The Curse
As popular notions go, the Butler Audio 2250 carries a certain stigma if not outright blood curse. Begin voice over: "The TDB 2250 is the 2-channel version of the company's own 5-channel TDB 5150. 5 channels equal home theater. And that, esteemed colleagues of the defense -- insert distinct tone of mockery and disdain -- simply means that the 2250 is nothing more than a home theater amp with three missing channels, more power per the two remaining channels instead and some fancily christened skalliwag hybrid circuitry. Big deal. What audiophile good ever came from home theater? Nothing. The prosecution rests its case. Shall we have lunch at Circuit City, your honor? Next."

The Purse
As far as logic goes, the prosecution has a point. But where I'm concerned, they'd be missing the point entirely. It's really the other way 'round, sports fans. The Tube Driver Blue architecture merely lends itself to being packaged in 5-channel guise to make the TDB 5150 the first home-theater tube amp that'll run cool to be left powered up indefinitely. 24/7. Don't condemn this flexibility to spell unfitness for serious audiophile adventures. Truly, the TDB architecture isn't just some tube hybrid circuitry as you'd find in Mike Elliot's Aria amps or the Unison Research Unico. The eerie blue emanations from the tubes and their very cool operation without any of the typical orange glow and heat aren't a cheap blue LED trick that's played upon our collective need to believe in the sanctity of white papers. It simply seems to be what remains visible inside a tube when you turn off the usual high voltages. After all, anyone who's ever owned a valve amp knows that there's a faint blue fire inside the valves, except that it's always overshadowed by the orange light show. Even running this amp for a solid week didn't raise its mild operating temp by one degree. Implementing tubes without "electron emission" is the nouveau wrinkle here. The only question that remained for yours truly was whether this novelty was a sonically good thing or not. After all, 250 watts of valved go juice without the ubiquitous bank of overstressed fire-breathing output tubes is definitely something to get excited over - especially when them tubes don't just sit there to look pretty but actually do something audible and desirable. Valve sound without punishment? Velvet and mucho grunt? No drifting bias, no tube aging, no heat attack from paralleled output bottles to drive down impedance in the absence of an evil output transformer? Too good to be true? Read on.

A Black Tail from the Cryptic
But first, an anecdote that might well shed light on the amp's professional bullet-proof background. Having dutifully forgotten that the back-panel switch selects between stereo/mono rather than acting as the power mains, I had fired up the amp in the rear and used the front panel rocker to take it out of standby. When I noticed that despite sound on both channels, one sounded peculiarly "in the negative" as though it was out of phase over the entire band, a closer
and exasperated look at the back panel set me and stereo straight. The one and only power mains resides on the front panel. Everything thereafter was peachy. Could a lesser amp have gone up in smoke after being wired up wrong, especially when connected high-level to two additional amps (the bass amps in my Duo subwoofers)? I'm not sure. No matter what, color me impressed that the Butler tolerated this stupidity on my part without apparent ill will and went on pulling duty like the proverbial work horse, without complaints but utter reliability. Check out the back panel below. There's three pairs of binding posts, one for mono operation, the other two for the usual stereo. The central rocker switch selects the desired mode of operation. Leave it to a reviewer to mess up such basics, connect an amp to two speakers and then tell it to run in mono. Yikes!

A White Tale from the Crystalline Clear
Truly, this amp is as close to set'n'forget as any amp with tubes has a right to be. The internal relay clicks on within seconds rather than minutes. Remember, there aren't any lethal voltages waiting to be applied gingerly lest the tubes go into toxic shock. As far as those tubes are concerned, there also seems no need for the usual warm-up period. After all, these don't warm up. They just go blue right after the relay signs off. Any thermal stabilization or warm-up period until the amp reaches its operative sweet spot would be purely due to the transistor output devices employed. The amp's stone quiet to boot so you needn't fear transformer hum or power supply grunge even over ultra-efficient speakers like my horns. Though 103dB speaker sensitivites are not the kind of load any prospective purchaser is liable to mate with the powerful Butler amp, I wanted to try this combination anyhow to determine whether the amp would wake up and dance when asked to deliver less than half a watt. No shame if it didn't - my 88dB Gallos were anxiously waiting 'round the corner.
One more anecdote before we get going, this one from reader Louis Berkman who owns this very Butler amp for reasons I couldn't duplicate but which are very telling so I want to share them. Okay, here goes:

"I started with a Bel Canto eVo 4 Gen II with my Quad 989s. A terrific combination. The amp loved the Quads as did I. When you ran your article about the capacitor upgrade from Bel Canto, I was the first person to return their amp and have it upgraded. I will add they were caught completely flat-footed by the rush. My amp came back and yes, it was improved noticeably over its prior sonics.

