AM Audio

WORLD-CLASS 809 & 833 TUBE CLASS-A AMPLIFIERS & PREAMPS for TRUE MUSIC LOVERS
The ultimate purpose is to be able to reproduce 'genuine music' not just detail

REVIEWERS COMMENTS - AM Audio offer Highly detailed natural sound / Naturally dynamic and transparent / Emotionally communicative / Timbre rich / Sound Quality: Absolutely stunning, liquid midrange, very dynamic bass and a bandwidth that combines inner and upper end details with emotional insight and clarity. / Build Quality: Will compete with a lot high-end offerings and surpass many, absolute precision and quality inside and out, with a meticulous view on circuit and component implementation. 

Only WAVAC produces similar models using this tube. however they cost many times more (i.e US$150,000 for similar to AM-833SS)) but they use an OEM transformer by Tango, where as AM Audio produce their own very special  transformers custom designed for these unique tubes, the best transformer is vital to obtain the best possible sound,  also AM Audio internal cables are all custom Silver or square section OPC Copper. Reviewers confirm, AM Audio offers incredible World-class Value and Quality for the Money for true music lovers.

Following the successful running of the Stereoknight amplifier company, AM Audio was born to further the technological advances available in today's climate. Machining and tooling as well as component production has been taken to a level unobtainable previously.

With many years of experience in making output transformers and tube amplifiers, I am a real hi-fi and music enthusiast who has conducted extensive research on all kinds of amplifiers since childhood.

The ultimate purpose is to be able to reproduce 'genuine music' and not to simply highlight details within an unrealistic soundstage image. 

In order to achieve this, I have spent over 20 years developing high-end amplification, including preamplifiers and power amplifiers alike within the truly balanced format, with continued improvements and redesigns in order to present some truly outstanding musical products.

My experience to date has led me to change direction slightly, I still have an absolute passion for building amplifiers but my experience has drawn me into the single ended area, where I believe the sonic benefits and again crucially, musicality is supreme in the reproduction of live performances and well recorded material.

Today AM Audio offers a range of preamplifiers and power amplifiers built around my experience and well regarded test benches of music lovers, which together gives AM Audio a unique musical experience which we wish to share like minded music lovers.

........AM Fang

Featured

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Reviews

Featured

AM 10 AM 833MS
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 7,995.00 (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 19,995.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 12,000.00 (incl. GST)
The beautiful 833MS are the same as 833M but with custom SILVER wiring throughopout for an even more open / airy reproduction.
* The AM 833M & 833MS is an absolute state-of-the-art, no compromise design to celebrate AM's...

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Preamplifiers & Line-stages

AM 01 PA RS
NZ$ 3,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Why Choose A Passive Preamplifier?
As a serious high end Passive Preamplifier, the AM passive is essentially unbreakable. There are no...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Yet another transformer preamp, I know, I know. I apologise, but they do happen to...
AM 02 PA RT1
NZ$ 7,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
"Audio Music's AM RT1 (RT2) TVC valve preamp belongs into the top echelon of performance as do its assembly and finish quality."..... Srajan Ebaen (6MOONS) The volume control system consists of a...
• Two transformers for volume attenuation with 33 steps. Transformer output. Independent regulated...
EXTENDED REVIEW: The Audio Music AM RT-1 active TVC single ended valve preamplifier is made and...
AM 03 PA RT2S
NZ$ 10,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The RT-2 is an "ALL SILVER" version of the already stunning RT-1 preamplfier. "Audio Music's AM RT1 (RT2) TVC valve preamp belongs into the top echelon of performance as do its assembly and finish...
• Two transformers for volume attenuation with 33 steps. Transformer output. Independent regulated...
EXTENDED REVIEW: The Audio Music AM RT-1 active TVC single ended valve preamplifier is made and...
AM 04 PA RT3S
NZ$ 14,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
This new AM RT-3 is designed as a no-compromise Flagship Preamplifier is an upgraded version of the already quite stunning AM-RT-2, its is very similar but with 2 separate power supplies and all...
* Virtually all wiring is gold plated silver wire.* 2 transformers for volume attenuation with 33...

Power amplifiers (Stereo & Mono)

AM 06 AM 805M
NZ$ 9,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
Here at Audio Music we believe that the personality of the music within the performance is the most important part of the reproduction. How do we pursue the true musical atmosphere from the original...
 - The 805 is a high-efficiency Class A single-ended amplifier - The Power transformer,...
AM 07 AM 805MS
NZ$ 11,995.01 pr (incl. GST)
Here at Audio Music we believe that the personality of the music within the performance is the most important part of the reproduction. How do we pursue the true musical atmosphere from the original...
 - The 805 is a high-efficiency Class A single-ended amplifier - The Power transformer,...
AM 09 AM 833M
NZ$ 16,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
Fang, who is now Audio Music, has been steadily working away for over twenty years in his search for audio perfection. He teamed up with a Salesman partner to form Stereo Knight and designed one of...
* The AM 833M is an absolute state-of-the-art, no compromise design to celebrate AM's 12th...
AM 10 AM 833MS
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 7,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 19,995.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 12,000.00 (incl. GST)
The beautiful 833MS are the same as 833M but with custom SILVER wiring throughopout for an even more open / airy reproduction.
* The AM 833M & 833MS is an absolute state-of-the-art, no compromise design to celebrate AM's...
AM 12 AM 833S
NZ$ 26,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
Fang, new company, Audio Music, has been steadily working away for over twenty years in his search for audio perfection.
* The AM 833S is an absolute state-of-the-art, no compromise design to celebrate AM's 10th...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Fang, who is now Audio Music, has been steadily working away for over twenty years...
AM 13 AM 833SS
NZ$ 29,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
The 833SS is ame as 833s but with special custom SILVER wiring throughout for an even more open / airy presentaion. Fang, new company, Audio Music, has been steadily working away for over twenty...
* The AM 833S is an absolute state-of-the-art, no compromise design to celebrate AM's 10th...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Fang, who is now Audio Music, has been steadily working away for over twenty years...

Reviews

It is his attention to detail and lack of compromises that result in an exceptionally musical and stunningly clear sound reproduction.

1) They look incredible and the build is up there with the best

2) Even cold and not run in they are easily the best amplifies I have heard.

3) The midrange is sublime and human voice effortless and so real.

4) The bass is effortless and incredibly articulate.

5) These will obviously improve as they get played in. Awesome.

6) No noise whatsoever. No hiss, no hum, no farting noises. Fang really has excelled himself. 

7) Inky silent background due to incredibly low noise floor.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Fang, who is now Audio Music, has been steadily working away for over twenty years in his search for audio perfection. He teamed up with a Salesman partner to form Stereo Knight and designed one of the finest pre amps ever made in the very substantial Magnetic Enigma, and then the 45kG monster, the Magnetic Enigma Silver, which was the best pre amp that I had ever heard. He also made the quite astonishing Stereo Knight M100 Monoblocks using KT120s running in Pure Class A in a fully Balanced design. These became one of my best sellers and had a perfect record in that everyone who did a home demonstration of them kept them. But Fang believed that there were too many compromises in anything other than a perfectly executed Pure Class A Single Ended design. He was close to perfecting this when Stereo Knight came to an end, due to the pressures of the GFC and partnership problems.

However, the development went on, and so Fang decided there is no partner like no partner at all and so founded AM Music, releasing the 803SE Monoblock Amplifiers and the quite awesome

R-S Transformer Pre Amp, which had been released for a short time as a Stereo Knight, and had a quite extraordinary sound. He also rereleased an upgraded version of the Magnetic Enigma.

