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


Issue 50


995: Sounds that Won’t Break the Bank
Aperion Audio Veras Grand speakers
AudioEngine D2 Wireless DAC

By Mark Marcantonio

Journeyman Audiophile

An Onkyo Trifecta
By Andre Marc

Old School:  The Quad ESL’s
By Ken Kessler

Macro: Sound for Small Spaces
Audio Electronics Nighthawk
By Michael Liang

Tone Style

SoundCast Outcast Portable Speaker System
By Ben Fong-Torres

The iPad Mini: Oh Baby!

The Shredder Cheese Grater

A Charlie Brown Christmas – In Green…

In The Groove

Sushi Staplers

Iggy Pop Bobblehead


Live Music: Giant Giant Sand In Portland
By John Darko

Current Releases:

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

Audiophile Pressings

Miles Davis, Aerosmith and The Beatles


KEF R-300 Speakers

Magico S5 Speakers

Sonus faber Aida Speakers

From The Web:

Cambridge Audio Azur 851C CD Player

Decware ZP3 Phonostage

German Physiks Unlimited Mk. II Speakers

dCS Vivaldi Digital Playback System


PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium CD Player
By Jeff Dorgay

Furutech f-TP615 AC Power Filter/Distributor
and PowerFlux Power Cords
By Jeff Dorgay

Peachtree Audio novaPre and Peachtree 220
By Andre Marc

Exposure 3010S2 Monoblocks
By Jerold O’Brien

Dynaudio Confidence C1 II Speakers
By Jeff Dorgay

Audio Research REF 250 Power Amplifiers
By Jeff Dorgay


Jaco Pastorius – S/T

Spinning Jaco Pastorius at 45RPM rules.

Originally produced in 1976, arguably when records pressed at Columbia were at their sonic worst, this record now finds its volatile tracks split onto a pair of LPs. What a difference.

Released at the beginning of the instrumentalist’s tenure with Weather Report, the record includes heavy hitters Lenny White, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter, to name a few. The mix is not straight-ahead jazz, but it’s not fully locked into fusion, either. Some pieces sound like they could have been culled from the outtakes of Hancock’s Blow Up sessions. Beginning with the only cover tune on the list – Miles Davis’ “Donna Lee,”  Pastorius takes the lead on bass as Don Alias is his sole accompaniment on congas.  The congas, which sound horribly flat on the original, come alive on this 45 r.p.m. masterpiece, floating around the middle of the soundstage, setting the tone for what lies in store on the rest of the record.

Track four, “Continuum” is much more spacey and free form, the foundation of the sound Pastorius goes on to create with Weather Report, with loose drumming and gentle Fender Rhoads riffs in the background.  While this record contains a handful of stylistic changes, Pastorius’ mastery of the bass guitar is consistent throughout.

Bernie Grundman takes the production helm here and fully utilizes his lifetime of jazz-related experience to give this masterpiece the attention it deserves. Pastorius’ bass is finely depicted, his parts effortlessly gliding through the soundstage. Hancock’s piano soars, liberated from the sonic grunge of the original. My speakers can barely contain this record!

Note: To naysayers claiming today’s remasters lack the vitality of the original recordings, grab this record now and await pleasant discoveries.

Click here to purchase this album at Music Direct.

Spiral Groove SG-2 Turntable (originally featured in issue 19)

I loved the ending of the first Iron Man movie, when Tony Stark declares in the press conference, “Yeah, I’m Iron Man,” and the crowd goes wild.  While it might not drive a press conference into frenzy, I’m going to tip my hat right now and tell you that the SG-2 is a fantastic turntable.  There’s still a few high rollers on the list that I haven’t experienced yet, such as the SME30 (which I have heard a number of times but not in my system), and a few others in the $100K and higher category. But let’s face it, most of us aren’t buying 100 thousand dollar turntables. Even a five-figure table such as the SG-2 is a luxury, but one that some of us can afford.  For the price of a tricked-out WaveRunner, you can have analog bliss.  I know which I’d rather have.

