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Chris Redmond
Financial Interests: click here
Source: AMR CD771
Preamp: Music First silver TVC
Amplifier: E.A.R. 509 monos, Border Patrol WE300B
Speakers:Audio Note AN/E Silver Sig, Dynaudio Contour 1.3Mk2s
Cables: Kimber Select KS-1030 silver, Kimber Select KS-3035 silver/copper, Artisan Silver Dream, Kimber High Current, JPS Kaptovator
Stands: Single sand-filled column Atacama for Dynaudios, Finite Elemente Spider Rack for components, Townsend isolation platform for AMR CD77, Targer wall shelves for AN/E outboard crossovers
Power delivery: PS Audio P600 multi-wave, separate Kimber High Current mains spur
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System Resonators and sugar cubes
Room size: 70 cubic meters
Review Component Retail:£3.494/pr for the Orpheus monos, £1.650 for Alexander line stage

Despite Tsakiridis Devices having apparently over fifteen years experience in the home audio business, I'd never actually heard of this Greek company until receiving the review solicitation. I had absolutely no idea what to expect for quality or performance. This of course made the review proposition impossible to turn down.

Attempting a little research beforehand proved slightly frustrating. On the net there is very little information aside from the odd brief show report and passing forum comment. Visiting the Tsakiridis website to find the usual links to product details and reviews was a bit of a cul-de-sac. Apart  from the introduction, the component descriptions are primarily in Greek and much of the website is still under construction. This only served to increase the intrigue however and from a list of nine amplifiers subsequently provided by UK importer Ikon Audio Consultants, the Orpheus monoblocks were recommended along with the matching Alexander line stage.

Rated at 25 watts, the class A zero feedback 845 Orpheus SET Orpheus runs three valves each, one 845 output valve, one 6SN7 and one 6SL7. The Tsakiridis product catalogue thankfully provided in English by Ikon Audio lists further details such as gold-plated WBT i/o connectors, low-tolerance 1% metal film resistors, high-grade polypropylene signal capacitors, porcelain tube bases, United Chemicon power supply capacitors and hand-wired construction.

Of particular note are the hand-made highly linear output transformers with multi-layer construction. The quality of the transformers has a major influence on the sound of valve gear but good transformers certainly don't come cheap.  Rolling your own  is one way to ensure quality and keep prices down.

Ulysses—or Odysseas in Greek—says about the company that "it was established in 1987. It's a family business consisting of my father Panagiotis, my brother  Costas and I. We spent a lot of time creating audio devices with and for our friends trying to ease the lust for precise musical audio reproduction equipment without resorting to the multi-thousand dollar gear that's always displayed at hi-end shows. So we decided to turn our passion into a business. My theoretical background of electronic engineering lecturer at the Athens Technical College, my brother's practical experience as telecommunications officer in the Greek Army and my father's multiple talents of electrician, carpenter, plumber, builder and foremost uplifter of spirits allowed us to start a company that would make high-quality audio equipment available to everyone. Our main concern right from the start was the price/performance ratio and we try to stick to it."

This being the first time I'd have class A valves in my system which weren’t single-ended 300Bs, I looked forward to hearing what the highly regarded 845s would bring to the table and how they'd compare with my own reference Border Patrol 300B SET and to a lesser extent the EAR 509s. The latter are class AB. While they lack the seductive come-hither midrange of SETs and even the class A transistor Sugden A21SE I'd been impressed with during a review, they are nonetheless superior to non class A transistors in my opinion when it comes to creating a richer more vibrant soundscape. It’s all a matter of taste of course but solid-state class A/B just hasn't convinced me yet that I'm listening to anything other than a reproduction - albeit at times a very good reproduction.

For many years the 509s were my own reference amps - until I jumped straight into 300B SETs after reviewing a pair of Audio Note Quest Silvers. I was aware of course that other enthusiasts in search of the Holy Grail had found their soul mate in other output valves, the most popular probably being the KT88 and 845 which to their minds suffer none of the perceived 300B failings such as a single-figure wattage (usually true) and rose-tinted coloration (not in the better modern designs). Even before firing up the 25wpc Orpheus, I'd subconsciously and provisionally placed them in a theoretical midrange hierarchy somewhere between the 30wpc class A Sugden and the Border Patrol. Coincidentally this held true when comparing prices, with the integrated Sugden at £2.400, the Orpheus at £3.494/pr and the Border Patrol at around £5.500. Both the Sugden and Border Patrol are my subjective champions at their respective prices and both are class A so the bar had been set quite high on performance and relative value when the Orpheus arrived.

