Jan 072011

My buddy Ron stopped by with three amplifiers from his collection for an afternoon of listening fun & games. The first one we listened to was Ron’s vintage Harmon-Kardon Citation II that he fully restored – but not ‘hot-rodded’ – using Jim McShane’s parts offerings.

The vintage Harmon-Kardon Citation II sounded warm, rich, eminently musical, and was just a sheer pleasure to listen to.

I can’t imagine any music lover not being enthralled with the vintage Harmon-Kardon Citation II’s extremely musical balance. If you run across a ‘II’ in good shape you ought to snap it up. You’ll want to make sure it us up to spec, and if not, then you can bring it up to spec with Jim’s parts. The result will be a piece of vintage audio history that will run circles around most amplifiers being produced today, musically speaking, with its warm, rich, sexy sound. I know if I find a mint one it’s going to get added to my collection.

Next we listened to Ron’s mint vintage Harmon-Kardon Citation V that he has fully restored and hot-rodded using Jim McShane’s parts & performance modifications.

The rodded Citation V is a great sounding amplifier too, but more in the tradition of the clean, clear, style of audio presentation. The Citation V was the premiere H-K amplifier, with the Citation II being the more entry level amp. If you want a vintage amp with that clean & clear style of sound then the V is for you. However, if I were voting with my money I’d rather have the Citation II for its warm, relaxed musicality, which suits my listening bias and system balance better.

As an aside: A special thanks to Cindy, who brought over a couple of boxes of LPs that she wanted to get rid of that were collecting dust up in the attic. Cindy is a top-flight scientist whose work is making our world a better place to live in, and not only that, Cindy worked her way through a physics program by doing modeling, so she’s got both smarts and beauty (easy boys!).

You just can’t beat an all vinyl listening session – Cindy you’re the best!

Next up for listening are the best push-pull mono amplifiers I’ve ever heard, the exquisitely executed, superbly hand-built, 50A mono amplifiers by Kara Chaffee, that are based on – what else – the classic 50A Fisher circuit.

Kara has really produced a wonderful amplifier that has the best balance of musicality and sonics that I’ve ever heard in an amplifier. Kara’s design uses an interstage transformer drive, full triode operation (for 45 watts), uses twin (!!!) tube rectifiers for a soft start, a choke input power supply with old-school transistor-less voltage regulation, paper & oil signal capacitors, tube regulated bias voltage supply, and hardwired audio circuitry with point-to-point wiring. The chassis is even fabricated from solid billet aluminum with the parts that make it up being CNC machined by Kara personally, which has an uber quality ‘Swiss watch’ feel to it.

These 50A amplifiers do everything right both musical and sonically. The 50A sounds remarkably like the Leben CS660P from the mid-range on up, but are sweeter and more natural sounding. From the mid-range on down they slaughter my Leben CS660P with a more balanced bass presentation and better articulation of timbre in the bass – it’s enough to make your jaw drop!

If you can afford to spend $10K on a pair of mono amplifiers (I know it sounds shallow to say they are a bargain at only $10K, but that’s the case), I recommend the Model 50A without reservation, they are simply superb, and have got me to thinking about how I could work a pair into my budget.

Many thanks to Ron for sharing part of his amplifier collection with us, and many thanks to Cindy for generously sharing her LPs, which made for a very memorable start to the year here.

From Jeff’s Place to your listening room, here’s wishing all of you the very best for 2011, I hope it’s your best year yet!

 Posted by at 3:20 pm

  35 Responses to “Bringing in the new year with Ron, Cindy, and a trio of fine amplifiers!”

  1. Hi Jeff

    How dare you do this to us! 🙂

    Just when i have almost in my hands a really reasonable priced cs660p you make this kind of juxtapox between amplifiers… Anyway i know that there is no end to frustration if you are always aiming for the top, there will always be better solutions just around the corner, and better product do not take magic away from “second place” candidates, only gives you wider perspective of what is possible, right?

    Leben cs660p with 6n3ce tubes and alp modification is still a damn fine amplifier, right? You wouldn’t say that leben is not sweet enough in highs or tight enough in lows in general sense?
    (I am getting leben for 50% off the normal price)

    Best regards
    Jarkko Kinnunen

    • Hey Jarkko,

      🙂 You can’t go wrong with a great price on a CS660P, it is a world class amp.