When I first heard the flagship SG-1 at the Immedia offices, I was immediately impressed.  Fortunately, designer Allen Perkins had a complement of gear in his listening room with which I am familiar, so it wasn’t just a bunch of audio parlor tricks; this is a very musical sounding table. The main differences between the $25k SG-1 and the $15k SG-2 are that the SG-1 uses a few more exotic materials in the plinth; stainless steel in the SG-1 is replaced with aluminum in the SG-2. The SG-1 weighs 70 pounds, while the SG-2 is only 50.  Both tables feature the same motor, speed control/power supply and bearing, along with a finely machined record clamp.  The material making up the platter is the same in both tables, but the outer ring in the SG-1 is  stainless, where the SG-2’s is aluminum.

The SG-1 features a removable armboard that bayonets out like an SLR camera lens.  Perkins told me that this was inspired by his Leica cameras and made in house by SG. This feature allows multiple tonearm configurations as the mood strikes, while the SG-2 has a standard, albeit removable armboard. Sharing Allen Perkins’ passion for photography, I thought this was an exquisite touch. Retail price for the Spiral Groove SG-2 without arm is $15,000, while the current Tri-Planar mk. VII is $5,500. Come on, this is way more interesting than a WaveRunner and you don’t need a wetsuit to use it.

Every surface on the SG-2 is beautifully finished, and as far as tables go, I put it up on par with the SME’s in terms of build quality and understated excellence.  The Continuum is a Dodge Challenger with a blower sticking out of the hood, jacked up with tires about three sizes too big sticking out of the wheel wells, while the SG-2 is an Audi S8 —  elegant, understated and much more capable the minute you get into the first turn.  Should you be someone who wants a turntable based on the high zoot factor, the SG-2 may not be for you.  But if your primary measuring stick is musical performance, and timeless style like an Eames Chair, read on.

Getting out of my comfort zone

Most of my recent analog experience has been with SME and Rega tonearms, but Perkins suggested that my current reference, the iV.Vi would not be a mechanical fit for the SG-2 or the SG-1.  “There’s nothing wrong with the SME arm, it’s just the oval-shaped base that the SME mount uses is too big to work with the oversized platter on the Spiral Groove tables; the pivot to spindle distance would be too great.  The 12-inch SME arms, would probably work just fine, though.” I’m guessing this also will eliminate the Graham arms as possible contenders.  Perkins should have his arm complete soon, which he was quite excited about offering as the perfect match with the SG tables.  As fate would have it, the arm would take longer to reach the market, but the analog cohorts I know that have used the arm assure me it is fantastic.

So for now, we went with the Tri-Planar mk. VIII. I’ve always been intrigued with the Tri-Planar, and this provided an excellent opportunity to break some new ground.  One of the virtues of the Tri-Planar is its almost infinite adjustability, which can be a blessing for some and maddening for others, who may feel they have never gotten it just right.

If you have some records of varying thickness, the Tri-Planar is quite handy, with its large dial indicator on the back of the arm.  You can find settings for 140, 180 and 200-gram records, with a little practice, and then return to those settings when you play those records again.  Or, if you are like me, you can just set the arm up for whatever you have the most of and go from there.  I’m of the mind that constant fiddling is bad for the cartridge suspension, and as I seem to get long life out of my cartridges, I might be on to something.  The good news is that with the Tri-Planar, you can have it your way.

Incredibly easy setup

I’m a huge fan of Rega and SME because they are easy to set up and once set up, tend to stay that way. The SG-2 is a marvel of simplicity and after carefully unpacking the table along with its external power supply, I merely had to remove a few spacers holding the platter up off the base and I was ready to mount the arm.  Underneath the plinth is a set of three cone-shaped feet that in addition to damping vibration make it easy to level the SG-2.  Add the SG-2 to the “easy to set up” category.

A newcomer to the Tri-Planar back then, it took about an hour and a half to complete initial setup with the help of my Acoustic Sounds test record, Acoustic Sounds protractor and trusty Fluke Multimeter. Fortunately for me, the SG-2’s speed was spot on right out of the box, saving another step.  Fine tuning the Lyra Skala took about another hour of careful listening, and I ended up settling on a final tracking weight of 1.62 grams, a bit on the light side as the data sheet suggests 1.65-1.75 grams.

