IMO, it's very important to buy a "brand" that has good retail and great manufacturer support. It's fun to buy "exotic" but you are taking a chance you'll own a boat anchor some day.
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I am guessing once you're in exotic territory you're getting a product which performs at the highest level, but at the same time the very fact that makes them exotic makes them unreliable as well. Take for instance any supercar. The more exotic you get the more capricious they become.
That is why most supercar owners prefer to get vehicles which have a local dealership for reliable service.
Hello ei (elli?). I believe we may have spoken in the past about MastersounD, but I'll reintroduce myself as the US distributor for MastersounD. I'll do my best to answer your questions.
MastersounD used to be the manufacturer of Vaic amps and also the first generation of Ayon. I'm not sure in the case of Vaic, but I know with Ayon, MastersounD chose to end that partnership as Ayon was looking for better margins on the gear and squeezing any profit out of MastersounD's hands. Since then, my understanding is that Ayon has gone to China to have their amplifiers built.
I have been the distributor for them for about two years now and have had clients come to me with issues on older generation amplifiers. The clients were never upset about these as they understand sometimes thing happen that are not a result of bad design, but of tube amps in general. In each of these cases I offered to help them move to a newer amplifier and none were interested in this option. Why? They were still in love with their current amp and just wanted to fix it so they could continue to enjoy it. If you take a look at the used market, you will rarely see a MastersounD amplifier show up. This reinforces my statement that clients truly love these amplifiers.
I know USA Tube Audio still lists MastersounD as a product on their website. The truth is they are no longer affiliated in any way with the brand and will never have the opportunity to do so again. I have had clients reach out to them first and been told that they spread rumors of these 'reliability' issues to any potential clients and tell them to buy Ayon instead - a brand they distribute. I know this is not isolated to just MastersounD as they also have another half dozen brands listed that they do not represent. They used to be the importer for MastersounD and MastersounD ended that partnership before working with me a few months later.
All MastersounD amplifiers are designed to be single-ended and will put out heat. In many cases their amplifiers run in parallel and those additional tubes further increase the heat. I believe most of their imported amplifiers are the Compact 845/Reference 845/Evolution 845 and those tubes themselves run hot. Heat is simply part of the game when it comes to tubes. In more recent generations, their designs have reduced the heat though. I recently got in their PF100 Litz Edition monoblocks and for eight 845 tubes in close proximity, the heat was nowhere near what I would have expected.
As for the 'exotic' status, MastersounD is no less exotic than any other tube manufacturer. This is not a small operation and they have been in business for decades. They offer a full range of products from $3,500 for the BoX integrated all the way to the $50,000 PF100 Litz Edition Monoblocks. To me, MastersounD provides products that allow the majority of enthusiasts to get into seriously good single-ended power for not a lot of coin. Their transformers are world-class and proprietary. In fact, one other Italian company has been caught purchasing their amps and trying to reverse engineer these transformers.
As for a dealer network, there are currently three of us and I am hoping to pick up more within the next few months. I have had open conversations with many who would love to pick up the brand as they respect it. Sound Approach is the closest dealer, but there is also Atelier 13 Audio in Tennessee. As for support, I have a network of technicians I work with and try to have each region supported. I have one on the west coast - Scott Frankland (who has worked on many MastersounD amplifiers and spoke very highly to me about their build quality) and one that works with me here in Texas. I should also have one in the Northeast but we are working out the details. Growth is happening - not with MastersounD itself, but with their representation here in the US.
In closing, I'd like to say that the biggest piece of the puzzle with business is not just the product, the brand, the image, or anything associated with the purchase. It's the people you do business with. MastersounD has great people working with them and I hope that those who have dealt with me personally on this forum can attest to my character. I stand behind my products and want nothing more than for a client to be satisfied. I believe I work for my clients and dealers and not the brands I represent, so I take my choices in product lines very seriously.
If you have any other concerns, please feel free to ask and I will do my best to assist.
Let me help out here, since I have real experienced with all 3 of them. So rest assured, my opinions are all mine, no conflict of interests, and would not answer your question with question(s).