      In any given context it seems like what’s best changes depending on the mix of phono cartridges, power cords, and amplifiers. I’m working on the review for the Sophia Electric 91-01 300B mono amplifier right now, and when I’m running the Acoustic Revive power cords on them combined with the Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood phono cartridge, the result is simply stunning. But a CS660P with the EMT TSD-15 combined with a Robusto power cord is also mind blowing on the Westminsters (listening to it right now on a Pink Floyd LP courtesy of Cindy), even though Kara’s 50A betters it in the low frequency presentation and with a slightly mellower and sweeter overall balance.

      My opinion of the CS660P hasn’t changed at all, it’s a great amp, and remains my reference now and probably in the future. But the KE 50A deserves the praise, it’s a very special amplifier.



      • Hi Jeff, thank you for the great feedback.

        Can you mail me your email adress, i have some questions about leben and such but i have misplaced your mail adress or have wrong one right now…


    • Hi Jarkko

      Regarding the Leben 660. If you use EH 6CA7 insted of the 6n3cE , you will have faster and tighter bass and more transparent top. the EH 6ca7 have greater dynamics than the 6n3cE tubes

      • Hi Ket, thanks for the tip!
        How is the 6ca7 tube othervice balanced compared to 6n3ce? I mean is it as “musical” and beautiful sounding?

        Truth speaking i have allready decided to go with cs660p, after all its function of price/what i really need in my system. And there is delicious modifying options as well… (coupling capasitors, fuse, etc)

  2. Hi Jeff,

    Just a quick note to thank you for turning the spotlight toward Kara Chaffee and her stupendously good 50A monoblock power amplifier product. I would love to have heard the shootout in your system between the Chaffee 50A amps, the Citation amps, and the Leben amps.

    I have had the opportunity to hear Kara’s 50A amplifier product in quite a few systems now, and have yet to hear better power amplifiers, including single ended triode amps. I’m saving to buy a pair of 50A amps. There will be a pair of 50A amps in my future.

    I’ve heard Kara’s 50A amplifiers in direct comparison with other highly regarded amplifiers, both tube and solid state, push-pull and SET, driving everything from high efficiency coaxial full range speakers like your Tannoy Westminsters, and Stephaen Harrell’s 604 “Dream Speakers,” to lower efficiencey full range speakers, like the Alon Circes and big monster Dunleavy direct radiators, to super high efficiency all horn systems, like Ron Barbee’s highly refined version of the Klipsch Horns, and the Po’ Boys (inspired by the Cogent speakers, and produced by the Bad Boys Benovlent Association). In these comparisons, Kara’s 50A amps always provide a more musical experience than other great amplifiers being compared to.

    You would think the high efficiency horn systems would like a nice SET amp. Maybe, but they are more musical with the 50A.

    Kara’s 50A amplifers produce music and get out the way. They are clear, steady, and even handed. They effortlessly wade through all kinds of program material. They seem to have no character of thier own. Kara says they are “even-handed.”

    Kara has a refined ear, extremely high standards of design and construction, enormous amplifier design and construction know-how, and a tremendous knowledge of available components . She never quits until she has it right. Then she goes further. She has voiced the 50A beautifully.

    Kara is an American National Treasure. To those who seek better sound, I would say this: For some imponderable reason (maybe the glut of junk Chinese amps or big power, big production, big advertising solid state crap), Kara has not been neither completely discovered, nor appropriately appreciated. Other folks loss, your gain. Save yourself the pain and the lost musical enjoment of going through the next four pairs of not-quite-right power amplifiers (each very good, but . . .). Get Kara to build you a pair of Chaffee Engineering 50A amplifiers . . . and then sit back and have a wonderful time for the rest of your life. Oh, and check out of my interview of Kara in Issue No. 12 of the Hi-Fi Reader print magazine.

    Warm Regards,
    Pete Riggle

    • Hey bro Pido,

      Thanks for the cool comment, and all I can say is that you are right on: Kara Chaffee is absolutely an American National Treasure, and in my opinion, having listened to many, many, world class amps, that Kara is easily one of top two or three audio electronics designers specializing in vacuum tubes in the world today. A lot of people don’t know that about Kara, as you point out, which is a shame, because they’re really missing out on something special.

