This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below
It takes no listening or brains to know that the Glow amp competes with amps up to $2K. Being made in China knocks build cost down by at least half. Being sold direct subtracts a similar percentage again. As a concept, the Glow thus competes against US or EU-made amps selling through retailers anywhere between $1,200 and $2,000. That's simple arithmetics. Still, cheap cheer won't make the Amp One competitive; just cheap. To know whether it's competitive, you must listen to it. As it turned out, no brains were needed either to recognize that it's mindlessly, bite-you-in-the-arse clear good!

For starters, it's very quiet. It's so quiet in fact as to outmute my Woo Audio 300B and Yamamoto 45 SETs which are very quiet for the no-feedback breed but create just the slightest of steady-state noise right up against an 98 or 101dB speaker. The only thing quieter than the Glow in my stable are the First Watt F4 monos. Those might as well not be on. Such quietude and cheapness do not traditionally hand in hand go as Yoda would preach. Especially not on an AC line I've measured as high as 258V (240 being the nominal Cyprus value). For seconds, the anticipated setback when switching from my $4000 tricked-out Woo Audio Model 5 to the Glow driving the 101dB-rated Zu Presence were far milder than reasonable if one approached these amps with the usual propaganda skews.

Woo's power supply alone is thrice the Glow's allness. Therein lies the tale. While the Glow had no issues, period -- it played ungodly loud and distortion free -- it didn't quite have the same sense of control and grip in the upper bass where the Presence is still covered passively (i.e. above where the active bass system takes over). This was no surprise. Power supply stiffness... well, let's avoid the obvious locker room gab and just say that an amp with a bigger stiffer supply will nearly always edge out a competitor otherwise equal. The surprising bit was simply how little overall was sacrificed.

The Woo arrives with Shuguang 300Bs. Those are leaner and lither than my stash of current production Western Electrics. The 6BQ5s in the Glow were more similar to the Shuguangs than WEs. The latter -- justified in my opinion -- have a rep for harmonic density that's not part of an EL84's project brief. The pentode shortie, on the other hand, has more fire on top and its reflexes are faster. That speedier impression is shared somewhat with the Shuguang triodes and also a common byproduct of lesser overtone saturation. The triodes ultimately do more layering and depth of field and the beastlier power supply makes for more crunch under serious attacks and firmer edging. But the Glowster kept up with the designer bottles by about 85% and was arguably superior in high-frequency extension if not polish.

In cuppa Java terms, the 300Bs were more latté with cream, the EL84s blacker coffee with just a hint of peppery spice. The pepper is the pentode flavor. It has more bite on plucked strings, more bluster on brass, more screech when a ruchenitsa soprano sax goes into Roma overdrive. It's spicier, less buffered by harmonic cream. There's no judgment in that, just a different flavor. If you dig Jazz Manouche as I do -- fire off names like Tchavolo Schmitt, Romane, Stochelo Rosenberg, Angelo Debarre, Bireli Lagrene and Joscho Stephan to prove you're not stuck in Django's times -- you're familiar with the twang and metal of the Selmer guitar sound as it is pursued by most French gypsy guitarists.

That on-the-string brilliance belongs there as it does on Vishwas Mohan Bhatt's Indian slide guitar. The Glow amp cut through the air with a somewhat more honed blade then, followed by the Chinese 300Bs, then the famous Yanks. Flip the page to female Jazz however and the direct-heated triode Eros did its predictable aural sexy thing. On large-scale symphonic fare, the pentodes separated better in principle even though the offset in power supply moxy tended to even things out and give the Woo amp an advantage on dynamic peaks and slammage. While one could sweat blood to detail out differences down to the molecules, the cheerful pricing of the Amp One prompts against it. The only thing relevant is that it's - um, bloody good for a low-power tube amp that costs less than some speaker stands.

This type of bloodiness creates problems only for foo reviewers: $30,000 source + $8,000 speakers + $488 amp. In principle and practice, speakers like my Rethms and Zus with their active bass systems taking their inputs off the main amp are just perfect for the Glow. In reality, the class struggle of pricing -- burger flipper vs. solicitor -- means the twain would hardly ever meet in the same system. Had you the coin to own an APL HiFi NWO 3.0-GO equivalent player and Zu Presence/Definition or Rethm Saadhana speakers, you'd certainly have the money for a Yamamoto A-08S or A-09S or Woo Model 5. Which are even more refined and thus more appropriate in the context - but less than you might think. Frankly, the biggest difference on the Zus was that 75lbs of 300B two-piece amp sounded fuller and more articulate at lower volumes. The Glow started to fully glow at stouter levels.

