Home  |  Audio Reviews  Show Reports   Partner Mags  News 

 

February / March 2009
Superior Audio Equipment Review

TubeMagic M23SE Vacuum Tube Monoblock Amplifiers
Plus P23SE Preamp & A.O.S. Systems CD-One CD Player
Birth of a high-end company.
Review By Rock Becker.

 

TubeMagic M23SE Vacuum Tube Monoblock Amplifiers   In my Montreal 2008 show report I wrote: "TubeMagic Canada put their M23SE monoblocks ($6000 per pair) in action with parallel 300B tubes putting out 20 wpc in pure Class A. Four of them bi-amplified a pair of Martin Logan electrostatic hybrid loudspeakers producing the finest music I've ever heard coming from Martin Logan. Of particular interest to me was their vibration dampening clear acrylic platform with three passive hydraulic shock absorbers. They call it the A.O.S. System CD One (for sealed Air, thick silicon Oil and Spring in each cylinder). This is one of the most sophisticated suspension systems I've seen short of the active Vibraplane or VYGER turntable stand. At $599 for a set of three, it seems to be a good value. Discounts are available for multiple sets. I learned quite a lot about this design in my conversation with Eddie Wong of TubeMagic Canada, but that level of detail is more appropriate for a formal review."

Not only was the vibration absorbing platform and tube gear interesting; Eddie Wong himself was both outgoing and passionate about his creations. I must have made an impression on him, too. Not long afterward he contacted me and sent review samples of his A.O.S. System CD One and a pair of the M23SE monoblocks. Thus began the saga.

Eddie shipped the gear to me via UPS the day before he flew to Hong Kong to contract for more parts for his amplifiers. Coming from across the lake in Toronto , they seemed to take an inordinately long time to arrive. The day the tracking log said they would arrive I was suffering from a sore back. I had the UPS man place them in the back end of my Tracker so I could take them home from work without having to lift them twice. No tinkling of glass was heard when I carried them into the house but upon opening the boxes it was evident there was serious damage. Emails flew back and forth with Eddie in Hong Kong .

The short story is that UPS denied a claim because there was not sufficient packing material between the flight cases and the cardboard box in which they were shipped. All the cushioning foam was on the inside of the flight cases. Clearly, they had been dropped from a height of at least four feet. The spikes on the bottom of the chassis punctured the flight case. But the plot thickens.

Inside, the 300B tubes were not in their sockets, and one of them in each amplifier was broken. There was not enough headroom inside the amplifier for the tubes to come out of their sockets without the top being removed. I thought it strange that the machine screws were not fastened down tightly when I removed the top to inspect for further damage. I eventually removed the bottom so I could clean out all the shards of glass, and I discovered that the transformers were not only loose, but one had actually been pried off the sub-chassis. It looked like the clumsy hand of US Customs. I suspect the tubes had been removed from their sockets and because they didn't notice the different diameters of the pins, they could not align them properly to reinstall them. So they apparently just set them inside the chassis, reinstalled the top and sent them on their way. Clearly they were looking for the wrong kind of magic in all the wrong places. Eddie, meanwhile, assured me not to worry; he would send me new review samples.

The guy really knows how to take a punch.

 

A.O.S. System CD One
The A.O.S. System CD One fared much better. Like the amplifiers, it came in a flight case, but since it was already disassembled, no damage was wrought upon it. It took a little visual analysis to figure out how to assemble it, but it is not difficult. My big problem was where to put it. With its tall hydraulic cylinders made from extruded aluminum and 20 mm thick clear acrylic platform, it raises the component about 5 inches above its shelf. I decided to put it beneath my digital front end and removed my proprietary vibration absorbing spacers from beneath the Sony CD player (used as a transport) and the muse DAC that sits on top of it.

Please note that my system utilizes vibration absorbing footers of one kind and/or another under each component, including loudspeakers. My windows, walls and floor are also treated. Most of the footers are Boston Audio Designs TuneBlocks used in combination with BAD TunePlates or Sound Dead Steel IsoFeet, but there are a couple of other secret weapons I've written about, too. I felt my rig had been pretty well maxed out in this direction, but I was wrong.

Adding the first set of special footers to your rig will provide an easily noticed improvement when quality footers are used. Some components will improve more than others. I suggest starting with the component that gives evidence of the greatest improvement, then add more sets to additional components when you are comfortable doing so. By the time you get down to your least sensitive component, the improvement will be considerably smaller than your first set provided. This doesn't mean the last few components don't matter…just that the returns are less. In most cases, the footers are a lot less expensive than upgrading a component to get a similar improvement.

