Adventures w/ the Almarro A318a

Discussion in 'Equipment Reviews & Opinions' started by darkmoebius, Aug 21, 2005.

  1. darkmoebius

    darkmoebius New Member

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    Edit: I need to make clear that these are only my quick, initial, 2 day impressions of the amp and do not won't them mistaken for anything except that. It will take me at least a few weeks or a month before I have a full grasp of A318a's character.

    I bought this amp last week from a dealer with only one channel working(***see the very end of this post***) thinking that it couldn't be too hard to track down the problem and at the substantial discount I got it for, would make a great platform for a future DIY project. He stated that the amp only had ~30 hours on it and wasn't fully broken in, yet.

    Well, the amp arrived a few days later and to my surprise was in mint condition. "Nice!", I thought. So, I rushed it up to my Big Rig System to see how the one channel sounded. Hot damn if not more than 2 minutes after powering it up the other channel went silent. The tubes were all glowing, just no sound.

    Christ! What had I done? Not that any of my actions had caused the second failure, but "what had I done" in a sense of wasting my money on a screwed up piece of crap. I still need an equipment rack and I've got this boat anchor iinstead.

    The problem turned out to simply be a bad driver tube - 6SN7 - and not the amplifier :banana:

    I listened to the amp for 4-5 hours last night. I have to admit, I wasn't too impressed at all. Hooked to my six foot tall, 98dB/8 ohm, Cain & Cain IM-Bens, the sound was mediocre at best. Not too much in the department of soundstage, imaging was less than stellar. Dynamics were lacking and a certain hard, edginess, to the overall tone. Not very good and certainly not in the league of my Welborne DRD 300B monoblocks.

    And, it was suprisingly soft or muted in the high frequencies(as Jack G pointed out). I think that was causing the lack of soundstage "air" and spaciousness. Cymbals and other instruments sounded accurate, but didn't have the shimmer or sparkle that they should have. One reviewer called it the "leading edge of a note" as compared to the trailing edge.

    After 2 hours, I started swapping in some new cables that the amp builder gave me - first the digital coax between dac and transport. no big difference than my Toslink cable (I can switch A/B between them on the fly with a button). Next, the interconnects between dac and A318a. Hey! There's more detail with instruments. Acoustic guitar sounded a bit better, but overall still a bit shaded presentation. Then, I added his speaker cables - First thing I noticed is that the volume seemed quite a bit louder. Like I'd turned the knob up two clicks.

    Also, things brightened up considerably. Individual instruments became much more focused and specific. Not much "air" but acceptable detail in a reserved way. Definetly not the bland impression I had a few hours ago. By the time I went to bed at 4am things had started to sound a little better.

    This morning I got up, turned on the amp at low volume and let it play for an hour or two while I did other things and packed up my old Jean Marie Reynaud Twins mkII monitors to ship off to the guy who wants to buy them. On a whim, I decided to pop those 90dB speakers in for a last listen before we forever parted ways. The Reynaud line is of the most satisfying speakers I have ever encountered - they have this organic ease to them that just makes me want to sit back and enjoy. Almost everything sounds good with them. the have a tinal richness and density that simply envelopes me.

    I hooked them up, set them on top of my C&C Bailey subwoofers(turned off), moved the Bens back out of the way, and fired up the amp. One of things I was interested in checking was soundstage depth and imaging. So, I picked out a cd I'm not too thrilled with, but is fairly well recorded before a live audience, and should have decent spatial cues -Eric Clapton's 1992 "Unplugged". You know, the one with his bluesey, slowed-down, version of "Leyla" that people just can't seem to get enough of. This cd always leaves me a lacking because the performance is a little too polished and controlled. Kind of like Steve Winwood's "Back In The High Life" - a great 80's album, but sooo polished it loses almost all feeling.

    Cue up Track 1 "Signe" - not too bad.
    Track 2 "Before You Accuse Me" - hey, nice audience applause, there's some space to the performance. Better than last night, that's for sure.
    Tracks 3-6 things pic up, not my favorite stuff, but working.
    Track 7 - "Layla" it's a given. Gotta like that song.
    Track 8 - "Running On Faith", not a big one with me, but something's happening. It's Eric's slide guitar playing, there's some good detail to the string resonances and his picking. I'm starting to get a good metallic sense of the strings. Also, the soundstage opened up - it's big now. Fills my 24' x 16' room along the shorter side.

