June, 2007

Product retail price: $2,195

 

It was while attending the Consumer Electronics Show Las Vegas in 2007 that the Audio Space brand entered our awareness. Usually an amplifier maker will have two or three models on display because the average amp maker only makes that many. Imagine coming upon a display of a dozen or more sparkling tube amplifiers in many shapes, sizes, colors and tube compliments. Its impact was greater than seeing the humongous breakfast buffet at the Venetian Hotel and whetted the audio appetite even more profoundly.

Peter Lau, pictured here with his statement Reference One product, the force behind Audio Space, took great pride in introducing each model. The whole 45 minutes spent with him was impressive and enlightening and I left thinking this was a company about which people needed to know.

Other than the wonderful sound produced in the display area, perhaps the most impressive moment was when the ultra stability of Mr. Lau’s tube circuitry was demonstrated in a very dramatic fashion; with the Galaxy 88 playing at high volume, one of the KT-88’s was pulled out. A small “pop” was heard and the right channel disappeared. The left channel continued to sound as if nothing had happened. Then, with the amp still hot and playing, the same hot KT88 was reinserted into the empty socket. The right channel resumed and the amp carried on perfectly!

Be warned right here not to try this with your amp. Chances are that you will see smoke and an large repair bill. Mr. Lau commented that this procedure had be performed dozens of times at the show with the same amp with no damage. Impressive. A review sample was requested and several weeks later was received.

SO TELL ME ABOUT AUDIO SPACE

We’ll be glad to, but let’s let Mr. Lau tell you himself:

“Headquartered in Hong Kong with its manufacturing facility in mainland China, Audio Space has over twenty years history in manufacturing consumer audio electronics. For the past fifteen years its core business has been focused in the design and manufacture of tube audio equipment and accessories. Over 10 years ago, in 1995, Audio Space launched the revolutionary 300B-845 and 300B-805 Mono Block Amplifiers. These two models helped establish Audio Space. The subsequent release of the world’s smallest full functioned mini tube integrated amplifier in 1997 and the release of the majestic Reference-1 Mono Block Amplifier in 2003 further validated its position amongst the leaders in the tube audio industry. Today, we are regarded as the premiere tube audio manufacturer in Asia, and have set an incredibly high standard that can compare with the best in the world. Audio Space is now the number one high-end tube audio electronics supplier to Japan, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, and is making significant in-roads in Europe and the North America.

Audio Space is the only Chinese brand in high-end audio to have won top design awards in Japan and receives regularly coverage from top AV magazines there. Its continuous success in Japan speaks loudly of its product quality and caliber of its products.

Founder and chief engineer Peter Lau is a musician and a life long audiophile. Before founding Audio Space, he had more than fifteen years of professional experience in design and management of analog and digital electronic systems in the satellite communications and power industry. Peter started his own consumer electronics business in 1986 which subsequently is known as Audio Space Acoustic Lab. He owns numerous technical and design patents.”

When Peter talks about Audio Space, a Chinese company, finding success in Japan, that is a very significant statement. It means Audio Space has overcome some very touchy international politics to achieve that success.

 

THE GALAXY 88

First, this is a Class AB, push-pull integrated amplifier, but it is almost two integrateds in one, which we'll explain in a moment. The construction quality is first rate with a very nice shiny black paint job. At 50 pounds, it is certainly no lightweight. There are a total of eight tubes consisting of 2x6SL7, 2x6SN7, 4xKT-88’s. All of them sport the in-house Audio Space logo and are of Chinese Shuguang manufacture. Three inputs are provided  - all RCA’s. The Galaxy 88 is not balanced, but has a very impressive host of features not normally found on integrateds at this price point, or even higher priced for that matter.

When we said the Galaxy 88 is almost two integrateds in one, this is what was meant; the amp is capable of operating in two different modes – ultralinear and triode. Each mode differs significantly in its output power and sound characteristics with the ultralinear being the more powerful at 48 wpc while the Triode mode reduces output to 24 wpc. Ultralinear gives you more punchiness and drive while the Triode mode provides greater detail and an expanded soundstage. What’s really cool is that you can switch between modes from your listening position while your music is playing via the very substantial remote control. Therefore, if you are listening to rock, you may wish to change to Ultralinear, jazz or classical may call for the Triode mode. Either way, the choice is purely up to you. In fact, say you are listening to rock in Ultra when a soft ballad cut starts. With one button, you could change to Triode for more detail in the vocal. This feature was used often and very much appreciated.

