I had a very enjoyable weekend! Here is the first formal review from the tour.
I look forward to reading others'. The amp is packed up and ready for instructions from the mother ship for its next destination.
Andrew, let me know if there is a particular place you would like this review. I am also posting it over on the Industry circle thread. ..........Peter
Oh, an amp tour. What a fun opportunity to hear a different amp and compare to my current favorite. The difficulty is that this favorite is one I thought would be my last amp ever! These tours sure can be disruptive!
Mine is a hand crafted single ended pentode designed and built by the famous Dennis Had, an Inspire KT-150. The amp on tour, Wolf Ear Audio "Kitoki" is a single ended triode designed and built by Andrew Rintoul in Alberta Canada. Shouldn't be that different! Source is the Cambridge Audio Azur 851N, their flagship streamer and DAC. Speakers are Omega Super Alnico Monitors at 93db sensitivity.
As some Omega Circle participants may know, I have a complex system with the Inspire preamp, a Marchand line level 2-way crossover, active woofer modules, active subs, and powered supertweeters. Testing was with all different combos and is described mostly in comparison to what I am familiar with. I did also test with source directly input into the amp run full range to Omegas run full range with no woofers/sub/tweeters and compared to the Inspire with the same configuration.
Well... At the very least, the Kitoki matches the Inspire. In one primary way, the Kitoki shines, in one the Inspire. Both amps are to die for.
The Kitoki added "sparkle" to my system that wasn't there prior. I don't know if it is simply higher extension or something different, but the knock of a drum stick on a rim, the soft cymbal strike, etc., are more prominent and without adding the slightest bit of irritation. It may be that the Kitoki does a bit better in imaging/realism, but too close to be confident in that conclusion. The Inspire has a bit more body or fullness. Perhaps this is the inverse of the sparkle and imaging advantage the Kitoki seems to have.
The Inspire is currently set up to run at 10 wpc with vintage British KT-77 output tubes (it can be as little as 5 wpc depending on the choice of output tubes). The Kitoki is a modest 1.5 wpc. The gain difference was negligible and I never felt the amp strain. I am not a metal or trance fan, so did not push its capabilities in that way. Volume was easy with a nominal level of 80db (peaks higher) in my fairly large room (4600 cf) and listening distance of 11 ft.
I have largely given up the describing fine audio like fine wine. All of those descriptions have started to run together and sound largely meaningless. It all comes down to that sense of "just right"; that feeling that there is nothing in particular that needs to change, sounds not quite good enough or is distracting. The primary variables for me, other than that most important one, are general smoothness, warm vs. cool, evenness throughout the frequency range, extension up and down, imaging definition, size of soundstage and musicality (technically, probably PRaT).
So, the primary criteria is met! This amp sounds right. When I listen and relax, it is transporting. There isn't anything that calls my attention to a need for change. When I listen more critically, I find:
General Smoothness - Excellent - no irritation whatsoever
Warm vs. Cool - Pretty balanced really - I wouldn't categorize it as either warm or cool. However, changing the output tubes from the supplied Tung-Sol EL-84's to the vintage Russian 6N15P-EV demonstrated that the tonal quality can be altered with tube choice. I found the EL-84's slightly warmer and my preference over the 6N15P's.
Evenness throughout the frequency range - Excellent
Extension up and down - Up - the nicest, smoothest, sparkliest top end I have ever heard in a tube amp. Down - bottom end is pleasing, though not quite as full as the Inspire I compared with.
Imaging definition - Excellent
Size of soundstage - Slightly smaller and more focused than the Inspire, though makes up for it in the sense of immediacy and intimacy.
Musicality - Excellent
Andrew told me that these tubes are the basic tubes supplied when purchasing the amp (along with the vintage Russian 6N1P-EV drivers and EZ81 rectifier). Since my existing amp is a SEP, I didn't have any alternative power tubes to roll in. I imagine some improvement could be found with carefully chosen EL-84's or equivalents. I also do not have any alternative rectifiers that would be compatible. I did, however, try alternative drivers: Russian 1975 Voskhod "Rocket" 6N23P - (single wire, gray shields). These were an improvement over the 6N1P's just as they were in the Inspire and my opinions are based on using the 6N23P/TS-EL84/EZ81 combo.
Other miscellaneous things...... The volume control is a stepped attenuator which is very solid with prominent clicks. I believe this is an upgrade over the stock Alps Blue Velvet. Fit and finish is excellent. Overall aesthetics are subjective. Andrew prefers a cleaner, more modern look than is traditional with tube amps. Transformers are contained within the chassis. The tubes are distributed in a logical manner on the top surface and take prominent visual attention without anything around or behind them. The resulting tube glow is very nice.
Supplied with the amp were Wolf Ear Audio made power cable and interconnects. The interconnects can be purchased on the website in various lengths and at reasonable prices. They are solidly made and very pretty (again subjective).
Bottom line opinion is that this is an amp that anyone not needing more power would likely love! I don't know how it would do with multi-driver speakers, but it is a match made in heaven with the Omega Super Alnico Monitors - single drivers at 93db. At $1600 CAD (currently $1170 US), it's a great buy.