Review of Dartzeel NHB-108 Amplifier

Dartzeel is a relatively new entry to the high-end game. Despite being reviewed by John Marks in a recent issue of Stereophile, the company's only current product offering, the NHB-108 stereo amplifier, hasn't gotten a lot of press on these shores. Hopefully this "review" will do its part in rectifying that.
As many of you probably already know, Switzerland-based Dartzeel is the brainchild of one Herve Deletraz. Herve is a wonderful guy who's dedicated to the very best customer service. As essentially a one-man operation, I'm sure his time is limited, but he's always responded to my e-mails in an extremely courteous, timely manner.

On to the amp. I'm not one for technical details, so I'll leave them to those of you who want to visit Dartzeel's website. Basically, the 108 is a "purist" stereo amp rated at a relatively modest 100 wpc. Its smallish dimensions belie its weight, which measures around 65-70 pounds.

Internally, the amp is incredibly well laid out (if tightly packed), with an attention to detail that one should expect--but doesn't always receive--from components in this price range.

Outside, it's purely love-hate. (Refer to the website for pictures). Either you get it or you don't. Personally, I've grown used to its appearance over time, but it's taken a while to become acclimated. If WAF factor is any sort of issue, practice up on your compliments. Then again, I may be overstating the case. While it's not Liv Tyler, it's not Janet Reno, either. Time reveals its inner beauty.

Performance-wise it's a much more straightforward issue. In my experience the 108 is the most balanced, natural-sounding amp I've ever heard. It has a way with timbre that's downright spooky--up there with the very best tube units one cares to mention. The sound is just "right"--every note is reproduced with a tonal correctness and warmth that is as close to the real thing as I've heard in an amp. Because of it's sheer naturalness, it can take a while to overcome the initial impression that it is somehow soft or rolled off. That is most emphatically not the case! Dynamics are crisp and fast, and the frequency extremes are right where they need to be--not overstated or highlighted at all, just perfectly natural and realistic.

The only potential weakness of the 108 is its power rating. It flows a nice amount of juice for 100 watts, but one could theoretically run into problems with particuarly current-hungry or inefficient speakers. Part of the amp's midrange purity, I believe, is attributable to the use of the bare minimum of bipolars in the output stage. That, of course, comes at the price of power, but in this case the tradeoff is more than worth it. Just take some care in speaker matching--as you should, anyway--and you'll be rewarded with a sound that balances the very best of solid state with a midrange that will make some question whether they even need to fuss with tubes.

Despite its novel physical appearance, the need for careful speaker matching, and the fact that the US dollar has been taking a Tyson-like beating lately, the Dartzeel is a serious contender in the super-amp category. Yes, there are amps out there that do this or that "better" than the 108, but I've yet to hear one that strikes a better balance between the various areas of performance. It's a stunning piece of engineering and a landmark amplifier.


Product Weakness: Appearance is strictly take-it-or-leave-it. Power rating requires some attention to speaker load. Cost.
Product Strengths: Naturalness, midrange magic of the highest order, speed, dynamics

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Dartzeel NHB-108
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): EMM Labs DCC2
Sources (CDP/Turntable): EMM Labs CDSD
Speakers: Von Schweikert VR-4 Jr.
Cables/Interconnects: Jena Labs Pathfinder
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Rock, blues, country, some classical
Room Size (LxWxH): 24 x 20 x 7
Room Comments/Treatments: Echo Buster, ASC
Time Period/Length of Audition: 3 months
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): Shunyata Hydra-8
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner
Thank you for this thorough and insightful review, Hooper!

I always appreciate it when someone here takes the time to share their experiences with a component. It adds to the knowledge and experience of all of us.

You are wise to point out the tradeoffs of any amp, power versus finesse. It seems this amp strikes a unique blend of the two. I especially appreciate your insight into the decision of the designer to use a smaller amount of output transistors to maintain the purity of sound. This has also been my experience, both with solid state and tubes. It could lend insight as to why the sound of tubes and solid state seem to converge in some products.

It seems from the heft, this is one solidly built amplifier.

I hope you enjoy them for a long time, and that others are inspired by your passion in this review to investigate them. Thanks again,
Great review. Thanks for the effort.
Jtinn - how does it compare to Tenor audio 150/300 ?
Elberoth2: Great question! The Tenor Hybrid's are truly amazing. The darTZeel actually has a higher level of clarity and are less finicky (no tubes). The darTZeel is the purist sounding amplifier I have ever heard. The Tenor's have a bit more power.

Both represent the finest I have heard.

Who helped design your system? Its very unusual in conception.

What other amplifiers did you try in your system?

Jena Labs has always smeared the sound in my system how does it work in yours, I would think it would round the sound off too much to sound detailed on a speaker like the VR4jr. What do you think.

A personal friend of mine who's an audio dealer out west helped me design the system. I wanted a setup that could compete with the very best of the best, and he helped me achieve it. I'm more crtical of the system than anyone, but everyone who's heard it has come away pretty impressed.

I tried several amps before settling on the DarTZeels: Parasound JC-1s, Tenor 300s, Classe Omega, to name a few. All of those amps have standout characteristics, but none sounded as balanced, pure, and transparent as the DarTZeel. Mated to the right speaker load, they are as good as I've heard.

The Jena cables work perfectly in my system. I don't hear any smearing whatsoever. In fact, they're the best cables I've ever had in my room. They don't have the WOW factor of some elite cables (Valhalla, Transparent Opus. etc.), but I think they're one of the best available, at any price. I now have the VR-9s (the VR-4 Jr's were loaners), and the synergy between speaker and cable is stunning. The amount of information this combo extracts from a recording is really amazing.

By the way, you mentioned that my system was unusual in conception. How so? I'd be curious to know.

Hope this helped.
Could you please state specifically what records you used in the review process?
$35,000 in electronics and $4,000 speakers, is very odd, but I see you've struck a balance with the VR9's. Atleast with the cost.