      You’re giving me the idea that I should ask Kara if she would be willing to do an interview about the 50A amplifier. I’d like to know the back story on the 50A, how the circuit came to Kara’s attention, and Kara’s thought, design & listening process involved in taking the 50A idea to a KE 50A reality. Cool idea eh?

      I know you’ve heard the 50A in quite a few contexts, so you know it as well as anybody out there, and like me, you have always been impressed. Remember when we listened to the Pass integrated amp, switched out the stock power cord for an Acoustic Revive power cord, and we were all completely blown away with the enormous positive change that resulted in the Pass?

      Well, I mention that because when Ron was over I used the Sablon Audio ‘Robusto’ power cable from the UK on the 50A amps and the result was the same sort of thing that happened with the Pass. I didn’t mention it to Ron at the time, but the difference I heard between the 50A with the Acoustic Revive power cords and the Sablon Robusto power cords in my system was really quite astonishing, and I’ll tell you what, Pete, you don’t have any idea yet how really good the 50A is until you’ve heard it with the Sablon Audio Robusto power cord feeding the 50A monos the juice.

      The Robusto provides a big step to a higher level of performance that was very intoxicating indeed. Not that the 50A needs any help to sound magical, but with the Robusto providing the fire & glory to the KE 50A monos I was really quite smitten, and it becomes more than evident what a brilliant piece of work Kara has done. I’m just sayin’ …

      I think we’ll need to persuade brother Ron to swing by with the KE 50A monos so you can hear them with the Robusto power cords, it’s something that has to be experienced my friend.

      Thanks again for stopping by Jeff’s Place, Pido, it’s always great to hear from you.

      Kind regards,


    • Hello Pete,

      I enjoyed reading your comments above regarding the Kara Chaffee Model 50A mono amps. Reading what both you and Jeff have to say about these amplifiers, make me think that these are some amps that I would love to own.

      In addition to me owning a great pair of vintage Tannoy Monitor Gold lsu/hf/12/8 12″ in custom cabinets, I also own a pair of Dunlavy SCIV loudspeakers that I truly do enjoy. When you mentioned in your comment above about comparing Kara’s Model 50A to many different types of amplifiers on a wide range of speakers, including “….big monster Dunleavy direct radiators,….” I must say that caught my attention! I was wondering if you would be willing to share what amplifiers you were able to compare to the Model 50A and what differences in their sound and/or presentation there were when listening to the Dunlavys. Do you remember what other equipment was being used in the system at that time?

      Any thoughts that you would be willing to share would be grately appreciated. Thank you much and happy listening!

      Warmest regards,

      • Hi Don and Jeff,et.al.
        Don, I just read your question and comment concerning the “…big monster Dunlavy direct radiators…”.

        I am pleased with your choice of speakers and feel your questions merit a response.

        I am the owner of the Kara Engineering Model 50A mono amplifiers as well as The Australian sourced Duntech Sovereign 2001 pulse coherent reference speakers 4 ohm nominal (90dB@1 watt@1 M). These are an earlier manufacture but very similar in design and execution as the SCIV. I am of the opinion based on hours of listening to both that the speakers are similar enough for my subjective sonic comments to be applicable.
        The system front end which does not often change consists of a highly modified Thorens TD125 turntable with an SME 3009 tone arm using Vertical Tracking on the fly and FOSGOMETER azimuth alignment. The cartridge is an Elnic Sound Labo. Miyabi MCA for the finest in Vinyl reproduction. The Krell KAV-300CD or an OPPO BDP-83 SE takes care of disk inputs. These reproducers provide input to a AltaVista remanufactured Counterpoint SA-5 Dual Channel Tube Preamplifier. The amplifiers normally associated here with the Dunlavy designed Duntech reproducers are a pair of Beast OTL 250watt tube amps (16EL509/channel) with an alternate VTL ICHIBAN 300 watt EL34 (12/channel) mono pair. These provide the drive and high quality music for the Sovereigns to sing in my 16’X30’ room.

        In history, I have driven the big speakers to listenable levels with “Ceasar”, a ten watt/channel SE integrated amp by Mastersound in Italy. The Duntechs are easy to drive and the vast soundstage and amazing image experience with this small amp was not easy to ignore. On non-demanding volume level listening it was obvious that source material was available which allowed the system to sing.

