List Price: $1,700
Tube Options: $266
I came to tubes a reluctant lover, their glow mesmerizing, the sound enveloping, yet I was deeply in love with my beloved Solid State amps of my past and of course, my present. “How,” said I, “even begin to think of taking yet another lover?” I’d been repeatedly satisfied with SS, always delivering bass notes ever firm and solid, the midrange caressing my ears, causing passion that I thought, could never be improved. How could I achieve the heights of elation, the powerful climax while listening to everything; beginning with the shimmer and silk of well produced strings; the vocals embracing me while reaching stratospheric fulfillment?
Surely a well made tube amp might make music sound as beautiful, but could tubes make music sound real? Could there be moments when I knew, not simply thought that I had been transported to one of the world’s fine symphony halls, that Janis Ian or Ella Fitzgerald were in my listening room, their eyes locked to mine, knowing I was mesmerized by the feel of them being there to entertain me, all for me!
“They are beautiful, as luminous as any woman’s eyes I’ve known or seen. But will I regret, will I mourn for my solid state amplification?”
I took the first step, purchasing an Anthem tube pre-amp, keeping my Monarchy single ended monoblocks (solid state, of course), thus having tubes in the system, but still keeping the solid state muscle. I was shocked that the combination became even more real; I was hearing subterranean sound along with open-aired midrange, stratospheric highs. Music!
Vocals I had believed were real became more real, snozberries tasted like real snozberries! (Folks never seeing Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory must now leave, watch the movie, and then return to this review)
I knew, sooner or later that I would have to take the final step and hear tube amplification throughout the entire listening chain; a tubed phono stage added to, or as in my Anthem, part of the pre-amp and of course, a tube amplifier! I heard the entire chain at friend’s homes, I’d heard the entire chain in audio salons, but my home listening room….? It took a long, long time.
I broke down and bought a Mapleshade modified Scott 222C integrated amp (28 watts) which I reviewed here awhile back. Unbelievable, I was hooked and hooked bad! I then reviewed some tube amps, one of which was a Grant Fidelity A-348 integrated and I loved it! I listened to it with a variety of speakers and still loved it, loved it with efficient speakers, loved it with inefficient speakers. My experiences with tubed gear became more common and I was blessed with the opportunity to listen to some higher priced gear and loved those amps, too!
But then came the offer to review A534B 10 watt integrated amp. I should state that by this point I was wondering about low watt amps and what my Infinity PF-R speakers would sound like with low watts as opposed to the (supposed) headroom of the Monarchy SE amps.
I should mention the Infinity speakers have powered subwoofers, the most power hungry portion of the frequency is bass notes, so that load is removed from any amplifier’s chores. That would seem to be so, but if the entire bass is served by the powered subs the sound would not be as anemic when the Monarchy amps have not been left on. It takes quite awhile for the bass to fill out as those Monarchy amps charge up.
WHO IS GRANT FIDELITY?
Canada based Grant Fidelity is essentially Ian Grant, a 25 year veteran of the audio and music biz and Rachel Zhang, originally from Beijing and has a Master of Business Administration from University of Toronto, plus 15 years of experience in import / export with one of the world’s largest commodity trading firm based in Switzerland, and 5 years experience in Canadian business financing. Though the company is based in The Great White North, Grant’s products are all made in China under very strict supervision and specifications.
Grant Fidelity is currently representing 3 out of the 5 major Chinese audio brands - Jungson, Shengya and Opera- to distribute their products in North America either under their own brands or under Grant Fidelity brand. They also source products from other factories such as Yaqin which is smaller but has been producing solid quality products for over 15 years.
So is Grant just a company that rebrands Chinese goods and resells them in North America? Here’s what Ian has to say about that:
“First of all, Grant Fidelity exists to provide value between manufacturers and consumers, as all distributors do. We take all the tedious logistics work out of your purchasing experience - source great products and send them right to your door for you to enjoy. We navigate the complex Chinese customs system, make ocean and air shipping arrangements with logistics professionals and deal with North American customs authorities to safely and economically bring quality products to consumers at the most reasonable price. You as a consumer get to enjoy some of the world's finest high fidelity audio made in Asia at your home in North America, just as if you are purchsing "Made-in-North America" products.