Its too bad the Jena Labs is the best you ever heard a $400 set of Analysis Plus would do wonders from where you are. Having heard the Jena's on two very different systems their signature is clear. Smudge, Hey, I understand where you're coming from now so I'll stop interupting the regularly scheduled commercial.

I appreciate the objective review.

100wts is "modest" power? And possibly a negative as it requires "attention to the speaker load"? I thought Apogee went out of business!?!
Cinematic_systems: I know you are a dealer and you should disclose this in your posting. It is obvious you have a hard on for Jena Labs, although the system you have listed does not appear to be of anything worth using Jena Labs cables on.

You could only hope to ever have a system that approximates the sound that Hooper has.

Mind your manners!

By "modest" power, I was implying in comparison to all the 500W-1,000W bruisers out there. In comparison to those amps, I'd call the DarTZeel's output modest. Wouldn't you?

As for speaker matching, I think I may have overstated the point in my review. The Dart has an internal switch that allows toggling berween high and low impedance operation. I've since heard the amp on several low-impedance speakers (with the LI switch on), and the amp had NO problem driving the speakers.
J Tinn,

Smearing the leading edge, it's an old cable tactic, perfect for overly bright edgy audiophile systems. Literally removed the leading edge from the sound on the first system listed below.

Modified Magneplaner 20.1's (you know the one)

and Aerial 20T's with a Spectral system. Fixed this one right away with Cardas Quadlink.

Hey that's what they do! Maybe your systems aren't up to the task or you like that sort of thing? What do you think? Fact is my little system would easily show the Jena's built in effect, because they are transient perfect and phase correct. Spending more does not cover the defect or make it a positive.

I don't have a "problem" with Jena, Jena has a distinctive "sound" I do find problematic on quality speaker systems but actually it could have its applications on ill balanced systems. Especially underpowered ones where the amp clips a good deal.

If you have proof they don't smear the leading edge i'll recant my statements and apologize. Just your word against mine I suspect.

I do have 5 witnesses that sat right next to me and concurred about the obvious effect, would you like to hear from them? You know some of them.

Thanks for the sermon be aware your elitism does not intimidate me, and I would be more careful about how you swing it around in my presence.
Cinematic Systems, wouldn't the five witnesses be sitting outside of the sweetspot? Or is your sweetspot that wide?
Howie, why would you assume that five listeners were auditioning/comparing cables simultaneously? Cinematic systems made a clear point about a valid comparison. You either didn't read his post or failed to understand it.
Any multi-strand braided cable is going to have some amount of smearing to it, but my thoughts are that Cinematic's system isn't anywhere near up to the task of critiquing Jena's cabling.

First of all, the Behringer pieces have a very distinct "SS" and / or "digital" signature to them. That is, they sound sharp, sibilant and somewhat tizzy. There are modifications that one can perform to reduce these problems, but they don't completely remove the effect. Using more revealing cabling will only make this sonic trait more noticeable.

The little Yamaha multi-channel amp isn't exactly a "world class" performer either. Nothing like tinned conductors housed in a cheap plastic ribbon cable within the signal path to clobber high frequency resolution and system transparency. This is yet another factor that could lead to an "edgy" sound, which more revealing cabling would make more noticeable.

As a side note, i've commented many years ago about the sonic potential of the older Yamaha amps, primarily the M-80. In a head to head comparison driving 82 dB 2-4 ohm speakers, the Yamaha obliterated a similarly rated Bryston in every respect. As such, i've got nothing against "mass produced" gear that sounds and works good, especially when it can be bought for a very reasonable price and easily upgraded. In stock form though, these amps are not on the same playing field as many other amps that i've heard and / or owned.

Other than that, the darTZeel doesn't look to be a suitable amp for low impedance, low sensitivity speakers. As i mentioned over at AA, it doesn't measure all that great ( for multiple reasons ), but i'm sure that it sounds very nice. My guess is that the mids are extremely liquid sounding with a great amount of air and separation in the treble region. I'm basing this on the design parameters and quality of parts used, not on an actual listening session.

To me, Hooper's system looks like he's been a regular customer of Mr Tinn's, who is a dealer for most every brand of gear that Hooper is using. I could be wrong about that, but Mr Tinn's shop is located in the Washington, which is on the west coast, so that also fits that criteria. It would also explain Hooper's lack of willingness to divulge the specifics of which dealer he was working with. The fact that Mr Tinn is the distributor for this amp and was quick to defend Hooper's choice in gear almost makes one think that this thread was set-up by Mr Tinn to capitalize on the positive review / massive exposure that the darTZeel recently received in Stereophile. Then again, i could be wrong about everything here and this might just be another one of my conspiracy theories. Do the math and see what figures you come up with.... Sean
Note the date on Hoopers review:7-29-04. The Stereophile review was published this month. I don't know how anybody could have had the foresight in July of 04 to anticipate this months review being published in Stereophile, thereby capitalizing on it, 8 months later. If that were the case, perhaps Mr. Tinn can join me at the blackjack table at the next CES.
Sean: I am indeed a longtime customer and friend of Mr. Tinn's. I'm actually quite proud of that association. And there was no "lack of willingness" to divulge which dealer I was working with. I simply didn't think it appropriate to bring Mr. Tinn any further into this thread. One more thing: This thread was set up by ME, not Mr. Tinn.
There's no conspiracy going on. I chose to review the DarTZeel and start this thread because I was sufficiently impressed with it and thought it should be brought to the attention of more people. My review, and the start of the thread, were established WELL before the Stereophile review. Just check the dates.

You're right about the amp not being ideal for tough loads. I brought that up in my review. But it doesn't mean that it is completely useless with anything but 8-ohm loads. Quite the contrary. I've heard it drive several 4-ohm speakers with ease. But there's no doubt that the amp is more comfortable with lighter loads. I own the Von Scweikert VR-9s, which are 96dB efficient, and my DarTZeels mate incredibly well with them. I never hear any sense of strain or breakup, even when I crank it.

