Review: Butler Audio TDB 5150 Multichamp

Category: Amplifiers

Butler Audio TDB 5150 5 channel amplifier review

Specs, benefits & features, and link to Butler Audio following review.

“Hello all, I’d like to get a multi channel amp that does movies and music. Something I can use for my surround sound HT system, and as a 2 ch only audio amplifier for more critical listening. Any suggestions? Thanks.”

Sound familiar? Maybe you have asked this question yourself. Below is one possible answer.

An AV receiver is a great way to waltz into the ball room of the home theater epidemic which has consumed the buying public at large these last two decades. It’s economically astute and therefore practical. Simple enough to integrate into ones home and adds the necessary dimensionality the format requests of the viewer in order to provide the opportunity for a deep, immersive and completely entertaining event.

Naturally there are levels to everything and for many the receiver will be all some ever require to fuel the 4.1, 5.1 or 7.1 audio speaker array accompanying their new HD display for their listening and viewing pleasure.

For the rest of the crowd a dedicated multi channel audio amplifier will be at some point if not right off, a desire if not a prerequisite. Some receiver owners will go through the logical step up process of adding just a 2 channel amp for their mains and stereo listening sessions and be done with it.

But those with the itch, those with perhaps more devotion, even those with more dollars will go full on and add a multi channel amp very soon to the HT receive. Most will wait a few months in order to justify the savings from not going with separates right away, while they determine their own satisfaction level of the newly purchased multi channel solution they had bet so heavily upon just months or weeks ago.

This slight delay can also be due to the learning curve some of these new receivers demand of the new ownership to just figure out what’s what, what’s it do, and where is it located?

Of course with deeper pockets the idea of going entirely with separate processor and multi ch amplifiers will be the only way to go for some. Other folks will add individual amps for each speaker.

I’m in that mix somewhere. I’m unopposed in my audio or video selections. I need no spousal approval, have no pets to offend or appeal to, and no neighbors presently close enough to me to excite or alarm. My only constraint is what’s available in the coffee can which is camouflaged well, and buried in an undisclosed location nearby.

When the itch for an upgrade becomes overwhelming I go to the secret site and ask the tellers to dig me up some of my money so I can ease this current inner voice from nagging me to death. Sometimes they remember where it’s buried and sometimes they have forgotten where they put it all, and deny me the desired funds. It’s for your own good! We only do it because we would rather hold onto your money than let you throw it away. See? We do care… and by the way, putting money in here doesn’t qualify you to take it out! Do keep that in mind and have a nice day!

Right. Uh, thanks, I guess. I forgive them. Ordinary people or those normally unaffected by the irrepressible, insatiable audio bug, don’t understand the proposition of investing good money, lots of money at times, into a near total loss financial scheme.

Where there’s a will there’s a way however…. And if you don’t want to wait for someone to die and the subsequent reading of their will, finding a multi channel amp that is both a great value, and sounds good across the board too, you might want to consider the TDB 5150 five ch. Amp made by B.K. Butler of Butler Audio in Colorado, U.S.A..

For myself the basic requirements of any multi ch. Amp is that it have power sufficient to drive all the speakers in the HT collection. That it be able to reproduce the dynamic swings and extension of the frequency range, many films dictate to the audio section. It should be involving, dependable, easy to setup, and be within the financial reach of the interested party. Me.

It needs speed, tonal reality, and extension across the frequency bandwidth. The overwhelming majority of amplifiers which attend to this frontier are solid state designs. Inner glow, warmth, and liquidity are set aside routinely, for these attributes, as they detract from the theme. Normally.

Although I list it last, it is my main desire, that the amp once integrated into the audio video system, be ultimately, satisfying. Capable of capturing the minute details embedded into the audio stream. Fully emcompassing the previewing space with it’s sound field, and be completely supportive of the visual content and not derisive unto it’s own. Solid state accomplishes all of this with ease, or quite more so than do vacuum tube amps…. Most often.

As with any rule, there are exceptions.

Following that trend, I initially went the “Let’s add just a 2ch amp route first. Yeah. That’s good enough. It’s just movies after all. Right?” well, yes and no. I added an Odyssey Stratos Plus + 2ch stereo SS amp. (BTW the Odyssey & butler amps use Sanken bipolar output devices.) that was a step up indeed, but wasn’t ultimately and completely satisfying though no fault of the Odyssey. After all, it was only a 2 ch amp. Neither was it due to the odyssey’s abilities or performance with music or HT content, but my own audio nut motto which reads, “if it ain’t broke, make it better.”

OK I’ll say it, I like tubes. Certain tubes, in certain ways and for specific reasons, primarily musical reasons. I don’t like many of the value oriented multi ch SS amps I’ve heard in the $2995.00 or less retail category. I’ve not found them bad amps at all, just not my cup of tea. So what to do? Buy two and a half channels more Odyssey Stratos Plus amp? I almost did. But I knew that amp and felt if I were to gain another amp it should be a multi ch. Amp of a different sort, and one which will add coherence to the sound field by driving all the speakers by itself. If at all possible too as with any additional purchase around here, I’d hope it to be uh, better somehow. A step up and not sideways.

But a tube amp for HT just doesn’t make sense, does it? I felt it did not and dismissed the notion of tubes for HT right off. I had tried at one point to use my mono block amps in HT mode. I wasn’t terribly impressed. I’d need different tubes for one thing, and just felt it a waste of time and money in the end…. and passed on that solution for a while.

