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This review first appeared in the April 2013 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. You can also read it in its original Polish version here. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own articles, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity or Octave - Ed

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacula
CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air V-edition
Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC
Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory Shilabe & Kansui
Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III Signature with Regenerator power supply
Power amplifier: Soulution 710
Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom
Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic + Acoustic Revive custom speaker stand
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro 600Ω vintage, HifiMan HE6
Interconnects: CD/preamp Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, preamp/power amp Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo
Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx
Power cables (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
Power strip: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate
Stand: Base IV custom under all components
Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under CD player, Audio Revive RAF-48 platform under CD player and preamplifier, Pro Audio Bono PAB SE platform under Leben CS300 XS
Review component retail in Poland: 24.950zł
A product from Germany bearing in its name the letter 'V' followed by a digit or number carries negative connotations in Poland. It might be even more sinister for the UK because it was on London that most of the V-1 flying bombs and V-2 rockets were dropped. The 'V' in the name of these technological wonders derived from their full name Vergeltungswaffe (retaliatory weapons). Or should Poles see it differently and be proud that it was us, the soldiers of the Armia Krajowa (home army) who managed to hand over to British intelligence first the shattered remains of rockets then their plans? Perhaps it’s high time though to let bygones be bygones and look at all this as simply history, remembering the past but thinking about the future. After all Germany today is the most important Polish partner both economically and politically (almost the same thing these days) and our main supporter in the European Union. Our contacts, relations, trade and cultural exchange have not been this good since, let’s think, Otto III and the Congress of Gniezno in the year 1000.

Therefore for my generation of music lovers in its full form—not only as musical notation but its implementation (interpretation) and mechanical recording and playback—the letter 'V' in the name of the German amplifiers from Octave elicits only positive, even very positive connotations: those of reliability, quality and sound at the highest level. Now 'V' becomes Vollverstärker or vacuum, both of which we like a lot!

Andreas Hofmann responsible for the technical design, finish and manufacturing of all Octave products built his first amplifier in 1975. In fact the company's history dates back to 1968 when his father founded a factory specialized in winding industrial transformers. As it happens, transformers are needed in almost all audio amplifiers and a special sort—output rather than power transformers—become critical for valve amps. This then is a clue to Octave's success. A well-made (quiet, wide bandwidth phase-linear) transformer is a genuine treasure. If you can manufacture your own to your very own specifications... you're mostly home free already.

The integrated amplifier under review bears the number 110. Usually higher numbers denote a more expensive better model in a manufacturer’s hierarchy. Andreas nearly follows that convention. His least expensive integrated is the V40 SE followed by the V70 SE topped off by the V80. The V110 therefore should be best and most expensive. Yet it’s not the most expensive (and I have my own thoughts about best) being priced between the V70 and V80 SE. The reason is that in Octave's case the number in the name associates with 4Ω output power, not price at least until now. Previously it was true that the more powerful the amplifier, the more expensive it had to be. The increased cost was due above all to a better power supply and larger output transformers. Starting with this new model that old conversion math no longer applies. This model has simply been optimized to work with a new type of vacuum tube, the KT120 beam tetrode. It's the latest miracle child of tube audio. All previous Octave integrateds employed beam tetrodes in the form of two 6550s (or 5881) per channel working in push-pull.

But this isn't the first Octave to flaunt the KT120 in the lead role. Andreas experimented with these tubes already in the MRE 220 and RE 290 power amps. To drive them he used his long-perfected input/driver circuit based on an ECC83 and two ECC81 as phase inverters/drivers. Tube amplifiers are usually associated with limited power, limited frequency response and potential tube issues where sonics aside, reliability and hi-tech specs leave much to be desired. This Octave however is a far more modern device and we find in it almost everything a 21st-century amplifier ought to possess regardless of technology. First off it’s a green product. It uses a system called EcoMode which switches to standby after nine minutes without any signal at the inputs. In this mode the amplifier consumes a mere 20 watts but is ready for playback almost immediately after an input signal activates the electronic soft start mode to extend the life of tubes and capacitors. You have to wait just 30 seconds. Should you not care for such energy-saving intervention, switch the EcoMode off. The V110 is equipped with five line inputs including one XLR (though the circuit itself isn't balanced) and adds a main-in to bypass the active preamp stage plus a pre-out to feed a subwoofer or headphone amp. You can also use your own preamp or a variable output source and/or biamp.

Tubes are a delicate matter both literally and figuratively. That’s why to Andreas protection is extremely important. The V110 is equipped with a self-regulating monitoring/protection system to keep the unit safe from tube aging, tube faults and user errors. For it to work the user simply needs to carry out the initial tube calibration by properly adjusting bias current. Three colored precision LEDs show whether the bias is too low (yellow), just right (green) or too high (red). The user can of course set a higher or lower bias than recommended to alter the sound but tube life may be significantly shortened and we won't get the kind of sound the designer intended. We have however his blessing to roll output glass. There's a switch on the rear panel which let's us use KT88, KT90, KT100, 6550, even EL34, KT77 and 6CA7. That's plenty to play with. For the review the unit came with KT120.

This amplifier can be equipped with an optional phono board plugged into the main bother board. Even the power supply can be upgraded with the Black Box and Super Black Box outboard capacitor banks. During the review I had a look at the latter. The V110 comes with a solid metal remote featuring two buttons for volume up/down.