By the time I leashed up the Rethm Saadhanas, the Glow amp had clawed up the Hindu caste system. It had achieved top-dog Brahmin sainthood. Wickedly good. Forget starter or transitional amp to tide you over while your wallet recovered from the Rethm's 8G hit. On this speaker, the Glow merely handled a 98dB DX55 Lowther with monster magnet. Presumably because of it, sonics were da bomb. Simply silly brilliant. Rethm designer Jacob George could glow at CES and make a statement in more ways than one. Or, if your budget was $8,500 for a pair of world-class speakers with active subwoofers and main amplification -- just add source, shake and stir -- I'd sign my name proudly under an ultra legitimate reco for this very system. Better believe it! Your Glow volume would sit between 9 - 10:00 o'clock for most all serious sessions. This combo opened 'the inner world' of the Glow amp. It apparently wasn't at all concerned with drive and effort. Instead -- more so than with the Zus -- it went really upscale with advanced audiophile tricks that have you listen to things from the inside out, i.e. the subtle esoteric stuff that writers go poetic and gaga over.

Before we proceed, let's make this a quick and clean kill. Anyone skipping this amp on the money assumption that it couldn't be any good is either very cavalier about spending needlessly; sadly indoctrinated by the mainstream on what satisfaction requires; deliberately ignorant about what China can produce when you give the job to the right people; a snob; or an elitist propagandist in the business of misinformation and selling vee-eight 4-wheelers to little old ladies. Naturally, that loaded list has a certain amount of built-in back lash - the malevolent math in the earlier paragraph. In short, the Glow amp is far more serious than most people will ever appreciate because only truly first-rate ancillaries and unreasonably costly speakers of the right sort -- 95dB+ efficient and fitted with active bass -- will divulge its full potential.

Once you play real and not dream-team ball, most Amp One owners will of course run off a computer and little speakers. That's the whole point here after all. While that would still have you well ahead of the crappy MP3 Bose circus, once you added good little speakers -- say from any of the Canadians like Axiom, Paradigm, Energy, Mirage, PSB -- I wouldn't be so certain that a quality T-amp with add-on battery power supply in the KingRex/Winsome Mouse vein wouldn't ultimately be more appropriate for the extra headroom particularly in the bass. Not having personally heard those Ts -- my experience is limited to the costlier versions by Red Wine and Firenze Audio -- I can't be sure how heavily the tube virtues of tone would weigh against the maxim of small speakers need power to make bass. When it comes to current, SLA batteries such as KingRex recently added with its SLAP module completely outpower what tubes can do. And current and bass have always been cozy bed fellas especially in free space without boundary reinforcement.

Mind you, my obsession with low bass is informed by 4 x 10" woofers in a pair of Avantgarde Duos, 8 x 10" in the Zu Definitions, 4 x 10" in the Presence and 2 x 12" in the sealed WLM Duo sub. The notion of making do with a single 3-4" midrange pretending at any woofing in a desk top milieu seems pitiful. But I actually know better. After all, I use Diva by Swans self-powered 5" 2-ways next to my computer monitor. For those purposes, sitting less than a meter from the speakers which have a wall directly behind 'em and the actual desk top below, there's plenty of bottom end to not make any tunes seem malnourished. Granted, the Divas have tone controls. You can easily goose the bass for a bit of nearfield mayhem if you're so inclined. The main point is, 60-70-ish bass coming from the actual speakers is fully satisfactory in the nearfield where boundary boost will get you reasonably solid to 50Hz.

Would I rather have the superior tone -- the harmonic threads, the glow -- of tubes hanging off a USB computer audio feed than thin threadbare transistors with perhaps added slam and grunt down low? I know how I'd answer that question. Testing strange new music from foreign websites via MP3-compressed downloads, I'd much rather hear those tonally padded than stripped for speed. But your priorities could be different. That's why the market offers such varied solutions. Incidentally, the on-board USB DAC decodes FLAC files without hiccup so you're not forced to burn up your hard-drive music storage with uncompressed files. Zip 'em with FLAC.

With computer audio, proper cable dressing and such are vital. Being in close proximity to SMPS dirty power, you'll want to treat your Glow as the high-end audio machine it is or you'll suffer inferior S/N ratio among other setbacks. I'm no expert on USB DACs so will suspend judgment on this feature except to say that this one worked seamlessly; and that headphone listening to FLAC files on my hard-drive sounded far better than expected. Call me an easy newbie sell perhaps but with my constant exposure to true FineFi, don't underestimate Glow's USB solution neither. And should you get the amp in the cream color, it'll match your Mac (or my Antec case) to the 'T'. Oi. Who sez audio can't make a fashion statement? Cute definitely is a USP - unique selling proposition. Go with the glow and let it show, baby.

The 'down-ported' Zu Druid Credenzas in open space perched on stands made the Glow work harder since it now was responsible for the full bandwidth. While achievable SPLs were no issue, the 50 - 200Hz band wasn't as peppy and damped as I know the speaker can be when ideally controlled. It played more loosey goosey. In this instance, the Glow would make a very credible starter amp which would eventually be handed down to junior when the lady of the house allowed the alpha male to splurge on a more powerful amp for the living room.

