Dignity Audio DA08SE 300B Mono Tube Amplifiers
|Dignity Audio DA08SE 300B Mono Tube Amplifiers
|Triodes with Testosterone!
While attending T.H.E. Show 2006 in Las Vegas, and minding my own business as usual, I was approached by Mr. C.C. Poon of Monarchy Audio. Brimming with enthusiasm, he told me about the new 300B SET amps from Dignity Audio that Monarchy Audio is now importing into the US. Realizing that Mr. Poon does not get excited over a product too easily, I was intrigued. He explained that the Permalloy output transformers that Dignity Audio employs are costly to manufacture and are normally found in much more expensive designs. He also intimated that the Permalloy transformers enabled the Dignity 300Bs to deliver almost full rated power at the frequency extremes, a feat that many other 300B amplifiers fail to accomplish.
The simple, retro-industrial look of the Dignity amplifiers will make them fairly inconspicuous in most systems. On the front panel of the slim amplifier are the power on/off toggle and a rotary volume control. The rear panel contains the speaker binding posts, gold-plated input RCA jack, and a female IEC receptacle to facilitate use with the power cord of your choice. One of the unique features of these $800 per monoblock amps is an impedance selector that switches the speaker output between 4, 8, and 16 ohms. Also, they use Permalloy output transformers which are also made by some other manufacturers for over $1,000/pair USD!
Is Hearing Believing?
While C.C. Poon suggests running sources directly into the Dignity amplifiers in order to take full advantage of the excellent, built-in 6SN7 tube preamp stage, I elected to use my Parasound P/LD-2000 line stage preamp for two reasons. The first was that it gave me the power to select different sources, and the second was that I knew from experience that the high-current drive capability of the P/LD-2000 would be more beneficial than any slight loss of transparency due to its use. Later in my evaluation, I used Monarchy Audio’s new M24 tube DAC directly into the Dignity Audio amplifiers with very gratifying sonic results.
The speakers I used were the Silverline Audio Preludes. These slim-line towers are very dynamic and very detailed. Plus they have a very natural tonal balance and offer very good extension into the bass and treble ranges. They are not only great sounding speakers, but are useful tools to the ears of this reviewer. My only question would be whether or not the Prelude’s 91dB sensitivity spec would allow for adequate listening volume in my room. It did!
I began my first listening session with “Times Like These,” from Jack Johnson’s On and On CD [Bubble Toes 440 075 012 2]. From the opening guitar thwacks it was apparent that the high-frequency speed and focus of the Dignity amps was excellent. Indeed Johnson’s vocal was perfectly centered between the speakers at an exact point in space. And his singing sounded natural, unstrained, and immediate. The guitar itself had beautiful tone, letting the listener hear the attack, decay, and harmonic structure of every note and chord.
I enjoyed listening to this first cut so much that I relaxed and let the CD play to the end. The fast and spirited fretwork on “Taylor” was ever so well captured. In fact, the Dignity amps did so well with on and on, that I decided to torture the little upstarts with some of my bass heavy hitters.
I loaded Bela Fleck’s Flight of the Cosmic Hippo [Warner Bros. 9 26562-2] into my transport and let ‘er rip, not quite knowing what to expect. As it happened, the old hippo sounded kind of slow and plodding and when the song got to the really deep and loud bass passage, that hippo wallowed and groaned like it was being disemboweled.
Okay, not so good, but I knew that the Preludes were nominally rated at 8-ohms and that’s where the amp’s impedance selector was set for on this initial pass. I also knew that moving the switch to the 4-ohm position would effectively double the damping factor. So of course, that would be my next logical test. I set both amps to the 4-ohm position and then restarted the Hippo’s precarious flight (hard to get one of those off the ground).
On the second pass, in the 4-ohm mode, the hippo, thankfully, retained its lunch. The bass was deep, tuneful, and surprisingly well controlled. No longer did the hippo thrash about in quick sand. Now, the hippo’s gait had rhythm. Very impressive.
I knew that if the Dignity amps could maintain their composure playing “Cosmic Hippo” then they had little else to prove in the area of bass reproduction. So naturally, I broke out other bass-heavy material and continued my merciless onslaught. I played Fionna Apple’sExtraordinary Machine CD [Epic/Clean Slate EK 86683], which is just loaded with smacking low bass and the tiny Dignity amps continued to belt it out like they meant it. Every once in a while a song would contain an extremely low note and the Dignity/Prelude duo would pressurize the room as if to say, “Back at you!”
