AVA Ultravalve Amplifier

With so much excitement over tubes these days, here’s one that might have flown under your radar…

Van Alstine’s Ultravalve has been around for years, starting as their original Super 70, which was an upgrade kit for the legendary Dynaco Stereo 70, then morphing to the Super 70i before finally becoming the Ultravalve.  It’s a simple, elegant design with exposed tubes and transformers; a perfect way to display a classic tube amplifier.

Our full review will be in issue 56, but to let the cat out of the bag, this amplifier is stunning.  If you have an inkling that a modest tube amplifier would suit your needs, this is the one we suggest.  And for $1,995, nothing else can touch it in terms of performance.


Neil Young Visits Meridian…

On a recent visit to the UK, Neil Young stopped by the Meridian facility in Cambridgeshire.

You can read more here:


We Visit Audio Arts NYC

Audio Arts NYC provides an oasis of chill, just four floors above the hustle and bustle of New York City’s Fifth Avenue, in the Flatiron District.

Owner Gideon Schwartz buzzes me up to his suite, where the main listening room, about 20 x 30 feet, features a comfy couch, a wonderful view of the city, Madison Square Park and a big fireplace. When was the last time you saw a fireplace in a hifi shop?  Instantly, your blood pressure takes a big dip for the better and it’s easy to relax. This is not a typical retail environment in any sense of the word.

The central room showcases one main system, with a variety of turntables from Holborne Swiss Audio, Simon York and a beautifully restored Thorens TD-124 from Schopper.  Off to the left the massive Kalista CD transport from Metronome Technologie sits, waiting to make magic from the often criticized compact disc.  A single pair of Zellaton speakers is placed to perfection in this acoustically correct space.  Well off to the side, are some neatly arranged components from Nagra, waiting for audition by another customer, along with electronics from  CH Precision (Switzerland), Malvalve (Germany), Lavardin (France) and Kora-Eda (Japan) flanked by a pair of Stenheim speakers.

“Want to hear a record?”  Schwartz cues up a Teddy Pendergrass, via the Holborne table and the sound from what some audiophiles might consider an average pressing comes to life on the big Zellatons, powered by the Burmester 911 mk. 3, an amplifier that I also use as a reference.  The sound is infinitely familiar on one level, yet a few clicks beyond what I’m used to, as the Zellaton speakers provide such a clear window into the music.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think that we were listening to an expensive remaster of this recording. Fortunately, there are no audiophile standards in his record collection on display.

Switching to digital, we listen to Musica Nuda, by Petra Magoni and Ferruccio Spinetti, the delicacy of analog remaining.  It’s hard to believe we are listening to digital, and again, the combination of excellent music and system synergy allows the listener to forget about the left-brain stuff that often gets in the way of enjoying their system.

The magic that this system offers sums up what Audio Arts NYC brings to the table. Purchasing components at this level requires a well versed guide, someone capable of hand picking things that work well together for maximum effect and demonstrating them in a comfortable environment, lacking in clutter makes it easy to unwind and take it all in.

At the time of our visit, a second, smaller room is nearing completion, to showcase other components, primarily speakers more suited to clients with a similar sized listening space. Here, I see components from Swissonor, Shopper Thorens, Wavelength and the new Midnight Blue series from 47 Labs.

While some of the names on the roster, like Burmester and Nagra are well known to American audiophiles, others like Zellaton and Stenheim are new to our shores. And while some of these components carry a lofty price tag, many do not. All too often, hifi salons become myopic and militant, offering potential customers few choices, which can be detrimental to those wishing to engage this hobby.  Everything here has been hand picked by Schwartz for sound quality, build quality and uniqueness.  “It’s really about the overall sound.  I put a very strong emphasis on the greatest possible fidelity for every approach.  This results in a musical consistency in my products regardless of cost.” Schwartz says. And whether your interest is in solid state, single ended triodes, or anything in between, Audio Arts NYC has an interesting solution.

Schwartz underlines the importance of this process. “Sometimes, it takes months for us to put just the right system together for a client.  I’m not in a hurry.” Right in the heart of New York City, he understands the stress that many of his clients face, and the importance a music system plays in their lives.

Wonderful as Audio Arts NYC is, perhaps the highest compliment I can pay Gideon Schwartz is that I heard four albums that were completely new to me.  This is the direction that high-end audio has to take if it is to survive. Having just returned from Tokyo, reflecting back on my visit to Audio Arts, it reminds me of the Leica store in the Ginza shopping district, where photography and the gear to create those photographs is equally respected, showcased in a soothing environment.

This deliberateness, and attention to detail, all the while celebrating the music that makes it all possible is what makes Audio Arts NYC so unique. I highly suggest an appointment.