That said, I positioned the CD One under the digital front end without removing any footers from my other components. In other words, I kept the performance bar set pretty high. If the CD One was going to be better than the others, it would have to contribute an obvious improvement while the others were still in the system. My expectation was that it would be about the same quality as the carbon graphite footers and viscoelastic polymer sandwich type footers. I was very pleasantly surprised.

The CD One cleared the bar and proved to be superior in terms of resolution of inner detail and overall focus. It didn't change the tonal balance or the pace rhythm and timing to any perceptible degree, but the soundstage became slightly more focused and more subtle detail emerged. As I suggested, if this had been the only component in the system to receive a vibration absorbing footer or platform, the difference would have been much more prominent. That the music got better in the context of my heavily treated system tells me that that the CD One is a superior product — but not without a price.

At $799CDN ($650 USD) this platform is considerably more expensive than the best of the individual footers on the market. (Think Boston Audio Designs, Sound Dead Steel, Stillpoints, Symposium Acoustics and probably some others I haven't tried). Of course, shelf-type damping systems from these same companies can also cost considerably more than the individual footers. My theory predicts that footers placed directly in contact with the chassis of a component will be more effective (and cost effective) than any shelf upon which a component is placed where the factory supplied feet still support the component. (Of course a few components, some turntables in particular, have rather elaborate suspensions build into their supports). The CD One does not contradict this theory because its upward facing spikes on top make contact directly with the chassis, just like individual footers. It just also happens to be a shelf.

Since the aluminum hydraulic pillars are mounted in the acrylic platform to stabilize them in the vertical direction there is not the flexibility of positioning the contact points that you have with individual footers. There is a small amount of vertical adjustment in the contact points to allow you to level the component. Small chrome plated discs with divots drilled in them are supplied to protect the underside surface of the chassis and the shelf on which the CD One is used. The shaft that contacts the chassis transmits the downward force to a piston in the column which is supported by an internal spring in the lower chamber. This lower chamber is filled with thick silicon oil. The lower chamber is connected (through an external plastic tube) to the upper chamber above the piston. The weight of the component presses downward on the piston, forcing some of the oil up into the upper chamber where it compresses the air in that chamber. Macro and micro vibrations in the component create pressure that forces the oil to "dance," microscopically, and compress the air in the upper chamber, thus damping the vibrations. By changing the springs and the quantity of oil, the platform can be "tuned" to support heavier or lighter components.

I also tried a pair of speaker stands with Usher Tiny Dancer monitors at Tom Lathrop's house. The tall aluminum and acrylic pillars had a definite contemporary or techno presence in the room. And they were also expensive enough to consider upgrading to a floorstanding loudspeaker first. TubeMagic Canada also makes shorter platforms for amplifiers on the floor. The speaker stands made a definite contribution in the way of improving focus. This was most obvious in the bass but extended across the audible range. I suspect the platforms will find greater acceptance as amplifier and components where the visual impact is less prominent. Fit and finish of these stands was quite good with the "TubeMagic Canada" name etched in the acrylic giving it a very finished look.

 

M23SE Monoblock Amplifiers
Eddie eventually returned to Toronto from Hong Kong and we arranged for him to deliver a new pair of amplifiers to me by car. It was a pleasure to meet him again in person and pick up on his high level of energy and commitment to his products. At last, I was able to hear the amplifiers in my rig and the sound was quite impressive, yielding better focus across the board and more control over the bass with its massive Hammond transformers. As much as I had tweaked my mighty Manley Mahi, the M23SE, at more than twice the price, easily outperformed it.

Before I could get very deep into listening with the new amp, Eddie emailed to tell me that the amp had been greatly improved. His persistence had led to the replacement of the Wima capacitors with Jensen pure copper foil capacitors with silver lead-outs and a couple of other changes. And he asked if he could come to New York to swap out the parts. Did I tell you this was a saga? Eddie drove down again with one of his technicians to help him make the changes in the amps and I set him up to do the work on the island in our kitchen.

As I've said before, the most important component of any system is your significant other. The kitchen was Linda's territory and we were lucky to be able to use the space. Eddie worked with the speed of a craftsman doing piece work; He knows his amplifier inside and out. A temperature controlled soldering iron was used because the special lead-free solder required a higher than normal temperature. It was fascinating to watch him work and an education to hear him talk about his amplifier. As a parting gesture, I gave him a small bottle of AVM that had a little "Blue Tube Goop" left in it and suggested that he try it on his fuses first.