This is a minimalist in operation, but no effort spared, quite over the top, nothing to degrade the audio, everything he had learned fron his RT-1 Preamp. He needed this to drive his Crowning Glory.

The Nothing spared, whatever it takes to achieve the absolute in music reproduction. The AM 833S Monoblocks. Standing nearly half a meter high and weighing a svelte 75.4kG each.

The construction and execution of the design is extraordinary. There is not a sign of a shortcut anywhere. The amazing looking 833 tube runs in Pure Class A Single Ended,using a KT88 as a driver, for a very impressive 120 w/ch.

* The AM 833S is an absolute state-of-the-art, no compromise design to celebrate AM's 10th Anniversary.

* Both the amplifier and the power supply sections are isolated to reduce magnetic field interference from the two massive double C HIB power transformers, thus ensuring that only pure power is supplied to the amplifier.

* The signal circuit is direct coupled and transformer coupled, eliminating capacitors from the signal path to avoid any compression of the dynamic range.

* The multiple independent power supplies use an effective ?-shaped filter circuit for exceptional noise isolation.

* All the tube heaters use silicone-diode rectification. The -shaped filter coke transformers are DC coupled to a large volume condenser to minimise hum.

* Both the drive and output transformers both use a very complicated winding technique and are constructed of special magnetic materials so that a bandwidth of 10Hz- 120KHz. is achieved.

* The 833 tube sockets are machined from Teflon, and use gold plated phosphor bronze round pins for an exceptional contact and improved sound quality.

* The internal wiring is either silver or a special customised rectangular OCC copper wire which was carefully chosen over a long period by extensive listening.

* The chassis is constructed of a very thick aluminium alloy, precisely machined by precision CNC machinery to ensure it is very strong, stable and reliable.

* It is his attention to detail and lack of compromises that result in an exceptionally musical and stunningly clear sound reproduction.

Pros.
1) They look incredible and the build is up there with the best
2) Even cold and not run in they are easily the best amplifies I have heard.
3) The midrange is sublime and human voice effortless and so real.
4) The bass is effortless and incredibly articulate.
5) These will obviously improve as they get played in. Awesome.
6) No noise whatsoever. No hiss, no hum, no farting noises. Fang really has excelled himself. 
7) Inky silent background due to incredibly low noise floor.

Cons.
1) Bloody heavy but look stunning.

you will find yourself with one of the best sounding preamps available. Add to that the exquisite build quality and spectacular design and you're looking at a great deal with the RS.
Maarten van Casteren

REVIEW SUMMARY: The build quality is truly exemplary. Very, very impressive. The TVCs are wound by AM themselves, and the whole preamp is made from a single block of acrylic, with spaces for the transformers, switches and wiring routed out. The top and bottom are made out of thick sheets of stainless steel. The result is amazing, with a solidity that I haven’t experienced before. There’s absolutely no ringing or even any movement possible. The preamp sits on three stainless steel conical feet, again absolutely stabile. The whole look and feel of this preamp is completely unique and it really deserves to be shown off at the top shelf of your rack.

Typically the best active preamps can still beat a transformer preamp on bass performance and drive but NOT the AM-RS I think, and if there's an active pre out there that is seriously better, then I'd like to try it.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Yet another transformer preamp, I know, I know. I apologise, but they do happen to be one of my favourite types of audio gear, and this one looked so special, I just had to try it. Actually, it not only looks great, but it’s also a fully balanced design which is something that I haven't experienced before.

All transformer preamps I have tried until now had a single transformer for each channel. You could call them single ended for that reason, but in the world of transformer volume controls things are not that simple. That's because a transformer is capable of converting a balanced signal into single ended and the other way around. In pro audio they are used precisely for this purpose all the time, so saying that a transformer is either single ended or balanced is basically wrong: they can be both. That's not to say that any transformer will always be able to handle both single ended and balanced signals. For proper balanced signal handling the transformer will need a centre tap, making sure that both sides of the output are fully identical relative to ground. But, actually most balanced power amps aren't that picky and will happily accept a 'pseudo balanced' output from a transformer without centre tap. On the input side things are even simpler: a centre tap is rarely necessary there.

My trusty Django, which uses a pair of the famous S&B TX102 transformers, has a full complement of both single ended and balanced inputs as well as outputs. It will mix and match between these without problems, and the only thing to remember is a little switch at the back to select the appropriate output mode, which will only change the grounding. But, obviously, the Django only has a single set of transformers and the balanced connections lack the centre tap. This has never been a problem for me, and I have used the Django for over 7 years now with all sorts of sources, power amps and active loudspeakers. It always worked fine, single ended as well as balanced.

Then I discovered the Audio Music R-S. It doesn't use a single transformer per channel, it uses two. This preamp really is fully balanced, with a separate TVC (transformer volume control) per side of the balanced signal. That’s balanced volume control done properly, a fact that is proudly shown on the top of the R-S, where 4 transformers stick out of the housing. This separate handling of both sides of the signal prevents them being summed and then split again, although one could argue that this can be done in a transformer without any penalties anyway. What it does mean is more headroom, I assume, as the load is now split between two transformers.

Obviously, using double TVCs also means using a double set of switches for both input selection and volume control. All of this makes the wiring inside quite complex, and perhaps for that reason it has separate volume knobs for left and right. The only other controls, beside input selection, are two small switches at the top towards the back. They allow you to increase gain by 6dB. My Django also has a similar gain switch, which I have to admit I have never used. Actually, I've almost never had the volume beyond half way up, so I suspect that the additional 6dB isn't necessary in most cases.

One thing the Django has is a switch to lift the ground, essentially breaking any direct electrical connection between input and output. This can break ground loops, and is one of the unique features of transformer preamps. Except that the R-S does not have one. The documentation online mentions the fact that ground loops will be broken as one of the big advantages of transformer preamps, but when I checked I found that ground is simply connected from all inputs to all outputs in the R-S, without any option to break this connection. I didn’t have any trouble during the review period, but still think this is a bit of a missed opportunity.

Just like the Django, the AMR-S features single ended as well as balanced inputs and outputs. But when using balanced input with a single ended output, only a single pin of the balanced signal is used: the single ended output is simply taken from the transformer connected to the hot pin of the XLR input. Of course this will work just fine, and even sound OK, but it certainly is not a proper conversion in the real sense of the word. The same could be done with a simple lead that only connects RCA to the hot pin. Although this will serve fine for secondary sources, if your main source is balanced I suppose that you'd like to use the full signal from that source, and not just half of it.

The situation gets worse when using single ended input with balanced outputs. Again, only the hot pin of the output XLR connectors is now being driven. This is not a safe way to drive a balanced amplifier, so AM does not recommend this configuration. That still means there's a certain risk involved with the fully balanced setup: if you have single ended secondary sources, like a TV or an MP3 player, it would be tempting to also connect them to your main system through one of the RCA connectors. It is difficult to say what would happen: some power amps will work without any problems like that, but others might cause trouble. I don't think it's a very good idea, to be honest, and I didn't even try it out. I wouldn't recommend it either.

All this leaves the number of possible configurations rather limited in my opinion. Using this preamp with a single ended power amp is a bit wasteful, as you are now effectively only using half the preamp, even with balanced inputs. Using it with a balanced power amp, or balanced active speakers, makes use of all transformers, but now you are limited to fully balanced sources only and have to remember to never use a single ended source. Personally I think it would have been much better to simply limit the input and output options to balanced only, and market this preamp as such.

