Having had the Audio Valve Solaris Headphone amp in my home for some memorable late-night encounters proved quite informative. This headphone amplifier had so many tricks up its sleeve I almost mistook it for David Copperfield. The Solaris was a machine that kept saying, is that all you got? I threw every kind of headphone at it from dynamic to planner to electrostatics, and it performed like a world champion. It also comes as a preamp, amplifier, and phono, head-amp standard. Whether you are cramped for space or want a Class A component in your system, then consider the Audio Valve Solaris. That said, I was very interested in knowing what else Mr. Helmut Becker, chief designer of Audio Valve was doing.
I've always wondered if German audio designers are as meticulous about their audio as much as they are about their automobiles? After all, they build the Rolls Royce, Bentley, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Audi, and Volkswagen, any of which I would gladly own.
So I called Mr. Becker and asked him about his mono-blocks, of which Key Kim had already reviewed his Challengers 115/180 watts depending on the tube selection one used. They've been around for thirty-three years and have been refined electronically and cosmetically! Mr. Becker suggested I try his Baldur 300's, which he is most proud of at this moment in time. Each component of each model he builds, Helmut considers being a large part of himself.
I think that Helmut’s Automatic Bias Regulators (ABR) is absolutely genius, and considering he employed this almost 40 years ago tells me that he stands head and shoulders above other engineers of vacuum tube designers. The ABR is in constant use, measuring the output of each tube and that it is performing up to Mr. Becker's standers. Should one tube veer off in performance. An LED will light up next to the tube in question and let you know you should change that tube. Because of the ABR system, only one and not a pair of tubes need a replacement! Matched pairs are unnecessary with all his amplifiers.
I received the Baldur 300's last week, and set up is straightforward! I was up and running in less than fifteen minutes. The Baldur's are both new and old school in there looks only. The steel chassis and parallel steel rods that keep small children's hands off the set of ten tubes out of their reach. It's a cage-like structure and indeed a great idea. That's where the old school ends. What's new school is the power switch and ABR activation switch that, when powered up, shows the plexiglass signage of Baldur 300 etched into it glowing and not so subtle hue of red. That all changes when the Baldur auto-bias finishes its job of biasing the five pairs of AS7G's. As soon as this is optimized, the red glowing signage turns to green, and you're ready to blast off. Mr. Becker uses military-grade circuit boards in every design, and every amplifier that rolls off the assembly line is perfectly identical. Quality control is essential in the world that Helmut Becker's family-owned business! The rear provides you with two five-way binding posts, (one 4 Ohm and one 8 Ohm).
So how do they sound? In one word Glorious! They are dead silent, no hum or buzz can be discerned. They are not colored or overly sweet like some say tube amplifiers sound. Highs are clear and sparkle, low frequency is accurate and authoritative. The definition really surprised me because most tube amps, to me, always sounded weak to me when playing bass guitar or fiddle & sounded boomy and slushy, but not here!
Vocals were spot on and, in some cases, right in the room. The soundstage was as full and extensive as the parking lot across the street from my house. Castanets were palatable, and the tapping of cymbals was like I never heard in the past! The resolving power of this amps are second to none. I could listen to the ringing of cymbals between the quick taping of Max Roach
Everything I threw at the Baldur's sounded more real and more luxurious than any solid state amp I had heard.
I decided to listen to a few genres and started with James Taylor. His guitar rang out tried and true, his voice was smooth and velvety, his backup singers were more discerning than I remember even after playing the CD multiple time in the past. I listened intently to The River is Wide with the finesse of violins and steel string guitar, it was like it was the first time I ever heard this track.
I then went to a CD of Barbra Streisand's, Higher Ground, and her orchestra, and she shined bright and distinctive beyond belief! Cellos and violins popped into my room stage right, and this songbird was performing for me alone by candle lights, and her voice soared and kept soaring. I've never been a person that listens a lot to her music & I only have this one CD of hers, but I might change my mind while hearing her through the Baldur 300's. The music was detailed, dynamic, and so very very involving. Track four is a real treat Called "Tell Him" as it's a duet with Celine Dion and Barbra, and the combo of voice and amplifiers didn't disappoint, it was grand, dead center; it pulled me in like a heavy-duty winch.
It was time to try another genre, and so I put on some Felix Mendelssohn, Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op 56 "Scottish" track 1 Andante Con Moro; Allegro Un Poco agitateo was stunning. Each instrument was well defined, and the rhythm and pace were like waves, coming and going and flowed effortlessly over my listening room. This amplifier was no ordinary amp.
Strings were sweet and also forceful in this piece! French horns were authoritative as if sounding a warning. Crescendos were like tsunami's Each instrument in its place and readied for everything Mendelssohn was about to give them, and he did. This piece runs 14 minutes and 3 seconds, but it drifted by at a remarkable speed. This set of amplifiers were able to reveal every layer of the complexity of music I gave it! So I decided to provide it with some jazz, going back to the nineteen sixty-four with none-other than John Coltrane!
A CD entitled "A Love Supreme. " And John writes to the listener, and ALL PRAISE BE TO GOD TO WHOM ALL PRAISE IS DUE." Let us pursue Him in a righteous path. Yes, it's true; seek, and ye shall find. Only through Him can we know the most beautiful bequeathal." Coltrane goes on and tells us that in 1957 he have a spiritual awakening but strayed now and then, but God was merciful and further says to us," His way is in Love, through which we all are. IT IS TRULY-A LOVE SUPREME." And it supreme because Coltrane plays that saxophone like it was a gift from God. If there was such a thing as perfection then this recording is one example.
The synergy of these four souls is as perfect as can be. The heart of each musician beats with the timing of a Swiss watch. One beat after another and another and stage right, we get some crosstalk from Elvin Jones doing a superb job on drums with McCoy Tyner's piano sliding up and down the scales with beautiful riffs that sing almost poetic. Jimmy Garrison is skillful and convincing on bass, which is authoritative and articulate through the Baldur 300's.
The sound of these Baldur 300 mono blocks were transparent, revealing musical, with excellent detail up and down the entire frequency ranges. Bass was extraordinary and never lacking. On one occasion a great friend commented, “Where is the subwoofer”? There was none.
Vocals are outstanding, smooth and forward, the high frequencies are delightfully detailed and I kept asking myself how extraordinary the design and engineering must be to be able to captivate the listener into listening for hour upon hour with not a hint of fatigue . The word special or awesome kept rolling off my tongue when describing these amplifiers. Orchestra’s showed their full color, texture and weight when played through the Baldur 300’s. Another surprise was the speed in which they could reproduce percussions especially the high-hats and symbols.
So at $18,626.00 per pair I can not believe that these amplifiers are not double or triple the cost per performance . What still rocks my boat is the fact that I have only sixty hours of run in on these amplifiers and was told that they need a full one hundred hours to break-in. Needless to say at this price I decided to pull the trigger and keep the Baldur 300’s as my reference amplifiers in my listening room
Sent from my iPhone, Marty ...