I remember my first Audiophile. That isn’t as odd as it sounds, I’m talking about the UK magazine called Audiophile (long since defunct) that was briefly the new face of high-end audio. The reason I remember it was it was in the early 1990s and featured the Audio Note Ongaku amplifier on the cover. I wanted one because it was so fantastic, like something from a parallel universe. Unfortunately, it’s price was from a parallel universe too: I remember it costing slightly more than the house I was living in at the time, I believe. But the idea of a single-ended triode amplifier with huge power tubes never quite left me.
Fast-forward to 2015 and Kondo Sound Lab Ongakus are still way above my pay grade, and while Audio Note UK brings the prices of SET amps to a more real-world level, that level is still more than I could bring myself to pay for every watt.
Enter the Audion Black Shadow 2 mono amps: pumping out a surprisingly meaty sounding 25W from each channel’s lone 845 power tube in no feedback, single-ended Class A triode operation, these amplifiers take minimalism to the edge. Technically, you could use these babies as a one-source, two volume pot amplifier without a linestage, but in reality this is likely used with either a source component with built in gain control or some kind of active or passive preamplifier. There is a rear ground lift switch to help reduce any earthing hum that may occur in a system. There are also four and eight ohm tapped loudspeaker terminals (with, strangely, two sets of black terminals for the return) – but these are not marked as such: four-ohm is next to the black terminal and eight is to the far right of the terminal block. We suggest experimenting anyway, but eight ohms is a good starting place.
The circuit is very simple, with just an E182CC (a kind of super-grade version of the ECC82 double triode) in the line driver stage, partnered with the 6922/6H23N as a pre-amp input and the big 845 tube as power amp stage. The latest Black Shadow 2 differs from its predecessor in terms of adding an additional buffer stage, as well as some clever tricks to drop its noise level even lower than its predecessor. It is fully hard-wired with high purity silver cabling throughout. The valves are exposed and run hot, so site the amps with care!
Like many SET amps today, the Black Shadow can be upgraded through improved components. Given there is a relatively low component count in any SET amp (it’s part of their charm) this is a logical way to improve on a good amplifier design and the Audion can be turned from its Standard specification, through Insignia and Excelsior, to the full Signature level experience, where all the components (right down to the replacement silver-wired transformers and case wiring) are ‘no compromise’. Of course, you can buy your Black Shadow 2 in whatever configuration you choose or can afford at the time, knowing that – unless you went right to the top, there is always more possible.