Build quality is truly exemplary. Very, very impressive. The TVCs are wound by AM themselves, and the whole preamp is made from a single block of acrylic, with spaces for the transformers, switches and wiring routed out. The top and bottom are made out of thick sheets of stainless steel. The result is amazing, with a solidity that I haven’t experienced before. There’s absolutely no ringing or even any movement possible. The preamp sits on three stainless steel conical feet, again absolutely stabile. The whole look and feel of this preamp is completely unique and it really deserves to be shown off at the top shelf of your rack.

There's one additional control at the back, which I only noticed at the end when I was taking the photos. It is a potentiometer, but without a knob attached, so I assumed it was set in the factory and not meant to be fiddled with by the user. But then, when I returned the preamp to Iain Borthwick, who imports them for the UK, he told me this was a control to set the output impedance. As far as I know this should simply be as low as possible and you do not need a control for that, but Iain demonstrated the effect to me in his rather nice demo system. The effect was clearly audible, but the best sounding setting was with the control all the way down, so basically out of circuit.

My final point concerns the double mono volume control...... this way you also get a balance control, which is an undeniable advantage. Some people might also find the lack of remote control a problem, but I personally don't care about that, certainly not with a preamp that has such a nice, solid feel to its controls.

Sound

I started using the AM S-R with my OPPO 105 universal player and my Unity Audio 'The Rock hifi' active speakers. Both of these feature balanced connections, so I could benefit from the fully balanced design of this preamp. The sound was an instant success: solid, sweet, powerful, clean and natural, just what you would expect from a good TVC preamp. Especially the bass was impressive, with excellent depth and power. Used like this, I have to admit this preamp is serious competition for the Django with better bass and equal sound quality for the rest of the spectrum. That makes it a seriously good preamp, one of the best I know.

The solidity of the sound is the defining characteristic of the R-S. Top quality TVC or AVC (autotransformer volume control) preamps tend to be very good at this, much better than resistive passive preamps, but typically the best active preamps can still beat a transformer preamp on bass performance and drive but NOT the AMR-S I think, and if there's an active pre out there that is seriously better, then I'd like to try it. Most telling is that the bass performance of the OPPO when connected directly to my active speakers is not better than when used with the AMR-S, which is very impressive indeed. The direct connection still wins in terms of impact and dynamic expression in the mids and upper range, but even there the difference is small.

Used single ended the difference with the Django becomes smaller, to the extend that it is difficult to decide which one is better. When using the R-S with the balanced outputs of the OPPO and the single ended inputs of the Rock loudspeakers, the sound lost some of its weight and impact compared to the balanced outputs, but the difference wasn't very big. It is a perfectly fine sound, but the knowledge that you are only using half of the balanced output of your source, and only half of your preamp makes me a bit uncomfortable, but for secondary sources this would be perfectly fine. Thing is, a single TVC preamp would work just as well in those circumstances, or perhaps even better as it will utilise both sides of the balanced input.

Conclusion

This is a completely balanced design, and although it can be used in other ways I don't think that makes much sense. Only when all your sources as well as your power amp are balanced will you get the benefit from the double TVC design of the Audio Music RS. If you ca use it fully balanced then you will find yourself with one of the best sounding preamps available. Add to that the exquisite build quality and spectacular design and you're looking at a great deal with the RS.

The Audio Music RT1 (RT2) is an absolute giant killer in my eyes.
Dan Worth

REVIEW SUMMARY: I’ve never previously heard the decay of strings fade into such a dark background, especially on a live album so intrinsically natural, whilst the next leading edge saturates the foreground with precision and clarity. This all becomes so valuable when the wooden casket of the instrument itself can be heard as an extra resonating layer which fulfils a realism in the music, which I haven’t before heard any other preamplifier achieve in my system.

I could play bass from a passage of Bach, a track from a Damien Rice album, playful Jazz and Trad, or even Pop with a little Dance music thrown in and each time the grip drive and gusto for each music type was enthralling!

Mr Fang’s meticulous approach taken to the design of his products is truly reflected in the sound of this preamplifier. I am just so impressed with the level of performance obtained at this price point. The true impact and emotion coupled with intricate detail, timing and top end air simply put, proves itself time and time again with each and every piece of music I have thrown at my system.

EXTENDED REVIEW: The Audio Music AM RT-1 active TVC single ended valve preamplifier is made and designed by Mr A M Fang. It comes with a fine pedigree, but will it cut the mustard with Dan Worth. 

Audio Music evolved from the Stereo Knight brand of high-end, yet relatively affordable products. Designer and engineer AM Fang wanted to create a newer more vibrant company that pushed the boundaries of design and high precision engineering even further with a line up of products to rival some of the world’s greatest talents in audio reproduction.

Previous products from the Stereo Knight range were extremely well constructed and implemented with the preamplifiers being TVC based (Transformer Volume Control), many years of creative testing also demonstrated the brands knowledge to influence the design of valve based mono power amplifiers.

Today Audio Music have continued there pursuit of musical bliss with the edition of more complex and refined preamplifiers and passives, along with some serious looking 833 and 805 based mono power amplifiers.

FIT AND FINISH

There’s no doubt that when an AM product comes for a visit the courier needs to be a fairly large chap or have a trolley handy! In the case of this review product it’s the AM RT-1, a valve based preamplifier utilising transformer volume controls in a dual mono format, with a transformer coupled output stage. The courier was not expecting the answer I gave when he said ‘my god, what on earth is in here this time Dan?’ With me replying ‘just a preamp’.  The overall weight of the two units (one preamp and one power supply) is 38kgs! An absolute beast, that size wise only comes in at 38x31x11cm per unit.

Opening the boxes to get a glimpse of the two units was an unbearably exciting event. I’d studied many photographs of the preamp over the previous weekend admiring its build quality and beautifully thought out layout. To finally have the physical articles in front of me was a true joy.

The build quality is absolutely phenomenal, the attention to detail and accuracy of machining puts AM products up their with the very best that I have ever experienced in the high end world of Hifi, which is a world usually only ever inhabited by the purely unobtainable. Each panel is precisely engineered to the finest of finishes, internal boundary sections of machined billet are impressively accurate and each component and its wiring is of the neatest possible standard. Mr Fang should be truly proud of this accomplishment alone.

What are those big caps inside you say? Well, these are from a company called u-cap, not heard of them? No, nor have I. Talking to Iain Borthwick of lwaudio (UK Distributor) he relayed a short story which I would like to share – Mr Fang, the stickler for perfection that he is, decided that the capacitors on today’s market were not quite at the specification he would have truly liked, so what would any engineer/designer do in this case I ask you? They would contact one of the major brands of course and have capacitors made to their very particular specifications, surely?…. no, not Fang, he decided that along with meticulously winding his own custom transformers he would build a factory that would be able to produce capacitors to his exacting standards! Now in my mind that’s overkill to the last degree, but for Fang this is just another day at the office. The saying “if you want something done right, then do it yourself” springs to mind. I’m going to have to slightly change the initials to this mans name, AM Fang becomes AMS Fang (A Mad Scientist Fang), his efforts are pretty much unheard of today, every meticulous nut and bolt, cap, transformer, PCB layout, casing positioning is just phenomenally critiqued by Fang before us reviewers and consumers alike even get the chance to have a look. Really though, this level of attention to detail deserves applause.

