Review: Tube Audio Design Hibachi Monoblocks TAD 125 Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

I wish to first say that I have no financial, personal or other connection with Tube Audio Design. I was looking for a DAC and saw these monoblocks offered up for $500 plus 45$ shipping; so I said "what the heck, I should try them". I put them on the described system in my exercise room. I absolutely feel compelled to write this review after about 5 hours of listening!

My musical tastes are Jazz (75%), New Age (5%), Classical (15%), and R & B (5%). The sonic virtues I value most are imaging, clarity, and other auditory cues that tell your brain that you are listening to real music. Space and depth along with accurate tone colors are very important in making these things happen. I like detail - within the context of something that sounds like real music. A huge turn-off is the faux digital/solid state hyperetched detail that is harsh - even if only intermittiently - that is presented in a dry, overly analytical manner.

The monblocks replaced a modified Accurus 250 wpc amp that had some power supply mods as well as Bybee filters installed on the power supply and lines. This was a relatively cheap but nice performing amplifier that punches above its price point. Well how about the sound of the TAD 125's ? This is where the fun starts.

Throughout my audiophile career that spans multiple decades beginning as I was leaving high school, I have always coveted audio equipment that gave a huge bang for the buck. I have NO interest in "cost is not a consideration" equipment. Even now that I can afford to buy pretty much what I want I refuse to do so. I guess it is all relative though because I have about 25K or so in my reference system counting the equipment, modifications, and tweaks. Well, back to the TAD-125 monoblock amplifiers.

I have now listend 5 to 6 hours since installing them. The Spicas had not been played for about 8 or 9 months. So, the immediate sound was a little uninteresting and not real dynamic. However, after a few hours of playing some Ellis Marsalis/Irvin Mayfield and one of my digital compilation discs, the sound opened up. It was officially ON. The sound is fast and agile, dynamic and punchy, as well as fairly detailed with slightly rounded leading note edges. There is nice instrument separation and tone colors are vivid and, to my ears, accurate. Forget about the price of these monoblocks when listening to them and just trust your ears. The Spicas have never sounded better - even when I drove them with a highly regarded Music Reference tube amplifier they did not sound better.

I am not blathering on that these are perfect cause they are not. They have plenty of detail but may not be the last word in detail. And, for sure, those who have grown accustomed to the digital/solid state hyper-etched distortion that passes as phony detail will not like these amps. The detail continues to incrementally increase and, within the context of something that sounds like real music, the detail is fine. The Spicas don't go real low and are also rolled off at the upper frequencies so they may not be the best test for these amps; however, I will say that in all my years of driving them with a variety of amplifiers, some very highly regarded, the Spicas have never sounded better. Very surpisingly, the low end is taut and satisfying; most solid state amps make the Spicas sound thin and without a solid, low end foundation under the music. When my new Emerald Physic CS 3's come in perhaps that will allow for a better assessment of their upper frequency response as well as of their low end performance. Finally, if you like spending lots of money of gear you will likely avoid these amplifiers cause they don't cost a lot - even when they are not on sale.

I am sure as they break in I will have further thoughts about their performance. I may not be able to stand it if they get any better. I LOVE finding budget equipment that sounds GREAT. These monblocks join the old Parasound solid state preamp that I paid less than 200 dollars for years ago as two of the best sounding, low-cost pieces of equipment that I have ever owned. The Hibachi TAD-125 monblocks are no-brainers. They do as good a job as splitting the difference between solid state and tubes as anything I have heard. I don't think they have a "golden tube glow" at all but they have that distinctly tube amp smoothing/rounding of the note edges with all of the snap, vitality, and speed of solid state. I can see how some might call them tube-like; this is not an inaccurate characterization but not the one I think best represents what they do.

These are excellent amplifiers that are "insanely good" for the money. At multiples of the price I paid for them they would still be excellent amplifiers. I don't know how long the sale on these amplifiers is going on, however, if you are looking for high quality amplification that gives you the best of solid state and tubes, these amplfiers just might be the ones for you. I am not suggesting that five hundred bucks is not real money because it is. Yet, I know of nowhere on the planet where you can get this type of amplification for so little money. You can bet though that someone replying to this thread will tell me where I can find it, lol........

Associated gear
VH 4 powercords, LAT international interconnects (top of line), Dakiom line level stabliziers (coming out of back of CD player), Cambridge 640 C CD player, Tritium line-level tripphazer, EAR 834L tube preamplifier, and Translucent Audio 8 foot speaker cable (company now defunct)

Similar products
Accurus, Arcam, Music Reference, Coda, Audio Van Alstine amplifiers.
Hey Jaymark,

Nice review. I love to find budget gear that gives high bang-for-the-buck like that. But you have to remember that your Ear tube linestage is also coloring the sound a bit, reducing ultimate detail and probably making the Hibachi's sound a little warmer and smoother than they otherwise would.

