Today we’re taking a look at an integrated amplifier called the Willsenton R8 and this is a Chinese integrated tube amplifier. A lot of people have been asking me about this amplifier because I’ve been mentioning it in my speaker reviews. Now today’s the day I actually review it. So I’m pretty excited to tell you guys about this amplifier.
KT 88 Vs EL 34 TUBES
This integrated amplifier is a very special amplifier because let me tell you the price for this right now is $770 USD. Now there is a shipping cost to it but I’m assuming that it will be still under $1,000. So given that is still under $1,000, this is a very good integrated amplifier. Now there is the KT 88 tube that is actually the price of $770 before shipping and with the EL 34 tubes if you choose to go that way, costs $60 less so it will be $710 instead of $770. So definitely it is an incredible value.
Now, we’ll talk about some of the specifications and we’ll get into the sound quality of this integrated amplifier. Now with the KT 88 tubes, it is 25 watts per channel in triode working state, and 45 watts per channel in ultra linear working state. And for the three four tubes, it is 25 watts per channel in triode working state and 40 watts per channel in ultra linear working state.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN triode AND ULTRA LINEAR WORKING STATE
Now you may be asking what’s the difference between the triode and the ultra linear working state ? Well there’s subtle sound differences when it comes to different modes which is what I appreciate about this amplifier, but most importantly the output tubes are being used. The kt 88 tube, EL 34 tube are also interchangeable with the 6550 tube which are all common output tubes in the world.
For those of you that are not familiar with tubes, the KT 88, EL 34 and 6550 are commonly used in tube amplifiers and also in guitar amplifiers. Now guitar amplifiers use KT 88 tubes a lot as well as EL 34s and a lot of 6550 types were very famous when it came to guitar amplifiers so they’re very natural at creating sound from stringed instruments.
When it comes to the amplifier itself, the output power is very deceiving; the maximum output power and ultra linear working state is 45 watts per channel and 25 watts per channel in triode mode. Now that seems like a little because it is all under 50 watts, however, let me just tell you with all the speakers that came into contact with it, I never had to crank it up past 50 in terms of volume.
In fact i never had to go to level 50 in terms of volume, it was always under level 50 or so. It’s probably a high gain design which means that this will probably have no problem driving your speakers whatsoever. Now this is true with hard to drive speakers as well, even with the KEF LS 50 meta, I still didn’t have to crank to 50. It was always below that level. So this is probably a high gain design. So I can almost guarantee you that will drive your speakers without a problem.
Tube amplifiers are different from solid state ones because tube amplifiers tend to distort in a different way. When you crank to higher volumes,it is actually a pleasant distortion rather than more unpleasant like solid state ones. This is if you even ever get to that level. I don’t think you will ever need to get to that point with this amplifier.
Now you’re gonna see very big AI transformers and I think they’re good quality. This being said, it is really easy to bias the tubes.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BIAS AN AMPLIFIER ?
For those of you that don’t know what biassing is, it is basically to adjust the voltage that is going into the tube to sum it up.
HOW DO YOU SET UP AMP BIAS ?
So to do this, sometimes you have to actually go into the amplifier, open it up, or sometimes you have to do it in a manual way which is very not ideal for the end user. Now when it comes to people that are inexperienced or once convenience, the Marantz 8b stereo tube amplifier was a step above everyone else because it was easy to bias. It had a meter which told you the bias right off the bat in the front.
It also has little screws where you can actually adjust the bias and see the meter appear. Now with this being said, the Willsenton R8 is actually even easier to use and it works in a similar way. You see the meter in the front. Now this is not a voltmeter or water meter. This is a bias meter. So you take a look at this and then here you see, v1, v2, v3 and v4 on the output tube amplifiers.
So for example if you’re looking at the v1, then you have a switch which you can pull down to the V one, and then you’ll see the actual bias on the metre. And then there are little screws that are also labelled V1 on the top of the chassis and you put that, you know, you go back and forth and try to adjust the bias so that the bias is in the middle of this meter. Right there and then, your bias is done !
You do this for all the four tubes and you only need to do this once unless you change to a different tube on this Willsenton R8 integrated amplifier. Now when you do change to a different tube, there are two choices on this integrated amplifier on the back. There is the EL 34 and then you have the KT 88 tubes. So you have to change the switch on the back so that you have the correct settings for whatever tool you’re using.
It is very easy to use and to figure out and even if you don’t know how to use it from the very beginning, it could be very fun to find out, and also the manual tells you how to do this. If you have no idea of how to do this even after watching a video, you can ask around because it is very easy to do. In fact it is one of the easiest ways of biassing a tube amplifier. Now this also assures you that the correct voltage is going into each of the output tubes.
This is very important because at the end of the day if you have different voltages going into each of the tubes, then one channel may burn out faster than the other, and then therefore you will have a channel imbalance. So it is very important to bias your tubes. It is made very easy and it’s very assuring that you can actually see it with the meter in the front.
