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SAM TELLIG DJCS DEEPER INTO DJRECT-HEATED TRJODES
mag, Hi-Fi Neu’s & Record Review, pubiishedthe “Valves year or so ago a Britisli and Vinyl” supplement. There was a feature articie on thc Audion Silver Nights—a pair ofdrop-dead—gorgeous mono tube amplifaers using the 300B output tube—made by a company named Alema, founded by David Ches seU and Erik Andersson, both formerly associated with the UK firm Audio lnnovations. First thing 1 did was fax the manufac turer: “Do you have a North American impor ter? Not at that time? But they asked me if 1 would iike to purchase a pain Purchase a pair? 1 could see that, with shipping charges, ir wouid make no sense to bourace a review pair back and forth across the Atlantic. But buy a pair, sight unseen and sound unheard? 1 heid on to my wallet. David Chesseli was not deterred. “You won’t be sorry’ he said. “Several reviewcrs in Europe have already bought them.” 1 returned to the HFN/RR article and lusted after the amps—beautifully fan— ished with a brass nameplate on top, clad in gleaming brass on other parts ofthe chassis, and those beautifui, glow—in— the-dark Shuguang 300B output tubes. 1 sent Mr. Chessdil my check. (1 often do impuisive things in hi-fi.) The amps arrived a week later tojoin my system: a Pioneer Elite PD-65 CD player, Audibie lilusions Modulus 3 pre amp, a pair of Quad ESL-63 USA Mon itors, and an AR turntable with an SME 309 arm and a Shure Ultra 500 cartridge These beauties did things right straight out of the box: truth oftimbre, sweet ness, smoothness, detail, deiicacy. And, for their rated 2OWpc, they had a surpris ing amount of get-up-and-go (up to a
1 Tias Audion une o(ampiiíiers is now imporsed inso she US byJay Bersrand oíAudio importa, 49 Fairview Ave., Nasisua, NH 03060. Tei: (603) 883—1982. Fase: (603) 880-4533. Tias Silver Nighs ‘viii resail for $3900.

A

point—20W—ofcourse).
The Silver Nights are rated at 2OWpc for the export version, l8Wpc for the domestic UK version. The 300B output tubes, two per side, are sourced from Shuguang. There are two other tubes per side: an ECC88/6922 Sovtek input tube and a 5687 double—triode driver tube sourccd from National that says ‘Made in USA:’ Silver wiring is used through out the amp, and transformers are said to be designed in-house. The manufacturer notes that the initial break—in period is two to three days. After that, the amps should be given a warmup period of 10—15 minutes. I’d give ‘em two to three weeks’ burn-in time (without the amps on ali te time), using the arnps 6—8 hours a day, before making any “yudgments” (as Larsik likes to say). The amps require about an hour’s

warmup in order to sound their best. This is not unusual—some amps take even longer. With the amps sitting on homemade stands, 1 used as short a run as possible of Kimber STC—the excel— Ient cable 1 keep corning back to2—to each speaker. When using the Quads, 1 put the stands under the speakers, which are raised with Arcici stands. Each amp is equipped with a levei control, so you can run a CD player or processor straight in and keep your sys tem simple. file amps are mirror images of one another, so the volume-levei knobs can be placed right ncxt to one another?) This may be an excellent idea
2 l 111w Kimber 8TC because lts nos a viajo, of íashion—is’s never “kabie ofthe rnonth?’ What is is, shough, is righs. 3 Tbe connecsiona in shc baek are aiao mirror—imaged; ook carefuiiy ao you dons eonnect yossr speakers uns ofpisase.

STEISEOPHILIS,

FsnRuARy 1994

45

for those whojust play CDs—you can cut out che une stage or preamp. Thcre are conneetions for 2, 4, and 8 ohms: 1 ran the Quads off the 4 ohm tap and found thcy werc a little more gutsy, maybe, than if they were run off the 8 ohm tap No overali feedback is used, and the ainps are supposed to incorporate “ad vanced phase eaneellation cireuitry.” In other words, this ain’t a single—ended design—it’s push-pull, using a phase splittcr. 1 wouldn’t get hung up on this push-pull or single-ended stuff(aithough 1 do think you Jose some liquidity com— pared to the Cary 300SE mono amps 1 wrote about last November, in VoL16 No.11, p.69)—what niatters most is how wcll a particular dcsign is exccutcd. 1 hcar a strong family resembiance among ali amplifiers that use the 300B output tube—whethcr the tube is sourced from Shuguang/GoId Dragon or che American-made CetronlRichard son. (The 300B is a direct-heated triode.) The most remarkable thing about thc Silver Nights—as with othcr 300B amps—is truth of timbre, or tonal accuracy. This is not so much a iushncss as a riglitness of sound—a freedom from anything that sounds mechanicai, con crived, or artificial. Of course, good recordings hclp; but cven not-so-great

