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More munichions. At HighEnd 2013 I had chatted with a German amp maker who thinks of relocating manufacture to Switzerland. Pointing at his existing monster amp, "enclosure and meter make up 40% of its bill of materials". Factor the usual build-cost-to-sell-price multiplier and that 40% becomes very serious cash for nothing but a pretty box. Turn a page in the same book. A Serbian valve electronics maker talks to a Swiss competitor who sells direct but very little. "How much does your $28.000 amp cost you to make?" "$5.000." Our Serbian is confused. "Why don't you price it at $10.000 and sell a lot more?" Painful silence. Turn the page once more. Simon Lee who is about to fly to Geneva to visit his friend Mark Levinson in Annecy explains why, questionable business practices aside, he views Mark as a true genius of circuit tuning. "It's not about whether you specify a Penny & Giles over an Alps pot. Someone like Mark takes a given circuit and seriously improves it with non-exotic parts, better layout and superior grounding. It's not about crossing off a shopping list of audiophile-approved bits. It's how you combine ordinary ingredients which creates the really extraordinary dish."

To extrapolate for today's assignment, a/ cost-effective assembly in Switzerland is possible despite our carefully groomed image to the contrary; b/ go easy on enclosure bling and save a bundle; c/ refine and tweak a proven circuit to the hilt and make superior sound to one whose internal logic is fuzzier though it flashes all the big-name parts. On to the job at hand. With 35dB of gain and unloaded output noise of <2μV across the full bandwidth—unusually high gain, ultra low self noise—those who rightly anticipate a wide-bandwidth DC-coupled* amp to be lit up, fast and lucid to think valve preamp for a Levinson-type circuit tuning need an equally low-noise partner. More so than low-gain amps, the 225 will shine a spotlight on any noise farther up the chain. That's merely common sense but fair to point out. You could go passive or DAC-direct to eliminate redundant gain stages. Chances simply are that you'd err on the side of sinew over substance. And unless your DAC had analog volume like SOtM's sDP-1000, the 85dB of digital attenuation you might have to invoke with a 4V variable-out converter like AURALiC's Vega into the Job's 0.75V input sensitivity won't sound as good as doing it analog. Whilst my Nagra Jazz valve preamp explodes the bill, it's what I own and thus used. A fine far lower-priced alternative could come from the German house of Octave for example.

* Directly from the owner's manual, "the Job 225 is a DC-coupled amp without protection. If it is associated with a badly designed or defective analog preamplifier (often true for tube preamps or some 5-channel processors) the speakers could easily be damaged by DC. The Job 225 doesn't amplify DC but DC applied at the input is passed to the output."

As indicated, I went straight for my Bakoon AMP-11R as the most direct sonic comparator. Speakers were my usual sealed Aries Cerat Gladius, then AudioSolutions' flagship Rhapsody 200. In my home I've only heard the latter's clearly underdamped twin-ported dual-woofer bass alignment sound as it ought to once; with the ultra-low Z-out Acoustic Imagery Atsah monos. Like the equivalent Merrill Audio Veritas, those are based on a stock Hypex Ncore 1200 module with matching SMPS. With all other amps in my arsenal or through for review, I stuff the ports by screwing in a very tightly packed pair of thick woollen socks into each. That nearly but not quite eliminates ringing and boominess which you'd swear were room modes and overloaded front corners. Except that once, poof, you'd heard it all disappear completely with Bruno Putzeys' monos to know better. With this preamble the 225 would have to deal with the Lithuanian speakers barefoot. No socks. Its claim of any cable, any load refers to circuit stability That's not automatically synonymous with ultimate woofer control. In fact damping factor into 8Ω is specified as ~100 from 20Hz-20kHz. Good but not extreme**. But in lieu of a dastardly Apogee Scintilla, my white Rhapsody 200 with their steep phase angles and erratic impedance squiggles would be my stand-in test for amplifier manliness.

