Home  |  Audio Reviews  Audiophile Shows Partner Mags  News     

 

May 2022

Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

World Premiere Review!
Black Ice Audio Fusion F100 Monoblock Vacuum Tube Power Amplifier Review
Plus a great story about Jim Fosgate's Odyssey circuit.
Review By Ron Nagle

 

Black Ice Audio Fusion F100 Monoblock Vacuum Tube Power Amplifier Review

 

  To tube or not to tube? Strange as it may seem, that age-old question is still relevant. Today new materials and innovative designs have taken vacuum tube audio components to a higher level. When I first saw the Black Ice Fusion F100 in room 504 at the Capital Audiofest, they were powered with Russian Tung-Sol KT150 beam tetrodes. This innovative tube is only one type of power tube the F100 can use, each with a different musical voice. This ability has a substantial fundamental advantage. Unlike solid-state amplifiers, you need not be stuck with one solid-state sound. Like a fine wine, the sound of vacuum tube audio components can appeal to many diverse tastes.

The Fusion F100 amplifier has an adjustable bias to accommodate a wide range of power tubes. Black Ice Audio offers a choice of output tubes. They can supply specific output tubes upon request with a new F100 purchase. The MSRP is based on the type of tubes you request: $7,800 with EL34, $8,450 with KT88, $8,200 with 6550, $8,650 with KT150, and $8,850 with KT170 output tubes.

 

The Back Story
It is helpful to understand the relationship between designer Jim Fosgate and Black Ice audio. It began with a meeting in 2010 that resulted in a collaboration between Mr. Fosgate and the CEO JerredDunkerson and his Black Ice design team. They are the behind the scenes people who engineer and manufacture a complete line of Black Ice audio components. The designs of Jim Fosgate's innovative components formerly were manufactured and marketed under two brand names, Jolida and Black Ice. It may not be easy to fully appreciate the F100 amplifiers before you understand more about the career of Jim Fosgate. He may not be as well-known as Nelson Pass or Bob Carver, but he breathes the same rare air. He is known primarily for his work on Dolby Pro Logic 2, a surround sound matrix for home theater. Add to that the Rockford Fosgate car stereo system.

I reviewed two of his inventions for Enjoy the Music.com in April 2017 including the JoLida Foz XT-R. It is an amplifier designed by Jim Fosgate to eliminate cross-talk between a phono cartridge's left and right channels. Later that year, in September of 2017, I reviewed the Jolida Foz SSX sound-stage "expander," another Jim Fosgate Invention. More to the point, I wanted to know more about this F100 Odyssey circuit. What to do? I decided to give Jim a call. He told me his wife wanted him to retire at age 84.

But retirement proved difficult. Because he still had so many innovative ideas that needed doing. So he set out to design a simple dual-stage amplifier with a "V" drive circuit. The concept evolved into what he now calls the Odyssey. It is a symmetrical push-pull design configured with low 4.5dB negative feedback. The amplifier has only two stages, an input and an output stage. The input stage uses a 12AX7 dual Triode in an SRPP configuration.

The circuit shown is a representation, not the actual F100 circuit.

 

 

Definition: What is an SRPP Circuit? It stands for Series Regulated Push-Pull amplifier. This circuit promises the advantages of both the Grounded Cathode amplifier and the Cathode Follower with high gain and low output impedance. Two tubes act as a single-stage, close to push-pull. The overall odyssey design is a fully balanced differential push-pull circuit able to direct drive the output stage.

This circuit design has high gain, low distortion, and low output impedance so that the output tubes can be driven directly with no buffers. Jim stated that he uses second-harmonic cancellation to stabilize feedback. This is done by adjusting the SRPP bias so he can keep negative feedback to 4.5dB. He prefers the same type of transformers used in the old Dynaco ST70 amplifier. The Dynaco transformer was designed and patented by David Hafler. The German sourced silicon steel transformer lamination's are based on that Hafler design. This patented Hafler section was incorporated in the Jolida transformers. After some searching, he managed to find a Chinese company that makes a similar transformer.

