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Almarro A205A single-ended integrated tube amplifier

Discussion in 'Equipment Reviews & Opinions' started by BrianB, Jun 4, 2004.

  1. BrianB

    BrianB AK Vendor Emeritus Moderator

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    If you're on the A205A demo list, please post your review of this amp below.
     
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2004

     

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  2. Dave918

    Dave918 Super Member

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    Just to let those interested know, the Almarro A205A SET amp arrived today safe and sound. I'll let it settle in for a few days before starting my review on how it sounds. But, here are some preliminaries -

    Packing was first rate as is the fit and finish. The quality level of manufacturing is obvious on first sight. I have to say it is a great looking unit in all its simplicity. A power switch, volume knob and beautiful glowing tubes - what else do you need!

    Rear panel has a single set of inputs flanked on either side by speaker binding posts. Hefty at what I would guess to be 17 to 20 pounds, it has a small footprint at a little over 11 inches wide by 9 inches deep.

    Had a bit of trouble finding the tubes in the packing, but Brian pointed me in the right direction. I'll but a note in the box with the tube location for the next reviewer.

    I'm using my Audio Note AX-Two speakers and Music Hall CD-25 CDP for my initial listening. I'll be trying other speakers and sources over the next couple of weeks also.

    After a 15 minute warm up I popped Alison Krauss + Union Station "New Favorite" in the CDP and was immediately rewarded with Alison's sweet rich voice. More to follow.....

    This is going to be fun!!!!!


    -Dave
     
  3. Dave918

    Dave918 Super Member

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    Well I've really had a ball paying with this little amp for the past couple of weeks and it's time to start writting my review. I will post it sometime within the next week, but I thought I would post a couple of pics today so everyone can get a look at this little jewel.

    -Dave
     
  4. Dave918

    Dave918 Super Member

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    One more
     
  5. Celt

    Celt Peanut Head Staff Member Super Mod

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    So Dave, tell us a bit more about the amp. It appears to be a Class-A, single-ended using pentodes. I built one for a buddy similar to that about eight years ago using 1) 12AX7 and 2) 6BQ5/EL84's. It is one sweet sounding amp.
     
  6. Dave918

    Dave918 Super Member

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    4,346
    Right you are Dan. It is a Class A SET using pentodes. Output tubes are EL84/6BQ5 (Sovtech) and the input is a ECC83/12AX7 (Electro-Harmonix) twin triode.

    Sweet sounding is an understatement! I'll post my full review in a few days. Gotta get my notes gathered up, I've tried this little amp out with every CDP and speaker set I own - and in every room in the house.

    Finalizing my review and packing this little guy up to ship to the next reviewer will be one of the hardest things I've done. It really grows on you :D

    -Dave
     

     

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  7. spkrman57

    spkrman57 wrongsideofthetracks

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    Website price of $800.00????

    Brian,
    Is that the price of the unit???
    Ron
     
  8. BrianB

    BrianB AK Vendor Emeritus Moderator

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    Location:
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    Yes, $800 is the suggested retail price for the Almarro A205A.
     
  9. Dave918

    Dave918 Super Member

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    4,346
    It has been my great pleasure to have a fantastic little 5 watt SET Amp in my home for the past few weeks, a big thanks to AK and BrianB/Venus Hi-Fi for the opportunity to demo the Almarro A205A. I’ve learned a lot over the past few weeks about SET amps (never knew just how big 5 watts could be), component matching and about audio in general. I’m glad I allowed BrianB to talk me into this. :D

    First let me say that this is the first SET amp I have ever listened to and my experience with tube systems in general is very limited compared to some AK members, to say the least. Therefore, my review of this amp will be limited to my impressions of how it sounds. I’ll leave the technical evaluation to those with more experience than me.

    I will include the basic specifications and physical description of course. The Almarro A205A is a Class A SET amp using pentodes. Output tubes are EL84/6BQ5 (Sovtech) and the input is a ECC83/12AX7 (Electro-Harmonix) twin triode.

    As I stated in an earlier post – the packing was first rate as was the fit and finish. The outstanding manufacturing quality is obvious at first sight. I have to say it is a great looking unit in all its simplicity. A power switch, volume knob and beautiful glowing tubes - what else do you need!

