RGA makes an upgrade - [Archive] - Audio & Video Forums


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02-13-2005, 06:57 PM
Says goodbye to a great component in the process. My dream system as many of you know is not attainable on my finances, but I am moving to get to something in the ballpark and yesterday I have moved a little closer.

I picked up the Audio Note OTO Phono SE from Soundhounds and traded of my trusty Sugden A48b integrated amp. The Sugden is a very good smooth transistor amplifier of about 70 watts class A/B design and nicely forgiving of lesser front end components. The Sugden had a slightly veiled presentation and what has been described as a valve like presentation (which means a little rich and syrupy --- not all tubes sound like tube amps in this manner!!)

The OTO has been in my upgrade path really for over a year and itís the Audio Note amp I have logged the most time on so I knew it fairly well. I wanted one last audition though because I made the mistake of looking at a few reviews (why I donít follow my own advice more) which claims the amp has difficulty with the frequency extremes which I have not heard in the past, but I wanted to be sure. Needless to say I bought the amp so that is obviously not an issue I heard. Though, the comments made may be true with less efficient and less sensitive designs.

The OTO is a Single Ended Tube amplifier which runs in pure class A - 10 watts per channel in 8 ohms or 10 watts per channel in 4 ohms with the 4 ohm tap. The heat it generates is certainly a testament to it's class A rating and it requires 20cm above the unit for ventilation --- I had to re-do my equipment racks so that the unit could be placed on the top shelf. The amplifier has a much more robust construction than the already good Sugden. The OTO weighs in at a manageable 38lbs incorporates 10 tubes -- 4 el84, 3ecc83, 2 ECC82, and 1 ECC88. Luckily all of these tubes are relatively inexpensive and Audio Note states tube life to be around 8000hours. My Antique Sound Labs Headphone amp uses the same EL 84s which is nice $20.00Cdn for a matched pair. It' a beast at (140mm high) X (440mm wide) X (410mm deep).

The amp is not the most ergonomically brilliant unit I've seen. It is a plain black box with a nice piano black kind of front panel with 5 solid bronze knobs --- labeling is in gold print and BELOW the knobs which makes it rather difficult to see the setting if the amp is on a lower shelf. There is no remote control. The manual consists of 6 photocopied pages 1 is safety instruction 1 is a title page with a staple in the right corner. The amp comes double boxed. Audio Note recommends 200 hours for "bedding" in and 30-45 minutes after each turn on for the amp to be optimally sounding its best.
The amp self biases for new tubes so no volt-meters are required nor is bias adjustment needed when new tubes are purchased.

The amp has an on off knob, a selector control (Phono, CD, Aux, Tape in/out and Tuner), a balance control, record knob, and of course volume knob which can produce deafeningly loud content. 10 Watts is actually a lot for Single Ended tube amplifiers.

My listening sessions have always impressed with me over the years but I did want to throw some Big Classical works at like the Saint-Saens, Ravel's Bolero etc but I also wanted to double check the amp’s ability on well recorded bass heavy pop such as Madonna's Justify My Love, Vogue, Sarah McLachlan's Surfacing and new After glow albums as starters. Needless it had no problem with any of this music nor did it hint at a problem. The music of course always caught my attention so deliberately forcing myself to try and listen to the components I have had difficulty doing with Audio Note --- which is why I'm such a fan of their gear. The last thing I want to be doing is listening for an amplifier.

The Sugden will not very much be missed as the OTO has a faster quicker tighter presentation throughout the midrange and lightning quick leading edges where the Sugden soft peddled it a bit --- the Sugden I have always said is a good fixer of lesser systems because it makes them listenable --- but it will have the adverse affect of holding back greater set-ups. The sense of space 3 dimensionally is already far better on the OTO and soundstage width is bigger more open and the electrostatic quality is taking shape in the midrange that has been at the dealer but not so much in my home. The OTO so far does not care much for my 300 disc changer which has little weight and sounds on the thin bright side… the Cambridge Audio has managed to make the transition reasonably well.

The leading edges of guitar on Allison Kraus & Union stations 2 disc live recording really have that twang and sparkle thing going on. The Dynamics are explosive which is interesting because with less watts I figured the headroom might suffer --- it doesn't and interestingly the Meishu a much more expensive AN SET is even better than the OTO and is 8 watts. That is interesting indeed. I suspect it's because AN uses better transformers I their upscale models.

There are no hums or hisses of any kind here which the Sugden and Marantz 4300 can't claim.

Most people here will probably not be too interested in a low watt amplifier such as this but I have seen it mated with Totem and people have used difficult to drive speakers with aplomb. Still AN is about a system approach and I think if one has the intention to build a whole Audio Note system the OTO SE would be a good entry point. They make an 18 watt Push Pull version for considerably less money which will drive most loudspeakers quite well which sounds very good as well.

I will write a review eventually --- I need to listen to the NAD turntable as well as evaluate the Skylan Turntable base --- with a better phono stage now I will be more able to competently address the Turntable platform ‚Äď so far very good results especially with bottom end control versus the regular shelf.