        For some years I have had an original set of Tim Paravicini designed Luxman MB3045 60 watt triode amplifiers. These beautiful classics were the closest in character to Kara’s 50A’s but not superior, The low frequency definition and reality or believability of the reproduction with both designs are outstanding with Kara’s amps excelling in sweetness.
        Another surprise was the Roger Mojeski designed RM10 EL84 30 Watt/channel stereo amp which was a close second to the other lower powered amps used. This amp had fast dynamics and a lot more punch than could be believed or justified. I loved it and Kara’s 50A sounded “rolled off” by comparison. On longer term listening the 50As show their sophistication and are more natural and never tiring.
        When considered in the price range and overall sonic experience, the 50A amps are better than anything I own. So I bought them and am a “happy camper”.
        Jeff’s buddy

        • Hello Ron,

          Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my comment above.

          At present time I am using a Bel Canto SET40 which is an 845 single ended triode amplifier that provides 37 watts/channel rms with peaks greater than 70. This amp has a very impressive frequency response for being a SET design, has what I consider to be natural sounding dynamics, and a wonderful harmonic rendering of real instruments, especially with respect to cello and piano.

          I agree with you and also feel that the Dunlavy SCIV is a relatively easy load to drive. The smallest amp I have used thus far has been a custom EL84 push/pull amp giving me about 15 watts. I was amazed at the quick, dynamic sound this amp gave, with a great sense of body. But ultimately it seemed to run out of steam on the most demanding of large symphonic works.

          Most people seem to believe that the Dunlavys NEED huge amounts of power to be able to control all of their drivers and to make them come alive so to speak. Do you ever feel like you are lacking anything when listening via the Model 50A? Do you ever miss the brute power of the 300 Watt VTL ICHIBAN or the 275 Watt OTL?

          Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with me.

          Best wishes,

  3. Hi again Jeff,

    Yes! Give us a heads up when we can hear Ron’s Chaffee Engineering 50A amps with your Salon Audio “Robusto” power cords. It just kills me that a good power cord can do what it can. You know what a tightwad I am when it comes to cables and cords. But I’ve heard it over and over again, the most amazing example being with the Nelson Pass amp, as you cited above. My various systems are starting to come together pretty well now. When I run out of low hanging fruit, I’ll start paying additional attention to cables and cords.

    About running an interview with Kara: I did a nice juicy interview with Kara that got published in the Hi-Fi Reader, the small distribution print magazine owned and edited by Thad Aertz. This is a most enjoyable magazine, a credit to Thad. Kara and I have the copyright on the interview, and I’m sure Thad wouldn’t mind us running it on your blog. I’ll email the text to you in Word. And maybe Kara can email you the images. Please read the text and see if it is something you’d like to add to your blog. If you’d like to do this, I’ll give Thad a courtesy call and ask Kara if she approves.


  4. Hi Jeff,

    First of all, thank you so much for your blog dedicated to the Music and for music lovers rather than hifi gears.

    I am an acoustic music lover, especially classical music and also some jazz and rock. I built my gear around the Proacs D38 because I fell in love with their exceptional quality of timbres through all the spectrum, a very sweet sound, and an exceptional musicality.

    I got a match in heaven with the CD Audio Aero Capitole as source, the Leben RS 28CX as preamp , the Leben CS 660P as amplifier and Cardas Golden Cross as speaker and interconnect cables. This gear is fully dedicated to the beauty of Music. Is this gear giving the best trebles, medium and bass? The same question could be asked for live music about the best concert hall. Some will prefer a concert hall rather on the warm side, enabling the initial timbres of instruments to blossom themselves and giving more blossomed bass, other would give the preference to halls giving more precise timbres rather on the lean/neutral side with tight bass. The best concert hall or hifi gear aren’t those which succeed to fully involve you in a musical experience and possibly trigger excitements and emotions?

    Hence my 2 questions.
    From your comparison of the CS 660P with the dehavilland 50A amplifiers, I understand that the latter is better: “The 50A sounds remarkably like the Leben CS660P from the mid-range on up, but are sweeter and more natural sounding. From the mid-range on down they slaughter my Leben CS660P with a more balanced bass presentation and better articulation of timbre in the bass”. And of course this was the results obtained on your Tannoys.
    According to you, would the same results be obtained on other speakers with other sources?