There are four inputs, four on top and eight on the speaker connection. So if your speaker is four ohms, then you will connect to the four ohms, if your speakers are eight ohms, then you will connect to the 8 ohm tab. It only has four inputs, it doesn’t have any outputs. So that is a little bit of a bummer. That means you can’t use this as a pre amplifier, but that’s okay. Given the price point I think that’s just fine.
Now when it comes to the selector, you just use this to select whatever input you’re on. It does come with a very nice metal remote and you can change the volume, inputs and everything else except for turning off the amplifier or turning it on. You have to do it manually by going up to the amplifier and turning it on and off with the knob right here. Other than that it is very self explanatory and very easy to use for the end user.
DOES A TUBE AMP SOUND BETTER ?
When it comes to sound, that’s when it gets really interesting and I’m very excited to tell you there is a difference because there’s the tube referred to as KT 88, then there’s a triode and ultra linear working state. Now to make it very simple, the overall sound signature of this integrated amplifier is “tuby”, but also clean at the same time. It’s not overly dark, noisy or overly shadowed nor is it kind of muffled in any way. It is very clean and crisp and at the same time.
It has the characteristics of a tube amplifier especially in the mid range and the high frequencies. The bass performance is also very impressive for a tube amplifier. Now when it comes to the difference between the three tubes indicated KT 88 tubes on this integrated amplifier, both on the triode and ultra linear working state, it is going to sound softer.
The string instruments are going to sound more natural, soft and sweet on the top band. That’s the character of the tubes on this integrated amplifier. While the KT 88 is going to have a little bit more balls, have a little bit more bass and sound a little bit more grippy in the bottom end but it’s still going to retain a lot of the two characteristics in the mid range. The kind of mid range magic and high frequency extension is all going to be there. In the triode working state generally speaking with both tubes, the LT four and the TT, you’re going to get a softer sound and presentation.
This is going to be very good for vocals and stringed instruments. It’s going to sound more natural and a lot more easygoing on your ears. When it comes to the ultra linear mode, the ultra linear mode is going to actually have more bass. The sound is going to be a little bit more gaudy and a little bit more grippy while still retaining some of the characters that I’m talking about in terms of strings, musicality of a tube amplifier in the mid range and high frequency.
So overall speaking up for the triode that’s going to be the softest sounding KT 88 when it comes to the bottom end, it really really digs deep even with your three tubes. I was very impressed by the pace and the speed of the bass, as well as the fullness in the bass region. Now with a lot of integrated tube amplifiers, the problem I have is the mid bass region where it gets a little bit too gaudy and too much, just a little bit too much over the top.
When it comes to production of the mid bass region it makes everything sound a little bit more bloated and too warm. With this integrated amplifier, you’re not going to get that, in fact what you’re going to get is actually a perfect amount of mid bass energy as well as the extension into low frequency and the amount of speed is going to be pretty pretty darn good and pretty fast for a tube amplifier.
Is it going to be as fast as a solid state ? No, but it’s going to get pretty darn close. In fact if you put it to an A B test, a lot of the people won’t even notice the difference between the bass response especially with this integrated amplifier. Now when it comes to mid range, that is where it’s going to shine. This is a tube amplifier that is going to be amazing in the mid range; the strings are going to be natural. Every instrument is gonna sound a lot more natural than a typical solid state amplifier.
Given the price point of this integrated amplifier is amazing because it is matching up to a lot of the tube amplifiers that I’ve tested in the past and it checks off a lot of the list. One thing that separates this integrated tube amplifier from other tube amplifiers I’ve tested in the past is that solo tube amplifiers are holographic but that kind of shows from poor imaging; it’s really hard to get pinpoint imaging with the speakers. Now with this tube integrated amplifier, what you’re going to get is actually a pretty darn good imaging and good separation even despite the fact that there is no lack of holographic presentation.
When it comes to the high frequency, it is going to be very interesting because this is a character that a lot of people don’t appreciate about the tube amplifier.What you’re gonna get is a very sweet, kingley and very nice presentation in the high frequency. And what I mean by this is that it is open sounding and makes your speakers sound more open than they really are.
It’s going to sound a lot more extended to high frequency with a little bit of twinkle and a taste to it. Now a lot of people call this like sparkle and that’s what I think is the right presentation here. But all in all, it makes your speaker sound more open, airy and that’s what is really appreciated about a good tube integrated amplifier.
If I’m buying a tube amplifier in the first place, it is because I want that tube characteristic, not some modern solid state sound. So when a tube amplifier doesn’t sound like a tube amplifier but it’s more so going for a solid state, I’ll rather buy a solid state because solid state amplifiers are technically better than tube amplifiers if I’m looking for a solid state specifically.
The bass is actually very very good for an integrated tube amplifier and especially given the price point. If someone told me this was a $2,000, or even a $3,000 integrated amplifier, I would believe it. This integrated amplifier really speaks value to me. The value is very high for the performance which is incredible for this type of integrated amplifier for $770 and with shipping under $1,000, it is a good deal for sure.
And now talking about some of the real life pairings that I’ve done, the Tekton double impact was an incredible match with this integrated amplifier. If I had to go back and change everything and keep only one system, it would be this integrated amplifier with the double impacts and I could live with that.