Product Information
Audio Note OTO Phono SE ($4,000.00Cdn - $3100.00US) Line SE version is $2600US. (pricing guide of all AN products http://www.triodeandco.com/04us_prices.html ) 1 year warranty 90 days on tubes.

I'd also like to Thank Paul at Soundhounds for driving me to the Bus depot as I don't own a vehicle) , lugging that amp around would have been impossible. Also thanks to Terry for making the world's best Cappuccino -- okay well the best one I have had.

02-13-2005, 08:00 PM
Congrats, RGA. Will you describe the performance of the OTO's phono section compared to your previous set up and perhaps other phono preamps you've heard?

02-13-2005, 09:34 PM
You bet....I also have a phono preamp handy to compare.

I will be going for an Audio Note TT1 in the summer if all goes well. I will aslo listen to comparable Linn and Rega's but my short listenings seem to put Rega well behind --- my NAD is also built by Rega...They're good but they seem to lack the overall there presentation.

The difficulty with direct comparisons is that I can't make them at this point.

02-14-2005, 05:00 AM
Congrats on the pickup...hope you didn't have to sell your vehicle to get it...

My uncle owns that unit and I've heard it with both the K's and E's...I remember using the words fluid and organic to describe it's presentation. Very nice unit. I think this thing would be ideal in a small cozy room.

But Rob's room is actually huge and those 10 watts are more than enough, especially with those very efficient AN's...I'm doubting you'll miss the Sugden.

RGA: can you explain what you mean by "faster quicker tighter presentation throughout the midrange and lightning quick leading edges "?

Speed is not something I've ever associated with amplifiers. I'm assuming this audiophile lingo for something I probably use different descriptors for...

02-14-2005, 03:13 PM
work you are...but we all knew that!

Congrats and enjoy.....

Peace, Pogue

02-14-2005, 03:23 PM
Congratulations on your new amp. I look forward to reading your evaluation of it's performance. Enjoy!

02-14-2005, 06:38 PM
Nice purchase...but couldn't you spare $200 for a decent component rack!?

02-14-2005, 08:19 PM
Yeah the rack is a bit of a shambles --- I have too much stuff. The rack on the left is not too bad the beach one is solid pine - but yeah it's on the agenda --- but componants matter more.

Dean Martin -- The phono section is not just a card --- it is an actual phono preamp and uses 2 extra tubes -- thus it has two more tubes than the Line version and is separated in the box.

Basically I'm talking about Attack and transient response but in more flowery language. Leading edges are more defined --- it is interesting that the Sugden was more tube like sounding in that it veiled this a bit --- Tube amps and the OTO would probably sound veiled with difficult speakers. Amplifiers in my opinion have significant impact on the sound you get - while not bourne out of frequency response -- that isn't the most important thing. The stage is bigger and there is a breathy space between instruments --- that opens it up so individual instruments come through as separate entities --- which seems to make everything sound quicker and faster rather than jumbled. And the Sugden I choise over plenty of SS amps that like the MF also had that open airy sound but brought an etch to the presentation and flat dynamics. Putting my receiver in and doing A/B it should be kinda of apparent what slow,veiled(like a wet towel thrown over everythig) and flat sounds like because my Marantz is very good at slow,veiled and flat...but for the $300.00 it's certainly acceptable for watching a movie from time to time in the other room.

We listened to a Chesky recording - I know Peter is good friends with some of the folks over at Chesky -- but one of their recordings had less life dynamically than a fellow who did his own recording in his basement. The Chesky recording was smooth but 2d the other was 3d and quite lifelike. This was brought out by the AN amp that the SS ones didn't do. I can;t really explain that but something sounds processed or compressed too much on some of the amps --- and that 320bee has mongo problems - they had an entirely knew batch sent and they all have problems. And that amp is getitng awards -- meanwhile the comparable Rotel is stmping it upside the head in every way -- :rolleyes:

I compared the OTO to AN separates with 300b's and an M3 preamp and THAT was something else again. The laws of diminishing returns is something AN works very hard to convince people doesn't exist...going from an AN E/L or E/D to an E/Spe puts a world of hurt on the lower E/D and E/L --- and the strange bit is same cabinet shape and same drivers. Youlisten to the lower E and it's incredibly good -- then you go to the E/spe and then it's like the lower E is annoying because you just know it's not doing what you just heard the other E do. I give up on trying to explain it...it needs to be heard.

I'm also trying my J's well out from the corner as you might be able to see from the pic. So far it's very good there as well.

There are also some upgrades that can be performed on the OTO that Audio recomends to get more from it...typical of tube amplifiers of course.

02-15-2005, 12:08 PM
Congrats on your new toy, I'm sure it will bring you lots of enjoyment. Is the OTO designed to take the cage off so you can see the purty glowing tubes?

02-15-2005, 01:06 PM
Unfortunately no -- Audio Note seems only to know how to do ugly --- the cage can come off but all you see is capacitors and transisters and tubes...El 84 tubes are very small and boring looking. This person has the OTO with TOTEM

This site shows some of the uncovered tube amps from AN - the lower range ones are in simple boxes. http://www.bau.hit.bg/Anote/L4.htm