With the modifications Eddie made there was an obvious improvement in the focus, but the new parts barely had time to burn in before Eddie e-mailed again. He couldn't believe the improvement the AVM had made to his amplifier. But it was too expensive for him to use commercially. He would begin to experiment with different types of silicone that might have a similar effect at a more economical price. In the mean time, I kept on enjoying the music — especially so since this was the amp I used primarily for the review of the new Coincident Super Victory and Total Victory IV loudspeakers. In those reviews I referred to the M23SE as a "prototype" because the rapid improvements that were happening made it clear that it would likely only get better. But by most standards, it was already a very good amp that I could easily recommend.

Eddie finally emailed that he was ready to make a "final" visit, this time with his wife, Cindy. He not only wanted to add silicone at strategic points for vibration damping, but he wanted to remove the input capacitors and perform what he calls his PCB-PLUS innovation. Linda graciously prepared a delicious dinner for our guests and afterwards I took the opportunity to let Eddie hear the outstanding Coincident Frankenstein Mk II monoblocks with the KR 300B Balloon tubes. He readily acknowledged the fine sound of the Frankensteins. And then he went to work on the kitchen island, once again. I watched curiously as he applied different types of silicone to different parts of the M23SE. Finally, I could resist no longer and pulled out my vintage Musical Design SP-1 preamp and borrowed some of his silicone to perform similar tweaks on this "Oldie but Goodie". Eddie worked until 1am before retiring. He couldn't perform all of the silicone damping that is normally done when constructing the amplifier from the ground up, but he did most of it. The PCB-PLUS innovation is basically the technique of using the PCB board to position and anchor the parts. Once this is done, the board is flipped over and point to point hand wiring is neatly accomplished to complete the circuits. So there is not really any "circuit" in the PCB — it is primarily a sophisticated jig that allows for optimized layout and facilitation of the point to point wiring.

Eddie was up early in the morning and finished the job shortly after I went to work. I could hardly wait to get home that day. From the very first notes of Buddy Guy singing "Damn Right I Got the Blues" on my compilation CD it was evident the M23SE had been transformed. The music had solidified even further and the transparency was very close to the Coincident Frankenstein. And with 20 watts per channel, it was even more powerful and effortless, particularly with the Kharma, which was less efficient than the Coincident Total Victory IV that was still in house waiting to be shipped to the CES.

By this time about six months had passed since I first received the M23SE in damaged condition. Eddie was satisfied that the amps were optimally functional and he was anxious for a review to be published. But the saga was not quite over, yet. The experience of listening to the Coincident amplifier with the KR tubes had an impact on him. And the improvements wrought by the Jensen capacitors had raised the level performance of the amp to the point that the sonic signature of the Chinese tubes came into question. He began to roll tubes back at his shop and told me he wanted to change the 300B to a Western Electric. After some testing in his shop, he settled on new input tubes, driver tubes, and ultimately, Electro Harmonix 300B power tubes.

The new tubes arrived shortly after I returned from CES. It was a quick listening session of three hours of music, plus time to change tubes. First, listening with my Kharma loudspeakers, I ran through my compilation CD with the old tubes still in place to establish a base line. Having just heard a lot of outstanding rooms at CES, the rig was below par, but also a lot less expensive than most, if not all of them. Step Two was to insert the new input and driver tubes into the M23SE's and replay the compilation CD. The amplifier acquired a noticeable improvement in transparency with the new small signal tubes and my rig was sounding a lot more competitive with the better systems I had recently heard in Las Vegas. Four small tubes — it was impressive.

I then installed the Electro Harmonix 300B tubes and went through the compilation CD a third time. I had to leave the tops of the amplifiers off because the Electro Harmonix tubes were about 1cm taller and seemed to touch the aluminum top. I didn't want to test the viability of extra heat being dissipated into the chassis that way. (Eddie later wrote that it would not be a problem). The transparency took another noticeable step forward, although not as much as changing the input and driver tubes. Perhaps the results would have been reversed if I had swapped in the 300B's before changing the input and driver tubes, but I didn't have time for that experiment.

The results at this point were about par with the Coincident Speaker Technologies Frankenstein Mk II that I reviewed just before CES. In terms of driving the Kharma, the TubeMagic Canada was superior to the 8 watt Coincident monoblocks. Its larger transformers and greater power were simply a better match for the Kharma in my large room. Deep bass segments and orchestral crescendos were more easily handled by the M23SE. The soundscape was wide and deep with even the most distant edges being very well lit. When the more efficient Coincident Total Victory Mk IV loudspeaker was in my home, the development of the TubeMagic amplifiers had not reached its present peak of performance, so at that point in time, with the Coincident speakers, the Frankensteins were superior.

