HiFiWigwam

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  1. REALREVIEW OF THE INTEGRATED AUDIO VALVE 'ASSISTENT 50' AMPLIFIER Tested and Reviewed by George Sallit - April 2017 One of the advantages of reviewing hifi equipment is you get to hear some equipment that is not your normal run of the mill hifi. An example of such a company is Audio Valve. I have seen a few of their valve amplifiers at various shows but have never actually heard one. Audio Valve is a distinctive company making distinctive amplifiers. It is run by Helmut Becker and he has been making high quality valve amplifiers since 1982. The amplifier under review is an Assistent 50 (it really is spelt that way) and is a valve powered, integrated amplifier that outputs 50w per channel. It is the middle model of their range of integrated amplifiers, the Assistent 30, the Assistent 50 and the Assistent 100. I’ll leave you to guess their respective outputs. The first thing I noticed was the unusual aesthetics. The images cannot do them justice. It is impeccably made and has a real Bauhaus type of styling. Or maybe Steampunk is a better description. The front panel of polycarbonate has a clear window into the inside of the amplifier which has a blue logo of the company name that lights up when the amplifier is operating. When you turn the amplifier off but it is still connected to the mains that logo glows red. There is also an illuminated dial around the volume control that also glows blue/red. The lid has a circular window with petal cut-outs that provide ventilation for the valves. Looking through this window you can see that the main circuit board is a thick PCB with high quality components. On the left is the PSU PCB which has a large toroidal transformer. On the right are two large output transformers specifically made for this amplifier. All connection are hand soldered in Germany. Herr Becker prefers double sided PCBs rather than hard wiring as he believes that ensures consistency from amplifier to amplifier. This amplifier uses first class components and has been very well constructed. It has 5 inputs and comes with a solid metal remote control. The preamplifier uses two ECC 83s. However, the power amplifier uses an unusual output valve that I have not come across before. The phase splitters are ECC 82s with the power amplification done by 8 dual tetrodes, the QQE 03/12 operating in Class A. These valves are actually inexpensive and can be substituted by RS 1029 or CV 2798 valves. One of the issues that tends to put people off valves is that some maintenance is needed. Firstly, there is a need to check and adjust the bias to the power valves every so often and of course every few years the valves will need to be replaced. Biasing valves used to be a bit if a chore and some amplifiers required you to go inside the amplifier (when on) and measure the bias being applied to the valves. If it was not correctly set then you had to find an adjuster and adjust it to the correct value. I always felt nervous doing this as there are some high voltages inside these amplifiers and the adjuster was always too close to the hot power valves. Ouch…. However, some companies have changed their amplifiers to make this adjustment easier to do without having to venture inside the amplifier. Audio Valve have gone one step further and use their Auto Bias Regulator. ABR measures the bias applied to each valve and then automatically adjust it to the correct value. This process is shown by red LEDs on the boards. So, when coming out of stand-by mode the amplifier goes through a calibration process that does all this work for you, every time. If the valve has come to the end of its life then the red LED will not extinguish. The red LED warns you that there is a fault and a new valve is needed. Another advantage of this process is that when you replace the power valves you only need to buy one and not a balanced pair of valves that match. The ABR takes care of it for you. Nice and easy. The remote control was a nicely made heavy metal component that deals with all the controls needed with the name Audio Valve carved into the metal. So the overall sequence was turn on the amp using the mains switch on the back of the amp. Get the nice re-assuring red glow of the logo and the volume control. Switch the amplifier on by pressing the on-off on the remote. The illumination glows blue and 8 red LEDs come on. Then press standby and the ABR sequence checks the valves and the red LEDs all go out and all is ready. I found it actually sounded great from the off and improvements were not huge with an additional 30 minutes warm up. Right let’s get the music flowing. I have read that some people have said they are nervous about reviewers’ over enthusiasm. Yes, there are some good products around but are all those effusive words and sentiments actually necessary? So, I said to myself I would be more careful in future and only go overboard with excellent products. And damn me, the first product I review after my resolution was rather good. So, I put on my two sets of test tracks that show off what an amplifier can do and I got lost in the tracks and started to forget I was meant to be reviewing. The first thing I noticed is how spacious the whole soundstage is. It changes with the recording venue or amount of echo added for studio recordings. Some amplifiers seem to have an added 3D effect but this amplifier is far more truthful than that. Play a modern dry recording and it sounds modern and dry. The overall tone of the music is natural with a good depth of tonal colour. That is a characteristic of good valve systems but this amplifier also has great attack and dynamics. The attack and dynamics are good and unusual for a valve system. This shows itself in the bass which is able to show up subtle timing changes and clues in the music. In truth, the depth of bass may not be the best I have heard, but what is there is fast and has good tone. And the voices. Ah yes. They are very clear, natural and made by a real 3D person not a super detailed paper cut out. It was really easy to hear all the words sung, clearly, even when mumbled by Mr Springsteen, whose diction is not the clearest in modern music. I initially thought this was an emphasis. However, on extended listening it was more a gentle spot-lit quality than an emphasis. For a lot of modern music especially that with deep and meaningful lyrics (yes there is some) it was easy to hear not only all the words but the emotion of the singer and any backing singers. Really clear, without false emphasis or frequency response changes. On music with some real bass playing like SMV by Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller and Victor Wootan it was possible to hear not only the different types and styles of bass playing but also the different types of bass strings. Not thump, thump, thump but a real bass guitar played by three maestros. On 11:11 by Rodrigo and Gabriela the huge range of ‘effects’ they can get out of an acoustic guitar is amazing but it does not smother the superb guitar playing and