For your convenience, I have compiled all the user reviews of our new Fet Valve 600R and 400R posted at AC so far all into this thread. Check back from time to time as more information is posted here.
Frank Van Alstine
I have the Fet Valve 600R now and put it in my living room setup on my TV/computer system on some B&W 630i speakers I picked up used for about $400. My "good" speakers are downstairs in my listening room which is not set up at the moment. When I got these B&W 630i speakers I hooked them up to an old Transcendence amp and fed right from the sound card output of the PC. It sounded pretty decent but the speakers sounded muddy in the bass (and compared to the current setup had much less clarity at all frequencies). I now have the Fet Valve 600R hooked up to them being driven by the Vision combo preamp/dac fed from the SPDIF output of the PC. The clarity at all frequencies is much better now and the bass better than I ever expected from these speakers. They are spec'ed flat to 53HZ (2dB down). I would much rather listen to this bass (even though it might lack a little reproducing movie explosions) that what I had before, even if I were to add a sub-woofer to the old setup.
If I had heard a subwoofer that gave me more power, weight and visceral impact than I am getting now (which is pretty good) I might be interested. My "good" speakers in my listening room go lower than this.
Oh. My. Goodness!
Have only had a few minutes to listen, but already, what a difference! I say this every time I upgrade at AVA, but it's another layer of fog between the listener and the music removed. Again am hearing more stuff I don't remember hearing before, even on a 55 year old mono LP!
Frank asked me to start out without my subwoof on as I might never need it again. I need more time to decide on that, but I'll say this: I'm hearing a lot more bass right now from my Maggie MMG's than I have a right to expect.
As always, Frank and his staff were most kind and helpful. Homerun, AVA, thank you so much!!
Anyone who is considering upgrading an AVA 350 to the 400R and is wondering if it is worth doing, it certainly is. I notice that bass is tighter, vocals are fuller and sound more life-like, and guitar sounds more "real". I compared "stairway to heaven" from LED ZEPPELIN IV (Definitive Collection) on both versions of the amp. Robert Plant sounded like he was in the room. The solo at the end by Page sounded brite and shrill on the old version. After the upgrade, the solo was smooth but not TOO smooth. It sounded more like you would expect a guitar to sound like.
Next I wanted to try a good but poorly recorded album BLACK SABBATH "Born Again" (2011 Sanctuary Records Remaster). The bass is muddy and the album is very "Noisy". Iommi's guitar solo at the end of "Trashed" can kill a chicken! After the upgrade the bass is tighter and more defined. Iommi's solo is still brite, but nowhere near as bad. Ian Gillan's vocals sound MUCH better and life-like. If this upgrade will make this album sound better than it ever has, then imagine how nice STEELY DAN's "AJA" will sound. If you are undecided about the upgrade, I highly recommend it.
Several weeks ago, when I read about the new FET-Valve upgrade in this circle, I made a decision. I would get another credit card, and upgrade my 550 EXR. Once I received the credit card, I also purchased an Ultra 350 to tide me over while my amplifier was in at Frank's.
The Ultra was certainly cleaner than the EXR. Transient attack and overall definition was superior as well as imaging information. Yes things were better, and I enjoyed going through my music collection hearing parts of the mix that were subtly buried under the grundge that were a part of the EXR's performance.
Yesterday, my upgraded Fet Valve 600R returned from Frank's. I left work early so that I could retrive the amplfier from my back porch. Downstairs it went and quickly it was hooked up, replacing the Ultra that I had been using. I put on a Genesis SACD that was fresh in my mind as I had seen the concert only a few days before. And I was stunned. A complete layer of "haze" that was there with the Ultra no longer was there. The music exhibited a "stark transparency" that was hard to believe. After living with FET-Valve amps for 15 years this presentation was not just better it was completely better. The distortion factor is so low that elements in the mix, the pans, the movements of the faders became immediately apparent. Simply miked material such as Janis Ian had a voice that floated in its own space, with wonderful coherence and articulation. Material with bass such as Steely Dan "Two Against Nature" was a revelation, as the mix's for the bass, drum and various synths was completely revealed. Extension at both ends of the spectrum was well enhanced, more air, more low bass, and more spacial information for the material.
I went upstairs and called Frank. In the 30 plus years of sending him equipment I have never heard such an upgrade. Whatever I sent him was ALWAYS better and well worth the money, but this upgrade was in another league. I told him he hit a home run with this design and he hit it out of the park. The best money I ever spent in audio.Ok,
First let me take this opportunity to thank Mr. Frank Van Alstine for being so gracious and allowing me the privilege to do an in home audition of this wonderful amp. And for all the other times he let me take home equipment.
Now for the review-
AVA 600R power amp
AVA Ultra II preamp and Ultra II DAC
Modified Music Hall 25.2 CDP as a transport
Magnepan QR 1.6 speakers
Cables by Blue Jeans
I will list the music played at the end.
This amp is nothing short of spectacular. When we first hooked it up, my 20yr old budding audiophile son and I noticed that it was a huge improvement over my Parasound A21(which strengths are dynamics,detail, bass, sound stage and transparency) and the FET Valve 550 that we auditioned a couple of years ago. It was quite apparent that this is a special amp. First off, the sound stage seemed to extend well past the walls of my 17'x17'x10' room. The transparency of the sound seemed to have an almost holographic feel to it. The spacing of the instruments was phenomenal. I had to keep reminding myself that I was not listening to SACD's. Even compressed older recordings like Fleetwood Mac opened up and became uncompressed with air and transparency. Vocals and instruments were so life like that if you closed your eyes you got the feeling that Eva Cassady, Hope Sanduval of Mazzy Star or Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane were singing or playing in front of you.
The amp really showed its colors with classical music. The quiet passages just sounded better and were more involving and the amp handled dynamic passages effortlessly. The amp has great pace and rhythm. The sound was grain free and the clarity, resolution and detail were on par with the $10,000 Ayres amp that I heard a couple of years ago and was better than my friend's $5,000 Nuforce Model 9se monoblocks. Bass is powerful, smooth, deep crisp and well controlled. It was the first time that I have heard my Magnepans produce that nice bass thump that you get with cone drivers. Treble was natural and life like. In fact, my son who plays the Sax in band commented that the amp produced the most life like cymbals that he has ever heard and I have to agree. People who have heard my system have always commented on how life like the sound was but with this amp the music was eerily life like. You get the feeling that you are sitting in the front row of an orchestra.
My only criticism if you want to call it that was that I had to do some tube rolling in my DAC and Preamp. I use 6CG7 amprex in my Preamp and Tong Sols in my DAC which produce a slightly warmer sound with my Parasound, but with the 600R the sound leaned just a hint on the bright side with slight sibilance. But once I switched to RCA clear tops in the Pre and DAC the amp was completely neutral with no real sound of its own. But thats the beauty of tubes. They sound different with different equipment and you can roll them to get the sound that you want.
So would I buy this amp? Absolutely, it performs well above its price point just as all AVA gear does. It is certainly on par or better than all of the amps that I have heard ( Ayres, Bryston, Theta, Luxman, Belle's, Nuforce, Parasound, Adcom, Jolida, Plinnius, Classe and MacIntosh ).