Now, I hear everyone saying ‘yes, yes that’s all good and well Dan and we appreciate your candour but what does it sound like, does all the visual hype translate into equally exceptional sound quality?’

With a selection of three inputs, whether you opt for using the units assigned unbalanced XLR or unbalanced RCA inputs, a choice must be made for each of the three inputs available. My first instinct of course is to connect to the unit’s XLR inputs, but as the design is single ended and not truly balanced  it shouldn’t really matter. I only have the single ended DiDiT 212 DAC at the moment as the balanced version is in final stages before production and my pre-ordered unit will not arrive for a little while yet.

The RCA version of Studio Connection’s Platinum interconnects were plugged from DAC to pre, the same brand XLRs then trailed from the AM RT-1’s balanced output sockets rather than RCA as the Muse Reference 300 monos I’m using are much more comfortable running on balanced, even if pseudo for some unknown reason. My usual modded Ayon Seagull Ceramic speakers are in play and all of this fed from the modded Mac using various software for normal and hi-res audio playback, through the recently reviewed Hydra S and Chord’s Sarum Super Aray USB.

THE SOUND

The first most clearly defined aspect of this preamp’s sound signature is true transparency, after a few steps on both mono switches whilst listening to Nils Lofgren’s ‘Keith Don’t Go’ I felt I was really hearing my system for the first time in all its natural beauty. I specifically picked this track to begin as it’s live, well recorded and needs a critical ear on leading edge performance, pace, and decay during the guitar solo off of the ‘Acoustic Live’ album.

I’ve never previously heard the decay of strings fade into such a dark background, especially on a live album so intrinsically natural, whilst the next leading edge saturates the foreground with precision and clarity. This all becomes so valuable when the wooden casket of the instrument itself can be heard as an extra resonating layer which fulfils a realism in the music, which I haven’t before heard any other preamplifier achieve in my system.

Transformer based volume controls have a nature of being transparent and great ones will produce a level of detail and timbre which can be hard to achieve from an active preamp, however they can have some pitfalls. Drive can be a little weak, also grip and control can suffer, trading these aspects slightly for natural tones and detail retrieval generally outweighs any shortfalls for most enthusiasts.

The AM RT-1 takes all of the best aspects from each of the topologies and runs with it. Transformer volume switches to improve the noise floor, a single-ended valve stage to increase dynamic range and tone and critically wound c-core transformers with mosfet voltage stabilisers for drive and grip on some of the most demanding basslines makes me wonder what on earth some are missing from their designs.

I could play bass from a passage of Bach, a track from a Damien Rice album, playful Jazz and Trad, or even Pop with a little Dance music thrown in and each time the grip drive and gusto for each music type was enthralling!

I especially loved how the influence of popular music from across the decades sounded as each track from a playlist would be discernibly different… as the playlists are from various artists. Each track had a character of its own and my own system’s signature, or house sound, disappeared and was replaced by music that had a relative tone and position with more truth to the mix. Each recording could be explored further than when using my Jeff Rowland preamps which add a characteristic warmth and body to the sound.

Equally remarkable is the soundstaging of the AM RT-1. I really appreciate how different genres are protrayed, giving a more realistic perception of a performance, especially with live music, where I felt I could place each member of the group more accurately and each band members instrument had its own void to emerge tones from that was never disjointed from the music as a whole and remained utterly focused in its own free space.

Levels of excitement built drastically over the follow weeks, where I found myself listening to music more than I had done for a long while in my own personal time. I’d find myself getting up in the mornings and listening to the main system before I left the house and likewise when I came home again, I’d even just leave everything turned on whilst I was away from home so that when I arrived back I could have a fully warmed up system to just sink into.

A strong curiosity with the AM RT-1 was, if it sounds so utterly mesmerising now, how will it sound with a careful valve change? The valve compliment used in the RT-1 is two 6922/E88CC and two 6H30P. The hunt was now on for the best sounding equivalents in this circuit. The 6H30P tubes, which are the Electro Harmonix gold pin version were swapped out for the only real possibility, the early 80’s model, legendary Russian Reflektor 6H30P-DR ‘Super Tubes’, which were incredibly hard to source and cost a small fortune. After some competition the 6922 valves I settled on were the USA made Amperex White Label, which bring a more organic flow to the mids and give a more dynamic bassline, again difficult to source and quite pricey but the way things were going with my time courting the AM RT-1 I could see us having a long and loving future together.

How gorgeously the vocals developed in tonal balance and natural dynamism after the valve upgrade left me mesmerised by every piece of music I played. I have only ever heard such fluid and liquid vocals like this once before with Lampizat0r equipment, but the AM RT-1 had no fear of breaking down and is built like a piece of fine jewellery, so in comparison its material wealth was simply greater. Coupled with the units subtle, sultry, dynamic, fast, gritty, deep and delicious characteristics that exuded from my transducers I felt very flattered to have found this brand.

There’s the cliche ‘it’s like someone has lifted a veil’. I could agree with this in terms of transparency and insight but to try and convey some more meaningful context to the sound, my analogy can only be stated as a difference between watching a high school play compared to that of a Broadway show, the raw emotion and power in the performance gives the AM RT-1 true believability.

I laughed to myself, thinking back to when the AM RT-1 first arrived some two months ago. I had just placed the units on the rug in my living room, side by side waiting for my friend Richard to come over. Richard is a DIY enthusiast and has some very interesting equipment. I knew as soon as he walked in he would just stop and look at the units then turn to me and offer that grin of acceptance he does when something pretty catches his eye. How correct I was, however I didn’t expect him to sit cross legged on the rug for a good five minutes just turning the witches backwards and forwards, but there you go. Fortunately they are of superb quality and this over exuberant wear and tear didn’t phase the solid build one little bit. He then spent the next twenty minutes along side me just glaring into the custom made and engraved acrylic lids Iain Borthwick of lwaudio had got custom made to show off all the lingerie the electronics was adorned in.

Well, Richard was here again today and we both spent some time listening through a great range of West African and Asian music which he is very fond of. It’s the first time my ever critical friend has remarked at how natural and full instruments sounded, with areas of micro dynamics which belie the very room we were listening in. I pointed out to him that centre focus was no longer as prominent and although the central soundstage was so well defined and characterised he needs to have a seat in my sweet spot to really enjoy how the stabilisation of imagery has now grown to include all areas of the soundstage in height and width, giving more maturity and insight into what is a true full picture or image of the performance, which I felt my previous preamps did well, but in hindsight barely scratched the surface and he agreed without hesitation.

Mr Fang’s meticulous approach taken to the design of his products is truly reflected in the sound of this preamplifier. I am just so impressed with the level of performance obtained at this price point. The true impact and emotion coupled with intricate detail, timing and top end air simply put, proves itself time and time again with each and every piece of music I have thrown at my system.

Every venue is accurately portrayed, each note is produced with body and the story told within each piece of music, whether containing vocals or not, is emotionally connective. I can only speculate the improvements of the models further up the line, but right here, right now the AM RT-1 is the very best (by quite a margin) preamplifier I have had the pleasure of having in my system and there is no chance of it going back to the distributor, even if it’s the only one he has in stock.

CONCLUSION

The Audio Music RT1 is an absolute giant killer in my eyes. The brand offers another two incarnations of the design which take the performance even further. Firstly an RT-2, which, is an RT-1 that has all silver wiring throughout, then the RT-3, a silver wired dual mono power supply like the previous two models but this time you will receive three boxes rather than two, with more isolation and tweaks to power sections.

