People sometimes ask audio reviewers, What do you own? This is my
chance to answer that question. As one who has reviewed high end audio gear for
six years, I have had my share of amplifiers to enjoy.
Ive reviewed complex solid state behemoths, simply designed vacuum tube
wonders, and many amps in between. At some point I became enamored with an amplifier
design that is enjoying a revival among hi-fi enthusiasts: the SET, or single
Without getting into the debate between high and low wattage, or push pull wave
forms versus SET, the simplest way to explain the glory of the SET tube amp is
to say it somehow gets a listener closer to the music. In laymans terms,
where the push pull amp (which constitutes most high wattage tube amplifiers)
must break up the wave form to create a picture of the sound or signal put to
it, the SET need not break up the wave form, and can thus create a much more accurate
portrayal of the recorded event. The rub? For some, at least, is the low power
output of the average SET, which is typically between 5 and 17 watts. Holy moly
tubular Batman! How can you run a pair of he-man speakers with that? This is where
the Art Audio Diavolo comes in.
Pushing out a glorious 17 wpc, the $7,000 Art Audio Diavalo is the SET that sounds
like a push pull, but better. Art Audio head honcho Joe Fratus is renown for his
tube designs, and the Diavolo may be his stellar achievement. Even the best SET
- think Shindo, Wavelength, Audio Note - usually sacrifice the ability to run
real world speakers for a magnificent, wonderfully fleshy midrange. The midrange
is where most of the music is happening, and where the SET can strut its stuff.
But one must find extremely efficient speakers to run with such a low powered
amp. But those rules dont apply with the Diavolo. Running my DeVore Super
8 speakers, with a very ordinary efficiency rating of 89dB, the Diavalo filled
my room with sound like no SET (or in some cases, push pull) amp before it.
A SET amp that offers both a palatable, detailed midrange for nirvana seekers
and a serious booty blast for real-world listening? A beauty of an amp that
connects the micro and macro dots, dynamic shifts, subtleties and such that
turn HiFi into music? Fugheddabaudit. Stunatz!
The Diavolo handled everything put to it with the same generous depth of soul
and detailed intellectual reach. I have not heard the much vaunted Art Audio
PX-25, but I have heard the Art Audio Symphony II. While the Diavolo does not
offer the same level of treble purity and upper midrange glory/transparency
as the Symphony, it exceeds it in terms of sheer bass performance and low end
girth. Again, the Diavolo competes with most SS designs for room-filling bounty.
Its level of traction -- in delivering clearly defined bass notes, be they electric
bass guitar, bass drums or depth-charge worthy drum-and-bass fare -- puts this
amp in a proud league of its own. Nothing less than you would expect from a
The Diavolo is not quite as transparent nor in possession of the finely textured
soundstage as its Symphony II sibling or certain rather more expensive SETs.
The Diavolo is all about the essence of the listening experience. On first blush,
its upper treble sounds a little forward as though it couldnt quite find
its groove. And the Diavolo midrange is not as svelte as more expensive SET
designs I have heard. Where this amp excels is in the total experience department.
Once you have tunes cranking and your ears warmed up, the Diavolo is dynomite.
Its character is forgiving and full-bodied with every style of music, from the
electronic requiems of Massive Attack to the shouting big band stomps of Dave
Holland to the sensuous jazz-pop of Erin Bode, all portrayed in an effortless
and completely holistic manner. You wont miss anything with the Diavolo.
Instead, youll be reaching to hear your favorite recordings to hear anew.
The Diavolo is not the most neutral amp in the world. It certainly errs on the
romantic side of absolute neutrality. It juiced up discs that were already warm
to begin with and made voices and acoustic instruments particularly fruity at
times. But the Diavolo is not colored in an overly lush, bass-flabby way, nor
is it all saccharine and rolled off. The Diavolo is more about midrange beauty,
buoyancy and, particularly with the 300BXLS, treble elucidation than about syrupy
and cellulite. And we are talking serious power. Some might think its treble
forward but none could deny the Diavolos exceptional dynamics, high resolution
and room-filling gusto. For 7K, the Diavolo is the kind of tube amp that a macho
man could feel comfortable and stretch out with, whether rocking out with the
classics, jamming with some alien electronica or zapping his solars clean with
some swinging jazz bop. The Diavolo, to give new meaning to Mark Twain, is truly
a classic that not everyone may have heard yet but should hear.