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 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.