    Rear panel has a single set of inputs flanked on either side by speaker binding posts. Hefty at what I would guess to be 17 to 20 pounds, it has a small footprint at a little over 11 inches wide by 9 inches deep.

    Over the past few weeks I tried the little Almarro with a number of sources (CD players) and speakers. Had a lot of fun trying different combinations of equipment and tunes as well as running comparisons to some of my existing systems. The following is a list of all equipment that I used during the evaluation of the Almarro.

    Speakers:
    JBL L26
    JBL 4408A
    ACI Emerald LE
    Audio Note AX-Two
    Jean-Marie Reynaud Twin MKIII

    CD Players:
    Pioneer Elite DV-47Ai
    Music Hall MMF CD-25
    Cambridge Audio D500se
    Jolida JD100A

    Without a doubt, my favorite combination was the Almarro mated with the AN AX-Two speakers and the Music Hall CD-25. The fact that I preferred the CD-25 over the Jolida JD100A with the Almarro really surprised me. I was never able to quite place my finger on why, but it just sounded better overall. No surprise really that the AX-Two speakers matched up best. These are great little speakers, very easy to drive (most efficient that I own) and they just love tube amps.

    Best thing to come from this experience is that I now understand why folks love SET amps so much. Problem is I’m having trouble finding the right words to describe the sound. Sweet with plenty of shimmer, but not overly bright; full and rich, but not to warm; forward where it needed to be, but yet balanced overall. It is certainly a sound that you can fall in love with a first listen. Of course the type of music I listen to just sounds best with tubes, plain and simple. But as I’ve discovered – SET can take it to a whole new level.

    My Jolida JD301 Hybrid is a mother beautiful sounding little amp, but it sounded almost harsh and edgy when compared to the Almarro. A closer match in sound quality was my ASL AQ-1001DT amp operating in Triode mode. The AQ-1001DT has a smoother sound, but the Almarro is gutsier. I kept going back and forth between the ASL and Almarro. One day the ASL sounded better, the next it was the Almarro. In the long run the ASL won out for best overall sound, but it was damn close.

    I do have to say that the ASL AQ-1001DT amp, Jolida JD100A CDP and Jean-Marie Reynaud Twin MKIII speakers are still my favorite combination. I call it my magic system.

    What surprised me most about the Almarro was how gutsy it is and how solid and strong the bottom-end was. The Almarro beat both of my other amps on bottom-end performance. Don’t know if that is unique to this amp, or a common characteristic of SET amps in general, but it sure surprised the hell out of me.

    I hope some of the others that sign up to demo this amp have another SET amp to compare it to. I would be very interested to hear how it stacks up against others.

    Listening to Alison Krauss, Natalie Merchant, Nanci Griffith, John Prine, Joe Ely, Sarah McLachlan, and Tom Russell (just to name a few) through this amp and the AX-Two, or the Twin MKIII, speakers was pure sonic bliss. I easily sat for hours on end listening to disk after disk with no fatigue. Dreading the day when I would have to pack it up and send it on its way.

    Well I’m sorry to say that day has finally come, so now the little guy is heading off to pay Dave, better known as Botrytis, a visit and hopefully enrich his life. The house seems a bit empty now, kinda sad, and almost lonely - like when your kids grow up and take off. To quote one the greatest songwriters of all time –

    Well it’s 99 in Topeka
    The wind is blowin’ hot
    Blowin’ through my oldest daughter’s hair
    With everything else I forgot – I drove her out to college
    Drove back through an empty space
    Thinkin’ back to when she was a baby
    Tryin’ hard to see that face



    So now I got an empty space, a void if you will, that can only be filled by a SET amp. When that time comes, the Almarro A205A will definitely be at the top of my list.

    In other words – Dr. Evil has struck again!! :D
     
  10. BrianB

    BrianB AK Vendor Emeritus Moderator

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    Heh heh heh ... :naughty:
     
  11. BrianB

    BrianB AK Vendor Emeritus Moderator

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    Seriously, though, that's one heck of a review, Dave - thoughtful, comprehensive, and articulate. You really ought to consider becoming a reviewer for one of the audiophile webzines. I'd recommend you wholeheartedly!