recordings can sound okay with this amp. 1 espccially like listening to things like old Benny Goodman, Glenu Milier, and Bing Crosby records—and they sound great with the Silver Nights. What do you want me to listen to—Jennifer Warblcr? Amanda McSweep? New Age? A bunch ofSwedes trying to play yazz? (Sorry, Larsik.) lfyou’re Iistening to a multi-miked mcss, this amp will reveal the rccording for the botchcd job that it is. On the other hand, ifyou have a recording that sounds spacious and natural, this amp will give it to you in ali its sonic splendor. Unlike some tube amps that seem to wrap everything up in a phasey haze, the Silver Nights don’t cover things up—they’re transparent. Llnfortunately, they have a way of showing up other amplifiers which obscure $0 much detail—hide it behind a whale (or “veil,” ifyou don’t speak Swedlish). Don’t expect killer bass from these amps—it’s not thcre in solid—statc terms. On the other hand, don’t expect flabby, l—won’t—name—the—manufacturer tube bass, either—there’s nothing soggy on the bottom. Bass is tight, tuneful, and surprisingly fuil without being overripe, as it is with, to some degree, the Mcln— tosh 275 Commemorative Edition (1 still love the Big Mac).

The Silver Nights reaily shine in the midrange and the treble. Coupled with the truth of timbre, thcre’s remarkable clarity—a hcar-through quality that you just have to experience. Ofcourse, the rest ofyour system should be up to snuff. I’m not sure that some speaker owners— like Thielers, Loganites, or WKJ’E—will benef,t as much as others. (Punishing ioads, you know.) Up to a point, the Silver Nights did fairly wdll with the Quads—the sound stage had a tendency to come forward a bit compared with more powerfiil amps, especially transistorjobs, and things had a tendency to llatten out. This is too bad, because when you coupie that with the Quads’ in~ate inabiiity to focus—in, say, LeicaiAgfa Rodinal—type tcrms—you’re left with a somewhat homogenizcd soundstagc The Silver Nights rcaliy came into their own with the ProAc Response is speaker. This is one of the mosi magi— cai combinations 1 have ever heard in hi fi: power apienty, and a breathtakingiy wide and deep soundstage with stunning precision offocus. With a great recording and performance, the Silver Nights on the ProAcs have the powcr to make you wecp forjoy—and 1 mean that iiteraily. Sure, thcse amps will run out of power, but by the time they do, you’d

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ST,inEopHILE, FEI,RUARY

1994

47

Lo turn down the ProAcs anyway. As for the Quads: 1 think their lack of ~ower shows up in Lhe somewhat flat ~ped soundstag~~ (On Lhe other hand, Lhese amps should be terrific with old Quads.) When you switch over Lo most other anlps. you’ll realize how much detail you’re missing: the Silver Nights are ~~credibly clean, but not squeaky-ciean— theY’rC clean without turning clinical (unlesS the recording is poor, in which case you’ll hear it). I’d guess that most Monitor Audio speakers~ especially the floorstanding ~ncs, are sensitive. These speakers don’t have a killer impedance, like so many American speakers which appear te be designed. in part. in order te let dealers sefl more amps by Krell,JeffRowland, or Mark Levinson (Lhe brand, not Lhe man). “What about yooce? What about yooci?” Lars asks. He’s become truiy American—he craves power. The irony ofthis sitüation is deicious: Lars has an amp designed by a Russian. Alexander Nevsky returns Lo conquer Lhe Swedes. 1, Lhe Russophile with Russian wife and Russian-speaking child, have an amp half-designed by a Swede. Too bad this is such a male hobby— music-loving women (if they weren’t se intintidated and turned offby se many dealers) would leve a pair of these amps. The Silver Nights have plenty ofWAF (wife acceptance factor). My wife freaks out about their beauty—she actually pol ishes them. “Ali che other stuff you can seu:’ she said. “You keep the ProAcs and Lhe Silver Nights, righc?”

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Connd-johnson Premier II power amplifier

4Right’ The Silver Nights have not misbe
haved in the slightest—no hums, no buzzes, no hisses, no solid—state listen— ing &tigue. They also have more ilfe: not only do Lhey let more air iii, but they also let more sunlight in there’s more hap pening between and around the notes, even with digital. While iistening to - - - ‘s system,l was conscious ofhow little life there was—everything was damped and dead. When 1 went home and iistened to the Silver Nights, there were Light and life that went beyond delicacy, detail, and transparency. These are truly extraordinary amplifiers.