By the way, where did you get your measurements from? I couldn't find any. Even if the amp does measure less than spectacularly, IMHO that means little in the end. Look at all the $299 Sony receivers that, technically, measure well but that suck sonically in the context of a high-end system. Numerous companies, particularly WAVAC, sell products that measure abysmally, yet apparently there's something about the sound quality that keeps customers willing to shell out $50,000-$100,000 for them.

If you're so inclined, try and listen to the DarTZeel with a reasonable load and an open mind, and you may well change your tune. The amp isn't for everyone, to be sure, but for those who've heard it and bought it, like me, it represents the peak of their amplifier experience.
speakerdude, why wouldn't I assume that five listeners were auditioning/comparing cables simultaneously? I'm guessing that you think my assumptions are wrong? I simply posed a question to Cinematic System in regards to something that was unclear to me. I did not exactly question Cinematic system's point or validity of his comparison. You either didn't read his post and or my post clearly or failed to understand my post. But I am willing to concede that I perhaps read his post too literally.

I do have 5 witnesses that sat right next to me and concurred about the obvious effect

If one reads the above quote, is one wrong to wonder whether five witnesses were sitting next to him and listening simultaneously or whether the five witnesses alternated one after another sitting next to him or whether the five witnesses were even there on the same day? That may still mean a two person sweetspot. Perhaps your command of the english language is better than mine and can tell me where the certainty of that comment lies.
Howie you don't have to sit in the sweet spot to hear it, it a very obvious coloration of the sound.

2 people sat next to me when we listened to the Maggies and 4 of us were present when the 20T system was being used and in both cases people took their turn in "the" chair. The effect was quite obvious most people didn't sit in "the" sweet spot to confirm the change they sat there to see if they liked it better.

As for my system let's not forget, my little system is my bedroom system and don't kid yourself about its quality. Those speakers would be about $4000 retail and now that I have my D2 Audio amps are on the way should make for a very nice system.

Keep in mind the Behringer can be replaced by a BSS or a Lake Technology crossover at my discretion.


Forgive me for this oversite; I should have included this reviewers comments to have some back up.

From the Rick Gardner Positive Feedback review;

"Intellectual confusion aside, I will tell you what I hear. I think a lot of upper midrange/lower treble energy in digital reproduction comes out as "noise" because of time coherency problems. We call this "tizz" and we all abhor it, while assuming it is just part and parcel of the current digital standards. Well, that may not entirely be the case. Imagine wires that can
sort the tizz and upper midrange crunchies into something very much like music. Think about all of the hard, tizzy, overly sibilant digital recordings you have (especially the ones where you love the music and hate the recording). Now, think about those recordings transformed into something that is not only survivable, but also actually rewarding."

Is the digital recording over-sibilant or has he discovered his wires are over-sibilant? See if the recording remains over sibilant then the JL wires are filters are they not? The key word in that whole paragraph is "sort" and up till now dim wit Rick has tolerated "tizz" on his digital, come on!

BTW Ricks system is horrendous, a disasterous composition of "supposed to be good" products.

Rick Gardner continues....
"The simplest, coherent description I can give is "buttery." I am using this term to suggest the liquidity and harmonic richness of single-ended tube amplification, without the artificial sweetness and weird tonal shifts. Utterly seductive."

Ever touch butter? what happens? Smudges doesn't it. There is definitely two sides to the coin for a filter and I'm thinking the last thing a VR9 needs is to be buttered up. But since Its not my system its not for me to say.

"Jennifer's wires have driven me deeper into my large CD collection than I have been for some time. Recordings I had decided were simply digital disasters I now find enjoyable."

Cable system that fixes recordings that are "digital disasters".

What if the recording isn't a digital disaster? Then what information is being scraped off or changed? I'm just asking because you can't turn the cable off!

I'm a dealer and a consumer and I'm calling it like I've heard it and apparently as Rick has heard it. His system needed the Jena Labs treatment and the two systems I have heard did not. What say you about yours? My original comment about Hoopers system was a hunch about his system and it didn't look like it would benefit from being "buttered". Maybe the Dartzeel is bright?

Have a good one guys.
Cinematic: I'm not the most tech-savvy person in the world, so I won't get into a technical discussion about the Jena cables, but I will share my experience. I listened to A LOT of cables before coming to the decision to buy the Jena Dreamdancers: several Siltechs, Transparent Opus, MIT, Cardas, AudioQuest DBS, Wireworld, Tara, and (not coincidentally) the Analysis Plus Gold. Each had their strengths and weaknesses, and I was actually leaning toward the AP Gold. Then JTinn sent me a Dreamdancer interconnect. After several days of listening, I came to the conclusion that the Dreamdancers were clearly the superior cable: sheer resolution, dynamics, naturalness, etc. I then wired up my entire system with Dreamdancer cable, and I haven't looked back. I hear none of the smearing you described above; in fact, they are a very synergistic match with my Von Schweikerts and DarTZeels. At any rate, that's MY experience. Sorry they didn't work for you.
Don't have to be sorry, but I really felt in my experience with the cables that they would bloat the sound of your system and round it off. I have no knowledge of the Dartzeel and that maybe the wild card in our differing opinions/experiences.

Clearly they are working for you, and that's good.

My observations were made with the speaker cables FWIW.
This is an amplifier I would love to learn more about but with the original review here, and the one in Stereophile, I still have no idea what the sonic strengths are. Ok ok, it has great clarity. Great clarity compared to what? Ok ok, it is natural sounding. Natural sounding compared to what? Neither of these comments tell me much. Surely every product must have some weakness (other than it's external appearance) compared to other "state of the art" amplifiers.

A few months ago I heard the CAT JL-2 amp vs. the Atmasphere MA1 amps. I could make the same comments about these two amplifiers. Both of these were outstanding musical products. But they were so very different in virtually every way, e.g., tonal balance, resolution, dynamics, harmonic richness, etc. When you get to this level, it all comes down to personal preference.

