LOTH-X JI-300 Amp Reviewed

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From one extreme to the other: after letting me loose on their cheapest speaker, the £400 per pair Ion, Loth-X has sent over a £10,000 single-ended triode integrated amplifier. Talk about covering all price points. I'm told this isn't even their most expensive unit, so I can only wonder at how they top it; then again, we live in a world of £3,000 fountain pens and investment banker types prepared to drop £44,000 just on the wine with their meal at Gordon Ramsay's Petrus. Who am I to say that it's expensive?

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Then you learn that it puts out a mighty 8W/ch. Yes, a nominal eight watts, with no missing zeroes. According the importer, it's probably 15W, but who's counting? At this level, you're still limited to speakers of the highest sensitivity you can muster. Suddenly there are horrific flashbacks to the height of Ongaku madness, amps swapped for Mercedes SLKs, yadayadayada. But it took me all of six seconds to fall in love with this amp, even though I won't let a horn speaker within 50 yards of my listening room and its heart is a pair of 300Bs - hardly my favourite tube despite my love affair with Air Tight's application of said glassware. In this case, as with Air Tight, we're talking about a pair of the new Western Electric 300Bs, the ones which come packed separately in their own wooden coffin and account for at least 10 percent of the ten grand outlay.

They nestle on a bed of solid aluminium, flanking a pair of 5965s and a pair of 5687s. And I do mean "solid": the JI-300's chassis is precision-machined out of aluminium stock, hand-finished to a standard associated with medical equipment, and the whole unit weighs a hefty 49lb. Until you see this in person, you can't really appreciate just how luxurious it is, how it oozes opulence, a sybaritic toy with such presence that you can't take your eyes off it. And it isn't size-related: at 15.5x13.5x9in (WDH), it's hardly on a par with a Theta Dreadnaught. No, it's all down to finish and clean lines and attention to detail. Even the two control knobs, for source select and level, are milled out of solid aluminium and filled with ball bearings. If you're one of those who's dazzled by the feel of an amp's switchery, one twiddle with this and you'll be hooked.

As for the looks, simplicity is the key - truly less is more: those two knobs and a blue pilot light are all that the front panel carries, while the top plate holds only the six valves and the transformer cover is utterly devoid of trim, printed legends, logos or other distractions. The only identification of the unit's origins are the extremely subtle engravings - model name below the pilot light, brand-name to the lower right. At the back, just the requisite sockets for five line inputs, tape output, on/off rocker switch, IEC mains socket and binding posts to allow the use of 8 or 16 ohm speakers (4 ohm taps are available on request).

As is part and parcel of the single-ended triode community's approach to reality, there is an element of mystery to the circuitry of the JI-300. According to its designer, who allegedly worked on high-tech military power supplies, the circuit is unlike any other SE, especially the 'rectifier-less' power supply and the output transformers; power supply impedance is fifty times lower than conventional rectifier/filter supplies. The power supply contains 150 components and is supposed to replicate DC power via an innovative new circuit; as the importer said, "Don't ask me - we couldn't get into the amp!" The output transformers are toroidals and have foil windings as well as round section copper wire and is said to be the world's first semi-silver-foil output transformer. (The theory is that foil suffers 24 times less skin effect than wire in this application.) According to Eminent Audio, the design was so complicated that a new machine had to be built to do the work.

Read more about the JI-300 on Page 2.

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