Audiophile Voice Magazine, Dec. 2000

deHavilland Aries monoblock Amplifiers

By Bill Wells,

"Many times over the years, I have gotten caught up in the debate over which is better solid-state accuracy or tube musicality.

Enter the deHavilland Aries mono block amplifiers into my world and once again my long-term love affair with tube amplifiers has been rekindled. Having had experiences with a wide range of high-end electronics and loudspeakers, what I now profoundly understand is just how important component matching is to effect the greatest degree of musical satisfaction from a given system. With the deHavillands, that was much the same as well.

After unboxing these amps, checking over the instructions, getting the tubes properly placed and checking the bias, my first inclination was to install them in my reference system for auditioning purposes. However, based on their relative power rating, I assumed that ultimately this would not be a fair test as well as possibly not providing me with the very best system configuration to assess their overall sonic capabilities. Fortunately, my reference loudspeakers are reasonably efficient with a relatively benign impedance load. As a result, the Aries amps were surprising comfortable in this setting and I was able to quickly start enjoying the music they produced.

So, in order to offer the Aries even better speaker matches, I auditioned them with a number of other high quality loudspeakers. Generally speaking, I found the Aries pretty much up to the task of adequately driving different speakers. This has helped me to realize that the Aries amps are actually more adaptable to a wider range of loudspeakers than perhaps I would have assumed in the beginning. Interestingly, at least in the case of the deHavilland Aries amps, size and power ratings alone do not seem to matter a great deal.

Beyond that, the overall convenience and sonic performance obtained by running digital directly into the Aries quickly won me over. As such, I found no reason to include an active linestage with these amps. With this setup, the sound was simply cleaner, a bit more spacious, seemingly more powerful, and definitely more controlled. I'm not quite sure just what was happening here, other than obviously eliminating another component and additional cabling from the chain, but I can say without any hesitation that I believe the Aries amplifiers were operating closer to their optimum performance level when used in this manner. Also, the noise floor of the Aries seemed to be quite low, even when driving my larger, more complex loudspeakers. Having lived with some very quiet solid-state amps for quite a while now, I found myself quite impressed with the Aries in the area. I just did not find anything objectionable regarding their noise floor.

OK, so what do you get musically with the single-ended, triode deHavilland Aries monoblock amplifiers. Well, to begin with, I found the sound produced by them to be very life-like and convincingly real. In fact, it once again made me very much aware of the limitations of many solid-state amps in terms of sheer musicality. To say that the Aries have some very special musical qualities is almost an understatement. Perhaps this would not be the case when using the Aries on all types of music or when mating them with particularly inefficient loudspeakers or ones with difficult impedances. However, with continued auditioning, I found them to render a musical quality rich in harmonic structure, superb with detail, outstanding in its reproduction of musical timbre, relatively quick and agile in reproduction, and clear in bringing forth musical nuances.

Fortunately, the Aries amps do not seem to be possessed of the so-called tubey sound. For the most part, the offer a relatively high degree of music accuracy. Reproduced music through the deHavillands can often be quite satisfying musically and easily sweep the listener to a wonderful level of listening enjoyment. Switching input sources with these amplifiers can be quite revealing. For instance, moving from the competent but older Rotel CD player to the new BAT CD player, the Aries amplifiers quickly made the differences apparent. The combination of the Aries with the BAT CD player (also a tube based product) provided a very effective musical combination and was my preferred setup.

Likewise, the Aries amplifiers were able to quickly let me know the quality of various recordings. In particular, more naturally miked recordings sounded absolutely superb through the Aries. Try listening to Lonely Woman by the Frank Kimbrough Trio on the Mapleshade label with the Aries. The tonality of the piano along with the wonderfully articulated acoustic bass comes through in fine fashion. Percussion on this recording also comes through clear with cymbals shimmering as they should. Another of my favorite recordings is Mary Stallings Fine and Mellow on the Clarity Recording label. Through the Aries amps, Stallings vocal intonations become clearly distinct and you are able to easily follow her movements through the various phrasings. Along with this, the reproduction of the acoustic bass performance is convincing with proper weight and warm harmonics.

Another of my favorite recording is Milt Jackson's Quartet playing Mostly Duke on the Pablo label. In particular, the musical performance on the selection titled "The Summer Knows" can reveal quite a bit about an amplifier. On this particular cut, Milt plays the vibes in his typically subtle but powerfully dynamic manner. Through the Aries amplifiers, Milt's performance comes through in a manner that actually surprised me because of its being so full and enjoyable. Additionally, Ray Brown's acoustic bass sounds authentic, every bit like it should. In my experiences thus far, the Aries do not wimp out on reproducing music and when matched with appropriate speakers, these amps can offer surprising good results making the listener wanting just to continue stuffing their favorite CD into the player.

Throughout my listening with the Aries amplifiers in place, I became very much aware at how well they reproduced a fairly wide variety of instruments, particularly piano, saxophone, acoustic bass and any other instruments with strong harmonic overtones and structures. I was happy that this included male or female vocalists. Listening to the wonderfully spirited Gene Harris Quartet on his CD titled Brotherhood really provided a demonstration of how well the Aries could track the different instrumentalists and provide a clear listening path to each. On the cuts titled The Brotherhood of Man and The Sidewinder, this quartet really picks up the pace, with Harris' piano remaining a dominant and clear voice throughout. The Aries amps put the music right out front with a glistening to the sound that made it oh so very enjoyable.

Putting the Aries to the test in a different way, I popped into the CD player a new and exciting musical CD by Pancho Sanchez titled Soul of the Conga on the Concord Jazz label. This CD contains some very interesting Latin jazz including dynamic percussion along with Joey DeFrancesca on his luscious Hammond B-3, accompanied by trumpet master Terence Blanchard and a host of others. The Aries rendered the music on this disc in fine fashion, and again I was somewhat surprised at how well these monoblocks handled the music’s various nuances. Although I haven't written much here about the transient response and speed of these amps, music such as that contained on the Gene Harris and Pancho Sanchez CDs made it clear to me that this was another area where the Aries excelled.

Beyond the tonal characteristics of the deHavilland Aries amps, their performance in the area of staging was rock solid. Images were perceived to be in their proper place, without wandering. This, along with a clear sonic picture, allowed me to listen deep into a sound stage that was fully developed and not thin or anemic in any way. Music seemed to come forth with a life-like quality and proper body or weight."


deHavilland Aries Monoblock Amplifiers, deHavilland Electric Amplifier Co., 332 Alamo Square, Alamo, CA 94507. phone:  (925) 837-7201  website

Associated Equipment

B.A.T. Vk50 Se Line Stage; BAT VK-1000 solid-state monoblock and Bel Canto SET-80 monoblock amplifiers; BAT CD-5 Se and Rotel 990 CD Players; ESP Concert Grands, Silverline Audio SR-15, and Coincident Triumph speakers;

NBS Statement interconnects and speaker cables; ASC Tube Traps; Richard Gray’s Power Stations; Solid Steel equipment rack, and Sound Anchor speaker stands.