Review: Allnic T-1500 300B Integrated amplifier Tube amp
Anyone interested in a stunning 300B SET integrated?
I recently obtained this integrated from Dave Beetles at Hammertone Audio on a trade (Important note in the interests of transparency – I know Dave Beetles and count him as a friend but have no interest in his business. I have, though, by coincidence of physical proximity, been fortunate enough to hear various iterations of his system over the past few years). I’ve been lusting after Allnic’s big A-6000 monoblocks that I heard at Dave’s place (see Srajan Ebaen’s review of those on 6 Moons http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/allnic/allnic.html), but when I saw the T-1500 was out courtesy of Dagogo (http://www.dagogo.com/View-Article.asp?bShowUnpublished=&hArticle=688&PageOfArticle=1), I thought (yes, to myself, though to say so seems redundant, since I am not telepathic) if they are anything like the A-6000’s with less power, they should be great in my second system - single driver speakers in Omega cabinets with Fostex drivers modified by Dave at Planet 10 hi-fi in Victoria BC http://www.planet10-hifi.com/index.html), augmented by KingSound Hummingbird electrostatic super tweeters - for a lot less money. Okay, I cheat with a subwoofer, too; but I don’t use its high level crossover and run off an output pair of whatever integrated amp or preamp I’m using, blending it in. This little system’s sole source is a Cayin CDT-17A cd player loaded with Mullard E188CC’s.
Well, in a style I’m used to, conclusion first. The T-1500 seems to me to be an AWESOME SET integrated (can be run as a power amp, too, by using one of its sets of inputs – and it has a pre-out, as well). It took about 10 seconds to decide this is a keeper. In short, I think it is like the A-6000s with less power, and since it’s a single 300B/channel, I assume it has no characteristics relating to “paralleling” (see the 6 Moons review I mentioned above), if they exist, in fact (I don’t have the experience to say).
In my room with the associated equipment I have described, I characterize the T-1500 sound as 300B SET sweet, palpable and textured, but with DRIVE and DYNAMICS that really surprised me, and an extended, detailed top end and tight, deep, fast and articulate bass that I hadn’t expected from any 300B amp, all expressed in a hugely deep and wide soundstage. That soundstage provides a palpable, holographic image of instruments and voices and their placement relative to each other. What’s especially remarkable, though, is the sense of “internal illumination”; that sounds cheesy but I’m having trouble finding words that appropriately describe the effect. There is never sound coming from the speakers; the sound seems to originate from the images of the instruments themselves – it is the antithesis of something that sounds recorded. I guess “organic” might be another term to use (strange, I’ve read this term used before, but this is the first time I have a sense that I know what it means). I suppose a lot of this could be interpreted as just in the nature of a 300B amp, but to me it seems to go beyond that. As I said, the rhythmic drive is not something I would necessarily expect from such an amp, but the T-1500 has real snap, depth and articulation to the point that even low in the bass, one can hear/feel the resonances of the body of, for example, an upright bass as distinct from but continuous with the fundamental of the plucked note. It’s really “taut.” That’s not something I expected from a 300B amp. In general, though, the low-level detail it elicits is incredible - I swear I can count the individual bristles on the brushes on an ECM recording. A rim shot gives you the crack from both the stick and the rim – like live. I listen primarily to jazz but cross over to electronic/jazz/rock fusion, as well (think Eric Truffaz, for e.g.), and I find it does the same job with both. For testing, I used a variety of recent ECM recordings (Abercrombie, Motian, and Surman), Truffaz’s “Saloua”, Yello’s “Motion Picture” and “old standby” Barbers’ “Café Blue”.
The T-1500 replaces an upgraded Melody 1688 II preamp loaded with Shuguang Black Treasure CV181’s (6SN7s despite the name), and superb NOS rectifier(British CV 378 for those interested, and which can sound irritating for a number of hours before it finally comes into its own) and regulator tubes (the latter are STC coke bottle equivalents of the 101D in adaptor sockets) all of which really improve this preamp (rectifiers I have found can be key to bass performance, and the Melody really shines in this regard with the CV378, even better than with a Tung Sol top getter 5U4G) driving a JAS 805 SET integrated running as power amp only. There is no hesitation for me to go from 50w/ch to 12.5 - and even at full retail, the T-1500 is less expensive than this combo, which also requires another set of interconnects. It’s a “win-win” situation: I win, and then I win again. While the soundstage and imaging I get from this combination are extremely good, I think, they seem in comparison to the T-1500 to be constrained. Decay, for example, although always beautifully extensive, seems to dissipate artificially, as if finally running into an absorbing surface rather than losing energy to the point where it merges naturally with the ambient background. In addition, the Melody/JAS combination never created the clarity of images of instruments and voices the way the T-1500 does. While size and texture are similar, the Melody/JAS combo does not separate the sound sources the way the T-1500 manages. This may be, at least in part, due to the incredible low level detail that the latter is able to recreate. What this leads to, as well, is a greater sense of the three dimensional outlines of the sound sources, which is something I value highly for the kind of music I listen to (if a system can’t do that, it’s just an overblown kitchen radio to me), along with “transparency” and “liveliness (rhythmic drive, “PRAT”). Maybe part of it is that there are only two gain stages in the T-1500? Input/driver tubes are PCL86’s (one per channel), which are a triode/pentode combo in a single envelope, eliminating the need for some wire, additional tube sockets, etc... And again, the bass: the sound with the Melody/JAS combination, while providing the” weight”, can only be called “soft” in comparison. Even with that rectifier in the Melody and 50 watts and a huge voltage swing from the JAS’ 805s, definition in the low end is not comparable to what the T-1500 accomplishes.
I originally built the basement system to accommodate late night listening when spouse and offspring are in bed. I didn’t think I’d get to a point with this second system that it would actually entice me to listen to it by choice rather than the (much) larger system upstairs, but that’s what has happened. It’s a smaller scale sound but very, very satisfying.
The stock EH 300B’s are great, but in Mssr. Ebaen’s word, a little “glassy”, if that means not as “full-bodied” as one might want. I’ve tried the TJ Full Music 300B SE’s, the Emission Labs 300B, and the Shuguang Black Treasures. The last are the ones I’ve settled on – available from North American distributor Grant Fidelity. (I understand that the T-1500 won’t max out the optimized 300B XLSs without a modification requested at ordering.) By the way, the driver tubes in the JAS are 300Bs, and I used the same Shuguang Black Treasures in that unit.
My T-1500 is pitch black and the fit and finish are exemplary. I understand they’ve added handles to the side and rear now. It also has a simple and heavy, little aluminum remote control. If you want more details about the T-1500’s workings and its appearance, you can look at the pics on the Dagogo review above, which talks in comparison terms that you might find interesting, i.e., head to head with a 30K+ WAVAC.
Anyway, having had the T-1500 in my little system for 2 months, I’m much happier than I had anticipated I would be, even given that I own two other Allnic pieces and had very high expectations indeed. It isn’t a budget piece by any means, but in my view, assuming you have the disposable income, it gives exceptional value for the dollar. Now, I wonder what it would sound like with some different speakers …
Cayin CDT-17A CD player. Modified Omega loudspeakers. KingSound Hummingbird supertweeters. Definitive Technology SuperCube 1 subwoofer. Most recent (2010) iteration Moray James interconnects and PC's. Richard Gray, PS Audio and Audience power conditioning.
JAS Array 2.1. Yaqin MS-300B. Cayin and Melody 300B integrated amplifiers.