CONRAD-JOHNSON PREMIER II The Premier 11 is not a 3008 amp, but
what Lhe heck—1 have Lo fit it in some— where. Some months age 1 was favorably impressed with the Conrad-Johnson MV-125, a 125 Wpc stereo amp that re— tailed for $3995. 1 had borrowed Lhe amp
STgREoprnLE, FEBRUARY 1994

from Howie Mandei and thought it offered good tube-bang for Lhe buck. What 1 liked most about it was the sarne thing Martin Colioms liiced in his review:4 a sense ofspaciousness, the pre sentation of the recorded acoustic. This was a big, rich, generous tube amplifier. SuL 1 wouidn’t rank it tops in Lerms of ciarity. Also, 1 was bothered by a certain glare in Lhe upper midrangellower treble which l’ve come Lo associate with Lhe GE 6550 output tube. Like Diclc Oisher, I’m not particularly keen on Lhe Lube and goL very disappointing results when 1 sub stituced a quarteL of 6550s (from Lhe Pre mier 11) for Lhe I<388s in my Mclntosh 275 Comrnemorative Edition. 1 lost dar ity and got more giare—Lhe sound turned harder, fuzzier. In tbis tegard, too, 1 Lhink that LheJadis De~,-7, which uses a total of twelve 6550s, is lacking in subtlety, sweetness, definition, and detail compared Lo the more costiy Jadis JA 80 monobiocks. The DeÍS’—7 is a little crude in compar— ison te the more raffln’Jadises. So, what about the Con-John? 1 beieve the Premier 11 was originally going Lo be Lhe MV-70 and was Lo retail for around $2500. The MV-125 was te stay in Lhe lime. BuL instead ofLhe MV-70, we goL Lhe Premier 11, which retails for $3295. i’m sure there are changes (espe cially cosmetic) which have added Lo Lhe manufacturing expense. The Premier 11 is one of the more handsome Conrad Johnson amps. The beautiful, glowing tubes aren’L hidden behind a piain-jane faceplate—the glass is on dispiay, where it should be.5 The power is rated aL 70Wp e.
4July 1992. VoliS No.7, p122. 5 A cage is supplied. but mosi uscrs probably wont want to use it—uniess ~ crying Lo prolect lada or
cais.

i tried Lhe Premier li first wiLh the Martin-Logan Aerius. Bass wasn’t par ticuiarly tight or taut. There was a nice spaciousness, or paipability, LO Lhe soundstage, but 1 was not overwheirned by Lhe amp’s ability Lo come clear with what was being presented. 1 decided to put Lhe arnp aside and try it later wiLh Lhe ProAc Response Is. 1 meL more success with these small speakers, perhaps because Lhe arnp wasn’L being asked todo very much in Lhe bass. The whole sound was very pleasant noLhing Lo bite me on Lhe ear, none of Lhe dry quality 1 usually hear from solid scate. The soundstage was spacious, but not Lo the degree 1 heard with Lhe MV 125. (tinfortunateiy 1 didn’t have both arnps on hand aL Lhe sarne tirne for direct cornparison.) When 1 substituted the Mac 275, 1 heard a fuiler bottom end with Lhe ProAcs—aiLhough Lhe Mac doesn’L have Lhe greatest degree ofbass control. 1 also heard more apparent decail and resolu tion, and iess glare, with Lhe Mac. In comparison, the C-J sounded slighLly v~iled, as if a soft-focus filter had been applied Lo Lhe lens. The glory of the MV-125 was its big, wide, deep soundsLage, which had a great sense of Lhe musicians’ palpabie presence. The Premier 11 has some ofLhat too, buL not as much. But it sells for 82.5% ofLhe MV-125’s price. The bigger amp, with its four outpuL tubes per side (eight total), really ftlled the room with sound. lfit didn’t produce Lhe greatest degree of transparency or definition, it was great in its abiliLy Lo re-create Lhe acoustic and convey aLmosphere. The Premier 11 sounded smaller than the MV—125. In fact, the Premier 11 re— minded me of another amp 1 used Lo have. Lhe Conrad-Johnson MV-50, which
49

