Thanks for the great review and comparisons to the LP. Thanks so much for posting this!Here's my impression and "review" of the TUBA.
First of all, I am not an audiophile. I m just a medical employee who enjoys listening to music with headphones. My review basically is my observations and comparisons using the different types of headphones that i own. The Tuba is my first real tube amp. My previous tube amp journey consist/ed of Liquid platinum, Loxjie P20 and Xduoo Ta-20, all of which are Hybrids.
I have been using my Tuba for almost two weeks. Jim Hagerman shipped it to me in just over 3 days all the way from Hawaii. It arrived in a securely packed box with a pair of Mullard El84 tubes and power supply. Upon opening the box, I realized this thing is a tank, at least built like one. 7lbs is kinda heavy for a 10"x5" rectangle. The craftsmanship is exquisite. It looks and feels like someone handmade it with love and the result also reflects on the labor that went behind creating something so simple yet high end. The build is minimalistic and straighforward.
Before i jump into the sound signature, I would like to share my experience with my current two other amps, THX 887 and Liquid platinum. IMO, the THX 887 and LP are both clean amps. 887 is an excellent reproducer of sound without any color all the while retrieving details with high precision. 887 is the definition of black background. I would say that the LP is very similar but it adds a certain "tubey" flavor to the overall music, being a tube hybrid amp. The LP is exceptional in the high frequency. The treble is lush and full if clarity. The vocals are lively and forward. The sound is aggressive. It drags you into the music, whether you want it or not. It also punches really hard in the low end as well. With the LP, I can feel every bit of a music, with a moderate soundstage. It was all i wanted from an amp. Something that pulls me in the music and forcing me to see and hear things between my two ears.
All that changed the moment i plugged in my TUBA. I m not gonna lie, the LP had power. Tons of it, so any headphone that I plugged in, sounded loud and powerful. That was not the case for TUBA, at least not initially. Until the tuned the volume knob to around 12-1 o' clock, that's when i discovered what Jim Hagerman had created. I have never heard of anything like this amp before. There was a different feel of the music that I had been listening for the last 10 years. I had just listened to a real tube amp. The Tuba wasn't forcing me to listen to anything, rather asking me nicely if i wanted to....to which I said, hell yes. Long gone were the days of the LP shoving musical bits in to my ear canals, now I was rather inviting the Tuba in myself.
The tuba is crisp, detailed, engaging, with a extremely detailed and wide soundstage. However, it does all the above despite being extremely laid back. Nothing is enhanced over the other. The highs are bright and yet do not bleed into the mids. The mids and vocals are forward and yet they don't upstage the highs. The low end, and this is where the tuba outshines my 887 and LP, are punchy and yet controlled, where my LP feels like loud rumbles that just shake my ear drums. Please try to picture the sound signature that I described about the Tuba, and now imagine that wrapped in a silky tubey screen. Let me say this, the TUBA is not veiled, not at all. In fact, its quiet the opposite. It rather takes any veil or imperfections of the music and adds its own flavor to it. The end result is non-fatiguing, detailed musical experience complimented by a set of Mullard El84 tubes. I personally think the EL84 tubes are more musical than my 6922/7308 variants of my LP. The stock tubes were more than enough for me to see a positive change compared to my LP and I cant wait to find out what kind of difference I might expect to see once I roll my vintage tubes in my tuba.
Now, lets discuss the power and driving capability of the TUBA. As i mentioned before, very few amps (hybrids or not) come close to the power output of the LP and 887. Those two can drive anything and everything from high efficiency planars to power hungry high impedance dynamics. Honestly, that's one of the main reason I have not sold my LP yet. The Tuba may not and honestly, does not, have that kinda power. And yet, it drives every single of my headphones that I've tried. The best combination for the tuba is my Focal Clear. Just plug it in the lo output, turn the volume knob to about 11-12 o'clock, and you ll be music heaven. Same goes for my HD 660s and my friends 650s. The treble and timbre had a new life with the tuba. TBH, there are detailed aspects I heard in the high end that my LP cannot separate as precisely. My dynamics sound more lively with the tuba, period. This is no means to say that my LP is inferior, but the sound of the tuba is more colorful, yet non-aggressive. That, however, is not the case with my planars, unfortunately. But i was expecting that, to be fair. My LCD-X did not sound as lively with my Tuba compared to my LP. It sounded decent, even at the volume knob at 2 o'clock. But the huge 105mm drivers did not seem to be engaging fully due to the power limitations of the Tuba. The tuba did not have much command over the sound signature of my LCD-X, or my A2 Closed. The A2C was the toughest to drive with the tuba. IMO, planars are not the types of headphones to be played with a tube amp like this and i m saying this to be fair to all parties involved. I m keeping my LP exclusively to play my LCD-X, A2C and Sendy Aivas. On the other hand, if dynamics are your forte, especially high impedance dynamics, then I cannot think of a better true tube amp than the TUBA. Plain and simple.
At $650.00 the tube is my favorite amp to date. The fine build quality, rich tubey sound and sturdy tank like build makes this formidable competitor at this price point and much much higher. Rolled with vintage tubes, paired with a good dac, and a dynamic (or planar) headphone, the tuba has made me fall in love with music again during this difficult times. Give this amp a try. I am willing to bet $1.00, this amp will put a smile on your face.
P.S. I have a ZMF Auteur on the way and I can only imagine how good that's gonna sound with my beloved TUBA.