Found Music Blade Amplifiers
Last month I took delivery of my new Found-Music Blade mono tube amps. I had been happily living with prototypes for the past six months allowing the opportunity to experiment with tube rolling. The final version of the amp is much heavier than the prototypes, each weighing in at 85 pounds; in no small measure because of the much beefier transformer. The version with copper wiring retails for $16,000, while the silver wired version I purchased retails for $20,000. The look is industrial, not artsy; you are paying for the circuit design, high quality parts and bespoke construction.
A quick review of my system:
Turntable: Galibier Stelvio I
Tonearm #1: Durand Telos with composite armwand; Benz LPS stereo cartridge
Tonearm #2: Durand Talea with Miyajima Utopia BE mono cartridge
CD: SimMoon Andromeda
Phono Preamp: Experience Music Kahn two box with Sylvania 56 & Siemens 7788 signal tubes and Kuthe 394a rectifier tubes
Line Stage: Experience Music Kahn two box with Sylvania JAN 71a signal tubes and Kuthe 394a rectifier tubes
Cabling and Power Cords: Found-Music
Speakers: Daedalus Ulysses
Equipment Rack: SRA Scuttle
The Blades' output is ~ 28-30 watts, depending on tube configuration. Which brings me to the subject of tube rolling...One of the reasons I enjoy tube equipment is the ability to tailor the sound to taste. A well designed piece of tube gear will make all tube changes readily apparent. Each Blade uses a single 0D3/VT139 Glo tube, 1 6SN7 driver and 2 EL34/6AC7/KT77 power tubes. I experimented with the following tube makes:
OD3: Shughuang current production, NOS Hytron, NOS RCA. Final choice: NOS Sylvania. These tubes are cheap and easy to experiment with.
6SN7: Various including current production ElectroHarmonix, various Sylvania NOS. Final choice: Sylvania 1952 3-hole. These tubes can get a little pricey. I am still intrigued by NOS Ken-Rad and Tung-Sol and would love to hear what the Sylvania metal base versions can do...
EL34/6AC7/KT77: Current production JJ, ElectroHarmonix; NOS Mullard XF2 and Telefunken. Final choice: Current production Genalex Gold Lion KT77. You can drop a lot of coin here. Fortunately, in my system, the Genalex reissues sounded best. You can purchase a matched cryoed quad from Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio for $232. While I'd love to know what the originals sound like, at $1500 a pair, that ain't gonna happen.
A few other quick notes, break in settles down ~ 200 hours, with gradual improvements thereafter. The amps take about 20 minutes to warm up and an hour to really hit their stride...
Almost right out of the (hefty) crates, it was obvious that the final product was substantially better than the already excellent prototypes. One of the first things I noticed was the excellent soundstage depth. One of my favorite test tracks is Carnavalia from the excellent CDTribalistas (2002 Phonomotor), a collaboration between giants of Brazilian MPB, Marisa Monte, Arnaldo Atunes and Carlinos Brown. There was excellent resolution of the individual voices with guitars upfront and rhythm section in back. Another favorite test track isInsensatez (Entre Amigos, Chesky 2003). Here the guitar is upfront on the right, with the drums in the far back right. The micro-dynamics of the cymbals are heard to better advantage and the subtle kick drum after the bass solo (on the left) is well rendered. You can imagine Ron Carter's sinewy fingers sliding up and down the neck of the bass. Rosa's voice is verging on, but never sibilant and oozes sex.
Bass is deep, well defined and impactful; not a rounded or butterscotch 'tubey' sound. Pablo Aslan's bass is superb on Derviche(Avantango, 2004, ZOHO), deep, articulate and nuanced. Henry Grimes' bass solo on Summertime from the original pressing of Sonny Meets Hawk (RCA, 1963) is one of my favorites and I've never heard it better. Likewise, high frequency details are well resolved without 'etching'. I like to use the cymbals and synthesized voices on Opeth's In My Time of Need (from the excellent LP Damnation, Music For Nations, 2003) as a torture test for high frequency resolution. Not only was the soundstage depth the best I've ever heard in my system, but Martin Mendez' drumming was superb, ever detail of his cymbal playing well resolved. Emotional Rescue (Rolling Stones Records, 1980) is a well recorded Stones' LP and the track Down In the Hole never sounded grittier, especially Bobby Keys' sax. The 12" 'Special Disco version' of Miss You shows off the Stones' killer rhythm section driven by Charlie Watts' impeccable timing and Bill Wyman's bass. It's a great example of the Stones' guitar 'weaving'...and you can actually understand Mick's lyrics!
I am extremely pleased with these amplifiers. I rarely change equipment and feel confident that these amps will be a long term solution. One unexpected and pleasant surprise was how much better CDs sound in my system. I've probably listened to and bought more CDs in the past few weeks than the past few years combined. One tweak that further improved the noise floor, high frequency resolution and sound-staging were the Paulstra footers. I anticipate upgrading to the top of the line Found-Music power cords and am investigating separate amp stands from SRA. I will report back with updates as they become available.