** Speaker diaphragms have mass, their surrounds stiffness. Together these form a resonant system. A driver with a voice coil is also a current generator. For every motion the coil makes it generates a current seen by the amplifier whose output circuitry is the main electrical load on this voice coil current generator. If that load has low resistance, the current will be larger and the voice coil more strongly forced to decelerate. A high damping factor requires low amplifier output impedance and rapidly damps unwanted cone movements like a short circuit across the terminals of a rotary electrical generator makes it very hard to turn. Many amp makers specifying 4-digit damping factors simply don't factor in the resistance of the speaker cable, crossover parts and hookup wiring plus the voice coil resistance itself which changes with frequency, power levels and temperature. Once those in-line resistive elements are added to the amp's own output resistance, claimed damping factor figures often lose a digit or more.

Those who know that I call the NOS Metrum Hex and massively oversampling AURALiC Vega my two favorite DACs for sane coin also know that I think of the Dutch as a timing/rhythm champ par excellence. The 32/384 challenger from Hong Kong is sweet and retina-display glossy to beautify all basic 16/44.1 Redbook into a semblance of DSD. As part of the hardware pre-seasoning any credible reviewer does to maximize the performance of a temporary loaner, a DAC swap quickly confirmed intuition. The Vega's slightly lush voicing—PureMusic 1.89g, 352.8kHz 'maximum fidelity' upsampling, Vega clock to exact, its digital filter to mode 4—better complemented the very transparent Job 225 as reader Chris Mercurio had called his older version. The Nagra Jazz was set to 0dB gain to mellow the Vega's potent output.

These small but meaningful and audible adjustments moved things straight into what I call my sound. Every audiophile sooner or later arrives at his or her own. Recognized, one eventually learns how to get there by various means. Those will routinely be conceptual enemies. Experience learns to skip religious doctrine in favor of personal experience. One might even delight in slaughtering personal sacred cows at the altar of many roads lead to Rome. Arriving doesn't mean on the central Piazza Venezia with identical sound. It simply means getting inside the city limits. If everything ended at the same address it'd get boring quickly. In that context having the $1.495 Job 225 arrive at the same general destination as my $5.000 Bakoon (15 watts) or $10.000 SIT1 monos (10 watts)—that's quite a trick!—was impressive. But hadn't Anne said that rather than a superceded older version of the circuit, the Job 225 ran the very latest iteration just as Goldmund does presently? If you're still hazy on how that's even possible, acknowledge the fact that Job 225 and Goldmund Metis One customers will never meet to have this chat. They live in entirely different worlds which don't intersect. A company thus can pursue either customer without conflict. At least that seems to be the theory. If Goldmund/Job can pull it off, should we expect scores of others to follow? If so, the heavens could really part for the budget conscious.

Using one of my favorite minimalist albums for tracking tone modulation, I cued up Hector Zazou & Swara's In the House of Mirrors. To my surprise the 225 eclipsed the Bakoon on lucidity and acting like a microscope for on-string action and the tiny harmonic shifts the Uzbek tambur player for example evokes by repeating certain tones. This difference was far smaller than the offset between voltage/current outputs of Bakoon's HPA-21 headphone amp but of a similar flavor. The Job was the more incisive, direct and down to the bone. Though decidely not skeletal despite my turn of phrase, the Bakoon did counter with somewhat richer softer surface textures. Those were reminiscent of how the Vega differs from the Hex albeit again to a smaller extent. In short, the Job acted like a high-power Bakoon***. For 1/4th the sticker. That definitely was gold!

*** To avoid redundancy, readers interested in the blow-by-blow account of the Bakoon sound can refer to its review.

The 225 set its stage back a tad further. The AMP-11R felt a bit closer to the listener. Despite or rather because of its blunt directness which makes a world of difference at low listening levels, this sound gets dry only if preceding ancillaries fail to provide their own mild texturization; or if playback material gets ruthlessly exposed for being compressed and flat. If the surrounding context is suitable—quality recordings, quality gear—hearing it all without obscuration, obfuscation, fuzz, blur or any intermediary mellowing/buffering agent is thrilling. In speaker terms it's very much the difference between passive and active monitors from the same maker. The higher precision, greater control, lower distortion and broader bandwidth of active drive and its electronic filters reveal the passive speaker to be an aged stone sculpture. Its edges, relief, contrast and fine detail have grown soft from the elements over the ages. Colors have faded. If the active monitor connection also suggests professional sound—the unedited 'straight wire with gain' goal—that was intentional.