If you like tubes so much, why don't you go back to watching a CRT television? Oh, yeah, that's right, they stopped making them because their day was over and the tech had been surpassed. And they wasted energy.

• I'm sure this would have been considered a really good amplifier in 1950. It's not 1950.

• I could say that the only proper consumer use for a tube is in a guitar amp, but with Fractal Audio and Line 6 making the incredible rack units they do, that's not even true anymore. I'm sure tubes are good for something, but I'm not sure what that is. I guess I'll need to do some research.

• I'll loosely quote what John Siau (CTO at Benchmark Media) wrote me a few years ago when I was asking him about his AHB-2 amp (the best amp in the world hands down) that was, then, about to be released: (again, not verbatim, but close) "When people first hear an amp with much less noise and distortion, it may not sound right to them. Once their ears have acclimated to that lack of noise and distortion, they can hear that it is right and there is no going back."

I don't know who any of you are, but I'll take John Siau's or Bruno Putzeys's opinion over your's any day of the week.

If you really extoll the virtues of noise and distortion, that's good by me.

Enjoy your Edison cylinders.

CG's picture

Speaking 100.00000% for myself only, my point is not whether tube-based amps are better. Or worse. Or whether this amp is good or bad. (I've never seen or heard one. Ever. Full disclosure - we use a transistor based amplifier here.)

My point was, and still is, that looking at total harmonic distortion or even just the harmonic spectrum for a single tone doesn't tell you very much.

I have a stake in understanding that.

I'd also like other audio enthusiasts to have a better understanding of what they're reading and possibly purchasing. Hopefully, somebody, somewhere will look at the links I posted and consider what those authors wrote. I have no stake in that, other than the idea of other enthusiasts having more fun. Some sort of misguided altruism, I suppose. Perhaps I ought to reconsider my thoughts on that subject. In any case, you've made your point clear about whether you'd consider digesting what anybody here might say. Fair enough.

I'm not clear why you're slinging so much vitriol over some amplifier comments, though. Bad day?

Since Mr. Henning sees no point in considering anything I might have to say, this is for anybody else interested in what Bruno Putzeys says on the subject.

https://www.soundstageultra.com/index.php/features-menu/general-interest-interviews-menu/455-searching-for-the-extreme-bruno-putzeys-of-mola-mola-hypex-and-grimm-audio-part-one

https://linearaudio.net/sites/linearaudio.net/files/volume1bp.pdf

RH's picture

• I could say that the only proper consumer use for a tube is in a guitar amp, but with Fractal Audio and Line 6 making the incredible rack units they do, that's not even true anymore. I'm sure tubes are good for something, but I'm not sure what that is. I guess I'll need to do some research.

It only takes looking beyond your own desires, to the existence of people with other desires, to unwrap your confusion.

Why would anyone want to own a vintage car when we have modern cars that are "objectively" better in many regards? Because there are people who enjoy driving and owning and collecting vintage cars.

Why would anyone own a mechanical watch when we've had cheaper, more accurate quartz-driven watches for many decades? Because many people desire, and enjoy, the look and craftsmanship of mechanical watches.

Why would anyone watch an old black and white movie when we have color movies? Because many people still enjoy a lot of those old black and white movies.

Why would anyone enjoy using tube amps, or for that matter vinyl records, when we have more modern, more accurate components and sources? Because some people enjoy the sound, and the aesthetics, of tube amps or vinyl/turntables.

If you ever find yourself confused about why a market still exist for something, just remember to look outside your own values to what someone else may value, or have as their goal.

:-)

JHL's picture

"It's always funny to see people getting this upset over a comment about something that they have no stake in."

Fallacy: Actually, nay sayers w/o experience - w/o a "stake" - initiate these exchanges virtually every time they appear. That presumption and ignorance are as illogical as the argument is inverted.

"Really, why are you getting so bent out of shape about me commenting that this is a substandard amplifier?"

Begging the question.

"If you like tubes so much, why don't you go back to watching a CRT television?"

Irrelevant and begging the question.

"CRT's waste energy"

Everything does. Irrelevant.