 

P23SE Preamplifier
But it has not been a truly level playing field. The Frankensteins were reviewed with my CAT preamplifier. The comparison of the Frankenstein with the M23SE using the Total Victory Mk IV loudspeaker was also made with my CAT preamplifier. After the Coincident speakers and amplifiers had been sent off to CES, I reverted to using TubeMagic's P23SE preamp which had been lurking in the background until this time. This bare bones preamplifier has had some teething problems rooted in its use of a pair of 300B tubes — a very challenging proposition as those of you who know tube amplifier design surely know. It has also undergone similar changes as the monoblocks being reviewed here, but it is not quite ready for Prime Time. An almost identical version of this preamp, the P22SE, which uses 2A3 tubes, is further along in development and should be ready for production very soon, if not immediately.

The optimum results I reported above for the M23SE monoblocks were achieved in conjunction with the P23SE preamplifier, which contributes greater transparency and dynamics to my system than my CAT SL1 Signature Mk III. Whether Coincident's Frankenstein Mk II might be capable of even greater transparency with a preamp such as the P23SE, I did not have time to verify, but quite possibly so.

 

Aesthetics And Ergonomics
The M23SE immediately grabbed my attention when I first saw it at the Montreal show in 2008. The elongated brick shape is more typical of large solid state amplifiers yet looking through the window on the front you can see the tubes and some of the circuitry. Slots for air flow cover most of the top of the chassis where you also see the model name in large letters in a subtle two-tone silver effect. Round pillars at the front corners are not a new idea, but they add character to the shape. No pretense of spikes is made at these corners as the actual solid aluminum spikes are inset beneath the amplifier and are only visible from a distance or if you get down close to the floor. "TubeMagic Canada" is spelled out across the tinted glass window. Out back are two sets of taps for bi-wiring and separate connections for 4 and 8 ohm loudspeakers. I'm told future production will also have a tap for 16 ohm loudspeakers. The review sample had inputs for both single ended and balanced lines, but I only used the single ended pathway for this review. The IEC AC power connector also held the fuse in a little drawer, as well as a spare. As you might expect at this point, the glass cylinder of the fuse was painted blue with AVM — a small detail that has contributed to the transparency of every fused component in my system.

The advantage of this enclosed chassis is that it is reasonably child-friendly, protecting little hands from hot tubes. The chassis is quite warm over the 300B tubes, but not so hot as to burn the skin in an accidental or casual touch. This can be a big plus for some people. Also, your cat will probably find it uncomfortable as well — a plus for some other people.

For those who like to listen in the dark, the small blue LED above the power switch is bright and throws a nice, but not obnoxious glow both into the room and into the amp itself, illuminating some of the inner workings. The EL34 driver tube and 6SN7GT driver tube add some nice orange glow, but the Electro Harmonix 300B power tubes are visible only if you get down on your hands and knees where you will see a few specs of orange and a bit of blue glow. For me, the light it threw into the room was a welcome and comforting addition to the listening experience.

The size of the amplifier suggests it to be powerful and if your loudspeakers are reasonably efficient and have a benign impedance curve, it will live up to that visual image. It will probably do a reasonably good job driving less efficient loudspeakers than I had on hand. Each monoblock weighs in at about 42 pounds. It is probably best to carry them one at a time. Given that the aluminum walls of the chassis are not massively thick, much of that weight is due to the transformers. Overall, I would say it has a masculine look to it. Fit and finish must normally be addressed, too. Since these were basically prototypes, not production run samples, several minor issues came to light.

The screws that hold down the top plate did not fit precisely flush, probably because the holes were drilled by hand rather than by jig. The power button would sometimes stick in the "in" position because the tolerance was either too tight or not drilled precisely at 90 degrees to the surface. But these are minor issues that are normally cleared up when formal production begins. Even the power button was operating smoothly by the time I began writing this review.

Other issues, like the flexibility of the long panels of the chassis are more innate to the design. It is not built like a tank. If it were, it would cost a lot more and be a lot heavier than most audiophiles would prefer. I will take a close look at production samples at shows in the future, but I expect these minor complaints will become non-issues. The shipping problem experienced early on is also a thing of the past. I'm told the packaging has been re-engineered to withstand UPS handling. And with printed labeling on the boxes it is a lot less likely to be torn apart by the United States Customs.

