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Maverick Audio TubeMagic A1 (Hybrid Amp) - Discussion and Review Thread

post #1 of 227
Thread Starter 

 

 

This thread will be for reviews and discussion of Maverick Audio's new Tube Magic A1 Hybrid Amplifier.

 

What we know thus far can be gleaned from Ryan's last few blog posts. (here: http://www.mav-audio.com/base/blog )

 

Its going to be able to be used in synergy with the D1, or as a standalone, and it has a full tube headphone output stage - which I know alot of people have been asking for since the D1 debuted. It can power low-medium ohm bookshelf speakers and has the same form factor as the D1. Overall it looks like a fine hybrid amp, and I can't wait to get my hands on one. sp70.

 

front_side1-copy.jpg


Edited by sp70 - 8/12/10 at 1:47pm
post #2 of 227
Thread Starter 

sp70's unboxing and initial pictures:

 

 

a1pic7.JPG

 

a1pic6.JPG

 

a1pic1.JPG

 

 

a1pic4.JPG

_Spanky_'s pictures:

 

Spanky1.JPG

 

Spanky2.JPG

 

Spanky3.JPG


Edited by sp70 - 8/6/10 at 9:56pm
post #3 of 227
Thread Starter 

Maverick Audio A1 TubeMagic Hybrid Amplifier Review
    -sp70


First, let me just state that I have no affiliation with Maverick Audio, and I am not an employee. Now onto the review...

The package arrived on a hot August day, for those of you familiar with the D1's packaging, the A1 is packaged similarly with foam inserts on each side that protect the amp. Inside, a manual, a power cable, and of course the A1 itself. The A1 and D1 have the same form factor, though there are a few minor differences. The A1 has different, and more, heat vents than the D1, which allows for a nice view of the tubes working their magic - no pun intended. Also, the LED on my particular model appeared a bit dimmer than the D1s. On the back of the unit, sturdy gold-plated RCA jacks for input and tube output. The speaker terminals were also of like quality, screw on gold-plated terminals allowing for either bare wire or banana plugs, both offered solid connections for me. On the front side of the unit, the same color, feel, and design volume potentiometer as that of the D1 and a small input selector along with the line-in and headphone out jacks.

My testing setup was as follows: Lenovo R400 running Songbird with my Linux 24/96 driver -> CryoParts USB cable -> Maverick Audio D1 (with modded opamps and WE396a tube output) -> Morrow Audio MA1 RCA Interconnects -> Maverick Audio A1 with upgraded Tung-Sol tubes.

After everything was hooked up and warmed up, I plugged my Sennheiser HD600s in. The first thing I noticed was a completely dead noise floor. So far so good. First album up, a FLAC rip of the JVC XRCD of James Newton Howard & Friends (LIMXR004). From the opening notes of Caesar, I know this is no "budget" sound. A very sweet midrange, and then Jeff Porcaro's drumming hits you. More than enough bass, albeit slightly sloppy, though that may be due to the tubes being brand new and not burned in. I didn't know the HD600s were capable of such strong bass. Compared to the D1, its a night and day difference. The stock D1 might be considered "bright" and slightly bass anemic out of the box. The A1 is leaps and bounds better, strong, sweet mids, crisp -not bright- highs, and a wealth of bass compared to the D1. At $240 for an upgraded tung-sol tube model, its probably the best synergy i've heard with the D1.

My Harman Kardon AVR-144 was absolutely dull with the D1 tube preamping it. My main workhorse amp, the Hitachi HMA-6500 was a bit closer of a contest. The highs on the hitachi were almost harsh compared to the smooth, laid-back highs of the A1. Though the bass seemed a little tighter, there was not the amount of bass that the A1 had.

I was beginning to wonder if the sound signature of the HD600s (with stock HD650 cable) was getting in the way of the real sound signature of the A1. So next I hooked up my Grado SR80s. The sound was far more neutral than the output of the stock D1. Normally, I would say that the D1 and these lower end Grados have a bad synergy, both have the same characteristics, slightly weak bass and almost harsh highs at times. The A1 changes this entirely, and manages to make the Grados sing. The A1 and Grados made for a really nice synergy, the A1 giving the bass that SR80s needed, while not overdoing the crystalline highs of Jeff's impeccable hi-hat work on She.

Now that i've seen how nice the A1's headphone stage is, next up was the speaker output. I was a little wary hooking my speakers up, as I knew the power rating on the A1 was a little low, but a quick check with my speaker manuals revealed they would be driven safely, though barely, with wattage this low. So with that in mind, not expecting much, first up I hooked up my pair of Infinity Entra Ones, a mid-range pair of bookshelfs, via SignalCable Ultra Speaker Cables. I put on John Cougar Mellencamp's Scarecrow album first, and found myself quickly reaching for the volume knob. Not up - but down! In near-field listening, I found that my 89db bookshelfs were more than comfortable at around 9-10 o'clock on the volume knob. Getting results like these, I started to think this is what the A1's speaker outputs, I believe, were meant for: near-field or small room speaker listening. The imaging was just alright, and the sound signature was quite similar to headphone output, but I quickly realized that my speakers were the weak link in the chain here.