"I'm sure this would have been considered a really good amplifier in 1950. It's not 1950."

Irrelevant.

"I'm sure tubes are good for something, but I'm not sure what that is. I guess I'll need to do some research."

True, exposing the previous fallacies.

"I'll loosely quote [a third party]"

Appeals to authority and convention. Irrelevant.

"...wrote me a few years ago when I was asking him about [a product irrelevant to this conversation] (the best amp in the world hands down)"

Proof by assertion.

"I don't know who any of you are, but I'll take John Siau's or Bruno Putzeys's opinion over your's any day of the week."

Authority fallacy and prejudiced bias.

"If you really extoll the virtues of noise and distortion, that's good by me. Enjoy your Edison cylinders."

And fallacious again.

Virtually the entire you-mayn't-enjoy-that-musicality argument falls back on anything but actual experience and advocates lack the broader experience to support it.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Stereophile has reviewed with measurements, Benchmark AHB-2 amp ........ AHB-2 has almost 20 bit SNR (resolution) ... may be one of the best (if not the best) SNR (resolution) for an amp in the world :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Another amp reviewed and measured by Stereophile which comes close to AHB-2 in SNR is, Halcro dm-88 :-) .......

JHL's picture

*

Robin Landseadel's picture

Always was interested in the notion of "The Absolute Sound" and started collecting music at an early age. This led to too much work in record retail and some time in broadcasting and recording, said recording being [mostly] acoustic music. Buying and selling [or getting rid of] a lot of audio gear was central to the process. So I've owned Fisher 500Cs, a Marantz 8b, the Dynaco 70/PAS-3 pair and the Scott 299B. I spent more time listening to the Stax SRM-T1 Tube Amp/Energizer than any other amplification component I've owned.

Because I spent so much listening via the Stax Signature Earspeakers, really low-level differences were audible. I also had an energizer that only supplied voltage to the drivers, one used a standard power amp with that energizer. So I could hear my earspeakers powered by the Marantz 8b. The hybrid J-Fet/Triode Stax SRM-T1 amp is very unusual in having the earspeaker's drivers direct-coupled to the outputs of the tubes, no transformers between. And yes, there was an audible difference in resolution, favoring the Stax amp. While listening via the Marantz 8b I recall thinking "This is the perfect amp for Ella or Sarah." The mids were damn near real, seemingly "resolved. But the farther away one was from the mids, the more out of focus the sound became. I recall a similar effect while auditioning other transformer-coupled tube amps. I've heard most of the usual suspects at audio salons. A relative had a Macintosh powered system.

My favorite tube amp was the little Scott 299B. It had less of that "transformer sound" with more focus up top and a little more in the lower mids-upper bass. But at the same time, the amp seemed to selectively edit out various nasties in LP playback. Could not make a reasonable connection for a digital source [or recorder] on account of the limitations of the 1961 design. Probably needed a cathode follower to connect to a digital source. Weirdly "realistic" with vocal recordings, Pop & Classical. Great phono section.

Haven't heard the Stax amp/headphones for a long time, the original pair had the cable ruined a couple of decades ago. But back then I could easily hear the differences in resolution between LPs and CDs. None of my CD players were as good as my LP players. One record player was a Thorens, the other a Merrill Modded AR 'table. The CD players were all cheap, mostly some sort of 1 bit DAC was involved. However, I cobbled together a CD system using an Optimus portable CD player [strangely with a 3.5 mm SPDIF out] powered by a custom battery supply. That digital source was connected to the 20-bit capable tc electronics M2000 [an ADC/DAC reverb generating Swiss Army Knife]. Resolving power went up, particularly in the bass. Not the same as analog playback, but better in some ways. That was 25 years ago.

Now I'm listening everyday to some very cheap gear that is theoretically capable of Hi-Rez. My Fiio M3K DAP and Sennheiser HD 599 Headphones audibly have greater resolution with 16 bit sources than anything I've owned up to this point. Make of that what you will.

