Beautiful piece of valve objet d-art that sounds as good as it looks, but with its iPod dock is in tune with contemporary vices
Just as Harley Davidson managed to stay in business and flourish after the explosion of Japanese multi-cylinder bikes hit the marketplace during the ‘70s, valve amplifiers have managed to weather the transistor-based storm and are now a regular part of the hi-fi mainstream once again.
There are some very valid reasons why this is so; the good ones possess a very un-strident and easy going sound quality, new valve devices are much easier to maintain than their predecessors (more reliable electronics and self-biasing) and there is of course the dramatic appearance. No boring black boxes here, my fellow audio aficionados! There is definitely something magical about walking into a darkened room to listen to your favourite CD or record and gazing upon all those glowing tubes – I know it makes me want to reach into my drinks cabinet for a glass of 12 year scotch whisky and relax. Luckily for me I managed to stave off alcoholism in order to review the iTube 452, Fatman’s latest and greatest valve amplifier.
I first heard the dinky little 12wpc iTube/iPod dock way back in 2006. Well, Fatman has produced a rather more serious 45wpc component in the 452, and although both components share the iPod valvedock, the 452 is a much more substantial piece of audio equipment.
For a start it is as heavy as hell at 23kg, and the build quality has taken a few steps forward as well – I noticed the heavy casework and excellent machining of the raised gold valve plinth immediately, and the very good quality speaker binding posts at the rear. Semi-circular in shape, the iTube 452 is meant to be a talking point and not hidden away behind glass doors.
Heaven forbid! Less substantial is the iPod valvedock, but of course it is only there to connect your favourite Apple and as such doesn’t require battleship build quality. A pretty bog-standard remote is supplied, but this only operates the iPod dock and not the amp proper. No problem for me, the tactile nature of the 452 actually made me want to reach out and touch it. So I substituted my 250w solid state integrated with the 452, connected my Raysonic CD128 and the valvetube dock and began a three- week listening session. Cables used were Nordost Superflatline Mk2’s for my loudspeakers and both the iPod dock and CD player were connected with Nordost Blue Heaven interconnects.
I’m happy to report it came through with flying colours. The sound quality is simply excellent for an amp in this price range; the sweet treble abilities combined well with a veil-free midrange and warm, bouncy bass register. I was particularly taken with the 452’s reproduction of vocals; albums such as Lamb’s What Sound and Sea Change by Beck have some very honest and lifelike vocal tracks on them and the sophisticated iTube 452 handled these with aplomb. It’s certainly an impressive product. There are some very good solid state alternatives to consider in this price range of course, but the sound quality on offer courtesy of the Fatman iTube 452 will be a real tough act to follow. GARY PEARCE