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Margules Audio U280-SC 25th Anniversary Stereo Tube Amplifier

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Listening with the Margules U280-SC 25th Anniversary Amplifier

Well, I can say one thing for sure, my system surely sang with the Margules U289-SC in my reference system. It didn’t matter if it was in ultra-linear or triode mode. Let’s start by talking about how it sounded in ultra-linear mode. In this mode, the U280-SC exhibited big tuneful bass with real impact. There was nothing about the bass of this amp that screamed tube or transistor. In fact, the bass sounded like some of best solid state amplifiers with a tight, controlled bottom-end.

In ultra-linear, the midrange was clear, transparent yet it still had beautiful tonal colors. Midrange notes did not stand out because the presentation was overly warm or romantic but stood out because of how well it was integrated within the musical spectrum. There was nothing over emphasized or over exemplified. There was no hint of roll off in the top-end. Cymbals, for example, had very nice shimmer without any hint of splatter.

Now, how about in triode mode? The background became quieter, and the music came more to life. Voices and instrument had more pop. It sounded equally detailed but had more beautiful tonal colors. Maybe the biggest difference is how much more three-dimensional it sounded. Micro-dynamics were better while overall dynamics were just slightly behind the ultra-linear mode. The bass was surprising similar. I preferred the extra bloom in the triode mode while others who listened like the extra slam in the ultra-linear mode. Well, that gives you a general comparison of the two modes; they were both superb, and the difference was more subtle than I might have portrayed in trying to say how different they sounded. Since 40 watts was way more that my 104dB efficient Teresonics Ingenium XR needed, the rest of the review is of the triode mode.

We have to start with the bass. It is incredible that a triode tube amp, much less an amp with no negative feedback, at this price could have this kind of bass. The bass was fast enough to have good pace, rhythm, and timing; it also had good scale and power. I like the bloom it has in triode mode. The U280-SC didn’t have quite the same ability to unravel the layers of the bass instruments that the Wavac and Pass Lab XA30.8 amps did; but the power, the dynamics, and individual placement of each bass instrument via the U280-SC was uncanny. One of the things that most endeared me to this amp was how a standup bass, a bass drum, and the bass end of a piano could all have their space, and each has different dynamics all at the same time much like live music.

All through the frequency range and on all kinds of instrument, music via the U280-SC was infused with exciting dynamics and energy. This amp isn’t about being the most exotic amp, it’s all about texture, harmonics, how the decay sounds, how the music blooms, and how much like real music it sounds and feels; and it’s about experiencing the sounds and feelings of music. The more impressive thing to me is it didn’t just do this with simple music, but it continued to sound the same with more complex music.

For example, on Elvis’ version of “Fever,” I could hear the decay, the reverb, and how close he is to the mic. You can tell he’s in a studio, and the Margules U280-SC lets my system reveal layers of music and let me hear deep into the music. My system played the bass on this album correctly with this amp; sometimes people use this album to show off the bass slam of a system. If done right, you get a bass that sounds like real music and not just slam. In the triode mode, the U280-SC got it just right.

Even though I’ve often said that soundstaging is not the most important thing about a system to me, it would be unfair to Julian Margules not to talk about it. In triode mode, the Margules U280-SC produced a holographic soundstage without distracting from the musical flow. It was wide, deep and tall with great space. The only amp for less than double the price of the U280-SC that has this kind of soundstage is the Allnic T1500 300B, and it costs $6,900 and only puts out 12 watts per channel. The Margules U280-SC has a soundstage so good it’s simply hard to believe at this price point.

Let me give a couple of more examples before ending the review. The Rob Wasserman Duets is one of my favorite albums. I love to hear the standup bass played well. Wasserman’s bass playing is superb, and this amp played his bass very musically. It sounded fast, but with plenty of decay and air. My favorite cut is Wasserman and Jennifer Warnes’ version of “Ballad of the Runaway Horse”. Her voice sounded believable and full of emotion. It sounded simply beautiful with this amp. The bass sounded just right, and her voice was so full of emotion. I definitely could feel the emotions of this performance.

The cut “Angel Eyes” with Cheryl Bentyne is another great one. With the U280-SC, Bentyne’s voice really came to life in a way that goes from very soft to very, very loud without a single hiccup. The amp again did a really good job of letting my system share the feelings of this song with the listener. The bass was quick, full, well placed, with lots of air around and within the instrument.