    Track 9 - "Walkin' Blues" - Yeah, this is more like it, just Eric and his guitar. And there's some nice foot tapping going on, soft, but on time. Hey, Clapton's not phoning this one in, I'm feeling it. More importantly, there's body and flesh to his voice and guitar that was lacking the night before. Things are sounding kinda rich now. And it's quiet in between notes, real dark.

    Track 10 - "Alberta" - lot going on here, a much bigger song. Not my style, really. But, piano tones are right, acoustic guitar strings have "attack" and decay. There's plenty of detail, but not edginess. This is kinda good.

    Track 12 - "Malted Milk" - Yeah, back to the good stuff - Eric, his guitar, and that tapping foot.

    Track 13 - "Old Love" - I gotta admit, by this time, I'm sold. This performance is great. Five of the last 7 seven songs have been pretty good and I can understadn why looked to close with this one. Backing vocals, music, it's all there. Get on it, Eric.

    Next up was Joan Osborne's "Relish". This the album that put Osborne on the map and has some bluesy rock tunes that are down and dirty (others that are pure radio smaltz). The A318a did a teriffic job with the album.

    I followed it up with Cassandra Wilson's "Blue Lite 'Til Dawn". Another perfect match for the Almarro's strengths. The came Ted Hawkin's "Next Hundred Years". At this point, It safe to say the A318a does real well with blues and blues influenced rock. I think the genre works because the vocals and music tends to be in the lower registers which is where this amp is at it's best. It's got a gutsy, meaty, ballsy kind of sound.

    Overall, I think the A318a's style is more forward compared to my 300B's holographic presentation. Tends to work well(so far) with certain music. It has depth, but it starts at the speakers and back from there. Not cathedral deep, but enough for what I was playing. Soundstage width can be very good on certain recordings. The amp is also capable of deep richness and tonal density. I suspect that it's got pretty good low frequency reproduction and punch. The amp is also surprisingly quiet, half the audible hum of my Welborne DRDs.

    So, after this long-winded monologue I can say that I've had a "Night & Day" experience with the A318a. Switching cables made a big difference in performance and my impressions. Altough, it did not work very well at all with my high-efficiency single drivers. I would not recommend the two(C&C Bens & A318a). At least, not right now. But, in reality, who's going to mate $9k speakers($12k w/ subs) with a $1,500 integrated? Not likely or entirely relevent.

    The Twins(now at mkIII), on the other hand, at $995 are a perfect match both cost and peformance wise. They make a killer combination. An even better deal would be the A318a with a JMR floorstander like the Cantabile, Arpeggione, or Concorde. The amp probably has pretty good low frequency punch, but I was not able to check it out because Twins are a monitor and the Bens aren't designed for deep bass.

    So, what's the bottom line?

    The A318A is a fantastic amplifier within it's price range. It's overall look, construction, finish, components, and internal layout make it really stand out from the competition in it;s price range. And sound is better than other amps I've played with recently.

    For example, to my ears, it is far more neutral and accurate than the $3.3k Cary 300 SEI(older version) that I spent two weeks with. The Cary has an ultra-rich, velvety, midrange that is incredibly addictive, at first. Then, I began to notice the flabby of loose bass and slightly rolled off highs. In contrast, the A318a has probably the similar highs and much tighter and powerful lows. It's midrange is not lush by any means, but it is much more balanced across the entre spectrum.

    Also, the A318a is more dynamic, detailed, and real sounding than the $1.2k solid state Audio Refinement Complete integrated I just sold. I loved the AR and it served me well for 3-4 years, but there really is no comparison between the two.

    So, not only am I going to give the new A318A some more time, it reignited my love of the JMR Twins - I'm keeping them for the time being. I had way too much fun with them today to let go.

    Up tomorrow, before I ship it off, some classical and jazz. Let's see what this thing can do with Cello quartets and be-bop.

    *************************************************************************
    On a side note, this particular A318a came without bias testing sockets. I contacted Almarro about this. As It turns out that this particular unit is one of three very early review models sent to US dealers and not meant for consumers. The 6C33C-B tube's bias, in this early version, has a tendency to drift quite a bit with regularity. Which means I most likely have heard this amp in a less than ideal state.

