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Boppin’ Down Memory Lane: Amplifiers

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Jack Roberts Beatnik's JourneyIt just dawned on me that I have been writing the Beatnik Column and reviews for Dagogo for a little over five years and I have enjoyed every minute of it. So, I thought I might write a few articles about the last five years. Let’s start with the four amplifiers that left the most lasting impression on the old Beatnik. Two are bargain integrated amps with built-in DACs. The other two are incredibly good SETs. I’m in no way saying these are the four best amps I have heard in the last five years, but I do still use three of them in my home every day.

The first amp is one that I have never written a review of, the original Peachtree Audio Decco. At the time of writing this article, you could still buy it refurbished for a mere $500. If you’re not familiar with it, the Peachtree Audio Decco is a 50-watt-per-channel, hybrid integrated amplifier with a built- in non-up-sampling DAC. The DAC was designed by a well known DAC designer, Scott Nixon. Of all the versions of the Decco I have heard, I like this one best, probably because of the non-up-sampling DAC. The Peachtree is really something special and it can sound very musical playing speakers that cost up to ten times of what it cost. It also makes an excellent preamp/DAC in a more ambitious system.

I use it in my video/digital system which consists of the $5,000, 98 dB efficient, Teresonic Magus A-55 single driver speakers that use the Lowther A55 driver with a 5-inch paper driver, and a very large Alnico magnet. I supplement the Magus with the $1,200, TBI Audio Systems Magellan VIP su Active Subwoofer System. I mention the prices to point out how good the amp is.

The second amp is another integrated with a built-in DAC; it’s the $790 Audio Space Mini-Galaxy 1 USB DAC/integrated tube amplifier. The Mini-Galaxy 1’s power output is rated at 12 watts of what they refer to as “Ultralinear Class A/B” with all internal wiring being point-to-point. It is a simple EL84 push-pull power amp that uses a separate power supply with a nice, hefty toroidal transformer. The tube complement consists of a pair of 12AX7’s and four EL84’s all with Audio Space logos on them. The amp is equipped with a nice auto-biasing circuit that makes it very user-friendly for a tube amp; it’s also a very nice headphone amp.

With high efficient single driver speakers, the Mini-Galaxy 1 comes to life. It has amazing PRaT, drive, midrange and bass for anything near its price. Now this is an amp that is fun to listen to and incredibly cute to look at. It’s a system that can really make you pat your foot, and has a nice soundstage with a very natural sound. I use this amp in my computer system and enjoy it nearly every day.

The third amp is the best amp I have heard for less than $20,000. It’s the Shindo Cortese F2A single-ended tube power amplifier. Yes, it has only 10 watts per channel, but it’s the most powerful 10 watts I have ever heard. It has the midrange you expect from the very elite SET amps, but it’s bass is what sets it apart.

I was simply shocked. It reproduced drums, acoustical and electric basses with incredible impact; a fundamental rightness that I had not heard in my system. The amazing thing is that it allows you to hear this air and warmth without even the slightest hint of boom, looseness, or hangover. This incredible bass was carried all the way up into the upper mid-bass. It gives you fast attacks followed by beautiful full decay that lets you hear different layers of the timber of the instruments. I think this is part of what make this amp play plucked strings with so much more realism than I have ever heard. I have no way of knowing how much of this can be attributed to the F2a tubes, since this is the first amp I have heard that uses them. This is an amp that just sounds right.

Going down memory lane leads me to the best amp I have ever heard, the WAVAC EC300B. Admittedly it only puts out between 8 and 10 watts per channel and costs around $30,000 or more with NOS Western Electric tubes, but oh, the way it sounds!

The first thing I noticed about the EC-300B was that it was the quietest amp I’d ever heard. Not the quietest tube amp, but the quietest amp. I think this is the reason it has the most captivating sense of pace and rhythm; I have never heard anything like it. I find myself tapping my foot almost as often as I do at live music. I was listening to bluegrass with my 83-year-old mother-in-law and I looked over to see her tapping her foot too, it’s hard not to.

The amp is so unbelievably natural that, at first, you’re not sure what’s going on and then you quit worrying about what’s going on and you just start listening to music, glorious music. It is simply the amp that lets me enjoy listening to music more than any other amp I have heard so far.

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