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"Valves sound warm, transistors have proper shove" are ongoing clichés which have worn out their welcome when the sound of a modern amp isn’t determined by its output devices as much as the entire circuitry around them. Even so clichés contain bits of historical truth which created them in the first place. Everyone would admit that a traditional low-power triode amp excels at a colour-rich midband but also shows soft treble and soft low bass with very broad staging whilst a clear transistor concept will be tonally less spectacular but exhibit more control and pressurization potential. The Asgard runs between these two tracks. To start with I reached for harder fare by way of "Shame" from Jimmy Eat World’s Futures. The intro sports exceedingly potent drums with plenty of reverb followed by some guitar work. At 1:55 into the refrain albeit in slow motion each instruments that didn’t jump into the tree’s safety quick enough gets beaten up something fierce.

With its silk-screened flourish on the face plate and modest power rating, the Asgard doesn’t embody the muscle amp ideal on looks or specs. Just how it exploded the ass-kicking bass drums and tracked the intense voltage swings of the bridge then had me at hello. This was coupled to a mild hold-back in the highest notes. With some amps "Shame" nearly hurts because the badly abused crash cymbals exhibit maximal hiss during peaks. With the Asgard this was easily stomached because the sound was centred on the midband, reaching low and quickly so whilst painting the treble more in bronze than Platinum.

I gained a very similar impression with Maximo Park’s "Karaoke Plays" cut from the Our Earthly Pleasures album. It starts with a very lightly distorted guitar riff in the lower midrange followed by typical Maximo Park song structuring of slowly rising energy pouring into a hymnic refrain. Again the Asgard demonstrated beautiful interplay of tonality and dynamics. The guitars exhibited realistic detail data (how were the strings struck?; how much did the microphone-capture guitar amp clip?; how did tones decay?; where on the fret board did the string snap?), then added proper shove and timing down low with pleasantly mild warmth on high which was particularly relaxing on the noisy refrain.

Should you demur by insisting on a crashing refrain… you’re allowed your opinion. Curiously I enjoyed it despite or perhaps because of it. Though the Asgard didn’t exhibit text-book linearity, I didn’t miss a thing. It simply wasn’t illuminated in bright hard light. Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony became a home run for the Asgard. The amp was wholly at home in this romantic symphony. This became particularly apparent in how it tonally fanned out the orchestra. Here it truly reminded me much of a triode circuit with stupendous micro resolution in the midband and a well-sorted more wide than deep stage. But… Dvořák routinely reaches deep into his bag with kettle drums and assorted rattles and bells. That’s usually when vintage 6-watt SETs cave in and excuse themselves with a sorry smile. The Asgard meanwhile hit hard and manifested even bigger orchestras in my digs. Good stuff!

Where there’s light there’s always shadow too. Did the Asgard expose any shadowy sides? Not really I think. It did however have character. It’s thus no universal champion and likely won’t hit every taste. Why? Let’s define by contrast to my work machine, the Abacus Ampollo power amp. There are a few parallels between their makers. Both are owner-operated outfits who build the majority of their wares in-house. Both have concrete notions about their circuitry to avoid stuffing a text-book solution into as shiny box. At €2’900 the Ampollo simply costs more than the €1’800 Asgard and as a variable single-source amp it also strips off some feature. A comparison thus factors in those attributes and focuses instead on sonic character alone.