- Class of operation: A
- Tube complement: 2x6BQ5/EL84, 1x12AX7
- Connections: 2 RCA inputs, 8/16-ohm outputs, headphone output
- Frequency response: Output power: 5wpc Power consumption:
- Dimensions: 11.4″ W x 5.2″ H x 9.6″ D Weight: 16 lb
- Available finishes: Flat black,
- Price $960
Almarro audio products are the work of designer and founder Yoshihiro Muramatsu. The company is located in the small town of Iida-shi in the Nagano prefecture of Japan where there are twelve workers under Muramatsu-San’s guidance. Two of those workers are his sons and his wife. Even though it is a relatively small company it is making a big splash in the high-end audio field with their reasonably priced, yet well designed, product line of tube gear and speakers.
Almarro is a small company with a fascinating story. Muramatsu’s father had a woodworking shop that the company now takes full advantage of with its use of Ash and Cherry wood found in the Almarro product line. Before he started Almarro Muramatsu-San used to build traditional farmhouses and in fact still lives in one of them. Almarro’s sister company, Network Supply Corporation, designs and builds electronic communication devices. This contact gives them access to suppliers of electronic parts and a wide range of special vendor catalogs for use with the Almarro products. As Muramatsu-San has been known to say he prefers using these industrial parts in his products because they have good quality control. His thought is to use parts that are readily available, will last long, do the job both reliably and safely while maintaining an affordable price.
Muramatsu-San has never parted with his roots and still believes in doing things the old-fashion way, with good quality parts and prices the average working class person can afford. He does not seek to make expensive amplifiers when he can build one for much less and still give people excellent sound quality. The following quote from the company website sums it up best.
“In actual practice, many of the beliefs held dear by audiophiles baffle me. Things need not be grossly overpriced, unsafe and temperamental to sound good. We pursue designs that are simple but strong and will be appreciated by those with the ears to hear and the common sense to know that $20,000 for any amplifier is unjustified when you can get a very fine, barely used car for such a princely sum.”
Almarro A205A MKII review
I must say that when the A205A MKII integrated amplifier arrived I was a little shocked at its overall size. I know that size is irrelevant in the world of audio gear but somehow I had not envisioned it being so compact. At sixteen pounds with such a small footprint it did feel quite solid though. So here I was getting ready to listen to this relatively small amplifier, with its modest five-watts of power and wondering if the sound would also be “small”. Was I in for a shock that would set my thoughts on power and size on its heels. This amplifier was anything but “small” and after the initial break-in period of about twenty plus hours I discovered that the Almarro A205A MKII was a lot more amplifier that I had initially envisioned. At first I thought to pair the A205A with my Klipsch Klipschorn loudspeakers figuring that with their 104dB sensitivity the Almarro would feel comfortable driving them to levels I would find enjoyable. After the initial break-in period where I was shocked at its powerful sound I thought to insert into the loop my Legacy Focus 20/20 loudspeakers with their seven-driver design. Now understand that each loudspeaker has one 4” ribbon supertweeter, one 1.25” soft
dome tweeter, two 5” midrange units, one 12” “transition” woofer and two 12” subwoofers. However their sensitivity rating is 96dB/2.83V/m with an impedance of 4 ohms nominal. The factory recommended amplification to drive them is between 10-400Wpc. I normally use my two Monarchy Audio SM-70Pro amplifiers in mono operation with their 75-watt 8-ohm/120-watt 4-ohm specifications. Being somewhat adventuresome, I have also run them in a bi-amp configuration with two Dignity Audio DA08SE eight-watt mono block SET amplifiers per loudspeaker. I even tried using one of the mono block SET amplifiers per speaker which worked, but not as well as I would have liked. With this eight-watt set-up my level of enjoyment was much more dependent on the type of music I was listening to. Five-watts per channel though was something I had thought to be avoided, still I just had to see for myself. I was getting such a seemingly powerful sound from my Klipschorns with the A205A that I just had to test it with the Legacy Focus loudspeakers. Part of the beauty of the Klipsch loudspeakers is that they do not demand a lot in the way of power but the Legacy’s would be a little more challenging for the Almarro A205A MKII. After listening with the Legacy’s I was so impressed with the sound quality that the following review was done within the context of using them with the A205A.
