Thoughts on 845 set monoblocks


Your preference and why.
seadogs1
I've heard most of the 845 amps on the market since the mid-90s. The very best I've heard are the Audion Black Shadow SET monoblocks. The Audion Elite is the same circuit in a three-chassis configuration that isolates the power supply to a third chassis. I ended up buying them, now seven years in. I haven't yet heard an 845 amp at any price that can equal or exceed their sound quality.

The Audion 845 amps benefit from a simple circuit: solid state rectification, one input tube, one driver tube and the 845 power tube. Internal components are premium quality, the audio wirepath is silver, transformers are Audion's own and are excellent. The only way in which I've heard another 845 amp better the Black Shadow is in noise. The Audion amps are not noisy in context of everything SET, but the also-excellent Sophia 845 is quieter -- probably the quietest 845SET amp I've heard. The Sophia amp is also the closest to the Audion in total sound quality. Now, keep in mind that the noise in the Black Shadows is only noticeable when music *isn't* playing. And if you listen to vinyl, source noise will completely overwhelm the amp noise in even the quietest of passages. But if you're open to SET, you're signing up for more noise than conventional push-pull tube or solid state gear anyway. Further, there are options for reducing the nominal noise of an Audion 845 amp to, by comparison, Sophia levels.

Why the Audion amps? They have the character of live, unamplified music: able to combine exceptional revelation of nuance with visceral dynamic punch. They have the tone density of flea power SET amp without their slowness and sunset glow. The Black Shadow, like all Audion amps, is uniquely "fast" and absent the dulling or rounding of transient events yet also completely absent any emphasis of the leading edge that comes with so many solid state or modern tube amps voiced to sound like solid state.

Spatial presentation is sacrificed to power, as often happens with gutsy push-pull amps. The unity of presentation and the amp's ability to keep simultaneous events and tones sorted is really remarkable, especially under crescendo conditions. Some other otherwise very good 845 amps blur complexity in music when power requirements surge. Not the Audions. Presentation stays intact throughout their dynamic range. The transparency into the character and truth of a recording is obvious but also so normal that you scarcely notice it until you take it away by substituting another amp. You get all this without damage to the basic hifi necessities of truthful octave-to-octave frequency balance and evenly distributed dynamic range. Voice tells the tale. You won't want any other 845, if you can afford these.

All that said, 845 amps in general are an excellent category to choose from, and price plays its role. But if sound quality alone drives you, I put Audion at the pinnacle of the pyramid, with Sophia a close next-best. Several Chinese makers are coming on strong. On any of these amps, the choice of 845 tube has a big effect on overall character. Most ship with the cheap and cheerful Sino 845A. It's fine but sounds a little chalky, white. It also gives all these amps less spatial realism than almost every amp is capable of. The 845B seriously improves things. Some people go further and recommend the Psvane 845T, which I haven't heard.

A polar graph of attributes would show the Audion to have the closest to a perfect circle of fidelity, Sophia close behind. Everything else gives up something, but can still sound sensational. These two front runners yield vivid yet delicate, punchy yet nuanced, toneful yet ascetic presentations as the music calls for, and bass will be among best you'll hear from a tube amp of any topology. There are push-pull 845 amps as well, but they won't match what these SET amps can do, albeit with less power.

Phil
Hi 213cobra,
That was an interesting summary.
Where does the Italian NFA(love the elegant looks) and the Dehavilland fit in this list? If I ever need(I don`t currently) more power the 845 SET is where I`d start.
Regards,
Above:

>>Spatial presentation is sacrificed to power, as often happens with gutsy push-pull amps.<<

Has an error. I meant to type:

Spatial presentation ISN'T sacrificed to power, as often happens with gutsy push-pull amps.

Phil
agree to what extent i can. haven't had the opportunity
to sample any other amps of same type side by side. i have
the audion 845 quattro, an older model, 4 boxes.attached to
dunleavy sc4a.my first reaction to them was that they were
like magneplanars with bass. you are right, they excel with voice ( and piano). i also have dared 845 amp in another place ( thru klipsch forte II) which give similar impression.
not likely that i will move them side by side. they are large beasts in different homes.845 replacements difficult/expensive to get.Chalky white for the shuguang 845s is good characterization but only in comparison and
not objectionable day to day.
What tubes have you tried with these amps. Have you heard the Viva amps and if yes how would you compare them.
First, compared to other tube amps, I consider 845 SET in general to be exceptional contenders for superb musicality on a wide variety of speakers. So my comparative comments in response to question are just that -- comparative.

