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deHavilland Aries 845-G Monoblock Amplifier Review

Jack Roberts listens to an American beauty: $7,995 845-G monoblock amplifiers

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deHavilland Aries 845-G Monoblock Amplifier

The Company

Just like I asked in the review of the UltraVerve preamp: why would anyone write another review of the deHavilland 845-G’s? My answer, is that often when a product has been out for a while, we forget about them. If you are considering amps in the $8,000 to $20,000 price range and you haven’t listened to these, you should. We should never make the mistake of thinking only the newest products are the best.

If you go to deHavilland’s website, you will read the following under their mission.

“Since 1997 our mission is to build ultimate performance vacuum tube amplifiers. Our designs offer sound quality usually found in products costing several times as much, and this is consistent with our goal of making top quality audio performance available to the enthusiast and recording studio alike.
Another aspect of our mission is to have more people experience the beauty of single-ended vacuum tube sound. Our single-ended amplifiers will drive medium, as well as high efficiency speakers, making this type of amplifier available to a much wider range of listeners.
We try to keep our designs simple and rugged and offer the most sound per dollar that we can. With over 27 years in the consumer electronics industry I have learned that service after the sale is of paramount importance. Made in USA Quality, Proven Value, Award Winning Performance, and Courteous Service. This is what deHavilland delivers.”

I want to talk about this mission; but first my personal history with deHavilland is almost totally tied up in audio shows. First, I read about them in show reports, over and over again they would make reviewers’ and reporters’ list of best sounding rooms at shows. Then in San Francisco and Los Angeles, I got to hear them and I agreed. The most amazing thing was how good the deHavilland room sounded, playing real world speakers with SET amps, with digital sources.

Then, circumstances came about so I got to go and hear George Kielczynski’s system. Again I was impressed by how wonderful the deHavilland sound was. Well, a few months passed and I was reviewing the Warren Gregoire Associates Ikonoklast speakers and I wanted to hear them with more power than my Wavac MD-300B’s 10 watts. So, I call George and he was willing to bring over the 845-G’s and listen with me for a day. I was shocked at the way the deHavilland amps took control of the bass, and the dynamics were just startling. These amps were spoken for, so I had to wait until after the show to get a pair for review auditioning. So that brings us to the present, and I’m sitting here enjoying the 845-G’s make beautiful music in my room.

Now I would like to address a few things in the company’s mission statement before I begin the review.

1. “…to have more people experience the beauty of single-ended vacuum tube sound. Our single-ended amplifiers will drive medium, as well as high-efficiency speakers, making this type of amplifier available to a much wider range of listeners.”

You can’t overlook this goal. I think it is a worthwhile one, but as Kara Chaffee told me, “it’s not our goal to make a 845 tube sound like a 300B”. Instead, her goal is to make it sound as much like music as an 845 can, and let me just add that the 845 is obviously capable of sounding pretty musical.

2. “We try to keep our designs simple and rugged and offer the most sound per dollar that we can.”

This is also a very worthwhile goal. Kara and George aren’t trying to make entry-level equipment. They are making truly high-end equipment that is on the verge of the state-of-the-art; but they believe that simple and straightforward designs most often sound best. They believe in the sound of the big tube and they put the money into the sound without ritzy looks, but with the tube cage the 845-G’s are quite good looking in a Deco sort of way.

I have learned that service after the sale is of paramount importance . . . “…performance, and courteous service.”
Let’s start with the packing. The amps showed up in three very large cardboard boxes. You open up the outer box and you will find heavy, dense foam. When you remove the top piece, you will find another well made box; and when you open that, there is another foam that fits the amps perfectly. The third box had tube and accessories.

It’s not just the packing though, it’s the people. Both Kara and George love music and tubes. They are highly accessible people who really want to help you. I think all of this, when you get to experience it, is what makes high-end audio such a joy, compared to most things we buy in life.

Description

The deHavilland Aries 845-G Mono Power Amps are pure class-A, direct-heated triode amps with zero negative feedback and features a point-to-point, hardwired circuit. They use a huge 845 power tube that is famous for its huge soundstage, big seductive tone, and authoritative presentation of music. The other two tubes are quite large, but small in contrast to the 845 power tube. The driver tube is a type 6AU5, and the voltage amp tube is the infamous 6SN7/GTA/GTB.

As far as looks go, these amps are quite handsome in an industrial art/deco sort of way. They have a very stylish faceplate that comes in silver or black. The chassis is an anodized dark gun-metal grey, and has a matching color transformer cover that is sloped artfully to the back. The tall, impressive 845 power tube sits in the middle of the amp and is protected by a very attractive and practical industrial, art/deco, architecturally interesting looking brushed silver tube protector that you might call a tube cage, but it isn’t really. It’s good to see people come up with better ways to protect tubes, but the smaller tubes are left unprotected.

On the top plate is a meter with a clear red line and a knob that you turn to bias the amps. Even for someone like me who is truly technically challenged, this couldn’t have been any easier. I had the amps biased in less then three minutes. I turned the bias knob all the way down and let them play a little and then begin to slowly turn the knob up until it reached the mark for the Metal tubes. I let them play about a half hour and adjusted the bias again. Then it was time to listen to some music. I checked on them one more time after playing for a while, but they were still dead on. On the back are very nice connectors and a ground lift switch, which could come in very handy.

After unpacking and carefully putting the big tubes into their sockets, I placed each amp on one of the beautiful Sistrum amp stands. By the way, for my money, they are the best amp stands I have used. Then, it was simple to hook up the single-ended cables, the power cord, and to remember the amp inverts power when you hook up the speaker cables. As I place the tube cage around the 845 tubes I again thought how nice it was someone had come up with such a good-looking way of protecting the big tube.