I asked Mr. Fosgate if he was going to patent his Odyssey design. He said he didn't design the amplifier just to make money. He doesn't plan to publish a circuit schematic of the amplifier. His sole intention is to squeeze every bit of performance out of the amplifier for a reasonable price. He designed a two-stage amplifierwith a simple circuit and fewer internal parts to accomplish this. His designer's repertoire spans every category of electronic audio from two-channel audio, car audio, surround sound, headphone amplifiers, and digital audio. Mr. Fosgate's resume of audio innovations is truly remarkable.

 

 

L'objet d'Article
The stereo Fusion F100 is actually two single-channel amplifiers shipped in two double walled cardboard boxes. Each amplifier weighs 41 pounds and measures 13.5 inches wide, by15.5 inches deep by 8.75 inches high. Each shipping carton contains four pieces of KT88 tubes and two 12AX7A dual triodes. The KT88 tubes were sent by special request. Additionally, there is an IEC power cord, and Instruction manual, cotton gloves, a small screwdriver, and a cleaning cloth. The price of the F100 Amplifier is dependent on the output tubes you specify. The amplifier's form factor is a very standard open frame chassis.

The Chinese sourced Hafler designed silicon steel transformers are enclosed in an attractive rectangular cover made with silver foil-backed glass. The review amplifier's surface has a matching soft silver color, but you can order the amplifiers in a black finish. Directly in the center of the amplifiers top surface is a round D' Arsonval bias meter with a scale marked in milliamperes. Occasionally you will need to adjust the bias settings of the four output tubes.

 

 

To set bias there is a five-position selector switch marked Off, V1, V2, V3, and V4; they allow you to select one of four bias trim-pots. Black ice audio provides a small screwdriver for this purpose. The Odyssey Circuit, designed in 2015, is a dual-phase balanced V drive circuit. With EL34 power tubes, it pumps out 120 Watts of pure tube magic. With KT88 tubes or 6550 tubes, the available power is increased to 140 Watts.

The back panel of each mono-block has an IEC socket for the power cord, a master on/off power switch, and three speaker cable binding posts. They are marked as Ground, 4 Ohm, and 8 Ohm speakers. Very unconventionally, there are two RCA input jacks and three XLR jacks. So you have a choice to input either balanced XLR or unbalanced RCA cables from your music source. An unconventional feature is the ability to combine two F100 mono amplifiers to double the power output to 280 Watts. It is straightforward to strap two amplifiers together since they have both input and output jacks. You would need one XLR cable and one RCA cable to connect the two. When it's time to kick it up a notch, the F100 can be bridged with another F100 to double the wattage and experience music at concert levels.

That doubled-up combination can be expensive since a stereo system would require four Fusion F100 amplifiers.

 

 

Set Up
Each F100 amplifier came with four Gold Lion KT88 power tubes and two smaller Sovtek 12AX7 dual triodes. All the tubes are marked to show their positions in the amplifier. Although the four power tubes were easy to install; the smaller 12AX7 tubes presented a challenge.

The 12AX7 tubes have a nine-pin base. The corresponding ceramic tube sockets are high quality and hold the tube pins in a very tight grip. You need to be careful that all the pins of the tube line up precisely with the base sockets. You will need to use some force to seat the tube. My first three attempts resulted in bent tube pins and one cracked glass tube.

There is a two-step process to turn on the amp. Once you have installed the tubes, activate the main power switch on the back panel. Next step, there is a capacitive touch sensor power switch in the center of the front panel which is not visible. The Black Ice logo will light up in red with a light touch on the faceplate, then the amplifier will turn on.

There is a delay of about ten seconds for the amplifier to power on. At this initial turn on, check and set each of the four bias trim pots to specification. Then, after the amplifier has played for approximately twenty minutes, perform an additional check to see that the tube bias is stable at 50mA. You will need to play music through them for approximately two or three hours to ensure the tubes have settled in and stopped changing. I advise you to periodically check tube bias; properly set it has a big effect on what you hear.

