Looking at our local audio market, especially at manufacturers, not distributors, you can quickly come to the conclusion, that there is a large volume of cable manufacturers present. It looks as if weaving the copper or silver wires in their basement, many home grown audio geniuses become enlightened and claim, that they have found the only true way for reaching the audiophile absolute. Interestingly, this moment of enlightenment does not come during proprietary metallurgic processing, which, amongst the local cable manufacturers, I believe only the Bydgoszcz based Albedo does, but during seemingly so simple actions as confectioning widely available Furutech or Neotech cables, cut to lengths from spools, or in a more budget oriented approach, cables from Lapp or Gotham, put into fancy sheets or garden hoses. Of course there are some positive exceptions to the rule, and from the above scheme not only Albedo is escaping, but also Audiomica Laboratory, a company from Gorlice, which products we have already tested, which does not only cover almost the full spectrum of audiophile needs, but similar to the competition from Bydgoszcz, most of the production is aimed at customers from abroad. So you should not be surprised, that we enthusiastically embrace all kinds of creativity, which are not cables, and when we have the opportunity we reach for loudspeakers (Audioform M200, Ciarry KG-5040, Avcon Avalance Reference Monitor) or electronics (Egg-Shell Prestige 9WST, G-Lab Design Fidelity Block, Abyssound ASX-2000 and its brethren) trying to show you, that with a bit of work and good will we can create a high quality system Made in Poland.
Quite recently, in October last year, we have another manufacturer come on board – the beginner in the segment of tube amplification, immediately appearing in the distribution of the Krakow-Warsaw based distributor Nautilus, a company from Warsaw called Audio Reveal, with currently only one product in their catalog, an integrated amplifier First, which we already announced some time ago. But as it is widely known, listening sessions from commercial premieres (as it was then) do not allow to draw any sensible conclusions, as those require time, and secondly, elimination of unwanted external distractions (pls see the full day session of the TAD-E1TX-K). This was the reason, that when we got the chance, we grabbed the integrated Audio Reveal First for our tests, and we usually do, we subdued it to really murderous sparring, and you can read below, what came out of those, if the amplifier remained unscathed or not.
The First looks like a classic tube amplifier. On an elegant, wooden front we have three, massive knobs, reminding somewhat those used by Unison Research, surrounded by thin rings. The left one is responsible for turning the amplifier on and off, the biggest one, in the middle, controls the volume, while the right one selects inputs. The mode the amplifier is in is indicated by the LED, which pulsates red for 45 seconds after powering on, while turning green afterwards. Those 45s is the time for the amplifier to warm up, only after that time anode voltage is supplied. The top cover is the reign of the tubes, which are seated in elegant, brushed platforms, separate for the left and right channel. There we will find a set of 12AX7 (ECC83) and 12 AU7 – both coming from Tung-Sol, and single Genalex Gold Lion KT88. Besides the tubes we will find there a knob, which can adjust the level of negative feedback. Looking at the amplifier circuitry we see that the input stage is based on a pair of double triodes 12AX7 (ECC83), the driver tubes are the 12AU7 and in the output we have the popular streaming tetrodes KT88, which can be replaced with 6550 tubes if you wish so. So we deal here with an integrated class-A SE amplifier (please do not confuse with SET – Single Ended Triode) offering modest 10W by 5Ohm and 8W by 4Ohm.
Just behind the tubes, in rectangular sarcophagi, the output transformers and the power transformer (400W) are housed. Those are being made on specification of Michal Posiewka – the designer of the First – by a Polish transformer specialist, Mr. Leszek Ogonowski. On the back plate, symmetrical to the power socket placed in the middle, there are four pairs of line inputs in the form of gold plated RCA terminals, and single loudspeaker terminals. Now I need to mention two aspects related to handling of the amplifier. The first one is regarding supplying power to the unit, as according to the user manual, which I recommend to read before operating the amplifier, the “hot” wire should be on the left hand side, and not on the right, as it is usually located. Secondly, there is something of interest for all long term listeners, because a protective measure was installed in the Audio Reveal, to mind the longevity of the tubes there is a timer, which puts the amplifier in standby mode after 10 hours of uninterrupted operation.