Looking at the Almarro A205A MKII owner’s manual I must admit to being equally impressed. The paper used, writing content and the pictures were both beautiful and informative. As always I recommend reading the manual entirely before inserting the A205A into your system. I particularly liked the section on page IV (The use of Roman numerals was also a nice touch) entitled, “A Little Bit of History”, which is a brief discussion about how some Japanese Audio manufacturers continued to embrace tube products when many others around the world were turning to solid-state devices. Aside from that though it does a great job in discussing tubes and Single-Ended Class A amplifiers, of which the A205A is one. The manual points out that while the A205A is selfbiasing it does take a full ten minutes of start up time in order to reach the correct setting. Because of this the amplifiers sound will not be up to its full potential since the bias will be set too low until it slowly moves up to the appropriate level. The factory recommended room size is stated as twelve feet wide, fifteen feet in length and with seven-foot ceilings.
There are a few things worth mentioning about the A205A. It does have an IEC connector in the back, which I am glad to see, in order for us that are so inclined to play the power cord switching game. There is also a headphone input on the rear of the unit and a switch for its two inputs. I hooked up my phono stage to one and CD source, via my DA Converter, to the other. When I wanted to switch sources I had to go around to the back of my unit and flip the switch, no remote control devices here. Also be sure to take note that there is a switch for eight and sixteen-ohm loudspeaker loads located on the unit also towards the rear. The A205A comes with two fuses. The one in the back is the power fuse while the other located on the left side is the output transformer fuse. The manual states that this is “To protect output transformers when using some of NOS tubes.” The A205A uses two EL84 tubes for power output and one 12AX7 tube in the preamplifier section. Mine was sent with Sovtek EL84’s and an Electro Harmonix 12AX7. One the top of the amplifier, behind the tubes you will quite clearly see a power transformer (on the left) and two smaller output transformers lined up next to it, to its right. The volume control knob is of the passive variety and located on the front to the far right.
Moving right along I started with Nat King Cole’s Nature boy LP. Here with the title song “Nature Boy” we have Nat King Cole heard for the first time with an accompaniment of strings instruments. His husky velvety voiced sounds right at home with a tube amplifier. The A205A gives a warm 3-dimensional texture to his songs while the violins and flute have an airy quality about them. The decay of the violin was just right and when he sings the phantom image between the two loudspeakers is centered perfectly. Tube amplifiers have a way of giving a spacious feeling to a performance and the A205A MKII did not disappoint in this regard. It was not an enormous soundstage but considering the fact that this amplifier costs only $960, it certainly was surprisingly good. Also in my vinyl collection is the album Rickie Lee Jones. Here the song “Chuck E.’s In Love” presents us with a realistic presentation of Rickie Lee Jones’ guitar playing as well as her distinctive voice. There is a nice presence with this song that makes you wonder if she is not actually there in the room playing for you. From this same album is the song “On Saturday Afternoons in 1963”. This song is one of my favorites and if you get a chance take a listen. Here the piano has the correct timbre to it as we hear it play so delicately in the background. The Almarro A205A has the ability to produce depth and width to the soundstage making one feel the sense of a live performance.
Now onto a song from Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue album, on vinyl, we have the opening song “So What”. I have discussed this album before and for those who have read my previous reviews you will remember all the wonderful performers who gathered together to make this album. As a reminder we have Miles Davis (trumpet), Julian Adderly (alto saxophone), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Wyn Kelly (piano), Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chamber (bass) and James Cobb (drums). This song allows the A205A to show us all its got with a deep open soundstage and a layering of players as they all come together on this wonderful song. You hear all of them in unison yet each one clearly as individuals playing. The timbre on the saxophone and trumpet feel right, as the Almarro seems to capture their tonal character quite accurately. Before leaving my vinyl collection behind to turn to CD’s, I took out my The Who Live At Leeds LP, performed by The Who naturally. Here it was hard to pick a favorite song as it changes everytime I play this album, but today I felt moved to listen to the song “The Magic Bus”. This is an unusual song as it starts out slow with a performer or two and then builds up to the whole band playing only to back down to less performers again and so on. Voices always have a 3-dimensional quality with the Almarro that projects a live feeling onto the performance, which this one is anyway. Guitar work is quick and the Almarro has no trouble with that or the band as a whole when playing all together. You hear the individuals while locating them in the soundstage so nicely laid out in front of you. I was able to play this at decent volumes but lets face it five-watts is not getting me rock and roll level volume, nor should it. Still I was able to play it loud enough for my enjoyment within my room.
