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Hifi Sources DACs Amplifiers Speakers

Audiophile Hifi

Low-powered Valve Amplifiers


The final two parts of the hifi chain involve amplification of the sound with the amplified sound driving the speakers. There are a number of options here, and to be honest there is no clear winner for all aspects of the sound, but there is no doubt that the one which ticks the most audiophile boxes is the world of flea-powered valve (tube) amplifiers and high-efficiency loudspeakers.

For various reasons this combination can give you a mind-blowing level of transparency, detail, and clarity that is very difficult to achieve with the more traditional high-powered amps and low-efficiency speakers. There is no musical genre that doesn't benefit from these characteristics.

Sadly, to build these final components well is expensive. I went down the DIY route, which is not everyone's cup of tea. However there is a thriving second-hand market that can help you here, and some careful buying of Chinese-assembled gear is a possibility if funds are tight.

Tripath Amps

One fascinating, recent chapter in amplification was the introduction (and subsequent fall) of the Tripath chip-amps. With careful design and good components these offered astonishing sound quality that began to tread on the toes of some rather expensive valve gear. I have a very inexpensive Topping TP30 mk2 (now discontinued) currently in my system and this tiny box comes terrifyingly close to my big no-expense-spared 45 SET valve amp. A truly great budget option for your amplifier.

The original manufacturing runs of Tripath chips have now all been used, and apparently it is now only clones that are available. I don't know if these live up to the legendary sound quality of the original chips. This simply muddies the water—the Tripath story is a sad one of missed opportunity and unfortunate business decisions.