Bob Carver LLC Black Beauty Review

If any of you GON members are interested in Bob Carver's new mono-block tube amps take a look at my review that was just posted on It's in the recent short review section on the front page. It was a very interesting experience to compare the Carver's performance with my Pass Labs XA-60.5's.
Well, about time, for Carver to return to tubes. He finally got some 'tube religion', thank God.
I own a set of these monoblocks. Got them on E-bay just before the holidays. I have been waiting for an online review to see what was the opinion of someone who has listened to many different tube amplifiers. This is basically my first experience with a tube amp so I really don't have a lot to compare with. They do sound a lot nicer then the McIntosh solid state amp I had before this. I really don't need all the power these things have and I am thinking about selling them.
03-26-12: Chashas1
I was hoping he had gone away for good.
How did he offend you?
Hi offense. He always made flash in the pan designs...I used to hear hobbyist (some) speak reverently about him in the 80's, and I'd roll my eyes. It seemed he was always only a marketer, and never a designer of musical taste. Don't mention model #'s to me, or I'll show you a Bose Wave. lol
He's retired several times, only to come back yet again and again. I think this time to sell to the overseas market. Good for him.
The post by the OP just made me chuckle was all.
Another nice review Teajay, good to hear that it didn't unseat your Pass amps, though I wasn't too worried that it would!
03-26-12: Chashas1
I was hoping he had gone away for good. Guess he needs money.

Aah. Nothing so refreshing as an unsubstantiated cheap shot. And so rare in the world of audiophilia.

After all, what good could one say about a man who brought quality power to the masses, broke new ground in analog signal processing, and singlehandedly re-invented the powered subwoofer during a career spanning five decades?

Long live the Phase Linear 400. A scaled up 70's op amp.
Bob Carver made flash-in-the-pan designs?

A lot of designers would like to have his resume.

I've owned several Carver products, including the huge amazing loudspeakers. Those speakers could do things few others could, when set up correctly. He also had some great entry level amps long before companies like Outlaw, Emotiva and Parasound were known.

Agee with Robert! Most people who "hate", have never owned one of his fine Signature amps or even heard them. Ignorance is abound!!
Kentster, which model did you purchase and what are you asking for them?
Teajay, I'd like to offer some, what I hope is, some constructive criticism. As a prospective buyer of this amplifier your review leaves me with a few unanswered questions. For example you listened to the amplifier and I'm left with this unanswered statement.

"Sonically, it is supposed to offer the midrange delicacy and body of the EL-34 tube with the extension, slam and control of the KT-88."

OK fine, did it or did it not offer the midrange delicacy and body?

"In the price bracket around $12,000 for tube-based power amplifiers, the major competitors would either be Audio Research Corporation Reference 150 Stereo Amp 9, valued at $12,995, or the Vacuum Tube Logic S-200 Stereo Amp, which is valued at $10,000. Both are new editions for each company. I have auditioned both companies' last generation of amps. In my opinion, the 305 Black Beauty Mono Blocks offer many of the strengths, the natural timbres, the ability to produce a large soundstage, have precise imaging and the capacity to drive all types of speakers that the other companies' amps deliver. However, because the Black Beauty 305s are mono blocks, they can be placed closer to the speakers to gain the advantage of shorter speaker wire length, along with each mono block having its own power supply."

Hear you mention amplifiers you haven't auditioned and supply the reader with a price comparison. Regardless of what model, its well known that ARC and VTL have strikingly different presentations. Its well established that ARC has a more analytical almost solid state presentation. Conrad Johnson is another established manufacture of products with a far more relaxed or glowing presentation. It could be said that VTL is generally somewhere in the middle. In your opinion where is the Carver in this mix? The ability to convey the degree of warmth, speed, and transparency by comparing commonly known presentations is the meat and potatoes of a successful review.

