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Bob Carver VTA20S Black Magic 20 Watt Stereo Amplifier Preview

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Bob Carver VTA20S Black Magic 20 Watt Stereo Amplifier

Bob Carver VTA20S Black Magic 20 Watt Stereo Amplifier

Summary

  • Product Name: VTA20S Black Magic 20
  • Manufacturer: Bob Carver
  • Review Date: June 19, 2012 21:10
  • MSRP: $2100
  • First Impression: Mildly Interesting
  • Buy Now
  • Input Impedance: 20K ohms in stereo, 125K ohms in mono
  • Nominal Voltage Gain: 26dB (into 8 ohms)
  • Input Tubes: 12AX7B
  • Output Tubes: 1 complementary pair of EL84Ms per channel
  • Rated Power (Stereo): 20 watts
  • Rated Power (Mono): 40 watts
  • Speaker Impedance: 4 to 16 ohms
  • Noise: Better than 96dB A weighted ref. into 20 watts
  • Frequency Response: 8 Hz to 40 kHz (-3dB)
  • Full Power Bandwidth: 26 Hz to 43 kHz without filters
  • Distortion: Less than 0.5%
  • Hum: -100dB
  • Generator Source Impedance: 1.5 ohms
  • Weight: 17 lbs.
  • Color: Black with silver fleck and silver trim
  • Country of Origin: Point-to-point hand wired in the United States
  • Warranty: 7 years (1 year on tubes)

Executive Overview

There is something about older technology that holds a fascination with all of us. Park a Model T next to a brand new Ferrari and notice how much attention that older car gets. Vinyl is an easily recognizable form of this older-technology-worship in the audio world. But if you've been around a little longer, you'll know that vacuum tube amplifiers have a sort of nostalgia and mystique that can't really be conveyed in words. You can tell how much audiophiles love them by the way they'll take newer equipment like CD players and install tubes in them to "warm up" the sound.

We're not ashamed to admit that we love the look of vacuum tubes. Put them in a room, and watch us flock to them like moths around a flame. So when someone announces a new tube amplifier, we can't help but take a closer look at it.

If you don't know who Bob Carver is, you probably don't know much about tube amps. He's been making them for 50 years. He's made a lot of larger amps, but the Black Magic 20 is a much smaller and, comparably, less expensive amp. It measures 20 watts per channel into two channels, and 40 watts when run mono. It is compatible with speakers that have impedance's from 4 to 16 ohms (we assume the 20 watt rating was obtained into 8 ohms but that isn't specified).

The Black Magic 20 is a quiet little amp at -100dB hum (something you need to worry about with tubes) and will cover the entire bandwidth (rated 8Hz to 40kHz). It brags less than 0.5% distortion. The Black Magic 20 is 17 pounds, has a black and silver finish, and is point-to-point hand wired in the United States (notice they don't list where they source their parts). A screen voltage regulator and DC restoration circuit minimizes crossover distortion and output tube power dissipation. The 1.5 ohm output impedance coupled with current and voltage feedback loops also allow the amplifier to listen to the room via acoustic feedback from the speakers.

At $2100, the Black Magic 20 isn't exactly an impulse buy, but it certainly is more affordable than many of the audiophile amplifiers out there. Their press release, as per the norm for audiophile products is a mixture of jargon and quotes from Bob with such gems as, "This amplifier has surprised me with its large, beautiful soundstage." "The room-to-speaker-to-amplifier interaction delivers a huge acoustic space and allows us to believe the performance could have existed in another time and in another place.  It sounds so beautiful!"

To understand the mind of the audiophile consumer, you must realize that there be magic in these products (look at the name of the amp for a perfect example). Something that can't be measured or quantified. So when Bob Carver, the guy that invented the thing, is "surprised" by the performance, it makes sense. Not to us, but to audiophiles. Bob sums it up best himself, "True audiophiles know the measure of an amplifier's performance is not found on the test bench but simply how pleasurable and realistic it sounds in their living rooms."

Oh really?

We've taken a few shots at the press release for the Black Magic 20 but realize that we also recognize the brilliance behind it. It speaks directly to the audiophile and presents convincing arguments. While we'd like to know a bit more about the technical performance on the test bench, we are not the real consumer here. Though, we have to say, we wouldn't mind getting a review unit in just to see how "pleasurable and realistic" it sounds.

Conclusion

A 20 watt stereo tube amp that is bridgeable to 40 watts into a single channel, the $2100 Bob Carver Black Magic 20 is sure to turn heads. We love the look of the amp and the pedigree of the manufacturer can't be denied. While we have to hold our noses as we dig through all the audiophile pseudo-science and marketing speak, we're sure this is a quality offering. Now, if only we could get a review unit.

For more information, please visit www.bobcarver.com.

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About the author:

As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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Recent Forum Posts:

Alex2507 posts on June 23, 2012 16:06
Grador, post: 891772
Nice to know I'm not a smart guy….I do agree with you though, just pointing out that saying “there are more expensive things” is not a valid point.

I meant that I was trying to emulate the smart guys … as in not being one myself. Also I'm not sure if that is worded right. You know it might be ‘economics’ instead of economy. I had no intent of commenting on your intelligence. I'm sure it's well within functioning parameters and I'll be more careful wording stuff.
Grador posts on June 23, 2012 15:55
Alex2507, post: 891755
I think the smart guys call it the economy of scale or something like that. Maybe with the numbers being produced that's just the price it takes to keep everybody involved interested. Exploitative might be too strong a word.

Nice to know I'm not a smart guy….I do agree with you though, just pointing out that saying “there are more expensive things” is not a valid point.
KEW posts on June 23, 2012 15:34
jinjuku, post: 891356
Be interesting to A/B the Carvin T100 50WPC tube amp (at $599) against the Carver design.

I wonder what Bob has figured out that the engineers at Carvin haven't when it comes to tube amps.

That's easy!
$600 for the Amplifier + $1500 for the Black Magic mat'ls and incantation = $2100 for Black Magic Amp!
Alex2507 posts on June 23, 2012 13:08
Grador, post: 891526
Until you can explain why this one costs over $2k a comparison to higher priced things does not make it less exploitative.

I think the smart guys call it the economy of scale or something like that. Maybe with the numbers being produced that's just the price it takes to keep everybody involved interested. Exploitative might be too strong a word.
engtaz posts on June 23, 2012 12:16
Wiki can be edited by anybody. Fan boys and haters can change it at will. It is not the absolute fact.
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