I feel the first part of my journey into audio’s “magical” side has ended... that compelling “search” for what will release that sense in the music that lifts it from the mechanical reproduction of merely organized sounds... into the active realm of the “expressive.” Music that sounds alive. Not merely the result of a confluence of exceptional qualities... but something self-referential... a musical experience that the mind “accepts” as real.
We want to be moved. No need to ponder the origin of that intrinsic and essential human need for long. Music used to be a powerful shamanic doorway into other dimensions. Often the women would sing and clap while the men danced in a circle. One by one the men would drop into a “state” in which they would describe climbing threads to another world. What took place in that “other” world might reflect the conditioning of that cultures sense of expectation of an encounter with the divine... we are, after all, still speaking of pathways of consciousness... even if it is operating on a more transparent, more direct level of “seeing.”
And music was that emotive force that moved us out of this world and into that “other” world. Music created an entirely different space from the time/space continuum we imagine we are a part of in our daily waking state. Time as a moment by moment, hour by hour fragmentation of the flow of daily life has to be learned. It is entirely unnatural, synthetic and ultimately destructive. But that is another topic... for another time.
Is it any wonder that we, who seek to revitalize music through the careful choices we make in our audio purchases, or our DIY audio projects feel so compelled to “get it right”!!! It is like the domesticated dog hearing the coyotes singing communally in the mountains... they know that they were once a part of that “wild” relationship with life... when their senses were keenly enhanced by the need to use their innate intelligence to hunt and avoid being hunted. So the domesticated dog lifts its head and howls along with the coyotes. We turn on the audio and dance.
Some amplifiers intrigue us. Usually it is the direct result of hype. “Madison Avenue” writers churning out a “mystique”... like so much pasta. It is easy. For one thing you could charge a lot of money... then hire good industrial designers who understand how to make the usual techno-box look resplendent with “secret” inner-qualities that are “mysterious” and beyond the reach of most of us. Then get the magazine writers to swoon over what they are hearing. Out come the usual adjectives and intimate revelations of revolutionary experiences with brand X. “Never before... never before”. It works!!!!
Then there are amplifiers that attract a “mystique” because a loyal underground of deeply satisfied audio hunters... again... like most of us... find that these amps get us to where we want to go.
Jeffrey Korneff’s Single Ended Triode 45 amplifier is one of that rare breed. His following has a “cultish” sense of loyalty surrounding it. And that is why I wanted to know for myself what it sounds like.
Jeff has been building and designing amplifiers and preamplifiers for many years. Jeff is scrupulous, highly skilled, extraordinarily nice, honest, self-effacing and possesses excellent listening habits. Owners of Jeff’s 45 amp have positively compared it to the best designed amplifiers in the world.
Jeff started by making amps for himself... when friends heard it they went crazy and wanted one... it sounded so real... so present... so non-mechanical sounding. So Jeff started to make amps for his friends... then in a very short time, his reputation began to spread far and wide until the present cult-following has grown up around Jeff’s amplifier designs.
I was going to purchase a used Korneff 45. Jeff took a hiatus for 4 or 5 years and stopped making amps... so there was only used versions around. I spoke to Jeff several times and he was kind, generous and patient with me... he explained to me what to look for. For example, the older beeswax coupling caps sometimes can develop a problem over time and leak current. Although Jeff admitted that they sounded extremely liquid... he now uses highly regarded Mundorf caps. In talking to Jeff, I began to form a friendship with him... he is really a wonderful gentleman... a pleasure to work with. I really like Jeff.
Jeff knows his business. He understands how his 45 amp works... the correct values for every part in the amp. The inside of his 45 amp is impeccable... best workmanship I have ever seen; clean, beautifully arranged, skillfully worked out. It has patience and love written all over it.
As we became friends, Jeff told me he had all the parts, including the chassis for building 2 more Single Ended Triode 45 amps. My budget was extremely tight... even the less than $2000 dollars, Jeff was thinking of charging for his new 45 amp seemed over-my-head at the time... $1850 for a world-class amp? And I couldn’t afford it? Well... we all know how that goes.