I decided to hook up my JBL 4311b studio monitors up next. I figured it was time for something heavier, so I put on Powerslave by Iron Maiden. Now these are some hefty speakers, it takes a decent amp to drive these to a level befitting of Maiden. I shouldn't have been so skeptical, Aces High blew me away. Raw power, the true sound signature of the A1 really shone through on the JBLs. The A1 was able to drive the JBLs to far more than adequate levels, needless to say I was speechless. It had all the sound of my 200wpc Hitachi and then some. I think the A1 really sounded excellent on this album, the sweet midrange really shone through - distorted guitars sounded incredible. Sadly, the bass, though it had the weight, still sounded a bit loose, it just wasn't quite as tight as I felt it could have been. Perhaps this will change with tube rolling, or further breakin, but for now it remains something I feel needs mentioning. The imaging was far improved from the results I was hearing with my Infinities. Now with speakers like these, i'd say the A1 would perform suitably in even a moderately large room - I didn't feel like power was an issue with high sensitivity speakers (91db) like these. Trust me, I drove this amp hard during Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, all the way up to 12-2 o'clock - more than enough for me, and I didn't hear any noticeable clipping, maybe the very smallest amount of soft clipping - or perhaps it was the sound of the picture frames rattling against the walls! Either way it sure sounded better than most solid state amps do at that kind of listening level.

Putting this minute hybrid through the paces really made me realize that you just don't come upon this kind of value very often. In every area I felt it would be weak, I was proven wrong. The headphone stage of this amp alone makes it well worth the price, and I think that in combination with the hybrid speaker output, you can't go wrong.



Some closing notes, I found that after several hours of putting the A1 through the paces, it was much cooler than the D1. Its relatively cool to the touch, except on the heat slots directly above the tubes. I also found that Maverick Audio's customer relations to be some of the best i've experienced. Ryan answered all my questions and comments within a day or two, and was very pleasant to deal with. I felt as if I was really connecting with somebody who knew what they were doing. It would be a pleasure to do business with him in the future.

I'll be receiving a pair of the stock Chinese tubes next week that I plan on rolling, so I can add speculation on the stock A1 to the review. I may also add some speculation on the D1's Solid State output, but from previous testing I believe its sound to be of lesser quality to the D1's tube output - especially with an upgraded tube like the WE396a.


Edited by sp70 - 3/21/11 at 8:27pm
post #4 of 227
Thread Starter 

Maverick Audio A1 TubeMagic Hybrid Amplifier Review
    -_Spanky_


I'll start this review off saying that I don't have several pairs of high-end speakers to compare. I also don't have several pairs of headphones to compare, or even bunches of previous amps to compare. But, I do have a demand for build quality that comes with great sounding audio. For those that have seen my D1 condensed FAQ thread, you know that I try to compile and gather information. That's exactly what I intend to do in this "review", give my impressions about build quality, aesthetics, performance and sound quality. Because, honestly, there's plenty of other people more qualafied to give a review with comparasions and experience.

Also it's worth mentioning that my unit is a pre-production test unit that has been modified to mock up what the production batch will be. For all practical purposes, it will be very similar to production batches.

 

Setup
Computer > Belkin USB Gold Series > Teralink X2 > Coaxial SPDIF w/DIY RG-6 cable > TubeMagic D1 (stock Chinese tube) tube out > DIY Mogami Neglex interconnects > TubeMagic A1 > Insignia NS-B2111 Speakers (DIY Cable), BeyerDynamic DT770 Pro 80ohm.

 

Sound Quality
Bass, where have you been all my life? For once, with the A1, I feel satisfied with the clean & crisp thump it provides. Now I know why these Insignia speakers are called Bass Reflex. The best part, it doesn't overwhelm the mids or highs. I'm a headphone guy. I love the detail, I love the comfort and I've just never really been into speakers. I purchased the Insignia NS-B2111 based on great reviews because I knew I was going to get the A1. The reason why I bring this up is that, the combo, they really make me question my fondness of headphones. I mean, the detail, quality and joy they've brought me, it's extremely enjoyable to say the least.

But wait, what about tubes? All the above was experienced on the stock chinese tubes. Pop the Tung-Sol JTL-6AK5 matched pair in and woah, talk about velvety smooth bass and even more detail. I'm a bass lover, I'm with the people that can't seem to get enough. The A1 certainly delivers with providing accurate and clean bass where I wouldn't expect it. It's not overpowering, it's more providing in unexpected areas. For example, watching a low-quality TV show rip, you generally get a lot of mids mixed with some shrill and distored highs and infrequent dirty lows (low-bitrate lossy audio). The A1 cleans up and provides bass that you would expect from a quality non-lossy audio source.