-Jeff Dorgay

Audio Arts NYC


Bowers & Wilkins Partners with Maserati

The two European manufacturers get together for the audio system in the new Quattroporte sedan, a dressed-up pair of 805 speakers, and a global DJ tour.

Maserati is far from the first luxury carmaker to market with a premium sound system in its cars—but pair that with the new 805 Maserati Edition speakers from B&W, which provides the stereo for the Italian carmaker’s 2013 Quattroporte sedan, and a DJ throw-down at a hanger in Hollywood, and you’ve most certainly got our attention. (The Hollywood event in early June was part of the global Seven Notes tour. For these events, DJ/producer Howie B, who has worked with Björk and U2, among other acts, spins music inspired by the seven tones of a Maserati engine in action, with B&W delivering the chest-thumping sonic goods. Click here for more details on the tour: www.sevennotes.com)

The Quattroporte audio system is no mere car stereo, and I’ve heard similar systems from

Naim (for Bentley), Bang & Olufsen (for Audi and Aston Martin) and Burmester (for Porsche). The B&W system in Maserati’s roughly $130,000 Quattroporte easily holds its own in this competitive market. With B&W drivers and tweeters and Harman-sourced electronics, the 15-speaker, 1,280-watt stereo produces an audiophile-grade listening experience from any of the car’s four seats. The system offers a big display panel in the dash with intuitive touchscreen control, and easy synchronization with your digital-music device of choice.

B&W’s 805 Maserati Edition speakers aren’t too shabby either. The stand-mounted monitors are basically B&W’s flagship 805 Diamond speakers dressed up with the same materials used in the cabin of a Maserati, including bird’s-eye maple veneer, black Italian leather, and the Maserati trident symbol. The cost of the speakers, which will be available this fall, are likely to come at a premium over the $5,000 price tag of the standard 805s—but if you’re paying well over six figures for a Maserati, you might as well throw in a few extra bucks for matching speakers.

-Bailey S. Barnard

The Latest From The Oblivians

Minutes into their first album in more than 15 years, the Oblivians sing about waking up in a police car.

Guitars faintly double as sirens while insouciant vocals indicate more than just casual indifference. When you hear the trio’s offhand deliveries, you know these guys have been there before. There’s no faking, no pretense, no make-believe about what it’s like to be aroused from a drunken slumber only to smell the plastic vinyl of a worn bench seat, look up, and realize you’re headed to jail.

The band’s nose for cheap thrills, thirst for even cheaper drinks, and lust for back-street pursuits permeates Desperation, a raw garage-rock album recorded live to a one-inch Scully eight-track recorder at Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound studio. Polished and pristine it is not. But immense fun lies within the 14 tracks, which include a jump-and-jive cover of Paul Butterfield’s “Loving Cup” that’s held together by salvaged instruments and sweaty desire. A similarly strong-willed do-it-yourself spirit comes to fore on a majority of the set, which resides in the same territory populated by seedy bars, glue-sniffing characters, and dark alleys.

Songs mirror the shady environments. Overdriven rhythms strut akin to alluring streetwalkers; charged tempos and stripped-back instrumentation hint at the campy shock sequences of 50s B-horror movies; simple percussive beats dig in and sway as if leading a parade of stiletto heels. Almost everything is caked in motor-oil grime, but the fuzz-box distortion never becomes overbearingly heavy or claustrophobic. Rather, the Oblivians honor their Memphis hometown by way of classic soul and stylish R&B figures that aren’t far removed from those preferred by Wilson Pickett or the Mar-Keys. The latter musicians’ legacies live on in the party anthem “Call the Police,” a collaboration with Mr. Quintron and Miss Pussycat that both gets down by way of a steaming-hot organ and makes good on its promise to “tear it down.”

Trashy, basement-reared rattling—as well as a penchant for sniffing around places and people your mother warned you about—also informs the wiry “Little War Child” and ringing “Pinball King.” Each contagious tune is evidence the Oblivians know their way around British Invasion hooks and surf-pop choruses as well as they do dive establishments most groups are too timid to visit.

And you can purchase it from SoundStageDirect right here…

Issue 55


Old School:
The ARC SP-11 Preamplifier

By Ken Kessler

995: Sounds that Won’t Break the Bank
The Dynavector DV-20X2 Cartridge

By Lawrence Devoe

Macro: Sound for Small Spaces

Digital vs. Vinyl (Part one)
By John Darko

Journeyman Audiophile

The Funk Firm LSD Turntable

Tone Style

Exploring South Africa’s Bounty
By Monique Meadows

LaCie Blade Runner Hard Drive

Definitive Technology Sound Cylinder

Kohler Moxie Bluetooth Showerhead

Fiat 500e

Symbol Audio Tabletop HiFi

By Rob Johnson


Desert Drifter:

A Conversation with Bombino

By Andy Downing

Current Releases:

