This review page is supported in part by the sponsor whose ad is displayed above
Between the Circuit and the Implementation lies the Shadow
"The circuit for the 2A3 came through a long distillation and a bit of experimentation. I got together all the 2A3 circuit designs I could find and tried each one. I knew early on that I wanted it direct-coupled but I wasn't wild about the SRPP front end used in most of the so-called Loftin-White designs. So there was a lot of empirical experimentation. I had all the advantages of not really knowing what I was doing. It wasn't quite "keep taking things out until it stops working, then put back the last thing you took out" but close.

When I originally developed the 2A3 circuit, I expected I'd arrive at a design with about 60mA plate current -- standard for the 2A3 -- or even more. I was then working on the "the more current the better" idea, which is more often than not true. But not always. My 2A3 circuit runs at about two thirds that, which is the reason that it also will play 45s with a rectifier that drops sufficient voltage. I keep playing with new ideas. Right now I've got a prototype that I'm growing increasingly fond of that runs a 2A3 at about 70mA. This wouldn't do for a 45."

I must admit to being somewhat fascinated by this relationship of designer, circuit and implementation. The transformation of sound from our stored media to music contains some mystery, that mystery being the spark that shifts musical to magical and relates directly to how a designer voices an amp. Artist, craftsman, shaman, alchemist or engineer? It all depends on how much magic versus measurement you want to perceive in your reproduced music.

The 45 Triode
The 45 tube is a directly heated power triode first developed by Westinghouse in 1928 for use in home radios. Originally a bubble/globe envelope called the UX245, the 45 was branded with a variety of names by different factories. This included the Cunningham CX345, Arcturus 145 and the Sparton 182. Production of the globe variety ended in 1932 and by most accounts, the ST 45s were not manufactured past the 1950s. The most sought-after NOS variety are the earlier mesh plate globes. Unless you're willing to dumpster dive or roll the dice on eBay, expect to spend at least a couple of hundreds per NOS pair. Then again, 45 lovers are truly graced with a few excellent current production tubes. These include the TJ/Full Music/Sophia mesh plate and the Emission Labs mesh and solid plates. I own a pair of NOS globe 45s, the TJs and EML solid plates. I prefer the EML solid plates by a wide margin - big bass slam, extended highs, super quiet operation and all the midrange magic and exquisite detail of the NOS version to boot.

I should point out that the EML solid plates had a face lift earlier this year. Improvements include a slow start filament prolonging tube life; serialized filaments i.e. one wire looped throughout the tube; added grid coolers as well as double mica in the tube top. All in all we have a quieter and more robust tube and I can attest to this as I have a pair of the new version. It is the proverbial mouse that roared.

The EMLs are available through JAC-Music in Germany and are on the very pricey side at 254,80€ (check those exchange rates, it could make a real difference) which is roughly $310 per pair plus shipping at today's rates. I've been dealing with proprietor Jac van de Walle for well over a year and have found him helpful and very knowledgeable. One word of caution. Jac does not recommend using the EMLs in a horizontal position (à la X) unless the plates are situated vertically. The result of a prolonged horizontal seating of both tube and plate? According to Jac, "the filaments will eventually sag and can cause a grid-to-filament short." This is not a 100% prediction but I would not want to risk my investment.

"The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long. And you have burned so very, very brightly." There has been some buzz about reliability issues with the EMLs. I wonder if this has to do with us X users and even 2A3 swappers. In the Fi 2A3 mono and stereo amps, you have to change the stock rectifier from 5V4G to 5Y3 to safely run the 45s. Eight months into my pair of horizontally seated EMLs in my X and poof! Just as Jac has now warned, one of my tubes shorted out. Jac sent a new pair with a full 1-year warranty, I paid for shipping. A very fair deal in my book. And for those conspiracy theorists out there, this was well before I had any association with 6moons.

I checked with a few knowledgeable tube guys and EML solid plate users. Coupled with my experience, I can recommend the EML 45 solid plates with no reservations in terms of reliability (in the proper circuit and physical orientation as noted). I cannot do the same for the EML mesh plates since I have no experience with them. Also bear in mind that Jac recommends the solid plates for direct-coupled amps since they are less prone to hum. The TJs -- which I use in the X -- are another very fine tube at $269/pair. If I run these prices and related performance through the audio-value rationalizer, the ticker tells me that the EMLs are well worth the extra charge.

The 45 DHT is often valued for its purity of tone, immediacy and detail retrieval. The biggest knocks have been a lack of deep bass control and low power. I'd suggest the EML solid plates help remedy the first but that if you want conductor placement or helicopter pilot position for The Ride of the Valkyries, you may be disappointed. And I do say maybe since your choice of speaker and listening room size will have a lot to do with performance. In my digs, the MagneQuest DS050s have all the headroom I need for my listening levels, which rarely if ever reach real rock concert levels.

Sometimes More is More
The Fi X and Fi 45 are siblings. Maybe they're even fraternal twins. As Don mentioned, they share the same circuit, just not the same parts. The sonic difference is one of more - more tonal weight, detail, frequency extension and overall better control of the speaker. How big of a diff are we talking? While their sonic flavors are essentially the same, I'd say the important difference is one of palpability and presence. And since it's the phrase that I can't seem to leave alone, more is less in one respect - the Fi 45 is quieter than the X, a slight hum barley audible 6" from my drivers. The X pushes that out another foot or so.

