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Given operational temps it’s advisable to station this amp on a top shelf. The 30cm of airflow clearance advised in the owner’s manual are spot on. It’ll also allow an appreciative gander down the slot vents to admire the immaculate internal layout. All parts are tidily worked and the few flying leads are run and tied down as though by ruler and cleanly soldered. Altogether there’s seven valves. Three ECC83 twin triodes occupy the preamp stage, two of which hand over phase-inverted signal to the four EL34 output bottles. Power delivery in push/pull class A/B is 30 watts per, with 10 watts in class A. After an hour’s warm-up it was time to get busy.

Sonics: Writing this review at the beginning of March 2011, the calendar declared that winter was officially over. Though spring seemed to arrive with its foot on the break (outside temps sat at –2°C) a few glorious rays of sun shine did awaken first spring-time vibes. This I meant to milk with a tune from my most embarrassing faves, namely Robbie Williams’ "Feel". There, I dig it. The piano intro is simplicity itself but effective. If you want to follow it start with a D fundamental, alternate between D minor and A minor then modulate to G major. Add a precisely administered shaker and Robbie leans in with "come hold my hand". Flove! (I fucking love it). As he ascends to his first "and I just wanna feel" the Arpège brought in the sun. The apparently synthesized bass segueing in just then materialized clear as through a loupe. The strings feathered out into the far corners for a bona fide Hallmark moment. When the percussion entered and the bass took off the song kicked into high groove with astonishing ease and élan. Great start. Let’s back up and look closer.

Bass. With valve amps that’s often a thang. Either they’re a bit miserly compared to sand amps—on amplitude or kick—or they offer fair poundage but not necessarily top-speed delivery. Again the Arpège walked the center aisle. The bass clearly wasn’t elevated and instead somewhat lean but it played quick and bouncy like a rubber ball. On sustained pedals like on "Feel" the attack was soft but follow-up had potent insistence and was very clean, non-boomy and effortless. Priming the pump from room volume to starting party SPL it became plain quick that these weren’t empty promises. The Arpège could scale up the same clarity and power into precise thunderousness.

Back to room levels and other frequency bands, the shaker, hi-hat and cymbals were beautifully decoupled from the bass action. The Arpège didn't compact the goings-on but excelled at extension and maintaining separation of the various registers to avoid interference without artificially segregating the totality.

In the midrange the strings and keyboard were well differentiated, with good vocal detail and flow. But to be frank, evaluating tonal clarity in the vocal range with Robbie Williams as reference is limited. I needed piano, specifically the Johannes Brahms Piano Works op. 118 N°.2 with the "Intermezzo in A major" and Carmen Piazzini on the keys. This woman has big hands just as the composer demands. This piece begins nearly indifferent as kitty paws but builds up to a grand arc. After the thematic intro it veers into the parallel minor key with an achingly gentle melodic progression and a second discrete motif. This is followed by a brief chorded and irritating flight into the major key before clouds roll in and with them a sinister propulsive triplet forte. The Arpège did the right thing by stepping back to make room for the event with a rendition that approached a hologram of the recording venue.