Van Alstine Fet-Valve 350hc Amplifiers

4.75/5 (8 Reviews)


Product Description

Hybrid solid-state/vacuum tube amplifier


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Reviews 1 - 5 (8 Reviews Total) | Next 15

User Reviews

Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by Mike P a Audiophile

Date Reviewed: December 25, 2001

Bottom Line:   
This amp was 6 years old when I tried to drive a one-ohm load with it which,of course,blew the outputs.It sat awaiting repairs till I sent it back to the factory in sept of 2001(and Mr.Van Alstine didn't even tell me what an idiot I was). In the meantime I have had many fine amps come thru my house and was happily using the Sonagraph as my main amp. That is until the Fet-valve 300i came home.

When I hooked it into my system and turned it on I was prepared for an amp with a fine sound but expected it to be a bit inferior to the Sonograph. Hah! Within 10 minutes (warmup) I noticed a much smoother sound,with no trace of grain and none of the (slight)hardness on top that the Sonograph has. This was a nice suprise but there was more...as I played disc after disc I noticed that the lyrics were much easier to make out,the silence between the notes letting me hear what the singer was saying. Also,another mark of a fine amp, the amp sounds unstrained right up to its max power rating; in fact you may not know that you are pushing it hard until the fuse blows! (Which happens at about 125db on my speakers.)Another indication of good design is that it is not really cable sensitve;yes, you can tell the difference between expensive interconnect cables and junk,but the amp sounds just fine on cheap but well-made cables. The fact is,the Fet-Valve is stable,unlike many high-end amps...it doesn't use an unstable circuit and hope for the best in cable connections.

I coupled the Fet-valve with about 6 preamps,and,joy of joys,it just loves the Onkyo P-304 pre-amp.(I love it 'cause it has really good mm phono abilities,tone controls and lots of utterly silent switching.) My guess is,looking at the tube input circuit,is that it is as purely resistive as any circuit can be, making it the easiest possible load for a preamp to drive. On this amp,the Onkyo sounds like its specs,utterly clean, absolutely silent and coherent. The (late 70's) Threshold preamp was bounced in favor of the Onkyo;the only area of superiority for the Threshold was at the very top,which was sweeter with more ambiance than the much cheaper Onkyo. But,in the rest of the range the Onkyo/Fet-valve combo rules. Bass down to 80Hz (I use a sub)is tuneful and musical and integrates with the mids beautifully,with harmonic and timing detail that I would have paid much more to get. Dynamics are good and involving,with nice attack and excellent decay characteristics. At first I thought the highs to be too laid back but over time realized that I was just not hearing the hard edges on the highs that most SS amps have. Relative images stay constant with dynamic attack and decay; the flute,say,does not harden or change position when a large bass transient comes along.

This amp has an extremely well-engineered set of characteristics;stability,ease of driving,and real speed, (which leads to)high resolution,sweetness,depth,coherence...and musical joy.

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Used product for:   More than 1 year

Duration Product Used:   Audiophile

Product model year:   Pre 1995

Price Paid:    $1200.00

Purchased At:   Audio by Van Alstine



Overall Rating:4
Value Rating:5
Submitted by RAR a Audiophile

Date Reviewed: November 27, 2000

Bottom Line:   
Having already reviewed this amplifier, it offers much value for the money. Great for higher power demands for insensitive speakers. Found the amplifier neither bright nor laid back, very easy to listen too with great dynamic extremes. For my overall listening and type of speakers used, I preferred tube electronics, though, this is no way reflects the great quality of this design.

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Used product for:   3 months to 1 year

Duration Product Used:   Audiophile

Product model year:   2000

Price Paid:    $1500.00

Purchased At:   AVA Electronics



Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by John Flack a Audiophile

Date Reviewed: November 26, 2000

Bottom Line:   
Excellent amplifier that sounds good on a lot of different types of music and mates well with an all tube preamplifier. Has enough power to drive virtually any speaker. It is an excellent performer and a great value at the price.