Performance of the AM RT-1 is absolutely natural and emotionally engaging, having me listen to more music than I have in a few years. I currently have lots of other activities which I am enjoying in my life and finding some real solid time to just sit down and have long listening sessions has not been as easy as years gone by, but I am finding myself making time to change this and my listening sessions have been becoming more frequent since the Audio Music AM RT-1 arrived and my listening has included many albums I haven’t listened to for a very long time… as well as the enthusiasm to find and listen to new music.

The standard unit was a dream to behold, but the addition of the specially selected NOS valves really enhanced the RT1’s natural abilities to reproduce timbre and vocal complexity.

Already the soundstage was a triumph, but the additional valves made instrument placement more accurate in sense of timbre and naturalness, whilst also pushing the layering of venue acoustics and reverbs to the next level. The base unit will amaze even the most hardcore audiophile, but with these careful choices in play sonic greatness is achieved.

For my musical tastes, which are vast and varied, good solid state amplification coupled to the cleverly implemented valve line stage of the AM RT-1 suits my needs absolutely perfectly.

AT A GLANCE

Sound Quality: 
Absolutely stunning, liquid midrange, very dynamic bass and a bandwidth that combines inner and upper end details with emotional insight and clarity.

Build Quality: 
Will compete with a lot high-end offerings and surpass many, absolute precision and quality inside and out, with a meticulous view on circuit and component implementation.

Value For Money: 
The AM RT-1 is a fairly costly preamplifier, but in the realms of high-end prices the RT1 is a bit of a bargain.

Pros:
Highly detailed natural sound
Naturally dynamic and transparent
Emotionally communicative
Timbre rich

Cons:
Only three inputs may not be enough for some
Lack of remote could be a problem for some

an Audio Excellence award is therefore entirely appropriate.
MARTIN COLLOMS

REVIEW SUMMARY: Unquestionably, and from the very beginning it was clear that this was a very high quality level control. The sound has a tidy, capable character, free of any emphasis, almost perfectly neutral. It has a sense of calm, of inner peace, and an almost ‘creamy’ timbre.....This beautifully made and finished double mono transformer volume control is of excellent quality in fully balanced mode, and still sounds very good in single-ended mode, an Audio Excellence award is therefore entirely appropriate.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Amplifier maker Audio Music is the brainchild of Am Fang of Guangzhou, China. His company was originally founded in 1993, and his creations were marketed under the StereoKnight brand for many years, primarily in the USA. A falling out between partners led to a complete reorganisation and the introduction of similar but improved products under the Audio Music brand in 2013. UK distribution is via LW Audio, a relatively new distributor founded by Iain Borthwick who feels that Chinese sources can offer remarkably high standards of performance at unexpectedly reasonable prices.

This  AM-RS passive control unit is just one of a number of amplification components from the company, all superbly built, excellently finished, and with a strong bias towards valve technology – AudioNote UK is a major source of inspiration. Construction consists of a very heavy anti-vibration core milled from solid acrylic, encased in heavy alloy cover plates. Inside is found top class Japanese Seiden 34-position attenuator switches with ball detents and double arm gold-plated wiping contacts, alongside no-expense-spared, high-nickel transformer-core attenuators. These are screened, mu-metal potted and connected up with single-strand Teflon-insulated point-to-point hard wiring, with no printed circuits or plug and socket connectors. In fact this unit is about as hard-wired as it gets. 

With double mono construction and a +6dB gain switch (albeit with reduced performance), the unit has just a little gain at full level when used in single ended mode. The signal paths which are balanced use four transformers. A double-mono 31-step control was found to have slightly unusual progression of volume steps, typically of 1-1.5dB resolution in single-ended mode. Maximum attenuation is a modest 44dB.

 In some cases the maximum attenuation may not be sufficient to set a low enough whisper quiet sound level if using the combination of a loud source, a well modulated music track plus a sensitive power amplifier. An eye therefore needs to be kept on system matching for a given set of audio components, perhaps also taking into account the loudspeaker sensitivity. 

Its earlier StereoKnight incarnation included a more complex version where the whole unit was relay operated and it came with a remote control handset. There was also a fully silver-wired option, but the current copper wire version is said to exceed the quality of the previous models. 

While a single-ended input will appear at the balanced output XLRs, and a balanced input can also be output from the single-ended connection (all done without any switches in the signal path, aside from the Seiden input selector), there is a catch. The transformer windings and connections are not arranged such that it is universal (ie so that a single-ended input will appear as a balanced output). Instead only one phase of the balanced output will be exercised with a single-ended input. Therefore in both theory and practice the best performance is available when used in fully balanced mode. However, I still liked it in single-ended mode, so high was its intrinsic quality.

Sound Quality 

Unquestionably, and from the very beginning it was clear that this was a very high quality level control. The sound has a tidy, capable character, free of any emphasis, almost perfectly neutral. It has a sense of calm, of inner peace, and an almost ‘creamy’ timbre. 

Somewhat belying the perfectly flat frequency responses found during the lab tests, the tonal balance here was judged to be very slightly mellow, but with very good bass extension and definition. Image focus was quite exceptional and image depth was close to excellent. 

Dynamics seemed very slightly curtailed, and while fine tuning the rear panel load matching control helped make some adjustment in this area, it was not found to address this aspect of performance completely. Conversely, adjusting this control did help optimise the sense of good rhythm and timing, which can fall off if the setting is too low. That said, while this control unit’s performance is undoubtedly very good on rhythm, we felt that we could not extract the last possible degree of this particular quality with the AM-RS. 

There was a moderate loss in ‘converting’ from single-ended to balanced operation, and likewise from balanced to single-ended mode because the internal design is fully balanced, and the single-ended option only makes use of one signal phase. (A single-ended input does not arrive as fully balanced at the output.) It sounds best in fully balanced mode scoring a reference level 135 marks, falling to a still very good 120 when working SE-to-SE. 

Lab Report 

A pre-set user-adjustable trim potentiometer on the back panel allows for fine tuning for unusual source or load impedances, and has a small effect. You can see it working on pulse signals, where it partly trims the rise time and overshoot on fast pulses, the effect varying with the attenuation and loading chosen. Set too low, it can become over-damped. 

The control has 31 increments, and measured in single-ended mode these were from 0.8dB steps at the top of the range, then increasing to 1.3dB by -10dB, then to1.5dB at an indicated -15dB (here attenuating 18.5dB). I measured 2dB steps by -20dB, and then typically 1.25dB steps to a maximum of -44.3dB, which is not considered a very deep attenuation. 

Channel balance was excellent, within 0.05dB over the control range. Also excellent was the frequency response: for a 600ohm source and with the level set at -6dB, the response was perfectly flat in the audio range, reading 10Hz to 85kHz at -0.5dB. (With a 20ohm source it was just -0.2dB at 10Hz.) High frequencies extended very well to 125kHz and showed a minor 2dB rise at 120kHz. 

As expected, at -6dB (a rather small attenuation) the output impedance still somewhat reflects the source impedance, and it measured 150ohm from a 600ohm source and a correspondingly lower 7.5ohms from a 20ohm source. These passive controls get into their best working range several dB below full level. Thus a single-ended input power amplifier with a low sensitivity might not be suitable unless the planned sources have a higher than usual output level. 