Fine. I’ll take an SS amp…. OR Tube amp, IF you can get one that actually does do music really really well. As well as it does movies, and perhaps better. Sure. How hard can it be?

One thing to keep in mind which definitely needs addressing here and now, is the TDB 5150 hybrid amp should best be thought of as an SS amp with a more classic sound, and perhaps not as just another Tube amp with power. I was worried a lot about those tubes it had inside of it overtly affecting or tilting the audio of movies to that of euphony and thereby reducing the desired involvement to a just plain so so or ho hum, or worse still, “Damn, I know I should have bought SS” sort of result.

The facts are too, the Butler multi amp is a hybrid amp, combining both SS and tubes in a very interesting mixture. The tubes aren’t used in the signal gain stage as one would normally suspect tubes to be used. They more enhance than amplify.

This ain’t your grandpa’s old tube amp sonny.

Mating amps to speakers or vice versa is key, regardless the setting. HT or 2 ch. Add in the owner’s preffs for sound, the needs of the room and it can be a real bother especially if you’re on a budget but have grandiose aspirations for the new multi armed power cell.

So I took a shot so to speak with the Butler TDB 5150. I’d never heard it, and just, heard about it. I did want another flavor for 2ch applications predominately, and one to fill the bill for HT without making any tradeoffs in that consideration. Or as little as possible. I wanted something fairly new too.

I did my research, checked out a few other multi ch amps, made some inroads to buy one or two or five, along the way, then as those attempts either did not fit my bill or were unobtainable, for various reasons, I decided to go aginst the grain somewhat, and pulled the trigger on a Butler Audio TDB 5150 five ch amp. I found one, got a good deal on it sent off the pesos and in due time it arrived.

Something I’ve found to be very true lately is this, “Everything always works out. Always.” It simply doesn’t work out sometimes how or when I want it to, but things sure do work out as well as I could have expected by my own hand, though much of the time, better. Contrary to this history, I often forget it.

Every Silver lining has a cloud … or sometimes it’s just your turn in the barrel.

Upon initial inspection, and removing it from it’s double boxes it looked great. After setting it up, I connected up a pair of it’s five channels while awaiting some new longer 1.5 meter SE ICs to arrive which would match my current audio Art cables I use for HT.

Amp to speaker configuration connections are suggested in the TDB 5150 owners manual. The amps on either end of the machine are suggested for use with the main speakers, channels 1 & 5. They are the most outboard while feeding the front channels which are conveying information almost all of the time, and will attain better cooling than those in the middle. Fine. I hooked them up first. I got only mono e mono. That was deflating. Only ch one made noise.


it did however sound great, on those channels which did operate. 4 of the 5 channels. Four? Yeah. For the time being that is.

The next day another ch passed away following a lengthy telephone convo with a friend from out west. It had just been fired up before she called, and I was more than ready to see what I had bought when our talk concluded but it was not to be. not then in any event. My eager, expectations were squashed within minutes as one other channel just fizzeled out and quit making any noise at all moments after we had hung up. Unbelieveable.

What happened? I’m deaf in one ear now? Oh, no. Sweet jumpin’ jellyfish!

My ears were OK. I was a bit upset. I’ve made career changes in my life and had to downsize dramatically, but when a five ch amp decides to downsize all by it’s lonesome, to four, and then further, becomes the next day, a three ch amp, it gives me pause.

Actually it gave me indigestion, a headache, and that sick feeling way down deep in the pit of my stomach. You all know the one. It’s the one you get when the trooper pulls you over because you confused the 55 mph speed limit sign with the I 95 highway sign?

Bought only a couple months old which was verified, and without any mishandling by the carrier being evident, I was well, let’s just say, a wee bit out of sorts and began dialing for professional help, and a therapist just in case.

Stuf does happen, that’s life.

I mention this series of incidents for two reasons, one it’s true. Secondly, Butler Audio allows the transference of the 5 year parts and labor warranty from the orig owner to the second buyer. Not a lot of makers do this. Butler does. Did, and I’m quite glad of it too. I got great support from the first owner of the unit, in fact all the way through, the aid I received was immense and thoroughly professional. The needed paper work for the warranty transfer was quickly sent and that hurdle summarily overcome. Everyone concerned in this episode was quite forthcoming. Even to the point of an invitation for me to return the amp and receive a full refund from the seller.

Ordinarily, I’d have accepted the offer, but even in it’s truncated form, the TDB 5150’s first moments of sound simply were such that I knew it was going to be special and fit my needs if all was made well. It was also now under warranty to me, so that should be a non issue!

Any warranty is only as good as the people who support it. Butler support is very very, good. Reachable. Approachable… and willing. As importantly,, if not more, Butler Audio customer support is friendly too. Arrangements were made to send the ailing unit to Colorado for a look see and all needed testing & repairs. Simple.

Naturally during this event I’m putting myself through the wringer over it all. Making appointments with psychiatrists and clergy. Meditating and just being a emotional mess. Lighting candles, throwing salt over my shoulder, looking for rabbits that could help me put the right foot forward and as is my nature, expecting the worst to happen.

I’ve personally found that Butler Audio takes their business quite seriously. When a product they make is returned for some sort of malady they’ll note the owners thoughts, but then B.K. Butler, the designer himself, will go thru the unit front to back to ensure all is well when they remedy the current circumstance. They’ll shake the piece too. like shaking a paint can just like they do at the Adult Toy Store, otherwise known as home Depot. Then test it again! If a tube is blown and a new one inserted, it will be both biased and run in for a couple days and retested prior to sending it back to it’s owner!