A PLETHORA OF PRICEY APPOINTMENTS

The feature list and the coolness factor does not stop there. A remote control itself is not often found on tube integrateds, even the minimal type that only adjusts volume. Here the remote lets you not only adjust volume (very smoothly and precisely), but also change inputs with small (and not overly bright) LEDS on the front panel signifying the alteration.  You can mute the sound completely with one touch if needed. There’s also that one touch switch between modes we already discussed. The solid-feeling metal remote reflects the quality construction of the amp. It is just substantial enough to not be easily lost, yet not cumbersome or annoying. Good ergonomics.

Another nice attribute is that when the amp is first turned on, the volume pot automatically turns all the way down while the amp is doing a self-check and delay for 45 seconds as the voltage ramps up and stabilizes. You are assured that no accidental overload occurs if you happen to have been playing a lower volume level source when you shut the amp off but now there’s a loud CD being piped through. You could save your speakers and your ears. This is especially true if you happen to have headphones plugged in. Yes, there is a headphone jack – another nice feature not often found at any price. Headphone listening is particularly interesting because of the mode switch capability. Yes, it works in headphone mode, too. Uber cool. Inserting a jack automatically mutes the speakers.

The 88 may also be used as a stereo power amp by connecting a preamp via the “Direct In” terminals, bypassing the volume control.

The power chord is detachable so a better aftermarket model can be employed. This is important because a better power chord can make an enormous difference. Models from Cardas and Ridge Street Audio were substituted early in the initial listening with startling results, so much so that I did a blind test with Linda who listened in the dark before and after the changeover. She thought a different amplifier had been swapped in. When I turned on the lights and showed her the only difference was the Alethias power chord by Ridge Street, she was amazed. Of course, the cable cost about as much as the amp, but still, it shows that a good cable can improve things.

The Galaxy 88 comes equipped with nice footers with a small rubber ball in all four of them to help ameliorate the resonance factor. However, placing the amp on my Stillpoints rack again improved the sound quality to a great extent. Formal evaluation was done with the stock power cord with the amp placed in the Stillpoints equipment stand.

The now ubiquitous “WBT-like” speaker terminals were in evidence with either 4 or 8 ohm taps. The RCA’s are gold plated and very nice quality. An added touch I’ve never seen on any amp is that all the RCA’s were covered with removable rubber sleeves that resembled half of an Aleve gell-cap.

These can be left on the inputs not in use to keep dust and grime away. This amp is full of thoughtful little details like that.

Maybe the coolest feature is the golden, round VU Meter ensconced almost dead center in the front panel. While it will register the output in both play modes, it does more than that. The designer decided not to include an auto-bias scheme for the tubes, but the manual bias system is a no-brainer.

Bias is set by turning one of the two attractive chrome knobs in front to V1 through V4, which accounts for the 4 output tubes. That also tells the

meter which tube’s voltage to read. Adjusting bias is simply a matter of using a small screwdriver to turn the small adjusters by the tube sockets and reading the meter until it says 0.3 volt. No muss or fuss or external meters needed. And, once again, the meter is softly lit so as not to intrude on the listening experience, though neither it nor the small LEDS are extinguishable.

The Galaxy 88 does not include a phono circuit so you will need a phono pre for the turntable, being the savvy and enlightened music lover that you are, undoubtedly possess and use often.

The amp does come with a quality metal tube cage at no extra charge that easily lifts off with no tools needed.

 

 

Goals, Polls and Souls

Discussions with over a hundred various manufacturers, designers and distributors has revealed and across-the-board frustration with many reviews of their components. They think reviews are sometimes unfair and inaccurate because the reviewer did not evaluate their product according to their deign goals. It goes beyond simple apples-to-apples issues – it’s more than that. The vast majority or products are not “cost-no-object” engineering statements, but rather are designed to a certain price/performance level. They think that factor is often ignored in reviews resulting in inaccurate comparisons and bottom line recommendations. One designer put it this way; “A Ferrari is a great car, but you wouldn’t want to take it off-roading in rocky terrain. It would be destroyed in minutes because it was not designed to do that. If a car reviewer did not take that into account, the review would be very negative. Very negative, very unfair and very inaccurate”. Well put. While it is true that a Ferrari’s purpose is rather obvious, it is not so with most audio components. That’s why we at Stereomojo always try to ask the designer what his goals were in creating the product under review.

Sometime we get a rather vague, “To build the best (fill in the blank) I could at the least expensive price”.

Such was not the case with Peter Lau. He responded via email with this statement:

“The motivation is to come up with an integrated amp with all the bells and whistles

that customers are looking for more and more in high-end tube gear while maintaining a price

range that is affordable. The design goals can be summarized by the followings.

