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REVIEW: Tom Evans Design Linear A Amplifier (Tube)

Model: Linear A
Category: Amplifier (Tube)
Suggested Retail Price: $8500
Description: Single Ended Pentode, Stereo Amp. 25 wpc.
Manufacturer URL: Tom Evans Design
Manufacturer URL: Tom Evans Design

Review by GliderGuider (A) on January 06, 2006 at 22:01:13
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for the Linear A

I've been hearing some rumblings about Tom Evans Audio Design gear for a couple of years now, but didn't really pay much attention to them. After all, most of it was about his phono amps, especially the Groove, and I don't do vinyl any more. So even when I heard a bit about the Vibe preamp I shrugged and went on about my business. After all, I had one of the best amps I'd ever heard - an ego-driven Audion Silver Night PX-25, custom ordered with parts upgrades out the wazoo and silver trannies. With its Vishay-Dale attenuator I didn't even need a preamp. This was the amp I was going to have playing at my funeral.

Then one afternoon I read Jeff Day's review of the TEAD Linear A amplifier on 6moons.

What's this? A SET guy with Avantgarde Duos who claims that a 25wpc amp done with EL84s and op amp drivers beats, nay, obliterates SET confections like the Yamamoto A-08S? And does it by leaving that glorious SET coherence alone, or even providing more of it, while adding a degree of resolution, transparency, focus, space and dynamics that SETs can only dream about? Whatever he'd been smoking, I wanted some.

But that night, as I reread Jeff's review for the brazillionth time, that little inner voice asked a very dangerous question. "What it it's all true?" That was all it said, but of course that was all it really needed to say. Now I have notoriously poor impulse control, so the next day I'm posting "Who's heard the Linear A?" threads on Audio Asylum and Audiogon. That got me a couple of responses by email, that in turn led to a fascinating phone conversation with an owner. The summary of the conversation was, "It's true, all right." Sigh. Remember that poor impulse control I mentioned? By the time I'd regained control of my faculties I'd found a dealer in Canada. The phone call with him was long and detailed, but boiled down to "I don't care if you buy one, but yes, it's all true." Hey, if you can't trust a dealer, who can you trust, right? It arrived a week later by courier.

Nice box, no manual, the amp's case is a Chinese puzzle and I have to install the Yugoslavian EL84s thoughtfully provided in numbered boxes. I finally figure it out, get the tubes installed and the case screwed back together. Real men don't need any stinking manuals. I pull my beloved Audion out of the rack, put in the Linear A, hook it up and turn it on. Nice and quiet - just as advertised. Barely a whisper with my ear right in the cone of my 97 dB Fab Audio Model 1's. Oh, did I mention that before the amp even arrived I'd bought a used Vibe/Pulse line stage from some misinformed soul who thinks there's better gear out there?

And have I mentioned my poor impulse control? I let that brand new amp warm up for at least 8 minutes before I sat down to listen to it. I don't recall what I put on, but I remember that halfway through the first cut I looked over at the PX-25 sitting by the wall and thought, "Oh shit, it's all true. I'm probably never going to play that glorious, outrageous, expensive amp seriously ever again." An hour later my girlfriend, she of the rolling eyes and the "Whatever makes you happy, dear" attitude, walked in while I was starting "The Panther" from Jennifer Warnes' album "The Well". She stopped dead in her tracks, listened for a couple of dozen bars, and said, "Wow! The percussion sounds real!" I knew it was staying.

The more I got to know it over the next couple of weeks, the more I was struck by the accuracy of Jeff's review. It was all there - the tonal richness, dynamics, the space, the air, the focus, the presence, the tremendous sense of pace and flow, the preternatural clarity. Musicians' images graven in space like Michaelangelo's David, standing there between the speakers as though it was no big deal.

I'd never heard anything like this before - all the teensy weensy details that you take for granted in a live performance when you have the perfect seat. All the breathing, moving and fingering. Every variation in bow pressure, slight shift in tempo or modulation of phrasing. It all comes flying out of the speakers with an intelligibility and wholeness I've never heard from another amp. Musical performances have the kind of completeness you get from being there. Even bad recordings are made better, not from polishing off their flaws but from giving you access to every last bit of musicality that managed to get laid down on those unfortunate discs.

The amp has about 50 hours on it now, and seems to have settled in. I really haven't heard any changes in its sound since Christmas. As it burned in it just got a bit more even-handed, tonally speaking. It sounds even more unified, and it lost a touch of upper-mid prominence which gave it some initial impressiveness. In its place is a sense of wholeness, effortlessness and an even further increased transparency that just gives me shivers. It now sounds tonally identical from top to bottom - it has the same level of clarity, dynamics and musicality from the top of the cymbals to the bottom of the organ pipes. And speaking of low organ notes, on my speakers the amp has the kind of grip, drive and control down low that you normally expect only from much bigger solid-state amps. A muscle amp with the soul of a SET - who would have thought it possible?

The Linear A has been out of my system for about an hour since I got it. In that hour I wanted to play my PX-25 again, just to see if my enthusiasm might be playing tricks on my memory. Frankly, it was no no contest. In comparison the SET sounds impressionistic, as though it had wrapped a nice thick layer of friendly around the sound. It is too warm, with enough missing detail to compromise its transparency. It doesn't have the clarity or the dynamics - even the microdynamics that SETs excel at are utterly outdone by the Tom Evans amp.

The Linear A is much more immediate and live sounding, the images are cleaner and more solid (the PX-25 images sound fuzzy in comparison), and transients are faster. The Linear A is much faster overall, and as a result gives a more coherent picture of the music than the SET. Needless to say, every nuance of a musician's performance comes out of the speakers with an intelligibility I've never heard from another amp.

Now this is in comparison to a custom-built amp that is stuffed with over-the-top components and cost me $18,000 USD. In my system that amp had in turn eclipsed three solid-state amps (SimAudio 4070, Sugden Au51P and a new Nelson Pass Aleph J), a pair of Coincident MP300B monos, a pair of deHavilland Aries 845Gs, a pair of Wavelength Tritons ($12K+ amps in their own right) and a pair of Canary CA-339s. But the Linear A has killed it stone dead.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say what I've been thinking for most of a month now. This is a revolutionary amplifier. Given the right speakers and source it's difficult to imagine a more musically or sonically engaging experience.

I'm still in shock over how good the damn thing is. Can you tell?

Product Weakness: 25 watts and a lower load limit of 5 ohms means you need to pick copascetic speakers.
Product Strengths: Pretty much everything.

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Audion Silver Night PX-25 (6 wpc)
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Tom Evans Vibe with Pulse power supply
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Audio Note CDT Two transport and DAC 4.1x Balanced Signature
Speakers: Fab Audio Model 1, with a pair of ACI Titan subs
Cables/Interconnects: Kimber Select - KS 2120, KS-1030 and KS-3038
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Everything except new country
Room Size (LxWxH): 12 x 19 x 7.5
Room Comments/Treatments: Echobusters panels and bass traps
Time Period/Length of Audition: 1 month
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): Foundation Research LC-2 filtered power cords on all components
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: Tom Evans Design Linear A Amplifier (Tube) - GliderGuider 22:01:13 01/06/06 (5)

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