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Used product for:   More than 1 year

Duration Product Used:   Audiophile

Product model year:   1999

Price Paid:    $1940.00

Purchased At:   AudioVanAlstine



Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by Jim a Audiophile

Date Reviewed: November 16, 2000

Bottom Line:   
After reading about Van Alstine products for years I started converting my system piece by piece to AVA products. First was the Omega IV DAC then a FET Valve preamplifier and most recently the FET Valve 550hc amplifier. Each and every piece represented a giant leap forward in the way of "getting closer to the source." The pieces that AVA electronics replaced were far from run of the mill category. Each time the AVA component was inserted in the chain things got WAYYYYY better. My speakers of Magnepan 1.6's and I thought I was getting good results with a modified ARC D-76A. Because of the improvements up to that point I decided to try the 550hc to see if it would dominate as the others had. This amplifier represents the single greatest improvement.

The greatest challenge I have is keeping my jaw from dropping every time I listen to the system. This more closely resembles live unamplified MUSIC than anything I have heard anywhere anytime.

For anyone wanting the most for the least that defies the upgrade/obselesence syndrome Audio by Van Alstine must be considered. (I am not being compensated for this review)

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Used product for:   Less than 1 month

Duration Product Used:   Audiophile

Product model year:   2000

Price Paid:    $1940.00

Purchased At:   Audio by Van Alstine



Overall Rating:5
Value Rating:5
Submitted by Joe R a Audiophile

Date Reviewed: September 22, 2000

Bottom Line:   
I filled out the order form in the back of the catalog and sent it to VanAlstine on the evening of March 6th.

For the record, I am not an Adcom guy. I have nothing against people who buy Adcom, but as someone with an audio hobby for some 34 years, there are certain things that are understood. Adcom, Rotel, Harmon Kardon and Nad is good stuff (for someone else!!), but it is not hi-fi. Alright I know the Adcom Preamp is listed in Stereophile class "A", but who believes those guys anyway. Especially since J. Gordon Holt has since left the publication. They are a bunch of guys with a very deliberate agenda. hi-fi not being one of them. This publication put Cory Greenburg in charge of turntable reviews, and he never personally owned a turntable!!! Anyway, I always read audiophile publications with a grain of salt. If these critics are so good, why are they not designing equipment? I do not consider hi-fi journalists pioneers, by no means. They write for a living, period. Back to my point.

Before I ordered the Fet-Valve 550hc, I auditioned a number of used amplifiers. My trusty Bedini of over 16 years, was no longer satisfying. My system had advanced much in 16 years, and the Bedini was no longer keeping up. My Bedini 150/150 II was modified 4 times by John himself and was much improved over the original. I must admit that my auditory recollection of the original amp was very fond indeed. The ground open, ceramic filled bipolars proved unreliable in the long run. The modifications included doubling the capacitance, adding a second transformer, increasing the output transistors from 5 to 7, and biasing the amp to full class "A". The Bedini 150/150 was in no way the original design. In any event it is a true hi-fi amp, and still beat out all possible replacements.

I started my search for a replacement amp with a used Threshold. It was 150wpc class "A". Fet design. I think it was the M400 (or something like that). It was so fettie (soft) and un-dynamic, , that it was back to the store the next day. No need to waste anyone's time on this amp. Other auditions included a Krell 200wpc class "A" (was DOA), 60wpc Quicksilvers M60's(great amps, but not a step up from the Bedini), VAC 85 wpc tube(did nothing well), the triode 60wpc Audio Research (too aggressive) and the Rogue 120wpc monos (plain horrible). I considered the new conrad johnson 240wpc solid state (could not find this amp anywhere to audition.), the Luxman tube monos (a Tim Paravicini design of yesteryear, the store would not lend me the amps to audition [ the best I have ever heard however ] ), the Octave research (the company has not made a new amp in over 10 years), the Goldmund 180wpc (the company did not recommend this amp with a tube Preamp), the 180wpc MBL (the store never got the amp in) and the Fenton 350wpc, water cooled (95 lbs. each, and too large to fit on a shelf). The Fenton mono's are made to act as bases to place your speakers on. I spent far too much money on wire to completely reconfigure my system, so the Fenton's were out.