In isolation a Dehavilland 845 is a fine amp. Compared to some of the better alternatives, it has a consistently dry, desiccated character that isn't poor, but it lacks tonal body in a relative sense. I wanted intensely to prefer the Dehavilland, being USA made, but it just couldn't transport me far enough to an experience of musical integrity -- with any tube. And to the extent it matters, her industrial design is pitiful. It wouldn't cost any more to make a more visually-pleasing amp.

The Viva particularly, and to an extent the also-Italian Mastersound, has a vintage "slow" voicing of old school tubes. Shindo-like, which isn't to me a good thing comparatively. It is a big, voluable, romantic sound, but missing the speed, quick rise time and dynamic splash of the Audion and Sophia. Pleasant and rounded but not nuanced and vivid in a lifelike fashion. I am describing differences of degree. The NFA is more open than the Viva, but still sweetly flavored by comparison. The Dared, I think no longer made, is a sleeper at a low price, especially if the input and driver tubes are replaced with better NOS options. Based on all the rest of their gear, I have high confidence in the Melody Valve Hifi 845 SET monoblocks.

I've heard the KR 845 in some of these amps, the Shuguang 845 A, B and C in most. Also vintage NOS RCA and United. I've avoided the low-plate dissipation Full Music 845s. Consistently, the B tube is the value point, and quite reliable. I have a pair going on 7 years that still test quite strong.

The Japan-sourced Tri (Triode Corp) also has old school voicing, but i am certain all of these amps can be further voiced for more realism by re-capping the power supplied. I recommend Bob Hovland for this kind of exploration.

Phil
First, compared to other tube amps, I consider 845 SET in general to be exceptional contenders for superb musicality on a wide variety of speakers. So my comparative comments in response to question are just that -- comparative.

In isolation a Dehavilland 845 is a fine amp. Compared to some of the better alternatives, it has a consistently dry, desiccated character that isn't poor, but it lacks tonal body in a relative sense. I wanted intensely to prefer the Dehavilland, being USA made, but it just couldn't transport me far enough to an experience of musical integrity -- with any tube. And to the extent it matters, her industrial design is pitiful. It wouldn't cost any more to make a more visually-pleasing amp.

The Viva particularly, and to an extent the also-Italian Mastersound, has a vintage "slow" voicing of old school tubes. Shindo-like, which isn't to me a good thing comparatively. It is a big, voluable, romantic sound, but missing the speed, quick rise time and dynamic splash of the Audion and Sophia. Pleasant and rounded but not nuanced and vivid in a lifelike fashion. I am describing differences of degree. The NFA is more open than the Viva, but still sweetly flavored by comparison. The Dared, I think no longer made, is a sleeper at a low price, especially if the input and driver tubes are replaced with better NOS options. Based on all the rest of their gear, I have high confidence in the Melody Valve Hifi 845 SET monoblocks.

I've heard the KR 845 in some of these amps, the Shuguang 845 A, B and C in most. Also vintage NOS RCA and United. I've avoided the low-plate dissipation Full Music 845s. Consistently, the B tube is the value point, and quite reliable. I have a pair going on 7 years that still test quite strong.

The Japan-sourced Tri (Triode Corp) also has old school voicing, but i am certain all of these amps can be further voiced for more realism by re-capping the power supplied. I recommend Bob Hovland for this kind of exploration.

Phil
Phil,
As always I find your impressions insightful and enjoyable to read(you`ve much exposure and experience). I wonder how much is system related at times.
I heard the Viva monoblock 845 paired with the Trenner-Friedl RA Box speaker(97db 2 way) and it was so very vivid,fast, ultra dynamic and 'live like'. Now I`ve not heard the Audion or the Sophia amps for comparison. If they exceed the Viva in this regard then my oh my!
Best Regards,
I haven't heard the Trenner speakers and I emphasize that my earlier descriptions are of differences of degree. The Viva amp sounds beautiful and it will impress someone who hasn't a lot of experience with 845 amps as being fast, vivid and dynamic, compared with the tube amps most tube amp listeners have available to them. However, I'll also say that I've heard most of these amps through Zu speakers, which are themselves fast, dynamic and vivid, *and crossoverless*. My experience is that having a passive crossover in the signal path -- even a simple one for a 2-way -- diminishes the differences between amplifiers, particularly in perceived event speed, tone density and dynamics. The crossover is a choke point, compared to not having one. The Viva sounds slower and "voiced" to me by comparison. The Audion, more open, transparent and objective.