    What about your involvement in Music including your feelings, excitement and emotions after a long listening session with the leben CS 660P and the dehavilland 50A? (By the way, did you used the leben RS28CX for both amplifiers?)

    Thanks again for your passion and enthusiasm
    Kind regards

    • Hi Alain,

      Thanks for the kind words, they are very much appreciated.

      Personally, I have always liked ProAc speakers, and have owned a couple pairs over the years. Ditto the Cardas Golden Cross, which is by far one of my favorite ways to connect gear, and you’ll see the Golden Cross added to my Crème de la Crème list when I get time to add some more items. Don’t ever part with the GC, you’ll regret it!

      You have a very nice system set up for music listening, and if I were you I wouldn’t think of changing a thing given you really like what you are hearing now. That’s my 2 cents worth of advice, as they like to say around here. 🙂

      On the question of the 50A and hearing what I’m talking about with other speakers & sources: I don’t know what to tell you here, as I haven’t had a chance to A-B the Leben & 50A with anything but the West’s, so I hesitate to say too much … but I would say *probably*.

      But I can say this: If you’re happy with the way your system sounds *don’t* change it. Buy more music instead, or build your wine collection, or take your significant other on a nice vacation, or build up a vintage Garrard 301 turntable, or … well you get the idea.

      If I were going to change anything in your system, it wouldn’t be the CS660P, it’d be the Leben RS28CX. As you know I’m a big fan of the RS28CX, it’s an amazing preamp, but when I reviewed the Leben RS100U line stage combined with the Leben RS30EQ phono stage for Positive Feedback Online, I found it to be more musically involving than the RS28CX, so I ended up replacing my RS28CX combination with the RS100U plus RS30EQ combination. So I would recommend to do what I did, but only *if* you feel like you really need to make a change in your system.

      If it were the case that you didn’t have an amplifier, and you were trying to decide between a CS660P and a 50A, then I would say go with the 50A, but given you have a CS660P and it’s such a great amplifier, I think you could do more good elsewhere (the RS100U + RS30EQ, for example). But again, if you’re happy with your system I would really recommend you don’t change it at all.

      I hope that helps.

      Thanks for writing!


  5. Hi Jeff,

    Hi Jeff,
    Thanks for your kind comments and advice.
    Actually I really like my current system and did not felt any reason to improve something. But when you are reading some enthusiastic comments about an exceptional new gear you have the tendency to actively seek for some flaws you didn’t here so far and look for improvements you would not even think about before. That’s human being and “the perfect could be the enemy of the good”.
    But your role is to continue to make us discover new treasures for the sake fo Music. And we are grateful for this.
    Kind regards

  6. Hi Jeff,

    First off, thanks for all the kind words! They’re really appreciated!!

    Second, for those who might be looking for me my website address has changed to http://www.mcshanedesign.net. The old site will disappear at the end of May. My email address will stay the same for a while longer, then it’ll switch to the new address.

    The new site will be undergoing a redesign, hopefully it’ll be done in the next 60 days.

    Anyway, all that aside I just wanted to comment on the Citation V. I think you juxtaposed the Cit II and Cit V when you wrote “The Citation V was the premiere H-K amplifier, with the Citation II being the more entry level amp.” It’s actually the opposite. If you go to my Resources page you can view the entire 1961 Citation brochure (along with the 1961 prices – YOW! things have changed).

    I love your site, your writings, and the interesting guests that stop by and comment here.

    Take care,

    Jim McShane

    • Howdy Jim,

      Thanks for letting us know about your new addy, and keep up the great work with the vacuum tubes, we appreciate you man!

      Oh yeah, thanks for the correction on the Citation, senility must be taking hold!

      Kind regards,


  7. Dear Jeff

    Greetings from London (UK), and a very sincere thank you… ’twas courtesy of your review that I took the plunge and imported the Leben phono stage to add to my CS-300XS. Whisper it… the Leben phono stage then displaced the much vaunted Art Audio vinyl 1.

    I’m sufficiently intrigued by your reaction to Kara Chaffee’s KE50A amp to be ruminating on importing it. Two questions, if I may. I assume that if the KE50A is more balanced etc than the Leben 660p, it is going to be significantly more balanced, more musical etc than the little Leben 300?

