Reviewer: Jeff Day
Analog Source: A work in progress - Garrard 301, Cain & Cain plinth, Denon 103 cartridge, Origin Live Silver arm [in for review], Monolithic Sound phono stage
Digital Source: Meridian 508.20 CD player both in stand-alone mode and used as a transport with the Audio Logic 2400 vacuum tube DAC; Superscope PSD300 CD-R/RW portable recording studio/transport-player/musician's practice tool [in for review]
Preamplifier: Tom Evans Audio Design Vibe
Integrated Amplifiers: Almarro A205A EL84 single-ended pentode; Sonic Impact Class T digital
Amplifiers: Fi 2A3 single-ended triode monoblocks
Speakers: Avantgarde Duo 2.0; Omega Super 3 [in for review]; Almarro M0A loudspeaker [in for review]
Cables: Nirvana S-X interconnects between DAC and preamplifier; Nirvana S-L interconnects between preamplifier and amplifiers; Nirvana S-L speaker cables between amplifiers and speakers; a custom Nirvana wiring harness to connect the Duos midrange and tweeter horns and woofer module; Cardas Neutral Reference digital cable; Nirvana digital cable [in for review]; Yamamoto prototype interconnect [in for evaluation]
Stands: Atlantis Video Reference equipment rack, Billy Bags 2 shelf rack
Power Line Conditioning: none
Room Size: 15' x 25' x 8', short-wall setup
Review Component Retail: $2250
The Inside Scoop
Have you ever known someone who always seemed to have the inside scoop on things before anyone else? There's usually one in every group of hobbyists. Some years ago, my audio pal David from North Bend/WA brought over part of his stash of cool HiFi gear for us Eastside boys to hear. Terry Cain, Stephæn Harrell, Santos Ortega, Pete Riggle and Bill Van Winkle -- if I remember correctly -- all gathered at my place to listen to David's hot-rod audio gear. David brought over his pair of beautiful Cherry-finished RL Acoustique Lamhorn 1.8 loudspeakers with both the AER MK-1 and Lowther EX-4 drivers [above] and the exotic battery-powered Final Labs Music-5 preamplifier and Music-6 amplifier from Japan [below] .
I'd asked David how he'd heard about the exotic Final Labs gear which wasn't exactly a mainstream item: "There's this guy Brian Bowdle who runs a shop called Venus Hi-Fi in Bloomington/Indiana. Brian has the inside scoop on all manner of far-out Hi-Fi gear nobody's ever heard of. He told me about the Final Labs gear and I decided to buy it on his recommendation. I've been delighted with it." David's delighted for good reason - the Final Labs gear is really great stuff. Recently I heard via Rod's Audio Asylum grapevine that Brian had discovered some Japanese gems in the Yamamoto line of equipment. I dropped Brian a note to ask about this gear and today's review of the Yamamoto Sound Craft A-08 Stereo 45 SET stereo amplifier was born.
Before I talk about the Yamamoto A-08, I want to talk about Brian. His really is a story worth telling. In some ways, Brian's a guy just like the rest of us audio nutters. He works a day job as a college professor, is a devoted husband and father of three lovely children. Brian's also a musician who loves both music and Hi-Fi. Brian has gone beyond most of us in our hobbyist audio pursuits by opening a specialty audio shop -- Venus Hi-Fi -- so that he can offer his growing network of fellow enthusiasts audio exotica that he has searched out from around the globe. Brian specializes in finding and offering gear with superior sonics and build quality that has the ability to play music while remaining value-oriented. Brian's got really good taste and he wants the best there is when it comes to sound and music-playing ability. Yet Brian's not a more-expensive-is-always-better elitist or audio snob. Through his shop, he wants to offer the "best there is" at a price even an audio everyman like me can afford to enjoy.
Guns & Roses
I asked Brian how he came by his knack for finding such rare Hi-Fi gear, in this particular case the Yamamoto A-08 45 SET stereo amplifier from Japan. It turns out that the seed for researching exotic audio gear from Japan was planted in Brian's life in the late 1970s after visiting his uncle's apartment in Columbus/Ohio. Brian's uncle had served in Vietnam and wound up bringing back some fabulous Japanese stereo kit. Brian said, "I'd never seen nor heard his system until that particular visit and I recall being quite impressed with all his components. He played some LPs from his collection -- Pink Floyd, Simon & Garfunkel and the Alan Parsons Project -- and I remember thinking that I had never heard music sound this good."
Brian comes by his musical ear the honest way - he's a musician. I believe Brian's background as a musician also helps him pick out audio gear that plays music well as opposed to merely sounding great. Not all gear can or does both but musicians have a leg up when it comes to picking out that subset of gear which can. Brian plays numerous instruments: piano and clarinet (he was first chair in the Toledo Youth Orchestra for a while); drums (high school marching band); synthesizer (high school and college garage bands); and the banjo (claw-hammer style). He has sung in several choirs and was a DJ at the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor college radio station as an undergraduate, hosting jazz, folk and free-form shows as well as the Psychedelic Breakfast Show on Saturday mornings.
With the influence of an audiophile uncle and a love of playing and performing music, Brian was destined to become an audio hobbyist. He became an avid record collector in junior high school while putting his family's record player through its paces. His first system was a Bang & Olufsen Beocenter 2200 with matching Beovox speakers which he received as a high school graduation present in 1986. Brian said, "I kept that system and was perfectly happy with it until 1995 when my fiancé's best friend's fiancé (got that?) visited us in our apartment in Chicago. He told me that if I thought my system sounded great, I simply had to hear his!" Brian was a little put off by this audiophile grandstanding but decided to take the fella up on his offer. He wound up listening to his fiancé's best friend's fiancé's Levinson & Tannoy setup a couple of weeks later. Brian disconsolately agreed - it did sound much better than his own rig.
What to do? It took Brian a year before he had enough cash saved up to revamp his system. He went out shopping for a rig like the Levinson & Tannoy setup that had impressed him so. However, it wasn't to be. In the process of shopping, he got smacked hard between the eyes when a single-ended triode bug flew his way. He wound up with a Cary 300SEI integrated and their CD-300 player. The 300SEI caught Brian's attention due to its tubes and retro styling. When he listened to the Cary combo, he was instantly hooked. "I was astonished at how palpable the music sounded!" Brian combined the Cary combo with a pair of Coincident Troubadour loudspeakers which made magic with the amp. To this day, Brian loves those Troubadours and considers them a great design that was underappreciated during its time.
Over the next 6 years, our Venutian changed his Hi-Fi numerous times to explore different approaches to making music but always came back to SET's ability to both sound great and play music convincingly. In 2001 and while under the spell of the Hi-Fi muse, Brian established Venus Hi-Fi and the rest is his story.