    Mr. Muramatsu, himself, of Almarro has generously offered to replace my amp with a newer model because it does not have bias testing. The later versions have some significant circuit changes.
    *************************************************************************

    More impressions when the new A318a gets here.
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2005

     

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  2. darkmoebius

    darkmoebius New Member

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    Further thoughts & impressions...

    The owner/lead designer of Almarro, Mr. Muramatsu mentioned in his email to me that:

    The rolled off high frequencies and "something we need" parts struck me as curious in this day and age considering most of the frequency extreme problems of single-ended designs have been solved for the most part. :scratch2:

    Well, this morning I was doing some listening before shipping the amp back for replacement. This mornings far happend to be jazz, in particluar, Nat King Cole's double-disc "The Nat King Cole Story" which is an excellent collection of Nat's finest from 1940-1960. It sounded pretty damn good - detail, tonality, and surprisingly - quiet. There was no tape or vinyl hiss from the analog to digital transfer even though it is noticable on the cd.

    In quick order, I ran sampled Duke Ellington's "Duke Ellington: Live and Rare" 3 cd set. Also, Sarah Vaughan's "The Devine Sarah Vaughan: The Columbia Years 1949-1953".

    And that's when I understood Mr. Muramatsu's the sound is something we need. There is large and fanatical jazz following in Japan that makes the US seem casual in comparison. I'm not sure, but it also probably extends to blues and Country & Western to a certain degree. A lot of the best material is from the Golden Age of Analog.

    The A318a's roll off in the high frequencies helps minimize recording noise on old pressings. In fact, it's almost non-existent unless you turn up the volume 80%. Yet, this doesn't seem to effect instrument detail or attack, just spatial "air". For many people, this is a worthwhile tradeoff and it surely didn't affect my enjoyment of these wonderful recordings. In fact, it may have enhanced the fun.

    It's good to hear that Almarro is now offering two versions of the amp, so consumers have the choice according to their listening preferrences.
     
  3. Celt

    Celt Peanut Head Staff Member Super Mod

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    Cool post...keep us updated. :cool: And welcome to AK! :wave:
     
  4. Billfort

    Billfort Addicted Member

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    Newmarket, ON, Canada
    Very interesting, thanks for posting. I spent some time listening to the A318a (with AudioNote speakers) at the last AKfest and really liked it, seemed a killer amp for the bucks and I think really well suited to tube friendly speakers in the low 90's efficiency wise.

    I'm more of a 45 or 300B guy buy always wanted to try building a 6c33 amp, after hearing the Almarro, I'd rather buy it - nice sounding, decent build quality and cheaper than I could build one for. If I had less efficient speakers (I use 100db Altecs) I'd seriously consider the Almarro.

    And welcome to AK!
     
  5. darkmoebius

    darkmoebius New Member

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    13
    Hi Bill,

    Dagnabbit!!! You just made the most important point that I forgot to mention - the A318A was obviously designed and voiced for speakers in the ~88-92dB range. It seemed to me that the amp likes to push a little current to sound it's best and my 98dB speakers just weren't getting it into it's optimal working range. For higher-eff speakers, Almarro already makes the 5 watt A205 amp for that purpose.

    Interestingly enough, even with my 90dB/4 ohm JMR Twins, there is a whole power region of the amp that I am incapable of exploring. It feels to me that 80% of the dial is probably pushing ~1-8 watts the same as my 300B's. But, right after that, there is a BIG jump in power/current available. Unfortunately, after that point, the music is already so loud there's no benefit of going further. I would assume with floorstanders capable of digging much deeper in the bass regions, that "overdrive" would really work really well.

    I just came to the same realization with 211 SEt amps. I just sold off some NOS 1942 Army/Navy Signal Corps GE 211 tubes because it is cheaper(and safer) to buy a commercial product than learning to do so on my own. The 1kV+ working voltages are simply too dangerous for a beginner and properly rated parts are farely scarce which drives single quantity prices sky high.
     
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2005
  6. Real Prober

    Real Prober New Member

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    15
    Hi Darkmobeius.

    I believe it's my old amp.. I returned it to almarro due to the exactly same problem a few months ago.