At useful lower volume settings the output impedance is very low: for example at -20dB, from a typical 50ohm source, the output from the control unit will be sourced at less than 1ohm. Lots of headroom is provided in the generous transformer cores: for example with a worst case 6dB of gain lift and with 22V output, the 1kHz distortion was less than 0.07%, and of low order harmonic order. At 2.5V output it was just 0.004%. There is a little more distortion at very low frequencies eg 0.22% at 20Hz (unity gain), then falling to 0.1% by 40Hz and 0.015% by 100Hz. At 20kHz it hit an all time distortion low of 0.0001%! 

Conclusions 

This beautifully made and finished double mono transformer volume control is of excellent quality in fully balanced mode, and still sounds very good in single-ended mode. an Audio Excellence award is therefore entirely appropriate.

What I heard, was timbreally impressive and inviting or I wouldn't have stayed in the room that long.
Michael Fremer

The Osborn Loudspeaker Company displayed their top of the line Grand Monument Reference, a very large monolith of a speaker weighing in at approximately 385 pounds each, the frequency response is claimed to extend own to 15Hz.

Driving the speakers was a pair of AM Audio 833S four box Mono blocks from Hong Kong, modelled after WAVACs from Japan. 

The AM Audio 833S tube mono blocks runs in Class A driven by a KT88 with a claimed output of 130 watts.
A pair of these amps sells in Europe for US$44,000 or US$50,000 for the all silver wire version.
 

I sat through half a CD-R enjoying the system's bottom end extension and weight, surprised by the amp's ability to well-control the woofers and avoid edthe murky mid-bass I remember from a WAVAC review many years ago, enjoyable though was that sound. 

The midrange was sweet and the top well-extended though a wall of speakers placed against a hotel room wall is hardly the best way to experience and judge any loudspeaker and amplifier combination.

What I heard, was timbreally impressive and inviting or I wouldn't have stayed in the room that long.

When I entered the room and sat down I asked Mr. Osborn if I might play a few requests. He told me that wouldn't be possible because he was expecting at any moment the "editor and chief of Stereophile". I told him I think he was expecting me and that I was a senior contributing editor not editor in chief. He said he was expecting an entrance with greater fanfare. I told him I'm not the type to blow my own horn.
...... Michael Fremer

GOOD SOUNDS
I totally agree, one of the best sounding rooms at the show!

GIVEN THE LESS THAN IDEAL SETUP - submitted by applebyte
Given the less than ideal set up it was one of the most impressive sounding rooms at the show. By that I mean it sounded very good and spectacular value for the price.

Audio Music's AM RT1 (RT2) TVC valve preamp belongs into the top echelon of performance as do its assembly and finish quality.
Srajan Ebaen

SUMMARY: Audio Music's AM RT1 (RT2) TVC valve preamp belongs into the top echelon of performance as do its assembly and finish quality. It might take a few more years for this new reality to sink in. The few adventurous souls open-minded enough to already give this machine an audition should simply agree that this future is here now!...

EXTENDED REVIEW: At the Munich HighEnd 2013 show,a properly British chap introduced himself as Iain Borthwick, procurer of fine hifi to the royal crown. Well, not exactly. But his expressive gushing over the Audio Music two-box AM RT1 preamp could have aroused even the blue bloods. In short, the designer of the previous Stereo Knight Silverstone passive magnetic preamp I'd reviewed a few years back had parted ways with his former partner James Zhang, gone solo and launched a new brand. AM AUDIO. Iain had not only signed on as dealer/importer for the UK but as a global marketing liaison of sorts. 

Like the earlier one-box Enigma preamp under the StereoKnight banner, the now twin-chassis AM RT1 combines 6H30 drivers and 6922 voltage gain bottles with a custom 33-step magnetic volume control using multi-tapped step-down transformers. Whilst it does lose the relay-switched remote volume—said to be in the works again—and manual volume is dual mono, Iain's enthusiasm over sonics and build quality flooded right over any such piddling inconveniences. Having kissed off valve amps, my remaining glow Jones is on preamps. The man's timing and delivery thus were spot on. Do me and that. A month after the show a broken-in unit was available to hop, skip or pop across the Channel.

With a ship weight of 37kg, there'll be no real hop. Schlep is more like it. Or a small pop in the lower back. With 20Hz~100kHz bandwidth and >98dB S/N, this is clearly a serious machine. 600Ω output impedance on RCA/XLR isn't excessive but far higher than my equally tubed Nagra Jazz's 50Ω.

A hefty smattering of U-cap copper-foil capacitors should lead the resourceful to some digging and shortly this statement: "We're a factory that has made tube electronics for more than ten years. These include silver-wound volume transformers, dual C-core power transformers, C-core output transformers and different types of capacitors. Due to the high price of genuine copper-foil caps from Jensen, AudioNote and V-Cap TFT, we decided to produce our own." Listed as U-cap's general manager is am-hiend.com aka Audio Music. That too is resourceful. The still up StereoKnight website isn't. It injects confusion about directly competing products from the same pen. So I asked Iain—who was proper game as befits his marketing efforts for AM Audio.

"StereoKnight was one of my best-selling brands. They consisted of two partners. One designed and made the products, the other was responsible for promotion & sales. They'd been working on an all-new mono amp design for some time before they closed due to the global financial crisis. The two partners went their separate way but Fang the designer since perfected his new monoblock and formed a new company. He also has a new balanced transformer-attenuating preamp released as a StereoKnight model shortly before that company closed. There's also an all-new balanced preamplifier based on the previous quite awesome StereoKnight Enigma. 

Design and internal layout look very impressive but the minimalist exterior leaves me with some reservations so keen as I am to try it, at the moment I've not purchased one."

Lack of remote, numerical display, clear input socket and selector markings admittedly make the AM R1 seem a tough sell. On paper. If Iain Borthwick was right—his name conjures up a kilted gael daring you to disagree—sonics would undercut any such hesitations. Yet not all agree that superior sonics couldn't or shouldn't be accompanied by modern features. Personally I'd thus not particularly consider a preamp without remote. But since I knew going in that this one didn't have one, I couldn't bitch about it now. You obviously are under no such obligation. 

Iain Borthwick:
"I hear what you're saying about the confusing nature of StereoKnight's website still being live despite having no product to sell. According to Fang their sales stopped in November 2011. But since James was in charge of the site Fang can't take it down from his end. Fang asked me to explain his rational behind the new Audio Music preamp. He states that it is a
reference design, hence the dual volume controls, separate power supplies, transformers and voltage regulators and his custom 20 copper-foil capacitors. He feels that his old method of remote control via relays was detrimental to ultimate sound quality. At the moment how he wires up his volume pots would necessitate a very powerful motor to actuate them mechanically. It's something he's working on. This circuit is not truly balanced as that would entail four attenuation transformers. Fang claims that the sound is better single-ended so that's what he went with.

This thematic—yawn—is quite common for perfectionist designers who'd rather have you sit on a bed of nails than sacrifice an iota of performance you'd never know about. They pass on responsibility for overcoming objections and getting beat up about lacking conveniences to their (few) sales agents. From the above Iain Borthwick was perfectly aware of it all. That he still felt representing this machine was worth his time and effort during these early days either tells us about his pigheadedness; the sound of the terribly named Audio Music R-T1 preamp; or both. Let's simply say I was intrigued enough to remain signed up. Another reason was that the 6H30 tube here isn't used as output but driver triode. 

