The first piece of mythinformation that's in dire need of debunking when it comes to so-called low-power tube amps? How much power is really required to drive a benign minimum-crossover 88dB loudspeaker like the Gallo Reference 3. My primary sound room is 30' x 18' x 10'. It opens into another upstairs space of greater air cubits. The volume control on the MiniMax preamp sat squarely at 10:30 o'clock for the majority of my listening sessions. Take that, hamfisted knuckle-head brigade of 2000 watts into 4-ohms braggarts. And before power mongers send me hate mail, there is a time and place for massive gobs of power. However, if you choose your speakers wisely and -- in one reviewer's immortal words -- don't attempt to peel back the enamel off your teeth, 8 watts will go much farther than most salesmen will tell you (or know to be true in the first place). I'm not dissing the sales guys, either. They can't know what you're gonna do in the sanctity of your own home.

To prevent returns or failures, they clearly have to err on the side of caution. After all, the old "double the power for every 3dB of increased output" maxim can add up to appearances of colossal headroom requirements in a hurry. That's why I called the 10-inch sealed-alignment woofer of the Gallos less than ideal myself even though in my space, this combination sailed through the challenging tribal drumming sessions on Bob Holroyd's A Different Space [Six Degrees 657036 1030-2] without any compression, sluggish bass or blunted transients even at far-beyond-normal levels. But take an 88dB Aerial or Thiel speaker and you'd have the same amp go into convulsions at the first hint of a bass transient. So power requirements are relative not only to room size and playback levels but, very importantly, to the impedance curve and phase rotations of the attached loudspeaker load.

With these boiler-plate qualifications handled to be responsible and not paint an inaccurate picture, let's concentrate on what happens when the MiniMax stack meets an appropriate load and when you've allowed valve maestro Bill O'Connell to set you up with some choice bottles: Music. That's so trite and anti-climactic a statement as to make even seasoned readers recoil. But it's true because when taken in toto and as a system, these three components gel into a very crafty balance of traits that produce very good image density embedded into which are far-better-than-average transients for that lightning inside the saturated sunset clouds.

There's nothing mushy, syrupy, ponderous or fuzzy about the Eastern Electric Sound which, I believe, is a testament to Alex Yeung's decision for a push/pull pentode rather than single-ended triode amp to avoid excessive THD artifacts. What this also gives you is a ballsier, more stretched-out soundstage peopled with individual performers in wonderful 3D contrast yet completely devoid of that highlighted etching which goes for definition in certain quarters. Instead of the last word in airiness, the MiniMax aesthetic is slightly more voluptuous but doesn't at all go overboard. There's bloom across the board and a wealth of tonal colors but leading edges aren't overly encased in cotton candy.

Proof for this innate balance arose without premeditation when the first CDs I spun turned out to be Lounge and e-music like Atoll's 2-disc compilation The Best of Lounge Music [28089-2], the above Holroyd choice or Btribe's 5th installment of Ibiza-esque "euro gloom" as one very serious reviewer called it [Higher Octave 72435 92484 2 4]. If audiophile equipment mandates listening to audiophile-approved fare, count me out. The MiniMax stack embraces party moods, chill-out moods and serious reviewer mode with equal aplomb because it never overdraws details or resolution in favor of flow, palette or plain fun and pleasure.

If not in the first row, the funky flavors of Take 6 and Earth, Wind & Fire did make the class far from loitering around in the far rear where the instructor wouldn't see 'em. While Verdine White's bass didn't pop as hard or incisively as it might have -- nor did the Phoenix Horns peel my wallpaper - er, enamel for that matter -- perennial hits such as the live version of "I'll Write a Song for You" had enough innate tension and drive to hang together just fine and their lack of over-bite (while we're at teeth) made up for poor recording quality. Definite front-row material came by way of the Jazz of Carmen Lundy and Ivan Lins whose voices were caressed and portrayed with a tacit thereness factor which flat-out eludes most solid-state as though by definition and simply cannot be had in this price range. To test poise under duress, I cued up James Levine's reading of the Chicago Symphony performing Holst's The Planets [DG 429 730-2] and goosed the volume to high noon to see how the amp would handle compression and clipping.

I was in for a surprise. While this definitely did not constitute a sane match-up of amp, speakers and playback material due to the famous "Mars" movement's extreme dynamic range, the system scaled the rising and falling tides more than credibly and despite onset of congestion and compression, never got nasty -- which shows up instantly especially in massed strings -- but simply closed in around the edges to whisper 'brother' rather than scream 'uncle'. To boot, I played louder than I normally would just to explore the limits of this setup and there's no musical genre as dynamic as Classical and little of that as demanding as "The Bringer of War".

Because of the soft clipping and benign recovery traits of tubes, our amp's posted paper power -- especially for short-term peaks rather than steady-state abuse -- can momentarily far exceed its rating to give you more headroom than an equivalent transistor amp that clips hard and ugly to put especially your tweeters at risk. No such concerns here. Anything can be overdriven if you try hard enough but I think you'll be surprised by how "stretchy" this system's power envelope can be to allow the enjoyment of even contra-indicatory fare within common sense. If you love violin, piano and harpsichord, the MiniMax sound will cater to your every whim by deleting the words tinkly, screechy, strident and thin from your vocabulary. It comes back to balance. By being situated slightly on the soft/round side of the fence, this system will sound better on far more music than dialed-for-speed rigs that emphasize the leading edge to become bleached and bereft of heft and substance when the software isn't copasetic. That makes the Eastern Electric stack an eminently real-world system in the sense that you can listen to anything in your library or on the air without fear that your tweaked-to-death platinum system will balk at more than half of your selections.