These days I play guitar with an old-timey group that usually has a fiddle or two. Back when I was recording I heard a lot of classical strings of various sorts. When it comes to strings, I have yet to hear any assemblage of recording and playback gear that strikes me as "real". There's a jump factor in the actual sound, just that little extra bit of dynamics. Solid-State and Digital usually favor the rosin, Tubes & Analog favor the wood, but nobody really gets it right.

dial's picture

Do you plan a review of the Coincident Turbo 845SE ?

Ortofan's picture

... David Hafler posed the philosophical question: "Should an amplifier be pleasant sounding, or should it be accurate even if accuracy is not as pleasant?"

https://www.stereophile.com/content/manufacturers-comment-0

https://www.stereophile.com/solidpoweramps/hafler_xl-280_power_amplifier/index.html

Over thirty years later debate over the answer rages on.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Looks like in this forum, 75% 'pleasant' and 25% 'accurate' :-) ..........

Robin Landseadel's picture

There's only so much "truth" any of us can take.

Single-ended triodes may be lying to us, but much like Anaïs Nin's diaries, they are such beautiful lies.

RH's picture

We audiophiles generally want audio gear pitched at us as Truth-Revealers. Virtually no manufacturer of high end equipment pitches their gear on the ground it is adding euphonic distortions.

Even manufacturers of tube amps, including ones that are notorious for "measuring poorly/adding distortion" like SET amps, pitch their design as a purer path to hearing what is on the source.

Subtle musical information must be "revealed" not distortion added.
They know what we want to hear :-)

(And I'm not saying it's all disingenuous: I think many if not most amp manufacturers are aiming at"hi-fidelity" by their own lights).

Robin Landseadel's picture

My [admittedly limited] exposure to good SET sound was startling in its "realism", or at least a convincing simulacrum of "realism". At the same time, certain aspects of LP sound that I heard on other gear were absent. Don't know about you, but there must have been some "secret sauce" or auditory juju in that specific mix.

Just don't slap me for saying it was "euphonic".

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Only the monks who make the Chartreuse liqueur know the recipe to that 'secret sauce' :-) ...........

Ortofan's picture

... those monks ate that would have induced them to develop an after-dinner drink that tastes like Green Chartreuse?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I searched for it, and could not find anything special ........ Apparently those monks ate various types of meats and cheeses ........ The water in those days was supposed to be un-sanitary ........ So, the monks probably drank beer, wine and Chartreuse to kill the germs ....... Apparently Queen Elizabeth likes to drink Chartreuse mixed with champagne :-) ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Instead of boiling the water first and drinking it later, those monks chose to drink beer, wine and Chartreuse ........ Wise choice :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW ...... Hafler Transnova 9500 amp was reviewed and measured by Stereophile ........ Transnova 9500 has mostly 16 to 17 bit SNR (resolution), which is excellent :-) .........

Transnova 9500 has a damping factor of 400 to 800 , which is outstanding (wow!) :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'Where Have All the Cowboys Gone'? :-) .........

michaelavorgna's picture

If you consider a handful of people commenting amounts to a rage, then sure.

To put things in a wider perspective, if you have a party and invite a few hundred thousand people and a dozen or so show up, I'd suggest you have a whimper.

Jim Austin's picture

You throw a huge party and everyone on the guest list--thousands!--shows, plus a few others. It's a great party and everyone's happy accept these two guys sitting in the corner yelling at each other about the quality of the beverage. One thinks its too strong; the other thinks it's too weak. A third comes over, listens in, and asserts that it needs to be colder. Everyone else at the party, oblivious to this small handful, parties on.

So what should you do? 1. Take note of their arguments, but do nothing; 2. Throw them out; 3. Cancel this and all subsequent parties; 4. Change the plan for all future parties to try and please this handful of folks--which of course is not possible.

I choose 1. If they start to create a disturbance, I'll move on to 2., but so far there's no need.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

michaelavorgna's picture

Sticking to the beverage theme, my point would be relevant here if the parties you throw were all about beverages yet the same 5 or 6 people crash every party (they actually never leave), do most of the talking, and tell everyone that water is the best beverage and everything else is a silly waste of time and money.

