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Wells Audio Innamorata Amplifier

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear an power amplifier by a fairly new company, Wells Audio of Campbell, Calif., called the Innamorata. Jeff Wells is the company’s owner and the man responsible for putting together the design team and lending his experienced hearing during the design phase. What he has produced here physically is a fairly typical 19 by 6 by 17 in size and weighs a manageable 58 lbs in basic black. Although it looks pleasant enough, the only real concession to styling is the way-cool old-timey meter on the front panel whose main function is to let you know that the amp is on! In fairness though, it does also let you know if your house voltage is in spec. This is the mid-point in their amp lineup, there is an Inamorata Signature that I have not heard and apparently other designs on the way.

Electrically, it is rated at 150 watts into 8 ohms and 220 watts into 4 ohms. The amp has a detachable power cord, unbalanced inputs, one set of stereo binding posts and no balanced input, so simplicity is a key here. The retail price for the Innamorata is $7000. The basic design is solid state heavily biased into class “A” and is said to employ very little feedback. One of the things that the manufacturer prominently features in this amplifier is the use of Bybee Quantum Purifier technology, specifically Bybee Music Rails. They go into some detail about these on their website, but suffice it to say they help lower the noise level coming from the DC power supply into the actual audio circuitry. This sounds like a good thing and I say, Hey, it couldn’t hoit!

The amplifier was installed in my system of the moment consisting of the Pioneer PD-9D SACD/CD player, a Vintage Garrard 401 turntable with Fidelity Research FR-54 tonearm and Victor X-1 Mk2 cartridge, the Motif MC-8 preamplifier and my Vivid V-1.5 loudspeakers. The sample I auditioned had been previously used and so had been broken in prior to my auditioning.

The first thing I noticed was a very clear and beautiful sound. Not euphonically beautiful, but naturally so with the familiar tonal colors suggestive of live music. A wonderful start for any amplifier, but especially for a solid state amplifier upon first audition. Time just reinforced this impression. Whether Vintage Vinyl or modern SACD’s, classical music had that “live at the hall” sense. Other types of music were equally well served according to my experience with the particular recording I was listening to. The sense of space was quite fine and dimensionality was about the best I have heard from my speakers. This was enhanced by the sense of the music coming, not out of a black background, but out of just plain clear, empty space as you would want. Maybe the Music Rails are at work here.

The bass was as good as the Vivid 1.5 speakers will allow, seeing as they are not true “full range” designs. This may be expected for a modern, moderately priced amplifier, but what you may not expect is the overall sense of ease and lack of grain that often is just accepted as part of the usual solid state trade-off. This is why tube amplifiers have kept such a following through the years. Despite their particular trade-offs, you generally didn’t have to worry about roughness, grain or other unrealistic nasties with tubes. Well, you pretty much don’t have to worry about them here, either.

Dynamics are fine and detail is quite good, both being at levels that only the super (and super expensive) amps significantly exceed. The Vivid’s have metal cone woofers and metal dome tweeters and in general strive for detailed and brilliant (but not over bright) sound. They can be driven over the top by the wrong amplifier, but nothing untoward was noted in terms of ringing or artifacts in the mids or treble. Really, I always enjoyed listening to the system with the Wells in place.

To examine the Wells amp from another angle, I also used the amp to drive my semi-vintage pair of Spendor S-100 loudspeakers. The S-100 is the predecessor to the current SP-100R2 design and is a large three-way box speaker. The smooth, warm and inviting BBC legacy sound was there as well as I have heard it, but the bonus is that the sometimes overly resonant bass was brought under better control. Maybe a bit more beautiful than transparently real (as is the Spendors wont), but I won’t begrudge them that. All in all, it didn’t transform either speaker into something it isn’t (as an amplifier striving for a neutral sound shouldn’t), but it allowed the speakers basic sound to be heard to good effect.