    I don't want to comment yet on your listening experiences, because a few other AKers will be auditioning the A205A over the next couple of months. However, I would like to note that swapping out the stock EL84s and 12AX7 for some decent NOS tubes will elevate the performance of this amp to even higher levels of sonic bliss - and the nice thing is that many brands of NOS EL84s and 12AX7s are relatively affordable. Perhaps one of the next AK reviewers would like to try a bit of tube rolling? If so, I will gladly supply the tubes...

    Happy listening!
     

     

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  12. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

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    IT'S HERE!!!!

    Well, thanks to Dave918 for shipping this amp to me and thanks to BrianB for allowing us to demo this little amp.

    I will have to listen to it tonight with the KLH 23's, I have, to see if it is a 'magical' combination as everybody is telling me.

    I plan to put it through some interesting tests and comparisons.

    I have too many speakers to try with it now, including another pair of Royd Doublets (floorstanders).

    More will come soon - I promise!!

    Dave
     
  13. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

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    VERY INITIAL LISTENING

    BrianB,

    I have to say, the combo of the Almorro amp with the KLH 23's - one word - WOW. The vocals were very airy and more 3-dimensional. I was listening to a variety of meterial, including Verve Jazz Masters Vol. 51 - Blossom Dearie. I can see what people mean by KLH + tubes = magic!!!! WIth SS amplification, these speakers were just too bass heavy 1 dimensional. I really didn't have much time with these speakers as they found a wonderful home with Ski.

    I have also listened to a variety of speakers including: Genesis 1's (88.5db sensitivity), Advent 3002's, Royd Envoy's, Roger LS2's, and will try my new pair of Royd Doublets (just bought them - drove 400 miles in one day just to get them) when I have a chance.

    I also found recently a pair of Coral speakers (KL-200's?) and will try them. I could also try my Wharfedale Diamond 7.2's.

    I want to thank you again, BrianB, for this opportunity to try and listen to this nice little Almarro. I will put up a full and better review as I go on.

    Dave
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2004
  14. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

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    Review

    Almarro A205A integrated amplifier Review

    The amp came well packed. It is a small amp - just a power switch and a volume knob - one input.

    Over the course of this review, I will go through many diiferent speakers and will break the review down this way. The initial CD player was a Denon DCD-520 (circa 1992) and was quickly replaced with a Pioneer Elite DV-45A. Speaker wires were simple 12-ga SoundKing with various Monster Cable quick connections. The interconnect was an AR brand. I was using a Denon PMA-500A integrated amp as my model SS amp.

    Speakers used were:
    KLH 23’s
    Advent 3002’s (8 ohm 88 db efficiency)
    Genesis Physics 1’s (8 ohm 88.5 db efficiency)
    Roger’s LS2’s (8 ohm 89 db efficiency)
    Royd Envoys (8 ohm 87 db efficiency)
    Royd Doublets (6 ohm 89 db efficiency)
    Wharfedale Diamond 7.2’s (8 ohm 89 db efficiency)

    The music is the most important part of this test. CD1; Verve Jazz Masters 51 - Blossom Dearie. Tracks (1) They Say It’s Spring, (4) Little Jazz Bird, and (9) Rhode Island is Famous for You: CD2; Habib Koite and Bamada - Ma Ya, Tracks (1) Yassiye, (5) Foro Bana , (6) Sarayama: CD3; Undercover Brother Soundtrack - Tracks (2) Pick up the Pieces- Average White Band, (3) Brickhouse – The Commodores, and (4) Play that Funky Music – Wild Cherry: CD4; Paul Weller - Modern Classics Track (12) Brand New Start: CD5; The Best of Hugh Masekela - track (6) No Woman No Cry: CD6; Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz - Diz and Getz - Track (1) It Don’t Mean a Thing.