Each of us has to make a compromise when it comes down to our own personal checklist as to which product most suits our own taste and fits in with the rest of our system. No offense to Hooper, but how can such a supreme product's sonic capability be summed up in one paragraph? If a product truly stands out from the competition, do we not deserve to learn more?

The Stereophile review makes no sonic comparisons, tonality, resolution, noise level, etc., to the other many "top" amp contenders. It is essentially worthless in providing value to the reader.

It's always nice to hear of a new "great" product, but unless the writer can put this new product into perspective of the competition, all the reader learns is that the writer claims this is a phenomenol product. But is this not the claim we read in every top-contending product review that essentially puts the previously claimed product out to pasture? And most likely, that older product has some strengths that exceed those of the new king of the hill. But we never hear about those as the new product has no peers.

Cinematic_systems: You, according to one of the "witnesses" (you know the one) says you are a complete lunatic and I should not even waste my time answering you. Your complete lack of subjectivity and your history of bashing absolutely everything everyone here owns shows how small and jealous a person you are.

The witness you mention happened to purchase an entire set of the Jena Labs and feels there is absolutely no smearing or coloration. He felt they were incredibly neutral while having body and extension such as one would hear in live music.

In terms of Rick Gardner's system, you are showing your completely abusive and naive side. To make a statment that his system is "horrendous" when you have never heard it is "horrendously" irresponsible and childish.

Your opinions hold no validity with me and those who see through your nonsence.

Sean: You must be kidding. Haven't we been down this road before? I really think you should rescind your statements and let sleeping dogs lay.
Hi All,
I've heard the Dart'zeel amps at CES, actually sitting next to mark Senior and behind Jonathan. The sound was great, but I think that they are underpowered for many speakers. I have Dynaudio temptations taht require a good high-powered amp. If dart'zeel could come up with a 3-400 watt high current amp i would love to listen, but til then, I'm not interested. OTOH, I LOVED the Vr9's, andf i can't wait til my stock hits so that I can buy 5.

david Shapiro
Afox: You're absolutely right--neither my review nor the Stereophile piece compared the DarTZeel to other amps. In my case, I just wanted to write a quick, dirty review that would let people know how good the amp is. I was too lazy to spend more than an hour at the keyboard. But I actually did compare it to several amps: a Pass XA-160, Tenor 75, and Tenor 300 hybrids. Without going into vivid detail (my hands are getting tired), the DarTZeel pretty easily bested the Pass in almost every area; it had much more clarity and dynamic punch than the Tenor 75, especially when the volume was turned up; and against the 300s, it was a closer race, but the Dart was faster coming on and off transients, it was more transparent, and, despite the fact that the 300s have tubes, it was smoother and warmer overall. That's pretty much all I can offer about comparisons. Maybe a professional publication will get around to it one day.
Cinematic Systems, I believe that every component and every cable colours the sound at least a little bit. Everything has a "sonic signature". In my experience, the sweetspot makes a huge difference, particularly when hearing for transient attacks. When you're sitting outside the sweetspot, it's easy to perceive the sound as being smeared. That has been my experience. Anyhow, I think you should refrain from calling anyone a dim wit. It's just not warranted.
"Cinematic_systems: I know you are a dealer and you should disclose this in your posting". Jtinn

"Sean: You must be kidding. Haven't we been down this road before? I really think you should rescind your statements and let sleeping dogs lay". Jtinn

Jtinn: You chastise Cinematic Systems for not disclosing that he is a dealer, yet you do the same thing with most every one of your posts. On top of that, the name that he posts under pretty much gives away the fact that he's a dealer while the use of your personal name doesn't. Unless someone is VERY familiar this forum, is an industry insider or read your reponse to the darTZeel review in Stereophile, one would assume that you were simply a normal joe rather than an industry professional that was directly involved with the productS ( darTZeel, Tenor ) being discussed. As such, fix the blatant holes in your glass house before you start condemning others for having leaky windows.

On top of that, i think that this has been discussed and dealt with over at AA. Why it is still taking place here at Agon, i don't know. From what i've been told, your "planted customer responses" weren't welcomed at AA and you were told that this wasn't acceptable behavior from a dealer.

Once again, i would request that Agon set up some type of identification program for dealers, distributors, manufacturers, reviewers and other industry professionals. While many industry professionals identify themselves on every post and / or make their affiliations known as the situation arises, some lack the scruples and / or self-discipline to do so.

As mentioned, not everyone knows who's who in the industry and there are new people joining the various audiophile forums day by day. This would allow them to sort through the potential hype of someone trying to push a product for monetary gain and / or benefits as compared to an avid enthusiast who is simply sharing their thoughts / ideas / experiences with no financial gains or risks to be had. Why Audiogon won't install such a system into the forums, i don't know. It's surely been discussed long enough and many enough times to know that it is needed. Sean
Sean: You are a troll of the worst kind. I do not have the time or energy to respond point by pooint, but you are making another personal attack on me regardless of my request to stop.

I am going to get some sleep and if I have nothing better to do tomorrow, I will respond.

Get a life you sorry excuse for a man.
JTinn, I think Sean brings up a good point that there should be some sort of identifier for Audiogon members who are dealers. Of course we all have our own musical and listening biases, but when a member also has a business bias, it throws a wrench in many threads here. Knowing this from the start allows the reader to put this into perspective when such a member priases something they also sell.