1. Versatility

2. Linearity

3. Top build quality

4. Excellent price-performance

5. Affordability”

We’ve already covered the versatility, so here is what he had to say about linearity:

“Galaxy is aimed to exhibit the highest level of linearity possible throughout

the audio frequency range, in essence, delivers the type of sound that is transparent while

accentuating the characteristics of the underlying tubes used. During the final voicing and

tuning process, Galaxy is matched with a number of loudspeakers that serve to represent a

good variety of widely popular loudspeakers in the market based upon which the highest

possible linear response is derived. The list of loudspeakers includes but not limited to Wilson

Audio, B&W 801 and 802, Dynaudio’s C2 and S25, ATC-10, ATC-20, PROAC’s 2.5 & 3.5,

Roger’s LS3/5a & LS5/9a, Elac, Dali, Sonus Faber, and JBL.”

That’s pretty specific, don’t you think? Regarding build quality, he referred me to http://www.gini.com/index.php?id=audiospace “About the Product” for details. There is found everything we’ve described already with this in addition:

. Point-to-point wiring

. Hand wound transformers

 “All Audio Space products are warrantied for 2 years parts and labor and 90 days for tubes.”

Points number 4 & 5 can only be determined by audio enthusiasts with perhaps a little help with reviews like this. Everything we have discussed so far goes for naught if the sound does not stack up. So let’s get on with it!

A GALAXY OF SOUND


The amp was allowed to burn in for over 100 hours of continuous playback. Cables used were Kimber Selects with either single or bi-wire models depending on the speaker’s capability. IC’s were also Kimber Selects or Colleen Cardas’ Neutral Reference.

Sources

TW-Acustic Raven One w/ Graham Phantom arm and Dynavector XX2mk2 cartridge

Roksan Caspian Phono pre

Stereo Dave’s Highly Modded Pioneer DV46 Universal Player

Sason LTD custom speakers

Cain & Cain Single Horn Ben’s

Various amps described in review

Stereomojo Custom Playlist CD

Stillpoints XXL Equipment Stand

The Galaxy was auditioned in two very different rooms – one large and a bit lively, the other small and well controlled by commercial and DIY tuning devices.

Quick note: Did you ever notice that reviews from other publications often include selections from new, recently released music? Ever wonder why? Would it not makes more sense to appraise a component with music that the reviewer has listened to many, many times on many different systems and knows intimately? Well, without broad generalizations, here’s what sometimes happens otherwise; It is no secret that reviewers often get free sample new releases from music companies, but rather than take time and effort to write a full-blown review of the disk, the reviewer simply “mentions” it in an amp or speaker review, thereby, in their minds, rationalizing the free goodies. The Stereomojo Playlist CD is made up of music I have owned (none free) for years and have listened to in hundreds of systems. It is the same one I use at Audio Shows to audition components on exhibit in various rooms. In addition, each cut features a very specific quality with which to gage various aspects of performance.

For example, cut one on the CD is a 50 second excerpt from Chris Rea’s “Auberg”. The description: “No music other than whistling a melody, just a guy walking in a garage from right to left across the soundstage. Each footstep on concrete is in a definite, obvious place and has a very defined sound. There are also sounds of birds and outdoor ambience. The presentation is HUGE – high, wide and deep. Goes way beyond speaker boundaries. The steps should easily be followed across the room and the Coke bottle which is rolled across the stage should sound exactly like a rolling coke bottle. The ambience should be thick and very big, often extending several feet above the speakers. You should be able to tell the size of the space easily.”

With this cut, in less than a minute, I can almost capture the entire personality of a system. Of course, almost is not nearly good enough, so there are many more.

The Galaxy 88 did a splendid job with this cut. The size of the soundstage was very good, though not the best. Perhaps 80 to 85% of full scale produced by the top integrateds such as my $6,000 reference LSA Signature Integrated reviewed here.  Inner detail was also very good with just a bit of haze between sounds and those footsteps. Using a better power chord cleans this up quite a bit. Speaking of noise, I should point out the 88 is dead – and I do mean dead – quiet at full output with nothing playing. No hiss at all. VERY impressive at this pricepoint. Switching from Ultralinear to Triode mode, the soundstage increased a little along with overall detail, but even though the Rea cut is not the most dynamic cut, it’s not compressed, either, but they sounded a bit so in the Ultra mode with the 86Db efficient Sason’s.

