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Newport 2016: Linear Tube Audio runs a fever

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Linear Tube Audio has only been around for a year, but its founder, Mark Schneider, had a long career as an engineer. One of the products he developed was the world’s fastest document scanner, before he was forced into medical disability retirement. But a miraculous recovery brought him back to what had been his other passion for years — creating innovative tube amplifiers.

The new company chose T.H.E. Show in Newport to launch a production model of its ZOTL40 power amp, a 40-watt output transformer-less design ($5,800). It was shown with Linear’s nifty MicroZOTL preamplifier/headphone amp ($1,695). Other equipment was Silverline Audio’s Bolero Supreme loudspeakers ($15,000 a pair), a Musica Pristina network player ($5,000) and tube DAC ($16,000), and $6,000 worth of wire from Grover Huffman Cable. Finishing touches included a Composite Component rack ($7,500) and room treatment by Resolution Acoustics ($5,900 as shown).

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When I arrived, a rep was playing Peggy Lee’s 1958 version of “Fever.” Although I never can stop the infamous Elvis “Aloha From Hawaii” performance from popping into my head, the Lee take is arguably the finest of the many covers of this Eddie Cooley-Otis Blackwell song. Lee’s sultry voice sounded immediate and textured, while the finger snaps and moody drums (played by jazz legend Shelly Manne — partly with his fingers) had a tactile quality, with impressive weight and impact. Session bassist Joe Mondragon also was well-served, establishing the slowed-down tempo requested by Lee.

DSC_0084Another track, this one a recent off-kilter pop tune by the idiosyncratic Sia, showed the Linear gear to be remarkably free of the sometimes overly warm coloration typical of some tube designs. The two units also had exceptional speed and admirable handling of transients.

Schneider claims his particular OTL design is responsible for the “non-tubey” presentation. At the same time, the Linear amp/line stage combo avoided the tilted-up sound of certain solid-state components. How does he do it? Schneider offers the following explanation on his website:

“First, the audio signals ‘ride’ a carrier frequency, which amplifies them, then the carrier is removed and the remaining audio is delivered to the speaker, similar to how a radio station and receiver work. This changes the impedance plane to match the impedance of the speaker, so the audio output transformer is no longer required to match the tube to the speaker. An impedance converter accomplishes this match-up. This super-linear amplification process allows the amplifier to have a flat frequency response from 8hz to 50Khz, which is near impossible with an output transformer.”

Whatever the reason, it appears Schneider can claim a second miracle: a remarkably neutral tube amp and preamp for less than $8,000 combined. If he can continue on this path, Linear Tube Audio could have a healthy future indeed.

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About John Stancavage (183 Articles)

Contributing Editor for Part-Time Audiophile

3 Comments on Newport 2016: Linear Tube Audio runs a fever

  1. La musique // August 5, 2016 at 2:15 AM //

    I recently got delivery of a MicroZolt 2 and can clearly say that it is the best upgrade I have ever had in my system.
    Use only as a preamp feeding a Wells Audio Innamorata Amp.Sometimes a new component give’s you that little extra in musicality, but with the MicroZotl 2 it is HUGE. And for the cost, probably the best buy ever.

  2. Thanks for reporting on our room! LTA is very proud of our amplifiers, which we build by hand in Washington, D.C., but credit must also be given to David Berning, who is effectively LTA’s in-house (if off site) designer for our audio boards using his innovative ZOTL circuit. We take the circuit and from there it’s all LTA. Mark saw that the ZOTL circuit was the pinnacle of tube amplification, and went straight to the source.

  3. david shay // August 4, 2016 at 1:55 PM //

    addition/correction: the zotl technology is licensed from David Berning — a tube genius. i’m sure linear tube wants correct attribution, too. i have a microZOTL 2.0, and it has replaced a more costly preamp & an expensive headphone amp. clear, speedy, and dimensional sound, without traces of the traditional tube or solid state ‘colorations’. may have to try out the 40-watt amp, too, after saving up a bit…

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