Unless it's just another ultra linear or pentode design in some silly exotic and expensive casework I find the technical description of a new product can be very interesting. So exactly what kind of amplifier is the Carver? Was there anybody else in on the design? What's the printed circuit board made of?
From Carver LLC
["These amplifiers offer extreme performance that is difficult to believe, and each amplifier features a high impedance input, an automatic DC restorer circuit, a set and forget it bias adjustment, and low idle current which greatly increases output tube life. They have ultra-wide bandwidth output transformers with interleaved windings capable of the most nuanced voice as well as huge peak output capacity. Selectable feedback control allows the user to change the sound of the amplifier from vintage classical to modern contemporary."]

It also has an attenuator so you can connect a source component directly to the amplifier.

Teajay, sorry to bust your bells but you are so not alone on this amp. I've read a few reviews and I still don't have a decent idea of what Bob Carver's amplifiers sound like.
Hey Vicdamone,

I don't think you busted my balls, but asked some good questions regarding this amp.

1) The Carver sounds closer to the ARC house sound then the VTL to me.

2) Yes, the KT-120 blends the best of both the EL-34 midrange with the dynamics of KT-88's.

3) I had no interest in using the Attenuator as a volume control during my auditioning in my reference system.

4) Correct, I stated honestly that I had no extensive experience with either VTL or ARC new generation of amps, so by comparing the Carver to what I have a take on, it then becomes a far comparsion.

Frankly, if the Carver was priced around 4k to 5k, based on it's performance it would be a good buy, but not at 13k there are many other amps I would pick over it, like my Pass Labs XA-60.5's that are priced at 12k.
Teajay, thanks for responding to my hack criticism so graciously. In hindsight my criticism read a bit too gruff for my own taste, I apologize.

1) Excellent, that's exactly what I wanted to know and 4) yes, I can't imagine both ARC and VTL have strayed too far from their house sound in one model change.

3) I recall bypassing some scratchy attenuators on early solid state pro sound amps. Not a big deal to me either, but, this trend of preamplifier elimination and simplified digital playback, some might find the attenuator a useful aspect. Its quality as well as the usefulness of the adjustable feedback has yet to be reported on.

I would agree at first sight the Carver has a bare bones appearance not exactly commensurate with its price. On the other hand the hand the current selection of 300+ watt tube amplifiers with a 2 ohm tap is quite small if not nonexistent. It's completely point to point hand wired, carries a 7 year warrantee with an unheard of 1 year warrantee on tubes, and its manufactured and serviced in the United States. I suppose time will certainly tell.

Thanks Teajay
I saw his amp's at CES, and I'm curious as to whether there's a sonic difference between his attenuators set at half volume vs. wide open, ie. resistive element out of the circuit. At one time ARC had a few attenuators on their stereo D115mkII amp and I noticed there were sonic differences depending on the position of the attenuator.
I bought a pair of these but had them fitted with KT-88s from Valve Art instead of the standard KT-120s (but not the cherry 180 chassis, these are 305s). The sound is precise, dynamic, and 'tweak-able'. I like the ability to switch feedback from "tubey" to modern with the toggle switch (I keep it on the tube side most of the time). Mine are black, though I understand you can order them in cherry red as well. I keep the bias at 70, not at a 100 as the reviewer in did. It sounds more mellow. And I guess that is something I like about Carver's designs. He wants you to be able to adjust the amp to your liking, though that is seen as verboten by some. As to the price, well - they are expensive by any standards, but worth it to me. They may be the last amps I ever buy, not sure I will ever need more power or flexibility. Looking forward to winter, when I will use them to warm up the house.
I have a pair of the Cherry 180s, bought when Bob used to sell them on eBay. Mine was built with some modifications...V-Cap output coupling caps, Furutech RCAs, Vampire copper binding posts, and non-captive cords. It also has the vintage pie wound transformers, different than what is currently used. So mine should sound different the current production Cherry 180s. In my system, this is a great amplifier.

For comparison, I have the Atma-Sphere M60s with V-Cap copper Teflon coupling caps, Caddock resistor package upgrade, and power supply boost. The only thing M60s does better than the Cherry 180s is in the treble, it is smoother and more extended. I guess the OTL design is responsible for this. However, Cherry 180 has better soundstaging, imaging, macrodynamics, and bass extension. In fact, the dynamics and bass extension can be startling. Microdyanmics are similar for both amps. I know the M60 only puts out only 60 watts, but I'm not over driving them in my system, and play my speakers to similar volume levels when comparing the two amps. At high volumes, the Cherrys just runs circles around the M60s as it should given the difference in power rating. The Cherrys are the quietest tube amp I have ever heard, equaling the best SS amps in this regard. No tube hiss even with your ear right up against the speaker. No transformer hum, unless you put your ear right on the transformer can. Jet black background when the music is playing.

