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Toolshed Amps: Euphoria Stereo 45 DHT

Rating:
4/5,
  • Matt Formanek hand builds single-ended tube amps in Wisconsin. While he primarily focuses on low watt 2 channel stereo amps for driving loudspeakers, he has tailored his circuits for headphones.

    What sets Toolshed's product apart from the dozens of similar boutique amps available today are a combination of strengths - Hand built, furniture quality casework, retro styling, point to point wiring, and dedicated support/communication throughout the build process.

Recent Reviews

  1. k4rstar
    Toolshed Euphoria 45/2A3
    Written by k4rstar
    Published Sep 7, 2019
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Single-ended purity, lack of artificial warmth, perhaps the last amp you'll ever need
    Cons - Lack of artificial warmth, self-noise
    Introduction
    I first learned of Toolshed Amps and Matt Formanek in 2017 via a feature on the Head-Fi home page. At the time I thought his amplifiers were unique and beautiful but pretty far out my price range. Fast forward to 2019, my budget had increased, I had been through several very expensive but very disappointing amplifiers, and I was ready to buy 'the one' to rule them all.

    When I first contacted Matt, I was surprised at how responsive and open he was about discussing the various design elements of the amp and it was clear he was dedicated to getting me something I would be happy with. I really respect this, as I have dealt with other boutique amplifier manufacturers who you would be lucky to get a grunt out of after asking a complex question about their product.

    I placed my deposit and after an 8 week wait the amplifier was hand delivered to me by Matt and his son as he happened to be in town. Talk about customer service! The entire wait time went by quickly as Matt would frequently text me updates and photos of the progress.

    [​IMG]

    My amp
    I should share some words on my specific amplifier build, because Toolshed is a boutique outfit and yours may not be exactly the same as another customers (and that's OK!). First off, I should clarify the models listed on the Toolshed website are not totally up-to-date. Matt's main offering now is an amplifier that can accept both the 45 and 2A3 triodes with a simple rectifier swap, which is capable of driving both headphones and speakers. Further customization is possible (i.e. headphone only, speakers taps only, mono vs. stereo volume control, choice of output transformers, choice of coupling capacitors, etc.) on request.

    My build has:
    -Indian blood-wood two tone base
    -Tango U-608 vintage output transformers
    -Miflex KFPM polypropylene coupling capacitors
    -NOS Western Electric tinned copper internal wiring
    -UX4 base rectifier socket
    -Independent L&R gain control
    -Loading switch for the output transformer to toggle between a 5K ohm and 7K ohm load on the plate of the 45/2A3
    -Output impedance switch for the output transformer to toggle between 16 ohm and 8 ohm taps
    -(the above two features are only possible with the Tango U-608 which is not a standard offering)
    -Binding posts on the rear for speaker connection

    My system
    I listened to the Toolshed 45/2A3 via my modded Sennheiser HD650 headphones, ZMF Auteur headphones, and many DACs. My favorite DAC pairing with it so far has been the Border Patrol DAC SE.

    [​IMG]

    Tubes
    I have owned several 2A3 amps before but had no experience with the 45. It's very interesting to have an amplifier that can accommodate both with an uncompromising circuit and the ability to adjust the plate loading to optimize for either tube.

    My conclusion is that I prefer the 45, at least with headphones. It sounds more direct, naked, and linear. The 2A3 in comparison gets louder and has slightly more bloom and inner warmth to the sound. The main advantage of being able to use 2A3s in this amp is their increased output rating for driving speakers. This will allow for up to 4-5 W per channel into an 8 ohm speaker load. My favorite output tubes in this amp were engraved base RCA/Cunningham 45s.

    For drivers, you have the excellent choice of D3a/E180F/E280F and the 'secret sauce' E810F. My favorite driver tubes in this amp were the Mullard E180F and Amperex 7788 (E810F).

    For rectifier, it depends if you opt for the UX4 socket base or the octal base. My amplifier has the UX4 base so I can run globe-shaped 80 rectifiers (for 45 operation) or 5Z3 (for 2A3 operation). My favorite rectifier tube in this amp was an Arcturus blue glass 80 globe.

    Tube rolling is not required for best results. Matt ships the amplifier with a good sounding play-tested set of NOS tubes. Rolling driver tube makes more of a difference than output tubes. The 45 is a linear tube and the sound does not change much between various makes of 45.

