Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Tube Time

It's been many, many years since I had any sort of tube amplifier. I think the last tube amp I had was built into the family stereo system that we used regularly back in the 1960s and early 1970s. I still remember turning on the power and having to wait in silence for a few seconds while the tubes warmed up... something that most people under the age of forty have never experienced.

I have always been curious about the Cult of the Tube Amp. I've heard many people praise the warm, resonant sounds of a tube amplifier, but back when we had that stereo console, I knew nothing about sound quality. Mono and stereo was pretty much the limit of my audio knowledge, in fact... well, that and that volume knob...

But when I saw that Monoprice had a tube amp for a good price with free shipping, I decided to give it a try. Not only could I find out why so many people praised the sound of a tube amp, but I could get a neat bluetooth-capable amplifier that would also work with a turntable... and it all had a vaguely steampunk-meets-Soviet-tek look.

Once I got the amp, I broke out a pair of Infinity RS-425 speakers to give it a try. The results were quite impressive. Even though the amp only outputs 25 watts of power, it was more than enough to drive those Infinity speakers and fill the room with a rich, resonant sound that was more appealing and realistic than the AudioEngine A5 powered speakers I had previously been using. Don't get me wrong--the AudioEngine speakers sounded fine... or at least I thought they did. But once I compared the sound of the AudioEngine powered speakers (which are rated at 50 watts) to the sound of the Monoprice hybrid tube amp, there was no doubt which sounded more appealing. No harshness, strong mellow sound from the  rich woofer lows through the full-throated midrange to the crisp tweeter highs... I was sold.

Not only does it do a great job with a turntable, but it also does a very admirable job with Bluetooth sourced material. Sirius XM, Pandora, iTunes, Amazon Music... all of them had more punch and presence when played back through this little Monoprice tube amp.

Are there better amps? Probably so, but they'd cost a lot more than this $150 Monoprice charmer. And you could spend a lot more than that and get something that is less suited for music playback. And that may be the problem: so many amplifiers and receivers today are tailored for video playback as part of a home theater that music reproduction is almost an afterthought. This little amplifier that could dedicates itself to music playback, and does it very well.

If you're looking for an affordable amp to go with a pare of stereo speakers stuck way back in your garage, you couldn't do better for $150.00... and I suspect you couldn't do better  for much more than that. As much as I like my Yamaha R-N500BL bluetooth receiver, I don't think it does a as good a job with music than the Monoprice.  That's pretty impressive, because until I heard the Monoprice, that Yamaha was my go-to amp for music listening!

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