Logic3 Valve80 thermionic iPod dock and speaker set
Does pre-transistor technology make a difference?
Review Logic 3, maker of accessories for gadgets such as Apple's iPods, has gone up-scale with the launch of the Valve 80 amplifier.
Logic3's Valve80: not shabby looking
Ever since the invention of the transistor, valves have been somewhat sidelined. They're bulky, expensive and take time to warm up and become operational. That said, much as CDs never entirely replaced vinyl records, there's still some life in the old thermionic technology thanks to audiophiles who are happy to sacrifice some convenience for better sound reproduction.
As a result, a few devices have hit the market that use a combination of valve and transistor technology to help bring to life the sounds from our MP3 players.
We'll start with first impressions: the Valve 80 is a very pretty bit of kit. Wrapped in chrome and glass, the unit would make an attractive accompaniment to just about any setting.
The unit comes with a pair of shiny little bookshelf speakers. They have a good feel to them, and the yellow kevlar 10cm cones below the little 2.5cm silk tweeters maintain the trendy, but still understated vibe. The piano black high-gloss cabinets mean they look good if you keep the grilles on. There are sturdy semi-circular rubber feet underneath each speaker to minimise the effect of vibration on the sound.
Decent array of ports
Weighing in at a little under 3kg each, the 50W speakers are solid and can amply handle the 40W per channel output of the dock itself. The speakers are connected by some gold-plated banana plugs.
A remote control is also provided, but it's a little on the flimsy side, but it has all the functions you expect to control your music and iPod as well as the volume, bass and treble.
It's primarily an iPod dock, so one of Apple's music players is going to be primary source of music and video in the vast majority of cases. It has composite-video and s-video output ports for video, but there's also a pair of RCA audio inputs allowing users to connect other audio devices such as a CD player.
A prop for the 'mad scientist's lab' set?
Of course, if you're shelling out over £250 for an iPod dock, looking and feeling good is only a small aspect. The real question is, how does it sound?
At best, the output can only be as good as good as the input, so if your entire music collection is in 64Kb/s MP3 then the you'd be better off saving yourself the money and disappointment. Thie Valve80 isn't going to magically make the songs sound better. But the truth is, with a good quality source, the system sounds good - not stupendous, but decent and with potential to sound a lot better.
The remote's one the flimsy side
To test the Valve80, we went for a wide range of music, with songs like Duffy's Rain on your Parade really highlighting the range, warm tones and clear vocals the valves can create. However, something like Nickleback's Rockstar starts to show some of the cracks, with the bass a little lacklustre, and The Dolphin's Cry by Live sounds just a little washed out and soft around the edges.
Really meaty tracks like O Fortuna from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana and, dare we say, the Imperial March from the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack are good but lack any real oomph.
We also hooked the Valve80 up to our Xbox 360 while playing some Gears of War 2. The Stirring soundtrack and the clear crunch of the Lancer's chainsaw hacking through alien bone certainly outstripped the TV's own speakers.
The speakers look OK, but they sound poor
Comparing it to our usual Logitech Pure-Fi Anywhere dock it's streaks ahead, but at nearly three times the price, we're not convinced it's three times better. Then we hooked up the Valve80 dock to a pair of Klipsch Synergy B2 bookshelf speakers and soon realised that the faults we noted earlier were far more those of the speakers than of the dock.
Unlike some hi-fi units, Logic 3 doesn't sell the Valve80 without the speakers, so you're either left with the option of settling for not getting the dock's full potential or forking out extra for a better set of speakers.
Logic's Valve80 is a beautifully crafted bit of kit and a big step up from the usual deluge of iPod docks that have flooded the market over the years, but its sub-par speakers let it down. Ultimately we'd love Logic 3 offer the dock on its own allowing audiophiles to combine it with their own choice of speakers. ®
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