Listening To Music

There is no way around it: We have to start with the bass. It is incredible that a tube amp, much less a single-ended amp with no negative feedback, could have this kind of bass. It may be that my Ikonoklast3 speakers with their average 16Ω load, and their incredibly fast, detailed bass is just a perfect match for the deHavilland amps to show off their incredible bass and dynamics.

A couple of weeks before I received the deHavillands for review, I was privileged to hear the new JBL horns as driven by the Linn Klimax at Constantine’s house. Upon hearing this set up, my first reaction was: I could understand how someone could fall in love with this sound. It was clean, powerful, and with startling dynamics! My first reaction when I hooked up the 845-G with the Metal Plate tubes was, “it was almost like having the JBL’s and Linn brought over to my house.

The deHavillands don’t have quite the same ability to unravel and layer the bass instruments that the Wavac and Shindo amps do; but the power, the dynamics, and individual placement of each bass instrument is uncanny. One of the things that most endeared me to these amps was how a standup bass, a bass drum, and the bass-end of a piano could all have their same space, and each has different dynamics all at the same time just like live music.

The midrange can be summed up with two words, luscious and relaxed, yet in no way does the music sound rolled-off. The deHavilland amps are plenty detailed, but never etched, and it’s clear but not bright. It may not be the ultimate last word in transparency, but for the price it is exceptional and I never thought about it when I was just listening.

It is partially because of the characteristics of the midrange that allows the startle factor of the bass to be so impressive. And like the bass, the dynamics of the midrange are very exciting as well. Strings, woodwinds, and horns just explode out of a dead quiet background. Like the UltraVerve Preamp, the 845-G gets the timbre and harmonics of the music right. It has as rich a harmonic structure as I have heard, but while it is robust sounding, I never found it overly lush or overly romantic.

I loved the way voices came to life in my listening room. They had a stunning presence with the deHavilland 845-G’s in my system. Like other SET’s I love, the deHavilland’s allow voices to have a good weight and mass to them; they make you feel as if there is a person singing or an instrument playing, and not just some music floating in air. This is a very important trait to me. If a system can’t do this, it is much harder for me to listen with the same intensity and to become as emotionally involved. Emotional involvement is what I expect from SET amps, and the deHavilland’s don’t disappoint in this area.

The top-end is open with lots of detail, but like the midrange, it is never overly etched or bright. It has a refined kind of detailed that allows one to listen to all this information in a relaxed yet involving manner. And, like the soundstage (which I talk about below) the top-end does not draw attention to itself. It never left me wanting more sparkle and shimmer, nor did it make me think, “Just listen to that shimmer or sparkle”. Now I think that’s a pretty special thing for any design to be able to do.

Soundstage and Imaging is a place where I feel the mono blocks were clearly superior to my stereo Wavac. The soundstage is very wide and deep; in fact, I would call it downright expansive. The 845-G’s give you this huge soundstage without seeming the least bit unnatural or distracting in any way from the music. They also allow the soundstage to extend up and down, a trait I really enjoy. I was surprised how much I liked the very expansive soundstage. Most often, I find what many call an expansive soundstage distracting, because it calls so much attention to itself that it gets in the way of just enjoying the musical performance. The soundstage of the deHavilland amps is big, but does not draw attention to its self.

Specific Examples

King of the Cellist, Starker plays Kodaly is an SACD I always use to evaluate equipment. This is one of the most beautiful recordings of a cello I have ever heard. It can also be insightful to listen to the cuts that are of the cello and the violin. With the deHavilland 845-G’s, you hear this performance with all of its emotion, and it has a lot. I found it very hard to take review notes, as it was so involving. The cello was warm, beautiful, and quick with unbelievable impact.

The 845-G’s sense of breath and space around and within the instrument is better than most, not quite in the league with the Wavac MD 300B or the Shindo Cortese F2A amp, but very close. You must remember, though, that it has three times the power of either of these amps.

The deHavilland amps with those big 845 tubes conveyed the power, slam, warmth and life of the music without a hint of bass hangover or even the slightest amount of “boominess”. The violin was sweet, and extended easily into its upper registries without ever seeming bright or strident.

Ella and Louis is a recording I use to listen for the quality of the voices. It is here that, for me, neither the F2A nor the 845 tubes seem to have quite the magic of the Wavac 300B’s. I did think the metal version of the 845 came closer, but still not quite the magic. However much of a criticism this is, you have to understand how much I personally like voices on my Wavac 300B’s.

Elvis is Back has Elvis’ version of “Fever” on it. This cut will tell you if a system is all about slam and tightness, or if it’s about emotion, music, and feeling that the musicians and singer are trying to convey. It can be about both, I discovered, when I was reviewing the Shindo Cortese. This was even truer with the deHavilland amps. They produced more slam with tighter bass than I had thought was possible from the Ikonoklast Model 3’s. Even with this slam and power, the music via the 845-G’s still gives you a great sense of the musical performance.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there are just a few things to wrap up, and I noticed that I forgot to mention the deHavilland 845-G’s seems more powerful than any 30-watt amp I have ever heard. I would have guessed 60 to 100 watts just by listening to them. Compared to other amps I have had in for review from 30 to 70 watts, they sounded by far the most powerful.

I want to thank George and Kara for all their help. Their reputation for customer service tells me I was getting the same first class treatment that customers receive. There are several very good SET amps at this price, but none that I know of that give you this kind of sound with as wide a choice of speakers. I can’t imagine buying an amp at this price, or any other for that matter, and not hearing these first.

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