I zeroed in on the Skala for the review period because it has a sound I am very familiar with and I happen to have a pair of them.  This always makes it easy to perform a direct comparison between my reference Raven Two turntable with an SME iV.Vi and whatever else I’m evaluating.  I was able to keep everything else the same except for tonearm cables.  The Tri-Planar comes with its own cable, so there may have been a slight difference between it and the Furutech cables I normally use on my other tonearms.  Regardless, it was easy to get a good feel for the inherent differences between the Raven/SME combination and the SG-2/Tri-Planar combination.

To investigate a few other possibly good combinations, I also had excellent luck with my other reference cartridges, the Dynavector XV-1s and the Grado Statement.  I would also like to mention that the combination of the SG-2 and the Tri-Planar has offered the best performance the Grado has ever exhibited in my system.

My initial comparisons were with the Nagra VPS phono stage, and once I had a good feel for the combination, I also used the SG-2/Tri-Planar/Skala combination to evaluate the stellar Naim Stageline phono preamplifier with the HighCap2 and SuperCap power supplies, but that’s for another review.

This is what analog is all about folks

I might be a little crazy, but I believe great analog should sound really analogy.  Smooth and natural (not rounded off) with an organic sound that is convincingly realistic enough that on the right recording, it takes you to that place where you get fooled into thinking the musicians are actually playing in your listening room.  I understand that you can’t put a full symphony orchestra or Snow Patrol with a wall of Marshall amps in your living room.  But you can get damn close with a solo vocalist, a small string quartet or a few musicians playing acoustic instruments if your room and system are up to the task.

If you are a newcomer to the world of analog, you might not realize just how difficult this balance is to achieve.   I’ve been chasing it for decades.  While thousands of pages have been written trying to describe this, if you have listened to your fair share of music, you know instantly when it’s right, yet it can drive you to madness when it’s not.  Even at the beginning of the setup phase, the minute I lowered the tonearm onto the record I knew the SG-2 was an analog gem. It just got better as the final adjustments were made.

This may not be scientific, but the SG-2 was one of those rare components that would not allow me to do any multitasking whatsoever.  Whenever I put a record on this table and tried to work at the same time, I just couldn’t do it.  I’d shut my laptop and hours would go by, playing one record after another and pretty soon, the better part of the day had evaporated before my eyes.

So much of achieving this rightness has to do with timbral accuracy, while part of it is the ability of a turntable, arm and cartridge to achieve high resolution without harshness.  The mechanical aspects of a turntable at this level also are a major contributor to the dynamic range of the analog system, going hand in hand with the resolution aspect.  The more unobtrusive the table becomes, the more it can get out of the way and reveal the music present on the discs being played.

Keeping it real

Rather than go on and on about different records that I played, let’s suffice to say I played a lot of them.  Here’s what I feel are the most important points about this fine record playing system:

First, nuance.  It is always a great experience to listen to your favorite records and hear small details that weren’t present before, or as clear.  The SG-2 was a master of this, whether offering up a little more texture as a bow was drawn across the violin strings, or revealing more echo at the end of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.”  No matter what kind of music you enjoy, this will grab you immediately with an SG-2.  Perkins feels that the detail his tables offer has much to do with the platter design and the materials used, forming an excellent record-to-platter interface.

Next, quiet.  Thanks to a well-designed drive system, the SG-2 could form the textbook definition of the classic audiophile cliché, “velvety black backgrounds.”  Not a molecule of rumble or other mechanical noise, which gives you CD quiet out of your highest quality pressings.  The bearing in the SG-2 is not directly attached to the spindle, an approach taken by only a few other tables.