    Sound
    This amplifier sounds awesome. I am sure that a version of this amp without some of the bells & whistles I got would still sound awesome. I have owned amplifiers from EC, DNA, ECP, etc. None of them were as good as the Euphoria 45. One of my first texts to Matt after listening to it was that it was 'akin to injecting audio heroin into your ears'. This is hyperbole, so let me tone it down.

    The 45 is a linear tube from top to bottom. Linear does not mean dry but it will not have the euphony/bloom of a 300B or poorly designed 2A3 circuit. Its strength lies in the fact that no particular frequency body is emphasized or de-emphasized, and it plays it straight up tonally. Some people may wish for more body or more sparkle, but the 45 is not really about all that. The 45 is about tone, presence and balance. The Euphoria 45 captures that while allowing me to hear the differences between various recordings and genres, appreciating the musical message of each.

    My mainstay HD650 headphones aren't really the best to judge performance at frequency extremes. I will say with the right recording and source gear the Euphoria 45 is capable of surprising dynamics, the best I have heard with headphones. Other big budget amplifiers I've heard have left me nitpicking some aspect of the presentation; too soft, exaggerated attacks, unrealistic sustain, weird soundstaging, whatever. I won't say Matt's creation is perfect and flawless, but the straight up way it plays things leaves me not much to blame that isn't already a fault of the recording.

    Flaws? Well like I said before, some would want a more euphonic or tubey or liquid sound than the 45 is capable of. Since my amplifier is also meant for driving speakers, there is a fair amount of gain on tap and that manifests itself as a low-level hum when there is no music playing. This would drive me insane if I kept my headphones on my head all the time, but I only put them on to play tunes, and the hum cannot be detected when music is playing (even quiet classical passages). Other than this gain-induced hum, the noise floor of the amp is insanely low considering the filaments of the 45 are AC heated and the power supply is in the same chassis.

    Conclusion
    I waited months to write any sort of impressions or review for this amplifier to try to work around new toy syndrome and I'm glad I did. I now also own the Toolshed Darling amplifier which is just as good as the Euphoria 45 with headphones, just different. Matt is one of the best people in the industry I have worked with and its obvious his #1 concern is customer satisfaction. If you've been around the carousel with many different amplifiers and know what you want, he'll help you get it. If you don't know what you want, he'll help you figure it out.

    Thanks for reading.
  2. dmhenley
    Toolshed Amps: Euphoria Stereo 45 DHT
    Written by dmhenley
    Published Aug 16, 2017
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Exemplary build and sound quality. New-retro style. Gorgeous hand finished casework.
    Cons - None - only limitations - those who need more than a couple watts to drive certain headphones may not find an ideal pairing here.
    Introductions
    Many of us pursuing the hifi hobby are moving toward the goal of finding a reference component that we can live with long term. While we will also continue to try new gear - of course - it's great to have a core system that represents our personal playback ideals. While those ideals vary for each of us, we share in common the desire to find our musical match.

    I have cycled through several amps over the years - both solid state and tube - and quickly found that low watt tube amps and sensitive speakers/headphones are where I want to live. It's safe to say I have found my reference amplifier. Prices (depending on specs) for the Euphoria Stereo amplifiers will run near US$3000.

    I will be objective in my report, but I admit I am biased. This amp checks off most of the boxes on my list of audio wants. Context: I am a drummer, and my experience playing live acoustically is often my reference for great sound.

    Last year, I came across Matt Formanek, owner/designer/builder at Toolshed Amps, during an online search for tube amp builders. A music lover, ex-hifi shop proprietor, cabinet builder and very cool guy - Matt started Toolshed in 2014. He brings his deep skill set, broad experience and artists spirit to bear on a small line of low watt tube amplifiers. I'll defer to Matt in regard to his background with a Q&A I posted on my blog some months ago -
    http://thenewold.co/toolshed-amps-meet-matt-formanek/

    Euphoria Stereo 45

    On to the focus of this review: the Euphoria Stereo 45 is a direct heated triode circuit designed around the revered 45 tube. E180F/D3A tubes are assigned to preamp duty, with the GZ37 on rectification. I asked that my amp be built as an integrated, with both headphone and speaker outputs. Point to point wiring, high quality components, and attention to detail all lend to the exemplary build quality. Matt builds and finishes the custom wood bases, handles the cutting and etching on the aluminum plates, and wires the amps himself. My amp got 100 hours of burn-in prior to shipping. See the photos for more on the overall build quality.