For a true test of dynamics, cut 2 from Flim & the BBs Tricycle was played. The challenge here is 100db “hits” that go from silence to about as loud as you can get instantly. The Sasons are capable of very high, clean, sustained volume levels. At 40 watts, the 88 again did very well in Ultra mode at moderately high levels in the big, high ceilinged room. It did not compare to the 150 wpc LSA, but it should not be expected to. For what it was designed and in Ultra mode, the Audio Space did all that could be asked. In Triode mode and 24 wpc, it pooped out. Clip city. Again, that’s why it has two modes.

Linda Ronstadt’s reading of “Shattered” is sensitive and full of pathos and emotion. Her voice is full of color and resonance, vividly captured in this cut from “Cry Like a Rainstorm”. Even the simple, soft piano solo intro is very revealing in that the pianist plays very expressively with a lot of variation in touch. Each note a different sonority and degree of softness. Many systems fail to capture the pianist’s intentions, but the Galaxy 88 really shown here, especially in Triode mode. Simply beautiful. The Galaxy placed Linda slightly out in front where she belongs with a nice warmth and roundness to her voice. The Galaxy does female vocals very well. When the strings and brass enter, they too were rendered exceptionally well for an amp this price using new stock Shuguang KT88’s. By the way, the remote is a wonderful thing while traversing the widely divergent cuts on this CD.

On Earth As It Is In Heaven (The Mission) LP - Very complex track and that’s what I listen for – how does “it” handle the complexity?  Very deep and wide layered soundstage. Goes way beyond speaker boundaries. Two different choirs singing in counterpoint, orchestra, oboe solo, African percussion with very deep and distant drum thwacks. This cut can sound harsh in lesser systems. You should EASILY be able to pick out and follow each instrument in the large, reverberant field.

 

The TW Acustic Raven One front end was used for this one as it is far superior to the best CD players. The 88 did a very credible job here as well, never losing its composure. I have come to learn that one of the main differences between very good (or lesser) components and those of the very best is not so much how MANY details they reveal, but how easily they make it for the listener to experience them. With the very best systems, one does not have to work to hear what the musicians are doing in every nuance and inflection. They are simply there, enveloping and engaging the listener with no effort, squinting, leaning forward or the least bit of straining. The system does ALL the work and the listener is free to experience nothing but pleasure and satisfaction. I think there may be a scientific basis for this, gleaned from the study of the Left Brain/Right Brain discoveries. I won’t besiege you with it here, but it is there is the most simplistic form in the sidebar if you are so inclined.

Listening to this complex music did require some minimal effort to dig out what I knew to be there, but overall the Galaxy 88 acquitted itself very admirably in a big room with not too efficient speakers and was a joy to which to listen to dozens more recordings.

CAIN IS MORE ABLE

Then the Cain & Cains came to town in the form of the large, 4’ tall Single Horn Ben’s. They are a single horn type with an added Fostex horn driver for added sparkle and extended high end. Still, they employ no crossover, the Fostex being passively controlled by a simple attenuator. At a conservative 98dB efficiency, the Ben’s allowed the Galaxy 88 to become the equivalent of a 400 wpc super amp – even in the 24wpc Triode mode. The Bens can be driven to ear-splitting levels with as little as 5 watts.

Here the 88 was happier than a casino owner hosting a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament. Dynamics were improved, bolstered by the big KT88’s. The Cain & Cain’s however, are not forgiving and very picky about what they see in front of them. Again, design goals come into play here because the Cains were specifically designed to work best with a 300B based Single Ended Triode amp, not a push-pull KT88. Even in Triode Mode, a KT88 is not a 300B SET.

The perception of a very good but a bit compromised (by ultra high-end standards) soundstage was confirmed. However, comparing the 88 to my memory of a recently reviewed integrated tube amp by Triode, the Galaxy is much more of an all-rounder with more punch and an at-home feeling with all genres of music as opposed to the Triode’s more organic, finesse bound sound. The Galaxy can rock, baby, if it’s given the right speakers to roll with. Piano recordings, including my own, sounded very close to optimal, again only surpassed by more expensive amps or, in this case, the Jolida 300B integrated which is in the same ballpark price wise, but as its name implies, is based on the 300B and is a real SET. The Galaxy is much more versatile with 45 wpc OR 24 while the Jolida is limited to 12. Don’t even try driving the Sason’s with that.

Once again, the Audio Space Galaxy 88 comes out very well when compared to the highest standards and downright outstanding at its very competitive $2090.

 

At $2,195 the Audio Space Galaxy 88, with its vast array of near luxury features, bullet-proof circuit stability, solid attractive construction and it's chameleon-like ability to change

from a Triode to Ultralinear amp with a single button push on its included remote control present a very enticing package. Shored up by a very good all round sound that should offend nobody, it is a very good value. we think it would be a great starter amp for those wishing to see what the tube phenomena is all about.