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The iMPAMP, The World’s Smallest Tube Amp

By David Ponce

I’ll be the first to admit, I know next to nothing about good quality sound. I’m as much of an audiophile as I’m a cigar connoisseur. Yet, I’ve heard a mumble or two, here and there about how analog sound can be better than digital, how you lose something or other through audio compression codecs, etc. And somehow, somewhere in all of this, I’ve concocted the impression that good ole vacuum tubes used in conjunction with music are something good.

That’s why, staring at the iMPAMP from designer Zachary Vex, I get the feeling I should smile the smile of the enlightened dimwit. The amplifier pumps out a tiny 1W, and to

squeeze everything into such a tiny space, the iMP uses a pair of sub-miniature Philips JAN 6021W vacuum tubes manufactured in the mid 1980s. Vex comments “These tubes represent the height of civilization’s investment in tube technology. There was nothing better ever made.”

Uh huh, seems nice… It’s $525. If you’re musically inclined, you can get some more details here. Story VIA Retro Thing.








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  • http://www.sonicflare.com SonicFlare

    I do pretend to know a bit about audio (I run http://www.sonicflare.com, the audio gear blog) and the .75 to 1 watts of the iMPAMP isn’t going to power your big JBLs sitting in your living room. Tubes, indeed, provide a much different sound than your regular solid state receiver (I won’t say “better” for fear of rekindling the tube/solid holy war), but unless you have really tiny speakers or really unusual speakers (which are out there) the iMPAMP is just too weak for anything but headphone use.

    If you want more dirt, I covered the iMP a while ago here:
    http://www.sonicflare.com/archives/zvex-worlds-smallest-stereo-tube-amp.php

  • http://zvex.com Zachary Vex

    I completely disagree. I use my iMP with both Monitor Audio Golds and JBL L100s, and I recently had Dan Wilson of Semisonic over (he just produced Mike Doughty’s new album… we listened to old Beatles stuff on my ClearAudio turntable with my ClearAudio Basic phono pre, and it was so loud with my iMP driving the Monitor Audios that Dan moved back a few feet. One watt is amazingly loud… efficient speakers can easily achieve over 90 dB at 1 meter driven with the iMP. Pretend is a very good word to describe what you know about the iMP! LIsten to one some time, then judge. Otherwise, the best you can do is guess. No offense, but I’m an engineer, and I determine things empirically… not by guessing and assuming.

  • http://www.sonicflare.com SonicFlare

    You’re right, I have never used the iMP and am only guessing – that’s what bloggers do, we’re not reviewers – that’s why I didn’t judge the sound. You are of the rarified group who owns expensive, efficient speakers and a damn fine turntable. But most people do not, that’s why every single home theater receiver has well more than 1 watt per channel, usually 50-100. Hell, most computer speakers have 15 or so.
    Additionally, I don’t know of any other amp that produces 1 watt. SET amps usually get 5 or more and how rare are those? Of the amps out there, the vast, vast majority are not micro powered and the vast, vast majority of speakers are simply not recommended for use with 1 watt – that’s straight from their product literature, not personal guessing…that’s why I said “unless you have…really unusual speakers.” Unusual=efficient and 90dB isn’t unusually efficient. Over 100dB is the range for tiny watts, as the manufacturers state. But if you had great results then you had great results…and if anyone was wondering about the tube cult and their die-hard fanatics, well, now you know. God bless em, but for everyone else, best check your speakers recommended amplification before dropping coin on 1 watt, that’s all I’m saying.

  • http://www.ohgizmo.com dponce80

    This is the best! People having heated arguments on my site! Keep it up guys! I love… , uh, music and such.

  • zachary vex

    interesting spin on your previous post.

    i don’t own efficient speakers.

  • http://www.sonicflare.com SonicFlare

    LOL, glad I could help in the argument department! See, this is what high end audio is all about: to-the-death arguments over completely subjective topics. Ah, my sad, sad life…

    Funny me – last night, in my near comatose state, I didn’t even notice it was Mr. Vex himself posting, which is just too cool. Audio engineer = engineer of iMP amp, now I get it…see, this is why I’m keeping the day job.
    As for your speakers, you’re right, they aren’t efficient (88dB-90dB). Recommending 1 watt for 88-90dB goes against every power recommendation I’ve ever seen, but, you’re right, I’m a blogger and have never actually used your amp in the real world so the iMP could be special that way.

    Naturally, if a review does come out on the iMP or you want to write an article about your amp and inefficient speakers, I’d be more than happy to post it on my site. Not that anyone reads my site, of course, but it’s an interesting and controversial topic and stirring the audiophile bees nest is always fun.

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  • http://jonathanwatmough.com Jonathan Watmough

    Well, I have my Imp Amp s/n 16 sittin on top of a pair of old Technics SB-CR33s. These are old school looking big hi-fi speakers, but cheap (!) and they work great, plenty loud with the Imp Amp.

    Oh, the efficiency of these speakers is specced at 90db.

    I’m definitely enjoying it so far. I keep hearing stuff in records I haven’t heard before which is pretty interesting, though to someone used to a pair of computer speakers, the sound is maybe a bit middly, kind of reminiscent of an extremely expensive Aiwa walkman I own. Starting to enjoy it though.