I saw the first amp sold on Audiogon the very first day it came up for sale. Then the second one went up for sale a few weeks later. I was e-chatting that day with doctor Dan Mason... my respect for Dan knows no bounds, I trust him implicitly... born from years of our friendship together where he always displays impeccably good sense and prudent incisive thinking... “Buy it Richard... you will never regret it... it is the REAL thing!!!!!!!”... “I can’t afford it Dan... I don’t have the money in my budget for it now.” “Don’t let this go by you, Richard... buy it... you will love it... it will make your Open Baffle speakers sound fantastic!!!!!.”
I mentioned all of this to Deb. “Dan is right... you should buy it... I will give you the rest of the money as a gift to make it possible.”... that was it... Dan and Deb both telling me to buy it was a direct sign from the audio gods. I called, Jeff. “Are you sure you want to buy it, Richard?” “Yes, Jeff, I really want it!!”... “Are you sure, Richard... why don’t you think about it?” Like I said, Jeff is scrupulously honest and understanding... he knew my budget was thin. He finally sold it to me... I actually had to convince him it was alright.
Jeff loves the look of his post-modern industrial design... no logo from Jeff... he simply does not think his amp needs it. Deb loves the way it looks... even if it is on the masculine side of chic. “Sculptural looking” was Deb’s aesthetic response.
What does Jeff’s amp sound like? Smooth as silk, incredible harmonic richness, very “present” and “palpable” with three-dimensional holographic dimensionality, voices as liquid as flowing honey, detail that never calls attention to itself but that helps to create a thoroughly convincing sense of realism, control of the lower frequencies that makes you think an expensive subwoofer is being used, dynamics that pulsate and throb and sends dancing-juices coursing through your veins.
Jeff’s 45 amp is easily comparable in harmonic richness to the Fi 2A3 monoblocks... which Doctor Steven Rayle was kind to bring over for an audio listening pleasure-feast some time ago. And if my memory is dependable, Jeff’s 45 amp may be more linear with better leading edge instrumental timbre. If Steven can make it here again this summer, I promise to give his Fi another careful listen. The frequency reproduction of the Korneff 45 SET, is thoroughly balanced throughout the entire frequency range.
I am using Lloyd Peppard’s inexpensive Magic 5B preamp with it... Steven sent it to me for an audition when he heard how perplexed I was at the thought of trying to track-down a good preamp... Jeff’s 45 and Llyod’s preamp are terrific together.
What does 2.5 watts sound like on my pair of B200 drivers set in simple rectangular plywood Open Baffles... especially considering their 96db sensitivity and dipole bass cancellation issues?... Jeff’s 45 amp together with Lloyd’s 20db gain multi-circuit preamp can blow Deb and I right out of our mobile home in Ojai, California. We are talking about really BIG sound here... tremendous harmonic presence... and Jeff’s amp gives us all the bass we need in this admittedly close community-style of living.
Let me tell you that Jeff’s 45 Single Ended Triode amplifier helps to create an opulent sense of a fully-saturated tonal palette on my Open Baffles.
If Jeff ever makes another new 45 amp I strongly suggest you snap it up before somebody else does. This is a world-class amp... it does not get better than this... I have heard a number of 45 amps... nothing I have heard comes close to it for tonal harmonic saturation... and the sheer pleasure of listening... voices are sumptuous, instruments sound like the materials they are made from... everything is alive!!!!
Naturally, you will need very efficient speakers in order to let the Korneff 45 SET amplifier play the way it sounds in my living space... you really do have to pay attention to the relationship between a drivers sensitivity and an amplifiers comfortable watt output. If you match the Korneff 45 SET with a good preamplifier and your speakers are sensitive, you will have all of the dynamics, glorious color and rich harmonics you crave.
$1850. is admittedly not cheap... but here is one situation where price is not the issue. Why? Because it does not matter how much more money you throw at your amplifier purchase... it just does not get better than this. It is a collector’s item. Deb loves it. Her eyes get all soft and dreamy... “that is so b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l sounding, Richard!!!!” We really do love music.
Thanks Jeff... really nice work. Now I know what the mystique is all about.
Jeff can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Warmest Regards ~ Richard