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Sound. A selection of recordings used during auditions: MJ Audio Technical Disc vol.6, Seibundo Shinkosha Publishing, MJCD-1005, CD (2013); Charlie Haden, The Private Collection, The Naim Label, naimcd108, 2 x CD (2007); Diary of Dreams, The Anatomy of Silence, Accession Records, A 132, CD (2012); Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Song Book, Verve/PolyGram, “Verve Master Edition”, 537 257-2, 2 x CD (1997); Frank Sinatra, Nice’N’Easy, Capitol/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, UDCD 790, gold-CD (1960/2002); Frank Sinatra, Sinatra Sings Gershwin, Columbia/Legacy/Sony Music Entertainment, 507878 2, CD (2003); Jean Michel Jarré, Essentials & Rarities, Disques Dreyfus/Sony Music, 62872, 2 x CD (2011); Kamp!, Kamp!, Brennessel, BRN016, CD (2013); Marc Copland & John Abercombie, Speak To Me, Pirouet Records, PIT3058, CD (2011); Michael Jackson, Thriller. 25th Anniversary Edition, Epic/Sony Music Japan, EICP-963-4, CD+DVD (1982/2008)...

... Michael Rother, Fernwärme, Random Records/Belle, 091546, SHM-CD (1982/2009); Niemen, Katharsis, Muza Polskie Nagrania, PRCD 339, “Niemen od początku, nr 9”, CD (1976/2003); Pat Metheny Group, Offramp, ECM/Universal Music K.K., UCCE-9144, SHM-CD (1982/2008); Radiohead, The King of Limbs, Ticker Tape Ltd., TICK-001CDJ, Blu-spec CD (2011); Richard Strauss, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Zubin Metha, Decca/Lasting Impression Music, LIM K2HD 035, “K2HD Mastering”, CD (1968/2008); Simon & Garfunkel, Bookends, Columbia/Sony Music Japan, SICP-1484, CD (1968/2007); The Oscar Peterson Trio, We Get Request, Verve/Lasting Impression Music, LIM K2HD 032 UDC, “Direct From Master Disc. Master Edition”, gold CD-R (1964/2009).

Wouldn’t you like to own a tube amp with a modern twist? You've been looking for a unit that sounds quite warm without going muddy or suffering a hooded treble? Are you willing to accept certain limitations to go with it? If so, this review is for you. If precision and bass control are your top priority, read other reviews. This amp is not for everyone. Yes it's extremely versatile but it won't sound completely right with all speakers despite being seemingly powerful enough to drive most of them as long as your room isn't too large. It's simply a very interesting amplifier. Like any interesting phenomenon it cannot be locked up in a cage of a few words. Like most mature products it has many facets each of which may smile at us. It's up to us whether we smile back. Sonically the unit is surprising in its careful proper selection of elements. Even a slight shift in either direction would have resulted in something far less interesting. Here we get a tasty sound that's versatile, i.e. not limited to exclude heavier rock or large orchestral ensembles. Everything has its place carefully thought through and selected, with the latter obviously key to understanding what it's all on about.

I won't pretend to know exactly what was on Hoffman's mind when he designed, tuned and then fine-tuned the V110. For this review to be meaningful I must however make certain assumptions. Listening to Nice'N'Easy by Frank Sinatra, then Michael Jackson’s Thriller 25th Anniversary followed by The Art of Silence from Diary of Dreams, it was easy to notice common elements. First of all was great color. I also found a unique combination of selectivity and resolution neither of them outstanding on their own. Finally I heard something extra that's difficult to pinpoint or isolate but which manifested as good taste, elegance and sonic maturity.

I'll start my analysis by recalling an album which at first glance won't seem particularly suitable from the purist’s point of view according to which the reference must be unamplified live music – Essentials & Rarities by Jean Michel Jarré. The subject of live music as the most important reference point and its alleged epistemic value was aptly covered in the recent Stereophile editorial (A reviewing Life, March 2013) by chief editor John Atkinson. Elevating the live musical event to the status of sole valid reference point is sheer nonsense. I'll also point you at my March editorial Just Music. Here I chose Jarré’s album or actually the second disc Rarities for several reasons. One, it’s great music. I've been a Jarré fan since Oxygene. Two, the recording quality is amazing as though it had been recorded today on great studio equipment, not semi home-rolled with a Revox B77 reel-to-reel in the lead role. Or maybe that's exactly why it sounds so good. It's a pure analog production without any manipulation in the digital domain for no additional effects, software plug-ins or other tech wonders except for remastering to compact disc.

In any case these are unique recordings and the Octave perfectly captured their depth and fleshiness. There is something about analog synthesizers which modern digital instruments fail to emulate. It comes down to the two above elements. For two nights before I received the V110 I'd been listening to Jarré over headphones in both my usual setup with the modified Leben CS300 X and Sennheiser HD800; and on an absolute surprise, a tiny portable tube battery-powered Synergy HiFi Continental amp and HiFiMan HE-300 headphones. It's very difficult to transfer certain things perfectly audible over high-end headphones to loudspeakers. The hardest to convey are tangibility and immediacy. But the Octave had no problems with either. Low sounds had saturation and definition and were shown as the basis of the sound, almost physically pushing—though not hitting!—the woofer cones of my Harbeth M40.1. This usually gets lost in the pursuit of precision and ultra-transparency. On good headphones with proper low frequencies it becomes so enchanting. I miss that with electrostatic headphones - that sheer mass and not its mere suggestion as something big and noticeable which is transformed into the air vibrating in the listening room filled with no holes and without drawing attention to something else.