This is a hot piece! -Xindak V15 Integrated Tube Amplifier (CANADA HiFi Magazine, April, 09)
Public Date: 2009-8-14
Most Canadian audio enthusiasts aren't familiar with the Xindak brand, at least not yet. But Xindak isn't new at all to the audio business. The company was established in China more than 20 years ago and has since grown to become one of the largest manufacturers of audio components in China. Its products however weren't available in Canada until recently. And if Robert Neill of Worldwide Wholesales, Canadian Xindak distributor, has his way, many more Canadians will be taking interest in Xindak in the coming months.
From the moment I first met Robert, one thing was immediately clear - he's got a lot of passion for audio. He also strongly believes that high quality audio can be achieved at very reasonable prices. That''s where Xindak comes in. The company offers one of the largest product catalogs that I've come across including amplifiers, integrated amplifiers, CD players, DACs, speakers, cables, power conditioners and other audio accessories. Most of the audio components are tube-based and priced under $2000. Robert says that Xindak prides itself on build quality, paying special attention to details such as the hand-milled aluminium used for component front panels and remote controls, high quality connectors and capacitors that have a 1/10,000 tolerance level. Unlike mass produced brands, every Xindak product is hand-built at the factory.
My first encounter with a Xindak product was with the V15 integrated tube amplifier. This two-channel amp offers a power output of 18 watts per channel in triode mode and 45 watts per channel in pentode mode. Two flick switches on the top panel of the amp allow the mode to be changed. Xindak says that the triode mode produces fuller lower mids and warmer overall sound, while the pentode mode produces a more neutral sound with better dynamics because of the increase in power. The V15 has a frequency response rated from 10 Hz to 70 kHz, a signal-to-noise ratio that's greater than 89 dB and a total harmonic distortion (THD) of 0.2 % (1 kHz). A 0.2 % THD may seem high but remember that this is a tube-based amp. Unlike with a solid state amp, the distortion characteristics of a tube amp can actually produce favourable results. The V15 is designed to drive speakers with impedances between 4 and 8 ohms, with separate connectors for 4 and 8 ohms in the rear (the negative connections are shared). A removable metal ''cage'' reveals seven vacuum tubes and gives the amp a much more desirable appearance. A clear view of the tubes is also a guaranteed conversation starter!
The hand-milled front panel of the V15 is almost 1 cm thick and houses the input selector knob and the volume knob. All operations of the amp are controlled by these two knobs, since the V15 does not come with a remote control. Both aluminium knobs appear to be of high grade and provide very smooth operation. In addition to the gold-plated speaker terminals (which are finished with protective plastic caps), there are three sets of gold-plated RCA inputs on the back panel. Four large feet provide isolation from vibrations of the surface on which the amp is placed on. It is refreshing to see this kind of build quality and fit in a product of this price; I would normally associate these with a much higher priced component. On the whole, the V15 is a very attractive looking piece that I was glad to display in my equipment rack for the duration of the review.
The supplied user manual attempts to explain some of the features of the amp, although it is very poorly translated from Chinese and difficult to understand, as is the Xindak website.
I set up the V15 together with our reference Totem Rainmaker bookshelf speakers and ARCAM DiVA CD73 CD player. My second source was my trusty Goldring GR1.2 turntable connected through a Goldring PA1 phono stage. I used QED speaker cables and QED RCA interconnects to hook everything up. The setup sounded pleasantly warm right off the bat, but it was only after about 100 hours of burn-in that I began my critical listening.
I should mention that early in my tests, I covered the triode and pentode labels around the two mode switches on the V15, so that I could make unbiased notes for each mode while listening to music instead of relying on the manufacturer's des c r i p tion as to how each mode should sound.
First up on the music menu was a new addition to my music collection: Jimmy Thackery & the Drivers'' ''Drive To Survive'' on CD. This blues rock album is full of positive energy and lively guitar riffs. In the pentode mode, the V15 communicated this dynamic energy well across the mid to high frequency range. The highs were detailed and conveyed small differences in metallic instruments such as cymbals. In the mid frequencies, the vocals sounded natural and guitars played with a harmonic richness. The various effects applied to guitars and the muting of strings were clearly distinguished on tracks like ''That''s How I Feel''. The bass line in the modern version of the instrumental track ''Apache'' didn't have as much impact as I'm used to from my (considerably more expensive) Classe Audio amp/preamp. This is not unexpected from tube-design amplifiers, which are often shy in the bass compared to solid state amplifiers.
Flipping back and forth between the triode and pentode modes, I quickly came to a conclusion that I preferred the pentode mode (which I learned only after removing the tape from the labels). The pentode mode produced crisp, detailed highs and a clean, natural mid-range. It was capable of great dynamics and produced a substantially larger soundstage than the triode mode. The bass in pentode mode however had slightly less weight to it. The triode mode on the other hand sounded warmer and was able to achieve deeper bass reproduction. Unfortunately, the mid-range wasn't as clean and the highs were much more subdued in the triode mode.
Changing the pace to something mellower, I reached for Air French Band's ''Moon Safari'' CD. The V15 resolved the multi-layered audio of ''La Femme D''Argent'' and ''Sexy Boy'' very well. The soundstage had a very good width and depth on all the tracks that I listened to. Again the lower frequencies were not as deep or as well articulated as I would have liked to hear them on this album, but overall the album sounded very enjoyable on the V15.
Then, sifting through my CD collection, I came across an old favourite, Soul Asylum's Grave Dancers Union album. Listening to this disc immediately brought me back to the time I saw Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner and Dan Murphy in a small Toronto bar in the late 90s. The V15 can be played at high volume levels without straining or being tiring to the ears - of course, the Totem Rainmakers have just as much to do with this. I listened to many songs with the volume turned to about 80 percent of the max and yet my ears didn't seem to mind. Instead, at these higher levels, I felt more involved in the music. The V15 had no trouble driving the 4 ohm Rainmaker bookshelves.
To test the V15''s imaging and soundstaging, I played some selections from Holst''s ''The Planets'' CD performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta. This symphony played with amazing dynamics and was rendered with great detail resolution in the midbass to high frequencies by the V15. The soundstage had a good definition - I could easily point to the various sections of the orchestra. The width and depth of the soundstage were also impressively large, creating a sense of a large concert hall in front of me.
Finally, I played a few familiar records starting with Jack Johnson''s ''Brushfire Fairytales'' LP. The soft vocals and simple acoustic guitar riffs make this entire album incredibly pleasing to listen to. Jack Johnson''s voice sounded natural, rhythmic and warm. I found it almost impossible to not sing along with ballads like ''Flake'' (which makes it difficult to evaluate a component!). At times, it felt like the songs were performed right in front of me.
During the last part of the review, I did some comparative listening between the V15 and the Raysonic SP-120 integrated tube amplifier ($2380) that I've owned for about three years. Listening to the same songs that I used to evaluate the V15, I found the V15 to produce cleaner, more detailed mids and highs. It also had a slightly better bass definition and the bass notes sounded fuller. I have to admit that the V15''s overall sound was slightly more involving and preferable to my ears. Not too shabby for an amp that's more than a $1000 dollars less!
I'm glad to say that in the end, the V15 exceeded most of my expectations. From the moment I unboxed it, it was clear that Xindak has a knack for attention to detail. From the packing care to the materials used to the fit and finish of the amp, everything was of a caliber you'd expect to find in a much higher priced component. This attention to detail also had a clear influence on the engaging sound performance of the V15. Highly recommended!