The first word in this thread is "Review" and still, out of all the text here, only one paragraph describes the sound of this highly praised amplifier. I guess I'll have to send Hooper a Dove Bar to get him to share more of his emotions on this amplifier. 8-)


Just let me know what you want to know, and I'll try to answer as best I can. Oh, and the price has just risen to TWO Dove Bars. And maybe some Coldstone Creamery ice cream . . . . Greedy bastard, ain't I? :)
Don't you think its a little ironic that you , who restricts 90% of your comments to positive remarks upon products in which you have a personal financial interest,accuse Sean, who has only demonstrated an allegiance to good sound, of being a troll? Honestly, you shoulb be more cognizant of your position. By the way I read a number of your posts before I realized you were a dealer, but I picked up on Cinematic Systems status right away
John (Jafox): What Audiogon does here is beyond any of our control. We can make our suggestions, but ultimately the decision is their's. This has been talked about for years and I have no issue with disclosure. I agree that it could be misleading for someone in the industry coming here under an alias and push products they produce or sell. I have been here for 6 years. I am certainly one of the early users of this site and I started as a user and have since become a distributor and dealer. Most people know who I am and it would take very little effort to discover that I am a dealer and distributor. Also, think about how many dealers or distibutors have multiple accounts here. I know of one who has uses this slimy tactic quite a bit.

I have been an audiophile for 45 years. I was born into this and it has always been my passion. I would also say that no one is perfect. When it is proper for me to disclose my affiliation, I always attempt to do so. Sometimes I might forget. In this thread, there was no need for me to disclose that info. I was thanking Hooper for taking the time to post a review which I do with anyone when they take the time to state their experience. I do this regardless of whether I am a dealer or distributor for the product. If I read a review I thank the person.

I would also like to add that Hooper is not a professional reviewer. He gave a brief history of what he knew about the manufactirer, which I think was informative, as well as a description of the physical nature of the amplifier. He also spoke to what he felt might be potential drawbacks with the amplifier. If you want more, ask him. :)

Rgcards: My history with Sean is quite well publicized here. Sean has a history of tageting me and got spanked for it in the past. It is unproductive and abusive. He talks about a "conspiricy theory" and the only "conspiricy" is Sean conspiring against me. He needs to get a life... really Sean, "Get a Life!"

Sean asserts that the amplifier has a sound that he can tell us about based on "design parameters" and "quality of parts used" without his ever hearing. This is absurd. To allege that he has that ability is a complete lie. He knows nothing about what "quality parts" are in the amplifier and to mislead users that he has this talent that no one else in the world has is a joke.

Sean also suggests that Hooper was hiding something and questions his credibility just to take a dig at me. This is childish and insulting. To suggest that I setup this review is ridiculous and that someone like Hooper would participate in such a sham is irresponsible.

You say you recognized C_s's status right away, but having possibly more experience here than you do, the moniker does not always mean anything. For example one might think that Fbhifi or Simplicitymusic are affiliated because of their names, but they are not. I do not know that he has ever disclosed his status here and he never has anything positive to say about anything.

Also, I do not restrict my posts to my equipment 90% of the time. I just browsed through my responses to threads and you are exagerating a great deal. Please take a look.

Do not get me wrong, I appreciate your input and always like to be reminded if I am out of line, I just do not see it here.
Oh no, the man wants two Dove bars. And you should have asked about the ice cream sooner as I was just at the Ben & Jerry's factory last week. All I can do now is promise you the goods if and when you ever make a visit to Minneapolis.

What I really was after was what your feelings were when you ultimately made the decision to pass on the Tenors for the big D. Recently I went way way beyond my financial means with a pair of CAT JL-3 signature amps. After hearing the JL-2 vs a pair of Atmasphere MA1 amps, both products were so very impressive. And yet, neither was what I would call the "best". They both did music incredibly well. It was just that they each had some strengths the other did not. What I wanted was an amp that did what both of them did. There was a tradeoff between an awesome warmth (MA1s) and a more neutral presentation (JL-2). And then there was that smoothness (MA1) vs. the resolution, dynamic contrasts and attack of the JL-2. Man oh man, I wanted it all. And the MA1s were brand new with new tubes. I can only imagine what more they would have done in a few more weeks. And with me being a warmth/bloom fanatic for years and years, the CAT's dynamics was something I could not get out of my mind. But neither amp was the absolute winner. It simply came down to which set of strengths won me over the most. But I could be so very happy with either for a long long time provided I did not run into compatibility issues with a future speaker change.

So it was a comparison along these lines that I was hoping to get from you. You had an opportunity like very few of us ever get to compare two such highly praised amplifiers.

And JTinn, I was not directing any anxieties your way. I simply thought the dealer identification idea was a good one. I have talked to you a few times over the phone and each time you have been very polite and professional.

Jtinn: I have publicly described how a product will sound and / or respond based on electrical measurements that i've seen. On more than one occassion, folks that have owned or used these products have confirmed those comments at the time of posting. Others have come to agree with them after familiarizing themselves with the product over a longer period of time. There is no magic involved, it is strictly a matter of applying science and logical deductions to the specifications gathered through standard testing procedures. This is also why i've repeatedly stated that specifications can tell us what a product sounds like, IF the spec's were accurately obtained and there are enough of them to formulate a theory on.

Other than that, i've only ever chastised you about your lack of disclosure about your being in the retail audio business and promoting some specific industry affiliated products. Nothing more, nothing less. Most of this took place several years ago when you first got in the business, but failed to publicly acknowledge that your avocation had changed. If you see it as anything more than that, you are delusional.

I couldn't care less about who you are or what you sell. I only want those that read posts submitted by those working within the industry to know that the opinions expressed within those posts may have specific motives for saying what they do. From there, an intelligent consumer can sort things out for themselves. If a person, regardless of their affiliations, consistently submits quality material that is both helpful and non-manufacturer specific to these or other forums, nothing that i could say or do could impugn their reputation amongst the intelligent group of consumers that frequent such forums. Sean
You are right , you do comment on a lot of different products, and are generally ver fair. I apologize.

Just like Marlan Brando in "The Godfather," I grant you this information now, but one day I might call on you for a favor. Don't worry; it'll be small--a pint of Guiness if I ever make it to the Minneapolis area. :)

The original intent was to pair the Tenor 300s with my Kharma Midi-Exquisites. That pairing didn't turn out very well; I got swayed by all the hype and bought the Kharmas sight unseen. Big mistake. The Kharmas were absolutely lifeless and undynamic. The 300W of the Tenors did something to jumpstart them, but not nearly what I expected. At the time, I thought the problem was the amp--and the Tenors had been acting up (blown tubes, bad balanced output, etc.)--so I got a pair of DartZeels in for audition. When I hooked them up to the Midis, the result was much the same as with the Tenors: some dynamics, but largely lifeless.

