Reviewer: Jeff Day
Source: Meridian 508.20 CD player used as a transport, Audio Logic 2400 vacuum tube DAC to process digits
Preamp/Integrated: Tom Evans Audio Design Vibe
Amps: Fi 2A3 SET monoblocks, Almarro A205A SEP [in for review], Yamamoto A-08 stereo 45 SET [in for review]
Speakers: Avantgarde Duo 2.0
Cables: Nirvana S-X interconnects between DAC and preamplifier, Nirvana S-L interconnects between preamplifier and amplifiers, Nirvana S-L speaker cables between amplifiers and speakers, and a custom Nirvana wiring harness to connect the Duos midrange and tweeter horns and woofer module, Cardas Neutral Reference digital cable
Stands: Atlantis Video Reference equipment rack, Billy Bags 2 shelf rack
Power line conditioning: none
Sundry accessories: none.
Room size: 15' x 25' x 8', short-wall setup
Review Component Retail: $800

The Almarro A205A is a minimalist integrated vacuum tube amplifier design from Japan that utilizes a single 12AX7 twin triode as an input tube driving EL-84 output tubes in a single-ended pentode SEP circuit to produce 4.8 watts per channel in class A1. With its cream-colored chassis and coffee-tinted transformers, the Almarro is attractive in an understated and tasteful way. Weighing in at a hefty 17 pounds, it has a very solid feel to it and appears very well made, particularly considering its modest price. The chassis has an artfully slanted front panel with only a power switch and volume control. Keeping with its minimalist design, the Almarro has one pair of RCA inputs on the back panel and an accompanying pair of 8-ohm outputs. The Almarro A205A also comes with a limited 5 year warranty, including a 1 year warranty on the tubes.

I mentioned in my 2004 CES and T.H.E Show reporting that the Almarro exhibit at T.H.E. Show was one of my favorite rooms. The little entry-level $800 A205A integrated amplifier was mated with their top-of-the-line $4900 M50A loud-speaker and playing music to excellent effect. There are some great Japanese enthusiast products that no one has ever heard of in the USA. And the A205A amplifier is one of them. In my show report I said, "It's as plain-looking as vanilla yogurt and uses EL84 pentodes in single-ended fashion to produce music in a completely beguiling manner. I felt like Alice after stepping through the looking glass and being confronted with Wonderland." I gave the Almarro A205A integrated amplifier my Alice in Wonderland Award for being "one of the best-sounding amps at T.H.E Show and a bargain to boot!"

I've had the Almarro A205A in my system now for several weeks and my first impressions have only been strengthened - this is one honey of an integrated amplifier! During the first few weeks that the Almarro was in-house for review, I had a couple of new audiophile friends -- Bob and Robert -- make the all-day drive from the Seattle area over (and back) to hear my Avantgarde Duos as Robert was considering buying a pair for himself. We listened to all the different single- ended amps I had in-house at the time: the Fi 2A3 SET monoblocks; the Yamamoto A-08 45 SET stereo amplifier; and the Almarro A205A SEP integrated. I expected the Fi and Yamamoto amplifiers to sound great and play music superbly, and so they did. What took all three of us by surprise was how good the little Almarro was.

It was in no way embarrassed in direct comparison to the 2A3 Fi and the 45 Yamamoto -- which is lofty praise indeed -- and when combined with Bob's $400 Phillips 963 SE universal player had us shaking heads as to how good the combination was with the Duos. In fact, just as I was putting the finishing touches on this sneak peek, Robert called me up to chat for a little while. Did he comment on the great sound of the Fi or Yamamoto? No. Did Robert comment on the Vibe and Audio Logic? No. He said, "The combination of the Almarro and Phillips 963 was really incredible. You could replace $20, 000 of electronics with those two and never miss them." And you know what? Robert's exactly right.

All three amplifiers sound very good but also very different from each other. Which one you prefer will largely depend on your taste and the thickness of your wallet. I could easily see owning all three for the unique and musical ways they play the tunes. I'll be describing the merits of this trio in detail in their upcoming reviews, but here's the good news already: For a paltry $800, you can buy a minimalist single-ended amplification system that can play music with the big boys without apology.

The Almarro has been voiced to a 'T' and plays music like a champ. It sounds great too, but you're going to have to wait for the feature review to get the details. And here's yet another teaser: Yoshihiro-San at Almarro is also sending me a new loudspeaker designed for use with the A205A, priced at $1200 the pair. Reviewing this as a system justified putting the full review of the integrated on hold for today's brief introduction. I can't wait to share the whole story with you - how can you beat spending an evening with Alice?

Almarro A205A Specifications:
Input: 100mV 100ohm x 1
Output: 8ohm screw/plug connection x 1
Output tubes: EL84 (6BQ5) pentode mode A1 single-ended
Input tube: ECC83 (12AX7) twin triode
Output transformers: 10w
Output power: 4.8 watts per channel at 1.4V input 500Hz/8ohm/ch
Total gain: 13.7dB (1KHz / 8ohm)
Frequency response: 12 Hz - 70 KHz - 3dB
Distortion: 0.75% @ 0.01 w /10KHz)
Power consumption: 57 watts
AC input power: 117V ± 10V 50/60Hz with captive power cable
Weight: 15.4 lbs
Dimensions: 11.2" (W) x 4.9" (H) x 9" (D)

Manufacturer's website