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If the photos parlay the impression that the deHavilland is solidly made and understated in appearance, you'd be right. Parts and build quality are first-rate: Cardas Litz wiring, Vampire high purity solid copper wire, military spec paper-in-oil capacitors, Auricaps, Roederstein resistors and Solen caps.

On the outside, we are talking all-business attire. The chassis is aluminum under grey powder coat and the anodized brushed aluminum faceplate and control knobs come in black or silver. You can also choose between a red or black paint-filled engraved logo. Think solid and serious. Connecting and operating presented no surprises. The volume and source selectors have nice chunky precision. One change for the Verves is that they no longer ship with the balance trim pots. According to Kara, "...we found that most customers do not use them. We are putting the Caddock resistors in their place and no potentiometer we have found can match the sonics of the Caddocks." The trim pots are still available as an option, however.

The Verves invert polarity as do most single gain stage designs. One very nice and not-as-common-as-I'd-like-to-see feature is a ground float switch. While I did not need to float the ground as there was no hum whatsoever, you'll appreciate that switch if you do encounter hum. The preamp also features a soft start circuit to extend tube life and with the value of 6SN7s being what they are, I appreciate this feature as well. If I have a one quibble, it's related to the recessed tubes. Since the tube bases are located below the top plate -- giving them that James Dean in a sweater look -- you're left grabbing all glass when changing tubes. While I always wear my white five finger cottons when tube swapping much to wife's amusement, (so it's not a matter of oil I'm concerned over here), I just feel a bit awkward pulling out a tube by its glassy head. That said, I am happy to report I had no fatalities. My fears were ill-founded.

In the UltraVerve manual, 6SN7 swapping is encouraged: "You may find it rewarding to experiment with different 6SN7s – it has much in common with enjoying fine wines. Definitely try a Tung-Sol 6SN7 if you come across one." The review Junior arrived with a nice NOS 6SN7GTA Motorola-branded Sylvania chrome dome. Select Sylvania 6SN7 GTA/Bs are available from deHavilland for $50. Not one to leave well enough alone, I did some 6SN7 swapping as advised; with a Tung-Sol black glass round plate, Sylvania VT-231 and Sylvania 6SN7W chrome top to be precise. I ended up with the JAN 6SN7W Sylvania chrome top. It provided more detail and edge. My feeling is most owners of a deHavilland Verve will want to experiment with various 6SN7s. I find this kind of tweaking very appealing. The ability to tailor the overall character of the Junior by swapping out a single tube should be considered a huge plus. The majority of my critical listening was done with the 6SN7W.

A Dancer with a Big Grin
I find Matisse's work as a whole to be modest in terms of the manner whereby he approached his subject matter. Matisse did not dig into his women as Picasso did. He took more of a distanced view, a respectful gaze allowing their form to inspire his line. I would say the deHavilland UltraVerve Junior is similarly modest in its manner of processing music. It's not a bully or a brute. It's a dancer. Think ballet dancer, graceful, smooth and lyrical. Not overly detailed or hyper-dynamic, Junior plays along with the tune and the 6SN7 imparts a touch of air, space and that big tone as is its want. I have heard bigger tone and air from my Déjà Vu's triple 6SN7 threat but this does come with some tradeoffs. I would generally describe these as less focus, less edge.

I have gotten into the habit of buying a new CD, sometimes more than one, for each new review. Let's all get acquainted in an uncritical way is the reasoning there. Feist is a new album for me and what a treat it is. Let it Die [Interscope Records B0004442-02] is Canadian singer/songwriter Leslie Feist's first solo album. While her career has found her embodying some tougher characters including "Bitch Lap-Lap" from the Peaches, Let it Die is sensual, sort of slow Pop-ish balladeering. There are echoes of Sade (and a hint of Judy Garland) but Ms. Feist is far less formulaic and more playful. Our UltraVerve is a fine partner for Feist as it does what some tube preamps seem to love to do - hand you female vocals on a sonic platter.

There's also some synth-induced beats and very low-end pulsing going on and the UltraVerve handles the sweep of sounds without any glaring missteps. I have heard tighter bass but this is quibbling in a comparative way and something that listening over time would surely diminish for all but the most severe bass freaks. Ms. Feist delights in covering other people's tunes and her rendition of "Inside and Out" from the Bee Gee's songbook is on one hand immediately recognized as such while on the other showcasing her personal vocal styling. From the Feist website, "like line drawings as opposed to detailed paintings, these songs leave you space to fill in the emotional blanks. Its lack of complication makes. 'Let It Die' stand out from much of today's musical offerings; put simply, a beautiful slice of sonic escapism to illustrate and interrupt the little moments that together tell us stories."

Nick Drake's first album Five Leaves Left [Island 422 842 915-2] is remarkable in many ways, least of which the fact that he was 20 years old when it was released. Drake's maturity as a songwriter, musician and vocalist coupled with his vision in the recording studio created a lovely and solitary album. Of course it's always tempting to inject his short life and depression into the mood (Drake died at the age of 25 of an apparent overdose of anti-depressants). Melancholy for sure, these are also beautiful songs with the simplicity and clarity of a well-recorded acoustic event. The deHavilland conveys the tone and place in a very natural way, neither overly etched nor veiled. This is intimate music and the Junior's quiet operation gets out of the way for your listening pleasure.