The sweet spot is with the Cherry 180s, not the Black Beauties. They won't clip until about 240 watts, which isn't that far off from 300 watts. And the Cherrys are a lot less in price. The fact that you can use KT88s with the Black Beauties suggests the circuitry between the two amps isn't that different. I like the KT88 because there are so many brands out there to try. With KT120s, you're stuck with one brand.

The Cherrys are very versatile in that you can tweak the bias and feedback to make it gel with your system the way you want it. I prefer bias setting around 100 to 110 mA and feedback at vintage setting(~20 dB feedback). And, it can drive the Apogee Scintilla, as it was designed to. How many tube amps do you know under $10K, or over, that can drive 1 ohm impedance of the Scintilla? This amp can cover all genre of music.

This amp has potential to become one of the greats in audio, an amp to hold onto for the rest of your life. The thing that holds it back, IMHO, is the parts quality of the amp. Some of the parts in the stock amp are...well surprisingly pedestrian and should not be in an amp in this price range. Just couple of simple tweaks (eg, changing output coupling caps, ditching the stock volume pot by going direct or replacing it with stepped resistor attenuator, etc) will do wonders.

I agree with Teajay in that Bob's amp sound lies somewhere between ARC and CJ and can be tweaked to approach either side of the spectrum.
@Dracule - agree with your perspective. The difference between 240 and 305 is relatively small, but could be useful in some cases. The Cherry and the Black Beautys look very similar - same size etc. - the only difference I surmise is the power supply that is able to handle the KT-120s demands.

I am interested in the upgrades you mention - the V-caps and stepped resistor attenuator. Will ask about them (CarverFest is coming up next week so I am sure thee will be a lot of discussion about tweaks for the 305).

If you have efficient speakers the Black Magic may be the way to go. Amazing little amp for the money.
"....If you have efficient speakers the Black Magic may be the way to go. Amazing little amp for the money...."

After hours at Capital Audio Fest we put the 20 watt Black Magic into the system (Purity Audio Design Statement preamp, Daedalus Audio Athena speakers and AMR front end) and this little amps sounded pretty darn good considering it was not broken in at all. The Athena's are about 97dB and while you're not going to rattle the windows, the 20 watts did a fine job of driving them.
Namikis, yes I think the main difference between the Cherrys and Blacks are transformers power rating and perhaps the power supply caps. I think for relatively reasonable expense by replacing the stock coupling caps and volume pot, you will hear a significant increase in sound quality. You don't need expensive V-Caps, which can be too detailed. Just try your favorite caps from Mundorf, Jupiter, Clarity etc. You will need four 0.22 microF caps rated at 600V.
Chachas, I find your remarks about Bob ill-informed and nasty, to the point of personal attack. If you were an audio designer of some productivity, may be you can give a credible opinion about Bob's designs. As far as I can tell, you have no experience in designing, marketing, and manufacturing any product in audio. Despite the gimmicky names for some of his designs (and who hasn't used gimmick in high end), Bob made products that most could afford and competed with products that were far more costly.

Some of his designs are legendary (eg, Carver Silver Seven tube amp and Phase Linear, the first high power amp for consumer audio). Some are not so legendary. One of his designs I didn't care for (ie, Amazing Ribbon speaker back in the day), but have to admit it was in poor show room with unfamiliar electronics. However, he is one of the very few legends in audio who will actually talk to you on the phone about audio in general and help you trouble shoot your system, even if the problem has nothing to do with his product. As far as I can tell, there is no high end audiofest dedicated to one designer other than Bob (Carverfest). From what I understand, he is there every year to meet his fans and actually has sessions where you can build one of his amps from scratch with his help. That seems pretty darn rare in high end. The only other designer who comes close is Nelson Pass in this regard.