Fresh Releases in the Pop/Rock World
By the TONE Staff

Live Music:
Infected Mushroom
By Connor Willemsen

Club Mix:
By Connor Willemsen

Audiophile Pressings

Jazz & Blues
By Jim Macnie

NEW!  M on Classical


D’Agostino Momentum Stereo Amplifier

Rogers EHF-200 Mk. 2 Integrated Amplifier

Nagra Jazz Preamplifier

Sonus faber Guarneri Evolution Speakers

From The Web:

Octave Jubilee Monoblocks

Plinius Hautonga Integrated Amplifier


The Chord Chordette Qute HD DAC
By Rob Johnson

Music First Audio Classic V.2 Preamplifier
By Andre Marc

Oppo BDP-105 Universal Player
By Jeff Dorgay

Parasound Halo CD1 Player
By Rob Johnson

Simaudio MOON 850P Evolution Preamplifier
By Jeff Dorgay

Unison Research Phono One Phonostage
By Jerold O’Brien


Long Term Review: The Octave Jubilee Monoblocks

It’s easy to become smitten with a pair of large, high-powered, German tube monoblocks at first listen.

There’s always something incredibly cool about amplifiers that have the delicacy, the airiness and that extra dimensional palpability that tubes bring to the listening experience, yet have the weight and sheer dynamic thrust that only comes with high power.  The Octave Jubilee monoblocks have been here for the better part of a year now, paired with many speakers large and small. They’ve excelled with every speaker I’ve had the pleasure to connect them to, with no loss of magic.  If anything, I’m more enthusiastic about these amplifiers than the day they arrived.

Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach’s collaboration “I Still Have That Other Girl,” illuminates the Jubilees’ ability to take a strictly mediocre recording and, with a bit of help from a top-quality source (in this case, the $110,000 dCS Vivaldi stack), extract the maximum amount of detail from it without crossing the line to become overly analytical – striking a perfect balance of tonality and dynamics.  As they should, for $67,500 per pair.

Control in the lower register is difficult for all but the world’s finest vacuum tube amplifiers – again, the Jubilees convey a sense of reality that usually requires a high-current solid-state amplifier.  The big beats on Eric B. & Rakim’s “Put Your Hands Together” hit hard without losing control instead of just coming across as boom, boom, boom – no one-note bass here.  A lost day to unearthing the best bass-laden tracks I can find fails to make the Jubilees falter.  Everything from Daft Punk to Pink Floyd is served up with gusto.

Getting Down to Business

Powering the KEF Blades in room one (with a sensitivity of 90db) is a splendid experience – even at eardrum-shattering levels, the Jubilees show no sense of strain.  It feels as though Alx Rose is right there in the room, whistling the intro to “Patience” from the G N’ R Lies album. The illusion continues further as Rose’s lead vocal comes in with barely a whisper, amidst a pair of acoustic guitars that stay sorted left and right of center.  Perhaps the enchantment is relayed best of all tracking through Use Your Illusion I and II, at near maximum volume, proving that these monoblocks – with eight 6550 power tubes per channel (KT88s can be substituted, while KT120s are not recommended) and massive power supplies – are up to the task of whatever program material you love to play loud. I cannot drive the Jubilees to clipping with the Blades in the system.

They prove an equally excellent match for the GamuT S9 speakers.  With a -3db low frequency limit of 17hz, they easily illuminate shortcomings in an amplifier’s ability to go deep. Again the Jubilees show what they are made of, both with extension and textural ability.  Tal Wilkenfield’s rapid-fire bass playing on Jeff Beck’s Live at Ronnie Scott’s is a perfect example of the way the Jubilees take hold of the GamuTs multiple woofer cones, without haze or hangover, picking up every nuance brilliantly. Yet when asked to go deep, digging up the beats buried in Bombay Dub Orchestra’s 3 Cities disc, the Jubilees feel as if they have a silicon output stage, offering better grip than any power amplifier I’ve had the pleasure of using with tubes under the hood. And Daft Punk’s controversial new album is a true treat, chock full of ’70s and ’80s disco beats rattling my insides at club level, courtesy of the Jubilees.

Inner Space

Moving the amplifiers to room two, now partnered with the Sonus faber Guarneri Evolution speakers, provides another intoxicating experience.  These compact speakers only have a sensitivity of 86db, and while they will play with a 40-watt per channel tube amplifier, they need big power to come alive and energize the room. The intro of Bauhaus’s “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” becomes a massive three-dimensional cube of distorted, in-your-face guitars, surrounded by jangly guitars floating on the periphery of the room boundaries.  “Heathen Child” from the Grinderman 2 album is equally well decoded.  This recording is somewhat dense, yet playing it through the Jubilees lays it bare, filling it with space and texture.