OK, so we have a classic design, purist circuitry, widely available tubes and not very high output power. All this can be a cocktail putting the less experienced, who are only starting their adventure with tube amplification, in a state of confusion. On one hand we have only assets, on the other, things can be difficult when searching for easy to drive loudspeakers, at least theoretically. Fortunately, in case of the tested amplifier, the situation is quite comfortable, as it has country-wide distribution, so it should be available in at least a few different audio shops, what will make at least the first check, how it performs, and if it is your kind of amplifier, possible. However I have approached the issue of choosing the right speakers with a kind recklessness, as after what I heard at the distributor’s expo room at Kolejowa street with the Boenicke W11, and even with the not very friendly, for a “weak” tube amplifier that is, Dynaudio Confidence C2 Platinum, and during the Audio Video Show with the Chario Academy Sovran, I had the feeling that it would be good anyway. And I can disclose now, that my precognition did not fail me.
But first things first. Because for testing we have received and already burned-it unit, for the first few days I restricted myself to patiently waiting for the usual, courteous accommodation period to be over, and I would be able to take care of the tested integrated without any reduced tariff. Initially I started the warm-up and the first phase of listening sessions using the very nice, and very modestly priced, Opera Prima monitors. Calm, refined, Scandinavian vocal music from “Ljos” by Faun Vokalquintett showed the Audio Reveal in the best possible light. It’s resolution, I meant the First, and not the light of course, was on a triode level, in the best meaning of the word, a level which even the orthodox 300B and 2A3 tube lovers would appreciate. There is no trace of the label of not being musical, usually attached to the KT88, what is proof in itself, that the final sound of a tube amplifier is not determined by the tube being its heart, but how it was applied. In this case the circuitry seems to be hitting the bulls-eye, as insight into the recording, as well as the precision of drawing the individual virtual sources turned out to be just splendid. The reference 2L recording moved me to make a seemingly neck breaking change, as instead of the Italian, easy to drive monitors (91dB/4Ohm) I used the Dynaudio Contour 30 and … it turned out, that things can be even better. The improvement was seen mostly with how the acoustics of the XIX century Bryn Church in Rykkinn was reproduced. It is not, that it was not there before, but the Danish floorstanders were able to show much more in this aspect, as they were able to easily show the placement of the five vocalists, which were standing near the altar, around microphones dedicated to them, creating a magical, musical circle.
Moving to a slightly heavier, yet still absolutely classical, repertoire, “J.S. Bach: Organ Works” performed by Masaaki Suzuki turned out to be a very good test for the dynamic abilities of the Polish SE amplifier. If anyone of you thought, that the First gave up, then, you have to be a person of especially little faith, as while the lowest registers were visible rounded and withdrawn, for obvious reasons, coming from the offered power, the rest of the sound spectrum was boiling with energy, macro and micro dynamics. A classic example for a big sound coming from a device, which had no chance of sounding like that in the given configuration. Following this lead I rolled forward the heaviest cannons and from the speakers sounded the apocalyptic “The Astonishing” Dream Theater. Multiple planes, complicated melodic lines and truly Wagner style of swing with some prog-metal sauce should be deadly for the Audio Reveal. Yet, when keeping the volume at reasonable levels, there was enough thump, while the vocal and solo – performed on acoustic instruments – were splendidly cut from the, overwhelmingly loud at times, background. However taking into account, that the combination of such repertoire and similar hardware configuration is probably as common in the real world, audio reviewers placed aside, as a lottery win amongst the closest family, I will make a few comments about less cacophonic music. Let us take as an example the harsh, and almost garage raw “Cross-eyed Heart” by Keith Richards, where the tube euphonic, being far from stereotypical oversweetness, saturated the vocal of the Stones’ guitarist and additionally shone a bit of gold on the guitar he was playing. There was no need for any compromise, so I also did not see a need to split any hair in four. You could feel the climate, the total coolness of a guy, who does not need to prove anything to anybody anymore, while looking at his life with a grain of salt, doing whatever he wants to at any given moment, and while instead of chasing girls at the age of his granddaughters (like Mr. Jagger for example) he decided to play and sing something, he should be praised for that.