Secondly but in fact most importantly, Grant Fidelity make your purchase of "Made-in-China" products a real Peace-of-Mind. You don't need to worry about that you may get a 'lemon' from an unauthorized seller and being left on your own without any warranty”.
The Grant A-534B is a SET (single ended triode) tube integrated amplifier that has a Class A rated output of all of 10 watts. So then the question arises: Can 10 watts deliver bass like 100 watts delivers? I suppose there are those out there who would like me to say that they can’t, but I’m sorry, with wisely matched speakers and in a reasonably sized room, the bass is fuller, more solid, possessing the heft of Hulk Hogan in his best years.
I connected this amp to wildly different speaker systems and enjoyed music with both. Both speakers were connected with TG audio’s silver cable, Moon audio Silver Dragon silver IC’s were used from all sources.
While I was not as impressed with 10 watts driving less efficient speakers, the difference was much smaller than I ever imagined. Opting for the Shuguang Treasure Tubes will almost double the price,but believe me, you won’t be wasting money. This review was done with the Treasure tubes, black and beautiful, they look sharp!
I only have one caveat, the remote, while hefty and obviously well constructed, controls volume and selecting your source. The volume control was a bit sensitive, a bit louder was too loud, a bit quieter was too quiet. I think this may be a pretty common problem with remotes…just get up off your duff and move the knob a bit! I would have liked a mute and a power button, but you can’t have everything. With this integrated you get pretty close.
The “fit and finish” on this amp belies the fact that it is almost ridiculously inexpensive. Grant Fidelity A-534B SET 300B Integrated Tube Amplifier (MSRP US$1,700) + Basic A-534B Tube Options (MSRP US$266.00) The reason for the options instead of inclusion is many people will opt for the better tubes, but if one is on a diet, the reduced calorie tubes, I’m pretty darned sure, will sound fine.
There is one other feature that is unusual for SET amps at any price - a headphone jack!
Output Power: 10W RMS/channel Pure Class A
Output Impedance: 4 ohm and 8 ohm
Frequency Response: 5Hz - 50 KHz (-2dB)
Distortion: less than 1.5% @ 6.5 W
Input Impedance: 20Kohm
Input Sensitivity: 280mV
S/N Ratio: 88dB
Vacuum Tubes: 300B x 2, EL34 x 2, 12AX7 x 2, 5U4G x 1 at extra cost.
• Pure Class A Triode single ended
• Hand built audiophile output transformers with Japanese silicon steel
• Audiophile grade resistors, capacitors throughout and Japanese
original ALPS volume Control
• Infra-red aluminum remote control for volume and input Selector
• (4) auxiliary inputs plus 4 & 8 ohm large speaker terminals
• Dual mono tube rectified choke input power Supply for the ultimate
voltage control and super fidelity
• Headphone Jack for 32 ohm tabbed off 300B circuitry
• Weight: 28 kgs / 62 lbs
LPs were listened to using the Dynavector P75 phono stage. I like the sound of this phono stage quite a bit; through the preamp circuitry of the Grant amp it was heavenly. It revealed micro-details in some LPs I knew quite well, and of course, listening to CDs, made music sound wonderful with my trusty, venerable Audio Alchemy Pro CD player. In fact, I enjoyed listening to CDs and LPs equally.
Whether listening to those LPs or CDs, I never heard any loss of control concerning the extreme low notes, and the midrange and highs were glorious. As glorious as the far more expensive Nightingale amps I’d reviewed last year? Comparing listening notes on Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns I seem to recall the Nightingales’ midrange and highs may have topped the A534B, but of course, without direct comparisons I can’t be sure.
I can tell you that the difference can’t be very noticeable; I know that LP very well and my notes with both amps use the same word, mesmerized. I know Joni’s voice, I love her music but more importantly, my wife loves her music. She does not come downstairs unless she hears Joni, hears Joni! She came downstairs to listen with me while The Hissing of Summer Lawns LP was spinning on the HW19 with both amps.
I should mention the Nightingale costs twice as much as the Grant amp. Could the reason be that Ian Grant had sent the Shuguang 300B tubes rather than stock Sovteks or some other brand of less expensive tubes? Sure, but I have a strong belief that even if I’d been reviewing this amp with the lower priced tubes I still would have been knocked from my chair when listening to Kashmir on the No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded LP.