Butler Audio reported back one tube had indeed gone on to tube Heaven, though the other channel 3 tube most recently passed away, was now working!


A tube miracle had taken place during the trip back to it’s rocky mountain homestead. I asked that they replace the now resurrected tube so I could forego further time on the shrinks couch and they did.

I’m not good with disappointment, and a now and then tube emptying it’s mortal pail, and then being brought back to life, tend to unsettle me a mite. Great. I got a biblical amp on my hands!

Notwithstanding how was I too explain this to my, uh, audio emergency therapist had it not been replaced with a new tube. “Hey Doc, know anything about tubes?” “Well then, how about the resurrection?”

There is one point of possible contention for some here. ‘’If it was a bad tube, then why not simply plug in another tube?’’ My sentiments exactly. ‘Why not?’

Some say tomato, some just say pass the ketchup.

B. K. Butler designed the TDB amps to produce a particular sound, be reliable, and long lasting, without need for the end user to do anything with them but enjoy them. The tubes, a 6SL7GT dual triode flavor, are soldered in place to improve signal integrity. BK Butler also has a proprietary ‘bias’ he applies to each tube, in every amp. So each independent amplifier section is consistent and equivalent in output, voice, and performance. Naturally, if a tube fails the end user has to send the ailing amp back to Butler Audio for a replacement tube and proprietary ‘ top secret’ biasing.

Is that a bad thing? Some will say it is I’m sure. I’m undecided on the issue and have my own thoughts about end user tube replacement and consequent rebiasing. I know it’s about a $60 thing and about a three week thing. Yet this is a part and parcel of seeking out top tier appliances from the best makers of them, right? Seldom if ever do any of these high end audio makers have repair outlets stationed about the country side like Hilton Hotels. Seldom too, do these things arise and their units fail.

The design thinking and implementation are such that the tubes used in the topology are operating well under 10% of a normal tubes output power. Closer to 5%. Therefore tube life expectancy in the TDB amps should exceed 10 times the normal lifetimes of what a 6L6 ordinarily would yield, barring outright failure of the tube of course. To my knowledge, normal life for these tubes is upwards of 10,000 hours. In other words, the ‘life of the amp. In fact it’s not an issue to keep the amp energized around the clock as the result in no load operation is about 120W or a couple light bulbs worth of energy. Alternatively owners can fire it up and down as needed. It does have a 12vdc trigger input. You pick according to your needs. I opt for the ‘on & off as needed’ choice, as my main theater system only gets fully fired up a few times per month, if that. The TDB 5150 needs a modest amount of warm up time to be in full voice too.

One note worth mentioning with regard to the malfunctioning 6SL7GT’s which are in each of the 3 ch & 5 ch TDB amps (one per ch) should be made. According to one Butler dealer and B. A. themselves, the frequency of units being sent to them for outright tube failure is rare. Very rare.

Over the past years since the amps have been produced & sold the overwhelming majority of them have proven trouble free. At best/worst, B. A. receives maybe 3 or 4 a year, out of the hundreds they have since sold.

I’ve seen more than a few reviews in which some sort of failure occurred in the reviewers on loan unit, regardless the name on the lable. Consequently no one is perfect and nothing made by man lasts forever. So for me, support is a priority. A very high level priority. Butler Audio thinks likewise thankfully.

BTW Butler Audio is not alone with the welded in place tube configuration. There are other makers of very high quality audio conponentry which do exactly the same thihng. Audio Arrow comes to mind as one.

When the need arises however we remark, repack, and reship it back to it’s birthplace for some re-evaluating or refurbishing of sorts. It’s the unspoken and un-dwelled upon facet of the hobby, seldom even mentioned, but it’s viable, and a certain reality now and then. It is unfortunate for both parties yet it is the possible toll for premium quality, esoteric audio equipment.

What is important in such instances is that the matter be resolved entirely, and the time frame for this solution, be as short as is humanly possible. Such was exactly my experience. Unnerving, yes, but short and professionally handled.

I’ll add to this my own instance coincidentally transpired during a grave family circumstance BK Butler was attending too at the moment, yet he made time to ensure my own situation was satisfied completely on his time outside normal working hours. This news was incidentally conveyed to me by another Butler Audio employee, and furthered my respect for Bk and his devotion to his family and customer base. Once apprised of the ongoing Butler family medical issue I informed the employee to convey my well wishes for a speedy recovery and I was no longer in any hurry for my own solution. Family first, after that come all others.

Following the return of the Butler TDB 5150 amp to my humble hut of Sunburn and Sonics, all has been without issue. No further untoward instances .have occurred. It has performed flawlessly. In fact it has exceeded my expectations in purely audio situations by some good margin. An unexpected, yet quite welcome surprise.

The TDB 5150 has five separate individual amplifiers within it’s compact 48 lb housing. The only shared item is the power supply. Sanken bipolar devices are the output emitters. Under power with all channels driven the TDB 5150 can output up to 150 wpc into 8ohms, and 225 wpc into 4ohms. Butler Audio says the unit is of commercial grade, attesting to BK’s pro audio lineage, and stable into 2 ohms. Super! Enough power to drive a whole lot of speakers now on the open market and many which are yet to come.

I asked Butler Audio an intuitive question, “What if I only use it to drive 2 or 3 speakers, shouldn’t the power reserve be less taxed and therefore supply more than the 150 wpc rated output of all channels being driven simultaneously?”

