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Reviewer: Michael Lavorgna
Source: Audio Aero Capitole MKII
Preamp: Déjà Vu Audio, deHavilland UltraVerve Junior [on review], AudioTropic Mœbius [on loan]
Amp: Fi 45 Prototype (based on the Fi 2A3 Stereo amp, optimized for the 45 tube by Don Garber), Fi X
Speakers: Cain & Cain Abby (Normal) and Cain & Cain Bailey, Tonian Acoustics TL-R2 Super Tweeter
Cables: PHY interconnects, Auditorium 23 Speaker Cable, JPS Labs Digital AC Power Cable, Audience PowerChord, ESP Essence Power Cord, and Z-Cable Heavy Thunder V2 on the Blue Circle MR
Stands: pARTicular Basis Rack
Powerline conditioning: Blue Circle Music Ring MR800
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks Series II under AA Capitole, Yamamoto Sound Craft PB-10 Ebony Bases under Abbys and Bailey, PS Audio Ultimate Outlets, and AudioPrism Quiet Lines. Room damping provided by lots of books.
Room size: 13' W x 14' D x 9' H
Review component retail: $2,095

Verve was a magazine for Art & Literature published between 1937 and 1960. Each issue included beautifully made prints and essays by such luminaries as Picasso, Matisse, Joyce and Gide. As its name would suggest, Verve captured a certain spirit of creative expression while bearing witness to the broad range of form and content these desires can inspire. If we look at the work of Picasso and Matisse, the differences in approach and fascination -- what drew them in --are telling. Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon from 1907 and Matisse's Dance (1) from 1909 are good places to start. Often referred to as the first cubist painting, Picasso's Demoiselles are fractured forms. Ideas and influences intrude upon the ladies in pose - fragmented details of layered time. Matisse's Dancers are of a piece, elegant and fluid. Their movement belies the medium as well as the idea of a pose frozen in time. And while both painters have simplified the female form, they have done so toward very different ends. If we meet each artist's work far enough from the cloudiness of preconception, I believe there's a lot to be learned from each. Is one good and one bad? A winner and a loser? Thankfully those post-its don't stick to paintings. Opinions come with each and every viewer renders them pointless. Moot. Besides, if you listened to all the opinions about paintings, there'd be no time to see 'em for yourself. Imagine that.

Why have so many designers and listeners fallen prey to this octal-based dual triode 6SN7GTA/GTB/WGT and 5692? The 6SN7 family is pedigreed and pricey. From the deHavilland website, an interview with deHavilland chief engineer Kara Chaffee tells us: "...the 6SN7 is a tube that SE people describe as having "Big Tone". It is a dual triode that has a very open, relaxed and graceful sound, without sacrificing detail. Introduced by RCA in 1939, it is hard to find a driver tube that is more rugged and sonically consistent."

I first encountered the 6SN7 over ten years ago as the driver tube in my Sun Audio SV-300be. If only I'd bought up a bunch back when I had that Sun. You see, the prices of prime NOS 6SN7s have climbed in step with real estate, some pairs fetching upwards of $350. Is there a best of the best? The top dogs of today -- and I've found this changes over time and source -- appear to be the black glass TungSol round plates and Sylvania 6SN7W chrome tops. A trio of 6SN7s form the basis of my resident preamplifier, the Déjà Vu where a pair of 6SN7s drive another brother. I once commented on the Déjà Vu to someone in an email by saying it added air and space. That was it. They replied that "from your soundstage description, could it be 6SN7 based?" I will add Big Air and Big Space to Kara's Big Tone.

Kara Chaffee
Ms. Kara is the chief engineer/designer for deHavilland Electric Amplifier Company. DeHavilland is a family name from Kara's mother's side of the family (and bears no relation to the aircraft manufacturer). I don't know about you but I'd have to assume that if I were Kara, I'd cop an attitude. Let's face it, she's a lady and audio is inhabited by some miscreants and mad men. Don't you think? Don't get me wrong, I love the monkey cages at the zoo and have a deep respect for most mammals. What I am unable to comprehend is the anger, angst and aggression exhibited on some of the more popular online forums. We are talking about listening to music through HiFi gear, right? Unfortunately many threads, the farther right they go, devolve into Testosterone Central. Chest-pounding King Kong style becomes a prerequisite to posting.

Now, if you want to talk about listening to music on your gear and the enjoyment we all seek out in this activity, let's listen to Kara. I found it refreshing. "Well, I got into audio through music and a technical bend to my personality. My father worked for Michigan Bell and was a technical tinkerer. So I would look over his shoulder and watch him tinker. My folks also played a lot of Vivaldi and Beethoven around the home. When I went to high school, they had an electronics program where a phenomenal instructor named Chester Farrow ignited in me a love for audio, tubes and sound. I also played acoustic guitar and other acoustic instruments for many years. I have worked in manufacturing as an engineer and learned much about actually making an electro-mechanical product. We now have our own in-house CNC machining center and make our own tube sockets (for the GM70) and other chassis and metal parts. At some point, all this electronics tinkering and manufacturing experience came together with my business partner George Kielczynski and we formed deHavilland.

Regarding voicing, it starts by tinkering with a variety of tubes and building mockup circuits. When I have spare time, I try different tubes in an audio circuit. Once in a while we find something with some sonic magic and then work with the tube to bring out the best in it. All our circuits are zero-global feedback and the character of the tube comes through. Voicing for me involves the technical matters of getting power at low distortion but more importantly, it's a matter of listening a lot and answering some questions on an emotional and physical level. Is the sound relaxing? Are the HF tones making me cringe? Do I want to listen more? I try to listen to my body and see how it feels while listening. I know from experience, that when something goes really right in a design, I get a big grin that I literally can't help. It comes from a level beyond the brain."

deHavilland Verve line stages
Junior. Did you know any kids with that nickname? Well, our Junior has nothing to be embarrassed about. She's part of the Verve family of line stages from deHavilland. And deHavilland has very cannily addressed the parts tweaker in all of us by offering a line of preamps based on the same circuit, the difference being parts choices and pricing. Starting with the least costly, there is the Verve ($1,695) followed by our UltraVerve Junior of today, the UltraVerve proper ($2,495) and finally the UltraVerve Remote ($2,995). The Junior differs from the Ultra in its use of a Noble stereo potentiometer instead of the Goldpoint stepped attenuator. Specifications remain constant throughout the Verve lineup:
  • Bandwidth: 20Hz to 80kHz
  • Output class: Class A
  • Feedback: zero negative feedback
  • Maximum output: 30 volts p-p, gain approximately 12dB
  • Signal triodes: 1 x 6SN7 (GT, GTA, GTB, WGT)
  • Cathode follower: 2 x 6AH4 single triode
  • Rectifier tube: 5AW4/ 5U4G in the Verve
  • S/N ratio: 85dB
  • Inputs: four stereo
  • Outputs: two stereo
  • Input impedance: 50kohms
  • Output circuit: Cathode follower, minimum 10k-ohm load
  • Dimensions: 18" W x 11" D x 6" H
  • Weight: 15 lbs. including shipping carton