Of course this is disrespectful to beverage makers, the people hired to speak about beverages, and the party organizer. This kind of blind adherence to and endless espousing of the water über alles belief could very well create a toxic environment where people who have other ideas choose not to participate.

Then again, I've only had 1 1/2 cups of coffee so I could be all wet.

[Editor's note: Michael Lavorgna is the editor and publisher of Twittering Machines.]]

teched58's picture

Calls for 'civility' are a cover for being unable to withstand criticism. Rather than Stereophile folks being upset that their reviews are criticized, they should be happy that they have audience engagement. Would new owner Paul Miller rather have a dead site?

BTW, you're going to have criticism when you continually pimp for overpriced, underperforming equipment. As a faithful reader of both Stereophile and AnalogPlanet, I can attest that it is possible to BOTH really enjoy your web sites and at the same time think you guys are a bit too predisposed towards liking big-bucks equipment irrespective of how it measures.

If the editors and writers of Stereophile conduct themselves like professionals, which I think they do, they should have nothing to apologize for. Being a 'comments policeman' is not a fit occupation for an adult and its practitioners come over as a bit thin-skinned.

Jim Austin's picture

Audience engagement doesn't scare me. People sniping at each other on the forums--instead of engaging the substance of the discussion--annoys me. Please note that the posts where I call for civility, including this most recent one, are not defending Stereophile reviewers. This is a case where members of the engaging audience were attacking each other. Let's take some examples from your post:

As a faithful reader of both Stereophile and AnalogPlanet, I can attest that it is possible to BOTH really enjoy your web sites and at the same time think you guys are a bit too predisposed toward liking big-bucks equipment irrespective of how it measures.

That's a fine, fair point, clearly expressed. Well done. And I'm pleased to know that you're a faithful reader.

BTW, you're going to have criticism when you continually pimp for overpriced, underperforming equipment.

"Pimping," on the other hand, is on its face offensive. You can make the same points courteously. If not, you can find another place to make them.

By the way, If posters are discourteous toward Stereophile's writers, the standards I enforce will be the same as if they are discourteous toward each other.

I will add that, although Stereophile's commenting policy does not require commenters to identify themselves, I have much more respect for those who are willing to sign their names after their criticisms.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Robin Landseadel's picture

However you want to describe Stereophile's recent choice of audio gear to review, I seriously want to know how an Onkyo 8020 would measure compared to this expensive object. If you still reviewed the likes of the Onkyo 8020, it would make that process much easier. However, you don't seem to be concerned with "real-world" gear these days.

Jim Austin's picture

It's true that mass-market products like the Onkyo aren't really in our wheelhouse, although if a writer took an interest in a comparable (but new) product, I wouldn't hesitate to authorize the review. Anyway, we regularly review sub-$1k components. We've had several sub-$1K / pair loudspeakers and components in the magazine in recent months: Emotiva, KEF LSX, , Wharfedale, Pro-Ject electronics, and so on. The Klipsch 600M ($549 / pair) was on the cover recently; so was the LSX. There's more coming--including another cover.

We might not go quite as cheap as you seem to want us to, but I think we do pretty well on the budget end.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Robin Landseadel's picture

I had a subscription to Stereophile in the 1980's, 1990's. Although Stereophile reviewed some high-priced gear [I remember the shock over the price ($1895, back in 1988) for the Vendetta Research SCP-2 phono preamplifier], there was frequent appraisal of some of the cheap stuff too.

I've got little doubt that an amp of this sort could provide a sort of experience the Onkyo could never reach. However, it would be interesting to compare their specs.

Ortofan's picture

... 'The Entry Level' column?
https://www.stereophile.com/category/entry-level
So doing might provide some semblance of balance with the reviews of "big bucks" equipment.

NeilS's picture

I see Stereophile's commenting policy hasn't changed - commenters may remain anonymous. Has Stereophile's policy changed regarding those actively in the audio business being required to include their affiliation at the foot of every post?

https://www.stereophile.com/content/devore-fidelity-orangutan-o96-loudspeaker

Jim Austin's picture

Has Stereophile's policy changed regarding those actively in the audio business being required to include their affiliation at the foot of every post?

