For this review I am working with Elite Audio UK who are the UK distributor and exclusive retailer for Octave products please contact them for more details.
Who doesn’t love the gentle warm orange glow of tubes
Octave are a German HiFi manufacturer that started back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, I am very familiar with the brand but this is my first time reviewing any of their products and I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. A quick glance at their website you can see tubes everywhere which I am sure signifies the companies firm belief in tubes being great for sound quality. They also believe in quality of manufacturing with every product being hand made in the factory in Germany and they even wind their own transformers in house.
The V40 SE is Octaves most affordable integrated amplifier and I think for several reasons it could be an ideal first tube amplifier for a serious music lover or audiophile. Priced at £4,200 it might not be your very first amplifier due to the cost but I believe it could be a great place to start with tubes
It’s a class A/B integrated with 40 watts of power per channel into 4 ohms it uses 4 x 6550 power pentode tubes and Octave say the amplifiers design is stable down to 2 ohm loads even with speakers that are only averagely efficient with less than perfectly stable impedance loads and that means you don’t have to have use specific high efficiency speakers designed for tube amps. You have much more speaker choice available to you which I think is a great thing.
On the rear of the amplifier are lots of RCA line level connections including a home theatre by pass option, you don’t always see this on tube amplifiers and I think is a very nice addition.
There are two other very interesting things on the rear, firstly the Black Box Connector which might not be obvious what this is for but this allows customers to purchase an upgrade called the Black Box or the Super Black Box. These increase the amplifiers power supply storage capacity by a factor of 4 with the Black box and this costs £990 and by a factor of 10 with the Super Black box which costs £2395. Both of these are external upgrades you can add at any time.
The second interesting thing is the Eco mode, if you enable the Eco mode and the amplifier doesn’t see a signal for 10 minutes it will throttle down to reduce heat, reduce power consumption down to 20w and reduce the wear and tear on the tubes, but keep your amplifier on and warmed up if you want to listen later.
Traffic Light for Bias
One of the aspects that would worry me about tube amplifier ownership is this biasing of the tubes because if I had to use a multi meter to check voltages its a skill I would have to learn, you don’t need to learn any new skills with Octave as they have designed a clever and easy to use traffic light system.
To check the bias for the tubes you select the input to mode 5 and turn the amplifier on. You will see a series of amber LED’s that indicates the power going to all 4 of the tubes installed. After a short period of time the LED’s will change to either green if the bias is correct, red if the bias is too high or stay on Amber if its too low. Maybe you will see a combination of LED’s such as amber and green to show you are close to the correct bias but not quite there.
To adjust the bias for each tube there is a little slot where you can insert a small flat head screw driver and turn a screw. I have never done this process before and it took me about 5 minutes in total to get things just right for all fours tubes and I found this system very confidence reassuring that I set the bias correctly.
Listening and Sound Quality
For testing the V40 SE I listened to it with several different pairs of speakers, both the Marten Oscar and Parker Duo, the Audio Physic Avanti 35 and the Sonus Faber Sonetto II.
There were some key sound characteristics that carried across all of these speakers and I liked the sound of the V40 SE on all of them, however its balance of sound I think worked fantastically well with the Sonus Faber.
I have already mentioned a few keys reasons why the V40 SE would be an ideal first tube integrated amplifier for an audiophile, its easy to setup and bias the tubes and its stable enough to use with lots of different speakers. I think the sound quality is also why it would be an ideal first tube integrated and that is because it doesn’t sound too “tubey”. Obviously there are still some sonic benefits of a tube amp here but the V40 SE doesn’t have the overly warm and lush sound of a triode tube amp or maybe the lack of bass of an SET tube amp being used on the wrong speakers. In fact the V40 SE has a reasonably neutral overall sound character but definitely with a sizeable pinch of sweetness which would be exactly the reason open might chose this tube amplifier over a solid state amplifier equivalent.
You notice the sweetness straight away with the amplifiers delivery of vocals, there is a lushness to the mid range that is instantly gratifying and instantly yeah I like that kind of vocal delivery. That is blended with good treble detail and overall a nice bite to the sound with real intensity at times like what you would expect from solid state amplifiers. There is also good overall sound stage clarity with very good timing and a nice amount of urgency to the V40 SE’s delivery but again not too urgent there is a tube sweetness present at all times that keeps the overall sound pleasing and satisfying even a quite loud volumes.
The bass in the main is impressive as well, nice and full and punchy with very good extension. I did notice that having the tubes biased correctly seemed to help with bass control and naturally the V40 SE had better bass control of some of the speakers tested than others. Again I really liked how the amplifier sounded and drove the Sonus Faber Sonetto II.
Doing some Qobuz new music discovering and playing different albums I found a great comparison and contrast test for the V40 SE. Going from the Amy Winehouse Live in London album which I found had good toe tapping and head bobbing rhythm, with a nice left to right sound stage and fantastic treble in some songs, even if not the most perfect of recordings; switching to Nocturnal Chill by Disclosure synthetic vocal electronic music I was impressed by the distinct change in the vibe of the sound from the V40 SE. To so clearly shift from a head bobbing vibe to pumping and intense very clearly clean cut layered vocal beats the V40 handled it all superbly well and kept my attention, it kept me there listening.
Overall I found the Octave V40 SE very easy to listen to and very easy to live with. It’s a nice normal sized amplifier that is not crazy heavy, but heavy enough that doesn’t get crazy hot and can be immensely enjoyable to listen to and I think its sonic performance strikes a very nice balance of what tubes do well and what you might want from a solid state amplifier. Again I think this is an ideal first tube amplifier for a serious music listener and audiophile that will tick a lot of their boxes and open them up to the wide world of tube rolling tweaking too.
An Essential Audition Award is granted in recognition of a products high performance but with a certain uniqueness that makes auditioning even more essential.
For the full Specification of the Octave V40 SE
See the website here