The reply was quick, it was “Yes, it definitely will.” I forget the exact numbers but I’ll venture to say in 2ch mode power output into 8 ohms scoots up to 200 wpc or more. With 3ch the power elevates to about 180-200wpc @ 8ohms. Don’t quote me but I believe I’m quite close. A call to butler for those interested won’t take long and you’ll know for exact sure then.

Predictably, this would not be the case for the TDB 3150 exactly, as the two amps power supplies are different in capacities thus allowing the 5 ch amp whose reserves are larger than it’s 3 ch sibling, to hold a tighter reign on it’s attached transducers once configured into a fewer channeld output.

A follow up question was hard to ignore. If only 2 ch or 3, or even 4ch of the 5 ch amp are in use how will the amps not in use react? Will there be a need to disconnect input cables, or should they remain in tact, and likewise for speaker cables… what to do?

As quickly the response was “Relax. It’s OK. The TDB 5150 has design features within that will safeguard the amp if for example your receiver is connected to say, 3 channels, and your hot to go preamp is connected to the remaining pair. Just beware of shorting cables.

Remember each channel is actually an independent amp. Hmmm. That’s gotta be seen as a plus from where I stand. 5 amps for the price of one

You can use the 5 channel amp to only run your front three speakers and two others controlled by another preamp, or bi amp the mains and single amp your center channel speaker if you wish.

The speaker connection notes in the owner manual refer to speaker systems… do remember some loudspeakers are actually comprised of one, two, or more speaker systems in the same box. Simply confer with the maker of your loudspeakers and/or count the pairs of binding posts on them… they’ll give you a hint.

In practical use, I believe them now about the power stepping up with less speakers being driven. . The TDB 5150 in 2 ch controls my Sonata IIIs better than the Odyssey Stratos Plus + which is rated at 180wpc into 8ohms. It’s easy to see. It’s quite conspicuous! Handling of the bass drivers in the Silverline speakers was impressive and surprising. The bottom end output was so much better I ultimately had to turn off my DD15 subwoofer during stereo only sessions! That should say something about the output of the TDB 5150.

“Go ahead, make my day!”

Turning back to moviedom, I used as the only mule in the multi ch rig, the TDB 5150 and never did it break a sweat. Never was strained. Never complained. It always had enough juice to fill my 14x20x8+ enclosed room to uncomfortable levels. Probably very ‘uncomfortable’ levels, but I didn’t want to press it more. Nor was it a necessity for me to find any braking point. I’m paying the cost to be the boss around here, but I don’t want to increase my overhead needlessly or duck flying tweeters.

Being justly satisfied with the TDB 5150’s sound and abilities with 5 loudspeakers on the leash, and remembering what Butler Audio support had told me about driving fewer transducers and the resultant greater ese the amp would have in the doing, I thought “Really. Well, then let’s see.”

Following the all channels on deck trials, I configured the amp as only a 3ch wheel barrow to see if it could better haul the music and sonic cues action video had up their sleeves. It was perceptibly an easier presentation with improved lower ends across the front 3 Silverline speakers.

Take two… made my day. Driving only 2 speakers with the Butler amp, the Sonata IIIs, I was engaged. Caught up. Paralyzed for a time. The presentation was that captivating.

I’ve yet to bi amp the mains with the Butler as I see no need for it whatsoever.

Naturally, in any application in my home the TDB 5150 drove it’s full alloptment of dynamic speakers without a whimper. Handily. It’s simply more muscled and has an easier time with less units to haul music to. Makes sense to me. Shedding more light there… with the Phase Tech PC 10.5 3 way towers, (87db 4ohms that drop to 2ohm), PC 6.5 2 way (85db 8 ohm), and Canton 87db 8ohms two ways, the multi ch power plant carried the day regardless. That impressed me. Additionally, my rear ch speakers cable runs are 36 ft long which added to the impression.

I’ve since decided to use the Butler TDB 5150 as a 3 ch amp for HT purposes, and also as a 2ch for alternative listening sessions when I don’t wish to fire up my tube mono blocks. I made the decision for two simple reasons, I can, and placing the remaining two amps as Second Zone amps my office system got a real shot in the arm over using just the Onkyo TX SR 805 TO DRIVE THE THIRSTY Phase Tech towers..

The coincidental combination of the TDB 5150 driving the front three ch of my HT system, allows the Odyssey Stratos Plus + to operate the rears in my 5.1 arrangement. The sonic diffs one would ordinarily think at least mildly dissimilar from the two amps aren’t that far apart. Given that and the degree of info channeld into the rear speakers as a rule, I opted for control over any minor loss of coherency that could result. I’m normally a belt and suspenders sort, and these are admittedly overkill measures and definitely unnecessary with even reasonably efficient speakers.

One should not contend the TDB 5150 is at all feeble or without a great load bearing suspension and drive facility, for it does indeed deliver the goods in every setup I tried. Making it a proven strong, and more than competent bullet with which to slay your own personal multi channel audio entertainment demons. As they say “There’s watts and then there’s watts.”

Listen hard

Tubes for HT? Not exactly but yeah, tubes for HT. better said, a “tube influence’’ for HT. The snap and sizzle is there. The jump factor when called upon is there. The artifacts are not there. Brightness is a severe non issue. Rain sounds like rain. So much so I muted the sound to see if it really was raining outside. Ricochets sound like bullets bouncing off whatever they’re bouncing off of. Explosions? Well, they’re explosive. Duh. Breaking glass? Ditto. Shell casings hitting the pavement or flooring? Likewise. Sirens? Yep, they sound like sirens.