I hope that you can deduce from the above text, that the Audio Reveal First is not easy to categorize. On one hand it is a puny SE, on the other, it uses the KT88 tubes in its output stage, which are famous for not being musical at all, yet, at acceptable volume levels, with most civilized repertoire it can handle even not easy to drive loudspeakers, offering at the same time above average musicality and truly holographic resolution. So is it a proposition for everybody? Absolutely not! It requires at least some minimum amount of care from the user, amongst other things, due to the lack of protective cage for the tubes it will not be the best kind of amplifier for a carnival party and it has no remote, what automatically discredits it in the eyes of those attached with their backs to chairs and seats. But if those inconveniences are not discouraging for you, then I warmly recommend to give it a listen, even if only from pure curiosity and to make your own opinion about it, as in my personal one, it is absolutely worth to acquaint it.
System used in this test:
– CD/DAC: Ayon CD-35 (Preamp + Signature)
– Network player: laptop Lenovo Z70-80 i7/16GB RAM/240GB SSD + JRiver Media Center 22 + TIDAL HiFi + JPLAY; Lumin U1 Mini
– Digital sources selector: Audio Authority 1177
– Turntable: Kuzma Stabi S + Kuzma Stogi + Shelter 201
– Phonostage: Tellurium Q Iridium MM/MC Phono Pre Amp
– Power amplifier: Bryston 4B³
– Loudspeakers: Dynaudio Contour 30; Opera Prima 2015
– IC RCA: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– IC XLR: LessLoss Anchorwave; Organic Audio; Amare Musica
– Digital IC: Fadel art DigiLitz; Harmonic Technology Cyberlink Copper; Apogee Wyde Eye; Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 200
– USB cables: Wireworld Starlight; Goldenote Firenze Silver; Audiomica Laboratory Pebble Consequence USB; Fidata HFU2; Luna Cables Rouge USB
– Speaker cables: Signal Projects Hydra
– Power cables: Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R; Organic Audio Power + Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; Acoustic Zen Gargantua II; Furutech Nanoflux Power NCF
– Power distribution board: Furutech e-TP60ER + Furutech FP-3TS762 / Fi-50 NCF(R) /FI-50M NCF(R)
– Wall power socket: Furutech FT-SWS(R)
– Anti-vibration platform: Franc Audio Accessories Wood Block Slim Platform
– Ethernet cables: Neyton CAT7+; Audiomica Laboratory Anort Consequence
– Table: Rogoz Audio 4SM3
Finally. What is it about? You do not need to be especially bright, to notice, that from some time, we did not have the opportunity to have a closer look at an audio component, which is directed to music with a big M as the main aspect of its existence. Of course, every item, being a single cable, or like one of the lately reviewed, very expensive, dream systems should bring as closer to that, as far as it can, but let us not fool ourselves, a properly used tube, despite some kind of coloration of the reproduced world, are not easy to beat in this aspect. Some orthodox tube lovers might even say, it is unequalled in that. A heresy? Please ease down, I am not that drastic in my beliefs, but I must confess, that a good tube is not bad, what I will try to explain with the following paragraphs. So what or who will be the upcoming burning point within the ever ongoing, amongst audiophiles, confrontation between vacuum and sand? Well, I have the pleasure to introduce to you the Polish integrated, tube amplifier Audio Reveal First, based on KT88 power tubes, working the “royal” class A, which was supplied to my musical sanctuary by the Krakow-Warsaw distributor Nautilus.