Now it's arguable that I might, for example, prefer a Viva amp on a Zu speaker over an Audion driving a Trenner. It's also possible that differences that are meaningful to me are too small to influence preference to someone else. And the number of 845 amp choices on the market continues to proliferate. There are more than ever, I think. But so far, while having heard many great amps (because it's hard to go wrong with an 845) I haven't heard better than Audion in an 845. Sometimes people ask me to recommend an 845 amp and I'll answer by tossing out five or six, advisng that any of them will do. But they always press for a "best." The Audion isn't cheap, nor is the new Sophia, but that's my answer.

One more point: In another thread some months back I pointed out how much can be done to improve an amp via power supply capacitors. Some amp designs are highly susceptible to beneficial alternation through recapping. Last year, Bob Hovland recapped my Audion 845 monoblocks, which further evolved every advantage the Black Shadow has over other 845s, without changing the essential character of the amp. I've heard much more transformative recaps on some other amps Bob massaged, including my Audion Golden Dream monoblocks, 300B PSET big sister to the Black Shadow. In the Golden Dream case, Bob's recap took what was already the best sounding amp I've owned (above 100 Hz) and made it not only significantly better but also rendered it effective in deep bass, where 300B amps are most problemmatic. The Golden Dream is a different take than the 845 Black Shadow, still more resolving and nuanced, but it costs more too, and packs more silver. Point is, if you have a Viva, for example, and want it to be more like I describe an Audion, send it to Bob Hovland or someone like him for an educated recap of the power supply. I heard a disappointing Tri 845 integrated. It was clearly voiced to the more traditionally romantic SET sound often heard in Japanese boutique tube electronics. But it also had many excellent qualities lurking in the mix. I have no doubt that if the owner had been willing to have the amp recapped, its performance could have been elevated to be satisfying more in the way the Audions are, for much less. Keep in mind that if your amplifiers have been priced to support channel distribution, your $10,000 amplifier has about $2,000 of cost in materials, labor and packaging. There are compromises made for economic reasons that leave some of the potential of a great design unexploited. A transformative recap might only cost a few hundred. Two electrolytics of the same rating can sound quite different, as other factors in chemistry, configuration and even shape affect their discharge characteristics. Also, there is more than one way to a destination. I generally favor the simplest circuits, but the Sophia, coming so close to the Audion, does it with more tubes, more wire, more parts than many others.

Phil
"I generally favor the simplest circuits"
I agree 100%, it seems simpler circuits=natural and purer sound more often than not.
I am not a fan of Hovland Caps, I think you should try the Dueland caps.
Jwm,

I wrote that Bob Hovland recapped my amps, not that Hovland caps were used. In fact the value here was that Bob gave me an opinion about what caps would make specific improvements and after some discussion that included Dueland and others, we agreed on Nichicon slenders for the specific application. The result is superb. Bob didn't give any favor to his brand, or his newer SuperCaps, in the discussion.

Phil
I assumed he used his caps, I'm glad he didn't for you
213 cobra , thank you for your thoughts on 845 amps.I'm sure your Audion Black Knight is a gem and worthy for placement in any system using a 845 tube.I have not heard this amp so I have no way to compare it to my deHavilland.
I can say that although my Aries 845G will never win a beauty contest just happens to be the best sounding amp I have had the pleasure of owning.Of course this is in my system which plays to my bias' The price of the Aries has risen considerably as every thing else but it is still much less then the new Sophia amp and I believe the Audion as well. Aries has stood the test of time and continues to have the wonderful backing of Kara.
Enjoy your system
Ed
Ed,

I've heard the DeHavilland several times in a number of situations. They are well-built; Kara provides great service. I wanted to prefer the Aires to the Audion Black Shadow (the Black Night is a 300B PSET integrated) because Kara makes her amps here in the US, but that's not how it turned out. Nevertheless, the DeHavilland is a more affordable upper-tier option in SQ, and if it's the best amp you've owned you're doing very well. The more remarkable matter is how little coverage these 845 SET options get in the audio press, given that they put out enough single-ended power to put the vice grips to a far greater range of speakers than other SET designs built around less robust power triodes, and really sound beautiful and vivid doing it.

Phil
Phil,I re-read your posts and feel I should try to find a dealer for an audition.I just emailed the listed distributor
and await his reply.
Keep you posted.
Enjoy
Ed
Does anyone own the Audion Black Shadow 845 in MN,IA or WI?
How does the 845 offerings from Cary and Antiquie sound Labs fit into the excellent amps mentioned above?

Many thanks
Seadog,

Shoot Gary at Trueaudiophile an email (US dist. for Audion). He may know of someone in that area that has a pair. I know that several Black Shadows have sold over the past few months.

The Black Shadows are incredible amps by the way!! They, and the Golden Dreams, are 2 of the best amps that I have ever used/heard.