But as one might guess, with only 8 watts output the bass of the Dignity amps had its limitations. They did not quite have the control of the >4000 damping factor NuForce Reference 8 amps and they could not play nearly as loud. Likewise, a pair of Manley Mahi monoblocks provided greater power and oomph in the low bass. If the Dignity amps are used with more efficient speakers this bass limitation would likely be less apparent, and when kept to reasonable levels with the Preludes it was quite satisfying. Monarchy’s C.C. Poon recommends using speakers of at least 93dB/W, which makes perfect sense to me.
Perhaps more important than the Dignitys’ ability to produce “ultimate” bass, was their ability to produce natural, tonally-authentic bass; meaning that bass instruments sounded particularly real, and that bass notes maintained their pitch definition and were easy to follow.
So after torturing the amps with bass-buster recordings, I put on some nice classic jazz. From Branford Marsalis’ Trio Jeepy [Columbia CK 44199], I cued up Track 3, “The Nearness of You,” and listened. The Dignity amps immediately showed their prowess by capturing the guttural growl of Marsalis’ bass saxophone, center stage. Everything about the sax sounded right, you could hear the wispy sound of the reed and even the spittle in the mouthpiece of the brass machine. Adding palpable punctuation on the left was the double bass, while on the right the brushed cymbals sounded almost feathery, and had the ring of authenticity. This was great sound reproduction, by any standard.
Just to check and see if I wasn’t hallucinating about how great the Dignity amps reproduced Marsalis’ sax, I reinstalled my prized NuForce Reference 8 amplifiers and played the track again. The NuForce rendition was good. Image size was large, and certainly the sax was clean and dynamic sounding. Yet, it seemed that the Dignity amps better captured the whole body of the instrument in a way that the NuForce amps couldn’t quite manage. It sounded just a little more natural and a little more “present.”
This experience started me thinking, and just for the sake of getting another take on it I pulled my VanAlstine-modified Dyna Stereo 70 from the closet and hooked it up. Here we are talking about an EL-34-based, push-pull amplifier with tube rectification. Interestingly, what I found was that the Dignity amps sounded more transparent and natural on the saxophone and other mid-band instruments. When I tried the EL-84-based Manley Mahi amplifiers in their best-sounding, single-ended triode mode with minimum feedback, the difference was smaller, but still apparent, with the Dignity amps edging all comers for ultimate midrange purity.
At the opposite end of the frequency spectrum, the Dignity amps were definitely fast and natural, but they did not possess as much high-frequency extension as either the NuForce or the Dyna 70. This made for a slightly darker tonal balance. Yet, the treble of the Dignity amps was very clean, fast, and harmonically right. Using them in conjunction with the Silverline Preludes worked very well because to my ears the Preludes seem to have a small emphasis somewhere in the treble. This trait was the least noticeable when using the Dignity amps. In fact I doubt that most people would be able to pick it out. Accordingly, the Dignity amps mated very well with the Preludes, with the condition that one would need to maintain sensible volume levels. This is less difficult than it might seem because the Dignity amps continue to sound extremely alluring even at lower volume levels.
The above comments on the treble performance of the Dignity amps are based on using Belden 14-gauge copper power cords on the amplifiers. I found that when I switched to the silver NuForce Stealth power cords the treble extension and high-frequency “air” improved quite a bit. In fact, with the Stealth cords the Dignity amps produced some of the most extended and natural sounding treble that I have ever heard from an audio system.
I believe I’ve established that the Dignity amplifiers are very competent and musical fulfilling amplifiers.
That said, there are a couple of issues that may or may not bother potential buyers. The first thing I noticed upon initially powering the amplifiers up was that they were mechanically noisy and I could also hear a low-level 60Hz tone with my ear very close to the speakers. But it was the mechanical humming and buzzing that annoyed me the most. Mr. Poon noted that although the Permalloy transformers in the amps offered extremely wide bandwidth, they were also very sensitive to impurities on the AC line.
Mr. Poon sent me Monarchy’s new P100 AC Electrical Source to try, but that proved to be a double-edged sword. The P100 is similar to the PS Audio Power Plants in that it is an AC power regenerator. Both the line voltage and line frequency can be varied, but the unit was only rated at 100 watts which is the maximum draw of the two Dignity amps.
