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Cleverly double-boxed, with the inner box strapped only to open by itself, the caged amps proved immaculately protected with all their tubes installed. Memories of the industrial-strength Mesa Baron flooded my upstairs like a sunset. Shipping these very heavy monos in such fashion proved disregard for audiophile wall-flowerism similar to the guitar wranglers.

Good grief. Unboxing both amps showed them to be mirror-imaged, with the chrome-capped power transformers offset inwards to position the side-mounted RCA inlets on the other side close to the input tubes and within easy reach of the interconnects.

How many monoblocks do you know that worry about mirror imaging? At $2,800 a pair? End of discussion. If you've not taken off your thinking cap while looking at these pictures, you'll have wondered by now. Three transformers per mono? Actually, the outside one in the rear is a monstrous potted choke. The inner one is the output iron, also potted.

Hanuman lives! For all the weight -- and sheer size of the output transformers -- you might be worried that such testicles of brass would clink and clunk in action. Not. There's just a faint mechanical hum such as we expect from large upscale transformers (but not necessarily from those in affordable amps which sometimes outright buzz.)

The black-anodized aluminum slabs will be easier to keep clean than the ubiquitous chrome or hand-polished stainless. However, care should be taken to not inadvertently scratch their coating while installing these chunky behemoths.

The logo decal is a recessed gold plaque whose tone is picked up by the push-button power switch with its blue indicator. The underside sports ventilation slots and three large round footers with a rubber-type decoupling material.

Unlike the driver and power tubes, the twin rectifiers give off a lot of deep orange for that romantic glow tube hounds thrive on for atmosphere.

Undoing twelve screws with integral washers gains access to the innards, showing off once again how thick the walls of this square enclosure really are.

The innards are more empty than not, with an international voltage switch in easy reach next to an AC filtration coil.

The complete absence of PCBs is referred to as "point to point" and often referenced as a sign of superior quality. Clean routing tied off neatly and solidly mounted parts are all expected in this hand-crafted genre. Alas, they often do look more like a vipers' nest than any poster child for law and order. Not here.

Fired up, the HT-88s produce a small amount of self-noise over the kind of ultra high-efficiency speakers they'd likely never be mated to in real life. In such a scenario, they're a lot quieter than the 8-watt Canary Audio CA-308s were prior to their high-sensitivity mod to reduce their input sensitity - excellent performance from these 18-watt tube amps, distinctly not audible from the listening seat and thus of no concern.

From propaganda and specs to actual tyre kicking (or window shopping or tanning in the glow of twelve tubes) - the highly promising first impressions continue unabated.

Should the competition worry? That we'll find out next. Incidentally, these monos can also take 6550, KT66, KT90 and KT100. However, my review will focus on the amps as submitted - with KT88s...