****Audion dealer disclaimer****
Glai,I listened to the ASL amps prior to my purchase of the deHaviillands.I much preferred the amps I bought but that is only my opinion.Others may disagree.
As for the Cary ...Goldprintaudio,a dealer posted above that two Audion amps are the best he has heard and he is also a Cary dealer.
On 2/6 I emailed the distributor for dealer info but have not heard anything yet.
I looked at your fantastic system and in the future when anyone asks me about Room Treatment I am going to refer them to your excellent post.
very well done

>>How does the 845 offerings from Cary and Antiquie sound Labs fit into the excellent amps mentioned above?<<

While it is difficult to find an 845 SET amp that performs poorly, I don't put the Cary or ASL in the same category as what's been mentioned. Cary build quality is, of course, beyond reproach. But the house sound is too euphonic, obscuring of detail and simply lacking the incisive revelation of the top tier. There are people who prefer this, however.

ASL has traditionally not been up to the same build quality standards internally, to what you can get from not only the top tier but also other Chinese contenders like Consonance, Shuguang, Meixing. The ASL amps of any tube variation have not impressed me as being notably competent enough to rise above average.

Phil
And by the way, don't get me wrong, the Cary 845 amps (211 and 805) are pretty dang good also. Just a different build and design philosophy then the Audions. If you have speakers that need the extra power of the Cary's, then they will do a fantastic job.

I've never had the chance to hear any of the Antique Sound Lab gear.

***Cary and Audion dealer disclaimer***
Phil, which city in California are you located?
I'm in Los Angeles. -Phil
My only experience with 845 amps is with the Bel Canto SETi40 which I like a Lot, especially with 845B tubes! Anyone can give his/her opinion about this amp?
The Bel Canto SET i40 was a great amp, as is pretty much everything Bel Canto has fielded in any type of electronics. It was the first modern 845 amp I heard and I nearly bought one, then decided to spend more to go further up the development path in 845 amps, where I settled on Audion. The Bel Canto is unfailingly musical if less resolving and dimensional than a few current, more expensive options. When an 845 intender finds one of the scarce Bel Cantos on the used market, they should lunge for it if it meets their price criteria, expecially if a one-box solution is what you have space for.

Phil
Does anyone have experience with the Audion Black Shadow and Tannoy Westminster Royal SE? My new WRSE's will arrive in a couple of weeks and I need a high quality tube amp. I do not believe my Classe' Omega Omicron is the right answer for the Tannoy's.
I can`t imagine why the Audion 845 amplifier would`nt be an excellent match with your speaker.

Jeff Day of Positive Feedback online reviewed the Sophia Electric 300b SET amp with this same speaker(he owns it) and found the combination absolutely stunning!This Sophia replaced his prior Leben amplifier(no contest he felt).I would think any 'good' quality 845 or 300b amplifier would be fine driving this speaker.
Regards,
Thank you Charles1dad. I'm trying to find the best amp/pre-amp (currently use ARC REF 5) combination for my new Tannoy WRSE's. I know these decisions are always subjective, but I sense a wealth of knowledge and experience exists when I read these forums. I would prefer not making an obvious mistake. The cost is too great!
Wylmars.....

As a dealer for both Audion and Tannoy, I imagine you would be extremely happy with the Westminster / Black Shadow combo. Both are very, very good products that match quite well together.
Goldprintaudio. I'm the guy that started this thread and now because of circumstances I must get an integrated amp. Does Audion make a 845 integrated?
Wylmars,
I understand your concern and caution.It`s best to obtain information and useful feedback to make an informed decision. Three years ago when I became interested in SET amps particularly the Coincident Frankenstein Idid what you`re doing now.

I got very meaningful opinion and insight from others on this site.I did purchase the Frankenstein and have owned it 3 years now. This perhaps the best decision I`ve made in audio,the amp is just sublime and perfect for me.It exceeded my rather high expectation.
I hope things worked out as well for you.You have wonderful speakers(based on review and word of mouth) and a premium SET should mate in exception fashion.
Regards,
Charles,
Seadogs1,

Are you going to RMAF (Rocky Mountain Audio Fest) in October?
If so, stop by Room 442 where we'll show the new Melody AN845 Int. Amp.

