I made two videos about the Tuba AMPlifier, but neither isn’t exactly what I truly discovered after giving it enough time to reveal its true colors, so let’s begin with the beginning.
The build quality is okay on my unit. It looks like the version with wood in the build is much better, but my simpler, metallic version feels sturdy, is metallic, but has no glamour and no fashion flair, it is a very simple, useful, industrial-looking amplifier. I already know the EL84 from Mullard Tubes from many other AMPs tested, and which are running on the same Tubes, and thus I already know that you can tune an AMP to sound however you want from those tubes, but I never expected that someone would be able to get such a unique combination of traits out of them.
At the back of the unit, you have the RCA inputs, which are gold-plated, and which feel and look very high-quality. Next to them is the power input, and you need the power converter that came with the unit to use the Tuba. Happily, the power brick works with both EU and USA outlets, any voltage will do, but the bad part is that it has the UK shaped plug, and I needed to source an adapter which took weeks during the quarantine, and it is a big part of why my review has been delayed so much.
After you get over all the hurdles, you need to decide on a DAC to use with the Tuba, and I went with Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, M2 Tech Young MK III, Aune S6 PRO, Topping E30, and Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital to run multiple tests on how much of an impact the DAC has, and what kind of DAC does the system like the most.
On the build part of the device, it has two headphone outputs, both in the 6.3mm large format, made for larger headphones, and both of those have a slight hum to them, which has a very constant loudness. It can be audible at really low volumes, but it quickly drowned by the music at loud volumes. Tuba is really made for hard to drive, high-impedance headphones, and if you’re using a low-impedance headphone, the hum will be somewhat louder and constant. It is a bit louder on the high gain output, and following my experience with the Tuba Amplifier, I came to the conclusion that I mostly recommend using the low gain headphone output, it sounds cleaner, more crisp, has better detail and less distortion. I also should mention that my current setup doesn’t have a proper grounding, and if you have a better setup, your experience may be that there’s no such a thing as a hum to it, so results may vary about it.
There are two tube sockets at the top, and tube rolling is possible, but if you ever heard an EL-84 from Mullard, you’ll know you’ll need no tube rolling ever , you’ll just want replacement of this amazing, tiny piece of tube.
The volume wheel is very easy to turn, has some wiggle, and needs to be pressed to turn on the unit. While some people may not like a fully analogue volume wheel, if you ignore the wiggle, it is pretty useful, and I actually came to like it after using the Tuba for a while.
All in all the unit is not bad at all, and I’m enjoying the usage, and having it on my desk, despite the little inconveniences in using it.
Since I complained a lot, but my overall attitude towards the Tuba is positive, it must sound great, right? Heck yes! It sounds amazing by every definition, it is simply musical, but without losing any detail, and without being too smooth in the treble, or having a rolled off bottom.
In fact, the way I would describe the sound of the Tuba, especially with matching headphones, from the low gain output, is clear, crisp, musical, colorful and vivid, with excellent dynamics and a wide soundstage. It has that analogue magic that people talk about, and instantly switching between it and something that’s digital sounding, and is fully solid state, you really hear that analogue magic everyone raves about. I haven’t been as much of a believer as I am now, after having been in quarantine for so long that I had the time to really test and play with things. And the Tuba really shows the beauty of how analogue music should sound like, why vinyl lovers go for vinyl, and why music recorded on analogue formats was and will always be more musical, and more pleasing to the ear.
But we’re getting too far ahead of ourselves here, and we should start from the base, or rather from the bass, which is deep, but also not overly enhanced. In fact, if you’re looking for a thick presentation, the Tuba won’t be it, and the bass is mostly neutral. The speed is natural, and it never gets too quick, but doesn’t lag behind either, being the natural speed type. This being said, it has a soft texture, but that doesn’t stop it from being punchy and deep-sounding when the song calls for it. Especially on songs like “Eminem – Without Me“, you can hear that the bass has a natural speed, and a softer texture, but it doesn’t lack depth or impact. On the other hand, the bass is especially good for more natural songs, Jazz and Classical, but also for Pop and Voice-Driven Songs.
The midrange is the strong point of the Tuba, and I mean, the entire sound is the strong point, but the mids are in particular too good to not call the headline of the sound. The texture is softer, but the analogue-sweetness is the easiest to notice, especially if you go from something fully solid-state to the Tuba, you can hear a magical, almost ethereal sweetness in the mids, but also a warmth that’s really welcome, if you’re listening to basically anything rock, metal, pop, jazz. It doesn’t work quite as well for EDM, because a digital-ish presentation can come off as more revealing, has more textures, Tuba’s strong point is the musicality, not the detail per se. This being said, for the 650 USD price point, we’re talking about a detail level that is as good as Aune S6 PRO, which is outstanding, but also about the sweetness of Feliks Echo, combined with the punch and soundstage presentation of Mytek Brooklyn DAC+. It’s like the best of all worlds, but I should warn you, it is not exactly perfect. The soundstage is really wide, but it is flattened in terms of depth, the instrument separation is exceptional, but the layering is less interesting than the holographic feeling Tuba has. For songs like “Stromae – Tout Les Memes“, you can hear that there’s an exceptional spatial positioning, and also a great deal of clarity, with natural, sweet voices and instruments.
The treble would be Tuba’s weakest, or strongest point, depending on your tastes. It ain’t exactly the type of AMP that has a rolled-off treble, to make up for the lack of detail, nor does it add unnatural resonance to emulate detail, but instead Tuba has high-quality detail, that matches the price, and the treble is very natural. It is also a bit soft and relaxed, and Tuba in general does not sound aggressive or exceptionally forward, rather the sound is musical and places the fluidity above ultimate texture and detail. Oddly, I love this presentation, and especially after being a bit stressed from all the quarantine and having work to do indoors at all times, this came as a true soothing experience, and the Tuba made many weeks considerably warmer and more fun, taking away all the stress I was getting from the entire situation. It won’t be for you if you want an aggressive presentation, but “Judas Priest – No Surrender” sounds sweet, and I love the solos, along with the natural voices. The cymbals are not the most aggressive ones, but that means the song is relaxing and not one bit fatiguing, and something which helps me rock out to Judas Priest is a total win in my book.
The dynamics are also top notch, along with the overall clarity. A sound that’s a bit soft, but warm, musical and which you can enjoy for many hours in a row.
Tuba is a desktop device, and that is the end of the discussion. It is actually not that great as a desktop device, because it needs quite a bit of space, it is a bit heavy, and you need to clear the top, so that the tubes can cool off. Never touch a running tube, and let it cool down before removal, unless you want to bet the removal won’t happen to your fingers.
The good part is that the feet have rubber and it really doesn’t slide on your desk, but the design is not appealing for most desk users, and I suggest asking for the version with wood and investing in it, or pairing the Tuba with a desk that has mostly gray, or black devices, as it would fit quite well there.
You can place it on top of a DAC, as most DACs are really cold to the touch while they work their magic, and you could place it beneath a desk, as long as it had enough space to breathe and cool down. In fact, the device has a lot of breathing holes, and it was designed with purpose in mind, the only main complaint I have is that it is not quite as much of a looker as Feliks Echo is, and both are pretty much the same idea of a device.
Tuba works best with natural-sounding DACs like the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, but the more detailed the DAC is, the better the entire sound is for the Tuba, and I recommend using it with DACs that are at least the same price, as it will sound wider, deeper and more detailed with better DACs. Using high-quality RCA cables is also a great idea, and don’t forget that you could clean some of the power, if you’re experiencing a lot of distortions, and something like iFi’s AC iPurifier could help a ton.
Tuba works best with high impedance headphones, and I really don’t recommend it with IEMs like FiiO FH7, or HIFIMAN RE800 Silver, instead I recommending using it with cans that have at least 64 OHMs of impedance, and even something like Ultrasone Signature Studio sounds pretty sweet, but HIFIMAN Arya is a match made in heaven for the Tuba.
(Comparisons, Pairing, Value & Conclusion On the 3rd Page)