    And yes they said it was most likely a tube problem. Now I received a A318B aka A318A MKII.

    As Mr. Muramatsu said it has a better bass due to the larger transformers and better internals. I am in love with the amp now...

    What kinda cables are you using?

    I noticed the sound drastically changes depending on the IC/PK/SP Cables..

    I got the best result with MIT Shotgun IC/Blue Circle BC62 PK/Transparent MusicWave SP Cable Combination...

    I still want to try some other cables if I have a chance.

    Anyway, I am using it with Almarro M33 Speakers and Rega Jupiter.
     

     

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  7. BrianB

    BrianB AK Vendor Emeritus Moderator

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    Nope, this was not your old amp - it was a prototype that was sent to another dealer to audition and comment on, and that was never meant to be sold...
     
  8. darkmoebius

    darkmoebius New Member

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    13
    Possible but I doubt it. I got this amp from (**deleted**) When I emailed Mr. Muramatsu with the serial number and asked for a schematic, he responded that this unit was never intended for sale to the public. It was only supposed to circulate amongst potential dealers for audition. He also stated that the lack of bias control would lead the amp to eventually stray far enough out of alignment to start prematurely burning up tubes.

    He offered, without hesitation, to replace it and mentioned the two new versions. I need to get back to him about that.

    What kinda cables are you using? I noticed the sound drastically changes depending on the IC/PK/SP Cables..

    I'm using some new cables from a very small (1 person) company here in Orange County California, they are Silver Eagle Audio AG series. Fantastic so far, but I've got them burning in on my cable cooker right now.

    I should have the replacement A318A by next week, so we'll see how things go.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2006
  9. Real Prober

    Real Prober New Member

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    OK. If Brian says so, it's 100% not mine. :)
     
  10. darkmoebius

    darkmoebius New Member

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    Yeah, mine is a very special situation of a quasi-ethical, if not outright unethical, dealer doing something he shouldn't have been doing. :no:

    Brings to mind the question "When is a deal not a deal?"
     
  11. Grumpy

    Grumpy Krusty old SOB! Yes, I own Audiokarma Staff Member Admin Sponsor Subscriber

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    I think it goes to show what a stand up company Almarro is.
     

     

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  12. Thatch_Ear

    Thatch_Ear Addicted Member

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    There is a specially made up box of drivers for the 318 that Gonzp has now. My thoughts were to have it sent on to Reyneman next but yall might want to start a list. 6 ea old stock US 6SN7 and 6SL7s including a Tung Sol VT-231, there are 36 combos you can try. Please don't ask for it till your amp is well burned in.
     
  13. Dsrttuber

    Dsrttuber New Member

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    31
    Hello from a newbie! I just dug up this thread through a search. I believe I may have purchased one of the demo 318A's never meant for public sale. Mine has no power switch on the top, plastic speaker binding posts, internal bias pots only accessible by removing the bottom panel and no bias measuring points under the output tubes. Also; mine has no serial number, but is in mint condition. Previous person who demoed this amp complained of output tubes glowing bright red. Seller told me the amp is self biasing.??? The amp also supposedly came from Almarro with (2) 6H9C tubes. I've read since that the tubes should include one 6H8C and one 6H9C.

    Does anyone know how I can bias this amplifier before I end up with a disaster? Thanks!
     
  14. darkmoebius

    darkmoebius New Member

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    13
    Mine has...internal bias pots only accessible by removing the bottom panel and no bias measuring points under the output tubes.

    Are you any good at DIY'ing?

    You need to have those bias pots moved to a more convenient area that is easily accessible. If you don't have the skills, find a reputable tube amp technician in your area to do the work.

    Previous person who demoed this amp complained of output tubes glowing bright red. Seller told me the amp is self biasing.???

    A self-biasing amp wouldn't need bias pots and the tubes are not supposed to glow red. At least, they never did in the A318A & A318B that I had. Sounds to me like the bias is way off and will continue to wander further out of line until the output tubes burnout.

    The amp also supposedly came from Almarro with (2) 6H9C tubes. I've read since that the tubes should include one 6H8C and one 6H9C. Does anyone know how I can bias this amplifier before I end up with a disaster?

    I'm not sure if 6H9C for both input and driver tube was correct at any time.