That too, will bring my wife downstairs to sit and listen or to dance as if I was a Sheik and she was one of the wives in my harem. If the sound is correct, she dances, less so she sits and listens and (hopefully at least) taps her toes and drums her fingers on her legs. I’ve never experienced the latter, I’d have to change something in the system to correct that problem!
The amp is truly a gorgeous piece of equipment, those tubes glowing in a dark room will give yet another reason to own this tube integrated amp. The iron (audio-speak for transformer) is huge, the chassis is as solid and hefty as the bass I wrote about earlier.
I am very impressed with Grant’s idea of creating an integrated amplifier that is essentially housed in two chassis. The power supply is contained in one chassis; the amplification portion of the amp is in a separate chassis. The two chassis are connected so solidly and cosmetically perfect, few would or could ever notice that fact!
The amp is supplied with a cage that I never placed upon the Amp during its stay with me. I wished there was a more solid connection, as the cage simply sets down in holes in the top of the chassis; I felt leaving the cage on may cause some type of vibration effect but if I owned this amp I would like the connection to be solid enough that it could be left on to protect any prying fingers or silly animals.
I reviewed a very, very inexpensive tube integrated amplifier a few years ago that the cage was screwed on, the screws easily reached with a Philips screwdriver for removal. Another tube amp had pressure holders; the posts of the cage sort of snapped into the chassis. I would have liked to have seen the Grant with that bit of safety, but as I said, I never had the cage on the amp, it looks fine with that cage; looks unbelievably beautiful without it!
This is one of those pieces of equipment that makes you late for work if you listen before leaving; late to bed if you listen before bedtime; late for lunch if you listen in the mid-day. As I’ve stated, both CDs and LPs sounded marvelous. I kept trying to find SOMETHING I didn’t like about this amp, I failed at the effort.
Played through my efficient Infinity speakers, the bass was shattering, mid-bass made me want to play a lot of big, bassy orchestral music, and (please don’t tell anyone) lots of Rock. I’m addicted to Jazz, yet little Jazz hit the CD player nor the turntable. I had to hear my chest being thumped upon!
Heck, I connected this 10 watt amp to a pair of Jaton REAL A&V 803 speakers and the bass was only a smidgeon less powerful than with the Monarchy Delux 100 watt single ended solid state amps! 10 watts! At EBLs! (Ear bleeding levels, the ONLY way my wife listens to Led Zeppelin).
My wife never gets tired of hearing No Quarter and every piece of gear coming into this home must meet up with that 2 LP set. The sound of those records and the excitement of the music are nonpareil. But the real mind blowers are the Direct Grace LPs. Reality is here, folks, and it comes in black disc form!
Direct Grace Records
If you’ve never had the experience of sitting in a small church or large meeting hall or any other tiny venue and hearing one or two musicians playing instruments that were, if amplified at all, were using a tiny tube amp/monitor, I sort of feel sorry for you. For then, you will NOT recognize what you are hearing when listening to any of the Direct Grace records.
I mention the monitor only because the sound of the first Direct Grace LP reminded me so much of being in the student lounge of the local college, listening to a folk guitarist/singer. She had a Peavey or Fender amp about the size of a medium sized suitcase. That amp manipulated the sound of that room about the same way throwing a pebble into the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island causes a wave to crash upon the shores of western England.
Direct Grace bills itself as "recordings to rescue children" and that is not a sleezy come-on like so many alleged charities. The driving force behind the label is Peter Ledermann of the audiophile Soundsmith company. All profits go to legit charities that help impoverished children.
Of course, if you don’t like folk music, don’t like acoustic guitar, don’t care for anything that isn’t electronically manipulated to the point of non-recognition of the original performance, then please, don’t waste your time ordering these LPs. This is the purest of the pure, folks.
My copies of these LPs were test pressings; they had a rare crackle once in awhile, but being vinyl and the remarkable resilience well pressed, well treated LPs possess, the crackles were simply traces of vinyl left from the pressing. I suggest you play the records before actually cleaning them…or not.
That’s not a scientifically researched idea, but I just had the feeling it would be the best way to push those filings out of the way and THEN clean the LP with your favorite shiner-upper.
I own four of these gorgeously produced LPs and plan to keep buying more (I’m told I’ve been foolish not to BEGIN with the Poussette-Dart rather than waiting until now, but what do I know? I’m just a silly music/audio nut!).