Mastersound: I got one real cheap from a lawyer in NJ who cursed it. He let it go real cheap. But the true funny deal was he demo it with an *broken* Audio Physics speakers (broken and dented drivers, absolutely a scene!) --- just enough to show the amp still made sound. Gave away an nice power cord too. I had reliability issue with that amp. Got my local tech guy hands in the air quite few times. Didn’t sound right anyway --- I just got persistent noises and hum. Dumped it into trash in the end as none of my friend wanted it when I offered it for free.
Vaic: I got an "alleged" predecessor of an Ayon SET (I suspect it’s the Ayon Sunrise model) with Vaic badge. Look awfully similar, indeed. That seller from Europe claimed it was basically an Ayon. OK. I had quite a good experience with Vaic tubes before, so obviously, love to try out. My experience was good. Support was non-existence, so whenever it started to acted up (some noises / hum), my local tech’s hands in the air again. Having an 220v unit didn’t help neither. I sold it to a collector in New York City who simply put it on a shell as if it’s an trophy. A happy ending.
Ayon: Now this gets interesting and very long. Noticed the brand was constantly bombarded at various audio sites as ’best of show’, which automatically turned me off. Then got a crazy deal on an Spirit II for $600 or so. I was truly impressed because ....the previous owner who cursed this Ayon Spirit had no idea how to insert an KT88!!! Half the tubes were inserted incorrectly due to broken pins --- no wonder it kept dying on him. I replaced the fuses, put the new KT88s, the unit just *worked*! Not a single burnt mark nor smell, no sign of service, nothing loose, I saw very expensive parts inside, now this is true quality work!!!
I think some posters claimed Ayon is an Chinese product --- and unfortunately, some early low-end models were indeed assembled in China, possibly by Ray-sonic, which copied the Ayon designs (sounds like an Red Rose Music story, huh?) My opinion is simple: If an complete novice keep putting in tubes in the wrong way and didn’t blow the amp up, that says a lot. Who cares!
But Spirit II was just entry-level. I owned the Austrian made 220v Ayon Sunrise SET (thanks to the Vaic experience I mentioned earlier) - under powered for my taste, but the same outstanding workmanship. I had to sell it since the ultra expensive 52B (I think) need to be replaced. Cost a fortune --- almost the cost of the Sunrise itself for a pair.
Then Austrian made US-imported Ayon Triton --- love that amp, kept it for years. Not the most outstanding sounding amp I owned, but delightful and reliable for a long long time. The bias for each of 8 tubes barely moved after 3 years of use. No maintenance whatsoever. How about that.
But Ayon digital products are a different story. I owned Ayon CD1, CD2, CD2-S, CD7 and S-3. Not related to your question, but I’d not recommend the such models in used market.
Hope this helps.
Many thanks for your excellent reply. One day I hope to be an owner of a Mastersound SET. If one is able to get their hands on a used amp, do you offer any kind of service contracts or extended warranty? How are the evolution 845 from 2010-2013 in terms of reliability ? Would you say the newer ones that produce less heat are more reliable ? Are the parts readily available from the manufacturer ? I think I would be more comfortable knowing there is service tech/dealer somewhere on the east coast that would obviate shipping if the problems arise.
Bsimpson, I'm sorry to hear about your experiences with the MastersounD. It sounds like that unit might have had a hard life. Regardless, I wish I would have been able to help you with it. I'd love to know more of the story behind the unit like the known history and what issues you had. I'd also be curious who you worked with. A PM is welcome if you'd rather discuss privately.
Ei, per the case detailed above, Im quite hesitant to purchase second hand tube amps. I've done that in the past prior to entering the industry and had similar issues. It seems to be an often occurrence where some of these units might be a first foray into tubes for some and ignorance can be brutal on tube amps. I would have less issue if I knew the seller and he was the original owner or at least knew the full history of the amp and all previous owners.
The new Evolution is in its second generation I believe. It was 'evolved' from the Reference 845 which is what you will more than likely find on the used market. I've seen one Evolution 845 come up and it was swiftly purchased by a friend of a client who owned a current Evolution 845. The newest generation of MastersounD amplifiers have rounded wood accents vs the bullnose finish on previous models and also do not have the mirrored plate separating the tubes from the transformers. It simply has the mirrored plate that covers the top chassis.
I am not in a position to offer any warranty on older MastersounD amplifiers. I can offer my support in trying to fix any issues that arise by dealing directly with MastersounD. They are quite responsive and want to see their products have a lasting legacy.