It was then that I suspected that the problem was not the amp, but the speaker. To confirm this, I pulled out my Von Schweikert VR-4 HSEs, which were doing duty in a two-channel home theatre system. BAM! With either amp, the speaker literally exploded to life. I saw the Kharma sweating in the corner; it knew its days were numbered. Now that I had a suitable speaker to judge the amps with, I was on my way. Over several days of comparing, I came to a few general conclusions: (a) The DarTZeel was every bit the match dynamically for the Tenors, despite a 200W disadvantage. And I thougt those dynamics flowed effortlessly. (b) The DarTZeel had a smoother, more natural presentation, without glossing over any low-level detail. (c) Speaking of detail, the DarTZeel clearly revealed more information, doing it absolutely effortlessly. The transparency of this thing is amazing. (d) Reliability. Here's where the DarT pulls away. The NHB-108 is handbuilt to ridiculously high standards. (That said, one amp had a loose fuse rolling around inside--a refugee from the construction process--but seeing that it wasn't doing any harm, I left it in rather than ship the whole amp back to Switzerland.)

The Tenor isn't shabbily constructed either--it's actually rather beautiful--but the DarTZeel is built like it could withstand a direct hit from a Scud missle. To say that it's built like a fine Swiss watch would be an understatement. The attention to detail throughout is staggering.

I hope this answers most, if not all, of your questions. BTW, those JL-3s of yours are sweet amps. I heard them in New York a couple of years ago. Definitely worth a little fiduciary recklessness!
Hooper: Wow, now that was what I was looking for! The details on your system changes, and their sonic results, put everything so well into perspective. Thank you much.

Oh yes, I love the JL-3s. I have read the highest praise on the CAT amps for many years but could not get a chance to hear them. When an audio dealer in Chicago, Brian of EssentialAudio, posted here that he had some experience with the CAT, and would give further details to people that would contact him, I just had to write him. He offered to let me visit and not only hear the CAT, but also the Atmaspheres which he liked very much and with Soundlab U1s. How could I resist such an offer.

Brian has one heck of an audio system and the sound was like few other systems I have heard; the capabilities of the CAT and Atma amps could easily be heard. But unlike your case, here it was a case of "pick the amp with the strengths you like the most". Neither product walked away with the checkered flag in an absolute sense.

I had 2 weeks to get my funds in order before I was to make the final choice. I also wanted to hear other speakers, mainly the Avalons, that I felt would be a good fit for me based on what I have read here. But I was 90% sure I would go for a new pair of Maple Soundlab A1s and the demo model JL-2 that I heard. I had just enough money to get this combination. But I wanted mono amps so much and yet the JL-2 just won me over with the dynamic contrasts and attack at the start of each note. It was a new experience for me to hear this. My older Wolcotts and Magnepan 3.5s were musical, but not even close to this level.

During this time, I was in contact with a man selling a pair of JL-3 Sig amps and he of course was prasing these as well. And just when my money was available, he emailed me again letting me know he still had the JL-3s if I still had not made my decision; he would wrap them up and ship them to me for Christmas! I politely replied that his amps were out of my price range and let him know what I would be willing to pay for my ultimate amp upgrade. Of course this would also tear into the speakers (A1s or Eidolons or anything else) fund. But if an ultimate amp deal came along, I'd be willing to forego a speaker upgrade for the short term. It was the amp upgrade that I had been seeking in the first place.....and the desire to finally hear the CAT which got the ball rolling.

A couple days later I got an email that the JL-3s were mine, at my max amp price if I truly wanted them. He came way down and I had no option but to go for this. Wow, that rarely happens! And no Dove bars as part of the transaction. I was a happy camper. But I was also a pennyless camper.

That was the end of the new Maple A1s I had wanted so much, and even the possibility of a good deal on used Avalon Eidolons. But I did manage to find an older pair of A1s at a steal of a deal because the seller wanted to scale back from owning these huge behemoths. He too sweetened the deal as he wanted so much to let them go and was having no luck to sell them. And he had put much money into them a year before with many updates from the factory.

Today I have sound like I never could have dreamed of. Surely the newer generations of Soundlabs have several refinements and when the time comes, I will get back with Brian and go for these, but for now, I am very content with how this all worked out.

Of course I have a little curiosity on the sound of the DarTZeel vs. the CATs, but I will not go down this path at this time. There are other links that now need attention.

Thanks again for your detailed updates.

Jafox: John, great experience. I have always been a fan of Ken Steven's amplifiers and preamplifiers. He over builds everything he sells and there is a lot to say about that. My only complaint with Ken is if you get him on the phone, plan on being on for hours. He loves to talk :)
John and Hooper,it is a pleasure to read such interesting and thought provoking posts from audio-buffs that are obviously aware of the "GOOD SOUND DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THE LATEST COLOR PICTURE IN A MAGAZINE" attitude.I'm sure your set-ups are world class,because you,both,seem to "Get IT",which is,that you seem to be looking for a quality sound,that you "like",as opposed to the type of sound being "Pitched"/"Shilled"by importers and dealers,who are really bent on making as much income as possible.I'm amazed at how much really pricey stuff just flat out disappoints in the "REALISM vs IMPRESSIVE" category.It takes an experienced hobbyist,with the kind of ears you two must have to "Wait out" and purchase equipment that is "Right" for you.

When you have such an intelligent approach to this "Carefully marketed" hobby,you get great sound,and save money,in the long run,by buying stuff that stands up long down the road!!

I love tons of todays products,but have heard mega-tons of set-ups(from experienced friends)that easily stay on par with today's best."KNOWLEDGE" is a wonderful thing.Sadly I do remember hearing and loving the Dartzeel amp at HE 2002,where I was offered the amp for about 7 or 8 grand.Inflation and the currency fluctuations of today stink,but the amp remains fabs!!