But now I’ve rectified that mistake and ordered it, so I no longer need nor seek chastisement.
One must keep in mind these are test records, so they do have those crackles I wrote about earlier, but unless you’re a total nerd and worry that every out of phase noise will destroy your 22 dollar and 50 cent replacement stylus (it won’t, not even a 2200 dollar replacement stylus), then you can live with the anomalies. As I said, mine all but disappeared after subsequent plays. This is one of the reasons we play LPs, so we can hear music no one else gets to hear…as far as I know these are not available in silver disc form.
I'll be submitting individual reviews of the LP's soon, they may be published by the time you read this.
DON'T TAKE THIS FOR GRANT-ED
I played a record I hadn’t played in years, Cat Stevens’ Teaser and the Firecat and was floored! What an incredible LP that is...loved it years ago and just being blown away by it as I played it. The songs are so full of hope and joy and the sound is just as spectacular. Definitely a hippies' LP, but still beautiful, still relevant to me. If you wanted to listen to a well-recorded male voice, listen for sibilance or hard sounding consonants, this LP can deliver what you need to know about a piece of gear!
I can't remember how many years it's been since I listened to this LP, but I know I never realized how good the sound is; I listened to those superbly poetic lyrics and the music that carried them so well. I enjoyed it so much, I dug out a second copy, and listened to it again on another system. The Grant revealed things that were lost with small monitors and the older amp I had them hooked to. There are string (credit only lists “strings”) sounds so delicately wrought and deeply buried in the mix that only very, very good electronics will reveal them.
There are many sounds in recordings we know well that we hear on another system and THEN hear on our own or another system that we listen to often. Was that system “better” or merely different? In this case it’s pretty simple, I listened for it again on the vintage system and heard it, but not clearly (shame on me for playing a record again within a short period!).
Linda Ronstadt’s We Ran (Elektra 62206-2) is a time transporter, her voice still possesses the magical warmth and sexiness she had as a youthful singer. With the Grant you can hear how her voice inflections and breath control have improved dramatically and she was an accomplished singer in the 70’s!
Listening to her with the Grant sounded as if my speakers were thanking me for finding the CD at a yard sale a few weeks before. John Hiatt’s When we Ran is sung with such heartfelt emotion…heck, tubes are made for female vocals. OK, they are superb with strings, and if you want to Rock, they’ll make you jump around like a crazed hippie at Woodstock (I’ve already told you about No Quarter haven’t I?).
If you can sit still and not play air instruments while listening to that record you are either dead or you’d better get this amp! Is this amp for everyone? It did sound good with the comparatively inefficient Jaton Real speakers, but with the efficient Infinity speakers it was a treat with every record I played, CD or LP. I was and I’m betting a lot of people will be convinced, that 10 watts is more than enough to Make Ray Brown’s bass rumble in your chest in Walk On Telarc CD2-83515 or listen to Antal Dorati controlling the color and power of the orchestra on the Mercury Classic Records reissue Love for Three Oranges/Scythian Suite (SR-90006). The purity of reproduction made it easy to hear the differences between my original copy and the reissue. Dynamics are powerful on both LPs, but the original edges out the reissue if you listen closely for individual instruments and the air (and even the images) around each orchestra member. Our Russ Gates recently reviewed the Jaton Real AV 803's. There will be a link to our speaker reviews at the end.
I enjoyed Karrin Allyson’s Remembering John Coltrane (Concord/Pure Audiophile PA-001) more than I ever have before. I believe there are only a few great Jazz singers and those three all exist in another dimension today. Allyson’s voice and her timing was revealed to be a lot better than I’d ever believed, newly won admiration for her vocal abilities.
If you want a tube amp, tired of all the fuss of separates, something that can reveal the Dynavector P-75 Mk. II to be a truly wonderful phono pre-amp, revealing all the pluses of your system, and sadly all the negatives (show you that your existing CD player isn’t so bad after all), then consider this amp. Capable of driving unusual loads (the Infininity and Jatons couldn’t be more different), then you might consider this amp worthy of a long listening session.
I was never ear-tired with this amp in my system. It’s yet another piece of equipment I’d buy in a flash if I was looking for an integrated. Matched with some reasonably efficient speakers, this amp will thrill you for years.
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