 

 

The Sound
The audition begins with the Fusion F100 140 Watt amplifier using Gold Lion KT88 tubes. Whenever I audition tubular glass audio amps, I think of Harry Pearson. He coined many descriptive terms we use in audio, but my favorite is the word "continuousness."

Back in the day, whenever a musical overtone decayed in volume/loudness, it reached a cutoff point, and digital volume controls could drop the least significant bit. With this amplifier, nothing I hear is in pieces; nothing goes on and off. It is, as HP said, "continuousness."

Even while streaming piped in Pandora music, you can plainly hear the sound of the Odyssey singing songs at you from the very first moment.

To fully appreciate what the Odyssey amplifier does, you should want what tubes do best, image! It is possible to craft an audio system that paints a sound stage that can turn your room into a performance space and not just between your ears. Vacuum tubes will reproduce all three realistic dimensions, including height, something that ear-bud gizmos just don't do. Did you ever surprise yourself by finding something you forgot you owned? I normally use an album's CD version as a reference.

This discovery is Basia Trzetrzelewska's vinyl album, Time And Tide Epic [BFE 40767]; damn, this woman can sing. I played the album's first track, "Promises" ,wonderfully dynamic with a tremendous driving tempo. What a very complex multi-layered vocal and instrumental score this is. It seems to me that tubes and vinyl recordings have a particular, very logical affinity to each other. Everything I hear has an organic tone color. I seriously considered stopping right here and not describing anything more about this performance. But there is still one more test it has to pass.

 

 

The 6550 Audition
I removed the stock KT88s and substituted a matched octet of vintage 6550 beam tetrodes. You will need to reset the bias for the substitute tubes also at 50mA. The 6550's power rating is the same 120 Watts. Power it up, and it will fling open a window replete with image depth you could throw a rock into. That's the difference it makes in the sound stage. What is immediate is the greater extension at the frequency extremes. The bass became much better defined with subtly resonant undertones. At the same time, the frequencies above eight thousand Hz opened up to let the stereo image expand.

I saved the best for last as I tell you the tale of a vinyl interlude. It involves a favorite recording, Another Page, by Christopher Cross [Warner Brothers 23757-1]. You may not own this recording. But as the British say, "needs must" because this is the moment something rare happens. At this juncture, it's one of those moments where a paper publication might proclaim, a veil was lifted. Another Page is an excellent studio effort filled with small aural clues. As I listened to the track All-Right, I could hear the background singers far better defined as separate entities.

Now clear to hear are individual voices that are separated by space and timing clues. The singer's voices contained reverberate studio effects overlaid by a second delayed echo. Both effects remained separate, and clearly, each would start and stop at different times. I could pick out most of the individual backup singers. This recording has Michael McDonald, Carl Wilson, Don Henley, Art Garfunkel, and J. D. Souther, all singing back up vocals. I have played this album so many times before but never got this deeply into it. The hardest thing to describe to you is the envelope of air, like a dimensional halo that formed in the space between my speakers. Because of this, I can better understand the way this album was mixed down from separate tracks.

 

 

Conclusions
Consider the mutability of glass power audio amplifiers. Remember, my assessment is based on the performance of the F100 with KT88 and 6550 tubes. I much preferred the Fusion F100 when powered by 6550 tubes. It was then that edge definition brought the sound field into sharper focus. At the risk of repeating myself, there is a lifelike affinity only a great tube amplifier like the Fusion F100 and an excellent vinyl recording can capture. However, I consider the asking price for two F100 mono amplifiers, as mid-priced when evaluating the performance and build quality. Last but most certainly not least, the Fusion F100 amplifiers are sourced in China and hand-assembled in the USA in Brookville, MD.

Ultimately we strive to gain a clear insight and a sense of intimate personal involvement in the music we play. This is the light at the end of the audiophile tunnel. The Fusion F100 is a world class amplifier that you need to audition.

