by John Richardson
We all know the saying that big things sometimes come in small packages. However, we normally don’t apply this logic to powerful stereophonic amplifiers, especially of the class AB variety.
Well, I’ve got a blockbuster for you, and one that could probably fit in your mom’s purse: the $1699 JOB 225 stereo amplifier. This beast has been available now for a bit longer than a year; just enough time for some serious scuttlebutt to emerge from the on-line chat sites. Check it out. If you read the same stuff I do, then this thing sounds like an amazing specimen. There are stories of supposedly sane audiophiles deep-sixing their DarTZeels and cashing in their Constellations. All because of the little JOB. What gives? Thanks to Scot I’ve now got my hands on one of these little wonders.
But first, a bit of background.
Apparently, JOB (the company) has been in business since the 1990s, when they introduced a small integrated amplifier. While not well-known, the amp garnered an excellent underground reputation for its transparency and overall sound. Not much else seems to have happened in the ensuing years, but now JOB appears to be back with a vengeance with its new 225 amplifier.
There’s not much information out there about JOB other than the fact that it has locations both in Los Angeles and in Geneva (as in Switzerland), which makes the story behind the 225 all that much more interesting. It turns out that the Swiss high-end audio manufacturer Goldmund has licensed their ultra-refined amplifier circuit to JOB, who has it manufactured in a much less flashy chassis and enclosure and then sells it for pennies on the dollar. That’s right, you’re essentially getting a Goldmund amp in an inexpensive case thanks to a few cost-cutting measures. Further, the amps are sold directly by JOB, thus requiring no dealer markups or distribution costs. Better yet, I found out that the amplifiers are even built in the same factory by the same technicians that build the upscale Goldmund stuff. You heard it right: you’re getting a Swiss-built amp for a cut-rate price. This is sort of like buying a Rolex factory direct for one tenth of the price you’d pay in an upscale jewelry store, and while it’s still a Rolex on the inside, it may look a bit more like a Timex on the outside! Or how about putting all the innards of a Mercedes into a body of a Ford sedan. Anyway, I think you get the picture.
Odd as all of this sounds, the business model is hardly unique. Odyssey Audio builds amplifiers here in the good old USA using circuit designs developed and used by upscale German manufacturer Symphonic Line. Odyssey’s amplifiers have a well-deserved reputation for superb value and excellent sound. Of course, the main difference here is that Odyssey’s amplifiers aren’t built by the Symphonic Line assembly plant in Germany, for whatever that may be worth.
Doing the JOB
Who should care about all of this and who shouldn’t? Well, I think products such as the JOB 225 are great news for value-oriented audiophiles such as myself. Going back to the automotive analogy, there are two main reasons to purchase an upscale, high performance motorcar such as a BMW or a Mercedes. One type of person will buy such a car because they value the performance, ride, and amenities offered. Another type of person will buy the same vehicle because it’s flashy and exudes status. Here’s my advice to all you audiophiles out there: if you want to impress your friends with a flashy, expensive, good sounding amplifier, then go buy a Goldmund (or a DarTZeel, Constellation, or whatever). If you care mainly about the performance, the ride and the amenities an amp has to offer, then give the JOB 225 a good close look.
When you do look, you’ll see that the JOB 225 appears understated, and that itself is quite an understatement. First, the 225 is small, measuring only 14.2 inches in width by 9.7 inches in depth with a height of 3.4 inches. That’s not much bigger than a city phone book. Looking straight on, it sports a dull gray faceplate with an on/off rocker switch below a yellow LED power indicator. The name “JOB” is nicely engraved on the faceplate in large, block-like letters. Not exactly pretentious audio jewelry here, as there are no glimmering, polished surfaces, no humongous heat sinks cascading out of the sides of the device, and no upscale fittings on the rear. Just a pair of simple five-way binding posts like the ones seen ubiquitously on quality audiophile gear in the 1980s and ‘90s. Also present are good quality gold-plated RCA input jacks and a bank of heat sinks to cool the output devices. In a sense, this amplifier reminds me in a comforting way of the high-value that helped get me into this hobby in the first place: stuff manufactured by companies such as B&K and Superphon. Plain looking, but they delivered the goods at a reasonable price.
The JOB 225 actually weighs more than its size would suggest, tipping the scales at just over 15 pounds. This somewhat homely outward appearance and diminutive size are exactly the reasons many serious audio addicts will probably ignore this amp, to their own detriment. Said another way, if your goal is to win a bragging contest with your audiophile buddies, then the JOB probably isn’t the amp you want, unless the object of the competition is to get the best value for the buck.