Looking at the First, we must confess, that its design does not try to probe our limits of acceptance regarding the fanciness of the chassis, but follows a very safe, proven path instead. It has the classic layout with a cabinet that houses the electronics inside, at the same time being a platform for the electron tubes, located on top with three rectangular cups covering the transformers just behind them. The mentioned platform and the transformer cups are finished with powder coating. However to avoid monotony of the chassis, the rectangular covers exposing the tubes for each channel are made from stainless steel and elevated a bit. Between the tubes, placed wide apart, we can see a knob for adjusting the depth of the negative feedback loop, and just behind it, a golden plaque with the company and model names. Leaving the top of the First and coming to the front, we see that in contrast to the quite technical looks of the powder coated top, it is made from exotic wood. It follows the symmetry of the whole amplifier and offers a big volume knob in its middle, on the left a bit smaller power switch and to the right an input selector, of the same size and shape as the power switch. Now moving again, this time to the back, we see that the sockets and connectors were also placed in a symmetric way. This is palpable proof, that we deal here with a dual mono construction, what is also confirmed when we look inside (the only common items are the power supply transformer and the PCB, which is shared by both channels). Now looking from the sides, the back offers single loudspeaker terminals, four line inputs, located within a rectangle, and an IEC power socket in the dead center. To finish of the visuals, the whole chassis is placed on four, brushed silver colored, round feet.
Beginning the part describing the way the Polish amplifier from Audio Reveal is presenting music, I owe you an explanation regarding the satisfaction you might have noticed in the beginning of the whole text, uttered by me with real sigh of relief. Why that? Well, the tested First does not try to be a tube at any cost, something that can be harmful in longer perspective, and it does not warm up the sound, but it just adds a faint tubey shine to it, putting all its strength to reproduce a real 3D sound. Usually, most of products utilizing electrons flowing through smaller or larger vacuum tubes, is overheated, or sometimes dry, when trying to mimic a solid state amp. Naturally this kind of behavior can be compensated by appropriate configuration of the rest of the system, but still, it sets some borderline requirements. Yet the Polish tube amp was mercilessly paired with very dense, sonic wise, loudspeakers and a smooth source, and despite this the music was very vital and had a splendid visualization of what is happening on the stage. I must confess, that when I was powering on this very random setup, prepared just for trying out the amplifier as the center piece, based on many years of my experience I waited to hear, in which direction the sound I know from daily listening, will move. Will it “sit”, succumbed to too much timbre and saturation of the midrange and bass cross-over, or will become a demon of edginess as its main aspect. So when nothing like that happened, I could not start my test differently. Summarizing the abilities of the First I have to say, with a lot of pleasure, that we deal hear with a smooth, avoiding oversaturation, splendidly filled with air and, what is very important, very resonant musical world. Translating this into simpler terms, in my opinion, this is the best application of vacuum tubes to serve human beings, after the Soviet MIG airplanes. Any concrete examples? As you wish. I will start from something this amplifiers likes very much, meaning vocal music from our leading artist, when it comes to charming voices, Anna Maria Jopek with her project “Ulotne”. I do not know, if you are acquainted with this disc, but this production puts a lot of emphasis not only on the fantastic reverberation of her voice, but also on the very elaborate instrumental passages, things that were brilliantly underlined by the Polish amplifier. When vocal phrases came out the speakers, all power was devoted to give them a kind of soulfulness, and when the instrumental passages sounded, immediately the sound becomes an advocate of vitality and decay of each, even the most delicate, note coming from the instruments. This was the lightness, freshness and swing on the vectors of width and depth of the virtual sound stage, I am searching for anywhere. For a long time I did not have such joy when listening to a tube amplifier, so it makes me even happier, that it is a Polish product. Every music, which emphasized on the reverberation and enchanted the listener with its soul, sounded in a similar way. It did not matter if I listened to productions similar to those of our diva, to ancient music or jazz, as the tested amplifier felt like a fish in the water in those genres, making the silence between the notes not just a pause between the sounds, but a period, preparing me for the waterfall of splendid reverberations bound to appear in a moment. Interestingly, it was very tubey, but not too tubey, I mean the threshold of good taste was never crossed, what competition is not often able to achieve. Ok. Mellow sound was phenomenal, but what with genres, that want to test the borders of our endurance by sonic aggression?
