Neuhaus Laboratories' T-1: a pretty perfect tube amp

Neuhaus Laboratories' T-1 is a beautiful and bizarre little tube amp with a modern set of features, including TOSLINK, USB and Bluetooth audio. It is unweildy, requires some assembly (linen gloves included), and demands space all to itself wherever you place it. Once done, however, the tubes' orange glow lurks warmly behind a stark enclosure, giving its appearance that distinctive love-it or hate-it quality.

I've never had a tube amp before, so you can stop reading now if you're looking for an expert opinion on the audio. But as a lover of pretty technology unwilling to put up with poor quality for the sake of looks, I found it warm, clear and satisfying even hooked up to cheapo M-Audio speakers; with a decent pair of Silverlines, it was fantastic.

Bluetooth, tested with an iPhone 4, connected without a hitch and sounded OK. When connected to a computer via USB, it bypasses the machine's chipset in favor of its own DAC; this can make for an audible difference, especially on cheap laptops with poorly-shielded headphone ports, such as an older Asus EeePC I tried. I didn't try the optical link.

If you want to fool around with bass, treble or equalization, you'll have to do it before it gets to the T-1, because it doesn't have any of that. There's just a volume control and an input selector.

One place where this unique-looking device really excelled was alongside a desktop computer. Given its small dimensions, it replaced my computer speakers with something far superior, without filling the desktop or snarling up the floor beneath it with extra cables and power bricks.

The T1 has a 15-day return guarantee. If you like the look of it but want something beefier, Leander Kahney at Cult of Mac reviewed the T2 a while back and liked it too. T-1 Amplifier [Neuhaus Laboratories]

Removing the bars to take off the protective sheeting required a firm hand.

Small and perfectly formed, but its mirror finish picks up dust fast.

Caveat: the LED lights are very bright and the wireless one blinks constantly when Bluetooth is in use.

Old-fashioned metal knobs. The T-1 is well-made and feels like it'll last the distance.

Vacuum tubes: a dog whistle for audiophiles, but also pretty on the shelf.

The T-1 offers plenty of connectivity options, including TOSLINK, USB and two RCA pairs

Anyone got a duster?

67

  1. Glowing vacuum tubes are the tool electronics manufacturers use to separate audiophiles from their money.

  2. Traalfaz… It’s a pure amplifier. If you want phono then you need a separate pre-amp. A lot of hi quality amps work the same way, or used to anyway.

  3. I personally don’t get the fascination with tube amps…

    That and when most audiophiles praise how warm they sound I kind of loose interest. But I find it ironic that there is a digital input into something that’s suppose to be so sublimely analog.

    And it has bluetooth so you can listen to your horribly compressed itunes on a tube… *sarcasm*

    1. In my case, the sound of most digital music is sharp and almost painful. Running digital audio through a tube amp softens the sharp edges, consequently makes it more enjoyable. And because they’re pretty. That’s my reasoning.

      Unfortunately, most “Audiophiles” are condescending equipment whores who’ve forgotten to just enjoy music.

      1. Sharp and almost painful?

        You might want to have your ears examined, mate, that is a sure sign of a perforated eardrum.

    2. I DO get the fascination that comes with tube amps: their schematics are simple and they do have more of an “soul” – you can mod their sound by changing one resistor or one cap. Some people also prefer physical books to digital ones – although they share the same information – it is just an other way of doing so. Human are totally NOT a species of pure rationalism and cold intellect, but one of emotion and feeling.
      If you’d say a campfire gives the same heat as an electric heating, people would agree that both GIVE heat, but nobody would say it has the same “emotion” to them (although it would be quite postmodern to gather around an electrical heating to sing songs).

  4. C’mon, take the bottom off and show us all the ICs it’s chock full of, underneath those highly decorative tubes.

  5. tube amps are awesome. for guitars. they color the sound a good deal, in a good way, but i’ll stick with a cheap SS amp for my stereo, thanks.

  6. Tubes are pretty good for adding some analog grit into a cold digital signal, but the hidden truth of audio is that most of the “warm” sound people like from old amps are the transformers. Big iron is good. Tubes can color the the tone a bit, but transformers are… well, more than meets the eye.

  7. Tubes are a rather novel means of amplification. The main reason tubes sound “warm” is not the transformers… it’s the fact that they suffer from even-order distortion. Transistors all distort in odd-order harmonics. To our ears, even order harmonics sound “good:… odd-order sounds harsh.

    Tubes vs solid state… this has been debated ad-nauseum for years and years in many,many magazines. Short answer: Today’s modern MOSFET’s are excellent…and they are cheap. No reason to play with tubes unless you want to experience them. Which is what I have done. They have their own appeal. 300B triodes == sexy!