So where is the tube characteristic? It’s within the sonic cues themselves. The sharpness is there still yet it is declared and not screamed. It is presented and not forced. It is evident without etching, glare or bringing attention to itself. The surprising weight folded into the lower bass adds substance well into the mid range without what I was able to determine as a bump or overt emphasis of a particular section in the mid bass. Dialogue coming from the Silverline Center stage was definitely clean, clear, full and easily received. I never had to use the reverse on the Oppo DV 980 to replay some misunderstood section of a disc.

The resultant sonics don’t require much getting used to at all, if any. eg., above, ‘captivated’ Indeed the presentation during each video I previewed so far has been as pleasant, involving and depictive a one as could be expected of any SS multi ch amp, while remaining firm and svelt. With any video today and in days past, the musical aspect of a film is decidedly important for the overall body of the movie to become engageing. The TDB 5150 accents this facet readily. There’s a hint of greater fullness, richness, and color to the incidentals contained within the screen play which came across as an increase in fidelity. It’s similar to the disparity between listening to the differences between CD’s to DVD’s, without sacrificing any resolution.

One could account for this result by saying the sound of the TDB amps are warm, but I don’t get that from my own perspective. I merely find the TDB 5150 better sounding. Smoother without sacrificing low level details, background cues or minor audio attributes required to create the enveloping effect filmmakers stich into their film’s soundtrack. Not ordinary. Different for sure but at a level of being a better difference. More tactile. More natural, and decidedly more pleasant to listen to. Albeit, it will not fix a poorly mixed or recorded audio in film or CD, 100%, but it helped. I watch a lot of film noir and many of these vintage films were not privy to great audio recording equipment as a rule. Watching films like “Out of the Past”, to have and Have Not’, ‘Dial M for Murder’, etc. are decidedly now more enjoyable,Thus my HT events took a definite step upwards with the addition of the TDB 5150. This little hybrid multi channel amp is an SS amp with tubes, not a Tube amp per se. it has transparency, muscle, and finesse.

I used a few power cables on the amp to see how or if they might add to the sonics and settled on either a Voodoo Gold Dragon Iii or a Shunyata Taipan helix alpha. The Voodoo Gold Dragon II prevails more often than not as the 5150’s supply cord. Another one supplies the Odyssey Stratos plus + rear ch amp. For greater delivery of musical color, not colorations, as in 2 ch settings, I prefer the Taipan Helix, or Voodoo Tesla II. Routinely for TV and videos, The RSA Haley feeds the amp via the Voodoo GD power cord, using an Elrod Sig III as it’s own supply PC.

Good ol’ stereo

As much as the Butler amp improved with another power cable, it further is enhanced by stepping up both the source, preamp, and assorted cabling. When fed by my main preamp (Thor TA 1000 MK II), hard drive based audio source VIA a Bel Canto e one DAC3 and a few inexpensive disc players as transports, using a BNC or SPDIF RCA interface, things got a lot more interesting.

Imaging was what I noticed right off. It was attention getting. Singers had more of their upper body revealed. No longer were they just a mouth poking into the room, or a head floating in space, but they entered through some inter-dimensional portal, as was not the case with the Onkyo TX sR 805’s amps. Ol’ Blue Eyes possessed the ease and authority his signature voice has always had. Frank’s vocal stylings weren’t smoothed over, but revealed. Ever how slight they might have been. Changes in posture relative to the mic, and snapping fingers added to the immediacy of the presentation and the fun.

Hailing from Alaska, tenor sax man John Firmin split away from his position as side man in the San Francisco based, Dave Bromberg band in which he was a part of back in the mid 70’s, to formulate his own band and sound. In the early nineties he formed the nine piece jump and swing oriented ‘Johnny Nocturne Band. John’s thrust was to formulate a west coast jump blues swing band. By many varied accounts, John succeeded in spades.

Their third album Wild & Cool (Rounder / Bullseye 1998) was on the Gavin jazz charts for over ten weeks and was awarded the prestigious Pres de Deutschen Schallparten Kritik award (the German Critics Award) in September of 1998

‘Wild & Cool’, a live studio recording with no overdubs sounded exactly that way. The sound stage envelope, had the members placed solidly without vaporish shifting about at all. The cut ‘A Pound Of Blues’, has the band trading off leads, while showcasing their individual talents. On a more expensive SS amp such as the BAT vk500 the Firmin tenor sax had greater weight in it’s furthest depths though not by a dramatic amount. Likewise the Trombone solo carried a bit more bell than mouth piece, yet again, this was a marginal amount. The Butler acquitted itself as well, easily with no bogging down or clouding up of harmonics, pace or image deterioration. Each instrument is instantly noted for it’s true nature. Well placed in space, and with a quite natural presentation. The Studio setting revealed itself as moderate sized and enclosed.

It carries some of the harmonic fullness the Dodd mono blocks possess, yet add another perceived element, momentum. This added pace welded to the presentation yielded another view to the recreated event, making it more propulsive and heady.

Kim Naley provides the vocal styling’s for the band on the “Million Dollar Secret” CD, released in 1999. her range and inflection are captured by the Butler amp noticeably. She appears separated from the band by her slightly forward positioning. On the song ‘Black Velvet/Don’t you Go Away Mad’ the recording shows the vitality and seduction the superb combination of Nalley and Nocturne freshly supply to the advantages of May to December liaisons.

John Firmin’s solo in the bands’ cover of “harlem Nocturne” is scintillating and sexy. When the lights dim on date night, this song should spin up. The TDB 5150 does every bit of justice to this track that it requests from an amp. The Firmin tenor sax cuts through the blackness filling the room with a soulful engaging harmonic that simply makes you pay attention to it. The skittering sticks on the symbol has nearly both the shimmer and shine one would expect if heard in person.