    Second: I’m a satisfied user of the Music First transformer (interfacing between Transfiguration Orpheus and the Leben phono stage) and have used the Music First ‘passive’ preamp, also transformer based, when I had either a first Watt or Audioprojekte amp in the system. I propose to use the Music First preamp again… which I assume will work with the KE50A? That’s the question!

    The rest of the system is Living Voice IBXR speakers installed by their designer, Kevin Scott; Kevin’s favourite interconnects, namely Kondo; Kondo rewired SME V on seriously upgraded Technics SL 1210 (new bearing, new power supply, Living Voice mat).

    I have a fairly wide musical palette but tend to listen predominantly to classical and jazz.

    I’d be most grateful if you have time to reply!

    Kind regards


    • Hi David,

      Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words – both are appreciated! The little Leben RS-30EQ phono stage is a honey of a little phono stage, that’s for sure, and I sure have enjoyed mine immensely, and I’m always glad to hear that someone else has succumbed to its musical charms.

      Kara Chaffee’s KE50A amp is an extremely good amplifier. Is it more of everything than the sweet little Leben CS300X LE that I own? Well … yes, but it’s comparing apples and oranges, really. The KE50A is a state of the art amp that I doubt anyone would be disappointed in, but it is expensive, and it’s intended to be at the heart of an expensive system. My Leben CS300X LE is inexpensive in comparison, delivers a huge wallop of music & fun, is an incredible value for the money, and is intended to be the beating heart of a more cost effective system. So, a prospective buyer is not going to be thinking about trying to decide between the Leben, an integrated amplifier, or the KE50A power amplifier that also requires a preamplifier to work in your system, you’re talking two different customers in my opinion. I hope that helps.

      Personally, I never use passive preamps any more, I just don’t like the way the present the music in comparison to a vacuum tube preamplifier, so I’m afraid I can’t answer that question for you very well. Sorry about that. I recommend you contact Kara and ask her about how well that combo would work.

      Sounds like you have a great system in the works!

      Kind regards,


      • Dear Jeff

        Thanks for your reply. Much appreciated. I wonder if I might draw you out a little farther, please… as we aren’t talking two different customers… we are talking one: namely me!

        I seem to recall that you have written that you could be content with the little Leben. I also could be content… but, when the man who could be content with the Leben 300 is captivated by the KE50A, then I’m more than a trifle ‘interested’. I have a system which would be an appropriate match for Kara Chaffee’s amp. I already possess what is acknowledged to be one of the finest passive transformer based pre-amps around (but obviously isn’t in use at present with the Leben 300 in my system).

        But: I cannot audition the KE50A. I know from correspondence with Kara that it is not CE compliant and therefore cannot be sold commercially in the UK. I would have to import it directly from its maker (which I’m open to doing). But before I venture a significant sum of money on an amplifier that I can’t listen to before purchase I thought I’d ask your good self, who has heard both the Leben and the KE50A… how much better?

        Hope that makes sense!

        Kind regards


        • Hey David,

          I’ve been thinking about how to thoughtfully answer your question, yet such a question always leaves me a little perplexed on how to answer.

          The KE50A amp sounds great, and is beautifully hand-built by Kara. Did I mention Kara is a first rate person all the way around and an unbelievably talented electronics designer? She also likes to tease me during visits to this area, and almost always manages to ‘get’ Mr. Gullible (me) at least once per visit – Kara has a great sense of humor! 🙂

          Anyways, if you like the Leben sound you’ll like KE50A even better I suspect, as it sounds very similar to the Leben CS-660P through the mid-range, is a bit smoother and more natural sounding overall, and is superior in the way it handles the bass (bass less pronounced, better pitch definition in the lows, etc.). There’s no question in my mind that if I were shopping for a new push-pull valve amp I’d be calling Kara and placing an order for a KE50A.

          The tricky part of answering your question is the system differences (and of course taste): I have no idea how the KE50A will work with your passive pre, and you might have to end up buying an active pre to go with it if it isn’t a good match. I think it will be a great match to your speakers based on what I’ve heard from them in the past. Then there’s this: I can’t really say what you’ll like better. I know I like the KE50A better than the CS-300X SE I own, but I can’t guarantee you will. Know what I mean? That’s what makes your question hard to answer.