It must be said that solid state amplifiers in the 5 figure plus price range addressed the issues that the Wells addresses so well a while ago. Soulution, AVM, Constellation Audio, D’Agostino Audio and the like have been there, done that. But companies like Wells Audio are now bringing tube like advantage down to somewhat more affordable designs without the heat and tube wear issues that dampen some folks enthusiasm for tube amps. For many people, the days when you would have to consider whether to look into tubes at all may be over unless you are terminally addicted to their somewhat euphonic but sweet and smooth presentation. And some may miss that last bit of 3-D imaging that some tube amps can exhibit, this is my only real criticism of the Innamorata. To be sure, some tube designs may still beat even the best solid state designs in the areas that tubes excel. But that gap seems to be ever closing.

So what we have here is a well built and well-designed amplifier that never disappointed me in my auditioning. Right now, I have to say that the Wells is the best overall solid state amplifier I have heard in my own system on the Vivid’s which really benefit from the sense of power and control on tap here. I would say that some of the heavy hitters in the solid state world are it’s better, but they are generally not as affordable. Not to say that $7000 is cheap, but it is at least aspirable for many committed audiophiles. I can’t imagine anyone not being at least pleased with the sound of this amplifier and due to its high damping factor design, it should be at home with any speaker system that doesn’t require more than its rated power. The bottom line for me is that the Wells Innamorata amplifier must be given a high recommendation as an audition in its price range.

Keep it quiet, but here’s the Lectron JH-50 amplifier

There are some things that it’s tempting to just keep to yourself. This is a story about one such audio product.

From about 1984 to 1999, I performed repairs on tube audio gear for various clients. There are some benefits to this beyond making a few bucks outside of your day job. One of the biggest is getting to hear equipment you otherwise wouldn’t (you have to test it out to make sure it won’t fail when you return it to the customer, after all). That’s how I first came to hear the Lectron JH-50.

It looked cool and sounded excellent, but was beyond my price range at the time. It was also not that common here in the US, being designed in France by one of the legends of the French audiophile community, Jean Hiraga. Mr. Hiraga was one of the seminal figures in the tube/triode/horn renaissance in Europe through his magazine l’Audiophile, so the amp had an excellent pedigree. I was determined to keep my eye out for one when finances allowed.

My next experience with the Lectron came at a friend’s audio store, years later. He had one of these in his personal collection and we were listening to it on a number of different speakers. We both decided that, somehow, this amp seemed to make whatever speaker we hooked up sound about as well as it could sound, it just had this uncanny ability to bring the best out of whatever it fed. My offer to buy it was rebuffed, but my determination to find one was re-energized.

Perhaps the magic of the JH-50 is in the (British) Partridge output transformers (that have always enjoyed a good sonic reputation). It employs EL-34 output tubes, always a pretty sweet sounding tube and that may help, as may the use of octal based drivers rather than the more common miniature tubes. Or maybe some synergy with the circuit design and the parts used. Whatever it is, it’s one of the best medium power (about 40 watt) tube amplifiers I have ever heard. Creamy without sounding fat, clear and beautiful, and in control.

Of course, like all tube amps, it is not completely “neutral” from a technical standpoint. But our speakers and our room are not perfectly neutral either, so how the sum of the parts of the Amp/Speaker/Room interface align is always up for question. This without questioning whether a “neutral” system is really desirable in the first place (he said provocatively).

So we fast forward to about 2004. I had finally found a JH-50 on Audiogon for a reasonable price and was waiting for it to arrive when an audiophile buddy of mine, who favors the tube/horn path, called late one afternoon. In our conversation, he lamented how hard it was for him to find an amplifier he was really happy with. In an unthinking moment, I mentioned the JH-50 and how it might be worthy of his attention. Now understand, my friend can be driven when it comes to his interests, so he went out a found a JH-50, liked what he heard, found another to have a spare and told all his friends who put on full court presses to find their own. Suddenly, the Lectron’s prices on the used market seemed to shoot up. Never content to leave well enough alone, folks started having their JH-50’s modified, which made $2000 amplifiers into $3000 amplifiers. Luckily, I already had mine.

So I am almost afraid to mention the JH-50. Not that I am so egotistical to think that just a mention on my blog is all that, but hey, it happened once before…