As an afterthought,I wonder how the Dartzeel would stack up against the Rowland 8 and 9 series amps(with the updated switch mode power supply,as opposed to the battery supplies of that era).Anyone who went for the second chasis on those amps could have the newer power supply done.This was,and is,a great amp(ran cool too).Also sweet and detailed.

Thanks for the very nice compliment. I wish I could say I got it right the first time, but it's taken me many years (and many dollars) to decide on what kind of sound I liked and what components would best deliver that sound. Having a great, trustworthy dealer is a big advantage. I agree that a lot of today's most expensive gear ultimately disappoints. Marketing has a huge influence. In addition, audiophiles, by nature, are attracted to the biggest and best, which often means the most expensive. Manufacturers know this, and slap ridiculous pricetags on gear that's clearly not worth it, fully knowing that price and "exclusivity" will attract enough buyers. Usually they're right. I'm not sure how the DarTZeel compares with the Rowland 8 or 9. I've never owned Rowland gear, but I've heard very good things about their stuff. Good luck with your system!
Hooper, didn't you hear the Kharmas at Frank P's house before you went ahead and bought the Midi-Exquisites sight unseen? And the Kharmas (at least the ones I've heard) are absolutely NOT lifeless and undynamic, but perhaps only to YOUR tastes and YOUR type of music (which is rock?). I listen mostly to jazz (mostly small group) and a bit of classical, and to me, it is the Kharma's reproduction of vocals and instrumental colours that brings life to the recorded music. To me, for most jazz and classical music, dynamics comes from the ability to play on time, the ability to play the accents, and more about the ability to play quiet rather than the ability to play loud. Ie. dynamics come more from the musician and the recording in many ways. I know there are many Kharma owners who listen rock music and I don't want to step on their toes, but I guess if that's the music that you mostly listen to, I can see why the Kharmas might not offer the best combination of sonic attributes here.

I agree with you that the Tenors are not built to withstand a direct hit from anything. No tube amps really are. My local Sonus Faber dealer had their Amati accidentally dented by someone with steel-toe boots. I didn't mean to be critical of your thoughts Hooper. I'm very happy that your recent changes has brought you further happiness. I can only wish I had the financial freedom to try more things out. But sharing a great, trustworthy dealer, if I had some money to play with, I too would have no worries.

Midi Exquisites can rock, you just need to run them with the right amplifiers. My friend Bob played Creed and Bowie and Elvis Costello with absolute clarity and impressive drive at 110dB at the seating position. The lack of distortion in the system is phenomenal and I could see how that speakers lack of strain and distortion could make it seem flat or undynamic sounding. Its disconcerting when a speaker is such a faithful transducer like the Midi.

Adding a sub made Bob's Midi's capable of 110dB+ playback at the seating position without strain or compression. Only the Meyer X-10 could exceed the Kharma/ATC sub combo in the impact and dynamics. They passed the Megadeth test with flying colors. Something many, many, many speakers cannot do. Its rare a speaker with such a refined pedigree can get nasty without losing its composure.

In the end I was very surprised at Hooper's comments too. I don't think the amplifiers he tried were up to the task. I know the Dartzeels have too little power to be effective, but I'm surprised the Tenors with 600 watts couldn't wrench some heartbeat out of the Midi's. But if they are mellow then the Midi's may never have seemed loud?
I must chime in here as I was the one to corner Hooper for further details as to why he made the changes that he did. Hooper's reply was exactly what I requested: an honest response to his experiences in HIS system with what HE prefered. There were no claims nor generalizations outside of this. They were reported here to be lifeless compared to the VS, at least in the context of rock music, and I accept that. We got one person's honest observations and conclusions rather than a write-up on what others would have epxected/liked to hear.

As for 600w not being enough to get the midis to perform as expected, well, maybe it's not an issue of power at all. With my experience with CAT amps, I have learned how misleading power ratings can be to drive speakers.

There's only so much that each of us can try. And after many experiements, Hooper is as happy with his amp/speaker pair as I am. We both have dynamic systems like neither of us had before, and we did it with completely different implementations.

i must disagree with my friend Hooper (and particularly Cinematic Systems). i currently have the Kharma Midi Exquisites in my room and am listening with a single DarTZeel NHB-108. my room is pretty large (21' x 29' x 11') and at first i did feel that the Dart did not have quite enough 'grunt' to really rock in my room......but as it has broken in it has continued to get it's legs, open up, and gain grip. in the last week the bass dynamics have really kicked in and there doesn't seem to be any lack of dynamics.

my context of dynamic amps include a few heavyweights, Levinson #33, Halcro DM58 and numerous others.

the Midi Exqusites don't plumb the depths of deep bass below 30hz in my room (but that is a speaker/room issue).....but there is no straining or any dynamic limitations i can perceive.......i have pushed this combo pretty hard but have yet to hear any hardness or clipping.

the Dart seems to be an excellent real world amp and is plenty of amp for the Midi Exquisites.
Hello Mike,

So the Dart is equal to the Halcro and Levinson on the Midi Exquisites dynamically? How about the Tenors?

Why does your room suck out the frequencies below 30hz? You should be getting into room gain areas there. Did they over-damp your room at those frequencies?

Jafox---in Hooper's expansion to your request he made some statements that Howie and I thought were surprising. You see this still has a great deal to do with how the Dartzeel sounds in the end. And as you can see Mike Lavigne disagrees with Hooper and myself. And since Mike has Midi Exquisites he would know, although the lack of bass is something I suspected would be a problem do to the modest power ratings on the Dartzeel still.

Your CAT amplifiers are like the Levinson 100 watt No. 20 mono's. 100 watt amplifiers that can weld. According to Dartzeel this amplifier does not possess a power supply capable of extraordinary current, rated at a paltry 160 watts it is not a high current amplifier which is how it likely gets its unique sound.