Most high end designers sit in their ivory towers, rarely to be seen, let alone be able to contact on the phone, unless they have a new product to sell. I have never met Bob in person, but have talked to him over the phone and found him to be genuine and almost like a kid in a candy store when it comes to audio. He'll talk audio to anyone with a body temperature.
Thanks to responses hear and elsewhere I decided to drink the Kool-Aid and got a great deal on some brand new black 180s from Underwoodwally.
All I can say is if you think your speakers have you locked into using solid state these tube amps can probably bridge that gap and have you enjoying second harmonic relaxing music of which there is no substitute.
They can power difficult loads with solid all point to point wiring no crimped spade plugs, cool running, easy biasing, adjustable feedback, no BS casework, hand made in the USA, with a transferable seven year warrantee, and they're designed by the team of Bob Farinelli, Tim de Paravicini, and Bob Carver.

These amplifiers are the real deal without any silly flash or bling. as for being a flash-in-the-pan only time will tell. Correct me if I'm wrong, Bob Carver still provides service to most all of the products he has produced.

Bob Farinelli has nothing to do with the actual circuitry.
all of the current tube amps do not hold a candle to the king: the conrad johnson mv 125. this was a classic.

no amp that i have heard, and i have heard many, come close to the classic tube sound of the mv 125.

i have been to many ces and other shows.

the only company that is of some interest to me is wavelength..

i would consider most tube amps, closer to solid state. i would not buy current audio research, vtl or conrad johnson.
Mrtennis, while I applaud your enthusiasm for MV125, you do realize that is your opinion of what a tube amp should sound like. Others will have entirely different view. I know the classic CJ sound, very lush and seductive but colored compared to most contemporary tube amps. I enjoy that type of sound as well, but not all the time.
Shame on BC, trying to make better sounding gear more affordable for the masses back in the day.

I think he learned his lesson. Most of his newer stuff seems more akin to what high end audio buffs expect.
hi dracule1:

i agree with your comments.

i have heard the mv 125 driving many speakers, without ever any fatigue. and yes, it is colored, and an acquired taste.

it just seems to me, from what i have heard, that most of the tube amps in production sound more like solid state than tubes. even the current conrad johnson lacks bloom and lushness.

i use a vtl deluxe 120, which is not a lush sounding amp, but at least, it is inoffensive.
I hear you Mrtennis. Sometimes the classic lush tube sound is welcomed compared to some of the newer more "solid state" sounding tube amps. You can make the Carver tube amp sound more lush by tweaking the bias and feedback, but it is still not like the classic CJ stuff. I also like the lush sound of McIntosh amps from the 50's and 60's. They beautify the midrange, especially female vocals, more than real life. But the sound is so compelling you can't escape it.
Jonathan Valin was very positive in his review in Audiogon, and he's a freak about uncolored accuracy. He said they were on the romantic side, and loved them anyway.
JV and The Absolute Sound liked it enough that BB got product of the year and editor choice awards.
I am interested in both Amps but not sure which one to get. The price is not an issue. More of the SQ. has anyone heard any diffrence between the 2?
Dracula1 I read your post about upgrading the Black Beautys by simply swapping out the coupling caps. I can't read a schematic, is there an easy way to figure out which ones they are? I can solder pretty well and wish to try this.
How difficult is it to swat out the volume controls?
Dragon & Kenster

Dragon give Walt at Underwood Hi-Fi a call 770 667-5633 for an answer.

Kenster FYI, you may have read my post on the other Bob Carver thread above. Any modification other than tubes may void the products seven year transferable warrantee. That said, Dracule gives a good description of the cap replacement on the second page of the other thread.
Dragon, personally I think the sweet spot is with the Cherry 180, if you don't need the extra power. I'v heard both amps, but not in direct comparison. I was told the Black Beauty might be a little more sweet sounding, but that may be due to the KT120s. According to the man himself, there shouldn't be a noticeable difference in sound quality between the two, except for the extra headroom the BB provides.
Kenster, I'm not a blood sucker (DraculA)...I think you have me confused with my ex.