On Jack Jones tribute album to Tony Bennett, “Jack Jones Paints a Tribute to Tony Bennett”, (catchy title huh?), while listening to the song, “The Shadow of your Smile”, the Butler amp put jack into my listening room…. and I found myself without my virtual autograph pad and pen set.

With any amp range is a great thing, so I spun up Def Leppard’s “Vault: Def Leppards Greatest Hits” anthem like cut “pour Some Sugar On Me”, and the depth of the stage was all encompassing, showing rear of the venue as much as any other dimension, and allowing DL to propel this cut with emotive force, vocal harmonies and drive, as should any really great iconoclastic or trademark rock & roll song deserves. The TDB 5150 showed no lag, bulk or glow, just simple raw emotion, and drive…. And a huge sound stage as was the case with this cut.

Like I said, ya gotta think of this amp as a solid state amp with a touch of greater harmonic weight and ease added to the mix. Class works for me. Classic works better, but not in the classic tube sound context There’ definitely was a noticed firmness within this amps voice which one only expects of sand amps..

With the country genre, Cash is still money, Hag’s voice breaks as lovely as it always has, Joe Nichols, a virtual cross between Haggard & Frizzell, gets deep enough to raise the hair on your neck, and Reba? Often I’ve found her discs quite ‘hotly’ produced, the 5150 took off that edge and she has gotten a lot more playing time since. Previously some of her discs required for myself, a lesser system, or an array of tubes and smooth cables.

Little Big Town’s marvelous four part harmonies two male, two female, and their musical roots that seem to echo the Eagles’ early beginnings, were a joy to listen to. over and over… and over …. Their initial hit album The Road To Here; and now the change of pace yet retaining the style, A Place To Land are great fun. They’ve since changed recording companies too. Now in the hands of Capitol Records Nashville LBT is continuing to enfuse the country genre with fresh, new energy and style. On either album, “The Road to Here, and their latest, “A place to Land” preview alternative methods to pop country, with a harmonic pleasance and interesting new feel to the stayed older country sound. Look for the Capitol re-release of A Place To Land which has live cuts as well as added studio tracks previously released, now totaling 17 tracks. I’ll rebuy this album ASAP.

Otis Rush duet on John Mayall’s “Along for the Ride” collaboration album is near visceral on “So Many Roads. Likewise Tab Benoit & Jimmy thackery’s co-starring effort, “Whiskey Store” Telarc CD are greatly interesting. On ‘Unknown Legend’, Tab’s voice is exposed for the occasional grain it has by being closely miked and captures the emotive content Tab’s voice displays so casually. The back up vocals, and other subtleties are equally recreated. The short harp solos are startlingly fresh and vivid.

One of my favorite folk blues singer song writer, Kevin Moore (Keb’ Mo’) usually presents ample assortments of arrangements which span from the simplistic to the ambitiously involved. With the TDB 5150 on his “Keep It Simple” CD, Let Your Light Shine attests to Kevin’s approach to a song which has handed him multiple W.C. Handy awards for acoustic blues music. The song begins simple enough, and the clearity is super audio like, with the snap and kick of the drums as they introduce a directing flow to the song. Drums are quick, forceful, and immediate. Using acoustic guitars and an organ, the song becomes a thing onto itself. Backing vocals add to the depth and texture, and each instrument contained within the array has it’s own individuality and the magic of this inviting tune is realized by their wholly, yet intimate mixture.

Lastly, on ‘Ray Sings, Basie Swings’ Compton CD, This disc just has to be heard. Ray pays a visit… and brings the Ray-lets. Nuff’said.

Summing Up

For those like myself who aren’t privy to first hand auditioning of every component they buy I have to say of all those items I have bought sight & sound unknown, the Butler hybrid amp has been an interesting, surprising, and certainly satisfactory purchase, by virtue of it’s performance and the people who stand by it. I consider it a great catch.

At $3,000 it’s not what many will call a ‘high end amp’ especially if one adds in three more channels to boot. Even split up those five amps at the price of $600 each, and I’ve not yet found stereo amps which output similar power costing $1,200 that compare more favorably to the TDB 5150 in sonic character, let alone in the areas of control and bass response in either the tube or SS camps. In truth, one needs spend far more to be on par with this amp as I’ve heard stereo amps costing $2K to $3K that I’ve passed on previously, and would now too, to get this Butler amp. True too, at $3,000 there is competition for sure so you have some idea of this overachiever. The multi amps ranging upwards of $4K or $5K will be better competition for the Butler multi.

I perceived no coloration, overt emphasis of the frequency bandwidth, and a sufficient level of transparency that enables the music lover and theater devotee alike to better realize those changes in up or down stream components, or by way of the information which resides on their discs, or hard drives, to be thoroughly enjoyable.. During these instances I can assure you I had extensive viewing and listening periods with this amp. Turning it off and going to bed were the hardest parts.

It’s not A pair of Dodd MK II mono blocks. Not even when configured for 2 ch. Not even when attached to my best pieces. It’s just not. Although it did exceed the Dodds bass control and impact it simply doesn’t achieve the transparency and tonal richness those EL34 amps produce. It has longer legs than my Odyssey Stratos Plus + in the inner harmonic, bass prominence region and has another level or so more musical refinement too.

It’s not a Krell or a levinson, but if some ambiguity is pointed too it’s closer to the Levinson sound than to the Krells voice.