So as you can see. I did my homework, wrote letters, searched the internet, and tried the new and used market. At this point I saw only 3 possibilities. The 100wpc Plinius ($4500+tax), The Bedini Classic 200 (200wpc, $2545 {includes shipping}) and the VanAlstine 550hc (250wpc, $1941{includes shipping}). Although I was not up on buying an amp sight unheard, I also realized that audio is dead, and the only equipment left is home theater. I am not at all into home theater(japanese junk) and found the real hi-fi stuff prohibitively expensive. My spending limit, by the way, was $4500. Since Frank VanAlstine offered a full money back guarantee I took a chance. My correspondence with Frank convinced me that a man this opinionated and steadfast could not be all wrong. In my years of many audio shows and personal meetings with audio designers, I have seen first hand how the old-timers become somewhat bitter (just a personal observation). Hey there's a lot of junk out there(and it's outselling the good stuff)!!!

Low and behold about 8 weeks later (Friday 4/28) I received the FetValve 550hc. Unpacking the unit was a lesson in practicality. From the box to the Styrofoam, to the plastic bag. It seems Frank shipped the unit "3 day" at no extra cost to me (much appreciated, since I now had the unit for weekend listening). I was very impressed with the build quality and heft for a 38lb unit (I weighed it in at 39lbs). My first impression was that this amp was designed first and manufactured second. The back layout, the heatsinks and simplicity of the amp was impressive. The proof however is in the pudding.

After installation (I triwire my speakers, so setup is never an easy task), I sat down to listen. The first tune I played was 'Night Train' from the first Ricky Lee Jones album. Since I did not know the sensitivity of the amp, I was unsure of the volume setting. Sure enough, the signal was much too low. I tried to get off the couch to raise the volume, but I could not. I had to listen till the end of the song. I then adjusted the volume knobs and continued listening to Ricky Lee. I heard background vocals although distinct, blended perfectly. It was now very easy to discern male and female background vocals. Delicacy and separation was the best I've ever heard (period). The balance between brute force and delicacy was finally perfected. I will not bore you with how the hi's mid's and low's sounded, or what the upper mids, lower highs or upper low's are like. I would rather not go into the soundstaging, the bass damping, warmth, clarity or authority. I will say that this amp plays beautiful music. When someone says a piece of equipment is musical, it means to me that it is generally uncritical and undetailed. It means that the person had nothing really good to say. The 550hc amp has globs of detail without being critical, it sounds like no amp I have ever heard. I have heard many Krells over the years, and a friend said it best when he said "a Krell couldn't do this!!!". Alright, you say "enough with badmouthing Krell". I am not badmouthing Krell, but am only using it as an example. An example that has been held up as a hi-fi standard for many years. A standard by many hi-fi audio stores that sell a lot of Krell equipment. Just as Wilson speakers are held up as an audio standard. I'm sorry but the standards have to take the heat (are the true audiophiles defining the standards?). Anyway I digress. I have been listening to the Fet Valve 550hc for 6 days now, and rush to get home from work to do more listening. The inner depth, layering, frequency bandwidth, smoothness and musicality are nothing short of breathtaking.

Have you ever noticed how a piece of hi-fi equipment emphasizes certain frequencies of an instrument. One speaker may excel in the sound of the drum stick hitting the skin, whereas another speaker may excel in the sound of the wood which comprises the drum and the opposite drum skin (or the tail end of the frequency resolving). Similarly, one interconnect might emphasize the guitar pick striking the strings (nice attack), whereas another wire's strong point might be in the reproduction of the size of the guitar body resonating. The Fet-Valve 550hc does nether (or does both). It does not favor the attack of the instrument over the beauty of the tone. Neither does it provide all beauty, without the immediacy. In addition, I am convinced that I am listening to less distortion, a lower noise floor and less device artifacts.