          While I intend to happily keep my Leben CS300X SE, there’s no question in my mind that the KE50A is better across the board, a lot better, and it should be considering the price. But again you’re talking parallel universes here with these products, and not apples to apples, so to speak.

          The nice thing about a Leben integrated & RS-30EQ combo is it minimizes the variables in system voicing to get everything working right, and most of the work has already been done for you, which is part of the reason that people are so successful getting great sound from Leben electronics at shows and such.

          When you start going to separates it turns system voicing into an ‘nth’ order equation and you have to be willing to change cartridges, cables, and in your case – passive pre – if it doesn’t immediately hit the sweet spot. You can voice the KE50A around quite a few different tube sets: KT66, KT88, KT90, 6550 … the same as with the CS-660P, so that’s nice too. Here’s what I’d do if you’re sure you want a KE50A: buy it and try it with your passive. If the KE50A doesn’t end up as a good match with your passive then buy one of Kara’s line preamps (hint -there’s synergy there).

          I hope that helps.



  8. Dear Jeff

    Many thanks for your courteous and generous reply. I’m still pondering!

    Kind regards


  9. Hi Jeff-
    I don’t know if this post is still active, but I was hoping to get your advice regarding an Amp/Pre-amp pairing with newly acquired Quad 2805s. I was advised that a pairing of the Leben CS-660 amp with the Shindo Masseto pre-amp would work great. My local dealer who used to carry the Quad line has listened to this combination very enthusiastically!
    The gear that impressed me the most in my audition at the dealer (albeit with top end Pro-Ac speakers) was the immediate improvement with the Shindo pre-amp! Wow! Easily had the most emotional impact on me, so much so that I want to build my system around the Masseto!
    Will I was thinking about going with the Leben CS-660 with the Quads, I was also intrigued by the Air Tight ATM-3 and the deHavilland KE 50 A. The Air Tight ATM-3s seem to have a cult following with the Quads, probably since Jonathan Valin’s review in TAS. However, advice from Garrett Longo whose reviews (like yours) I absolutely love, had some questions on the mixed sonic character that may result from the Air Tight-Shindo pairing. He also exposed me to the deHavilland KE 50a which he uses as his reference system.
    After referring me to Kara directly and then to a friend of yours, Ron, both feel confident that the KE50s should have no problems driving the Quad 2805s, despite being on the lower end of the recommended power spectrum.
    From what you know of the sonic characteristics and signature of the KE50s, do you see any problems matching up with the Shindo Masseto sound? I assume the deHavilland amp would probably be a better match for for the Shindo pre than the Air Tights. I appreciate your input since you have such good insight into these Japanese lines.
    Best regards, Alan

    • Hi Alan,

      My apologies for a tardy reply, I just got back to the USA from travel. The Shindo preamps are generally very nice, so I would think it would make for a nice pairing, though I haven’t tried it myself. The deHavilland KE-50A is a terrific amplifier. In some ways it sounds similar to the original Leben CS-660, but surpasses it. Overall I think the deHavilland is the better sounding amplifier and is certainly one of the best amplifiers out there right now. I think it would pair nicely with the Shindo preamp, so I don’t think you need to worry there.

      Kind regards,


  10. Hi Jeff-
    Thanks for the follow up. Aside from the deHavilland KE-50A, the other amplifiers on my list are the VAC Phi-200 and the Convergent Audio Technology JL2. I wonder if you have any experience either personally or perhaps at the shows with either the VAC or CAT amps. While I have a Leben/Shindo dealer in town to audition, I have no way of listening to the deHavilland KE-50A, VAC Phi-200, or CAT JL2 since nobody carries their lines. All 3 of these amps seem to be getting rave reviews! What would you do if it was you?

    Finally, I think a good question for you and your readers, is it generally a good idea to stay in the same product line when matching an amp and pre-amp? Does it usually stay more faithful to the music and what the designers have in mind if you keep the same “sonic signature”? For example, I loved what the Shindo pre-amp did in my audition with any of the amps I auditioned. It made a dramatic emotional connect for me with the Leben, Audio Research, Devialet, etc. However, would I still probably be better off pairing the high quality Mercury 3 with the deHavilland, Rennaissance with the VAC, etc, etc. As much as I loved the Shindo, should I probably keep it in an ‘all-Shindo’ system as most people do?

    Thanks for your time.