 

Summary
A lot of magazines, print or otherwise, will not touch a product unless it comes from an established brand name and is available through an acceptable distribution channel. I certainly took a risk by committing my time and energy to TubeMagic Canada, but I chose to follow my gut instinct. The more than seven month review period has been stalled by mishap and pending improvements. I never regretted my decision and was rewarded with first hand insight into the developmental process. Nor did I ever doubt Eddie Wong. He is a tireless man of ingenuity and determination with openness to suggestion. The M23SE kept getting better and better, delivering more transparency and focus with each round of innovation, and revealing the differences between cables, preamplifiers and loudspeakers as they moved in and out of my system during this time. Not only is this amplifier transparent and musical, but it took control of my Kharma loudspeakers providing more solid control of the bass and smoothing and sweetening the treble. Yet at no time during its evolution was it ever difficult or tiring to listen with for long periods of time. Sonically, it is almost as pure as the Coincident Frankenstein Mk II monoblocks I have reviewed recently, but it has the advantage of more power and the ability to handle more difficult loads with its more massive transformers. I give it my highest recommendation and I trust the actual production versions will not only sound slightly better than the review samples, but measure up as well in fit and finish.

The A.O.S. System CD One vibration absorbing platform raises the bar above any of the individual type footers I have reviewed and challenges me to examine more of the higher cost platforms available on the market today. Whether they fit your system given the additional height they require, or suit your décor, you will have to determine.

The Montreal Festival Son-Image is only a couple months away (April 2nd through the 5th, 2009). If you plan to attend, you owe it to yourself to visit the TubeMagic Canada room. These fine products and other TubeMagic Canada amplifiers nearing completion will be well worth your time to audition.

 

 

Specifications
M23SE Pure Class A Mono Blocks
Tube Compliment: Two 300B, and one each EL34 and 6SN7GT
Zero Negative Feedback / Auto bias
RCA input standard / optional with XLR Balanced input
High voltage transformer, Filament transformer and choke
Capacitors: BHC, Rubycon electrolytic capacitors plus Jensen
Internal Cableing: D.H. Lab cable
Weight: 42 lbs each
Dimensions: 23 x 12.625 x 9 (including front pillars and rear cable taps)
Price: CAD$6799 (approximately $5500 USD)

Other Tubes Used During The review:
Electro Harmonix 300B Gold (300BEHXGOLD): Matched Pair $259
KR Enterprises KR300B:  $459.99

 

P23SE Preamplifier
Zero negative feedback
Stepped ladder attenuator / Dale resistors
High voltage, Filament transformers and Choke customed with M6 core
BHC, Cerafine, Rubycon, Jensen capacitors, Belden, D.H. Lab cables
Standard stereo RCA inputs & outputs, XLR Balanced outputs
Balanced inputs are optional
Price: CAD$3900  (approximately $3200 USD)

 

A.O.S. Systsems CD-One CD Player
Price CAD$799 (approximately $650 USD)

 

Company Information
TubeMagic Canada Inc.
#14-1 Select Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M1V 5J3
Canada

E-mail: info@tubemagiccanada.ca
Website: www.tubemagiccanada.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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

Superior Audio Archives
Ultra High-End Audio Reviews

Videos
Musician Series
Enjoy the Music.TV

Music Reviews
Classical Music
Jazz, Bluegrass, Blues, Etc.
Rock, Pop, Techno, Metal, Etc.

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


Partner Magazines
The Absolute Sound
Australian Hi-Fi Magazine
NOVO (CANADA HiFi)
hi-fi+ Magazine
HIFICRITIC
HiFi Media
Hi-Fi World
Sound Practices
VALVE Magazine

Show Reports
Capital Audiofest (CAF) 2017 CanMania
TAVES 2017 Toronto Show Report
Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2017
CanJam 2017 Denver RMAF
LAAS 2017 Show Report
High End Munich 2017 Show Report
AXPONA 2017 Show Report
CanJam SoCal 2017 Show Report
Montreal Audio Fest 2017 Show Report
CanJam NYC 2017 Report
CES 2017 Show Report & Videos
T.H.E. Show Newport 2016
Audio Engineering Society 141 LA
CanJam London 2016 Show Report
Hong Kong AV Show Report 2016
Click here for previous shows.

Resources And Information
Music Definitions
Hi-Fi Definitions
High-End Audio Manufacture Links

 


Daily Industry News

High-End Audio News & Information

Internet Browser
Audiophile Internet Browser V12

Mobile Phone Apps
Android Audiophile App

Other
Audiophile Contests
Cool Free Stuff For You
Tweaks For Your System
Vinyl Logos For LP Lovers
Lust Pages Visual Beauty
300B Tube Comparison

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

Contests & Join Our Mailing List

Our free newsletter for monthly updates & enter our contests!

Our Social Media & Video Channel
     

 

 

     

Home  |  Sitemap  |  Industry News  |  Equipment / Music Reviews  |  Press Releases  |  About Us  |  Contact Us

 

All contents copyright©  1995 - 2017  Enjoy the Music.com®
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.  All rights reserved.