Audion Elite 845 3-box SET Vacuum Tube Stereo Power Amplifier
The equivalent of alt- or indie music in the audiophile realm is "SET," Single-Ended Triode amplification. SET is embraced and admired by what the Best Buy and Magnolia crowd thinks of as the lunatric fringe of hifi, for its beautiful, holistic, liquid tone, honest presentation, and achingly emotive fidelity to the original music. In an SET amp, there is no splitting of the positive and negative waveforms during amplification, as there is in the more common "Push-Pull" topology. The price of having one tube (or a pair in parallel) do all the work is inefficiency. On a per-dollar basis, you don't get much power in conventional terms, but you do get heat. But well-executed, an SET amp can deliver uniquely glorious sound. The trouble with most SET amps is deficient power. You need hyper-efficient speakers to get satisfying volume and dynamics from two to seven watts per channel. Zu speakers have the efficiency to make those watts go a long way, but not everyone has Zu. Nor a small room to limit the challenge of filling it with satisfying music. The answer is the Audion Elite, the best 845 tube amp going. Built around the big, sexy, retro, illuminating, Fritz-Lang-meets-Tesla vibe of the fistful-of-glass 845 triode, the Audion Elite pumps out 24 honest watts per channel with enough drive to sound like 3 times that into real speaker loads, while keeping that heavenly triode tone intact. A simple 3-tube circuit per side, this 3-box stereo amp is inexpensive to own and maintain, thanks to robust build and good contemporary Chinese tubes that sound great in this circuit. The Audion Elite amplifier has a big-toned dynamic sound that's also refined, subtle and fresh. The sonic, tonal and drive match with Zu speakers is sensationally synergistic, but in most rooms, this amp has the muscle to pump triode tone at satisfying level through any speaker with at least 88db/w/m efficiency. Unlike most euphonic triode amps with round sound that also seem a trifle slow, all of Audion's amps have their trademark transient speed, transperancy and definition, including the big-tube Elite. Most digital disk players can drive the Elite inputs directly, and each channel has a level control so a single-source system can get by nicely without a preamp. Still, tone is even more truthful with a preamp, so if you have the eggs, mate the Audion Quattro preamp with the Elite power amp for an experience at the very top echelon of musicality in audio gear today. There are a ton of decent SET 845 tube amps around right now, thanks to an explosion of discerning music loving EEs in China, the US and Europe. Hard to go wrong with any of them, but this one is the best so far, making everything from Government Mule to Drive-By Truckers, to Tom Waits to Rosa Passos to Shostakovich sound convincing, penetrating and true.