the dynamics they can get from the tunes being played. Youn Sun Nah’s Voyage album comes across superbly. This is a top-quality recording of an excellent Korean singer. Her singing is recorded very closely and intimately. All the details in the instruments are presented as a coherent whole with a very natural quality. But her intimate singing is all but spine tingling… Thanks for the recommendation Bryan. Ideally suited to these amplifiers. Ah but can it rock? On to some remastered The Who and half of led Zep. I have had enough of being NICE……..when the Who were angry (not so) young men. With some real anger from Roger D. and a driving rock track to get things moving along. And for a real contrast to Old Blue Eyes how about some ‘Behind Blue Eyes’? These nice valves gave the expected real sense of danger from the Who. And from the live album by Percy and Plant some really tight playing in Egypt. It drove along even though there was not the real bass menace from ultra deep bass. And finally, a big session of electronic music. The natural overall sound worked really well with the few CDs I played of electronic music. I did not expect that but it makes the point that even though this is electronic music it will show up badly balanced frequency responses. Yes! You need a neutral balance for electronic music and this is not purely the province of classical music. The amplifier was really showing off these artificial 3D soundstages and they are essential to the overall flow with its creation of a real atmosphere. SUMMARY So, in summary. I was impressed with the construction of this integrated amplifier and the quality of the components used. The aesthetics are distinctive but both my better half and her mother were really impressed with the Steampunk look and the glowing blue and red lighting. The overall sound quality was good with a natural mid-range and clarity on voices. Unexpected was the tight bass and dynamics and the very slightly spot-lit quality that made modern music sound clear and non-diffuse as some other valves can do. Yes, there could be a little more bass depth but give me a tight fast bass rather than an amorphous thudding in the background. Some may find the 3D soundstage not as big as other amplifiers but which is right? So, a good integrated valve amplifier from an unexpected source that is well priced at £4,200.
  2. The whole idea behind this was to encourage younger and new members to join the forum and invite them to participate in exhibiting. There will be a bake off room FOC from me to help junior and new members to be part of the weekend. I am also trying to get businesses involved to help with 'sponsoring' the room to cover costs and also for some prizes. So to answer the questions: Entrants must have registered on the forum in 2017 and not before. There will be a 'bake-off' room provided. Since joining the forum they must have put together a system for less than £1000 My only thought is that we might let entrants keep putting their systems together longer than May. But I will let you know shortly. Hope this helps PS. I will also be trying this out in Harrogate, details TBC very soon.
  3. I believe the decline referred to was visitor numbers over the last few years, not the recent show. Just wanted to make that clear.
  4. It is looking like it will clash, as the Hotel has more rooms available on 21st/22nd as I already tried the 28th without luck this morning. Just waiting for price confirmation and we are good to go. This is an enthusiasts/hobbyist show and Windsor is a high-end show and different ends of the country. Harrogate is a big conference town and Weddings booked every weekend almost so we are lucky to find this. Should have firm dates in a few days. All depends if the trade want to talk to trade or actually sell some products. Harrogate is a fantastic catchment area with B'ham 3 hours, Leeds 30 mins, York 30 mins, Edinburgh 4hrs, Newcastle 1hr all by car. Trains just over 2hrs KX to York, 2.5hrs Edin-York.
  5. 3rd or 4th week in October, happy to go with either but will confirm in a week or so. The hotel I have spoken too needs to move a temp event in order to take ours. I respect organisers doing other shows but to be honest we are moving at such a pace that we need to concentrate on our own and the new format I have in mind is totally different to anything on the market so I don't mind going up against established ones.
  6. Loads of Wammers are up North, and it's your opportunity to join in one of our great events. If you are a new Wammer, now is the time, if you have been on the forum for years and always thought it a bit too far, now is the time!!! Read all the threads from this years Scalford, its such a brilliant weekend - we welcome new exhibitors and there are plenty of 'old hats' in the ring to keep you safe.
  7. I will have help on hand for heavy gear, make sure access is good, my turn to look after the brood
  8. Seriously big F off systems all welcome - I've heard about them but I think it's all Turkish delight!!! This one is to show them what we can do.
  9. Two massive catchment areas for visitors Leeds and York, 30 mins on train. There will be a pre show get together and some great entertainment. I'm going to promote a junior section with great prizes and I have links to all local radio and press. The aim is encourage more enthusiasts and promote HiFi in general.
  10. Hi Rick, harrogate is my home town, I know which hotels are perfect for us to get the best size. I cut my teeth on Scalford, this will blow it out of the water I can assure you.
  11. Great, another brochure
  12. Not yet, but for you Colin, what date would you like Are you in then Colin
  13. Yep, this is the same thing....but I feel better in so many ways. It's a chance to make it into what we want without restrictions. Your in
  14. Just set up a new show for harrogate in October. Choice of 3 town centre locations, pubs, bars and restaurants on doorstep. Bring the ladies for a weekend away!! Please go to the main thread and put your name down if you are interested. Many thanks
  15. I would like to put on a new show in Harrogate this October. I have 3 available venues and they are in great locations so instead of being out in the sticks, it will be next to restaurants, bars, shopping and all sorts of entertainment. Great if you'd like to bring wives and partners, and make a fabulous weekend of hifi and fun. I already have a few trade who can back up the plan and we can finally reach out to everyone....and get you buggers up to God's country We need a minimum of 20 exhibitors to make it work, I will try my hardest to keep costs down so its the same as Scalford, but I think we should show again what we can do and this time we'll invite new members and have our new Under 1000 competition plus plus plus. Great road and rail links, 2 hrs from KX on the train, Town centre is only 15 mins from A1 exit. It will be a blast. Let's get this going so please for the moment just put up your names to exhibit in a sleep over room and then I'll put together the spreadsheet. Thanks Peter