I am the world’s worst consumer. Not only have I made more than my share of disastrous purchase decisions, I’m also inexplicably luckless: If there’s one defective sample or repack in an inventory, it will find me.
I’m also a deceit magnet, and I’m spineless: More than once in my life, I have made abominable purchase decisions solely to please a manipulative salesman or a disinterested third party (read: girlfriend). There is abundant photographic evidence that I don’t know how to shop for clothes, my glasses are wrong for my face because I trust the advice of opticians with bad or no taste, and the less competent/more antagonistic the barber, the likelier I am to say “Great job, I love it” and tip them 50%. If I were smarter, I might actually be rich by now, or at least comfortable.
Thus, I regard my career in consumer journalism as one big cosmic joke. Everything about me fairly screams: Take my advice at your peril.
And yet: Owing in part to my history of mistakes, I have learned a few things about habituation: the art of forcing oneself to acquire an acquired taste. Like kimchi. Or Pimms No.1. (God protect us from Nos.2 through whatever.) Or Ives. Or bad-sounding audio components, the awfulness of which, we are assured, is the price to pay for their excellence in other regards, which usually turn out to be utterly unquantifiable. (Like verve.)
Are “good” products those that require the least amount of habituation? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Recently, Jim Austin and I had a long conversation about the various subjective criteria that separate the good from the bad, and before long we touched upon the notion that the very best products are those whose sonic appeal endures beyond good first impressions. That’s a definition that works for me.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a number of such products, two of which spring to mind. One was the Jadis Orchestra Reference MkII integrated amplifier ($4795), which I reviewed about five years ago. Another is the integrated amp before me now: the Jadis Orchestra Black ($3995), which was introduced in the autumn of 2019 as a budget version of the Reference. According to Jay Rein of Bluebird Music, the company that distributes Jadis in North America, the Orchestra Black is specially made for the US market: “It’s based on the Orchestra Reference, but we made some slight changes internally to improve the sound, and some slight changes externally to reduce the price.”
Like the Jadis Orchestra Reference MkII, the Orchestra Black is an integrated amp that uses two 6CA7/EL34 power pentodes per side, in push-pull, to produce 40Wpc in class-AB. Those pairs of output tubes are driven by a single 12AX7 dual-triode tube per channel. Upstream from the tubes, a single NPN transistor per channel (a 2N1711 in a TO-39 case) provides voltage gain. The output tubes are operated in fixed-bias mode: Each one has its own trim pot for adjusting the DC voltage applied to its signal grid, and each cathode is connected straight to ground. (Contrast that with the use of a 1 ohm cathode resistor, the presence of which allows for easier adjustment of bias current: With 1 ohm in the circuit, volts and amperes are equivalent.) For that reason, and because the amplifier’s enclosure is the very devil to opento do so requires the removal of 13 hex-head bolts, 10 screws, four feet, and one wooden end capadjusting bias, as is required when changing tubes, is best left to a qualified technician. And that would seem to cast a slight pall on the idea of tube-rolling, at least as far as the output tubes are concerned. (The amp arrives prebiased for the supplied tubes, the individual boxes for which are labeled in accordance with the tubes’ positions.)
If that sounds daunting, rest assured that the need for exploratory surgery on the Orchestra Black seems unlikely to arise, to the extent that such things can be predicted based on quality of construction: The amp’s workmanship is robust and exquisite. Apart from four very small circuit boardsone each for the power supply, input-gain circuit, remote-control logic circuit. and rear-mounted input jacksthe Orchestra Black is wired point to point, and every solder joint I could see was of the very highest quality. Parts quality, too, is reassuringly good, with Alps volume and balance potsthe former is motorized for compatibility with the included remote handsetand Jadis’s own hand-wound output transformers and mains transformer. The latter is made with secondary windings specific to various internal chores; one set directly powers all the series-connected tube heaters, while others feed the amp’s two silicon full-wave rectifiers, for the B+ rail and the bias supply. There is no separate supply for the screen grids of the output tubes: These are connected to the primaries of the output transformers, indicating that the Orchestra Black operates in Ultralinear or some other distributed-load mode.
All the above is contained within a chassis that’s far wider than it is deepnearly 21″ wide, in factand made of stainless steel, with wood end caps painted piano black. The fit between the various panels is decent, not luxurious, but outwardly the glossy chromelike finish is impressive. A removable tube cage is held in place with four hex-head bolts; this, like the transformer covers, is painted semigloss black.
Installation and setup
The Jadis Orchestra Black offers five pairs of line-level input jacks and one pair of line-out jacks, all RCA, all mounted on the enclosure’s rear panelshared with two pairs of goldplated speaker connectors and an AC-cord socket of the usual sort. Hooking up was very straightforward, although I wish the speaker connectors were labeled according to their respective channelsbut even then, the user has a 5050 chance of getting it right.
The Jadis Orchestra Black has nothing up its sleeve, save for one no-doubt-unavoidable quirk. Given that the amp’s three transformers are all positioned toward the rear of its chassis, the whole of the thing is a bit out of balance: If you lift it up by its end caps, which seems the natural way to do it, the amp has a natural tendency to roll backward, unless you grasp it firmly. (The most recent version of the Shindo Cortese amp exhibits the same tendency.) At 44lb, the Orchestra Black isn’t too terrible heavy, but it really must be lifted with care to avoid damage to the amp or its surroundings.
I used the Jadis integrated to drive both my DeVore O/93 loudspeakers and my even more sensitive Altec Valencias; both proved to be very good pairings, but the comments below generally refer to the former. Sources were the Hegel Mohican CD player and my usual Garrard 301-based LP player, used with my Hommage T2 step-up transformer and Sentec EQ11 phono preamplifier, set for normal RIAA equalization.
Straight out of the box, the Jadis was a little rough; it had that treble lisp that I assume many of you have heard from amps and preamps that aren’t yet run inaudible here as an exaggeration of note attacks from violins, as on Haydn String Trio in G, Op.53, Grumiaux Trio (LP, Philips 802 905 LY). Similarly, Robbie Robertson and Charlie McCoy’s guitars, not to mention Kenny Buttrey’s snare and Al Kooper’s organ, on Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna,” from Blonde on Blonde (LP, Columbia LP 5110), had too much of an edge when I first installed the Jadis.
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US distributor: Bluebird Music Ltd.
310 Rosewell Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4R 2B2, Canada
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