I will add that another great bang-for-the-buck amp in that price range is the Wyred 4 Sound ST-250. It's very detailed, very quiet, and above all it makes music happen.

Happy Listening!
Plato, I hear you. I had the lower powered Wyred 4 Sound 125 wpc amplifier and it sound very silky smooth, clean and clear with nice extension across the frequency spectrum. However, they are definitely leaner sounding than the TAD-125 and are not as dynamic - but are they ever so smooth........I do agree that they are a very nice bang for the buck amplifier.

The EAR pre-amp when paired with some other nice amps did not leave me with the level of sound I currently have.
Hi Jaymark,

I found the W4S ST-250 to be very dynamic in my system (as dynamic as any amps I've tried). I think you may be reacting to a couple of different factors. One aspect is that the Hibachis may have a bit of extra warmth or plump in the mid-to-upper bass, which works well with the Spica's, and the other is that you may have found a synergistic pairing with the Hibachis and the EAR 834L preamp. System synergy is what it's all about and we are lucky when we find it.

Frank :)
I had great success using the Hibachis with Europa Monitors (by Green Mountain Audio). The Europas have great bass, imaging, very fast and revealing and they worked great with the Hibachis. It took awhile to get the right combination but I'm very happy with the reults
Hello Frank - you very well may be right. I agree with the often overlooked synergism factor - some equipment just mates a lot better with one piece than another. The Wyred 4 S amp I had was lower powered and, in the same system, was not as dynamic as the Hibachi Monoblocks. It was a very fine sound though. Another possibility is that the Hibachi monoblocks may simply be more dynamic than the W4S amps.

I still though believe that a significant number of listeners would be very, very pleased with the Hibachi Monoblock amp.
Thanks for the review. Sounds like you really like these! One concern I would have is your comment that they "have that distinctly tube amp smoothing/rounding of the note edges." No better quality tube amp I have heard has this characteristic (with the exception of the reproduction of the lowest octave.) A well-designed tube amp will show great dynamics and a delicacy with vocals and instrument reproduction that can be very difficult for solid-state amps to match. Encountering a transient/dynamic recovery issue or detail loss/smoothing that would mimic a more colored tube amp would be a bit disappointing for this sort of high fidelity amplifier... for me, at least.
Oranda - my comment that caught your attention is in relation to the hyperetched, razor-like presentation of some solid state amps. The Hibachi monoblocks avoid this; in an absolute sense there is no rounding off of the sound. In the relative sense, compared to many solid state designs, my statement is correct. The musical presentation of these amps is quite fine indeed. And for the money, the presenation is "stupid good"....
Which Audio Van Alstin amps did you have? What did you think of it?
Vett93 - I have the Fet-valve 250 wpc hybrid amplifier; it is about 14 years old. It has been significantly modded and has bybees installed. It was a fine amplifier in stock form. Modded it is a killer amp.
Cool! I have a Counterpoint/AltaVista NP100 hybrid amp for my main system that has 7 Bybees inside! I bought a pair of Hibachi monos too and have been used it in my 2nd system. It is a fine amp indeed.

Paul@TAD was right when he said that it needs a good harmonic rich tube preamp. My 2nd system has a BAT VK-3iX reamp. They have great synergy together. When I put Hibachi monos in my main system, it sounds a bit thin with the Dude tube preamp. With the 6SN7 tubes inside the Dude preamp, they sound a bit thin to my ears. Maybe the speakers have something to do with it also....
I enjoyed your review. When it was posted I had already ordered a pair. They arrived today and so far, so good. Nicely finished in black lacquer and the sound is well balanced through all the frequencies. I will spend some more time with them tonight. Your description matches my perceptions, so far. By the way, they are on sale for $545/pair until the end of the month. I wonder if Paul is working on a new version. For $545, they are a steal! They may replace my Bel Canto M300s which were $1995/pair.
I have replaced my Bel Canto M300s with the Hibachi amps. I don't miss the BCs at all. The bass is detailed and full but quick and tight. The highs are articulate without any harshness or fatigue. The mids are the same as the BCs, life-like and sweet. I highly recommend these amps.
I am interested in matching the Doge 8 preamp with TAD Hibachi Monos. I've already placed the order with Paul, but have a quick question. Have any of you guys used the XLR version of the Hibachi amp? The Doge has a balanced circuit with XLR outputs, and Paul is waiting to hear from me whether I want to upgrade to the XLR version. I was hoping to hear if any of you guys had experience with the XLR version, as opposed to the single ended version, or had any thoughts as to which would be better. Thanks in advance for any input.
Hi all,
I picked up 3 of theses mono blocks by pure chance. I'm doing a two channel with a center. (still in the box) I'm also a newbie when it comes to this higher end stuff. I have an opportunity to pick up a Mac. C220 pre amp.
On Paul's advice I'm looking for a tube Pre. Speakers are Klipsh K-Horns LR and a LaScala center. My ? is will I be happy with the C220 or is there some thine else I could look for to match up with these mono blocks?
I picked up a pair of these last week and got them hooked up last night into my family room 2 channel a/v system and got a little initial listening in.

