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:
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.
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.
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.