Shifting gears to a couple of college dropouts from Akron/Ohio, the Black Keys' third album Rubber Factory [fat possum B0002O06N0] is a bluesy blisterer. This duo consisting of Dan Auerbach on guitar/vocals and Patrick Carney on drums puts out Americana of the garage variety at once convincing and convulsing. Loud and raucous, with an amazing amount of funk, Rubber Factory wants drive and volume. If your record collecting is mainly inhabited by overdriven guitar funk rock, 6SN7s are not your best friend. All the subtly and grace in the world will not cozy up to the Keys. I am left wanting for a bit more control and edge here and the edgier, the better. The Audio Tropic Mœbius comes to mind. Its tighter grip keeps this music reined in as much as can be expected or desired. While certainly not unlistenable through the deHavilland, I believe you'd be barking up the wrong sonic tree pairing grace with grunge.

Eric Satie's ouvres pour piano [EMI Classic czs 797282 2] as performed by Aldo Ciccolini are a playful treat. Grin central. By all accounts, Satie was a character and one only needs to look at his titles to get a taste of his disdain for the stuffy. "Genuine Flabby Preludes (for a dog)", "Teasing sketches of a fat man made of wood" and "Three waltzes for a fastidious dandy" are a sampling from his humorist period beginning in 1912. It is no coincidence that Satie traveled in the same circles as Picasso. The budding surrealists shared this playfulness which went hand-in-hand with a very serious desire for radical change. Paris on the cusp of WWI was filled with creative energy and a collaborative spirit. Artists, writers, poets, playwrights and dancers rattled every cage of establishment in sight. Satie's solo piano compositions hint at this time and temperament and our deHavilland let's Ciccolini's lyrical style come through in full voice. Solo piano can reveal tonal shortcomings and the deHavilland has nothing to hide.

In my recent review of the Mœbius preamp, I used Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky [CBS mk 42433] to test limberness. Indeed this is a stunning performance and the deHavilland captures the orchestra's range of voices and delivers an engaging and at times dizzying rendition of Stravinsky's l'enfant terrible. What this music does stress is the deHavilland's voicing. It leans towards the lyrical as opposed to the surgical. You are not in the orchestra pit at the premier and you can consider that a blessing. Premiered in 1913, Le Sacre du Printemps caused nothing short of a riot. When Nijinsky started to dance, the fists and debris started to fly from the fine patrons of the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. Stravinsky had to wait another 17 odd years for his verve to be hailed as genius. Our deHavilland's presentation -- and even more so through the Déjà Vu -- gets us back to our Feist quote. I would suggest that the lessening of detail/clarity "like line drawings as opposed to detailed paintings" gives the listener "a beautiful slice of sonic escapism to illustrate and interrupt the little moments that together tell us stories."

Eric Kingsbury of Audio Tropic was kind enough to extend the loan of his Mœbius preamp so I could do a direct comparison with our deHavilland. And I am glad he did. It turned out to be worthwhile and informative. If, like Picasso, you prefer a bit more detail to air, Mœbius is voiced for you. What I notice immediately with the Mœbius is a bit more energy, more snap and rhythmic drive. Mœbius also controls the bass better, adding to that drive thang. That's not to suggest that Junior is a slacker. Quite the contrary. It's just that in comparison, we're talking about a subtle softening. From the deHavilland website: "After 30 years of building amplifiers and listening to hifi systems, what I really want is a piece of equipment that gets out of the road. I want to kick off my shoes and forget that I am listening to a machine. The Aries is remarkably un-mechanical in sound and yet has superb clarity. It just does not throw this clarity in your face all the time, like a teenager saying, 'look at me! look at me!'."

I believe Kara's voicing of the UltraVerve follows suit and it also "does not throw clarity in your face". That is not to say Mœbius acts like a teenager. In fact, I am continually impressed by its balanced presentation and transparency. Especially with large orchestral works or harder driven electronica, this equals a more convincing presentation to my ears. Where the UltraVerve goes farther is a richer tone and a more expansive spatial presentation. It's as if the Mœbius' dialed-in detail has brought the soundstage in with it. Junior relaxes this grip and things float a bit more.

If Goldie Locks was an Art Collector…
...or an audiophile, what do you think she would do? For my art analogy, we'd need a third player and it's too late in the game to introduce a new character. For our preamps, we do indeed have a threesome. Which then is too soft, which too hard, leaving one that's just right? This ain't no fairy tale but if you buy a Mœbius or a deHavilland Verve, you may just live happily ever after. I'll even go as far as saying that the Déjà Vu is voiced in a very musical way as well. Not a clunker in the bunch. Today's stable can be thought of in terms of descending levels of detail with ascending levels of tone, air and price, with the Hawaiian Mœbius being our most detailed and the Déjà Vu the biggest purveyor of tone and air. That leaves the deHavilland in the middle so to speak.

Is there a moral to our story? Yes, be your own Goldie Locks. What we have here are three fine pieces of gear,

each voiced by designers who are passionate about music. The differences I've noted are in fact relative, comparative and meant as a guide to match up to the sound you seek. Our job as music-loving grin seekers is to listen for ourselves and find the voice that speaks our magical musical language the mostest.

Manufacturer's website