used £1.34 outpuc tubes and used co retail for around $1500. The Premier 11 was pieasant co iistcn co. Vocais had an easy, natural quality to them, and it produced a good sense ofair. in these respects, che amp as typicaliy Conrad-Johnson, and fans of this sound wiili not be disap pointed. But for $32501 found myself wanting more: more detaii, resolution, soundstage, focus, tightness ofbass. 1 know inflation has taken its toil—if chis amp was the MV-70 and retailed for under $2500, 1 couid be considerabiy more positive. Yes, the Premier 11 is at least 62.5% as good as chc MV-125. The trouble is, it seus for 82.5% of che MV 125’s price. SoNlc FRONTIERS SFS-80 Sometimes 1 don’t have a iot tosay about a particular product. When that’s the case, 1 cry not to say anything unneces— sary. The Canadian-made Sonic Fron tsers SFS-80, revsewed byJack English iast April~ is a good exampie ofan amp about which 1 have little co say. it’s cer— tainiy nor bad; in fact, 1 think it’s quite good, especiaiiy the quaiity ofits con— struction. Rated ar 8OWpc, ir retaiis for $2895. lniriaiiy, 1 tried rhe SFS—80 with thc
6 Vai 16 No.4.

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1
Sonic Frontiers SES-BO power

ampuifier

p.i90.

suppiied Goid Aero KT99 Yugosiavian ourput tubes. (Presumabiy these are pre embargo Serbian tubes.) Maybe 1 wasn’t pacienc enough, but these rubes didn’t do ir for me. They had an exciting charac— ter that some tubies like—rhat dynamic sound that aimosr malces rhe amp go over rhe cliff. But 1 thoughr this dynarnic ching was roo much. 1 missed sofrness, sweetness, deiicacy, and deraii—i didn’r hear much of any of rhese whiie these tubes were in the amp. Things changed for che becter when

the Serbs gave way co che Czechs—that is, when 1 swapped the Yugosiavian KT99s for Goid Aero Tesia E34Ls, ar some sacrifice in power to about 6SWpc (rhe best guess of Sonic Frontiers’ Chris Jensen). Now che amp sounded less dynamic and aggressive? Buc the bass
7 lis coo bad thac ibe deal for Gold Ano co buy mio che Tesia subi faccory apparensiy íeil through, Rumor has is chai che Tesla sobe facsory is no more. 1 siaspeci,
ihough, shac she nachinery. ifnos ihe iaccory. is sou around. My daughser works for che US Embassy in Prague and speaks Czcch is anyonc use snserested o manufaccunng subis o she Cacei. Repubise. sfic’s nos slready soo lace’

