A incredible amp at an incredible price. Single ended triode amp with power! Very honest without being sterile, actually with just a touch of "warmth" but just not mushy or slow like some might think. Bass is quick and not hyped, mids maybe a ever so slight bit lean, and highs clean and extended. Back to the mids: music has so, so much mid range that either it reproduces it right, in terms of tempo with mo overhang, or it's a little shy. Could also be my room. Do not let it discourage you from buying thisw amazing amp!
I made the leap from solid state to push-pull tubes in January, 2000. That fully convinced me of the superiority of tube topology for sound reproduction. Now, with the ASL Explorer DT monoblocks, I’ve extended my musical journey into the single ended triode domain and am I glad I did! The fanatics are right. Done well (as in the Explorer) SET is a wonderful way to experience THE MUSIC. But before I get into the sound of these amps, let me comment on some other issues.
Negatives – The one significant negative associated with his product is the owners manual. One might think that a product from a Chinese manufacturer would have a less-than-stellar owners manual for the English-speaking populace and one would be right! The manual is abysmal – not just because of the weird and incorrect language usage but because it leaves out some very important information concerning the usage of the amps. Leaving aside the wrong words and misspelling, the manual lacks ANY reference on how to install the tubes, how to bias the amp and the use of the hum potentiometer. Not a word! I purchased mine through the internet and they were shipped to me from the Canadian distributor. Of course, the tubes must be manually installed in such cases and the manual breathes not a word on how to do it. Basically, all it says is connect the audio source, plug it in and turn it on. Being experienced now with tubes, I was able to figure out how to install the tubes and the biasing is really straight forward (assuming you purchase the unit with the external bias option with meter as I did). The 12AX7 and KT-66 tubes are straight forward to install but the massive 805c’s are a bit different because they have to be pushed into the socket and then turned about 30 degrees to lock them in place. Easy enough for many to figure out I suppose but there will be some who don’t get it and that’s where the owner’s manual completely fails. Since I’ve never owned a tube amp with a hum pot, I still don’t know how to make that adjustment. The amps have very low hum out of the box so I haven’t had a need to mess with that. Still, it would be nice to have some guidance from the manufacturer on its use. Finally, there’s no mention of how to properly bias the amp – with sigal, without signal?? My experience says with no signal after the unit is fully warmed up, but again no mention in the manual.
The Sound – It’s all positive from here on. I have about 100 hours on my set now and they sound fabulous. There was not a big change in sound during break-in. The top end was a little rough out of the box but that has now vanished and it is smooth and detailed all the way up. I would say that they really reach their stride after being on for at least 30 minutes but even the first 30 minutes are a pleasure to experience. The amp is rated at 50 watts, which is really like 100 solid state watts in practice (my former solid state integrated was a 105 watt unit and the Explorer easily competes with it dynamically). In fact the greatest virtue of tubes in general in my experience is two-fold: the excellent dynamics and the tonality. Instruments sound very realistic. There is very little of the sterile, life-less sound that I’ve come to associate with most solid state gear. Is it the second harmonic distortion component? I don’t know and I don’t care! The instruments just sound right and that’s all that matters ultimately to me. Dynamic range is excellent. I have never heard such dynamics in a solid state unit, ever (admittedly, I have not heard the mega-bucks SS gear so take that with a grain of salt). My listening is about 95% classical and I know what real acoustic instrument sound like. The Explorer’s reveal that sound exquisitely. My speakers are Spendor 1/2 ‘s which I am sure help matters. This is really a great combination. My room is fairly small (~12 x 13 ft) and the Spendor’s are reasonably sensitive (89dB) so bear that in mind when considering these amps. The high end is extended and truthful and the bottom is solid and pretty well controlled – quite nice, actually (I use a Sunfire sub to supplement the bottom octave where the Spendor’s don’t reach). But the midrange is where the glory is! These babies make MUSIC. If you know the sound of acoustic instruments, you will hear the resemblance when you listen through these amps (assuming you don’t have problems elsewhere in you system).
The build quality of the amps is superb. They are heavy (about 50 lbs apiece) and look attractive. FWIW, the 805c’s glow brightly and provide a seductive visual appearance to boot. If you are frustrated with the run-of-the-mill solid state stuff, you owe it you yourself to try these amps.