So far, my impressions are consistent with Jaymark and these seem to represent a fabulous value.

I am using these now with my old Carver pre-amp that had been sitting in storage. I am running a pair of Triangle Titus monitors along with an older M&K sub. Also, a big reason I was interested in these was to get better performance out of my highly inefficient Stax sr-80 headphones.

Mission accomplished! What I'm hearing is very consistent with what I was expecting based on other users reviews and comments. Very nice!

Need to listen some more and then can offer up more feedback perhaps.....
after some initial time listening to the tads i can say without doubt these amps can really sort through and deliver the music and represent a steal for their going price.

everything i throw at them sounds very "musical". There is a natural ease to the sound of these amps.

the only exception so far is an mp3 download of "ravers in the uk" by manion, a loud recording played at higher spl resulted in some audible strain . the amp got a tad warm during this, but i suspect that the reason was more that this was just too much for the little triangle monitors more so than the amp running out of steam.

also my stax headphones have never sounded better! My audio unaware wife even commented how lush they sounded when I forced her to listen.

The vibrance in the midrange reminds me of a very fine and expensive Solos/Boulder/Avalon system I heard once, tight and clean like SS but with a vibrancy that one might tend to associate more with tubes.

very impressive and a fantastic bargain no doubt!
I own a pair too.

Don't know how, don't know why...but they do sound extremely good for any price. They easily replaced a pair of 400watt Xindak mono-blocks in my system driving my Dynaudio nearly 1/4th the price.
I don't use the term lightly. In fact, I don't recall ever using the term... as most of us are far too aware that while initial impressions may bring about such a strong emotional reaction, given time products tend to tip off the exalted alter.

These TAD Hibachi monos (which I purchased new for a VERY cheap price) are still dishing out major portions of fun and satisfaction.

I (as most of you) have tried many different expensive, "highly rated" amps over the years. Of all these amps, only two were what I considered "winners" over the long haul. A set of "Don Allen" 45 monos (2wpc) and these stupidly inexpensive TAD Hibachi monos.

I suppose if I weren't already semi-retired, I'd certainly be fired for never showing up to work as I'd be "stuck" in the listening chair enthralled with the MUSIC!

How a solid state amp (especially monos priced at 1/6th of what I've dished out for an interconnect cable in the past) can dish out so much "rightness," I don't know.

Tonally, it's on the warm side. Sounds a bit like an older Conrad Johnson tube amp I had, except MUCH clearer, "faster," and more accurate.

As a few others have commented, perhaps there may be a small amount of detail missing, however I could still hear all the glass "clinks," coughs, etc. on live recordings, fingers on the strings, sound of lips parting just before a singer begins, etc. I'm sure all of us have had amplifiers which amazed us with the detail - at first - then ended up like many others before, irritating us with the hyped detail. As we know, it's a VERY thin line amps, sources, speakers, etc. must walk. And it's that "line" in which the Hibachi's walk so well.

There comes a time in many of our "audiophile journeys" where we end up with VERY expensive gear, only to be "let down" as they didn't, perhaps, provide the joy in which we were sure they would. My journey has brought me full circle back to "real components" (relatively affordable).

If you're in the market (or even if your NOT in the market) for an amplifier, you should try these. The price is so insignificant in relation to what you get that it's almost embarrassing. Heck, at this price present these (instead of an apple pie) to those neighbors who've just moved in. These are WINNERS. KEEPERS for sure!

