SE40 - Original Owner
Golden Tube Audio SE40 purchased new from Sound by Singer in Manhattan.
Untouched original conditions - no mods - mid-life tubes.
"The ideal amp for those who want the "audiophile tube experience" without making a big investment..."
Golden Tube Se-40 Sounds Like $3,000 Amplifier, At A Third The Price
November 28, 1996|By KEVIN HUNT; Courant columnist Kevin Hunt is an editor on The Courant's features desk.
I'll never forget the first time I saw the Golden Tube SE-40 amplifier. (This is not a love story, but a little intrigue never hurts.) It sounded incredible, looked great -- and I couldn't have been less impressed. Just another snooty $3,000 vacuum tube amplifier, I thought. Sure, what do you expect for that kind of money?
The SE-40, with loudspeakers from Joseph Audio, created some of the most natural-sounding music I heard at Hi-Fi '96 last summer in New York. It was a tough crowd, too: Room to room, floor to floor, the Waldorf-Astoria was stocked with some of the world's most exotic equipment.
My first mistake was dismissing the SE-40. The second was not looking at the Golden Tube material I picked up on the way out until several weeks later. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the list price of the SE-40 is $980. That's a long way from $3,000.
It's also a declaration of war by Solo Electronics, makers of Golden Tube products, against manufacturers of high-priced equipment.
``This is meaningful to the whole high-end industry,'' says Solo president Chris Lau. ``For $1,000, [we are saying] this is what we can do. People who charge $3,000 better work harder.''
Competitors charging $3,000 for similar equipment aren't too happy with Lau. And they've reportedly told him as much, bitterly. True?
``I forget,'' says Lau, trailing off to a chuckle.
Lau and Solo are gambling that consumers will see the combination of quality and value in the Golden Tube name, resulting in profit from greater sales. Let Lau worry whether that policy will work. All the consumer needs to know is that the SE- 40 is the real thing, a true high-end design at a price within reach of a far larger audience.
``For the customer,'' says Lau, ``this type of thing does not happen too often.''
Even so, the SE-40 needs to be put in the right system and played with the right music. It requires fairly efficient loudspeakers -- it struggled at times with the Magneplaner .5/QR but matched beautifully with the new Martin-Logan Aerius i -- and a steady dose of jazz, folk or chamber music. For the brute power demands of heavy rock and large orchestral works, stick with a solid- state amplifier. But if you've owned only solid-state, you'll be amazed how much more lifelike the SE-40 sounds in the right setup.
The SE-40 is also one of the more handsome amplifiers I've seen, regardless of price. It makes the few tube amplifiers in its price class look like scrawny little imported do- it-yourself hobby kits. The made-in- the-U.S. SE-40 is a powerhouse, 45 pounds dressed up in a solid black chassis made of aircraft aluminum -- during UPS shipping, it was rocked almost out of the carton and still survived with only a single dent. It has a brushed-gold front panel and a gold plaque on top with the company logo and the inscription, ``For the joy of music.''
Six Soviet-made 5881 tubes known as pentodes and two U.S.- made Philips 6SN7GTB driver tubes are displayed up front. The tubes are low-maintenance, so don't let them scare you off. An adjustment after 300 hours can be done by the dealer or anyone handy with a multimeter. Tube life is about 2,000 hours, or almost four years if you average about 10 hours weekly. A replacement set costs $120 from Solo, or about half that from a tube supplier like New Sensor (800-633- 5477).
With the SE-40, Lau has met high- end designers on their own turf. It's a single-ended amplifier, one of the hot trends in the industry. A single- ended design has lower distortion, with a sweet, natural and non-fatiguing sound. As a rule, single-ended amplifiers are expensive to build and can coax maybe seven or eight watts a channel out of a set of vacuum tubes, frequently featuring the expensive 300B tube from audio's golden age. It's not what you would call a blueprint for mass-market success.
Lately, designers are getting more power, perhaps sacrificing a bit of that sweetness, out of single- ended designs. The SE-40 is rated at 40 watts a channel. Because their distortion is easier on the ear, tube designs tend to far exceed their rated power. Don't be concerned about trying the SE-40 if your loudspeaker manufacturer recommends an amplifier rated at a minimum of 50 or 60 watts a channel.
Solo Electronics (510-887-8016) does not send out equipment from its offices in Hayward, Calif., for review to either magazines or newspapers. Like some other small companies, it doesn't want to risk financial ruin though one bad review. It wants the consumer to decide after auditioning at a local dealer. The Bozak Factory Store on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington is the only Hartford-area outlet.
Well, I've made my decision. I bought an SE-40, a demonstration model, two months ago. Solo and Lau have nothing to worry about. Those other guys better start working harder. Soon.