If you open up the one mono block chassis, you should see two 0.22 uF caps, one for each bank of push pull output tubes. Those are the coupling caps you need to replace. Bear in mind, each mono block also has one 2.2 uF feedback cap. Leave that alone, because only a few percent of the signal actually go through that cap. I don't know what the caps look like because my amps are not the current production version. They may have switched to a different brand, but I can tell you they will be small, not big like most audiophile caps. If you shoot me a photo of the inside of your amp, I can locate them for you.

The volume control is easy to replace, if you know how to solder. It goes right before the input (grid) resistor to the 12AX7 tube.
Oh yea, I've been meaning to replace the input resistor as well. As far as resistors go, this resistor probably has the most influence in the sound. It needs to be 3.3 kOhm, 0.5 watt resistor with 300 V rating. May be a Shinkoh metal film, nude Z-foil, Riken carbon film, etc... depending on your taste.
What type of improvements does one get with these upgrades?
Gold Point Attenuator/Vcap -- Increased clarity, dynamics, low and high freq extension. Better imaging and staging. Fuller, more natural midrange. I think the GP gives you more bang for the buck.
Dracule1 Would you modify a brande new pair for me?

Im placing an order soon?
Anything better then a Vcap to further upgrade it? How about The Duelend Cast?
Sorry I do not do mods...I would contact a local repair guy or ask your dealer or Bob's company if they are willing to do the mod. Good luck.
Dragon, wouldn't if be more prudent if you get the amp and live with it for couple of months and get used to the sound. If you still feel, you need to improve the sound, you can have someone do the mods. This way, you will be able to hear the improvement yourself, which I think is more satisfying.
I agree with the Drac. They sound excellent. IMO, being all point to point wiring there is a settling in period.

With all the conversation, in time the Carver LLC may offer upgrades. The language I read was, "Not at this time." So, it could happen. In the mean time enjoy.

Good news! Bob has informed me replacing the stock volume pot with the Gold Point attenuator by a qualified professional will not void the warranty on the amp.
By Bob, I mean Bob Carver.
DO you have bobs Direct email or anyone else who can do this for me?
Bob doesn't do mods. Where do you live?
Have you seen this review?

The reviewer Mr. London talked of shortcomings in the HF and refinement with regard to its midrange and bottom-end performance. He goes on to say:The amount of air, openness and natural sparkle that you naturally hear on cymbals, bells and triangles were somewhat missing with the Black Beauty's presentation of the high frequencies. I don't want to exaggerate this shortcoming. However, regardless of what music selection I used in my auditioning process, the fine details compared to the Pass Labs XA-60.5s were something that I found lacking. The MG-20s use a ribbon tweeter and the Cellos use an air-motion tweeter, which both are highly regarded high-frequency transducers. If your speakers are not as extended on the top end, you might not hear this to the degree that I did.

BTW,I'm taking a Poll on two very influential jazz recording engineers. Please visit my website and vote for your favorite jazz engineer: Rudy Van Gelder or Roy DuNann.

Michael Miguest

I've seen that review. Amplifiers will sound different in different systems. I have the Cherry 180 using KT88s tubes, not KT120s, and never found the amp lacking in high frequency extension.
Dracule 1,

I have a VTL Stereo 90 Deluxe Ultra-Linear that plays in tetrode mode only that I mate with a Harman Kardon Citation 1 Pre and the Synergy is Stunning. I run all NOS Telefunken 12AX7's and NOS Mullard 10M 12AT7's in the Citation and New Sensor Corp.KT88's,NOS Siemens 801S's and NOS GE 12AT7's in the VTL and it doesn't sound like SS. This combo makes my Focal Utopia Diva Be Speakers sing and the sound is "ADDICTIVE".
I had an Ayre V1-xe driving my Eidolons when a pair of XA 160.5s came to the house. Even though I preferred the Ayre the XAs were very nice simply a bit different. The highs were a bit glassy and I remember I couldn't stop noticing them. A personal taste thing more than anything else.

The Miguest blog would make almost anybody pop for the Pass unless you have already been there and are looking for that relaxing second harmonic thing that only a tube can provide.

I just popped in the Psvane AX and AT tubes in the VTA180s and, hello. Try that with the Pass class A.