All Hail The Conqueror
"The conquering Conqueror rides on as Kuldeep Singh finally savours the seduction of the famed 300B. Will our savant hero conquer or be conquered? Stay tuned for our next episode of The Kool and the Deep...
Audio Note is one company that has never needed to cloud its philosophy in marketing double-talk. Their premise has always been rather simple -- directly heated triodes in single-ended mode with no global feedback. Or nothing.
Simplicity is the key. A single-ended tube amp has very few components as compared to the more ubiquitous push-pull topologies. But perversely, this doesn't make things any cheaper. Instead, the output transformer has to be uprated considerably (read expensively) to ensure that the standing DC current does not saturate its core. Power supplies too have to be better as there's no inherent cancelling of ripple.
And lastly, there's the simplest argument of all: Every component exerts an influence on the sound, so they must each be of the very best possible quality.
The criteria of utmost simplicity at its highest quality therefore carries with it a very heavy price tag. Aware of the fact that the Gaku-On is not going to do any favours for Peter Qvotrup's battle for the hearts and minds of audiophiles everywhere, Audio Note has released its Volkswagon -- cheap (relatively speaking), but with its heart in the right place -- enter the Conqueror ....
- FEATURES -
The Conqueror is a stereo single-ended power amp built using the venerable 300B tube, the last true triode designed specifically for linearity. The best examples of these tubes are said to have originated from Western Electric during the 50s. The samples provided with the amp are branded Audio Note and are sourced from factories in China after which they are burned in, tested and selected.
The power supply for the amp is valve rectified -- no expense spared here. There's only one valve per channel apart from the 300Bs and these are 6H8s. I reckon that these are dual-triodes, but I couldn't find any data in my usual stash of databooks.
My pet ant Andy is terminally chicken when it comes to high voltages and no amount of sugar lumps could persuade him to sneak a peek under the grilles. So the usual component quality report won't be forthcoming, but knowing Audio Note, they should be industrial quality at the very least.
Round the back, you get RCA input sockets, loudspeaker terminals (of the 4mm variety) and, of course, an IEC mains socket.
- SOUND -
As will become apparent during the course of this review, partnering ancillaries were necessarily limited. For the most part, the amp was auditioned with a pair of Audio Note AN-J loudspeakers, with back-up duties falling to Epos ES11, Monitor Audio Monitor 3 and Technics SB-M300 jobs. Various CD players were used, at times with a supplied Audio Note DAC1 DAC; Audio Note's M1 preamp was used exclusively throughout the listening sessions.
Although I've had some experience with single-ended sound within my system, this was the first time 300B-based amplification held center-stage. There were two apparent rules to partnering speakers with this amp. Firstly, they had to have a smooth impedance response, which meant staying away from the likes of sharply tuned reflex-ported speakers and transmission line jobs. Second rule, they had to have high sensitivity transducers to get decent SPLs. Nothing below 88db, certainly.
After a while playing "musical speakers", it became apparent that the amp really did like the AN-J, a sensitive sealed-box design. The speakers, by themselves, have a number of colourations when used with other amps, but once partnered with the Conqueror, everything seems to fall in place.
Now, there are a number of transistor breathing folk who'll tell you that valves sound nice because of their warm tone (read: rolled off treble) and full (read: uncontrolled) bass. Strike out both counts when it comes to this amp.
Partner it with a bright CD player or DAC and prepare to dive for cover. It hides nothing and really strips the music clear of haziness, and there you have it -- a butt neked sound, warts an' all. The highs are well extended, but even with treble heavy material, there's never a moment when the amp steps on the harsh side -- if you choose your source with care, that is. All the treble air I so lust for is here, and this makes for really good listening when it comes to percussion tracks.
Similarly with acoustic tracks, the amp unearths a wealth of previously obscured detail. At first, I thought that this was an artifact of my sometimes fuzzy memory, but on swapping amplification it was obviously not so. After all, I know Norman Brown's Acoustic Time like the back of my hand (after having listened to it, yes, that many times). Here, the amp managed to pull a trick or two to throw me off-balance.
I did a lot of my initial listening with similar music, but on switching to some heavily processed R&B I was disappointed, to say the least. If the aim was to recreate the musical event, then the whole effort failed miserably. The soundstage became significantly restricted and the music lost a lot of dynamics, slowing down to a walking pace.
In retrospect, it became obvious that this was really a function of the software than anything else, but the disparity truly has to be heard to be believed (Actually, if it were that heavily processed, is it the truth in the first place? A fundamental argument, no less. -- Ed. ).
All is not lost, however. On less processed material, the really swinging dynamics on well recorded tracks contributed immensely to this amp's ability to recreate believable music. James Taylor's Fire and Rain showed off this aspect very well, the drums being reproduced with all its intensity. And within this maelstrom, you can still make out clearly the sound of the drumsticks hitting the skin, speaking volumes of the amps resolving capabilities.
Tonally, the amp is content to motor along on an even keel, with no undue prominence. Heavy bass lines suffers, with some apparent shallowness in this department, but nonetheless remaining tuneful.
For example, although you can follow bass lines easily in congested mixes such as some tracks from Stanley Jordan and Friends' Live at the Greek album, double bass suffers a little, this being apparent as a lightening of texture. What stands out here, when it comes to stringed bass instruments, is the way the Conqueror manages to highlight the way the reverberant decay is truncated as fingers press strings against the fretboards.
The amp meets with similar success on simple vocal tracks some audiophiles love so much. Female vocals have a nice breathy quality to them. By that, I don't mean to say that I could now finally hear the spittle ricochet off Diana Krall's bridgework; what's obvious are the little details, like the breathing rhythm and subtle changes in inflexion.
Male voices too carry well, and in the case of Barry White, it's actually possible to discern him saying something, instead of the usual guttural noises he seems to make through many an amp in Q's Jook Joint.
- CONCLUSION -
Driven within its capabilities (and that means no heavily processed R&B, yes?), this amp is capable of sheer magic. It imbues the proceedings with a palpable air of realism; the resulting soundscapes are beautifully detailed and with well recorded pieces, there is a reach-out-and-touch quality to the way instruments are delineated and projected.
The drawbacks this amp imposes, it does because of its limited power and lack of negative feedback. The latter is perhaps a contributing factor behind the sonic success of the amp, but in combination with the former, severely restricts the list of suitable speakers it can partner. Keep your eye out for sensitive closed box types if this amp tickles your fancy, like it did mine.
- VERDICT -
For: Excellent overall performance. Reproduces ambient cues and spatial information very well.
Against: Bass depth lacking, that is if you usually like it gut wrenching. very, very speaker sensitive."
−review by AudioFile
Input Impedance: 100k Ohm.
Input Sensitivity: 250mV for full output.
Output: 9W RMS per ch into 4 or 8 Ohms.
Channel Matching: +/- 0.3db.
Tubes: (2) 6SN7, (1) 5U4G, (2) 300B.
Power Consumption: 270VA.
Size: 7.7" h, 8" w, 19.7" d.
Weight: 44 lbs.
− Established 1973 −
"love what you listen with"
Los Angeles, California USA
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− Established 1973 −
"love what you listen with"
Los Angeles, California USA