I now sit in my stereo room and say "WOW" to myself over and over. Is the amp perfect? No…but who cares? It never sounds transistory, nor does it sound tubey. It however does have the detail quality of bipolars and the smoothness quality of tubes. In addition, it has absolutely no mos-fet sound ( a major concern of mine). This amp needs almost no warm-up, is light and convenient to setup, and is most definitely a hi-end amplifier.

My audio hobby is defined by a few (very few) memorable audible experiences. My first being a $17 Pickering phono cartridge. I have had very few experiences like this with amplifiers. One that comes to mind is the Beard tube amplifier that I heard at Sound by Singer, and at an audio show in Manhattan. My upgrading efforts are in search of these far few and in-between audible experiences. After over 30 years, it's deja vu all over again. Thanks Frank VanAlstine.


Well it is now September 20th, 2000 and I have owned the Fet Valve 550HC for some 5 months. I waited to submit this review until I was positive of my evaluation. I also wanted to sufficiently break in the amp, and evaluate the finished product.

After 5 months I now hold a higher opinion of the fet valve 550hc. I have found myself holding my breath during listening, to hear the last bit of detail. For the first time in 34 years, I feel no need to upgrade. After this amplifier broke in, I reevaluated my system upgrades (am enjoying the music so much ) and would not change a thing. Some caveats however. After 3 months I suspected that the amp was somewhat lacking in bass authority. I disconnected the 550hc and hooked up the Bedini. Now the Bedini was never the last bastion in the bass department, but from what I remembered no slouch either. Well, the comparison was laughable. Not only was the 550hc better in all other aspects, but it creamed the Bedini in the bass. The Bedini lasted about 30 minutes in my system. After 2 more months, I must admit the bass isn't the most authoritative I have heard, but it does contain extension, beauty and air beyond compare. The bass goes so low it adds interest and enjoyment to the music. If your love of audio centers around bass slam and taughtness, this may not be the amp for you. If you easily become annoyed with fake, rumbling, one-note or exaggerated bass (as I do), this is the amp for you. (oh…did I mention that the midrange is gorgeous, and hi-end is in outer space.) Another caveat: (actually a positive) this amp has no tolerance for compression. Compression is so obvious, it is intolerable. Those heavily studio-ized recordings really strut their compression with this amplifier. I can only summize that this bears to the level of detail obtained with the fet valve 500hc. One last caveat: The fet valve promises warmth, but never really gets there. It hints at the warmth of tubes, but maintains the detail of solid state. Take this as a negative or a positive, but this is simply the way it is.

One last point. My listening habits have changed as a result of the 550hc. Whereas, I used to listen to many different recording during a session, I now listen to one or two (mostly one). I now enjoy listing to the complete album from start to finish. The fet valve is not partial to any kind of music or any type of recording. I now enjoy the music more than the recording technique. This is not to say that the recording is less enjoyable, it is only that the recording no longer hides the musicality of the performance, or threatens the patience of the listener. It is simply a very easy and enjoyable amplifier. Make no mistake however, I am not talking Sansui receiver easy, but state-of-the-art easy.

System Components: Shahinian Hawks, Quicksilver full featured pre-amp, Thorens/Fidelity Research/Stanton Collector Series 100 cartridge, Wadia 22 transport, Wadia 26 D/A, EAD T1000 Transport, Theta DSP Progeny D/A, Tice Signature Series Power Block IIIB, wires include Music Meter Silvers(2), Apex, Audioquest Emerald Phono, Goetz M2, Appature Signature, Prisma, Tice digital, Audioquest Digital, Audioquest ATT glass(most used), Straight Wire toslink. Room 19' x 15'. Tubes (too many flavors to mention), power cords Tice(3), XLO(1), dedicated 20a power line to fusebox.




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Used product for:   3 months to 1 year

Duration Product Used:   Audiophile

Product model year:   2000

Price Paid:    $1941.00

Purchased At:   mail order




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