Review: deHavilland Electric Amp UltraVerve JR Tube preamp

Category: Preamps

I have had my UltraVerve Jr. for about two months now and I would like to share my thoughts on it because it made such a dramatic change to my system.

First, a little background. music has been a passion of mine ever since I can remember. For more than 30 years I have always enjoyed music from whatever source it was coming from. Whether it be a clock radio in my room as a child, cranked up on whatever stereo happened to be in my car, or from the all Pioneer system my mom graciously gave me upon graduation back in '85. And it never failed to move me. And when I got the Pioneer system, well.... I was in Heaven. It had 25 ft of Radio Shack wire a big ol' equalizer (which I thought was cool) and tone controls. And something sounding "bright", "thin", "forward", "fatiguing", "bloated", or "dull" never entered my mind. I just dialed in the sound I wanted for whatever I might be listening to. Then years later....I got into "HiFi". And listening to music became complicated.

Back around '86 I purchased a pair of Klipsch Forte' speakers to go with my Pioneer system. I loved 'em from the beginning. And of course back then they sounded great from the start. At that time I knew nothing of "break-in", thank goodness. I just simply enjoyed the music. Well, for the past 18 months since getting into HiFi I've tried to build a system around the Forte's. While not being the most sophisticated speakers, they are very good at what they do. Having a horn mid and tweeter they are very sensitive (98db) and also revealing. And I thought if I could build a nice system around them, I could save money on speakers and worry about that upgrade down the road.

I did some homework and decided to take it slow and purchased an NAD320BEE and a NAD C541i cdp. These are excellent budget components IMHO. In fact they were so good in my system that for eight months of listening to higher end SS equipment I never heard anything I wanted to spend more money on. Now don't get me wrong. There is plenty of great SS equipment out there and if I had started at a higher price point than the NAD I'm sure I would have been very happy with the results. It's just that
the NAD components gave me such a helping of SS HiFi that I wasn't compelled to spend more money on what I heard. Then I discovered tubes.

I can't help it I'm a tube man. And to be more specific, I'm a SET tube man. At the price points I'm in I don't believe that the line between tube and SS is blurred. Tubes do what they do well and ss does what it does well. They both can be very musical. The easiest way I can explain what music through tubes sounds like to me is, music through tubes is like silk on my ears. I love it.

After trial and error with PP tube integrateds, I read an excellent review by John Potis on 6moons about the Art Audio Carissa. His description about the Carissa sounding as powerful as his ss monoblocs started me down the SET path.

I purchased a Carissa and new interconnects and speaker wire and used the pre section of the NAD with it. With the tone controls I was able to tone down the treble a bit and it was a nice combo. I knew the Carissa was being held back with the NAD as a pre. And I wondered what a tube pre could do for my system. From my research and my reference I knew it could be something special.

If it wasn't for the tone controls on the NAD that combo would sound bright, forward, flat and two dimensional. So I tried a well respected and reviewed tube pre that used typical nine pin miniature tubes (12ax7, 12au7 etc.). With this the music became smoother, rounder, more 3d but it was still bright and forward in the mids and highs. It was an improvement.
But not that big of an improvement from the NAD/Carissa combo with the treble toned down a bit.

I was becoming frustrated and figured I was just dealing with the speakers. People would say, "It's the Forte's, those Klipsch are just bright and forward. You need new speakers". I was beginning to believe them.

Then I discovered deHavilland. I had read about them before but was on a ss path at them time and didn't give them much thought. Now that I had a SET amplifier I returned my attention back to them. I read the glowing reviews by Dick Olsher at Enjoy The Music, David Robinson at Positive Feedback and Dave Thomas at Stereo Times. There are many other positive show reports and reviews. With the Octal tube design and the great reviews I thought I should give the UltraVerve a shot. If this didn't work out I would get new speakers and start from there.

Thank you for your patience. Now, about the UltraVerve. It is a linestage pre amplifier that uses the 6SN7 octal tube. It is a zero negative feedback class A design, with tube rectification and point to point wiring. For more detailed specs check the deHavilland website. It is a well-made component with a solid, substantial feel. It has a low-key look to it. But I think it is beautiful in an art deco, retro kind of way. The tubes are recessed but exposed on the top of the unit. I believe if your going to have tubes, it's nice to see 'em. Ah, the glow.

From the reviews you can tell that this is a powerful pre. And with the 12" woofer on my Forte's that handle everything from 700hz down I thought maybe that was why everything I tried with my amp seemed bright and forward. They other pres just weren't up to the task of working that woofer.

Well, the UltraVerve arrived. It was double boxed and well packed. I hooked it up and let it warm up for about an hour. Two nice features on this pre are the heater warm up delay (soft start) and the switch on the back to float the ground. I left the switch as it came (ground floated) and the noise floor was very low out of my 98db Forte's. Just a slight hiss through the tweeter from about 12" away. This was the quietest of any tube equipment I've had on my speakers. And since the manual stated to try both positions I flipped to ground the unit. Now you could hear a hiss from less than six inches from the tweeter. Very quiet indeed.