The last cut on this album I want to mention is one of the most beautiful renditions of “Over the Rainbow” by Stephane Grappelli on violin and Rob Wasserman on bass. The combination of speed, sweetness, and air is absolutely beautiful. Again, this amp let me hear the emotions in these two virtuosos as they play this song, as well as the sentimental feelings of the song itself.

The other album I want to talk about is the bluegrass album Sauerkraut and Solar Energy. This Flying Fish album with Norman Blake, Tut Taylor, Sam Bush, Butch Robins, Vassar Clements, David Holland, and Jethro Burns is DAWG music at its best. The cuts “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Sauerkraut and Solar Energy” have such beautiful timbre and harmonics while still having the speed and delicacy that good bluegrass music should have. I was especially impressed with the Margules in my reference system how I could so easily feel the joy of these musicians as they played.

Conclusion

I noticed that I forgot to mention the power of the Margules U280-SC makes it more versatile than most pure Class A tube amps. It sounded so good in the ultra-linear mode that you can drive rather inefficient speakers with it.

Another thing I think I should mention is that while I’m really a devotee of vinyl, I think this amp brought out the best of a very good digital source. Some might say that means it is a forgiving amp, but I’d rather say that somehow it lets you hear the best of either source as long as it is a good musical source.

As I have already said, one of the best things about this amp is it does not scream tube or solid-state. It just plays music in a wonderful way. This amp from Margules isn’t the best money can buy, but who would expect it to be for under $6,000? When listening to the Margules U280-SC, I couldn’t help but be immersed in the vividness of the music and the impact of the performance that can bring you into that place where music comes to life. Highly recommended!

9 Responses to Margules Audio U280-SC 25th Anniversary Stereo Tube Amplifier


  1. John Chaney says:

    I use this amp with both my Fulton J and Dunlavy SC IV speakers. Even with the Fulton Js I prefer the triode setting. I am getting all the tonality, detail, dynamics, and emotion I could want!

  2. David Deboys says:

    A small note to say a large Thank You from across the pond for your illuminating reviews. I am currently using Nelson Pass’ First Watt F6 into efficient Living Voice speakers. Your review of this delightful looking amp tempts me to return to valves – speaking of which I don’t believe you indicated what output valves you were listening to. Could you clarify, please? Thanks!

  3. Carlos Smith says:

    May I suggest that you review this amp with Margules Audio´s SF220 preamplifier? It has been my pleasure to have enjoyed this setup on several occasions with Julian Margules in his demo room, just across the hallway from his workshop. Julian is a fine and patient host and he will work with you to provide the best system for your needs and at very competitive pricing, as will Ben Goldman- the US importer. By the way, I have been the proud owner and user of a u280 amp for years with the bespoke preamp (and other Margules Audio processing equipment) with the following results: amazing and beautiful sound and soundstage across the entire frequency range (with large Meadowlark Nighthawk speakers), great dynamics, luscious presence, and rock solid dependability. Your readers will be well served by your findings.

  4. Z. Al says:

    Thanks Jack for the great review, I am so convinced I wanna ask your advise on pairing them as Mono’s with a couple of Klipschorn Floorstanding Speaker from their Heritage series.. I recently heard those at a friends house and I can’t seem to get them out of my mind, and at that price they are literaly giving them away. Any thoughts, highly appreciated?

    Cheers,

  5. Andrew Singline says:

    Is there an agent in Australia for Margules u280-sc 25th anniversary amplifiers

  6. Ismael says:

    So, if it’s not the best money can buy, then I’d buy something else, thank you for your recommendations, I almost got this amp, what should I get for the same money than Margules??

    • Edgar says:

      Ismael, the reviewer did not mean that this is not the best amp you can buy for under $6,000 USD, as you seem to understand him, he meant that this is not the best amp any money can buy. And this is understandable, considering that there are amps that cost way more, say $40,000, or even as much as a house, say $400,000-600,000. These amps should sound better than the Margules amp, no doubt about it. However, the reviewer seems to think that this is a terrific amp to buy in its price point, which is a lot to say. I have heard this amp before, and I would definitely buy it if I had now the money, but, unfortunately, several other committments make that impossible for the moment.

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