    Best regards,


    • Hi Alan,

      I’m not really familiar with the VAC or CAT amps other than just an occasional exposure, but they do have a good reputation. The deHavilland DE-50A is a great sounding amp, and it’s built to a higher build quality than the Leben CS-660P. It’s better sounding than the original Leben CS-660P too, but I haven’t heard the new Leben CS-1000P amp that replaces it, so I can’t say much on that topic. Leben has not offered me an opportunity to review the new amp, so until I’ve heard it I’ll recommend the deHavilland over it, because it is exceptional in every way.

      If possible I do think it’s a good idea to stay within a product line of a particular manufacturer, because their products are voiced to be complimentary. You end up with less issues that way. For example, if you were going to buy Shindo, I’d recommend Shindo all the way. Same with Leben and deHavilland. All of them make a fine selection of preamplifiers, phono equalizers, and power amplifiers.

      If you really loved what the Shindo did then I’d go all Shindo and avoid the temptation to mix and match. Sometimes M&Ming works, but more often it doesn’t.

      I hope that helps.

      Kind regards,


  11. Hi Jeff-
    I was wondering if the Citation II your friend Ron brought over to listen to was wired in triode mode, as opposed to ultralinear which was the amp’s original configuration. I ask because your description of it as “warm, rich” is the opposite of many comments posted in which it is described as cool and almost solid state like, with great detail but lacking what would be considered “tube warmth”. I am considering buying a fully “McShaned” unit which includes a triode/ultralinear switch, and am interested if the triode mode would shift the tonal balance toward that of the DeHavilland 50As, which I have heard and found to be in the “warm” camp.
    Thanks for your input.

  12. Hi Jeff and Brad, The Citation II that was at Jeff’s place was in triode configuration and rebuilt with Jim McShane sourced modifications. I recommend your considered purchase but will state the KE50A tube amps really are in a class above this configuration. My Citation II has been on the shelf since the KE50A amps arrived.

  13. Hi Ron-

    Thanks for your reply, particularly as it was composed at six thirty in the morning…. I understand your admiration for the KE50A and I’m sure it would be a very synergistic match with my Dehavilland Ultraverve preamp. Alas, the KE50A is a bit north of 10K, while a fully McShaned Citation II, rebuilt by Jim McShane’s hand picked tech Don Sachs, is about 3K, so there is a significant (to me, anyway) cost differential which puts Kara’s amp a bit out of reach.
    I would like to ask you, however, if you’ve used KT-88s in place of the KT-90s shown on Jeff’s site, and, if so, what you felt the differences were.
    Thanks again for your help.

  14. Hi again Brad, Yes KT88s have been used as there were no KT90 tubes when the restoration and conversion was first completed. The 88s as well as the 6550 (tung-sol originals) were plesant, defined,slightly more clinical, less punch,marginally less power and perfectly satisfactory. About 1992, I retubed my VTL Ichibans with KT90s and tried out a set in the Citation. I have never gone back. The 90’s gave a smooth ,broad, punchy reality to the II that I have always appreciated. Still a completely diverse sound as compared to the pentode (original) version of the Citation II.
    Primarily, the point in bringing the Citation V for the listening session. The five was in its original configuration and if you have another look at Jeff’s blog entry of that comparision, the comments made about the Citation V were typical of the early Citation “sound”. The warmer, less analytical ,broader and more plesant sound of Triode KT90s is why the Citation II was slightly preferred. Enjoy your ability to roll a few tubes through your new choice in amplification.

  15. Thanks, Ron, for your insights and help…

  16. Hi Jeff,

    I’ve just read about the ke50a amp from dehavilland and everyone are raving about it. How do they compare to your macs? Are the 50a better sounding overall?



    • Hi Ivan,

      I’ve listened to Kara’s 50’s, but that was before I got my MC30 mono amps, so I’ve never compared them.



      • Hi Jeff,

        I appreciate the response. Are the mc30 your reference amps? What mods have you done to them?



        • Hi Ivan,

          I don’t have a ‘reference’ amp, so to speak. Rather, the MC30’s are one of the five amplifiers I use in the four different hi-fi systems I have setup, but are my favored amplifiers for my Tannoy Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers in my primary music listening system.

          My MC30’s have been modified as described in this article.

          Kind regards,


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