    System

    I primarily listen to cd quality streams via Tidal, and use Roon as my interface. I also listen to vinyl, but for our purposes am focusing on streaming audio. My source is a Win10 pc, and I run a microRendu (w/LPS1 psu) into the Schitt Yggdrasil dac (Anticables USB cable), which feeds the Euphoria 45. All components are powered by a PS Audio Power Plant Premier. My primary headphones are the Audioquest Nighthawks with a Double Helix cable. I used the brand new (40 hours on them) Sophia Electric mesh 45's and Mullard E180F's for this report.

    Operation
    Being a very low output design, it does not generate a ton of heat. It is hot to the touch, but doesn't raise the temperature in my office like some other amps have. It's a full size component - I wouldn't call it a desktop amp - but that's not to say you couldn't set it on one. The amp weighs in around 23 lbs. There are old school switches for power, impedance (8ohm and 16ohm) and headphone/speaker selection. There's a rotary switch on the front for input selection, just to the left of the 1/4" headphone jack.

    This is an early review - I'm in my first week with the Euphoria 45 - so, will be following up with updates as the weeks and months pass. We can talk about stability and my evolving impressions later.

    Overall Sonics

    First thing - the amp is very quiet - a prime concern for today's headphone enthusiast. When using my NOS RCA Radiotron 45's, the background is quiet. This is not the virtual vacuum of a digital tomb quiet. No. If you're after that, then this may not be the amp for you. The Sophia Electric mesh 45's do hum a bit, but it's not enough to keep me from using them. I also listen via my vintage Altec Lansing speakers, where the hum is nearly inaudible from my chair. But, this is specific to the tubes - the amp itself is quiet. These circuits are chosen for their immediacy, tonal 'rightness', dynamics and transparency. Component changes will affect the overall character. And tube selection will too - part of the fun with tube amps. 45's are known for very low distortion, inner detail, extended bandwidth and killer tone. I've found this to be true, and will add that rolling these power tubes will offer some variance in these attributes. So, like most tube amps, within the overall presentation, you can 'tune' the amp with tube changes.

    Listening
    Incredibly musical, dynamic and engaging. The amp is quite revealing and will present any perceived flaws in the recording and/or your upstream components performance. That said, these things are well balanced. This is not a tubey tube. Heh. Not overly warm or bloated. Linear, but not lean.There is an ease to the sound, despite the detailed nature - one hallmark of great components.

    I look to be gripped by the music, and am less interested in the specific hifi attributes. Most of the time.

    Again, the amp is revealing, but not bright. The stage is wider than anything I've heard with the Nighthawks - which are known for a close/intimate presentation. There's more room for each voice or instrument to be fully rendered, but not overtly. If I think of the stage in a globe, but as a balloon, it's like we've injected more air into it. Layering and depth are ideal for me. I don't feel that the amp is exaggerating this, but the tremendous insight it provides brings me into that space.

    Tone! Oh man...pianos sound right - notes are balanced between the hammer attack and weight and a blend of the overall instruments sound. Instruments in general have weight, and so feel more real. I imagine it as gravity - the drums are stable in the stage and feel like they're moving air - as if you were standing in the room with them. Combining that luscious tone with the transparency, we get all the harmonic complexities of acoustic instruments played by people in a shared space. If that's in fact how it was recorded. Crucial in creating the illusion of being there. Voices have intense presence, and I can experience the singers subtle inflections.

    Speaking of weight, the low end is balanced as well as I could want. Deep, solid bass notes, complemented by an open mid-range. No mud. In fact, I think the 45's linearity is an excellent match for the Nighthawks. One complaint many have about them is a certain bloom in the lower mids/upper bass. I'm not finding this to be an issue now.

    Finally
    I consider the Euphoria Stereo 45 to be an heirloom quality amp. It delivers world class performance and a build quality to match. In concert with my Yggdrasil, the Euphoria 45 translates the energy of a performance to me - this is among the highest praise I can give.

    The style may not be for everyone. For those who dig the updated retro design, and are looking for low watt tube power will not be disappointed.

    Thanks for listening.

    images

    1. TSA_E451.jpg
    2. TSA_E45_2.jpg
    3. E45_front1.jpg
    4. IMG_20170813_215801 (2).jpg
    5. IMG_20170812_160308 (2).jpg
    6. E45_Unbox1.jpg
      OldSkool, Steveevo9, D2Girls and 13 others like this.

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