I must say that the sound quality of the amplifiers was fantastic through the P100. By changing the line frequency from 60Hz to 50Hz I was able to get the amps very quiet. Not only that, but the sound became even sweeter through the midrange and highs and the bass seemed to tighten up a bit. The big downside of this arrangement was that the current draw of the amps kicked the P100’s internal cooling fan into high gear, where it sounded about as loud as my Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner. So my feeling is that this type of device will work well with the Dignity amps, but you’ll need a power regenerator that can support at least a few hundred watts output without becoming noisy. After listening to all that fan noise, suddenly the mechanical hum of the Dignity amps didn’t seem so bad!
My second caveat, is that the speaker binding posts on the Dignity amps sound good, but are obviously inexpensive. After installing and uninstalling my spade lugs about 5 times, a couple of the speaker posts loosened up. This would not be a terrible thing if one could gain access to the tightening nuts easily, but I found that I’d need to remove many more chassis screws than I was comfortable in order to reach the binding posts. I finally gave up and left them loose. In the real world, this condition might necessitate a trip back to Monarchy to have the posts re-tightened. And I personally find that inconvenience unacceptable. I suppose that using banana plugs instead of spades would not stress the posts as much and they would probably stay tighter longer. But since the posts are difficult to access, it would be better if Dignity Audio found a way to prevent this potential problem from occurring at all.
The Dignity Audio 300B mono SET amplifiers are excellent sounding units that provide a healthy amount of articulation and finesse along with the kind of drop-dead-gorgeous midrange reproduction that is the hallmark of 300B single-ended triode amplifiers.
Their Permalloy output transformers did indeed allow these amplifiers to achieve greater extension at both frequency extremes than one would normally expect from a 300B amp. However, my review pair had a higher level of mechanical hum than other amps I have had in my system.
I have expressed my concerns to Monarchy’s Mr. Poon, and he has passed them on to the folks at Dignity Audio. As a result, a new version of the amplifier will be available shortly. It will include several parts upgrades, and will address the mechanical transformer hum. Therefore I am planning a follow up to this review, which should appear in the late summer or fall.
I absolutely enjoyed my listening sessions with the Dignity amplifiers. Those looking for very good sounding 300B amplifiers in this price range should put the Dignity Audio DA08SE amplifiers on their short list of worthy contenders.
I have now received the updated version of the Dignity DA08SE amplifiers with the redesigned output transformers. The new Permalloy transformers appear physically larger and more substantial than the original transformers. Most importantly, they are dead quiet, and have no mechanical hum that I can discern. Dignity has also tightened their quality control so that things like loose binding posts should not occur.
Happily, the extraordinary midrange and focused, fast, and detailed treble has been retained. In fact, the treble may be even more extended in the updated version. The bass appears to be quite similar. It is less forceful and extended than that of my other much more powerful amplifiers, but the Dignity’s bass is very articulate and demonstrates superb pitch definition.
These improvements remove my main complaints for these wonderful sounding 300B SET monoblocks. Accordingly, I can now recommend the Dignity Audio DA08SE amplifiers without reservation. Those who are considering a higher-priced 300B amp purchase may do well to audition the Dignity Audio amps—last…
– Permalloy output transformer for highest energy coupling from the tube to the speaker Z11 silicon steel laminates for both the AC transformer and the filter choke
(This is the material other tube manufacturers use for their output transformers).
– Sophisticated output impedance selector switch (in a 4-8-16-ohm matrix
for best speaker matching).
– All single-ended operation.
– Monoblock construction for infinite channel separation and devoted power supply per channel.
– A combo line amp and power amp (volume control on the front panel).
– Slim chassis for compact 5-channel side-by-side stacking.
– Power supply optimized for 117V /60Hz operation.
(Contact distributor for 240 V/50Hz units — voltage is not changeable).
Output Power: 8 watts
Input Sensitivity: 200 mV
Input Impedance: 100k-ohms
Tube Compliment: 6SN7 input; 300B output.
Weight: 15 lbs.
Price: $800 per monoblock
The DA08SE is hand built in Hong Kong by Dignity Audio, a company that specializes in high quality output transformers. They are exclusively distributed and serviced in the USA and Canada by Monarchy Audio.
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