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was scifl cighr fbr a tube amp. And 1 heard more sweetness, smoorhness, deiicacy, and detail. The whoie soundsrage be carne more inviting and airy. 1 starred to change my mmd abouc rhe SFS-80; rhis is reaiiy a nice amp, even if it’s nor one that 1 couid personaily fali in love with. One indisputably good thing abouc the SFS—80 is thac you can subsciture out pur tubes and thus tailor the sound to your taste: E34Ls, EL34s, 6550s, K’TE8s~ Rebiasing is easy wich the builc-in meter. Anocher praiseworrhy characteristic ofche SFS-80 is char it appears to be abie to drive demanding ioads. 1 didn’r have che Martin-Logan Aerius speakers on hand when rhe Audion Silver Nighrs Cary CAD 300SSE powtr ampuifier arrived, bur the SFS-80 drove che Martin-Logans wich no probiems ar ali. ibere was surprising solidity inche bass. So you may have a moderately priced tube amp that’s capabie of driving speakers like the Martin-Logan Aeriuses sound—no nascies, no harshness. But ir you. Yes, you can drive rhe Quads wich or rhe Thiei CS 2 2s. dadn’t have enough power for the Aer the Andion Silver Nighrs. Bur shoukyou? lfthis isn’r che arnp for me,it may be iuses (no surprise), or enough trans That’s for you to decide. My advice ro che amp for you? 1 rhink it offers some parency for che money. Quad owners isto rry before you buy. thing that ocher manu&cturers have for 1 wish 1 could love chis amp more. (lr’d Now chat che Silver Nights are offidally gotten abour: value for money. Like lsay, be nice co have a few remaining friends imported into the US, you might be abie l’m not keen on che ICfl9s, buc wirh rhe ira rhe induscry.) 1 wish 1 found ir as open, to íjnd a dealer and borrow his demo current situacion in Serbia, this may be transparent, delicate, derailed, and won pair. In fact, Øven the fact chat these amps pureiy acadernic. Maybe you should derftully liquidas che monoblock CAD produce “only” 2OWpc, borrowing and iook into che Sonic Fronriers SFS-40, 300-SEs, which remam one of che finesc crying them wich your speakers, whar which, for rhe time being, comes equipped amps l’ve ever heard, and retail for ever they mighr be, is probably rhe best with two Goid Aero Czech E34Ls per $3695/pair—$1800 icss chan the CAD idea. lfthe soundstage shrinks, ifthe side and rerails for a mere $1695. Rumor 300-SSE. dynamic range concracrs, rhen you may has it rhar rhis amp packs a powerfui In comparison, rhe CAD-300-SSE noc have enough power. (lt’s too bad punch for irs 4OWpc. jusc didn’t cur it forme. ic had a reiative rhere aren’c many high-sensirivicy, effi iack oftransparency. 1 tried ir with rhe cient, high-qualicy speakers on the mar CARY CAD-300-SSE Quads.1 tried it wich the ProArs. 1 didn’t ket, but thac’s the way it is.) Back to the 300B output tube. actually hear anything wrong with this 1 remember the days when Larsik and The Cary CAD-300-SSE arrived too amp. lt tries so hard to be nice—very 1 each owned a pair ofJadisJA 30s 1 iate co make ir mnco my rube-amp coiumn smoorh and liquid, and ciearer and more had an eariier pair of Quad ESL—63s ar Iasc monrh. This 25Wpc srereojob retails decailed than cerrain other cube amps 1 the cime. Yes, rhe Jadis, wich “oniy” for $5495. could name. Buc to me, the amp sounded 3OWpc, drove che Quads surprisingly Wow! dark, recessed, slighrly mufiled—it didn’t welI. Bur when 1 put a soiid-srace amp lt sure is dynamic for 2SWpc—you’d open up, it didn’t breathe. on che Quads (the Eleccrocompanier never beieve rhe baUs. Subjeccivciy, chis AWIOO, in parcicular), rhe Quads did is the mosc powerful of che three Cary FLASH! certain chings they didn’r do with thc 300B-based amps chac I’ve heard—chis Afrer 1 wrote thus column, 1 received JadisJA 30s. Dynamicafly, the speakers is true witlphe ProAcs and che Quads. John Beyer’s B&K ST-1400 sohd-srare sprang to iife. Norhing ~ifh~py about chis amp. Bur amp. (Despite irs iow price, the former As 1 said eariier, the Audion Silver chere are limitarions, ofcourse. ST-140 was a champion amp wirh the Nights did berrer with the ProAc When 1 went co visuc my daughrer in Quad ESL-63s, sol couldn’r waic ro try Response Is. Praguc last fali, 1 ioaned this amp ro a rhe ST-1400.) Guess what? Lars may be friend so he couid liscen to it on his right abour this “yooce” business. The FLASH 2! Martin-Logan Aerius speakers. “Okay,” Q uads may need more power chan che ljust heard about a store in Ncw York he said in response co ic. Very pieasing 2OWpc chac che Audions provide. City rhar sells mostiy used or comrner— To pur it anocher way: When driven ciaiiy unavailabie stuff (see “Induscry 8 lfyou wanc 6550,1 recommend che Rsaasky Soviek sobes. Ive íoond Lhe Golden Dragon KTflS Supera 50 by lOOWpc, che Quads do certain rhings Update,” p.27). According roJA’s rides, sound bati. reliable and good aichougl. one amp thac they may nor do when driven by this is stuff chat can’t be officially re— manufaccurer seus me dia slaey iend to blow iap fyou bise aliem ator dose ao 100 malisampi Chancae I(TSSs 2OWpc. (‘rhis wiii be rhe subjecr oCa viewed in Stereophik. This is what every ondrnae nos co enjoy alie greatesc repucasaon for relia frucure colunin, of course.) But rhe Quads writer craves: exciusivity! Meanwhile, Iiry flui chen again, why are diere se few remaining nasais fl$~ NOS (Neve OId Scock)? flccauae chey’ve sounded much more dynarnic with the my friend, the infamous Steve,just cold 1 biown up? B&K ST-l400. Moreover, the sound me abour a killer 3Wpc amplifier. Tisisis my vanacson on my favonte une (‘tom sheold stage was deeper and wider 1 ccli you 20W, 9W, 3W, 1W. . . che incredible Hagh Fiddigy magazine: “Ifwe socand enchua.aaoc aboot is amp, thar’s because we are,’ chis not co confuse you, burro caution shrinking Sam! $
STElsEOpijiLE. FEBRUARY 1994 51

STEREOPHiLE, FEISRUARY 1994

50