The ANK Kit 1 Single-Ended 300B amp: Listening Impressions, Part 1

The lovely ANK Kit 1 has been up and running for the better part of two weeks at this point and probably has about fifteen hours of use on it, so I feel it’s finally time to begin sharing some impressions. For those of you who like pictures (and who doesn’t?) here’s the handsome Kit 1 making friends with my SOTA Sapphire turntable on the left and the Bottlehead Seduction phono preamp (which I built a number of years ago) on the right:

IMG_0327

I should note that Brian of ANK was out of stock on the new style copper valve insert plates when my kit shipped. They are now back in stock and I’ll be swapping the stainless steel plate for the copper one, which should provide a nice counterpart to the gold tone knobs and ANK logo.

Aesthetics aside, how does the amp sound?

Well, the first thing you’ll notice when you power up your Kit 1 for the first time is… nothing. That is, this amp is dead quiet. I can crank the volume pot up to full blast and stick my ear up against the main driver of my Reference 3A De Capo’s and there isn’t a hum, buzz or hiss to be heard. It’s amazing, since “What if it hums?” was one of my obsessive thoughts as I built the kit.

Consider this your Zen lesson on the futility of worrying.

… this amp is dead quiet.

My second observation is that the sound of the amp has opened up (and continues to do so, although not as dramatically) as it settles in. This is not a surprise. The older version of the assembly manual says that the sound will change for about the first month as the amp burns in. (It also says that you may smell the transformers burning in, but I haven’t noticed any funny aromas.)

All that said, I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that this is a beautiful sounding amplifier.

How so?

I loved my old Manley Mahi mono-blocks, paired with a Manley Shrimp preamp. Built like a tank in the US of A, they pumped out 20 watts of push-pull juice in triode mode (which is how I always ran them) and 40 watts in ultra linear mode. Plus, I must mention that Manley’s customer service is extraordinarily responsive and friendly. I love the company!

But… when it comes to making music, the Kit 1 smokes the Manley Mahi’s in my system. It’s not even close.

How does the Kit 1 sound? The words that come to mind over and over are “pure” and “clear.” Especially if you associate the phrase “tube amp” with “rolled off treble,” “vague bass,” “romantic colorations” and so forth, you’ll find the Kit 1 shocking in the purity and sheer clarity of its delivery. Highs are sweet and seem to extend upward forever. Bass is tuneful and sure. Attack and decay of notes makes instruments more like the real thing, with palpable body and texture.

How does the Kit 1 sound? The words that come to mind over and over are “pure” and “clear.”

And, oh, those mids! Let’s just say that Joni Mitchell, Nora Jones, Lorde, Helen Adu (of Sade) and Stevie Wonder have all performed in my listening room in person over the past week. You get the idea.

lorde1 Norah Jones Bécsben MI0002873037 sade15 300x300

To put all this another way, in this musicality and purity of tone I’m guessing that you really hear the simplicity of the single ended approach at work. Push-pull amps chop the signal up into two parts (the “push” and “pull”) and then reassemble it into a musical waveform. Single ended amps pass the amplified signal on to the speakers, amplified, but unmolested and intact. And I think you can hear it.

I have so much more to share and will post again with a Part 2 of my thoughts on the Kit 1, including specific musical examples of what this amp does splendidly as well as some ideas (learned the hard way) about the absolutely essential matter of system matching with a single ended 300B amp like the Kit 1.

Until then…

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2 thoughts on “The ANK Kit 1 Single-Ended 300B amp: Listening Impressions, Part 1

  1. Steve…..I read the audiogon thread about your speaker dilemma. I hadn’t posted to that thread(catfish bob) so I decided to comment here. I have an old Conqueror I’m running with a pair of AN-E Lexus which are 94 fb ef. I GREATLY improved my sound with tubes. I first heard the Conqueror with WE-300bs so I had to have a set. I know that is extreme so I imagine one of the other recommended tubes would be an improvement but I don’t have any experience with others. Another big improvement was the rectifier tube. Peter recommended one of the vintage coke bottle tubes. I finally found a Haltron and I love it.

    But your issue is efficiency. I’ve heard the AN-Js in a large room Ina conventional placement configuration and the sound was incredible. Granted they were powers by one of the little EL84 amps. I can’t remember how many watts but they also make the Js in the 98 db configuration. Taking your amp to an AN dealer for a demo obviously would be the ticket. If you can’t do that I think you would be happy with any of the AN high efficiency speakers. Having said that, I am running my 300-bs with the 94db speakers in a 18×24 with great results. Granted, after a couple of years I’m wondering what the higher efficiency speakers would should like in my room.

    If you are on a tight budget I would suggest looking for any used AN speaker. Occationally a pair of 94db Js will pop up on Audiogon. They never last long so you could always sell them. Also, you could call all the AN dealers and look for some demos. If you find a used pair be aware that the stand will make a difference. But I imagine you could set em on a concrete block and they would sound good but would tighten up with an appropriate stand.

    Great job on the build. I don’t have the nads to tackle something like that. Please don’t give up on all that hard work! Vernon(catfishbob on the ‘gon)

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