Big sound.  Did I say big? I meant HUGE.  As I’ve mentioned in past articles, I tend to listen to music spatially and interpret the sound field that my system produces as a cube.  My Raven Two produces a very large sound field, but moving to the SG-2, the sound field expanded in all three dimensions.  If you’ve ever had the opportunity to listen to a properly setup pair of MBL speakers in a good room, it feels as if someone poured out a room full of sound and you can just concentrate on the music.

According to most engineers I’ve spoken with, a big part of that big sound comes from drive accuracy and stability. The oversized platters on the SG-1 and SG-2 help reduce mechanical error, and the extra mass helps maintain inertia, smoothing things out further.

It’s like comparing Kodachrome with Ektachrome.  The Continuum has more contrast, like Ektachrome, which grabs you at first and feels like a lot of fun.  Some might even prefer its presentation.  But like Kodachrome, my favorite film, the SG-2 has a tonality that just goes on forever.  Acoustic instruments have the perfect amount of texture; drumheads sound correct, piano decay sounds correct, with the proper attack, decay and most of all, texture, with nothing muffled or truncated.

The bonus here is the SG-2’s amazing resolution, another Kodachrome hallmark. Some gear that I’ve heard that is wonderfully tuneful does it at the expense of resolution; not so with this table.  For those who have amazing record collections, consisting of early edition pressings and high-quality audiophile remasters, you will really be in for a treat.  Again, the Skala cartridge seemed to be a phenomenal match for this arm-and-table combination, with the Dynavector right behind.

I won’t use the B-word, but…

Back in issue 19 when I originally reviewed The Spiral Groove SG-2, I found this table one of the most musically involving tables I’d heard at the time and not only purchased the review sample, but lived with it happily for three years. It’s audio performance is top notch, build quality exquisite, and it is aesthetically elegant.  The kicker is that this is truly an affordable reference.  Not in a Rega P3 kind of way, mind you, but if you are a music lover/collector/audiophile that has been at this for a while and are looking for a statement table that doesn’t cost as much as a Porsche, the SG-2 should be at the top of your audition list.

Now that the Spiral Groove tonearm is available, we look forward to revisiting this great table again very soon.

The Spiral Groove SG-2 Turntable

MSRP:  $15,000 (without arm), Tri-Planar Mk. VII, $4,700

Manufacturers Information:

Spiral Groove, distributed by Immedia



Preamplifier                            Conrad Johnson ACT2/series 2

Power Amplifier                     Conrad Johnson Premier 350

Phono Preamplifiers               Nagra VPS, Naim Superline with SuperCap power supply

Cartridges                                Dynavector XV-1s, Lyra Skala, Lyra Olympos, Grado Statement

Speakers                                  MartinLogan CLX with (2)Descent i subwoofers

Bob Dylan – The Basement Tapes

Volumes are written about this famous album, celebrating the collaboration of Bob Dylan and his backing band, the Hawks, whose members ended up becoming The Band. Not officially released until the summer of 1975, the set was recorded in 1967, the year after Dylan’s motorcycle crash, which marked a pivotal point in his career.

In a 1969 interview, the Bard told Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner: “[This is] really the way to do a recording—in a peaceful, relaxed setting—in somebody’s basement. With the windows open…and a dog lying on the floor.” The mellow vibe certainly comes through in the presentation.

Mobile Fidelity’s reissue features much richer timbres and dynamics than the original. But remember Dylan’s comment about being relaxed. While it’s still crackly in parts, (remember it was produced on the Revox A77 tape recorder shown on the album cover) overall quality is very high, particularly given the stripped-down environment in which the record was captured—essentially, Dylan’s basement, concrete walls and all. Where the original is consistently flat, lacking air and decay, the new pressing comes alive.

Sure, various members of the Band, and even Dylan himself, are still not in agreement about what tracks should have been (or not been) included on the Columbia release. Debates aside, it’s a phenomenal time capsule, a stellar collection of songs.

And there’s more Dylan coming from the Chicago-based audiophile imprint. Josh Bizar, Mobile Fidelity’s Director of Sales and Marketing, says, “The Basement Tapes is one of the most important releases in our history and the perfect title to start the Mobile Fidelity Bob Dylan series.” We anxiously anticipate all of them.