Never one to leave good enough alone, I was forcefully bitten by Upgrade Mania several months later. The first things to go were the Quads. I have a unique room dimensionally. It is 42' long, an irregular 16' to 19' wide with 9' ceilings. The Quads were placed 12' out from the rear wall and about 5' from the side walls. This was as close to freestanding as I could get them. Combined with a pair of James Loudspeaker EMB1000 subs, the sound was gossamer most of the time - with one exception. The words Quad and dynamic range simply do not belong in the same sentence. After a while, I really began to miss the dynamic range (I understand why you like your
Avantgardes so much), but I wanted to keep the best aspects of planars. Magnepans were not an option as I tend not to listen tremendously loud the majority of the time, and I do like to hear musical detail and textures. So I purchased a pair of Bohlender-Graebner Radia 520is. Once broken in, I was most impressed. They had the detail of the Quads with the imaging of a line source. An ethereal combination. They also tended to be a bit on the hard side, something I was told to look (listen?) out for.

According to BG, the "i models have new crossovers and woofers" and do not "screech" (my word) like the previous models. I began to look at amplification as a potential source of this hardness. I am aware from previous ownership of VAC and Sonic Frontiers equipment that tube amps tend not to encourage hardness in the upper ranges of most speakers. The problem is I am neurotic as hell and the option of tube rolling was setting my OCD off like crazy. Tubes occupied my every waking moment. I scoured the Internet for that one special tube that could put all my anxieties to rest. As with the Holy Grail, it was never to be found. So out went the tubes, in came the eVo and back came my sanity, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

This in a roundabout way brings me to the Butler. I knew I wanted some vestige of tube sound but I did not (could not?) deal with a full tube product. I was perusing the Asylum one day and read about someone comparing a pair of Rowland 201s to his recently inherited Butler TDB5150. The Butler stomped the Rowlands in no uncertain terms. I contacted the writer and asked him for more information. He was still laudatory of the Butler and indicated it seemed to work exceptionally well with the Rowland Synergy IIi preamp. As I own a Synergy IIi, that was all it took. I scoured the Internet and found a new Butler for sale at a dealer. Located in Florida, he was fortunately not inundated by whatever hurricane happened to be passing through at the moment and was able to send it to me post haste. A week later it arrived and was immediately installed in my system.

The first thing I noticed about the Butler was its lack of need for extended break-in. The Bel Canto took at least 100 hours before it sounded right. The Butler sounded right right out of the box. Comparing the two amps is surprisingly simple. The Bel Canto is much like the Quads, a window into the musical event. The Butler is the event. Bass is amazingly extended and at the same time phenomenally differentiated. The midrange opened up and now floats images in midair between the speakers. Highs seem to go forever and don't hurt anymore. The Butler's ability to accurately portray image depth is astounding. This is the first amp since my Sonic Frontiers Power 2 that can portray the sense of stage depth of my Carmen record on the London label. And is it ever quiet.

Discs that were simply unlistenable previously now sound acceptable to very good (Celine Dion comes to mind here.) Oscar Peterson once again shimmers. Pat Metheny sounds glorious. I must also add one other telltale sign of the Butler's sound quality. I have tinnitus in both ears (thanks, mom) and am apparently very sensitive to certain kinds of distortion commonly present in solid-state amps. The Bel Canto was much better about this than others I had tried but it would still set my tinnitus off if I played too loud or too long. The Butler simply causes me no problems no matter how loud or long I play. It is wonderful to once again be able to feel the music should I wish to. Long sessions are no longer a balancing act of time versus ear ringing." [Associated equipment list: Butler TDB2250 power amp; Jeff Rowland Synergy IIi preamp; Meridian 588 CDP; ExactPower EP15A power conditioner; Eurolab (Scheu) Premier II turntable; Mǿrch UP-4 tonearm; Audience Au24 tonearm cable; London Decca Jubilee cartridge; Dact CT100 phono preamp; Kenwood DT-7000S Sirius tuner; Bohlendar-Graebner Radia 520i planar-magnetic speakers; two James Loudspeaker EMB1000 subwoofers; TARA Labs speaker cable; Ah! interconnects.]

Louis' hereditary tinnitus really piqued my curiosity since it's not something I suffer from but something I know exists as a hyper sensitivity to certain ultrasonic frequencies in particular listeners. I consider his findings with the Butler amp an important bit of unusual information that might be relevant to others who suffer a similar audiophile fate and go through amp after amp in search of the One who doesn't do that irritating thing most other folks -- including the designers -- can neither hear nor vouch for. Besides Louis' confirmation that this amp runs hellaciously quiet, I can now vouch for the following as it occurred to these ears: