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Reviewer: Paul Candy
Source: Eastern Electric Minimax CD player, Pro-Ject RPM 5 turntable w/Ortofon Rondo Blue cartridge
Preamp/Integrated: Manley Labs Mahi, Audio Zone AMP-1, Pro-Ject Tube Box phono stage
Amp: Manley Labs Mahi monoblocks
Speakers: Green Mountain Audio Callisto (on sand-filled Skylan stands), Gemme Audio Concert 108i [in for review], REL Q108 Mk II subwoofer
Cables: DH Labs Air Matrix, Revelation, JPS Labs Superconductor+, Acoustic Zen Silver Reference interconnects, Auditorium 23 speaker cables.
Power Cables: Gut Wire Power Clef 2, Power Clef SE, C Clef, Harmonic Technology AC-10 Fantasy
Stands: Premier three-tier, filled with sand.
Powerline conditioning: BPT Pure Power Center w/Wattgate 381 outlets w/ Bybee Quantum Purifiers and ERS cloth, GutWire MaxCon
Sundry accessories: Grado SR-60 headphones, Pro-Ject Speed Box, Gingko Audio Cloud 11 platform, Skylan isolation platforms [in for review], Grand Prix Audio Brooklands wall-mount shelving [in for review], Grand Prix Audio APEX footers, Isoclean fuses, Walker Audio SST contact enhancer, Walker Audio Ultra Vivid, Audio Magic/Quantum Physics Noise Disruptors, GutWire SoundPads, Herbie's Way Excellent Turntable Mat, dedicated AC line with Wattgate 381 outlet, Echo Busters acoustic room treatments.
Room size: 11' x 18' x 8], short wall setup, hardwood floors with large area rug
Review Component Retail: CDN$3,599

Depending on who you ask, single-ended triodes or SETs are either the audiophile Holy Grail or a mere fad sustained by a small band of zealots way past its best before date. It's an age-old cock fight that never seems to go away. To me, it's more like asking who's a better superhero - Spiderman or Batman. (If you must know, Spiderman). All fooling aside, SETs used within their limitations have the potential to allow recorded music to seem more like the real thing than just about any other amp design. Part of this is due to their short, simple signal paths but more importantly, by not splitting the waveform and trying to recombine it as push-pull designs have to. Or so the theory goes. The trick is finding the right speakers. Try driving a pair of 86dB multi-way behemoths with a 3-watt SET and the amp will flop around like fish out of water. The JAS Array 2.1 seeks to address that by combining the best of both worlds -- i.e. the purity, immediacy and low-level detail retrieval of micro power SETs with the greater output power and speaker compatibility of push-pull designs -- by utilizing a big radio transmitter tube, the 805. Other than the Cary CAD805 monos, I'm not aware of another amp that uses a 300B to drive a large power triode like the 805. The 805 provides the juice while the 300B offers its usual rep for midrange magic. A clever idea to be sure.

While I may lack the SET experience of most of my colleagues, I have heard enough of the breed over the last few years to know that the good ones do not at all possess the sickly sweet, romantic, tonally voluptuous yet gutless sonics claimed by many listeners and even some reviewers. Far from it. Good SETs major in detail, transparency and dynamics which are allied to a beguiling naturalness and sense of presence that is more or less stripped of electronic haze or artifice. Art Audio's single-ended designs come to mind as well as the two or three Shindo Labs pieces I've heard. Neither brand sounds anything like syrupy mush. It's difficult to describe unless you've listened to a decent SET amp mated with the appropriate speaker. Music just emerges without effort. Performers and instruments become startlingly real and palpable. Now of course as with anything in audio, there is no such thing as a free ride. SETs will indeed sound anemic with demanding speaker loads. When going the single-ended route, one is limited in loudspeaker choices. However, that's changing as excellent models abound from the likes of Zu, Omega, The Horn Shoppe, Gemme Audio and many others.

The Array 2.1 is a dual mono single-ended Class A design with separate power and output transformers for each channel. Two 300B triodes drive a pair of 805 triodes for a whopping 45 watts of power. I say whopping since most triodes usually kick out only a few watts of go juice. This big mutha weighs in at a back-breaking 100 lbs and is essentially a pair of monoblocks squeezed into a single chassis with a passive line stage. The front panel sports volume control and source selection for four inputs. The power on/off switch resides on the left side. The rear features the IEC inlet, 4 and 8-ohm speaker outputs, gold-plated source RCA inputs plus a pair of pre-ins for power-direct operation. A rear-mounted toggle switches out the line stage so the 2.1 can run as a straight power amp. Point-to-point wiring, wood-wrapped side handles, hand-wound transformers, ALPS potentiometer, Solen caps, 4 x 6922s and 1 x 12AX7 complete the parts list. Dimensions are 16.1 x 26.8 x 10.6 inches. The 2.1, while attractive in its satin black steel chassis, is quite large and will dominate your listening room, which may or may not be to your liking. The 2.1 of course won't fit standard racks, however JAS offers a nice custom designed wooden stand for it.

While designated as an integrated amp, I'm told the Array 2.1 is predominantly used as a power amp, with the 2A3-equipped JAS Array 1.1 usually handling active preamp duties (CDN$2,599). I listened to the 2.1 briefly as an integrated but greatly preferred it with my Manley Labs Shrimp preamp. My comments will reflect this combination. On its own, music lacked too much weight and presence. Indeed, whenever I have seen the 2.1 at shows, in retail settings or owners' systems, the 1.1 preamp was paired with it.

As you can will see in subsequent photos, build quality was exceptional. I experienced no operational issues. Controls and connections felt substantial and behaved perfectly. I did note some low-level hum through my speakers and directly from the amp itself. However, it was only noticeable during the silence between tracks and wasn't intrusive during music playback. The manual was short, to the point and written in decent English. Oh yes, the 2.1 runs very hot. Keep the kids and pets away unless you use the included tube cage.

The Array 2.1 offered single-ended's rep for harmonic purity, transparency and immediacy. Music playback sounded less contrived, electronic, HiFi and more like musicians playing music. I find this readily apparent with just about every SET I've heard and I can understand why many audiophiles just can't go back to push-pull.

The 2.1 handled microdynamics well, with the subtle shadings and shifts clearly audible. Again, this seems to be a hallmark of SETs. The difference with the 2.1? 45 watts of power as opposed to the usual 5 or 6 watts. While there was the delicacy and immediacy of micro power SETs, there was also the greater weight and punch reminiscent of push-pull muscle.

I suspect most of the positive sonic attributes I noted were a result of the use of 300Bs as driver tubes: a warmish, silky midrange with plenty of texture; a slightly rolled-off top end and a way of presenting voices and instruments whole and full without that typically HiFi carved-in-space effect that wears pretty thin after a spell in these here parts. Bass was full and weighty if slightly slow and loose compared to other amps.

The 2.1 kept the complex layers of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (Capitol 25389), especially Garth Hudson's wild assortment of instruments, separated from one another. Yet every note blended together with the whole. And the 2.1 did that without sounding contrived or gimmicky. Perhaps the recording was, yet the essence of the performance showed through brilliantly.

Via the Shrimp/2.1 rather than my customary Shrimp/Mahi combo, it was easy to differentiate between the two distinctive styles of guitarists on Romane and Stochelo Rosenberg's Double Jeu [Iris 3001883), a favorite here at Casa Candy. Yet that trio handled the sheer rhythmic brio to a higher degree than the 2.1. On the other hand, the Mahis were a tad coarser, more opaque and not as suave as the JAS. Oh well, can't have everything I s'ppose. Anyone know of an amp (an affordable one please) that combines the best of both? Do let me know.

Big orchestral and operatic works sounded believable and natural with plenty of scale and ambiance. Rarely has Puccini's "shabby little shocker" Tosca (Decca 466 384-2) sounded this dramatic, transparent and pure. Tonally, the midrange was where the 2.1 shone. Voices were superb, with excellent diction and vocal inflection. Instrumental timbre was spot on. This became startlingly noticeable while I was listening to The Legend of Johnny Cash [Columbia/American 5288]. The image of the Man in Black sitting on a stool playing guitar and singing songs was thoroughly convincing and completely devoid of artifice or electronic haze. It wasn't so much that Mr. Cash was right there in my listening room. It was more like I could better connect to the song, its lyrics and the emotion in his rich baritone. The same went for Leslie Feist or anybody else I listened to during the review for that matter.

On the other side of the score sheet -- tonally speaking that is -- the bass could be flabby and ever so slightly slow which really only became bothersome when playing music with gobs of bass energy such as Techno or Dub. Jah Wobble and Bill Laswell fans steer clear.
The 2.1 could have also have been a little more lively and energetic, with a tauter bottom end like the Manley Mahi. Yet the lovely midrange quickly made me forget any shortcomings elsewhere. I'm not sure if that would bother me in the long haul. I can see how many folks would be perfectly happy to make that tradeoff.

At the end of my review time with the 2.1, I received Gemme Audio's Concerti 108 floorstander. It's a 92dB horn-loaded design featuring the Fostex FE108EZ driver. Most if not all the caveats I noted before were largely absent with the 108. In fact, this was a terrific combination. The transparency, presence and musical detail were quite impressive with this pairing. The bass didn't at all sound loose or ill-defined. While my Callistos are a relatively benign load in the realm of multi-way speakers, the JAS really came alive with the crossover-less Concerti. I'll have more to say about the Concerti in a couple of months but for now I can confidently state that if you're a single-ended 'phile or prefer the transparency and presence of horn-loaded single-driver speakers, the Gemme Concerti 108 is a contenduh.

As I mentioned earlier, the 2.1 performed optimally with an active preamp such as my Shrimp. I immediately noted far more meat on the bones so to speak. Dynamics improved too. Switching back to the Array's passive line stage was always a disappointment. If you're thinking of purchasing this amp, I'd strongly recommend adding an active preamp. While I didn't have the matching Array 1.1 preamp on hand, by all accounts it is an excellent match. I understand that the majority of 2.1 owners either bought the 1.1 at the same time of purchase or added one later. So think of the 2.1 not as an integrated but as essentially a straight power amp with volume attenuation and line switching thrown in for those on a tight budget. But as soon as funds permit; buy a preamp and the 2.1 will really come alive.

Other than a few sonic niggles, my only major concern was the massive size and weight of this beastie. Unless you're surname is Schwarzenegger, don't try lifting this monster by yourself. I respectfully suggest JAS lose the passive line stage, replace the single-chassis Array 2.1 with a pair of considerably more portable monoblocks and market it with an appropriate preamp such as the 1.1.

In the end, sure, the bass could have been tighter and the top end more extended. But so what? One should expect a little softness at the frequency extremes with SETs anyway. More importantly, the magic of music was all there - immediacy, detail, texture, natural flow and sense of scale. Furthermore, the Array 2.1 is probably able to drive the speakers you currently own or are likely to in the future. I've heard the Array with JAS' multi-way floorstanders on occasion and it had no problem driving them as far as I could tell. If the 2.1's sonic characteristics match your needs, this finely built and keenly priced amp is worthy of a butchers' hook as my British cousins would say.
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