Thanks,
Hi Wylmars, Congratulations on the Westminsters. I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’ve heard it said that while Westminster specifications seem to suggest they'll be a good match with small SET amps, they only come alive with more power. But even if that’s true in general, I’m sure its validity is room and program dependent. However, with that in mind, there is a pair of Viva Verona mono-blocks (28W/Ch SET) for sale on Audiogon right now. Something that might be worth considering.
Seadogs1, I have just begun doing homework on the Audion and found they have multiple levels (5-9) of quality. Are there significant differences in performance in these various levels of performance? In regard to my choice of pre-amp, would my ARC REF 5 work well with an Audion Black Shadow or are there more synergistic combinations I should be aware of in context with the Tannoy WRSE speakers?
Phaelon, I will go immediately and look at the Viva Verona mono-blocks for sale. Would these be in the same quality realm as the Audion Black Shadow?
I have`nt heard Audion(good reputation) but have heard the Viva 845 amp and thought it was wonderful.Did`nt hear it with Tannoys but why would`nt they work together? I understand Phaelon`s caution for power concerns but Jeff Day says his 8 watt 300b SET Sophia was the best sound with these speakers he has ever heard. Who knows? You have many good options to consider.
Regards,
Like Charles, I haven’t heard Audion but have been favorably impressed by Viva. If you’re concerned about claims that Viva amps are slow (I’ve heard that claim elsewhere), all things being relative, I actually thought they were fast. Keep in mind that other factors could be involved - tube selection has a huge impact on Viva amps in my experience.

I’m not recommending Viva to you Wylmars. Even if I heard them with the Westminsters and loved them, I would hesitate to do that - it’s too personal of a decision. But if you are seriously considering Viva, I recommend that you call Amedeo Schembri, the amps designer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew the actual amps for sale.
Phaelon; tubes are new to me. I've always needed high output solid-state amps to run my Soundlab's. Thus, when you said 'tube selection has a huge impact on Viva amps' you have my attention. What should I 'know' about tubes for the Viva? Are they hard on tubes, or is it the sound characteristics vary widely from tube manufacturer to manufacturer? I realize this sounds naive, but I am knew to the world of tube amplifiers.
If $$$ is not a problem then you should definitely look into the Viva amps as Charlesdad1 and Phaelon suggest.
I heard them driving large Sonus Faber speakers and the sound was very enjoyable or should I say VERY ENJOYABLE !!
I have deHavilland 845 amps.
Great sound and a joy to use.
Best of luck in your decision
Anyone - the dealer offering the Viva Aurora amps doesn't know if what he's offering is an Aurora or Aurora XL model. He's trying to find out. I too have sent a request to Viva asking if there are any visible identifiers or a range of serial numbers that would confirm XL model authenticity. Does anyone know how to identify an Aurora XL from the earlier Aurora models?
Phaelon: My question was not well thought out. My error. I realize tubes have different sound characteristics. I was attempting to ask which tubes to stay away from with regard to Viva amps.
Wylmar, I found nothing wrong with your question. Most of my experience with Viva comes from years of listening to a good friend’s Solista. He’s a man who takes the challenge of optimizing his system’s performance to the level of fanaticism. I know he’s tried quite a few tube combinations and found that the Viva is fairly selective of the tubes it likes. He calls Amedeo regularly and finds him very accommodating. I urge you to call him too. He can advise you on the particulars of the unit for sale as well as tubes that will be synergistic with your amp and the speaker load. Another reason you should make his acquaintance is that he continually offers upgrades. I know that’s not a direct answer to your question, but I don’t feel qualified to advise you on a tube set.
Thank you Phaelon. I have a close personal friend who has sixty (60) years of experience with tube amplifiers and he has had bad experiences with 845 tubes. Since I am new to tubes, I'm asking a lot of questions trying to get varying perspectives on both the Viva amps and 845 tube manufacturers.
Wylmars, In my experience, too many people try to force their 845 amps to accept tubes that don’t conform to the amps operating specs. The problem comes when they find a tube that they like but the amp doesn’t. Buy a good quality amplifier; get the right tubes, and I doubt that you will share your friends experience. The task might seem daunting, but the time and effort spent in getting it right will be well rewarded.
Phaelon, how and where do I contact Amedeo regarding Viva amps and proper tube selection for a Tannoy Westminster Royal SE?
Wylmars, I’ve reached out to my friend who owns the Solista. When he gets back to me, I’ll forward the information to you privately. Did you actually buy Vivas?
If you want to know about a particular Viva amp, you can send the serial number to the US Distributor, Bob at Profundo and he can tell you all about it. He is very helpful!

Phaelon, when you hear back from your friend, can you forward the information to me as well? I own a Solista mkIII but have limited tube rolling experience with this particular amp, so any advise would be very helpful! Thanks!
Phaelon, I'm working on a purchase of Viva Aurora amps. I must sell my Classe Omega Omicron MK II, the dual monoblock (350w)single chasis version, before I finalize my purchase of the Viva amps. However, I can't seem to find the spec's for the Viva Aurora T amps ... anywhere?
Yo2up - Will do... if and when he gets back to me.