Leaving behind my vinyl collection and moving onto CD’s I pulled out Janis Ian’s Breaking Silence and started with the song “Tattoo”. Here we see the A205A can give us good mid-bass reproduction as well as getting vocals right. The way this little amplifier delivers the goods with each new song was amazing as I through jazz, rock, male and female vocals at it. Remember now this is an integrated tube amplifier that costs only $960. Before leaving Janis Ian behind for today, I heard her singing, “Guess you had to be there”. Her voice has a beautiful soft quality to it that was at home with the A205A and its five-watts of power. Yet this amplifier delivered the bass notes clear and strong throughout the song as Janis Ian sings her lyrics. The nice thing about the Almarro is that it never called attention to itself and I forgot at times to listen to it but rather just enjoyed the music. The rare times when I did pay it more attention was when it ran out of stem with its modest five-watts of power (which would have been more difficult to do with the Klipsch Klipschorn loudspeakers), other than that it was just beautiful and a pleasure to have in my review system.
Next up was the CD Jackson Browne Solo Acoustic Vol. 1 with the song “ The Birds Of St. Marks”. My wife just loves listening to Jackson Browne and I can not agree with her more. The opening piano sequence quickly followed by Mr. Browne’s excellent voice is captured nicely here. The A205A gives his performance a feel to it like you are right there near the microphone listening to him record in that it adds a sense of intimacy to everything. This is particularly evident with his guitar work in the opening of the song “Your Bright Baby Blues” This is a great song for the A205A MKII to show us its magic, as it does not require a lot of power, being that it is only Jackson Browne with his guitar for the entire song. My wife and I both loved this song, and the A205A. Turning now to one of the classic recordings, I put on Janis Ian’s Breaking Silence CD. This is a truly great CD with every song a winner in my book. Turning to “Tattoo” I tested the A205A’s lower mid-bass ability and here it did a very good job. It gave a realistic presence to the bass that was prominent throughout the song, without which the performance would definitely have been lacking. Again with voices it allowed them to seemingly dance in the air before us. The same can be said listening to the song “Guess you had to be there”, with its powerful bass presence.
Finishing up my listening session I turned to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Anthology Through The Years. This is a two CD album where I played the song “Free Fallin’ “. Here I found a song that put on display many of the stronger traits I found when using the A205A. The decay of both guitar and voice was excellent as well as the layering of the individual members of the band. The A205A allowed the song to come through as quick and musical with decent bass impact as well as good pace and timing. Here both the amplifier and the song were in top form.
The Almarro A205A integrated tube amplifier certainly ranks up there with others that cost considerably more money. I am so impressed with everything about this product, from cost and quality of workmanship to its sonic attributes that I would not hesitate to have it in my review system, five-watts or not. This certainly was a surprise to me even though I had heard good things about the company I did not envision being so enamored with such a low powered amplifier. It just goes to show you that quality over quantity can be a good thing if assembled with the right equipment in the right environment. No I would not use this with low sensitive loudspeakers or in a large room. If you however take the time to match the Almarro with the appropriate loudspeakers and place them in a mid-sized room, watch out, because you just might get smitten like I was. If you do audition the A205A you better bring your checkbook, as I doubt you will want to leave without one.
The Listening Environment:
The listening room is 18 foot 8 inches long by 13 feet wide. The room’s cathedral ceiling starts at 8 feet high then slopes upward to 13 feet at its peak in the middle. Flooring is a soft hardwood covering with an oriental rug placed dead center in between (but not under) the listener and the audio system. There are no doors that open or shut into other rooms also there are two large openings one facing the speakers and the other to its side and slightly in front of the right speaker. There is one Acoustic Revive RWL-III Panel in the center of the Legacy Speakers as an acoustical treatment for my room. As for my audio equipment it is tucked nicely inside of a Cherry Synergy Twin S30 Salamander audio rack.
- Yamamoto YDA-01 DA Converter
- Samsung HD-841 universal player (used as transport only) Oracle Delphi Mk I turntable with custom made interconnects Grace 707 tonearm with Denon 301 II MC cartridge
- Whest PhonoStage.20 + MsU.20 power supply
- Legacy Focus 20/20 loudspeakers Klipsch Klipschorn loudspeakers PS Audio UPC-200 Power Center
- PS Audio Power Port Receptacle
- Blue Circle BC86 MKIII power line pillows (2) Yamamoto Sound Craft Audio Bases
- PS Audio Transcendence Silver interconnects
- Canare Digiflex Gold Digital Cable Anti-Cable speaker wire 10 foot pair Anti-Jumpers for Legacy speakers
- Monarchy Audio AC-1 Power Cord one 6 foot length Tek Line PC-8 Signature Power Cord one 6 foot length Mr-Cable Musician Power Cord one 9 foot length Cherry Synergy Twin S30 Salamander audio rack
external link: Almarro webite
from aﬀordableaudio, By Anthony Nicosia