The other big aspect pulled from the Reference preamps is the logic control. This allows that big, two-deck green fluro display to access a wealth of information, allowing you to custom name inputs, control the shut-down system (ideal to prevent power-up or power-down thumps through power amps), assign pass-through for AV systems, and display the amount of hours elapsed on a set of tubes. As 6H30s are good for between 5,000-10,000 hours, there’s no need for clock-watching. Hard buttons on the LS28 are the large volume and source selector dials, and the sextet of push-buttons to power up the preamp, access the menu, run the preamp in mono, invert the phase, or mute the preamp altogether. These are replicated on the remote.
The newest addition to the group is the VT80 power amplifier, which can be – and in our case, was – provided as a VT80SE. Or you can cut out the middle-man and just go for the VT80SE. The difference between the two is the power valves, with the VT80 configured for two pairs of KT120s, and the VT80SE sporting two pairs of KT150s. As the two are electrically identical, this is an easy upgrade, and the two share the same clever auto-biasing circuit, the same pair of 6H30s (I said it was proving popular!) driver tubes, the same option of RCA single-ended or XLR balanced input and either four or eight ohm outputs. We pay a little more for the VT80SE in Europe because we are afraid of the universe and demand hot valves be caged for our protection. More enlightened parts of the world demand freedom for tubes!
Audio Research spends a great deal of time selecting KT150 valves, and the company’s ‘Certified Matched’ versions (supplied with the SE) have been through a secondary quaity control pass that ensures they have tolerances 10x tighter than a standard matched pair straight from the family. This effectively means a 48 hour burn-in before final sort, and there are always those who get hot under the collar about 1.6% of the typical 3,000 hour lifespan of their valves lost to testing, but I’d take tighter tolerances every time. Such is the quality of performance from KT150s (as evidenced by the fact that every other current Audio Research power amp or integrated amp has switched to these valves as standard), I can’t really imagine anyone short-changing themselves with the KT120 version.
The Serafino Homage Tradition is a wholly new model in the evergreen Homage series from Sonus faber. In the past, the line moved from the Guaneri standmount, through the Amati floorstander to the wide-baffled Stradaveri, but this last was dropped when the range was relaunched in 2017. Instead, the Serafino is the mid-point between the two-way standmount and the 3.5-way Amati. Billed as ‘everyday luxury’ the Serafino is also a 3.5-way design but features a scaled-down cabinet and smaller bass drivers to make the loudspeaker a little more approachable in typical European listening rooms. It sports the company’s innovative laminar ‘Stealth Ultraflex’ rear port (making the design technically a para-aperiodic reflex cabinet) and its ‘silent spikes’ (part of the company’s ‘Zero Vibration Transmission’ system), which are a metal/elastomer sandwich design preventing any stray cabinet resonance from leaking out into the listening environment through the floor.