While we’re on the subject of what it is not, it was never shrill, bright, anemic, colored, or slow because of, or due to, the tube contained within each amp section. It was just hard to shut down for the night.

Regardless the genre, format, film or tune, the Butler multi ch amp delivered at every turn. Given it’s $2995.00 MSRP it’s A definite value in the multi channel amplifier category. It’s also difficult to fault it outright, sonically speaking. The TDB 5150 although only a single ended design, is easy to setup, operate, and quite stable.

The TDB design B.K. Butler has developed provides force, finesse, and audio refinery which culminate in an involving and stimulating, yet relaxed presentation. With the noteable ‘added power capabilities’ when configured for less than ‘all channel’ mode for those dedicated stereo listening sessions,the Butler multi amp shows ready flexibility with quite another face to the music by it’s greater control and structure within the tones albeit by way of the 6SL6GT thermionic valve technology.

It is neither additive nor subtractive to the audio signal. Neither does it sweeten, darken, or warm the auditory envelope. It remains honest and yields a sure footed nimbleness in conducting each of it’s dual purposed attributes, while exhibiting a well controlled, plush, involving presentation which outright belies it’s inherent design topology.

It has versatility, functionality, and value. Throw in the overachieving sonic pallet it describes the virtual sound stage with, and this reserved looking, near non descript little power house is formidable competition for similarly provided units in the under $4,000 class.

Both the serious HT & 2 ch audio only enthusiast may very well, be quite pleased with this machine. When running, those lights eminating from the blue tube glow within is pretty cool too.

I honestly and wholeheartedly recommend you look into auditioning one of the Butler Audio amps if you are considering buying a new stereo or multi channel amp. For music, or for movies, and especially if you’re looking to venture into and ultimately conquer two realms with only one sword.

General features:

• ZERO negative feedback. No global degenerative
negative feedback loop

• Open Ended Audiophile Circuitry
• Musical, warm and dynamic
• Load Independent; Will drive any speaker
• Hand selected/matched 6SL7GT Twin Triode tubes
(One per channel)

• Fully regulated Tube Heaters with Delayed Soft Start
(10-15 second turn-on delay)

• Load Adaptive Vacuum Tube Driven output circuitry
• Modular power channels with a seperate massive, oversized heatsink for each channel
• Independent AC Secondaries and Rectifiers
with 20,000µF per channel filtering
• DC fault / Short Circuit Protection Circuitry
• Diagnostic LEDs: Red=Fault
• Custom-made Hard Gold Plated Eutetic Brass RCA connectors
• Custom-made Hard Gold Plated Eutetic Brass 5-way Binding Posts
• Frosted Platinum finish
• Tube Illumination: Internal BLUE LEDs
• Patented Design
• Concept & Design: BK Butler / USA


• Rated Power (all channels driven):
5 x 150 Watts RMS per channel @ 8 ohms
5 x 225 Watts RMS per channel @ 4 ohms
• Freq response: 20Hz to 20kHz (+/- 0.5dB)
Power Bandwidth: -3dB, 50kHz
• THD: <0.10% @ 8 Ohms, <0.15% @ 4 Ohms
• S/N Ratio: Better than 110dB (A-Wtd)
• Slew Rate: 15v/µsec
• Input Sensitivity: 1.5V for 150 Watts into 8 Ohms
• Input Impedance: 47k Ohms
• Idling Consumption: Approx. 120 Watts
(Approx. 1A @ 120VAC or 0.5A @ 230VAC)
• AC Consumption (Nominal power):
1200 Watts @ 8 Ohms - 10A (120VAC), 5A (230VAC)
1800 Watts @ 4 Ohms - 15A (120VAC), 8A (230VAC)
• Dimensions: 17"W x 16"D x 8.5"H w/feet (7"H w/o feet)
• Weight: 48 Lbs. (19.2Kgs.)

Link to manufacturer:

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
Adcom, Anthem, Parasound, Rotel, Krell, BAT, Carey, Sony, Onkyo, Marantz.
Thanks for contributing such a comprehensive review. Nice job.


Thank you for checking it out. .Hope it was informative and an easy read. When a thing gets my attention as much as has this piece I'll definitely say something about it. It's an amp that doesn't suggest any where near what it provides... a very nice item and a significant value. It's impressed me, as did the support faction of BA, as was noted.
Nice read ! It was informative and the comical parts are a nice touch !
Were you using the Onkyo as a processor before the Thor during the review ?
I enjoyed the reference material listed so that I could hear a sample and build my audio library as well .

Could you compare the Butler to the Rotel ?

Good job .
Rotel vs Butler... apart from both having 5 ch and varied design topologies, there's scant little sonic parallels. The top end of the Rotel I found to be brighter by comparison. When I first heard the Rotel I wasn't tremendously impressed overall. I heard the one often traded for less than a grand around here used. My thoughts in this article was based primarily on the stereo Rotel, 1080. I presume the 200wpc 2 ch amp a closer contender to the Butler than the 120wpc multi ch amp.

The Butler simply has a more elegant and mature presentation than does the mighty little Rotel. Both are punchy and quick. Good bottom ends. I simply feel the Butler more nimble with a bit better resolution and solider imaging placement &7 definition in their spaces. The key for me was in the harmonics. the butler comes in ahead there as sounding the more natural of the two. I also made that call based on the 1080 being in my home previously, and use of the Butler as well in two ch mode.