The fact that one speaker sounds "lifeless" and suddenly another one comes to life has a lot to do with the amplifiers in my experience. The amplifier is the motor in the speaker amp circuit system.

Despite my reserving my "system" to my budget bedroom DIY system, my ATC/Meridian system gives little if anything away on performance to any of these systems listed. So I am interested in the performance of these components. I am also completely shocked at how the Tenors and Kharmas have not been able to withstand the onslaught of VonSchweikert? and Dartzeel? It is an option of mine to become a VSR dealer, so I am very interested in this thread in many facets. VR4 HSE more dynamic than a Kharma MIDI Exquisite, better suited to judge the amplifiers he was comparing? Ouchie, on the Kharma's? or the Dartzeel and Tenor? Bad amps?, bad speakers?

How good can the Kharma's and Tenor's be in the first place if they can just be replaced universally one after another despite the presence of persoanl taste or subjectivity?
Cinematic_Systems: Mike's room does not "suck out" frequencies below 30Hz. His room has too much volume for the speakers to properly pressurize at those frequencies.

I have tried CAT JL-1 LE's on the Kharma Midi's as well as other high current, high power tube and solid-state amplifiers. In all cases the Midi-Exquisites, while doing a good job micro-dynamically do not excel in the area of macro-dynamics. They are a speaker designed for a small to medium-small room, and are not meant to play the way you describe. There is no speaker in the Kharma line that can compare in that area to the Von Schweikert speakers. This is the main reason I have switched to the VSA line. They do everything well.

I also believe you might be exaggerating when you say you were playing the Midi's "with absolute clarity and impressive drive at 110dB". The type of music you speak of, by nature, is dynamically compressed and the temptation is to keep playing it louder until you feel like there is more dynamics which, of course, there is not.

Since I have heard most of the ATC's as well as Meridian equipment, I would say that either you have a pretty bad ear or you sell those products, which you have not disclosed. The system you speak of has none of the transparency, soundstaging, clarity or tonality that the Kharma speakers are famous for. The ATC's do indeed better the Kharma's in macro-dynamics. Since you have never heard the Von Schweikert VR9SE's, you are not in a position to judge.

You anwered your own question. Those who have owned the Kharma/Tenor combination and now own the Von Schweikert/darTZeel combo, through their "subjectivity" and "personal taste", came to the conclusion that the latter bettered their previous system. It has nothing to do with how good the Kharma/Tenor combination is "in the first place". It is certainly one of the finest combinations I have ever heard and outside of the VSA/darTZeel combo, I have not heard better. This is also not to say that the combination of the VSA and Tenor amplifiers or the Kharma and darTZeel amplifier is not outstanding.
I'd be surprised--no, astonished--if Mike meant that the Dartzeel has the sonic slam overall of the big amps. I think what he means is that on the Kharmas, the little Dartzeel packs enough current to make it come alive, though I myself think two would be better.
But high power doesn't necessarily mean an amp is superior--some believe, correctly or not, that it's about getting the first watt right, etc. etc. That seems to be the camp that the Dartzeel falls into. Once again, it's all about taste and predilection.
Though about the quality of Mike's room I believe there can be no dispute.
Wow! A lot has gone on since I last posted. First off, when I said that the Midi Exquisites were lifeless, the implication was that I meant IN MY ROOM and IN MY EXPERIENCE. Everyone has different experiences. I listen to primarily rock, and IMHO a Kharma isn't meant for that kind of music. It took me many thousands of dollars to find that out. It can handle it--on certain recordings very well--but I don't think it was designed or voiced with that type of music in mind. I shouldn't have used the term "lifeless," as it's not totally accurate. The speaker has very good dynamics in general--but not when compared to the VR-9. Mike L. will discover that for himself when he gets his 9s sometime soon. By the way, these comments refer to the Midi when driven by the Tenor 300s, a pretty muscular amp. Despite the horsepower, I didn't feel I was getting really visceral dynamics. It was too polite, in my estimation--and that just wouldn't work for the type of music I listen to. The DarTZeel really didn't fare any better, and that's when I fully realized that the problem wasn't the amps or the room, but the speaker. The Von Schweikerts have addressed every shortcoming of the Kharma, and then some. I want to reiterate: This is MY experience in MY room, and it's MY opinion. Kharma makes great, beautiful speakers, but they weren't the right match for me. I found something that worked better. Period. And the DarTZeel is a natural match for the higher-end VRs, since those speakers have very high efficiency (the VR-9 is 96dB). Believe me, I've pushed my combo hard, on some demanding material, and the Darts barely break a sweat now. The DarTZeels and VR-9s sound like they were made to work together. I didn't get that same feeling of synergy with the Kharmas. Diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks, I guess.
It seems to me it comes down to personal preference. I never succumbed to the Kharmas because, for me, they lacked the "jump" factor. The von Schweikert, Jrs., which I heard next to the Kharma midis in NY, had it. I was impressed. But: it's certainly possible that the Kharmas are more refined; that may be the tradeoff, though not having heard the upper-echelon von Schweikerts, I don't know whether that's the case or not.
Well then I guess we have a disparity of experiences;

Hooper a composite of equipment owners opinion makes anything you say as valid and important as anyone's and requires no qualification except that's how you felt, and the more we know about your decisions and room and equipment the more we can relate what you say to our own preferences. If you feel we had a semantic disconnect then Its important to clarify and get a composite of others experiences. Your opinion matters as does ML's etc. We now are getting a better picture.

The Kharma's do not have the jump factor because they do not distort the leading edge and it is insult and fabrication to say that a Midi exquisite cannot handle a lowly 110dB , Gladstone had his jazz going at 104-105dB average at 15 feet...that's 5M...113.8dB @ 1M! and if you didn't measure it you wouldn't have known it was that loud. Adding a subwoofer to the Midi Exquisites will allow them to play even louder and give them the same dynamic capability as the VR9's. The only difference between the VR9's and the Kharma's is the subwoofer, which greatly increases the VSR's output capability as it would the Kharma.