  8. In an audio signal chain, your weakest link is probably your speakers, followed by your amp, then your DAC. This is a large step up for the amp and DAC, especially if you use a PC (PC laptops DAC’s have TERRIBLE noise, Macbooks are much better due to superior grounding practices). But make sure you have nice speakers first.

    As mentioned above, transformers–not tubes–provide most of the color in vintage audio equipment. But a good tube circuit does have lovely noise characteristics: tube amps are noisier than transistors, but the distortion is subtle and pleasant (all even harmonics).

    The design is push-pull, but I don’t see whether it’s Class A or Class AB (A is better sounding and less efficient). Would like to see more technical specs published.

  9. Where do tubes come from these days anyway? I remember back in the 90s we were pretty well down to one factory in Czechoslovakia that was using my company’s software.

    1. Most new tubes now days are made in Russia or China. There is also a huge factory in Slovakia that makes “JJ Electronics” tubes.
      You can also still buy NOS or Used tubes all over the place from the golden era of USA, UK and European manufacture. Depends on what you want. Some are still really cheap like USA made preamp tubes. Some power tubes like Mullard EL34’s will run you a minimum of 100 bucks for a pair NOS.
      I have all NOS tubes in my Fender amp. That’s were tubes really shine, in guitar amps. There has been NO AMP MADE that can replicate the sound of a tube guitar amp and I doubt it will ever be done.

  10. When listening to a source, turn the amplifier volume all the way up, then adjust the volume on your input source. this ensures you get the maximum saturation on your amplifier, and helps you attenuate your input signals. ..but yall already knew that.

  11. Not going to get into amplification debate. Just wanted to say most peoples issues with digital sound is a matter of format. Also it tends to be their stereo, which if the case would make any vinyl even more painful. We are in a world of digital sound, where yet the only way to get a decent FLAC of some unheard of band you are too cool to tell me existed for a day in 1983 is on a private torrent site, illegally. Pirate your music if for no other reason than to actually be able to hear it.

  12. Silly BoingBoing. How can we judge the sound quality of this audio device without knowing how much it costs?

  13. There is something absolutely soothing and enjoyable about tube radios. My dad is an old HAM radio operator, and I grew up with the glow of ARC-5 radios and other old military surplus from MARS.

  14. I used to work for a company that made a tube tester / matcher for a company that sells tube guitar amps. The tester was an ancient PC. Hilarious.

    I hope you use oxygen-free fiber optic links… using glass hand pulled by traditional european craftsmen.. you can really hear the difference.

  15. Good call on the Silverlines, Rob. Preludes, by any chance? They’re very tube-friendly, yet still deliver good punch. (Don’t forget — you can’t really own a tube amp until you dig under the covers and tweak the bias ;-)

  16. Very Chinese. I’m not sure how one tube per channel will make you feel that much better, since the best tube amps sound that way due to high-level 2nd order distortion caused by using a single triode tube output stage.

    It would be nice to see what’s under those big black cans that try to look like output transformers.

  17. I bought a T-1 a couple of weeks ago. Best amp I have ever purchased. The sound is awesome especially when you hook up a turntable. It does have a phone input.

  18. For $495 this amp is a bargain. tube sound is the best especially for flat digital audio. I love when I play my turntable on it.

  19. Very cool to see a tube amp on BoingBoing, I actually got the Neuhaus T-2 after reading Leander’s T-2 review on CultofMac last year. Seems like the T-1 is also a winner

  20. I have to say… I’ve ripped my entire CD collection to either FLAC or 320 Kb Ogg Vorbis, and I listen to it on a PC with an old-school Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Gold sound card connected to a 100 WPC RAMSA pro audio amp and some Ohm Model L speakers. All used gear, but it sounds great.

    Compared with a CD player, using a PC with a higher end soundcard or USB audio interface as a source can give you jitter free transport and a superior DAC. There is no need to settle for bad sound from your PC, but you will need to leave the “Computer Speakers” on the big box store shelf and bypass the PC’s built-in audio outputs.

    You can also enjoy superior audio formats, for instance 24-bit uncompressed. For example, you can check out Recoil, “Want- the Architect Remixes” as a 24-bit free download.

  21. My ears suck, so something this pretty is lost on [audio] philistines like me. Does anyone ever get the impression that people who claim to tell the difference in sound quality between formats and technologies are full of shit, considering the multi-layer subjectivity of perception, and communication of that perception? Some people always gotta act like they better, and I’m all like, whatever.

    1. Well son (I’m assuming you’re a boy), there are some skills us older folks developed back in the olden days.

      Skill 1: shutting the fuck up
      Skill 2: listening

      If you learned those two skills, perhaps you too could hear the difference between a 24/192 file and a 96kb mp3.

      Good luck in your life.

  22. the weakest link in the audio signal chain is the listener, closely followed by the listening environment

  23. Very pretty amplifier pr0n. If you’re going to pay $500 for a tube amp to drive your PC speakers, one would hope your computer is water-cooled, so the noise from your PC’s fans doesn’t mar that pristine 10Hz – 250KHZ frequency range.

