audio: pavement back to the penthouse

Audiophile confession time: for months I’ve been listening to music on a $200 Jambox the size of a wine bottle, because one of my 40 kg VTL Signature 450 tube power amps blew up all my spare fuses for reasons as yet unknown.

Bryston and VTL power amplifiers

Friends loaned me a Bryston 3B amp (the smaller box in the pic) and… wow, baby’s back!! Bass is leaner, “polite,” but it’s part of the music extending octaves downward instead of a tubby sound effect. Stereo isn’t a left-right direction but life-size musicians spread out over 3 or more meters and sometimes front to back. And the Magnepan ribbon tweeters (from beautiful downtown White Bear Lake, MN) are lightning. Even at low volumes Joni Mitchell’s dulcimer is cold blue steel.

I enjoyed music fine without it, the change isn’t black & white to color, but the opening up in sound and space of a good hi-fi is a wonderful intensifier. Hear some before you die.

As to whether the solid state sounds better than 8 finicky Russian tubes… who knows? I am more and more distrustful of my ability to tell the difference between electronics. The Bryston amp in bridged mono mode is about 2.5 dB louder than the VTL so I turn the balance control towards the tube amp to roughly equalize their output levels, but even with a mono source switching between equally loud identical music, maybe the left speaker has better reverberation in my room, or my right ear is misshapen, or …

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