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Prior to purchasing the Vibe that I now use as my reference preamplifier, I owned that underground favorite, the Joule-Electra LA100, an exceptional vacuum tube preamplifier made by Jud Barber. The Joule-Electra LA100 is a wonderful hand-made all-tube preamplifier that has found favor with quite a few audiophile and music lovers, not the least of whom is über-talented mastering engineer Steve Hoffman who used an LA100 in his mastering work for music label DCC and others. My LA100 [below] had that rich and full sound vacuum tubes are known for along with very good resolution. Like the Vibe, the LA100 also utilizes a DC circuit, albeit using batteries to provide DC bias to the tubes. When I first received my personal Vibe and put it into my system, I was surprised to hear how similar the tone & voicing of the two preamplifiers were. As my original Vibe broke in fully, the differences became more apparent: While the Vibe maintained a similar tone and voicing, it was obvious that it had much greater authority, detail recovery, transparency and tighter bass than my LA100. The Vibe was like a more neutral LA100, with more of everything everywhere in its performance envelope while at the same time showing its English heritage with superior Pace, Rhythm and Timing (or PRaT) as our English HiFi friends are fond of saying. So why do I bring up the Joule-Electra comparison? If you like the way a really good tube preamplifier sounds, I suspect you're going to love the sound of the Vibe. That's why!
|I've used my personal pre-Lithos 7 Vibe for all of the reviews I've done for 6moons and it's about as an unfussy a piece of equipment as you can find for interfacing with different amplifiers or sources while at the same time bringing out the best in them. Because of its superior resolution and clarity -- more about that in a minute -- it is also the perfect reviewer's tool for giving an absolutely clear window into the performance envelope of gear coming before or after it in the signal chain. Whether it was my personal Fi 2A3 monoblocks, the Yamamoto A-08 45 stereo SET, the Almarro A205A EL84 SEP, the T-Amp or Super T-Amp or other amps that have drifted in and out of my listening room, the Vibe makes it easy to discern their strengths and weaknesess
|with unvarnished clarity and truth, but never at the expense of the music. My Vibe has also been among the most reliable pieces of HiFi equipment I have ever owned, never having a single reliability issue, which is something that is very important to me and somewhat rare in hobbyist audio.
By the way, all of the listening impressions presented in this review are in combination with the TEAD Linear A amplifier that I reviewed back in August and subsequently decided to purchase. I hadn't planned on purchasing the Linear A for budgetary reasons but after living with its incredible performance over a period of months, the thought of the musical and sonic hole it would leave in my system and heart outweighed the hole it would leave in my wallet. So I decided to buy it. Be forewarned that if you listen to the TEAD gear in your system, you'll be putting yourself at serious financial risk (not to mention risk of musical bliss), because I doubt you'll be able to say "No!" to a purchase once you've heard it. Srajan told me the story of a conversation he had with a well-known US HiFi importer of a competing electronics line who tried the Linear A in his own system: Impressed by its over-the-top performance, he told Srajan that the Linear A "is ugly as sin but sounds like the voice of God!" I'd say that pretty well sums things up about the Linear A's performance (and the looks do grow on you) and it has now become my new reference. What better way to evaluate the Vibe's ultimate performance than with what may very well be the hottest stereo amplifier currently available?
Now back to the Vibe: One thing that you need to know about Vibes is that they take a long time to break in properly before everything opens up and the tone fully develops. Ed Sheftel (the US importer for TEAD) advised me to let the Lithos 7 version of the Vibe break in for a full 7 weeks before trying to form any listening impressions. If you happen to sneak in a few listening sessions here and there before the full 7 weeks are up, this is what you'll hear: Lots of detail with a somewhat lean, dry and clinical sound. So don't panic if your new Vibe Lithos 7 sounds that way at first because Ed is exactly right. It really does take a full 7 weeks of music playing for the Vibe's voice & tone to fully develop, at which time the detail gains roundness and expressive nuance, the overall presentation warms up to tonal perfection and the dryness vanishes to give a flesh & blood moistness that evokes a life-like musical reality.