    Geez, my brother, who works in the field of PC and car audio, obviously needs to start his own company.

  24. You know what that tube amp looks good for?

    Hurling it at the Egyptian Police after prayers on Friday.

  25. This is a hybrid amp. The first part of amplification is done by “6N2” tubes (the 6 volt cousin of the 12AX7), and the final power amplification is done by an unnamed solid-state circuit, despite the fact that the marketing materials deride transistors.

    They claim that the DACs are “Cirrus Logic” which is a pretty good brand, but they make several dozen different parts with widely varying specifications and prices anywhere from $3 to $30 each.

    Most peculiarly, the owner’s manual says it has a custom output transformer, which is almost certainly unnecessary, and therefore seems a bit silly.

    (Then again, the guy I know who actually designs amplifiers firmly believes that hybrid amps are a waste of time — if you’re going to do a tube amp, just do a tube amp, he’d say. He also tends to design tube amps that don’t require output transformers, for the simple reason that they’re the most expensive parts in the amplifier these days. Neuhaus says they’re rolling their own transformers, so that’s saving them a lot of money.)

    I am sure the amp sounds nice. After all, solid state amps these days are a zillion times better than they were a few decades ago. Adding a couple of $5 tubes as eye candy won’t hurt anything.

  26. It is an aesthetically beautiful amp.
    But…
    tube amps are to audio what soft focus lenses and warming filters are to photography. Warm. Pretty. “artistic” – (“musical”). Unrealistic.

    It ties in with the myth that somehow music is analog, and digital reproduction somehow destroys it. There are not an infinite number of frequency sensors in the human ear. There are a fixed number (e.g. a digital sampling of sound) and the “real” sound is interpolated by a computer – our brains.

    Vinyl (actually not vinyl) and vacuum tubes are not intrinsically or absolutely better than digital reproduction.

    That said, yes a moderately trained ear can in fact hear the difference between different sound systems and types of audio reproduction.

    When I used to sell high end audio equipment for a living, we figured that the most important choice was speakers (if matched to an adequately powered amp), followed by preamp, tonearm/cartridge/turntable, followed by amp.

    Belt drive turntables and transistor preamps ruled. Sealed box speakers were the best. And the only people who loved tube equipment were affluent doctors and lawyers who worried that they weren’t spending enough on their equipment. That’s what led to Monster Cable and Tice digital clocks.

    So, if you like this amp, like it for what it is. A pretty throwback to obsolete technology that you can spend a lot of money on to comfort yourself that you did indeed spend enough.

  27. As well as the oxygen-free fibre links + hand pulled glass (DO NOT skimp on the glass people: machine extruded glass structures simply adds binary distortion artifacts to the signal which is a function of the OS and or underlying architectures of the factory equipment – BOO) already mentioned above, it is also _critical_ that one power the amp, pre-amp and DAC with electricity generated in a gas turbine plant.

    True audiophiles already know the extremes that electricity generation can cause to the overall panorama and audio space created. For those looking to get the absolute BEST audio experience you must avoid hydro-electric power sources at all costs. The harsh quality of the sound will just about make your head explode, pain is not the word.

    Coal is almost as bad IMO although some do claim that a certain ambience is added at the top of the frequency range (of the sound produced, not max human hearing lols) when and if a similar wavelength is produced from an external source of sound. External = outside the space you are in when listening. Some experts swear by running their vacuum cleaner in the adjacent room to get this effect whilst others have experimented with other household appliances. I have only felt this effect when using a combination of electric toothbrushes set to oscillate at slightly out of sync intervals but by all means experiement, this is part of the journey as they say!

    A good “midway” point between the terrible coal, wind and wave power vs. gas turbine is (of course i hear you say) nuclear – but BEWARE! Unless there is a substantial level of radiation above background, say 2-5x, all audio quality is lost and this may well be the worst of the lot. However I can say that given the irradiation increase mentioned, nuclear powered sound equipment can certainly produce a markedly better audio quality than anything barring gas turbine.

    If anyone would like advice on ANY aspect of their sound setup please don’t hesitate to contact me ( SuperAPhile [AT] foolsfollies.net ) and I will be more than happy to spend a few years getting your setup to a level where only another 5 years or so will be required to achieve a half decent sound quality. However I simply refuse to work with any of the following sound sources: tapes (any), compressed digital files (any including anything bought from stores), so called “lossless” digital files (any including anything bought from stores), CD (obviously ;) ), any type of vinyl recording. Live pianola recordings are excluded from this list. Hope to hear from you soon OK!

  28. I’ll skip over the whole audiophile and is-it-worth-it commentary to say one thing: that device is *Goddamn* *beautiful*.