No, why? Is someone in this thread in the industry besides me?

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

NeilS's picture

https://twitteringmachines.com/

Jim Austin's picture
Oh, right. I'll remind Michael L that he should post his affiliation.
michaelavorgna's picture

Michael Lavorgna
Editor/Publisher
Twittering Machines

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Rage Against the Machine :-) ..........

teched58's picture

Hi Jim-

Thanks for your response. I have to say though, that I think you proved my point about being thin-skinned. In using the word 'pimping,' I wasn't accusing you of being an actual pimp. I was just using a common colloquialism. For this you are threatening me ['you can find another place to make them']. The new editor-in-chief threatening the readers who click on and engage with the site. Good show, good show indeed.

Also, you immediately went to the 'sign your name' criticism, which is used against people who really get under your skin; e.g., the Archimagos of the world. So I wrote that I was a faithful reader, but now you 'don't respect me,' because I won't put up a name that will allow people to go to my linkedin and uncover my real life identity, with all the dangers that that entails.

Jim Austin's picture

Is this what they call passive-aggressive? I think it's a pose you're using to try to score points. Whatever.

However you intend it, "pimping" is offensive. I suspect you know this. Make a different choice. Choose to be courteous. Use your nice words. It's easy.

And then you presume to read my mind--that someone (you?) has gotten "under my skin." That's personal, and it doesn't advance the argument. I've noted your disagreement with our policy. The policy remains. I'm done here. Attack the substance not the people and you'll generally be OK.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

teched58's picture

Thanks again for your reply. I will retract the word 'pimp,' which I used in the phrase 'you continually pimp for overpriced, underperforming equipment,' since you find it discourteous.

In its place I offer: 'Stereophile is careful not to offend advertisers who make overpriced, underperforming equipment.'

Jim Austin's picture

It's not exactly polite--you are questioning our motives--but it's better. Apparently you and our writers have a legitimate difference of opinion about what's overpriced and underperforming. It's true that I try to be courteous--to not offend--but I don't single out advertisers for courteous treatment, and I try to treat manufacturers who make high-value equipment the same way I treat those who charge much more.

Now I really must move on.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

misterc59's picture

I have no dog in any fight whether it be SS vs tubes, accuracy to the recording on whatever medium was used. I listen to music if I like the sound and if it makes me feel good. I would suspect there are many millions like myself, but I have no statistical back-up at my immediate disposal. I have a SS system which has been upgraded over time (to my ears) and have enjoyed every minute. I have also heard tube systems which I also enjoyed. If someone likes MP3 sound, good for them, as long as they are enjoying their music. Some musical formats along with the equipment it is played on may be a gateway to other things, then again perhaps not, as long as the music listener is listening and happy, which I think is the ultimate goal. If a person hears music on some equipment that sounds better to them, but they don't care, and to them the music is all that matters, is that bad? Many years ago, I once heard Bruce Springsteen's Racing in the Street for the first time in a dorm through cinderblock walls and immediately asked my neighbor who sang this as I was enthralled, through cinderblock walls no less. Imagine the distortion on that! Anyway, cheers to all who love music and listen to it through whatever means they have at their disposal and choose their equipment as they see fit for their own consumption. As you would guess, I do not consider myself an audiophile, but do enjoy reading about other listener's experiences.

Cheers,
Terry

rschryer's picture

"...it makes me feel good."

You're an audiophile. Only audiophiles and recording engineers care about sound.

"I have a SS system which has been upgraded over time..."

This sounds like something an audiophile might say.

"...but do enjoy reading about other listener's experiences."

Like I said, you're an audiophile.

ok's picture

..for hifi has long been consumed by versatile and (cost-)effective computer solutions like so many other things have nowadays. High-end price tags, pointless overengineering and nostalgia exploitation are the only means of compensating for the virtual extinction of hifi market as well as the only visible signs of supposed superiority in an age where decent measurements and good sound are easily met.

