Stereo Integrated Tube Amplifier
REVIEW No. 1
by James L. Darby
Despite the "Omaha" moniker, the amp is said to be designed in the US by the company which is located in California, then assembled in China.
Setting up the 300B was very simple and straightforward, even though no manual was included in the package. I was later informed that the manual had to be downloaded from the Omaha website.
The tubes, which were packed separately, were inserted and connections made to the CD player and turntable via phono preamp. There are only two inputs available, so that configuration maxed them out. The standard issue power cord was attached and plugged in to my Furutech isolation device. I made sure the 6 tubes were seated properly and turned the amp on.
Immediately there was a very loud "pop" and gray smoke billowed from the amp accompanied by that telltale acrid "fried electronics" reek. I quickly pulled the IEC cord from the back of the unit.
REVIEW No. 2
by MUZIKMIKE PESHKIN
James Darby sent me the integrated amp. It was pretty. I plugged it in, made all the connections, turned it on, heard a rather loud hum emanating from the amp and then SNAP!
The sound was quite musical, however, but no music came forth. If you enjoy a SNAP sound, this is the piece for you. Highly recommended for snapping sound.
Obviously, catastrophic events such as Mike and I experienced with the Omaha deserves further comment than the very short-lived evaluations. Mike and I want you to know that it gives us no pleasure to publish findings such as these - quite to the contrary. We would much rather publish a review that is positive, truthful and informative.
I should also say that it is the policy of some other audio publications to cancel a review such as this altogether and just send the unit back to the manufacturer with no published comment - as if the event never took place. We think such a policy is a disservice to our readers who, we believe, need to know the bad as well as the good of every product that comes to us. In fact, it may be even more important to know that a product could present a danger such as fire or electrical shock to a potential buyer.
We would also like to caution our readers that this experience is very unique and certainly not representative of audio products and tube amplifiers in general. I can say that I have never had a brand new tube amplifier blow up before. I have never even had a tube fail right out of the box. Designers nowadays bend over backwards to make sure their amps are nearly bullet proof. It used to be that if a tube failed, it would often take the take the rest of the amp with it. Not anymore.
I first heard and saw the Omaha at the New York Audio Show in 2007. I expressed an interest in reviewing it and a few months later the amp arrived. After the amp failed, I contacted a company representative who expressed his complete surprise at the amp's failure, claiming he had never heard of a such a thing before and that this was the first time anything like it had occurred. He said he would make arrangements to have the amp picked up and a new replacement sent right away. During that phone conversation, I said that I had experience setting up many tube amps before and I was pretty sure I had done everything right, even though there was no manual in the box. It was then that I was told the manual needed to be downloaded.
A couple of days later I read the manual online. It was not well written with some obvious mistranslations from what was probably the original Chinese. But, interestingly enough, there was a line that said if, when plugged in, there was a loud pop and evidence of smoke, to unplug the unit immediately and contact the company. While Sherlock Holmes I am not, it was easy to surmise that my experience with the Omaha was in fact, not unique at all. The current, much revised online manual contains no such verbiage.
The amp was eventually picked up but after several months, no replacement was sent. The company's owner, T. J. Chuang, eventually informed me that he was aware of the problem and steps were being taken to correct the design flaw. When I asked when the new model would be available, I was told "two months" and that I would be sent the updated amp.
Again several months passed with no word from Mr. Chuang and no response to emails I sent. Finally, I sent an email with the subject, "Stereomojo - Last Warning".
The text was,
You may recall that the 300b amp you sent blew up when first plugged in. I sent it back, but have not received the promised replacement. It has been a few months.
I sent you an email several weeks ago telling you that if I didn't receive a replacement, I would have no choice but to publish the review as is. I don't think either of us wants that.
You need to contact me right away and send a replacement, please".
On the front page of Stereomojo, there is a link entitled "Info For Manufacturers & Distributors" that connects to a page entitled "SM Rules and Policies for Companies, Designers and Distributors". There is found the following statement: "Since the merchandise is always your property, you can request that it be returned at your expense at any time - even prior to the agreed upon timeframe. If, however, the review process is begun, the review will be published up to the point it is returned. We do not drop reviews once they are begun".
When TJ asked where to send the second amp, I asked him to send it to our Mike Peshkin. Mike has had many years of reviewing and working with scads of amplifiers and I thought it wise to have another reviewer do the second review, lest the manufacturer blame any further problems on the one. My reasoning was that if the same thing happened again, it would be pretty hard to claim it was the fault of one individual.
As it turns out, the exact scenario took place a second time. When I asked TJ if the second amp he sent was the "new, improved" model or if it was the same as the first, his reply was "It will be the same". Again, it doesn't take "CSI - MIAMI" to conclude that the promised improvements were not forthcoming.
Needless to say, we cannot recommend the Omaha 300B Integrated Amplifier. It is our recommendation that you do NOT purchase this product. While it is true that any product can malfunction after shipping damage and that shipping damage is far too common, there was no evidence of any damage in shipping. Even beyond that, any product can malfunction once without casting doubts on its reliability. But when two different samples of the same amplifier blow up the moment they are plugged in, particularly when it was the amp and not a tube failure, there is little choice but to conclude there is a problem. We think auditioning a third, unimproved sample would be unwarranted.
In fairness to the company and TJ, if it can be documented that real improvements have been made to eliminate the potential detonation and hazard, we would be happy to review it and hopefully provide some redemption from this unfortunate episode.
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