Measured output power of the 225 is somewhat nebulous. The owner’s manual claims the 225 will output 175 watts per channel RMS into eight ohms, but those who use the amp state that the power output is more like 125 watts per channel. No specifications for power into smaller impedances are given, but the manual does claim that the amp can drive pretty much any speakers out there. Output distortion is said to not exceed 1% THD at clipping. Prospective owners should also be aware that the 225 is DC coupled, meaning that it will pass (but not amplify) DC voltage coming from any upstream component, which in turn may be potentially harmful to the low-frequency drivers in your speakers. When I first fired up the 225, I used my Wyetech Coral preamplifier. What I got was some really weird distortion and low-frequency humming from my woofers, which may well have been indicative of DC passing from the preamp. Needless to say, I immediately shut the system down, removed the preamp, and fed the analog outputs from my volume-controlled DAC straight into the JOB. Problem solved; the amp was thereafter quiet as a mouse. I was able to bypass an active preamp because the JOB sports a very high 35 dB gain, which also makes it a good candidate for those who might prefer using passive preamplifiers.
Setting the amp up was a snap. For the evaluation period I used two power cables from Core Audio Design, the $300 Katana and the $1200 Katana 2. JOB offers its own so-called Sweetcord for $300,, but one wasn’t supplied with the review sample. I figured the Katana would be a good stand-in at the same asking price. As I mentioned earlier, I merely fed the analog output of my Antelope Audio Zodiac DAC directly into the inputs of the JOB; volume was controlled using the passive attenuator on the Zodiac DAC. This arrangement worked out brilliantly due to the high gain of the JOB.
Before I get into how the JOB 225 sounded in my system, let’s review what’s been said about it already. This amplifier has to date earned some stellar reviews in several e-mags, as well as a lot of hot compliments in the chat rooms. It’s been lauded as a real giant killer, an absolute steal at the asking price. It’s said to have that wonderful property of putting well-known designs at five times the price to shame. The only real gripe folks had was that the amp was originally only offered in a 115 V version aimed at North American customers. This shortcoming has been recently rectified, and the JOB is now available as a switchable 115/230 V version that can be used in most countries. I have to admit that much of what I read bordered on what seemed like the usual hyperbole, with the only somewhat tempered commentary coming from our own Scot Hull, who praised the 225 in a shootout against a number of more expensive and exotic amps, but made the point that it still didn’t quite measure up sonically to some of its more sophisticated (and expensive) competition. What Scot emphasized was that the JOB is an excellent $1700 amplifier and a fantastic value for the money, but not necessarily the absolute giant killer that everyone has been making it out to be. Truth is, I’ve been eager to find out for myself.
Listening on the JOB
Straight out of the box, I did indeed find the JOB to be a breath of fresh air. Powering my Fritzspeakers REV7 monitors, the sound was big (in scale), dimensional, and reasonably organic. From a cold start, do give it an hour or two to warm up; it will open up and sound even more tonally realistic. In his cursory evaluation, Scot noted that the amp seemed to suffer from a slight suckout in the midrange and lower treble registers [ed: more a “thinning” than a suck-out, I felt that the amp really didn’t offer much in the way of character — it was more “speed” than “tone”, if that makes sense.]. I didn’t note so much of this, but I’m guessing that my speakers may be a bit more warm and inviting than the ones Scot was using. I had originally thought of the REV 7s as being some of the most neutral speakers I’d had in-house, and compared to the lovely burnished texture of the Shahinian Compasses that I had been using for years, they did indeed seem more neutral. The more I think on it though, the more I’m convinced that it’s not in Fritz Heiler’s makeup to build a cold, overly analytical speaker. He likes to leave a bit of midrange bloom in his designs. I didn’t fully realize this until I had a pair of ATC SCM 11 speakers in my system, and those puppies truly redefined what neutrality and lack of coloration really meant. That said, I think the bit of intrinsic warmth of the Fritz speakers is a lovely yin to the JOB 225’s yang. As always, my advice is to make sure that your speakers and amplification together match your own sonic expectations and preferences when making a purchasing decision.
I made the assumption that Scot had already put some hours on the 225, so I got right down to evaluating it. Besides the nice, even tonal balance, the amp struck me as being quite dimensional, especially with regard to soundstage depth. If such a sense of depth is present in a recording, the JOB seems to convey it more effectively than most amplifiers I’ve had in my system. Overall, I’d also venture to say that the JOB is a fast and detail oriented amp, as it provides a fair dose of resolution and front-end note incisiveness. While not quite as tonally fleshed out as say my vintage class A Threshold SA/3.9e or even my integrated REDGUM RGi60 ENR, it’s not exactly a slouch in this area either; I’ll stick with my original descriptor of “evenly balanced.”