    KLH 23's - I had to try these speakers with the Almarro amp because many members suggested that these speakers are made for tube amplifiers. I would have to concur with this opinion. With SS amplification, they are untenable as the bass is very muddy and thumpy (on small stands the bass is much better and tighter also). The Almarro amp brought out a surprising tighter bass although not as deep as I thought I would hear (a 10.5" driver). With all of the CD’s - the sound was airier (very delicate but very defined) and had a more 3D quality (surprising because of the cone tweeter in the speaker). Mostly older jazz and acoustic music is a good match with this amp/speaker combo due to the heavy bass (due to the size of the bass driver) if too much bass is involved with the music. I think this is more a fault of the speakers and not the amp.

    Advent 3002: There was a great synergy between the amp and these speakers. The bass was very tight and well defined, although not as much as with the Denon. The treble, again, was airy and very delicate, although at times, not as well defined. The midrange seemed depressed slightly again.

    Genesis 1's: The treble was very similar to the others, although there is not as much bass from these speakers (in fact almost non-existent). These speakers ranked, just behind the Wharfedales, as having bad synergy.

    Rogers LS2's - were a mixed bag. I think they sounded slightly off on the tube amp - missing some treble and a little bloated on bass (if you can believe this from a 4.5" driver). They just didn't match well with the Almarro. They ranked right in with the Advents, as far as synergy.

    Royd Envoys - The treble was crisp, but it was missing some midrange and a little thumpy with the Almarro, These were the most inefficient, at 87 db, of the group. They did not fair as well as there bigger brothers with the Almarro.

    Royd Doublets - 89 db efficiency but 6 ohm - I would say these speakers are the most forgiving of the lot - not as much bass as with a SS amp and not as crisp up top - but was a pleasant sound and very listenable. Out of the modern speakers these had the best mix with the Almarro.

    Wharfedale Diamond 7.2's - UGH!! One bass tone and totally untenable this was the worst speaker of the lot with the Almarro.

    I felt, actually, that the Almarro did surprisingly well, in this comparison because we mainly used more modern speakers which were really designed for SS amplification. I guess the saying is true, it is not the amount of watts, it is the quality of them that counts. I would highly recommend this little amp to anyone who was interested in getting into the SET world of amps.

    I will put some pictures after this review. The first one is the whole room.
     
  15. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

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    Just the speakers

    How about this load of speakers!! Not all of them were used for this test the Polk Audio Monitor 7A's and the little Corals were not used.
     
  16. BrianB

    BrianB AK Vendor Emeritus Moderator

    Messages:
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    Location:
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    Hi botrytis,

    Thanks so much for providing yet another very comprehensive and informative review!

    It sounds like the Almarro A205A / KLH 23 combination was especially good, and head-and-shoulders above the other pairings you tried. I'm not at all familiar with these speakers, though - could you provide specs for them?

    As far as the other speakers are concerned, keep in mind that the A205A puts out a mere five watts per channel, which is quite low even for a tube amp. For this reason, I normally recommend a minimum efficiency of 90dB for two-way monitors, and a slightly higher figure for larger and/or more complex speaker designs. However, given that many of these speakers were quite comparable on paper, your review really highlights just how unpredictable system synergy can be. (For example, compare the amp's performance with the 8 Ohm / 88dB Advents versus the 8 Ohm / 89dB Wharfedales.)

    Cheers,
    Brian
     

     

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  17. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

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    Brian,

    These were a replacement for the KLH 6 in 1970. They consisted of a 10 3/4" woofer and a 1 3/4" cone tweeter. Crossover was at 1.5 KHz. They probably had similar sound characteristics as the KLH 6's.

    Dave
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2004
  18. JonTee

    JonTee Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    580
    Location:
    Michigan
    Botrytis dropped off the A205A to me a couple of days ago. As I am very busy with home remodeling I took one day to demo it and here are my impressions:

    Appearance is very conservative with no outward indication that there is exceptional performance to be had. If you are looking for eye candy with heavy brass face plates and shiny surfaces this is not for you.

    Performance, OTOH, is what this is about and I am pleased to report that this little amp will not disappoint. The following were components used to audition the amp:

    Toshiba SD 3950 cdp
    Jolida JD100 tube cdp

    Boston Acoustic A-70
    M&K 750 THX
    Klipsch Heresey I's

    Philips 5721 preamp (use as a phono pre)
    Philips 673 tuner

    Sota Sapphire TT w/Sumiko Priemier arm, and Benz cartridge.