|Given that older Vibes can be updated to the latest Lithos 7 version, I thought it would be helpful for other Vibe owners if I compared the two versions to see if their money would be well spent on an update to Lithos 7. To start out my little adventure in comparing the two Vibes, I dropped Gillian Welch's Soul Journey CD into my Meridian 508.20 that I use as a transport to feed digits to my Audio Logic 2400 vacuum tube DAC, which was all connected together with the phenomenal 47 Laboratory Cable Kit nude digital link and interconnects (i.e. the Stratos wire makes direct connection to the female RCAs without having to go through a solder joint or metal parts, thus the connection is nude). On "One Monkey", Gillian was so vividly flesh & blood through the Vibe that I was literally gobsmacked. Whether Lithos 7 or not, even without the Pulse power supply, the Vibe is one impressive sounding preamplifier. It is extended at
|the frequency extremes, extremely detailed all through its range, smooth and tonally natural sounding, with great macro- and microdynamics and able to reveal everything in its rhythmic complexity. A fully broken-in Vibe sounds like what you would expect from the best vacuum tube preamplifier you've ever heard except for one thing - there's no tubes inside it and it sounds better than any valve preamplifier I've ever heard - by a lot.
Ed Sheftel, who is also a world-class musician, told me that one of the things that impressed him so much about Tom's designs is the way they portray the tactile presence of the music. You might not completely get that comment unless you're a musician yourself. What Ed means is that when you are listening to Tom's designs, you not only hear what the musicians are doing with their instruments but you can also "feel it" like you do when you are playing an instrument yourself. There's more to tactile presence than just superior resolution, detail, dynamics and natural tonality. It has to do with the feel or sense of touch you get while playing an instrument. By listening to a guitar through the TEAD gear, you can get a remarkable sense of that feel: The tempo of your left hand moving between chords as they are formed and changed; the touch of the windings on your fingertips as they slide along the strings; and the movement in your right hand when strumming rhythm or picking lead notes. You can feel what is being done in the music in a way that in my experience is unprecedented in audio electronics.
Replacing my Vibe with the new Lithos 7 version of the Vibe proved enlightening. The Lithos 7 version is better in every regard. While the basic character of the Vibe remained the same, everything about its sound improved by a surprising amount. Air and space around the instruments was enhanced and there was more detail and nuance and a blacker background. There were times when my pre Lithos 7 Vibe would lack the last little bit of composure on Gillian's vocals when she leaned into it on "Back in Time", sounding ever so slightly edgy on the peaks, which completely vanished with the Lithos 7 Vibe. It was almost like the pre-Lithos 7 Vibe couldn't track the last little bit of dynamic acceleration in Gillian's voice and started to break up a little. The Lithos 7 Vibe sailed through it with perfection. Instruments became more tangibly present with more body and it was easier to follow the individual instrumental lines and how they interplayed with each other.
Sonics not only improved in all the audiophile parameters but more importantly, there were improvements in the musical realm, with the music becoming more engaging and exciting. As Ed would no doubt point out, the tactile presence also increased noticeably. I was almost afraid to ask Ed how much it would cost to update older Vibes to the Lithos 7 version but it turns out I shouldn't have been: "It costs $500 plus shipping to and from my service center in Los Angeles". That's a bargain for the improvement I heard between the two. If you have an older Vibe, updating it to Lithos 7 status is a no-brainer. Highly recommended. Although I've already leaked the news with Ed's comment, this is as good a time as any to tell you that Ed Sheftel now has a Tom Evans Audio Design service center located in Los Angeles for customers based in the Americas so you don't have to worry about sending your gear back to Tom in Wales should you want to do an update or need to make a repair.
|The standard Lithos 7 Vibe was impressive but adding the optional $4000 Pulse power supply elevated the L7 Vibe to a level that was simply breathtaking. The Pulse contributes a preternatural blackness between images while maintaining the air around them. With the sound space of the recording opening up dramatically, it becomes easy to discern the farthest reaches of the soundstage. The sense of living, breathing, flowing music and sound space that results when adding the Pulse is uncanny as it sounds so organic, so natural, so musically satisfying. One of the things I like to do while reviewing is to check to see how tonally realistic a piece of electronics is. My favorite CD for that is Jorma Kaukonen's Blue Country Heart because on it he plays exclusively the same flat-top guitar I own: A Brazilian rosewood & Adirondack spruce Gibson Advanced Jumbo made by the Gibson Montana Custom Shop.