Easy. Maybe the First did not match the Gryphon Diablo 300 in terms of speed, but it was no mud pool at all, or lava flowing on the floor, but a tale, nicely saturated in the lower octaves, colored in the midrange and sweetened in the treble. Interestingly, electronics was furthest away from the master, as rock music, due to the shot of timbre in the midrange, meaning an increase in the vocal expression, and the guitars which are also operating in this area, showed itself from the best angle. Of course I could hear no earthquake, but I ensure you, that this was no flaw, but a consequence of the low power of the amplifier, which was designed for other goals, than loud reproduction of rumble. What am I placing my opinion on? The first disc showing the knowledge of the circuit designer in terms of bridling heavy musical material was the symphonic concert of Metallica “S&M”. The second, which showed me clearly, that using the Audio Reveal First as a means for killing our hearing is a bad idea, was “Liminal” from Acid, which has a lot of whizzing sounds as well as tectonic movements. But let us agree, that being sane, you will not search for an amplifier working in the royal class A to listen to music without soul, created by an artificial intelligence. That would be a clear coup d’état.
I do not know, if those conclusions will not seem too optimistic to you, but really, the encounter with the newest proposal from the Nautilus distribution, was a positive experience most of the time. Of course, to listen to sound effects as described above, you need to have some easy to drive loudspeakers at hand to attach to the First. But I also assure all, potentially interested readers, that this is not very difficult. And when you have a match, the you will have only positive experiences with your beloved music. What kind of music? As you can see from the text above, this will be most of the worlds’ repertoire including all the delicate versions of rock. Is this possible? Of course it is. Why? If you do not know yet, please read my test again. I cannot explain this in an easier way.
System used in this test:
Our reference system
– CD: CEC TL 0 3.0 + Reimyo DAP – 999 EX Limited TOKU
– Preamplifier: Robert Koda Takumi K-15
– Power amplifier: Reimyo KAP – 777
– Loudspeakers: Trenner & Friedl “ISIS”
– Speaker Cables: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond, Statement
– IC RCA: Hijri „Million”
– IC XLR: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
– Power cables: Harmonix X-DC 350M2R Improved Version, Furutech NanoFlux NCF Furutech DPS-4 + FI-E50 NCF(R)/ FI-50(R), Hijiri Nagomi
– Table: SOLID BASE VI
– Accessories: Harmonix TU 505EX MK II, Stillpoints ULTRA SS, Stillpoints ULTRA MINI, antivibration platform by SOLID TECH, Harmonix AC Enacom Improved for 100-240V, Harmonix Room Tuning Mini Disk RFA-80i
– Power distribution board: POWER BASE HIGH END
– Acoustic treatments by Artnovion
Drive: SME 30/2
Arm: SME V
Cartridge: MIYAJIMA MADAKE
Phonostage: RCM THERIAA
Type: Single-ended Class-A Dual Mono
Driver Tubes: 2 x 12AX7 (ECC83), 2 x 12AU7 (ECC82)
Power Tubes: 2 x KT88 lub 2 x 6550
Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz ±0.3dB @ 1W
Power: 10W RMS (8 Ω, @ 1kHz)
Inputs: 4 x RCA
Input impedance: 50 kΩ
Start-up Time: 45s
Power consumption (nominal): 180W
Dimensions: 440 x 385 x 205
Net Weight: 25.2 kg