Aronov LS-9100 Monoblock Amplifiers
by Mike Masztal
As long as I can remember, Ive loved music. My earliest memories go back to the early 60s when I would sing along with Alvin & the Chipmunks being played over my fathers stereo. Records by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Peggy Lee also spent a lot of time on the turntable. The music was good, maybe because the amplifier was a tube-powered EICO. Although that system was not high-end by todays standards, the music I remember had a naturalness to it, and I seldom felt fatigued from the sound, even after listening for hours.
After getting hooked on audio 25 years ago, I began the seemingly endless pursuit of trying to find musical nirvana. Flip-flopping between several solid-state and tube systems, I could never quite find the ideal sound. While I enjoyed the detail and control of solid-state gear, I ultimately found myself listening less often. I guess the subtle graininess and haze of the solid-state equipment I had was the culprit. Tube gear offered a rich, full-bodied sound that enabled me to listen for long periods, but I missed the definition in the lower octaves. Maybe switching to one of those highly rated "Class A" amps with a cool faceplate would do the trick. After auditioning a few of them, I was impressed by the forward, detailed sound, and I bought an amp and preamp. Two months later, my system was rarely played.
For a time, I believed there was no near-perfect system that I could live with, so I chose the lesser of two evilstubes. An excellent Audio Note P2-SE Signature amp (17Wpc single ended, class A) did the trick for quite some time. Once again the music sounded like music, and I was listening daily, but after moving to a larger home, I needed larger speakers and more power. I wasnt looking forward to the search.
While I lived in western Massachusetts, I discovered that there was a dearth of high-end shops, and the local ones would generally claim that whatever was on the floor was objectively "the best." After moving to Atlanta, I dutifully joined the Atlanta Audio Society and visited a large number of local audio shops where most of the well-known tube companies were represented. This was definitely one of the better places for an audiophile to live. The two big names in tube gear didnt quite do it for me. Walking into Jim Keans shop, I saw other big guns like VTL, Air Tight, Melos, Quicksilver, Fourier, BAT, and...Arovov? I remembered reading about Aronov equipment in The Abso!ute Sound several years before, but there hadnt been much coverage since. Interestingly, the Aronov LS-9000 preamp and LS-9100 monoblocks were in the main room mated with the dynamite Quadrature DSP 5A speakers.
Hmmm.... Why werent the big guns in the main room? Jim said that I should listen to Aronov gear first. As usual, I had my reference CDs on hand, so I had a chance to evaluate this system. The LS-9100s had the glorious midrange found on the finest tube designs, but the basswow! No marshmallow bottom end here. The Aronovs displayed bass control and dynamics that Id never heard before with a tube amp. After a few hours of changing amps, speakers, and wires, I understood why Jim had the Aronovs in the main room. Because I wasnt in the market for the monoblocks at that time, I took the 60-watt LS-960I integrated amp home for a demo and found it to have much of the Aronov sound I heard at the shop, so I bought it. But I never forgot about the LS-9100s....
Aronov Audio Laboratory is part of one of the largest electronics-repair companies in Southern California. Yakov Aronov, the designer of all Aronov equipment, is an electrical engineer who manufactured his first amplifier in 1953. Through the years, he continued to design home and professional amplifiers with attention to sound quality and reliability. The Aronov LS-9100 amps are beautifully finished. Side panels are in a piano-black finish while the faceplate is black glass with a gold-plated logo backlit by a cool X-Files-like green light. The amps are built like a tank, with a heavy 11-gauge steel case, and they weigh in at a hefty 58 pounds each. Its comforting to know that youre not paying extra for a 1/4"-thick, machined aluminum faceplate that adds nothing to the sound. The power of each amp comes from a self-biasing quad set of Svetlana 6550C tubes and a single 6AN8 driver tube. The power supply and output transformer are massivemuch larger than Ive seen used for many of the big-buck, big-name amplifiers. There are only single-ended inputs (balanced inputs are not available at this time) and one set of high-quality speaker binding posts. Rated output is 110Wpc, but the sound is such that the power rating seems conservative.
Source: CAL Delta transport, CAL Alpha DAC retubed with Brimar CV4004 tubes. Preamp: Arovov LS-9000. Speakers: JMlabs Daline 3.1, Silverline SR17 (review coming), Wisdom Audio Monopole 50. Interconnects: JPS Labs Superconductor. Speaker cables: Nordost Flatline, JPS Labs Superconductor. Power Cords: JPS Labs Digital AC, Analog AC and Power AC cords. All components were plugged into a homemade, non-filtered outlet strip that in turn was powered by a dedicated outlet. My listening room is 12'x18'x8.5' and complimented by Corner Tunes and homemade "room tunes."
As I stated earlier, when I first heard the Aronovs, I was impressed by their degree of bass control. They can really slam when they need to. Detail on John Patituccis upright bass on "Quasimodo" from One More Angel (Concord CCD-4753-2) is excellent. I have a hunch that the bass control is a product of the Aronov-designed output transformers.
The detail and control of the bass were not accomplished at the sacrifice of harmonics. One of my favorite reference recordings is John McLaughlins Live at the Royal Festival Hall (JMT 834 436-2), an excellent source for evaluating soundstaging, spatial resolution of performers and instruments, percussion, and ambient decay. On "Jozy" and "Pashas Love," percussion transients were quick, dynamic and tonally correct. I also noted excellent spatial resolution on "Florianopolis." Hard transients were well handled, attesting to the ample power these amps possess. Pace and rhythm were great on tuneful songs like "You Cut Me to the Bone" from Robben Ford & the Blue Line (Stretch Records STD 1102). The Aronov amps tend to have the attributes of solid-state (controlled bass) and tube gear (midrange bloom and lack of graininess) without the drawbacks of either. Vocals are also wonderfully handled, as one might expect from a tube amplifier. The Aronov LS-9100s are ideal in my opinion.
Yakov and Michael Aronov should be congratulated for having manufactured a line of amplifiers whose price: performance ratio defies convention. Monoblocks of this size and performance should normally sell for much more than the LS-9100s price of $4600 per pair. Much can be attributed to common-sense design. Aronov uses only one chassis for all of its amplifiers, and no money is wasted on pricey faceplates which are destined to change each year. These techniques greatly reduce manufacturing costs, as does the use of components manufactured in-house. Furthermore, Aronov also releases only finished products; therefore, one need not worry that after paying $4600 for amplifiers, the company will announce a costly upgrade, as some companies are in the habit of doing.
Anyone in the market for tube amplifiers is advised to take the time to hear the Aronov products. The LS-960I 60Wpc integrated amp, LS-9600 60Wpc stereo power amp and the LS-9100 monoblocks all share the same quality construction and sonic attributes. The only difference is what one might expect from the different power outputs. Are they recommended? You bet!
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