Jim Austin's picture

we live "in an age where decent measurements and good sound are easily met," as you write, but "decent measurements" and "good sound" have never been the goal of Stereophile or, for that matter, of perfectionist audio. It's true that people who believe in this pursuit often go beyond obvious quality metrics in search of superior subjective experience. It's also true that often leaves us in uncharted territory, vulnerable to claims such as yours.

But I can't help wondering--and this is a sincere question, seeking a sincere answer: If you believe that high-end audio amounts to nothing more than "high-end price tags, pointless overengineering and nostalgia exploitation," then why do you both to post at, and presumably to read, Stereophile magazine? Don't misunderstand--we're happy to have you as a reader. I just can't help wondering.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

ok's picture

..dear Jim: it’s my kind of entertainment, not much unlike people who are still interested in politics in a time of technocracy and all-embracing global economics (by the way what all audiophile dichotomies actually are other than momentum-induced party politics?) ..And yes, I really like Stereophile with all its skilful writers, intelligent commentators and pluralist tactics; all this and much more as long as the whole thing doesn’t get unnecessarily personal and nasty.

Jim Austin's picture

..And yes, I really like Stereophile with all its skilful writers, intelligent commentators and pluralist tactics; all this and much more as long as the whole thing doesn’t get unnecessarily personal and nasty.

On that, certainly, we agree.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

RH's picture

I understand where some of the cynicism comes from when people disparage high end equipment engineering, performance and pricing.

But as I'm not by nature cynical, I actually enjoy the somewhat wild-west exploration in high end audio, where so many different views and ideas flourish. I don't think there is anything magical going on that can't be measured, and b.s. claims are b.s. claims.
But on the other hand I've enjoyed, or been amazed by lots of products that would never have seen the light of day if the Hard Nosed Objectivist Engineers commoditized audio "in their own image."

On these very pages before we've seen people who proclaim knowledge and experience in building speakers, who have declared that certain speakers reviewed by Stereophile were just "wrong" in their design, something no one competent would ever create. And yet I've found the objects of their critique produced some of the most enjoyable listening experiences I've had.

Jim Austin's picture
What is this, post comments Jim can agree with day? Thanks for the post. Jim Austin, Editor Stereophile
ok's picture

..some of those hi-end freaks actually work :-}

Robin Landseadel's picture

Speaking only for myself, I'm as interested in developments in audio gear now as I have ever been. Some developments are happening at prices that rule that particular class of audio gear "out" for me. Mind you, I am interested. The best I've heard was well out of my price range. Though I suspect the most important element in that system's sound was the knowledge and technical expertise of the person who owned the rig and designed the electronics of that audio set-up.

At the same time, the more remarkable products of this particular era are in the cheap seats. Smartphones are a major part of this. Low-power DACs with remarkable specs are being punched out by the boatload these days. The kind of technical specs regarded as ridiculously OTT just a few years ago are popping up on budget DAPs right now. This is a race to the top in terms of specs. There's also been an ongoing race to the bottom [price-wise] among "name" speaker designers & companies as of late. And, then, there's always Schiit, eh?

I don't worry much about "pointless overengineering". I'm not sure such a thing exists. However, the ostentatiousness of some of these "cost-no-object" objects is a red flag, much like the story of the "Splish" told to me 'round the campfire back when "Yellow Submarine" was in the top 40.

I believe that high-end audio amounts to lots of different things for lots of different people. For me, it's mostly the pursuit of "The Absolute Sound" and I've heard enough really good cheap stuff and enough really bad expensive stuff to know there's more going on here than a fat wallet.

Glotz's picture

Outside of the reviewer of course...

No??

Ironic so much time and energy has been spent here.

I think it's high time that we BAN all measurements of ANY kind from every written-word publication extant- Internet included!