Remember to Enjoy the music and from me, Semper Hi-Fi!

 

 

 

Tonality

Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)

Mid–bass (80Hz – 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise
Emotionally Engaging

Value For The Money

 

 

 

Specifications
Type: Stereo vacuum tube monoblock amplifier
Rated Power: 140 Wpc @ 8 Ohms, 25Hz to 60kHz with 6550 Tubes.
120 Wpc @ 8 Ohms, 25Hz to 60kHz with EL4 Tubes.
Frequency Response: 8Hz to 80kHz 1Watt @ 8 Ohms +/- 1dB
THD: Less than 1% @ 20Volts output, 28Hz to 15KHz.
Circuit Type: Fully balanced differential push-pull
Input Impedance: 100kOhms
Input Sensitivity: 1V at 1KHz for 120/140 watt output
Output Impedance: 4 Ohms and 8 Ohms
Negative Feedback: Less than 4.5dB
Noise And Hum: 95dB below rated output
Tube Complement: Four EL34 or 6550 power output and two 12AX7A / ECC83
Dimensions: 13.5" x 15.5" x 8.75" (WxDxH)
Weight: 41 lbs.
Warranty: Three year limited parts and labor. One year or 1000 hours whichever comes first on Black Ice Audio Tubes. 
Bias Settings: 40mA +/-5mA for EL 34s, 50mA +/-5mA for 6550s
Price: $7,800 with EL34, $8,450 with KT88, $8,200 with 6550, $8,650 with KT150, and $8,850 with KT1 output tubes.

 

 

 

Company Information
Black Ice Audio
21310 Ridgecroft Drive
Brookeville, MD 20833

Voice: (301) 953-2014
Email: info@blackiceaudio.com 
Website: BlackIceAudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

Quick Links


Audiophile Review Magazine
High-End Audio Equipment Reviews

 

Equipment Review Archives
Turntables, Cartridges, Etc
Digital Source
Do It Yourself (DIY)
Preamplifiers
Amplifiers
Cables, Wires, Etc
Loudspeakers/ Monitors
Headphones, IEMs, Tweaks, Etc
Ultra High-End Audio Reviews

 

Videos
Enjoy the Music.TV

 

Columns
Editorials By Tom Lyle
Viewpoint By Roger Skoff
Viewpoint By Steven R. Rochlin
Various Think Pieces
Manufacturer Articles


Show Reports
HIGH END Munich 2022
AXPONA 2022 Show Report
CanJam Singapore 2022 Report
Salon Audio Montréal / Audio Fest 2022
Florida Audio Expo 2022
AudioCon Los Angeles 2022
Capital Audiofest 2021 Show
The HiFi Summit Q2 2021
T.H.E. Show 2021 Report
The HiFi Summit Q4 2020
The HiFi Summit Q2 2020
Bristol Hi-Fi Show Report 2020
Florida Audio Expo 2020 Show Report
Click here for previous shows.

 

Other
Audiophile Contests
Cool Free Stuff For You
Tweaks For Your System
Vinyl Logos For LP Lovers
Lust Pages Visual Beauty

 

Resources & Information
Music Definitions
Hi-Fi Definitions

 


Daily Industry News

High-End Audio News & Information

 

Partner Print Magazines
audioXpress
Australian Hi-Fi Magazine
hi-fi+ Magazine
HIFICRITIC
HiFi Media
Hi-Fi World
Sound Practices
The Absolute Sound
VALVE Magazine

 

For The Press & Industry
About Us
Press Releases
Official Site Graphics

 

Contests & Our Mailing List

Our free newsletter for monthly updates & enter our contests!

 

 

    

Home   |   Industry News   |   Equipment Reviews   |   Press Releases   |   About Us   |   Contact Us

 

All contents copyright©  1995 - 2022  HighEndAudio.com and Enjoy the Music.com®
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.  All rights reserved.