Thelonious Monk's Brilliant Corners [Riverside OJCCD-026-2] features Monk, Ernie Henry, Sonny Rollins, Oscar Pettiford, Max Roach, Clark Terry and Paul Chambers on "Bemsha Swing". Recorded in New York City in 1956, Brilliant Corners is still where it's at. Yes, this is an end-of-the-line magical musical moment frozen in time. Corners has all the flavor, flair and musicianship that made jazz Jazz. Welcome to Fi country, music with timing and precision that's the juice that feeds the Fis. From the liner notes "and don't neglect to dig the several things Monk is doing behind the horns". And dig I do. Either Fi will capture the movement in the music as it captures you, the beat, the shifting tempo vital to keep hold of. The Fis go step for step with Monk. As John Coltrane succinctly put the Monk experience, "I lost my place and it was like falling into an open elevator shaft". No worries here, Fi has your step.
What our 45 adds to the X is extension, particularly present in Monk's piano where there's more body, more soundboard resonance from all 88 keys. There's also more command to Max Roach's kicks and Sonny Rollins has a bit more reed. Subtle cues perhaps but keys for another layer of the sonic kingdom.

The Velvet Underground & Nico [Verve 823 290-2] is a seamless debut. We can thank Andy's people-collecting skills for this mix of personae including Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Mo Tucker and Nico (chanteuse). From 1967 featuring songs mostly by Reed and Cale, I've been traveling through this album for years and never end up in the same place. All the same, there's an air of decay, a slow sad rotting. Heroin references aside, I think we can attribute the melancholia to a loss of innocence. A slice of 1967 it is and the Fi acts the time machine. Here our two Fis go hand in hand for the most part, the 45 unraveling some of the noisier moments with a defter ear for detail.

Terry Riley's Salome Dances for Peace [Electra/Nonesuch 9 79217-2] is a beautiful work in composition, performance and intent. "I thought that it should actually be a ballet about Salome using her alluring powers to create peace in the world... And through her dancing, she is able to become both a warrior and an influence on the world leaders' actions." Although Riley began writing Salome in 1985 and completed it in 1989 when it was recorded by the Kronos Quartet, Riley's sentiments are all the more relevant today. Mesmerizing at times, Salome's dance is portrayed as a tightly woven tapestry combining the Kronos Quartet's skills with a broad stroke of the world's music. Tonal interplay, pluck and resonance are all delivered into the room with more clout and authority through our better-endowed Fi. I have more of an emotional connection here - or perhaps it's better described as a less temporal experience.
While the Fi keeps you in time with the music, Riley and Kronos shift one's focus beyond the thoughts of the moment to reflect on more timeless concerns. Salome Dances for Peace. What a great twist on an old theme.

Mississippi John Hurt's The Complete Studio Recordings [Vanguard 181/83-2] is about as intimate as it gets and I find his style warm, natural and inviting. Hurt's guitar playing has gentleness about it, an effortless quality that translates into an uplifting sound - a smile buried not too deep in double entendres. "The Candy Man", "Lovin Spoonful", "Coffee Blues" are all good to the last drop. "You must be stuck on the Candy Man's stick". Social convention's at times the mother of creation. If you like these recordings and listen in the dark and quiet by feeling John Hurt's fingers play -- and I do mean play as opposed to work --; if you let his voice soak in, let his rhythm influence yours so you can get out of yourself for a while and let your thoughts travel beyond the tip of your nose; then you'll like the Fis. Either one. I am not going to make you choose. Free will and relative value are in fact a bitch.

The Fi 45 makes music sound like it's made of what it's made of. All the complexities of tone, pace, rhythm, dynamics, detail and aural energy flow through the Fi which acts as the musical conduit and potentially perfect partner to marry your music to your speakers and to you (whichever part of you you care to get involved). So where does the Fi 45 fit in the big audio picture? To quote Terry Cain, "I'm not sure, and I would not think it matters."

I own the Fi 45 and I'm digging that decision musically, materially and emotionally. After all, audio plays to all of these qualities within us and I don't see the point in trying to dictate the subjective, relative and just plain personal. I will point out the obvious necessity of a copasetic amp to speaker mating. Suffice to say that the Fi 45/Cain & Cain Abby are Fred and Ginger for your ears. (And if you like specifics, I'd recommend the Auditorium 23 speaker cable to tie 'em together). Adding the Cain & Cain Bailey subwoofer is a necessity if you want the full sonic picture from your Abby/Fi 45s. I've also heard tale that for larger rooms, a stereo pair of Baileys help deliver the full musical Monty.

The Medium Is the Message
I can live without fidelity. I'm not thinking about how faithfully my gear is representing the recording when I listen to music. Give me an experience I can get lost in, in my home, through my HiFi. And the idea that this rampantly personal union is somehow held to purely objective measures strikes me as missing out on the humanity inherent in the musical experience. Like, ya know, listening to tunes.You dig? Even if we don't dig any more, I say we start to all over again. Loosen up those collars. Let some magic in.

Are we sacrificing anything with our low watts? Not when we match our Fi with appropriately efficient speakers. It's about balance and synergy. I'd even suggest this combo to have a lighter step, a more nimble foot than the other side of the audio coin. This allows us to follow our music in and out of time more faithfully,
keeping pace even with the new Salome's steps. If you like to listen to your music with eyes and mind open, Fi is one of a few audio products capable of delivering satisfaction on all counts (said like the proud owner I am, of course).
Manufacturer's e-mail