Both amps are good values the TDB 5150, by virtue of it's cost, thus having the more favorable. Put it this way... both are nice amps. The 5150 just has more 'wow' factor.
Nice one Blindjim -

You must have been on fire - I can smell the smoke coming off of the keyboard - that was a saga, a novel, a mini series

You are indeed a happy man =)

It is indeed a sweet piece!

Thanks very much.

Yes.. I'm disscussing the rights now for the upcoming TV mini sieries, and looking for some "on & on meetings". lol

I probably should have just said, "it's a good 'um boys, go buy it if ya need one!"

The really funny part for you should be this, this was severely downsized from the orig drafts, as the other keyboards melted and I was down to the laptop.

Sorry. it all seemed so pertinent to me at the time.

Got to go now. The meeting starts in an hour.
Thanks for your thorough review of the Butler 5150. Yours and other reviews convinced me to buy a used one (should be here tomorrow!) I also purchased a Conrad Johnson Met 1 multichannel preamp to feed it. I am excited to get to play with my new toys.


I sincerely feel the amp is a most viable selection for those seeking a more refined HT presentation, and a solidly adept 2ch solution, all in one box.

I hope altogether they provide you the answer you seek for a great HT setup and an involving stereo reproduction.

The power cord you use on the 5150 will become quite the elevator of it's presentation. I never used the OEM cord on mine so I can't account for it. Stepping up a few levels though, the results are more than interesting. it does like better cords... that's for sure.
save your $$$, this stuff is third rate!!! Basically, it is a car audio circuit used in

home audio and the tubes are used to mask the harsh and brittle sound....I have listened to the least and most expensive amps out there and this should not even be on the same shelf as any of them! The Monads in Colorado were the worst sound of show, anyway, what do you expect from car audio built for home!

It's always great to see someone with real class add something of value in such a polite way to the you feel it is car audio?

Well, this car audio amp beat out a good many other multi ch amps... so what does that say about the balance of home audio amps?

Set up is everthing... I too have heard many amps from many makers. Given the price range these Butler amps reside within, they constitute a great bargain, and are head and shoulders above many other 'supposedly multi ch audio Home theater amps', and their two ch amps are as well in that same category.

I can't speak to the manads... or even if there is a 'worst of show' award.

When did someone start awarding 'Worst of show' ribbons?

In essence all your comments as decidedly presumptious and onery as they are also indicate one must spend far more than $3K to get a good multi ch amp to get good sound.

lastly, like it/them or not, the sound is what they are being bought... and IMO it's better than those other contenders I mentioned in the article at time of purchase.

... and for the very reasons your post indicated... shrill, bright sounding, brittle and thin.

maybe they should have added tubes too and veiled their own misgivings?
Soundwise.... BTW... it would be best when making such statements that you provide proof to support them... otherwise, folks with anything on the gball at all, will simply dismiss them as wild acusations, discontentedness, or someone have a bad day... or possibly even sour grapes. Thanks.
Hey BJ! Well, that was one looonnngggg review - makes a 6Moons review look like a brief excerpt.

I also own a TBD-5150 and it is probably the last amp I will ever buy. The sound quality is phenomenal and the build-quality is superb.

I'm not sure where SoundWise gets his churlishness from, the Butlers are VERY good amps and a real bargain considering the performance.

Happy New Year!


Sorry... But thanks.

you should know me by now.... I hate to post something that leaves out what should have been said to begin with.

Well there's that and the fact if we don't use all the words in the dictionary, they'll get sent to the landfill. It is the law!

RE Soundwise
just another unwarranted and unsubstantiated drive by posting.

I've learned to ignore such juvenile behavior, though it is disconcerting in a forum comprised of primarily mature knowledgeable and ernest people such things litter these pages from time to time.

RE last amp
It may well be mine too. I've learned whatever lays down some future avenue for me, never reveals itself... although I've paired mine now with an Integra DHC 9.9 and could not be happier.

perhaps Sound will drop in and say the Integra is just another Tonka Toy, made of gum wrappers, popcikle sticks and left over 'Walkman' parts!
Thank you! Fantastic review! I'm buying one.
I'm considering the Butler TDB3150, 3x 150/225W @ 8/4 Ohms. I consider you a great source because of your experience with the Dodd Mk II monos.

My main amp/main speakers are high-pass line-level crossed, 1st order @ 275 Hz increasing to 3rd order @ 80 no deep bass requirement.

Music system is 3.1 channel based on pure analog Trinaural Processor by James Bongiorno, inventor of the full dual-differential full-complementary circuit common to high-end amplifiers.

My most preferred main amp was Linn Majik 3100 (3x 57/100W @ 8/4 Ohms) with Linn's proprietary "Chakra" architecture: pure analog monolithic chip with multiples higher tolerance than comparable discreet circuit. Chips lack current capacity so Linn adds bipolar transistors at the output to boost current. Chakra is like Quad's "Current Dumping" circuit but Linn employs a pure analog monolithic chip with higher tolerance than Quad's discreet circuit.

Linn makes the "Akurate 3200" model with twice the Majik's power, which I need.

Have you heard Linn's Chakra amps? Would love to compare the Akurate 3200 (in my specific application, no deep bass requirement) to the Butler TDB3150.

I rate Chakra very similar in audio performance to Atma-Sphere OTL (also heard at home) but with none of the OTL's vexing current limitation.
If you want a true otl without the otl problems look to David Berning Amplifiers.
just read this from years Butler was initially a car audio company, but none of the industry manufacturers take them seriously because they are beyond second rate...and for a surround amp Emotiva is great for price and sound and you could buy 2 of these far superior products for one butler!  If you are looking to upgrade, it would be a great contender!