How did it sound? Straight out of the box it was great. Smooth, detailed, full bodied and dimensional. After playing about three hours it began to open up and a smile came to my face. I kept the unit on for three days and at the end of each day it just got better and better. By the end of the third day I was beside myself with joy. The soundstage was huge. It gained in every way (height, width, depth). Music was pouring out of my speakers. It was amazing how much it was coming into the room. I am experiencing things I have only read about; micro detail, resolution, full bodied dimensionality. It is amazing. The mids and highs are no longer bright, lean and in my face. The bass is deep, powerful and tuneful. I now know what a fleshed out soundstage is. Musicians and instruments are in there own space but not like a cookie cutter with empty space between them. It's all together. Vocals are easier to understand and instruments don't drown each other out. I won't go into further details than that. I'll leave that to the professionals. I hope I have explained what the UltaVerve did for my system.

Music used for evaluation was everything from classical to country and pop to rock.

The reason for the long intro was for people that may be frustrated. I know I was. I had researched and took my time. Read the reviews and auditioned equipment and nothing was working out. But I kept at it and found what I knew was out there with the deHavilland.

A word about the people at deHaviland. Kara Chaffee, chief engineer and designer, is wonderful. She is a kind and caring person and very patient and helpful. She answered all my questions. I told her I was apprehensive about trying the UtraVerve because nothing else had worked in my system. She said, let's give a shot. I'm glad I did. George Kielczynski, director, sales and marketing was also great. He was very patient with all my questions and sent me some great literature about SETs and loudspeakers. When you give them a call, they are the ones that answer the phone.

If you are looking for a pre amp, especially a tubed one, please, you owe it to yourself to check out deHavilland. It's a great component and company.

Note. I have the UltraVerve JR. The only difference between it and the UltaVerve is the volume control. The JR has a Noble Stereo Potentiometer and the Utraverve uses a Goldpoint Stepped Attenuator. I can only imagine how much better that may be. Someday I'm sure I'll upgrade to the Goldpoint. Because the UltraVerve is here to stay. Thank you for reading this review.

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Click to view my Virtual System

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Congratulations on your newfound happiness with your system! I went down a similar path, though with less anxiety, going from ss, to pushpull tubes, to SET amps. I also just recently went from a series of 12 ax7 based preamps to an octal tube based preamp, a Supratek Syrah, and I also experienced a huge upturn in quality. Enjoy your system and thing long and hard before your next upgrade.
Hi Jond,

Thanks. There must be something special about a well designed octal based pre. It's great to have a system I enjoy so much for my reference.

I considered the Syrah. Even exchanged a few emails with Mick. I would like to hear it someday. It is a beautiful piece of equipment.

I recently had another ear opening experience. I've been auditioning speakers for more than 18 months now. Of course there are many fine speakers out there. But my ol' Klipsch do such a great job (especially in the context of my system now) that I haven't heard anything that made me want to switch (at least the ones in my price range). But I recently auditioned the Merlin VSM-MM and that will be the next upgrade. It simply floored me. What speakers, if any, have you thought of upgrading to. You have an excellent pair already.

Hi Samac,
You're right, the Syrah looks as good as it sounds. As far as my speakers go, I've been so happy with them that the thought of upgrading hasn't really entered my mind. I really think that to better the peformance of my speakers I would have to spend a considerable amount of money. Also my choices would naturally be limited by virtue of my 11 watt SET amps. So I am happy with my speakers and will probably keep them for a long time. That being said, one brand that really intrigues me is Merlin. Any brand that inspires that kind of fierce loyalty has got to be doing something right.

Thanks for your response. I'm glad your enjoying you system also. It is fun when it all comes together. Take care.

Nice review! I've got my UltraVerve w/ remote coming this week, hopefully. Looking forward to it!
While I'm a SS amp guy, I love tubes in the path someplace and had gone through about 5 preamps before running across a great deal on a used UltraVerve. I had long lusted after the Ultraverve and corresponded with Kara and George on numerous occasions. As with your experience, they are absolutely great people to deal with even if I'm not the direct purchaser! Once I got the preamp I was very impressed with the build quality and look of it. I, too, am a sucker for exposed tubes! I wish more preamp companies did that! If you got 'em flaunt 'em!

I completely concur with your findings when it comes to what the Ultraverve did for my system. My prior preamp (Philly Audio Blues 7b) needed a DIY power cord with the ground lifted in order to keep it semi-quiet. With the Ultraverve not only is the ground switch great but it's also SO quiet it's hard to believe it's a tubed pre! My taste in audio reproduction leans towards conveyance of emotion, palpability, musicality AND detail. The Ultraverve excels at all of those making my Odyssey Mono Extreme's and Lorelie's just sing. The room is filled with glorious music. I'm done looking for preamps - this one is it! And if you're looking for the same type of thing as I was from your speakers give the Lorelie's a listen. They are $6500 Symphonic Line Legato's for $2700. Fantastic!