In my 11 years at this helm, I've never before come across a component this deserving of being called built like a tank. Think Burson squared. The canned TVCs are braced in massively machined aluminium retainers. So are the output and power transformers. The vertical tube board mounts its super-tight sockets to a massive aluminium plate whose back side doubles as mount for the associated circuit board. The grooved heavy-duty top cover locks into rabbeted place with eight long bolts passing with perfect fit through the overkill corner blocks. Whilst one might rightly question whether this type of build is necessaryI don't think that Jeff Rowland shoppers would though—there's no question that Fang, Audio Music's designer is an extremist when it comes to mechanical construction. By necessity this means high mass to make this one of the heaviest preamps to ever have crossed my threshold. What in this context might disappoint is the supplied tube complement of electro-harmonix 6H30Pi and 6922. High-volume valve gear makers must for obvious reasons rely on current production tubes which for more affordable gear means Russian or Chinese.

Once we get to the bespoke low-volume level at which today's contender clearly means to play, one expects more particularly when it comes to the ECC88. Here the R-T1 goes hoi polloi.

If you've ever wondered about manufacturers referring to components as true dual-mono whilst running off a single power transformer with dual secondaries, Fang would have your back. He even extends this divide-and-conquer thinking to his stout doubled-up 4-pole umbilicals; and as we already knew the twinned volume controls where it arguably gets just a tad inconvenient but does double as precision balance control. 

If the audio signal is nothing but modulated power supply, their supply should have us feel in very good hands indeed. Needless to say, such design intensity has to include completely noise-free operation both mechanically and electrically for zero transformer hum and nada tube rush. The AM RT1 complies. 

Ambitious tube gear which claims that noise is acceptable as long as the sound is good belongs into the past century with wow and flutter and brickwall filters. This wrapped up the visual inspection of this flawlessly executed hardware.

Wired up to the Goldmund Job 225 stereo amp with 35dB of gain, I drove Boenicke Audio's B-10 speakers off my usual Metrum Hex converter preceded by SOtM's best two-box battery-powered super-clocked USB bridge. The first thing I noticed was gain. Or rather, insufficient attenuation at click one. At the whisper levels I use during late-night workouts, I needed an extra 6dB signal cut. This I sourced through PureMusic's 64-bit dithered digital option. Hence with a high-gain amp coupled to speakers, listening distance and room size of sufficient 'efficiency' against very low playback levels, max attenuation might not be max enough. Granted, 26dB gain amps are rather more common than my 35dB job. For many this may be no issue particularly if they never listen very quietly. 

The first sonic surprise was just how loud the AM RT1 sounded at micro volumes. We're all familiar with hifi's mandate that escalating volumes ought to only go louder, not change with band-specific compression, stridency, brightness, hardness or other nonlinearities. Hardly anyone talks about the inverse. Things shouldn't collapse, shrink or disappear as volumes fade. It's probably a fortuitous combo of current drive, overall system resolution and speaker responsiveness that delays the inevitable sonic shrinkage which accompanies counter clockwise on the dial. Old-fashioned loudness controls were meant to compensate for HF/LF loss at pianissimo levels but none of today's high-end gear has them. Here the R-T1 set a new high in low. It maintained truly phenomenal intelligibility and substance all the way down into the very ambient noise floor of the room itself. 

If you think on it, there's something very wrong with being held hostage by systems which only satisfy when played loud. Sometimes loud isn't appropriate or possible. Sometimes you're not in the mood for it. Should you settle for a lesser experience then or, worse, opt to not listen at all? If you relate, the Audio Music preamp up-ends such silliness (obviously your particular amp/speaker interface must be capable of transferring massive signal cut into proper fullness and detail - and many speakers just aren't). Very likely Fang's magnetic volume controls had something to do with this due to how effective their lot get as one turns them down. 

The upshot is that contrary to popular lore where tube circuits are inherently noisier than transistor equivalents to come second on resolving power, on low-down intelligibility with body the AM RT1 thoroughly whupped ass on my Esoteric C-03 preamp and even outweighed my Nagra Jazz in the bass.

This segues straight to our core appeal today. Usually mass is the enemy of transparency. Load up on mass, go lighter on see-thoroughness. Increase lucidity and watch weightiness fade. One of the balancing acts anyone actively involved in assembling a hifi system must walk is deciding where exactly on this scale to be. With the AM RT1 in the loop one gets to move up on both weight and lucidity in lockstep. That's not normal but very productive and beneficial. The effect is quite akin to printing out a colour drawing in speed mode with spent cartridges particularly the black one versus selecting superior slow mode with fresh colours. The former will be faded and pale, its lines inconsistent. The latter will show maximal contrast with fully saturated lines and extreme legibility. Resolution and impressiveness—how the lines impress/imprint themselves on your senses—go up. And that's exactly how the AM RT1 asserts itself. It handles resolution not by emphasising transients or sharpening outlines. To coin a term related to dynamic contrast, it manages heightened resolution with material contrast as the difference between space that's empty and space that's taken up by seemingly material substance.

This makes for a different flavour of presence. It's not constructed on the basis of perfectly timed accelerated transients and the dynamic frisson and jump factor derived from it. It's not primarily about the transmission of energy then. It's an equally tacit but different sort of presence. To borrow from Starship Enterprise's transporter beam, it's built on beamed-downiness completed with a few extra moments on the molecular reassembler. It's quite uncanny and light years removed from common tube gear dialogue on harmonic distortion and temporal flexibility. None of that factors. In those terms it's a perfectly realised transistor sound albeit with very uncommon material contrast. With my reference Nagra—whose remote response, volume taper and zero-gain option combine into the ultimate user interface—I'd call the qualities to register first space followed by textural elegance. This doesn't mean you hear more or less. At this level it's only about a different perceptional perspective, not about the contents of what one perceives. The contents are fully realised in either case. The musicians play all the same notes.


This 'all there' of course included my magnetic passive Tap X from Bent Audio which played up the lucid aspect. At very low volumes meanwhile the resistor-based Khozmo passive with remote clearly shrunk, faded and paled to act inarguably subtractive by comparison. Even at regular levels that passive couldn't muster the same profoundly substantial conviction of the Audio Music. Whilst otherwise sharing TVC technology, the Bent too came second here to perhaps demonstrate the active circuit's trump card in the robustness stakes.

To my mind there was no doubt. Fang's reference ambitions weren't egoic talk or aloof navel gazing but plain fact. On sonics and build if not features the AM RT1 was true reference caliber. 

This makes the asking price quite a deal. Chinese origins and popular yellow fever don't factor. Nor do tubes per se or 'pedestrian' Russian stockers in particular. If we apply popular expectations the 6H30/6922 combination sums to solid state but categorically eliminates the minor glare and dryness the 6H30 routinely exhibits on its own. You'd be hard-pressed though to generate this level of nothing-to-something contrast with transistors. The use of valves thus doesn't seem frivolous or accidental. As the offset between empty silent space and dense tone fill those bottles do something, just not what most might expect.

With my Goldmund Job 225 amp, many have wondered. Is the relative lightness of its power supply related directly to the amp's lucidity and speed? Such thinking suggests that an overkill power supply could lead to ponderousness. In Audio Music's apparently overkill case I heard none of the latter if we exempt bass. It wasn't slow but ultra butch. Nagra's PSU for the Jazz would fit into Fang's casing 10 times or more. It could seem like an underdeveloped joke but the sound is anything but. As a matter of fact the Jazz played it more lit up, impulsive and quick. In the end and purely on aural feel we might say that if you prefer Yo-Yo Ma go Jazz, if Mstislav Rostropovich think AM RT1.

