Fatman iTube amplifier
Old is the new... er... new. Valves are back, baby, oh yes
Review The iTube is a valve amplifier - yes valves, those old-fashioned glowing things that TVs used to have - with an iPod dock unit, all encased in chrome and black metal. It's really two separate systems: a power amplifier, which is the analogue bit, and the dock.
The amplifier has two sets of RCA/phono line inputs and some speaker outputs. On the front panel is a toggle switch that selects one of the two inputs, a power switch and a volume control. The dock unit has an iPod dock connector and bracket on the top. The connector can be moved backwards and forwards to allow for different sized iPods. On the back of the dock there's a composite video, s-video out and the RCA audio sockets.
The unit will work with any speakers between 4 and 8 ohm, though it's possible to purchase Fatman speakers with the iTube as a package. Though only rated at 13W, the system delivers quite a punch with good bass and high-end reproduction. Indeed, it's surprisingly good for such a small system. The amplifier has a reasonable footprint: 34 x 29 x 16cm, while the dock unit is 15.5 x 13 x 12.3cm. The dock weighs 4.3kg - the amp is 6.7kg.
Valves virtually disappeared from the Hi-Fi scene, but have been coming back as they generally provide a warmer sound than silicon. Of course, a badly designed valve amp is going to sound just as bad as a badly designed transistor version, but Fatman - or TL Audio, to be precise - has been designing and manufacturing valve-based audio products for more than 13 years and is well known in the professional music production market.
This product is definitely home-friendly, it looks nice and the glowing valves complement the shiny chrome finish - or maybe the chrome finish complements the glowing valves. Out of the box, the valves are protected by a black metal casing that's slotted so they can be seen, but can be removed to offer optimal valve appreciation. Handy this, since the middle, larger valve has a centre section that shows the power output on the left and right channels, and which glows in a bluey-green tint. The valve aspects make this a truly retro device, the iPod dock makes it very geek retro.
Manufacturer's site confirms this is a hybrid amp!
for confirmation that the valves are used only as pre-amps. Two ECC85s cannot be used to produce 13W per channel! This device must have a solid state (likely an IC or two) power amplifier stage.
This is a little bit of a con, even if there are some audiophile merits to using valves for the pre-amp stage - they could be a little more "honest"!
Still, I gotta say, I loooove the iPod dock they've produced! As the reviewer says, true geek retro.....
Speaking as an electronic engineer, and as an audiophile, valves add EVEN harmonic distortion.
This distortion is great in a guitar amplifier - it adds the colouration that guitarists want. It can also be pleasant in a microphone preamplifier in a recording studio - it can enhance vocal sounds.
However, it's NOT appropriate for high quality audio reproduction. Do you really want distortion added to the entire content of the material? I don't think so!
There is NO valve amplifier at ANY price that can compete with a simple, cheap semiconductor design. My semiconductor-based amplifier will win on noise, hum, transient response, power output, price, reliability, frequency response, distortion, and any other parameter you want to throw at it except weight!
The only remaining use for valves is in high power TV transmitters - they are largely redundant for all other functions!
Quote "A well-produced LP with a good pickup can offer a dynamic range in excess of 120dB over the standard 20Hz-20KHz frequency range."
Unfortunately a well produced LP doesn't produce these ranges, RIAA equalisation is applied:
Which is preemphasis and deemphasis, such audio processing is a no-no if you are an audio purist and are trying to achieve a sound as close to the original source material as possible.
Most studios use digital recording now, so there's little point in claiming analog technology produces a better sound when there's so few people recording with reel to reel tape. Modern mastering of recordings allows recordings to be dithered and converted to 16-bit 44100 without any intermediate analog stages and so the noise levels are almost non-existant.
Dynamic range counts for nothing if you have a poor signal to noise ratio. The noise floor will be such that the effective dynamic range will be lower.
Nobody is claiming CD is the best digital audio format, it's just the current "standard". People are reluctant to move from CD as they know the next generation of digital disc media will be full of restrictions and DRM.
Some common sense, please!
Thank you, Sami Hentunen, for that measured response. I had composed something similar but rather less polite. The only thing being "pureed" in the earlier comment is common sense.
As to the comment that another product worked with the valve unplugged, well that got me thinking. I had assumed, as no doubt one is supposed to, that the output stages of this amplifier used valves. If they did, there would be two output transformers (as it's stereo) but there is only one transformer lump, which will therefore be a mains transformer. The valves look like small signal devices, too. So, we are conned into thinking that this is a valve amplifier when it's a transistor amplifier which might possibly have a valve in the pre-amplifier stage. (Output transformers and power amplifier valves are expensive, after all!) Maybe the reviewer can confirm whether the amplifier works instantly on switch-on (before the tubular cathodes of the valves start to glow orange), or if it works with the valves unplugged.
The middle valve is just an EM84 or similar "magic eye" indicator - it does no more to affect the sound than would a VU meter. But at least the reviewer confirms that this one is actually doing something!
The photos look like Photoshopped publicity shots. Valves do not glow like that unless they are being seriously overdriven, and there's no sign of the green phosphorescence from the indicator valve (which is there to a certain extent even if there is no signal, if the indicator is of the EM84 type).
In short: why does El Reg stoop to reviewing such rubbish?
Real life dynamic range of LP vs. CD
The previous poster brought up the old vinyl/CD discussion, which is really a very difficult and subjective topic to discuss about. It's much to do what kind of sound you personally prefer.
Yeah, maybe vinyl theoretical dynamic range is in tune of 120 dB but in reality, according to some randomly selected web pages below, the range is somewhere between 60 and 80 dB:
About valve amps: They are thought to sound musical compared to transistor amplifiers as they add harmonic distortion (normally measured as THD) to the sound, sometimes in the tune of several percent. The distortion is the reason why e.g. violins are made of wood as opposed to concrete.
The added distortion by e.g. valve amplifier, in my opinion, makes the sound less realistic, i.e. LoFi :-) This is especially true when a tube amp is overloaded, which is pretty easy to do as their output power is normally lower than transistor ones. However, human ear finds harmonic distortion pleasant, hence the tube amps sound more "musical". Even badly recored harsh material sounds bearable through tube amp as opposed to a real HiFi amp :-) However, if you material is recorded right you get way more resolution with (a well designed) transistor amp.
There are also other stuff that matters like (normally) less than straight frequency response characteristics etc. but I think this is enough for now.
Tube amps do not care if the incoming signal is digital or analog. They add distortion in both cases. If you like the sound of them I can't see any reason not to connect a iPod to one.
Here's my humble opionion.