Anthony Gallo's little Diva Ti balls set on a wall-abutting table driven from the Amp One at 1:30 - 2:00 o'clock did the business better than most civilians have their computer system dialed but applying the same standards I did for everything else thus far, this combo slid down the Hindu caste pole to merchant level - below Brahmin and warrior. By the time I plugged my audio-technica W-1000s in, the attenuator at 7:30 meant crank city. The W-1000s have replaced Grado RS-1s, Sennheiser HD-650s and AKG K-1000s and are my favorite cans. They're ultra comfortable, hi-eff hi-impedance 'phones which get the best from any amp since they're the opposite of challenging loads. Sonics were again Rethm-level sophisticated and upscale, with my only complaint that fully inserted, the stereo plug of the W-1000s only got right-channel signal, requiring it to be pulled out a tad to connect with the left-channel contact leaf. Because I've long since ditched all my 'lesser' phones except for the K-1000s, I can't ascertain whether this was a peculiarity of my 1/4" plug (it does stereo fully inserted on my Yamamoto and Woo amps) or would have likewise happened with somebody else's headphones. Also, as efficient as the audio-technicas are, there's only 1.5 hours of useful volume range before your ears clip at 7:30 o'clock on the dial. Lastly, it goes without saying that inserting headphones mutes the speakers and that turn-on and power down create no pops or clicks.

The core quality on the W-1000s as on the Saadhanas was pressurized juiciness. Things sounded driven, propelled and very rich in color and liquid texture. I'll leave it to the specialized head-fiers to run the Glow through its paces vis-a-vis competing headphone amps and competing popular headphones. Suffice it to say that the W-1000/Amp One $900 combo also gets my top reco for maximum glee factor that'll leave the Joneses wishing they had your smarts and resourcefulness to live like a king on a commoner's wallet.

Tie it up, tie it down
The Glow Audio Amp One, on the right speaker and headphone loads, is a real heavy - hitter. Replicating my enthusiasm with cans requires nothing more than duplicating my choice of cans. That's easy. The real trick will be to find a speaker as full-range and push-over easy to drive as my Saadhanas to get this amp to run the circles it can around whatever preconceptions you might hold. That's where Glow Audio's website presentation is arguably guilty of just a bit of white-washing. Quality hi-eff speakers with decent bass that will sing on 5 watts and be priced in line with the Glow are murder to find (moon man David Kan gets great results with the 95.5dB Klipsch Synergy F2 and much prefers it over their more expensive F3 and RF-52 models). The best choices likely will be something like John Blue Audio's earlier mentioned 3" widebander augmented by a single 8" amplified bass box driven high-level from the Glow. Will that sound as good as my $8,000 Rethms? Prolly not. Hence I exit this review in the not completely cozy belief that very few present and future Glow owners will hear the full 110% of what this little miracle box can do - when it emphatically runs with the big dogs off the leash as it were for the real serious shit.

Still, there's no doubt that the Amp One fulfills our Realsization Award requirements 100 out of 100. While it ultimately is a toy -- all audio is -- it's not a toy but serious machine. Just imagine all the offices, dens, college dorms, teenage rooms and impromptu laptop settings where the USB/headphone combo alone would brighten someone's day. Between there to full-blown Saadhana madness exist many credible and viable stops. Now that my wife has her pink mitts on this unit, I'll be able to report on the occasional future speaker discovery that might be a bull's eye hit without costing more than it should to tango with the Glow.

Finally, let's speculate just for a second on how many amps Glow Audio will have to move before they recoup the money lost on the GuangLong deal. Just breaking even will take some patience on their part. I'm altogether convinced that few punters, myself included, will have any true notion about just how difficult it must have been to author the Amp One and make it into what it is - a fully dialed, attractive, nicely featured high-performance unit in six trim options. It would have been far easier to slap the funky Glow badge on something already on the market. To brave and go the distance... well, in our instant gratification society, that's no longer a given. So kudos to Team Glow for setting an admirable example while serving up something solid for between 50 - 75% less than what it would have to cost if made in the West and sold through the B&Ms, all the while avoiding the bullshit eBay shenanigans and other grey-market stunts whereby consumers get burnt and soured on Chinese audio.

The Amp One, from concept to final execution and marketing approach, really is cool as shit. I shit you not. Wrap 'er up!

PS: One tantalizing notion I haven't tried yet is to add WiFi to the Amp One via a USB/WiFi adaptor. Now one could stream wirelessly from a laptop or music server. Retro meets the future? Certainly worth a try.

Quality of packing: Stout cardboard with foam separators protecting the amp.
Reusability of packing: Yes.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy.
Condition of component received: Perfect.
Completeness of delivery: Includes detachable tube cage, mounted tubes, generic power cord and USB cable.
Quality of owner's manual: Excellent.
Website comments: Good looking, has all necessary info, loads a bit slow.
Pricing: Very high value.

Usage conditions: 5 watts either mandate near-field desk top setups or high-efficiency speakers of 95dB+, preferably with active bass systems (or separate subwoofer).
Human interactions: Prompt e-mail responses.
Glow Audio website