Blue Aura v30 Blackline - Hybrid Vacuum Tube Amplifier and Speaker Set - Performance and Final Thoughts
So, we've confirmed that the v30 Blackline is a very visually attractive, solidly constructed, and aesthetically-unique amplifier and speaker combination, but how does it perform?
Let me first say that I love tube amplification. As a musician, I have played and owned many different amplifiers that utilized either tubes or solid state transistor technology, and sometimes both. Historically speaking, tubes ruled the world when it came to live instrument amplification, while solid state amplification was viewed as dry and lifeless when compared to the rich, fat tones of a tube amplifier. In recent times the tides have turned, and a focus on bringing prices down has lead to some impressive leaps in solid state modeling and amplification for instruments. Still, there are many who swear by tubes, and for instruments, I am one of them. Needless to say, I was very excited to try a home audio amplifier that uses good old vacuum tube technology.
The v30 Blackline uses a built in DAC (digital to analog converter) to prepare the source signal for impending tube amplification and subsequent output to the speakers. I'm going to keep my comments on true analog versus a converted signal to a minumum, but it is worth noting that something like an electric guitar or bass provides a true analog signal to a tube amplifier. Converting digital audio to analog always carries with it some losses due to interpolation, but typically a DAC will be designed to minimize negative impact on the source. There were no percievable issues with sound quality that I was able to detect here, so lets move on to the sound.
The sound from the Blackline through the WS30 is indeed very rich. There is a strong presence to the midrange and the highs are very clear. During my testing, I began to question the output rating of the Blackline and its pairing with the WS30. Maybe I got a "hot" amplifier, but it just seemed like the v30 amp had a lot more to give than the WS30 could handle. I was surprised by what seemed to be a shortfall in the speakers, that the sound would begin to break up at high volume, given that I was very thouroughly impressed with the WS80i speakers from Blue Aura and how wonderfully they performed, even at very high volumes. This is where the WS30 seemed to be somewhat lacking. At high gains, the speakers just couldn't keep up, and maybe that's not what they're meant for. At low to moderate volumes, the speakers performed well and I was pleased with the sound from the amplifier. Anyone who is listening for it will surely be able to detect a little more presence all around the midrange, and crisp, airy highs.
The amplifier can be paired with practically any source, and one could also select any set of passive speakers to experiment with. I was interested to see how it performed as an instrument amplifier, so I decided to plug in the pre-amp output of a Line 6 / Bogner Spider Valve 100W tube amplifier to the v30 Blackline and test it out. Using the Line 6 solid state preamp, but bypassing the Bogner power amp and instead using the v30 Blackline, I was able to dial in some very nice clean tones that I enjoyed fooling around with for the better part of an hour. I also experimented briefly with the headphone output, and found it to be excellent as well. The headpone output on the Blackline allowed me to turn up my headphones MUCH louder than most other audio interfaces, so if this unit ends up in your home, you may want to take this as a warning, not only for your hearing, but for the longevity of your earphone drivers.
Tube amplification holds a special place in the history of music production, recording, and is still very prevelant in live performance today. Solid state stereo amplifiers have come a long way in terms of quality and affordability, and offer superior damage tolerance. In fact, most people would never know that tube amps are still in option, but there is still something to behold about a product like the V30 Blackline. It not only captures the sound characteristics and benefits of a tube amplifier, but it also captures the visual essence of a classic technology. The beautiful presentation of the V30 Blackline could almost turn a stale room into a museum, and the design is sure to raise an eyebrow and prompt a question or two from those not in the know.
The rich sound is heavy with a warm midrange, and very clear highs. Tube afficianodos will recognize and appreciate the deviation from the sounds that they are used to hearing. I personally felt that the included WS30 speakers were not the perfect pair for the v30 Blackline, noting that the amplifier seemed to be able to deliver more than the speaker could best handle. Those who purchase the v30 Blackline may wish to test it out with other speakers for fun, and since this product will probably take favor with audiophiles more than anyone else, there is no doubt in my mind that this type of experimentation will happen (recall that I very successfully utilized the v30 as a guitar amplifier). The core audience for this product will be those "in the know", with very few of the general public looking to spend upwards of $600 on this type of setup (lets face it, $600 can get you a heck of a stereo package these days). Having noted the almost "cult" appeal of a product like the v30 Blackline, I still think that it's very admirable of Blue Aura to make such a product. Tube amplification has a rich sound and a rich history, and it's good to see some new companies spreading the word. If you have a taste for classic technology, or are just looking to try something new, take a look at the Blackline.
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