Conclusion.

The AM RT1 should be of particular interest to people of either hi-eff systems where deep attenuation is the order of the day; or those who routinely listen quietly but presently belabour a significant loss of substance whenever they do. Here the transformer-based volume controls excel at maximising drive at very low signal voltages. It really was just a matter of time. Reference Chi-Fi has arrived. 

Audio Music's R-T1 TVC valve preamp belongs into the top echelon of performance as do its assembly and finish quality. It might take a few more years for this new reality to sink in. The few adventurous souls open-minded enough to already give this machine an audition should simply agree that this future is here now!
..….. Srajan Ebaen

The R-T1 (R-T2) presents a sound quality that betters anything else this reviewer has yet tried. .....the R-T1 is simply a no-brainer.
Paul Messenger
REVIEW SUMMARY: The R-T1 (R-T2) has the sort of transparency I’ve come to associate with the simplicity of valve-based circuitry, made all the more impressive here because background noise was invariably totally absent. Stereo imaging is another major plus. Leading edges seemed particularly well defined, helping to deliver the contributions of specific musicians – and indeed the musicianship – with great clarity, and this was further enhanced by the fine timing and dynamic expression which are all inherent elements in the overall package. 
EXTENDED REVIEW: It had to happen: China has definitely caught the audiophile bug. And since Chinese manufacturing costs are much lower than those in the West, it’s starting to become possible to find genuine audiophile products that cost much less than those made in the UK or the US. A typical example is the Audio Music R-T1, a two-box valve preamplifier that weighs an extremely hefty 38kg, due in no small part to its extensive use of transformers. 

Visual inspection and internet browsing provide quite a number of clues to the background, purpose, and heritage of this preamp and its Chinese audiophile protagonist. The company began in the 1990s, so is a relative newcomer, which is no great surprise in view of China’s recent history. As I understand things (and the situation seems to be murky at best), the company’s products were initially sold under the StereoKnight brand, but a subsequent parting of the ways led to the recent founding of Audio Music, to market the products designed by Am Fang of Guangzhou in South China (a very large city some 120km north of Hong Kong). UK distribution is being handled by Iain Borthwick of LW Audio, and the copper-wired R-T1 is currently being sold at £5,500. Two more costly variations on the R-T theme are also available: the silver-wired R-T2 costs £7,500 (NZ$12,995), while a silver-wired three box R-T3, with a completely separate power supply unit for each channel, is priced at £10,000 (NZ$17,250). 

The R-T1 was actually developed to improve upon the Stereo Knight Enigma preamps, and is clearly a component with serious audiophile aspirations, as borne out by the unit’s double-mono construction and minimalist features set. Designer Am Fang used reference capacitors such as Audio Note, V-Cap, and Jensen in developing the U-Caps that are made in his Mexican factory, while the power supply and volume control transformers are all built in-house by Audio Music. 

The three knobs on the front consist of two volume controls (one for each channel), based on discreet-step transformers, plus a central triangular switch that selects one of just three line inputs. (Remote control? Don’t be silly!) The only other decoration consists of three tiny green lights: one indicates ‘on’ (whether or not the valves have been inserted); the other two show (rather faintly) the settings of the volume controls. 

The R-T1 is therefore not big on convenience features, provided of course that three inputs are sufficient to suit one’s lifestyle. The three inputs use single-ended RCA phono sockets in parallel with balanced XLR sockets, so at least this is an option, as are the similarly flexible output socket pair. However, it is big on audiophile appeal: besides using transformers to adjust volume here, two valves are used in each channel – 6H30s as drivers and 6922s for voltage gain – and out of preference the desing uses single-ended circuitry throughout. The valves do mean that the unit runs slightly warm to the touch, but quoted power consumption is just 45W. 

Assessing the R-T1 proved an unexpected challenge. When I initially powered it up, the little green light came on, so I left it for a few days to run in, and was then surprised to get a null result. Downloading the on-line manual revealed that I needed to open up the preamp unit and install the four valves, which had been carefully wrapped for transportation. Once inserted, running in could begin again! (a timely reminder to read the manual).

Switched transformer volume controls do lack the fine discrimination of continuous potentiometers, and this is particularly important when listening at very low, late-at-night levels. That ‘jamming’ problem and its consequences made it impossible to assess accurately the discrimination of the 33-step transformers used here, but ad hoc estimates (using just the left channel) suggest that things are likely to prove generally satisfactory with typical sources, amplification, and speakers. Although switched transformer steps do inevitably limit discrimination, low level results did seem acceptable. 

I got down to some serious listening and was immediately and profoundly impressed by its sound quality. Where to start? Perhaps by stating that it sounded clearly superior to my usual NAC552 (complete with Discreet Regulator power supply) in most respects. Superb transparency was one immediate observation. 

The R-T1 has the sort of transparency I’ve come to associate with the simplicity of valve-based circuitry, made all the more impressive here because background noise was invariably totally absent. Stereo imaging is another major plus, keeping individual instruments well separated in their own spaces, and delivering them with fine focus and excellent impressions of depth and surrounding space. 

Leading edges seemed particularly well defined, helping to deliver the contributions of specific musicians – and indeed the musicianship – with great clarity, and this was further enhanced by the fine timing and dynamic expression which are all inherent elements in the overall package. 

I soon found myself re-exploring my treasured vinyl collection, and discovering subtleties that had previously been obscured. Vocalists’ accents and inflections were that much more obvious, sometimes even bringing fresh layers of meaning to lyrics, and individual instruments seemed to be highlighted to the point where they became not only much more obviously identifiable, but also that much more communicative, too. Even the inevitable noise floors associated with vinyl seemed significantly lower than expected, perhaps because of the very impressive overall dynamic range that this preamp invariably seems to deliver. 

A colleague recently reviewed Audio Music’s single-box and much less costly (£1,950) R-S passive controller (which also uses transformer-coupled volume controls), and reported excellent results. Past experience has found that passive controllers are impressively neutral and transparent but also lack a little dynamic vigour, which was also reported in the aforementioned review, so this is likely to be the essential sonic advantage of the R-T1 over the R-S. Certainly there’s no way one can criticise the R-T1 for any shortfall in dynamic drama and expression, while the extra physical content of this active and powered valve-equipped preamplifier more than justifies its higher price. 

I was intrigued to find that this preamp even made it possible to distinguish between three different versions of the BBC’s 2014 Glastonbury TV coverage: truly live (albeit rare) transmissions; recorded performances that were being broadcast live; and transmissions that I’d recorded onto a Humax hard drive recorder. The overall sound quality I get from TV is well below that available from other sources, but it was still possible to detect the distinctions between these three transmission and recording modes, even though the differences were decidedly subtle. 

TV sound is all very well, but the best pleasure invariably came through listening to the best sources, especially the many vinyl discs that I dug out from a copious collection. Many hadn’t been played for a number of years, and these often proved a source of rediscovery and mostly delight.

Despite a price tag that is well below today’s high end norm, the R-T1 sets a remarkably impressive sound quality benchmark (and presumably the R-T2 and R-T3 do so too), so on these grounds alone Am Fang deserves the heartiest congratulations. 

The R-T1 presents a sound quality that betters anything else this reviewer has yet tried. For those happy to live without remote control, and with a choice of just three inputs, the R-T1 is simply a no-brainer. +......
....…..Paul Messenger