    Starting out with the A-70's, which are 90db efficient 6 ohm speakers, the little amp immediately showed its imaging characteristics and surprised with its lower end punch. Playing Bill Evans Trio, "Sunday at the Village Vanguard"; Eric Claptons, "Me and Mr. Johnson; and Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, 'The Color of Love" ; vocals and instruments came thru clearly with separation that I would find in other combinations, also. No smearing of sounds here.

    From the A-70's I went to the M&K 750 THX's which are 4 ohm HT speakers that have very good voice and acoustic instrument presentation. The recommended power for these is 50 watts+ with a minimum of 10 watts, however they are efficient with a 91db 1w/m rating. This combination started opening my eyes to the great performance of the Almarro as it easily drove these speakers and showed as much or more bass/midbass ( roll off is at 80hz) as some 100 watt solid state amps that I have used. Piano was especially well represented with these speakers, as well as vocals and guitars.

    At this point I started tube rolling with the following tubes:

    Mullard 12AX7
    Telefunken 12AX7
    RCA 12AX7A
    Sylvania 7025
    Amperex BB 7189

    Leaving the Russian power tubes in and swapping the triode tube to bgin with, immediate tonal characteristics were noticed. The Mullard was a more lush sound and less forward; the Tele' was more revealing of the mids and highs; the Sylvania 7025 was NOS (not broken in) and was closest to the stock EH that came with the amp. By far my favorite combination was the RCA 12AX7A using either the stock Sovtek EL-84's or the Amperex 7189 power tubes. The musical bass that was revealed with this tube, along with a smoother, and, more revealing midrange (heard passages in recordings that I hadn't heard before), made this the winner.

    From there the Almarro moved downstairs to my main listening room where I hooked it up thru the tape out of my Philips preamp. This allowed me to use several sources and also allowed me to compare the sound to my main Philips system.

    I hooked the Almarro amp to Klipsch Heresy's which are 97db efficient. This proved to be an outstanding combination and one that I could live with as an alternative to my main system which is 220 wpc and low efficiency electrostats. In comparison, there were more dynamics and a larger sound to be had with the solid state/electrostat combination, although, not by much.

    The Almarro/Heresy combination sang with a holographic soundstage which made the speakers disappear (really!). I can understand now why a 2 wpc amp with 100db speakers can be so appealing to some. Bass was musical and prominent; a surprise given the Heresy's are considered lacking in that area, and mids and high's were so compelling, I spent a whole afternoon listening to music.

    Using the Jolida tube cdp (with NOS 7025's), and Sota TT with this combination was the best sources I found to feed the Almarro with the ultimate winner being vinyl on the Sota being my favorite. Sonny Rollins on the Prestige label recordings were so real you felt you were in the recording session.

    In conclusion, the Almarro A205A, despite its spartan looks is a great performance value, and one I would consider with the properly efficient speakers (personally I would not go below 95 db efficiency for best performance). Tube rolling brought out even better sonics, to my ears and made it a legitimate contender for a main listening system. I like it:thmbsp:.

    Jon :)
     
  19. gonzp

    gonzp Klipschophile

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    :yippy: Man am I getting anxious to hear this amp!!! I am sitting here in Wyoming patiently waiting to hear the A205A. :yuck: You have no idea how hard it has been to stay patient and not go buy a tube amp without giving the Almarro a listen. I am currently listening to my music through a Marantz 15 power, Marantz 33 pre and Klipsch heresys 1984 models. They sound good togather but I am anxious to hear the Klipsch with the tube amp. This will be my first experience with tubes. Can't wait

    Patrick
     
  20. jguzman21

    jguzman21 Super Member

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    Hey gonzp...you gonna be able to hear that Almarro over the wind in Wyomin' ;) .

    I think you are gonna be in for a real treat with tubes. I haven't experienced that amp yet but I love my setup of a nOrh SE9 and recently (last Friday) aquired Audcom AP100 preamp with Altec Lansing Model 15's. To my ears it is an awesome combo. I am interested to see what kind of sound some tube rolling in the Audcom will give me.

    Looking forward to reading your review of this Almarro.

    john (your southern neighbor in not-so-windy Colorado)
     

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