The small but mighty Sonus fabers sound as if the flagship Aidas, which we reviewed in December 2012, have been placed in a shrink machine: they provide a similar amount of detail and finesse, yet in the context of a smaller room.  Supreme Beings of Leisure’s “The Light” expands wide and deep with electronic effects buoyant above the rock-solid bass line and sultry lead vocal, all having their own distinct space.  Having used the Jubilees with the Aidas during that review, this combination feels like it has returned to my smaller room – the presentation is stunningly lifelike.

And while the Jubilees produce 250 watts per channel, those subscribing to the “first watt” theory (i.e., if the first watt doesn’t sound great, why bother with the rest) can rest assured that even at low volume, the Jubilees excel.  The Rolling Stones’ version of “Like a Rolling Stone” from their Stripped LP remains engaging at light conversation level, with plenty of weight and a massive soundstage, providing a highly convincing rendition of the Stones playing in a small club – all of the spatial cues, from Charlie Watts drumming to the sound of the applause bouncing off of the club walls, are reproduced perfectly in my 13-by-16-foot listening room.

When Clint Eastwood whispers “You don’t listen, do you asshole?” on the Pretenders tune “Bad Boys Get Spanked,” it sounds as if he’s sitting right there on the couch, whispering in my ear.  Fantastic.

The Long Game

It’s always a rare privilege to listen to an amplifier for a long period of time, as manufacturers can’t always spare a flagship product in this manner.  However, it’s highly revealing when they can, as it provides the opportunity to experience a wider range of musical selections, far beyond the favorite tracks often used in the context of a normal review.

A wide variety of speaker and system configurations reveal that the Jubilees are infinitely flexible.  Thanks to XLR and RCA inputs, switchable from the rear panel, the Jubilees should work well with any type of preamplifier – all of the combinations auditioned here work perfectly.  They produce more than enough power for all but the most inefficient speakers, and they are even able to power my power hungry Magnepans without strain.  While none of my speakers prove problematic, the manual specifies a load no less than two ohms, so there may be a few speakers that the Jubilees will not drive.

While the Jubilee monoblocks do absolutely nothing wrong, their greatest triumph is truly a natural tonal rendition, combined with the ability to render layer upon layer of musical detail effortlessly.  Much like the Simaudio 880M monoblocks we just reviewed, the Jubilees paint an almost identical palette, yet offer up slightly more space and sparkle than their solid-state counterparts.  Ultimate system matching will come down to personal preference.

Tube and Reviewer Bias

Tonally, the Jubilees come right smack in the middle of CJ and ARC, two of my favorite tube amplifiers.  The ARC REF amps are a bit more in the “just the facts, ma’am” category, where the current CJ ART series tends to embellish somewhat in a more saturated kind of tonality. (A personal favorite and definite bias for this reviewer)

The Jubilees add only the lightest touch of “tube warmth,” yet remain highly dynamic and incredibly quiet as well.  A full tube design, they use four ECC82 (12AU7) tubes as drivers, and eight 6550 or KT88 tubes for output.  The owners manual states that they can also use EL34 tubes, with a slight rebias adjustment, which could be incredibly intriguing.  What the owner’s manual doesn’t state is that a decrease in power is probably likely, as the EL34 tube has a much lower plate dissipation than the KT88 or 6550 tubes.

The Jubilees each use a single bias adjustment per amplifier, yet you can check bias on each individual tube via the rotary switch on the top panel.  The downside to this configuration is that each bank of tubes will have to be as closely matched as possible.  When they deviate by more than 15%, it’s replacement time. Each mono amplifier includes two extra tubes, so that should one go out of spec, you can easily replace it without having to get another fully matched set.  Octave claims a 3-5 year lifespan on the power tubes, and 10 years for the drivers. A set of 10 per amplifier when you do replace them would be prudent, just to be sure to have a couple of spares on hand, because one never knows when catastrophic tube failure will occur. Fortunately, the Jubilees have a very elaborate, yet unobtrusive, protection circuit; when I did have a tube failure, the amplifier gently shut down without clicks, pops or any other bother.  The Jubilees make no spurious sounds of any kind during normal power up or power down either; they quietly go about their business.

That touch of tubeyness is usually in the background, but makes itself known immediately when listening to acoustic music.  The gentle interplay of Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden on “He’s Gone Away” from the Beyond the Missouri Sky album reveals the Jubilees’ ability to let the notes hang on the vine, ever so slightly longer than they do when played through a solid-state power amplifier.  A similar sense of dimensionality is experienced with the Portland Cello Project’s current album, A Thousand Words.

Quite the Destination

The Octave Jubilee mono amplifiers are not for the faint of heart, back or wallet.  However, they deliver a fantastic musical experience that is commensurate with the price asked and are built to last a lifetime.  This has truly been an enjoyable long-term test drive!

The Octave Jubilee Monoblock Amplifiers

MSRP:  $67,500