HHAAHHAHHAAHH... It's the only thing that will let us ENJOY music (and
be civil!) again.

volvic's picture

I own a SS system (all Linn). Yet, the best sound I ever heard was around ten years ago in Montreal at the Salon image et son show. It was an Audio Research CD player and Audio Research integrated amp - all tubes!!!! Speakers were the middle of the range Verity Audio. I have been to a lot of shows and have never heard my CD of Schoenberg's Survivor from Warsaw sound so lifelike. Distortion? measurements? Who cared that day when all I heard was great music. No other system has been able to come close to that experience, and that system wasn't even that expensive AND it was tubes. It's all subjective, even our beloved music we listen. The composers writing is all guess work; try and figure out what the composer wanted, did he want a short note or long note, where does the crescendo begin, where does it end. It's all a matter of personal preference so why do we continually have these silly discussions. Find something you like that transforms your musical experience and life and enjoy, and who cares about measurements. Till then like Glotz said, if you haven't heard it don't criticize.

Ortofan's picture

... due mainly to the tubed CD player and amp, or was it more a result of the polypropylene cones in the Verity speakers?

volvic's picture

At the same show in another room, the more expensive Verity Audios were being powered by Nagra monos and DCS gear. It sounded great, albeit a little too loud, but did not have the same magic. I guess the dealers did a great job of matching.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Audio Research integrated amp's high-ish output impedance (hence, low 'damping factor'), and generous dose of harmonic distortions, might have contributed to that 'magic' and 'pleasant' sound ........ Look at Stereophile measurements of some of the Audio Research integrated amps :-) .........

volvic's picture

No disrespect here as I like your comments and contribution but frankly the measurements mean nothing to me. The whole AR combo sounded like magic. I will never forget the impression it left on me. If that is all down to distortion then bring it on.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Audio Research CD player also, might have contributed to that 'magic' ......... Also, look at Stereophile measurements of some of the Audio Research CD players :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If they have used Audio Research CD player with the Nagra (tube, I guess) monos, that 'magic' could have happened in that other room too ........ Just a thought :-) .........

volvic's picture

The Nagra gear was paired with the dCs electronics. Very fine sounding and much more expensive, but I would have been happier with the cheaper AR CD/int. amp and smaller Verity Audio speakers. If I didn't have a five year old, had space and could afford that gear, I would have purchased it, but my needs are satisfied with what I have. I do have to retire at some point.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If you get a chance, and if there is a dealer near you, give a listen to the new Krell K-300i integrated amp with built-in DAC ($8,000) or, the new Hafler Transnova SS amp ($2,000) ......... They both should be able to drive the Verity lower priced models ........ You may like their sound with other speakers too ....... They both should have good measurements ........ Just a suggestion :-) ........

volvic's picture

While happy with my Kairn/Klout combo if I do move on it would have to be something with loads of inputs; way too many components. Will seek out the Krell, have heard the older integrated amps and they were quite nice.

Glotz's picture

Funny, and it's amazing we all know it's about the next-level of musical experience, yet we always devolve to the point of vitriol.

...and the amp?? Herb LOVED IT!! I trust this guy! His passion does not lie! Good writing does not mean 'bullshit' people! He has a diverse set of systems for a variety of listening approaches.

In fact, I actually LOVE this magazine 'cause it's the ONE place that I feel we, as readers, AREN'T being LIED TO.

I've heard amazing demos through an entire Linn system playing Muddy Waters at a very nice Scottsdale, AZ dealer many moons ago. I have also heard some knock out tubed ARC systems with Alon speakers that "transforms your musical experience" on every level. THAT is what it is about.

Would the McIntosh, the BAT or the ARC be the "KING"?? What? In what situation? In what system? The answer is YES. They're all fantastic! It's about listening to get the system to sing together, from... auditioning gear in and out of our systems.

How often do you think JA wishes he could bring his AP testing gear to AXPONA? How bout never..! Even if he did, he would report much of the equipment sounded worse than it tested! Ho Ho! What then?!?

Back in the listening room, the opposite seems to be true, less a few cases. I wonder why THAT is!

PS-
I'd really like to hear an Audio Research surround sound processor again, and LP12 again, just for the fun of it.

Ortofan's picture

... how he likes the heat from their high-amperage filaments during mid-summer?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

HR stays at his vacation home in Martha's Vineyard during summer :-) ..........

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