|What I want to hear is Jorma's AJ sound just like mine: Not a plywood AJ, a plastic AJ, a steel AJ or an overly romanticized AJ. I want the real AJ-thing if you know what I mean. You might be surprised to know that some of the high-dollar and highly regarded equipment I've listened to couldn't get the AJ's tone right but never fear - the Vibe-Pulse combination positively nails it. Now if I could only play my AJ as well as Jorma plays his!
On Michele Shocked's Short, Sharp, Shocked, the Vibe-Pulse combination gives you a room with a view of total transparency and a sense of hard-bodied imaging that is riveting. The transparency of the Vibe-Pulse is profound and it will show your other equipment for exactly what it is with nowhere to hide. The spy satellite boys could count the dimples on golf balls on a snow-covered green from space with this kind of transparency! Pal Stephæn was over for a visit one day and I cued up Short, Sharp, Shocked because I knew he liked it and in fact had introduced me to the album. The combination of Vibe-Pulse with the Linear A amplifier was producing a remarkable musical experience and Stephæn said "What album is that?" "Short, Sharp, Shocked" said I, somewhat surprised he didn't recognize it. Stephæn was quiet for a moment or two before responding, probably wondering if I was playing a trick on him as he has been know to do to others from time to time in his listening room: "I've never heard it sound like that!" said he. The Tom Evans gear is like that. You hear an album that you're familiar with and it shocks you that there's so much more there musically and sonically than you ever realized. It makes for a whole new audio experience. Time after time I was dumbfounded by how much more there is in those digits and grooves than I've ever realized. And the experience is not subtle as is so often the case in audio. The difference here is so large that it literally "blows you off the couch" as Tom is fond of saying.
|CD after CD and LP after LP I thoroughly enjoyed listening to music with the Vibe and Pulse combination. It's a little hard to be analytical when listening to music with this combination of TEAD gear as it so easy to be swept away. There was many a night when I ended up with no listening notes at all. The Vibe & Pulse pulled me into the music so deeply that I would just sit my notebook computer aside for a moment, thinking I would pick it back up and jot down my impressions, but it never happened because I would just get so lost in the music. It's a bit of a wonder to me that the Vibe & Pulse combination can be so neutral in character and so resolving while at the same time being so expressively musical. Usually those attributes don't go together but they do here. The Vibe & Pulse combination truly has it all: It does all of the audiophile sonic trickery to perfection while maintaining a musically engrossing listening
|experience that never fails to cast a captivating spell over music lovers and HiFi buffs alike.
I think 6moons reader Paul Chefurka sums up the Vibe-Pulse experience pretty well in his e-mail to me after getting a Vibe & Pulse of his own: "I gotta rave at someone this morning, and I suspect you'll understand best. I took delivery of a used Vibe/Pulse last night. It warmed up for an hour, and then proceeded to knock my little cotton socks off. Here's the interesting part. It's driving my super-trick Audion Silver Night MkII PX25 integrated which has a stepped attenuator made of Vishay Dales. I compared running the DAC straight into the amp vs. running it through the Vibe. There was simply no comparison, the Vibe path was better in every regard: transparency, resolution, imaging, dynamics and extension, and the image palpability - wow! But especially, most especially amazing was the musicality. I've never heard this kind of musical intensity from my system. This is just flat-out incredible. I'm now convinced that ordering a Linear A, even unheard, was the right move. To echo Stephæn Harrell: "This is seriously good shit.""
Paul's e-mail sums up the Vibe-Pulse experience to a 'T' I think. My experience aligns so closely with Paul's that I'm buying the review pair of the Vibe-Pulse. Next up for review is the Tom Evans Groove + (pronounced Groove Plus) phono stage, which is the hot-rodded version of the much acclaimed standard Groove that adds a beefy power supply not unlike what the Pulse does for the Vibe - stay tuned!