Reviewer: Anthony Fordham
Everything old is new again; has been for a while actually. Vacuum tube (or valve) amps go hand-in-hand with the vinyl resurgence, but here’s something a bit different: a range of valve-based integrated amplifiers with a cool design that come with an iPod dock. Analog sound reproduction meets digitally compressed music. Is it a match made in heaven, or a case of the odd couple?
From Fatman – made in China but designed in the UK – the range includes several amps, including the entry-level iPod-focused iTube with three valves, the mid-range iTube 182 with seven valves, the iTube 252 (reviewed here) with nine valves, and the aptly named MotherShip which comes in three parts including two mono bloc amps that weight more than 50 kg each!
The MotherShip costs $15,000, and distributors, Leaf Audio, say it’s not worth purchasing unless your speakers cost more than $10,000, but for the more modest music lover, the iTube 252 costs a more realistic $2099, while the entry-level iTube kicks off the range at $799.
Valve amplifiers are all about analog sound reproduction, so creating a clean analog signal is all up to your source. The iTube 252 has only three controls: an on/off switch, an input selector, and a volume knob. There’s no remote, no onboard EQ, no nothing.
Three RCA inputs are offered, one of which is intended to be used by the included iTube iPod dock, which does have a remote to control audio and various iPod functions ? and yes it works with the new iPod Touch for the ultimate in old school/new wave synergy.
The amp is rated at 25 watts per channel, but the standard wisdom is that a valve watt is ‘worth’ about four transistor watts, so output – in terms of raw volume – from this system is more than respectable.