As it turned out, the preconceived midrange hierarchy wasn't far off and the first thing that strikes one about the Orpheus monos is their beautifully balanced smooth and grainless midrange. Sometimes you hear a certain product and immediately know that whoever designed and conceived it must really love music and appreciate great sound - or at least agree with our take. While the mids were instantly recognizable as being virtually flawless and lacking harshness or grain, this was more because I tend to tune into this aspect. I think most of us do instinctively. We all know what a voice sounds like to become a default reference point. The Orpheus' class A pedigree shone and romped through the vocal test like a thoroughbred yet no single sonic aspect jumped out and impressed in isolation. When you are impressed by a certain characteristic, it's often because other aspects are somewhat lacking. Then the sound isn't as balanced as it should be. With its 'get up and boogie' factor, Naim is an obvious example in my opinion. Many devotees would argue that the Naim sound is more authentic than any other. It's the unmistakable though undoubtedly entertaining character of the Naim sound which turned me away from it many years ago.

Their sound favored certain musical genres yet detracted from others. The Orpheus amps now were proving immensely entertaining on whatever discs I threw at them. Transients were razor sharp, leading edges crisp and the whole experience extremely natural. Without being able to compare playback to an actual recording session, 'natural' is of course impossible to determine with certainty but the Orpheus pulled off the trick to convince me that they were natural. That’s the important thing. 

Take Hugh Masekela’s Hope CD on Analogue Productions.  It’s as good a recording as I've heard. The track "Stimela" is a demo par excellence when it comes to convincing non-believers of the benefits of a decent valve-based system over an iPod and dock. [As the $995 all-in-one Peachtree iDecco shows, such throwaway comments don’t always hold true – Ed.] Following an introduction involving various percussion instruments which seem to include random kitchen implements, Masekela begins telling the story of the coal train in his native South Africa which transported conscripted workers to the gold and mineral mines of Johannesburg and its surroundings where they worked "sixteen hours a day or more for almost no pay..."

Masekela's trumpet begins the main instrumental at 2.41 and appears out of a deep expansive acoustic, this being a major strength of other DSD recordings I've heard and a welcome benefit over regular CD mastering. The sense of space, soundstaging, purity of the trumpet, impact—and delicacy—of the percussion all combine to make this track totally immersive. The Border Patrol had ruled supreme here, squeezing the  last drop of magic from Masekela's beguiling piece of social commentary. That’s what 300B SET amplification does best I think.

As it turned out, apparently not just 300Bs. The 845s of the Tsakiridis monos proved just as adept as the Western Electrics and no less magical.  Listening further revealed only the merest advantage for the Border Patrol in terms of finest resolution but this was nothing worth writing home about and certainly not noticeable unless one were a most critical anal-retentive listener struggling to find differences between two very similar amps.

The midrange had that unforced class A SET liquidity stamped on its core but there were also improved dynamics and drive to remind us that we were outside 8wpc territory of 300Bs paired with speakers of the highest efficiency.

To even approach the 25 watts of the Orpheus with 300Bs, you'd need a parallel configuration and even then there'd be a shortfall of typically around 7 watts while the added circuitry takes away from the minimalist simplicity of a single output triode and the theoretically more purist approach*.   

I should state from the onset that for the preliminary assessment, the Orpheus monos were paired with the Music First silver TVC to eliminate any influence the matching Alexander preamp would surely add. For the uninitiated, the Music First is as transparent as the best passive preamps—I'd say even more so—yet does not suffer impedance matching issues due to the use of silver-wound transformers with multiple taps in lieu of attenuating resistor networks. Sliding open the AMR CD-77 transport cover to insert Jennifer Warnes’ The Hunter for track nine soon had the ceiling lights vibrate along with the subterranean tones of "Way Down Deep" which involves quite prolonged bass notes for a good test of an amp's current delivery. It’s not exactly the torture that organ music can inflict on amps and speakers but a good test nonetheless.


Here again theory and practice can converge. The Wyetech Labs Sapphire and Trafomatic Audio Reference monos are just two SETs I'm familiar with which don't seem to suffer from paralleling their 300B output tubes - Ed.