My system: Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player AQ Opal interconnects Anthem Pre-2L tubed pre-amp TMC yellow interconnects ASL Explorers AQ Midnight III internal bi-wire Spendor SP-1/2‘s Sunfire MkII subwoofer
First of all my speakers are Shahinian Acoustic's Oblisks and have a SPL of around 90-92(change of woofers).My cables I wove myself out of 12 strands of old WE copper telephone wire,the interconnects are made from OFC wire and Cardas RCA plugs.The source is a Toshiba DVD with a HDCD chip in it.This is a review of a pair of mono blocks built from parts from Radio Shack and transformers that are from England.The circuit is the old Mullard 3 and uses a 6CA4 rectifier,a 6BQ5 power and a 6277 driver.You can get around 3.5 watts out of them.The amps were built at around a retail price of $500 with the transformers being $300 of that.The chassis,resisters,pots,etc all came from Radio Shack,so this is really a review about the transformers.There are gain controls on each amp so I hooked them directly to the CD player and had no way to adjust treble or bass. Now to what I heard.These little amps really opened my eyes to what I had been missing listening to PP all these years.I listened to all types of music and used recordings that I like and know well.If a recording was made so that you could place a performer they were there.Nothing artificial about it.An opera duet I like placed the women and you could hear the air between the one on the left's teeth when she inhaled.The horns in my favorite Wagner were rich and low and Chick Corea didn't pierce my eardrums on Romantic Warrior.The Dark Side of the Moon was the best I have heard including earphones.Piano sounded like piano and singers were in my house.I listened at higher than my normal listening levels for long periods and did not get fatigued.I didn't want to return the amps.That is all the good stuff. The bad stuff was mostly because of the quality of some of the componants from Rat Shack.The gain pots are scratchy,the binding posts are not very good etc.The other thing is that you can't make the carpet flap with these amps.I seldom do,but sometimes you just need it.I will say though that I got much more volume out of them before they started clipping than I thought I would and a little volume is a small price to pay for such exellent sound.Not the best I have heard but my Fisher 400 definatly takes a back seat to the Mullard 3s.
I'd guess a lot of amplifier buyers go through the same process I did. My old transistor amp sounded grainy, so I looked at tubes. Tube amps were either low powered, or push-pull. I didn't like the idea of push-pull, it seemed like a way of introducing problems. For example, the tubes may be matched now, but will they age identically? Single-ended, known to be the most coherent, are either low powered (one model is less than one watt!) or hideously expensive. I didn't want my amps to determine my speaker purchase (seems like the tail wagging the dog).
Enter the Explorer DT. They are single-ended 40 Watt monoblocks (ASL claims 50, but at 5% distortion, 40W at 1% is more realistic). They cost $2500 the pair. Carys are the only other game in town I know of that have SE to 40 Watts and they weigh in at $40k. Doubtless the Carys are better, but out of my price range. Antique Sound Lab saves money by Chinese assembly. See www.tubehifi.com.
These things are heavy, nearly 50 pounds apiece. Two of the tubes didn't survive shipping, and it took a couple of tries to get the complete set. They won't fit side by side in a rack, being 12" wide each. I had to place them fore and aft, and build an extension. They have to be left open (a hazard to children and pets, since they get hot enough to burn skin), or enclosed with active cooling (working on that). Build quality is solid and good, with gold-plated connectors and a digital readout to adjust bias. It is a little different than their illustration. There is also a hum adjustment I didn't need to touch. Documentation is poor, but the distributor was available for my questions.
They take about a minute to warm up, but almost 20 minutes to achieve optimum sound. At first the highs sound a little too prominent, and the midrange thin. After 20 minutes they settle in. They are crystal clear, detailed, but not harsh. Zero hum. They are just sweet all around. I don't really detect any overly lush midrange or rolloff at the extremes of the audio spectrum-supposedly the tube sound. I've tried vocals, pop, jazz, classical. I cannot fault their sound. They keep up with the transient response of the percussion, complex passages are no problem, bass is no problem, good texture. They play plenty loud, but will distort if pushed. I'm using Near 50 MkIIs, which are medium efficiency speakers with a very revealing, nearly electrostatic quality midrange.
The further I go into high definition gear, the more frustrated I am with audio sources. The echo they put on Sarah McLaughlin's voice may add depth to a car stereo, but it is irritating and overdone when played on my system. Not the system's problem, but be prepared to get critical of sound engineers.
The distributor says they won't take difficult loads (he has other models for that). The Nears have a benign impedence curve never dropping past 2 Ohms. 802 model B&Ws, for example, represent a more difficult load. Check with the distributor first: www.divertech.com.
In short, at this wattage and price, they have no competition in single-ended. Construction and sound are great. Certainly worth your consideration. I took the risk of ordering them unheard. There are a few dealers, so you may be able to audition them.