While playing through random songs, I came across The Eagles - Very Best of the Eagles and there was one thing I noticed: percussion. It seemed to be so announced on every song. The rip/master my have something to do here but the A1 passes it along fantastically. Much like the bass, it's not overwhemling, just pronounced and clean. Very enjoyable.

 

Build Quality
I've seen some people on this forum that would like to abolish products "Made in China". I think they obviously haven't used newer products made from manufactures that aren't out to screw you over. Ryan is out to make a name for himself in the audio world by providing audio equipment that is small form factor, has great build quality and sound quality and is budget friendly. In my honest opinion, he's succeeding. His D1 DAC/Amp blew a lot of minds and impressed even more. I've had mine for about 8 months and have fully enjoyed it's features and upgradeability as well as never once had a problem with it. This kind of dedication, performance and reliablity is what Ryan strives for and with this A1, I'm confident that the production models will hit the nail on the head.

 

Pro's
0 DC Offset
Easily drives Insignia NS-B2111 with plenty of output power remaining
Even with a larger transformer, power chip and 2 tubes, it runs cooler than the D1
Turn-off process is much cleaner than D1 (signal just cut instead of fades with noise)
No popping when switching between souces or powering on/off
Ceramic tube holders

 

Con's
Source knob is harder to turn (because it's smaller than the D1's source knob)
Would like a switch to turn on/off output to speakers rather than relying on headphone jack switch
G-Luxon caps
Tube hum past 2 o'clock (sp70 didn't experience this and since I don't go past 10-11 o'clock, it's really a non-issue)

 

Non-issues (problems that won't be in production batches):
Internal wiring looks messy
Clearance issues with the power switch, power supply and cables around the stock chinese tubes (Tung-Sol tubes are shorter and should allow more clearance)
LED is significantly dimmer than December 2009 model D1
Wobbily unit when cover is removed
Screw hole alignment is almost unusable in the rear

 

Before you make a judgement on this unit because of the con's I list, I sent Ryan a copy and he had the following to say:

Quote:

As you know, the R&D of A1 has come a long way since end of last year. Your unit is among first 2-3 units we have manufactured, yes, we will still try to improve the building process.

- We are making a new batch of A1 cases. Future production will have "better" screw hole alignment.
- The internal space is very limited for this amplifier. That's the reason the wiring looks a bit messy at this moment. We are also working on improve this.
- The switch behind the source knob is same as the one used in the DAC. We just reduced the size of the knob, that's the reason you found it is a bit hard to turn. We choose smaller knob solely due to design reason. If put A1 along with D1, to have the same size knobs makes will make the combination looks weird.
- We use capacitor which is good and cost effective. Sometimes, better brand capacitor doesn't mean better sound quality.
- I will check with the factory to see if they can fix the LED issue.

- _Spanky_


Edited by sp70 - 8/6/10 at 9:24pm
post #5 of 227

Looks nice. Maybe I'll be ordering soon anyway :D

post #6 of 227

I'm pretty excited about this.  I loved the tube pre-out from the D1, Ryan is also very nice and has very good customer service for those who are wondering about warranties, etc.

post #7 of 227

On one hand I like it is the same "size & concept" as the D1 but on the other hand it's too bad the tubes are not showing

post #8 of 227

I agree but that would mean another case style and more cost added to the unit. It's pretty easy to make a plexiglass cover, I know I will be refining mine for the amp. Not to mention the case helps prevent EMI/RFI that tubes are susceptible to.

post #9 of 227
post #10 of 227
Quote:
Originally Posted by _Spanky_ View Post

I agree but that would mean another case style and more cost added to the unit. It's pretty easy to make a plexiglass cover, I know I will be refining mine for the amp. Not to mention the case helps prevent EMI/RFI that tubes are susceptible to.

 I can confirm that after performing a plexiglass mod on the D1, that there's no EMI/RFI. Sure, if you hold your mobile phone straight over the tube and make a call, that's another thing. I'll definitely mod the A1 as well, probably going to add even more ventilation holes since two tubes sure heat things up. Better idea would probably be cutting a fitting hole for you cup of coffee over the tubes though.
 


Edited by reiserFS - 7/5/10 at 6:35pm
post #11 of 227
Quote:
Originally Posted by reiserFS View Post

Better idea would probably be cutting a fitting hole for you cup of coffee over the tubes though.
 

 

Now that's a mod I want to see :)
 

post #12 of 227

What's the price tag?

post #13 of 227

We don't know yet :)

post #14 of 227

I asked Ryan.

 

A1 will be priced at $199 for Chinese 6J1 tube. We will also have the unit with 2 matched NOS Tung-Sol 6AK5 tube for $239

 

 

post #15 of 227
Quote:
Originally Posted by kohein View Post

I asked Ryan.

 

A1 will be priced at $199 for Chinese 6J1 tube. We will also have the unit with 2 matched NOS Tung-Sol 6AK5 tube for $239

 

 

That is indeed a fair price for the 6AK5 version, seeing as matches pairs go for more than 50$ nowadays.

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