All of the above gushing, and I'm in NO WAY affiliated with the company nor Paul himself (whom I've never even met).
Based on all the positive review I bought a pair of the Hibachi monoblocks
Few weeks ago and paired it with a mingda mc7 with response audio mods and really sounds so good compare to the primaluna amp I was using to drive a pair of Felton speakers.Eventhough my speakers are 96db eff. I always felt I am missing something until I hooked the Hibachi and Voila now I discovered the sound I was looking for in my small listening room
having these for several years now with 0 problems as i posted before,i am still very happy with tad 125s.I am glad other audiogoners have discovered these, hard to beat for the money,great sound,no worries.I know there are better amps out there but in these times,grab a pair and do not look back.I have tubes,soid state,and now these.I run them with a JM peach through modified Chorus 2's and 1's and have no desire to upgrade.The chorus 2's are run by primaluna dialogue 2,the 1's are run by the hibachi monos,stacked with the chours 2's turn upside down,,great sound for not alot of version of big bose cubes.:)......cheers
I am also the original owner of a pair of the Hibachi monos. Some time ago I posted my impressions in another thread but want to chime in here since I just purchased an upgraded pair of Hibachi H2SE (special edition) directly from Paul. I now own four of these amps (2 pairs of mono blocks). Funny how good gear seems to accumulate that way. I will never sell these amps. I continue to use the original H2 with attenuator builtin and extra RCA output and it sounds wonderful on a variety of speakers. They are easy to setup, never get hot, are bulletproof (never any issues), have adequate power for less eff speakers (Paul recommends higher efficiency for best sound), and reasonably high input impedance that mates well with the output imp of most tube preamps. I have used several and all sounded great. The sound is exactly as has been described. A true find and sometimes offered at bargain pricing--I know, I was lucky enough to pick up the SE on just such a special. Many thanks to Paul for building these. I encourage him to continue to offer these amps to the audiophile since they are unique in my experience.

Tip to current owners: be sure to replace the stock fuse with something like the HiFi Tuning Supremes, these fuses synergize with the amp very well indeed.
What are the differences between Hibachi H2 and H2SE? It looks that H2SE does not have volume control and has only one input. Any other differences?
I recently moved the TADs into my main system to sub for my Bel Canto ref1000m monoblock amps ($6000 retail), one of which was out for repair.

The OHM and Dynaudio speakers I run there are much harder to drive than the Triangles in my 2 channel a/v rig where the Hibachis normally run.

I did not know quite what to expect going in terms of the Hibachi's ability to drive these speakers in comparison to the BCs, but one reason I bought the Hibachi's was I thought they would serve as respectable backup amps in my main rig if ever needed.

I ran the Hibachi's in my main rig for about a month.


The Hibachis exceeded my expectations driving the OHMs and Dynaudios.

With the OHMs, the main drawback was due mainly to just to the power output of the Hibachi's (80w/ch into 8 ohm)compared to the BCs (500w/ch). THe Hibachis did not go as loud effortlessly as the much more powerful and expensive BCs, but practically, this was not much of an issue. They went loud enough and held together quite well doing it, just not to the same degree. I expected much less given the cost and power differential.

Bass was also somewhat fatter I suspect mainly due to significant difference in damping. Hibachi is made to perform more like a tube amp after all. BC ref1000m damping is very high and helps maintain vice like control on the larger OHM drivers. Hibachi had a different sound in this regard, still very musical and able to drive the larger OHMs with authority that was quite good. Sound was a bit more lively through the mids with the TADs. OVerall, I suspect most would be more than satisfied with the TADs driving the larger OHMs, especially for the price. With the smaller OHMs, there was some difference but less.

Surprisingly, at most volumes, I seemed to hear a bigger difference with the small but also not easy to drive Dynaudio monitors. THe TADs did not capture my attention with these to the same extent as the BCs, though they had no problem driving the Dyns in general. Imaging and soundstage was not as good though I suspect tweaking the speaker locations along with the amp change would have helped there, but I did not do that given that the Hibachis were only there temporarily.

SO in summary, the TADs did a better job than I expected driving several hard to drive speakers in my main rig. As a result I would not hesitate to recommend them as a very cost effective option for even hard to drive, less efficient speakers that normally might mate better with larger or more powerful SS amps rather than tube amps. FOr other more efficient, tube amp friendly speaker designs, the Hibachis, if you can still find a pair, are a no brainer as an option to an actual tube amp in my mind.
I thought the output of Hibachi is 180 watts into 8 ohms? Yours is only 80 watts?
Whoops, sorry about that. Yes, it's a standard Hibachi TTBOMK which specs at 180 w/ch into 8 ohm.

Having run various SS amps over the years in this rig from 80 watts on up to the 500w/ch BCs used currently, the performance I heard was pretty much in line with that advertised spec, I would say, and comparable also I would estimate with about an 80 watt/ch or so tube amp equivalent. On the grand scale of things, the Hibachis did extremely well and exceptionally well for what they cost me used, which was minimal.
I recently sold my set. I really enjoyed them, but they're a bit too large for me to keep around as a backup amp, and - for whatever reason - I get a kick out of tube rolling. If I had a bit more space, I don't think I'd have sold them. I'd bet they'd be the perfect summer amp for tube users.