Whatever the actual power rating of the JOB 225, it could get the REV 7s cranking with no real distortion. I normally like to listen at lower volumes, but occasionally the urge strikes me to run up the volume, especially with rock music. When I do, I don’t like to hear distortion or strain from my speakers. And in this case I got none; the Fritzes just opened up and got big, with no soundstage compression or other uglies. I tried this with several cuts from Bill Frisell’s cd East and West to good effect — great guitar work with a wonderful underpinning of bass and percussion. While not quite played at concert levels, what I got was nonetheless appropriately satisfying. Check out cuts on this album such as “Pipe Down” and “Ron Carter,” as the electric bass should provide plenty of impact and drive. If these cuts don’t get your toes tapping along with the rhythm of the bass and percussion, then something is amiss in your system. Which brings up another strength of the JOB 225: its ability to control the woofers and provide tuneful, tight bass with no oppressively irritating overhang and boominess. The Fritz speakers can sometimes sound a bit loose and plummy in the midbass (and lower), but this didn’t happen with the 225 on duty; the sound was always big without ever becoming sloppy “down there.”
Nor was the 225 a one trick pony, as it performed without a hiccup on lots of different types of music. My interests span a range of genres. Well, OK, not much country or hip-hop passes through here. No matter, whatever was playing at any given time sounded good through the JOB. Moving on to some jazz, how would the 225 reproduce a well-recorded plucked string bass? One of my favorite cuts for such an evaluation is “Sweet and Lovely” from Coleman Hawkins’ swan song album Sirius. My copy is a Pablo LP that I’ve archived digitally at 24 bit/96 kHz resolution. As the Hawk blows away mournfully on his horn, bassist Bob Cranshaw does a wonderful job of weaving his own textures around Hawkins‘, counterpointing him nicely from time to time. On “Sweet and Lovely,” Cranshaw has a particularly moving solo that beautifully highlights his instrument and technique. When properly reproduced, the bass sounds full and meaty with plenty of edge and attack as the string is first plucked. All of this information came through just as it should via the JOB, and the instrument was placed slightly back in the soundstage relative to Hawkins, right where it ought to be.
Like most other reviewers, I like to keep a few different pairs of loudspeakers on hand. Part of the fun of this gig is being able to switch components and speakers in and out of the system as a means of tweaking the sound I happen to be in the mood to hear. Late last summer I was lucky to lay hands on a nice pair of vintage Spendor SP1 speakers ($400, previously loved, with stands) via Craigslist. After a light sanding and a coat or two of Howard’s Feed ‘N’ Wax, I got these babies looking almost new. Why keep a pair of 30 year old speakers with ancient driver technology around, you ask? Well, because they sound damn good! What these Spendors do that many modern transducers don’t is cast a lovely spotlight on the midrange, adding some extra realistic color to that part of the audible spectrum. It’s one of those things that may be a guilty pleasure, but there are times when it’s just what the doctor ordered, kind of like that “two martini” sound that vintage Marantz receivers were known for. By modern standards, the highs are a bit rolled off, and the bass is a little on the hollow and boomy side, but there is still something very “right” about the way these speakers sound.
If I was pleased with how the Fritz Rev 7s sounded with the JOB on the job, then I’d have to say that I’m ecstatic about how the Spendors mate with the JOB amp. Many folks say that the Spendors sound slow compared to most modern speakers, and while I haven’t really found this to be a deal-breaking detriment, I did note some real improvement in the PRaT (that’s pace, rhythm, and timing) arena due to the intrinsic speed of the JOB 225. The owner’s manual emphasizes the speed of the 225, but I didn’t fully appreciate that property until I got the JOB hooked up to the Spendors and let the music flow. Not only did the amp light a proverbial fire under the butts of the SP1s, I noted some tightening up of the bass as well. I just seemed to be getting more “oomph” out of those woofers, which led to even more texture and extension in the bottom octaves. I didn’t notices any real change in the treble, which remained a bit on the sweet side, nor did I notice any loss of midrange bloom or texture, which are the calling cards of this speaker. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
Listening to Coleman Hawkins’ “Sweet and Lovely” from Sirius, I was near blown away by the depth of texture and realistic weight of the saxophone, as well as the definition and extension of the plucked bass, which also displayed a little more woodiness and body than I heard with the Fritzes. Which is more accurate to what’s on the recording? Who knows, and who cares; just shut up and listen to the music, as I kept having to remind myself. It’s OK for us audiophiles (and even reviewers) to be a little hedonistic from time to time, right? On the negative side, the JOB couldn’t get the larger Spendors to do the nice disappearing act that the Fritz REV 7s pull off, but that comes as no surprise.
The last coupling I wanted to try was with my long-standing Shahinian Compasses, which in my opinion are some of the most musical sounding speakers known to mankind, especially in the reproduction of acoustic performances. Pretty much anything and everything (within reason) sounds good through them, which is the primary reason I don’t use them much for reviewing; I use them mainly when listening for personal pleasure. One thing to consider is that it takes some time to get used to the Shahinians after listening to regular forward-firing drivers associated with conventional box speakers over long periods of time. The soundstage is crazy expansive in all dimensions, and the imaging at first seems diffuse. Get used to it, and after a while everything else somehow just seems wrong; these do a great job of re-creating the type of spatial presentation one gets in a real jazz club or concert venue where sound reverberates off of walls, floors, and ceilings. To many folks, the Shahinians are an acquired taste. Some like it and some don’t, and that’s OK.
Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle, I still can’t seem to trip up this darned JOB amp. It took to the Compasses like a fish to water. Like the Spendors, the JOB mates beautifully with the Shahinians’ natural tonal character while also adding some nice pace and rhythm to the mix. Bass was deep, fleshed out, and controlled, and the natural harmonic fulsomeness through the midrange was preserved, really more of sense of opulence. To me, the Shahinians sound their best when the mids shine with a certain texture reminiscent of the beauty of viewing a high quality opal under good light. They literally seem to shimmer in an aural sense, and the JOB took none of this quality away. I’d even go so far as to say that the speakers really seemed to glory in the extra power and oomph provided by the amp, as I usually drive them with less power. This was a match made in heaven, and the JOB is probably the best sounding amp in terms of overall performance I’ve ever mated to the Compasses. Play a few cuts from “East and West” and you’ll almost swear that you’re right in the middle of the concert venue.
During my evaluation of the JOB 225 I also happened to have at my disposal a pair of Merrill Audio’s Thor monoblock amplifiers. What a great opportunity, I figured, to see how the 225 goes up against a much more expensive competitor, as the Thors sell for $4800 per pair. Is the JOB really the giant killer it’s claimed to be? This is a bit of an apples/oranges comparison, as Thor is based on a state-of-the-art Class D amplifier module, whereas the JOB 225 is a more traditional (though highly refined) Class A/B design. Even so, I wanted to know how well the 225 would stand up to the onslaught of these 200 watt per channel behemoths.
Since much of my previous listening employed the Fritz REV 7s, I decided to carry out the amplifier comparison using these speakers. Besides, they are the most tonally neutral of the three different pairs of speakers I have handy, so I figured that they would give me a better handle on what each amplifier is or isn’t doing well.
First off, the Merrills struck me as being more incisive, sure-footed, and detailed. In fact, I’d say that no other amplifier I’ve had in my system exposes as much resolution with such x-ray like precision. If you crave detail and clarity, you’ll love the Thor from Merrill. I’d say that the JOB 225 is certainly a detailed and resolving amplifier compared with many others that I’ve heard, but it really doesn’t compare on quite the same level as the Thor. Nor does Thor give up any speed to the 225; they’re both incredibly quick-footed.
Another difference I heard was soundstage presentation. Here, the JOB seems to provide not only a deeper soundstage, but also a slightly more distant one overall. I sensed the soundscape starting at about the plane of the speakers and then extending back into the room. By contrast, Thor pulled the soundstage forward (sometimes actually in front of the speakers) and don’t extend it as deep into the room. I’m not implying that either presentation is wrong; rather, it’s going to come down to personal preference here. Soundstage width was comparable, with both amps delivering sonic cues well outside the boundaries of the speakers. Individual instrument or voice images were more carved out and precise with less overall fuzziness with the Merrill amps as well, and I had an overall feeling of improved clarity throughout with the monoblocks, as if something of a sonic veil had been lifted. Both amps left enough natural tonal texture that I never felt that instrumental or vocal timbre suffered in any way. While the JOB 225 performed admirably against the much more expensive Merrill Audio Thor, I found the Thor to be superior in most areas of evaluation.
Ultimately, then, where does that put me in my overall opinion of the JOB 225? Well, that’s an easy question to answer: it is what it is, and what that is is a fantastic amplifier at the asking price of $1699. Is it a giant killer? Maybe, maybe not; I suppose that depends on which particular giant you might want to slay. What I will say is that the JOB 225 should be on anyone’s short list who might be considering an amplifier purchase in the $3000 or below range. Or maybe even higher if you particularly like what this amp has to offer. Because, what it does well, it does extremely well, and I feel that its shortcomings are ones of omission, not commission. Get past its small stature and pedestrian appearance, and you’ve got a keeper on your hands.
About the Author
John Richardson has been interested in music and audio since his early teen years, or stated another way, as long as he can remember. He has been involved in the audio community in one way or another for around 20 years and for the last five has been a regular contributor to the on-line magazine Stereomojo. There, he has been the resident computer audio guy and “value conscious audiophile” (aka “cheap bastard”).
John is also a professor of analytical chemistry and forensic chemistry consultant in his spare time when he isn’t listening to music or evaluating gear. He tries to fit in plenty of time to hang out with his two teenage kids, his lovely wife, and the family cat, though only the cat also seems to harbor audiophile tendencies. John also enjoys running, cycling, golfing, hiking, or just about any other activity that sucks up time and money.