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From NOS to 45: My friend Dan follows my reviews quite closely. From time to time he orders something by what he calls reading between the lines. He means tracking special excitement on my part. The last such purchase had been the Yamamoto A-010. It's become a complete winner for him particularly once I showed him how to strap Burson's 160 amp in current-buffer mode to the outputs to lower the no-feedback SET's impedance and let its VT-52s see a constant load. Voxativ's Ampeggio had come before. This had prompted Dan to subsequently also acquire Voxativ's Ampeggio Dué. That model I'd never heard myself. As it turned out at this juncture, we both preferred the cheaper model.

This time Dan had been triggered by the Octave. Except I hadn't reviewed it. Yet. From my preview he'd inferred great personal anticipation, quite rightly so though possibly misguided on my part. Based on our successful prior track record he'd simply ordered one right off rather than wait for my conclusion. It also was dirt cheap for a change. "In my system it sounds absolutely fantastic. Did you have a chance to listen to it yet?" He'd gotten his first. So I asked my vital question relative to his digital references. I've heard all of them and even use one. Dan's lineup includes the partially battery-powered LessLoss DAC 2004 MkII; an Esoteric UX1 universal player rebuilt fully by Alex Peychev to NWO-4.0SE status with massively paralleled AKM DACs and a transformer-coupled tube output stage; and a battery-powered Human Audio Libretto HD top loader with digital input and external 24/192 DC-powered async USB module. For those unfamiliar with these machines, they top out north of €30.000 and the LessLoss kicked in at $4.400 for its MkI iteration. "So... LessLoss/APL-type fantastic except for pennies on their dollar? Or actually and really different for a change? I'm voting for different. I want to review something digital that isn't just a rerun of what came before but does something decisively and recognizably different." Given that we agree 100% on our favorite direct-heated triodes, Dan's reply was tantalizing.

"It sounds not only 'perfect' straight out of the box but yes, also different. For me and to my old ears, NOS does it. The Octave is, I proclaim, the 45 tube of  digital - transparent, next to you, no veil, no cosmetics and so real. The hundreds of kHz/bits upsampling machines are not bad but for me like canned fish compared to fresh fish. Okay, in this system, in this room, to my ears, today. But I had the same reaction the first time I heard a 45 amp after all the 300Bs, 2A3s, 845s and other triodes I've been through. And "pour la bonne bouche" it's a joke when you consider that for this you only pay a couple of hundred euros."
I was due to visit Dan a few days later. He'd booked Gino and Pia Colombo of Colotube Amplifiers for one of their in-home demos. They bring their 300B monoblocks to prospective Swiss customers for an on-site audition. Dan hoped that Gino's two-stage monos with high-gain direct-heated 20A triode driver might repeat the stunt Yamamoto's amp had pulled on his smaller office Voxativs. He wanted the broad-shouldered field-coil Voxativs in the big system to sound as good or better. I meanwhile wanted to hear how the Colotube 10-watters would behave on his 100dB speakers. This would flow into my review of the amps for useful data my current inventory of speakers can't generate. I thus would have a chance to hear his Octave too. Mine had meanwhile arrived. This gave me a small head start. I already knew what to expect. The Octave was different, organic like prior NOS specimens but with decidedly finer resolution. I flashed on a combination of dense gutsiness (Burson's all-discrete high-gain HA160D), finesse (Zodiac Gold) and relaxation (47Labs).

Audiophiles like to think in quantities. More bass, less dynamics. That's relatively primitive. The more exciting stuff is to be found in a shift of gestalt. Sushi bars all use the same ingredients. More or less doesn't really factor. Yet premium Sushi is a world apart; one that needn't be exclusive to swanky environs but could manifest in a hole in the wall. With the Octave this manifests as an absence of stress. That's what it feels like. What it sounds like is less of various interrelated aspects like nervousness, flightiness, steeliness, thinness and such. Ghosts are transparent. One sees right through them. Real people block the light and take up space. Much of what in hifi goes by transparency is more ghostly than material. As I understand it—and I'm no expert—this is the core complaint vinyl lovers have with digital. The second one is edginess from forward transients which imbalance the emphasis on the bloom portion and shortchange decays.

The Octave blocks the light. For those accustomed to digital transparency where sharpness, speed and high contrast are king, this will be different. Going from the Octave to that would seem like a quickening but also thinner and diluted. Going from that to the Octave will seem meatier. Music will be in repose rather than attack mode. By extension the experiencer will feel rooted and grounded, not suspended. Even so with the Octave silvery decays of triangles are very long and the harmonics which determine instrumental timbre are clearly richer. It's not farfetched to say that this color richness mirrors why people usually pursue valves.

Cello and piano like Anja Lechner and Vassili Tsabropoulos on EMI's Melos are instant giveaways. The core shift is from lightness (as illumination and weight) to earthiness. On the quantity scale this isn't drastic. Nonetheless it's very apparent not only to the ears but also if one notices how one's body reacts to the presentational changes. Things get mellower and more potent simultaneously. Gravitas is the perfect word for this effect. It sits on the other side of airiness yet fades from cymbals, undamped piano strings and singing bowls prove that this is not for lack of natural reverb action. Attention's center of gravity has simply been moved to a different place. That was the first and very strong hit I got from firing up the Octave. The visit to Dan was next.