    I would send an email directly to Mr. Yoshihiro Muramatsu, the owner and head designer of Almarro. But, try to take very clear digital pictures of your amp - both the outside and the inside parts layout so he can have a good idea which version you own. Perhaps, he would be good enough to provide a schematic drawing, so you can have a tech do the minor modifications. Mr. M can be reached at gpnet @ gpnet.co.jp (remove spaces for email address)

    Another possible help could be the guys at Response Audio. They are an authorized Almarro dealer, but also specialize in high performance, highly modified, tube amps from Antique Sound Labs, Morrow, Jolida, etc. and hot-rodded cd players/dac.

    I think I've come across a few posts on Audio Asylum or Audiogon where they mentioned that they are currently working on upgrades for Almarro products. The have a forum on AudioCircle, try posting there for some help.
     
  15. Dsrttuber

    Dsrttuber New Member

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    Thanks for the detailed reply. This just burns my butt!!! The dealer sold me this unit as if new and a current model. I just received an e-mail from Hiro of Almarro stating that he thinks it's a demo unit also. :no: Now I have an amp that I can't even listen to. UGH!
     
  16. jcmjrt

    jcmjrt Addicted Member

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    Maybe you should go visit your dealer and have a face-to-face discussion.

    :boxing:
     

     

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  17. Dsrttuber

    Dsrttuber New Member

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    Don't think I haven't thought about it. I'm not a violent person though and would rather diffuse this in a proper manner. I must be getting old. :drool:
     
  18. BrianB

    BrianB AK Vendor Emeritus Moderator

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    Hi Dsrttuber,

    First off, I am VERY sorry to hear about the problems you've been having with your recent Almarro purchase!

    Almarro, which is a relatively new high-end audio company out of Japan, happens to be one of my favorite audio manufacturers ever. But many of Almarro's friendly tactics have recently backfired here in the States. For instance, Almarro regularly sends its dealers prototypes of upcoming amplifiers and speakers for honest evaluation - in exchange for feedback on the designs (positive or negative), the dealers can keep the prototypes at no cost. But what Almarro did not count on was the fact that certain dealers would then try to sell off these prototypes as new, current-production units. A very dishonest practice, if you ask me, and one that can only harm the reputation of the company.

    At any rate, another vendor and I are in the process of working out a new set of U.S. dealer policies for Almarro to consider. If we get our way, I suspect that several current U.S. Almarro dealers will no longer be carrying the line in another few months...

    In the meantime, I would suggest doing the following:

    1) Register a formal complaint with Almarro regarding your A318A purchase. The unit you bought was NEVER intended for resale, and should never have been offered to you.

    2) If you are considering having your unit upgraded to current standards, do not go through Response Audio. Rather, you should contact Nathan Jedinak, who is Almarro's new U.S. service person, as well as the one individual that Almarro completely trusts to do factory-authorized modifications.

    Cheers,
    Brian
     
  19. Dsrttuber

    Dsrttuber New Member

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    Thanks for your reply. I too agree that it is unfair and unethical for these dealers to sell these amps to the public. I've been in contact with Hiro and he seems puzzled with what version of 318A I have purchased. I feel I should have done my homework first before purchasing as anymore; it's buyer beware. My first clue is the lack of a serial number. I even asked the dealer if it was a factory demo unit and was told "no." The dealer keeps telling me that this amp is self biasing and I fear that it is not. I'm currently running the amp in and have no idea if the bias is correct. I hope nothing goes wrong as I probably have no warranty either. UGH! :no:

    The amp is very musical in many regards, but is lacking extension in the highs, fuzzy low bass definition, and a loss of palpability. This amp can rock and dynamics are good. I enjoy the dead silence of this amp and the disappearing act it plays. I can't help but think that more can be squeazed out of this amp with a bit of run in.

    System includes:
    New Rega Planet
    Harmonic Tech "Harmony-Link" interconnects
    Martin Logan Montage speakers
    DH Labs single run T-14 speaker cable

    Please post up your comments pertaining to my system. Thanks.
     
  20. BrianB

    BrianB AK Vendor Emeritus Moderator

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    Hello again, 'tuber!

    Please check your AK Private Messages...

    Cheers,
    Brian
     

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