  29. As a satisfied owner of a T-2 (Neuhaus’ other tube amp), I think you should actually listen to the amp before making a judgment call on value. You can go over specs all you want but what counts is how it sounds to the user.

  30. $500 for a tube amp with a couple of crappy teensy tubes? MUUUUHAHAHAHAHA!

    IF you’ve really got $500 to improve your listening: spend $400 on the speakers and $100 on the (transistor) amp. And connect them with a few feet of speaker wire costing $2-3.

    This stuff is almost old as the moon. PLEASE buy for your ears and not for your naughty bits.

  31. This is really just using tubes “for show”. It looks like it’s just using tubes for the pre-amp stage and transistors for the power output.

    A much better value is the Chinese made Yaqin MC10L that outputs about 50 watts per channel. This amp is based on the design of a classic Dynaco amp that was produced here in the states from the 1950s through the 1970s and is still a collector’s item. The Yaqin sells new for about $500 – I picked mine up on ebay.

    I’ve had mine for two years and the sound is wonderful. You can really tell the difference on good quality vinyl sources, SACD or BluRay discs. I’ve had some friends who aren’t particularly audiophiles tell me it “sounds like the piano is in the room” or they’re hearing instruments and sounds on familiar recordings, like Beatles lps, that they couldn’t hear before.

    Here’s my initial review of it when I bought it two years ago:

    http://coolcatdaddy.blogspot.com/2009/01/yaqin-mc-10l-amp-initial-review.html

    Notice that this amp is fully tube operated – there are eight tubes, four for the pre-amp section, and the four larger EL34s for the power output section. The large round transformers are for the power output – big, solidly built transformers in combination with the right tubes give you good sound that will last for many years.

  32. Such a tempest in a teapot. New audio gear is fun, if you can afford it. Listening to good music is enjoyable anytime. All the better if it sounds good. This amp looks like the kind of thing that would make a lovely centerpiece in, for example, an office sound system.

    The larger problem, I think, is that the convenience of digital audio has led to what I’d call the devolution of audio quality. In the analog days we strove for audio perfection. Now, not so much.

    I teach a monthly seminar on computer audio at the end of which I play back an MP3 and the uncompressed AIFF version of the same song. To date not one person out of hundreds has failed to hear the difference.

  33. Here’s a very decent cheap 10 WPC amp that you can build from scratch:
    http://makezine.com/23/chipamp/

    As for the tubes part, I’m working on a preamp for that. With tone controls because as noted above not all music is created equal. Lots of math to go but it should be sorted out by spring.

  34. As for the debate on tubes vs chips vs BJTs vs MOSFETs, I’ve had lots and lots of all of them. Built, repaired, modded, used, bought, sold, etc. for decades as a hobby and a business. You can make a good or bad amp from any of these technologies. Personally after years of swapping amps I no longer care what the technology is for amplification. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. The important thing is to understand the demands and characteristics of all parts of the system and make sure that the amp’s not being used in a manner that brings out its flaws. No single ended 300B tubes on big subwoofers, etc. Make reasonable choices and be happy listening to your music.

  35. If you look at the “features and specs” tab on the actual T1 page, you’ll notice “T-1 Amplifier is a Hybrid Tube Amplifier”. So yes, it’s using tubes in its pre-amp section, but the main amplification is done via silicon. This is also troubling: “Anti-pop noise solution embedded on both chips”. Really? there are chips deciding what I should be hearing?

    You have to upgrade to the T2 ($800) to get a real tube amp experience.

  36. “Anti-pop noise solution embedded on both chips”

    This is very difficult to achieve. Can it tell the difference between Frank Sinatra and Justin Bieber?

  37. BTW, I really like the physical design of this amp and the pix are excellent. Aesthetics are important in something that you interact with.
    I’d be willing to bet that the power amp stages of these things are chips. Probably NatSemi LM1875, LM3876, LM3886 or similar. Power amp chips are extremely compact for their power output and would be just about the only practical way to get 2 18W channels out of a chassis that size with all the rest of what’s going on in there.

  38. As a long time (and old timer) audio guy, I have listened to a lot of amps over the years, both tube and solid state.

    The one thing I’ve found to be true is that there are good sounding tube amps and bad sounding ones. Same with solid state.

    What’s more important than the components being tube or solid state is more about the design. Like my ’63 Scott tube amp vs my $25 garage sale Monkey Wards tube console. The Scott sounds terrific, the Monkey Wards…eh.

  39. There are also vast stocks of tubes that were made in the USSR for military spares. Most are not equivalent to civilian types but they can be used for audio in appropriate circuits. I’ve been experimenting with a cheap high power Russian made tube that Telefunken designed in 1936 for the V2 rocket guidance system.
    Implementing these things is all about picking operating parameters that suit the device’s characteristics. No magic, just math.

Comments are closed.