Russian 6C33C double triode. From Soviet era missile and Mig Foxbat service to consumer audio. How the world has changed !
RCA 6SN7 GTB and Sylvania JAN VT-229 tubes
Russian K42-Y2 coupling caps. A surprise, quite uncommon in commercial gear.
The Almarro A-318B is quite an unusual beast. Single-ended triode and assembled by hand in Japan, the A-318B is affordable, beautiful and powerful - typically these words are not seen together in the same sentence.
Being an integrated amplifier, you save quite a bit of useful money. Total up the cost of a preamp, with an additional power cord, a pair of interconnects, footers, etc, and you realise that the savings are not insubstantial.
Despite its compact proportions, this is quite a heavy amplifier, tipping the scales at close to 20 kg. Much of this weight comes from its massive power and output transformers. The next thing that hits you is the sheer amount of heat produced, not just from the very hot running 6C33 power tubes, but from inside the chassis. An hour or two of operation even in an air-conditioned room will guarantee you a nice and toasty top plate and volume knob.
Operation is generally fuss-free and uneventful except for two things. First, the bias tabs (sitting underneath the tube socket base) may be accessed by itchy fingers - owners with children please take note ! The position of the two tabs are dangerously close to the top plate and accidental contact is not only possible but very likely, especially if you have a habit of biasing your amp in your dimly lit man-cave, after a beer ot two. It is far safer to take the bias from the two metal screws directly above the tabs on the ceramic tube scoket base. Secondly, I had intermittent contact with one of my power tubes. This traced back to a slightly loose tube socket. My amp is about 3 years old and was bought pre-owned. Anyway, I re-tightened the sockets with insulated needle nose pliers (you have to turn the amplifier over and take off the bottom plate to do this) and did not have any further incidents.
Right off the bat, it is obvious that the Almarro has more drive than its low power suggests (18 watts SET, but my set was delivering probably close to 15 watts at maximum due to my choice of a slightly lower bias point).
In the lower frequencies, the Almarro is no shrinking violet and has enough grunt and slam when driving my Focal Micro Utopia BE speakers (90db sensitivity, 8 Ohm load). The bass is not the most extended or deep (leave that to my Class D amps) but has sufficient heft and articulation. That being said, the Cary SLI-80 has deeper and more powerful bass.
Coming to the midrange, this is probably where the Almarro defines itself. Vocals have a beautiful glow and are open and realistic. Brass instruments and strings are equally well portrayed, with more emphasis on tone and acoustic space.
High frequencies are similarly open with cymbals shimmering in the right way with correct emphasis on both the transient and the decay.
The Almarro is a beautiful amp designed to appeal to the emotional side of things. From the logic side, the Almarro does not have the best of extension at both frequency extremes. It is easily bettered by the Cary SLI-80 in this respect. Resolution is good but not world class. Soundstaging, imaging and separation are acceptable to slightly above average. Despite all this, the listener is too busy listening to the beauty of the Almarro's tone to notice or care about such things. The feeling of holographically "being there" is a strength of this amp How the Almarro manages this without being a champ in imaging and soundstaging is baffling !
Asking my partner for a second opinion, she concluded that the Almarro was beautiful but somewhat emotionally draining, while the Cary was more balanced. I reckoned that this has more to the do with the high level of emotional engagement of the Almarro.
If you are the sort of listener that wants to be able to feel the emotion of a violin concerto instead of being able to discern the exact placement of all performers of the stage, bowing technique, what they had for lunch, etc, the Almarro is definitely for you. As long as used sensibly with speakers of suitable ease of drive, the Almarro is able to deliver a slice of high-end at real world prices.