Line Magnetic is an intriguing brand out of Mainland China. The owner of the company has for many years been restoring Western Electric amplifiers, loudspeakers, and drivers and operating as an OEM manufacturer for other more mainstream audio brands. This seems to be rather common in China with many companies first serving as OEM makers and then eventually bringing out their own products. Shengya, Jungson, and Cayin are some of the more known mainstream audio brands. Line Magnetic is a little different however because as noted above, they clearly love the past and wish to bring back proven and loved designs with improvements and at lower prices. Jack Roberts noted some of the background of the company in the LM755 review.
When I moved to Hong Kong in 2011 I noted the staggering number of tube amps sold here, including most of the usual suspects in the tube world, a large number of DIY amps, and of course numerous Chinese brands that run the gambit of the excellent to the possible fire hazard. At the time I was looking at building an inexpensive audio system and wrote some articles titled “Reviewer on the Run” for Dagogo about building an entry level system.
One of the product lines I stumbled upon was Line Magnetic. The dealer here was selling well-established tube brands such as Rogue Audio and Melody along with Zu Audio speakers and a set of big ATC SCM 100 speakers. The massive 219IA Line Magnetic amp sitting in the middle of the room was hard to miss, as it was at least twice as tall as the other amplifiers in the store. So I wandered in, sat down, and listened. I was across the board impressed with the results I was hearing with both the Zu Audio speakers and with the difficult to drive ATC SCM 100s. I filed it away but at that time I didn’t want to make too heavy a commitment in a second audio system.
A few months later I happened by the store again and was again impressed with Line Magnetics, their at-the-time, one and only, tube CD player; I was so impressed I bought the player. I have been using the CD 215 for over a year and didn’t bother reviewing it until Tone Imports in the United States began carrying the model. You can read my review of the LM CD 215 for further information.
Time passed and as my situation here became more solid, I began looking to delve into higher end Single Ended amplification. One of my favorite amplifiers is the Audio Note Jinro. The Jinro is a 211 SET amplifier and is a copper wired version of famous Ongaku amplifier. Though I found that 300B, EL84, and other lower powered SETs offer a wonderful sense of tone and beauty as well as exceptional inner resolution, because of my more varied tastes in music the 211-based Jinro and Ongaku reigned supreme. The Jinro can rock and offers a wealth of beauty and magic in its own right that makes it and the Ongaku the gold at the end of the rainbow and about as hard to own given the five and six figure prices, respectively.
The problem of course is really wanting something you can’t afford. So we of the non-Sultan variety must find something just as good for less; or at least we tell ourselves it’s just as good for less. Still, the advice I often give to beginning audiophiles is to listen to the best regardless of whether you can afford it. Have the frame of reference in your back pocket and find something that truly rocks your world. So with the Audio Note 211 amps in mind, separating themselves from other tube amplifiers I have heard, I at least have a clearer picture of what I want in an amplifier.
A Magnetic Pull
The Line Magnetic 219IA wound up moving back into the picture; even though it doesn’t use a 211 tube it is nevertheless a more robust SET amplifier offering a considerable, for SET, 24 watts. I was taken by its ability to play big full tilt music with bass prowess while also sounding nuanced with nearly the subtlety of a good 300B.
A lot of amps seem to do one or the other – you have to choose between tone and beauty on the one hand, and power and drive on the other. People choose the tube type based on their personal sonic preferences. I know audiophiles who hate big power tubes and prefer 1.5 watt per channel 2A3 or 45s. 845 and 211 tubes provide big power, but are difficult to get right: With big power comes complexity in the parts, and bigger transformers are required which means far more weight.
Generally I hate big heavy amplifiers and the Line Magnetic 219IA is BIG and HEAVY. I groaned. The 219IA clocks in at 55kg (121lbs) and won’t fit in any normal audio rack. It’s at least two and half times as tall as most amplifiers though not particularly wider or deeper than most. The amplifier is built like a tank complete with the gunmetal paint steel chassis. I am usually skeptical of big and heavy and I also tend to prefer simpler amps with less switches. But there are exceptions and the 219IA is one of the exceptions.
Over a year of courtship
I auditioned the LM 219IA numerous times for over a year. I kept coming back to double and triple check that I wasn’t missing some kind of gross audible foible that was tricking me into liking her. I would try it against the other amps in the store and ultimately the big Frankenstein-looking 219IA won my shootouts.
I decided to buy the amp. I want to be clear that I purchased this amp prior to a formal review largely because Line Magnetic was not seeking reviews and the policy many companies in Hong Kong have is that reviewers must purchase the amp if they want to review them. Fortunately, the manufacturer allows returns so I was not too worried; should I not have liked the amplifier there were other choices.
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