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Burn-in or Baloney? A client's opinion...

Every so often, a client reaches out to us with their opinions on an audiophile hot topic. This one is worth sharing...

'How important is the 30 day trial period offered by Elite Audio in ensuring you are getting what you want in a new purchase? What follows is my experience with an Octave V110SE (KT150 Upgrade) and Super Black Box.

First a little context. I come from a scientific background, have been listening to hifi for 45 years or so and have a number of good friends also afflicted with the same passion for great music and music reproduction. I am very fortunate in having a room that is primarily used as a listening room, consequently it is acoustically treated and I have the space to fit in a significant amount of equipment isolation, mechanical and electrical grounding, shunt mains filters, DC offset blocking and a balanced mains supply for the front end of the system. This means that any equipment plugged in should usually perform at close to its best, currently an Innuos Zenith server/player feeds a Chord Qutest into the amp and then out to Triangle Signature Alpha speakers. I had a Unison Research Sinfonia amp which worked really well with the fairly efficient Signature Alphas, but I was looking for a sound with better macro and micro dynamics.

After a conversation with Mark he suggested I try the Octave V110SE with Super Black Box. A brand new model arrived from Germany and the fun began. I biased the 4 KT150’s which on the V110SE is a very simple job. First impression; the Octave was very different to my much loved Sinfonia. It took a while to realise that what I was hearing was the change brought about by the incredible resolution of the Octave and its ability to track micro and macro dynamic swings in the music. The downside; tonally the whole presentation was a lot cooler, more reserved and less dense than the Sinfonia, despite there being a lot more well differentiated information coming through. The Octave appealed to my head but not my heart, it engaged me intellectually but not emotionally in the music. My wife, a classically trained musician, felt the same. I recalled Mark had said that the amp would need a good few hours on it before it sounded at its best so I set about getting a lot more hours on it. The factory soak test all their amps for 48 hours so I was a little sceptical that the change would be significant. In addition I was aware that psychoacoustics can play a part over time. We all want to like what we have bought and generally the more used to something you get the ‘better’ it sounds, or probably more accurately, the better you think it sounds.

It took the best part of 2 weeks to get about 100 hours of use on the amp. I would put it on in the morning with music playing through it quietly and then have a listen in the evening. At the 100 hour mark I sat down for a critical listen. I perceived a change for the better but at that point decided that the loss of tonal density or warmth compared to my old amp was still too much of an issue, despite the benefits elsewhere and consequently contacted Rachael at Elite Audio to return the amp. Rachael advised that the amp really needed 200 hours minimum to start working well. I was impressed enough with the positives about the amp to give it a little more time as it had moved in the right direction.

Hours on the amp mounted up and I continued to perceive an opening up and an increase in tonal density. At around 140 hours it began to get interesting. For the first time with the new amp when listening to a track I knew well, there was a glimpse of becoming more emotionally involved. Was I kidding myself or was something really changing? Being cautious I arranged to listen to some other more well known amps. I was able to try a very highly regarded and positively reviewed, run in, valve amp in my own system and do a direct comparison. By the time I had checked out the other amps the Octave had about 180 hours on it and was really beginning to sing. I was shocked at the difference between the 2 amps, so much so I asked my wife to have another listen and also another hifi enthusiast friend. The other amp that reviewers had said combined the openness and tonal density of valves with dynamic punch and drive was comprehensively beaten in all those areas by the Octave, including, for me that all important, tonal accuracy and density. I called Rachael to buy the Octave.

Having been sceptical about burn in and done everything I could to check my perception with others, I believe that this valve amp changes markedly for the better over the first 200 hours of use. Without the 30 day trial I would have missed out on an absolutely superb amp. Interestingly the Octave manual does suggest daily use, but NOT on all day, for up to three months will bring improvements.' - Anonymous


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