Integrated Amplifiers

EMP Tek VT-40.2 Hybrid Integrated Stereo Tube Amplifier

ARTICLE INDEX


Introduction

Engineered Music Products (EMP) was founded in 2007 by industry professionals with over thirty years experience in designing, engineering and manufacturing high-performance loudspeakers for companies such as ParaSound, McIntosh, JBL, Destination Audio and Fosgate. EMP Tek is a sister company of speaker manufacturer RBH Sound. For years I have heard people talk about tubes ("valves" if you are British) and how warm and wonderful they sound. Now, if you are like me (frugal), you have looked at various manufacturers of tube amplifiers and balked at the prices. Prima Luna, Vincent and Cary come to mind when you think about some of the major tube companies.

I stumbled upon this amp while surfing the internet and found that EMP has a special deal that pairs this amp with some of their bookshelf speakers. I was stunned at the price! More speakers I do not need, but a hybrid tube integrated amp for under $400 bucks really caught my eye. This just might be my train ticket to Tubeville.

Specifications

  • Design: Integrated Tube Hybrid (Solid State Power Supply, Tube Gain Stages)
  • Power Output: 40 Watts RMS x 2 into 8 Ohms, 60 Watts RMS x 2 into 4 Ohms
  • MFR: 20 Hz -20 kHz (10 Hz - 100 kHz Bandwidth)
  • THD+N: < 2%
  • S/N: > 80 dB
  • Inputs: One Pair RCA, Two 1/8" (e.g., for iPod)
  • Outputs: Five-way Speaker Binding Posts, Line Level (for Driving Subwoofer)
  • Line Level Input Sensitivity: 450mV
  • Dimensions:4.5" H x 6.6" W x 10.25" D
  • Weight: 8 Pounds
  • MSRP: $379 USA
  • EMP Tek

Design

So what's up with tubes anyway and why do music lovers swoon over them? Tubes primarily create even order harmonic distortion that can sound warmer and more pleasant to our ears. Solid state amps can produce odd harmonics that can create a harsher, grittier sound when pushed too hard. (Check out "tubes" in our Primer section for more details on how they work). The VT-40.2 applies tubes to the preamp and acts as a unity gain buffer. The actual power amp is a solid state toroidal A/B linear design. The transformer sits on top and to the back of the VT-40.2. It is encased in a nice black anodized aluminum "tower" that adds to the retro look of this amp. The front panel sports an On/Off toggle, selector switch for 3 inputs and a volume knob. Simple and sweet. Even a complete novice should be able to set this up in no time flat.


Setup

Back by the transformer are the 5-way speaker terminals. Because of their location, I recommend either banana terminals or plain wire as spades might not fit onto the posts due to space limitations. The terminals are on top probably to provide more room for the amp to be placed on a desk top. It certainly makes them easy to access.

Aesthetically, in my opinion, the terminals look nice on top. The amp as a whole is small, lightweight and solidly built with a good fit and finish. I was able to transport it from one room to another and have it up and running in minutes. Try doing that with a 70 lbs. seven channel amp! On the back of the VT-40.2 there are one pair of RCA analog level inputs, two 3.5mm plug inputs for an MP3 player or iPod and one 3.5mm output should you decide to add a powered sub to the mix.

Now the tubes that come on the VT-40.2 are 6N3s and have a rated lifespan of about 5 years or so depending on the amount of usage your amp gets. I understand that these are not very high-end, but they perform well in this application. I was able to buy four more from China for $18 (plus free shipping…told you I was frugal). Why buy four more? Well, I plan on keeping this amp and now I am all set for the next 15 years. Sweet!

The usual caveat applies to these tubes: Don't handle them with bare hands as the oily fingerprints can cause the tubes to "pop" when heated. Pull a spent tube straight up and out, no twisting or you could snap off the pins. And remember where you put your stash of replacement tubes as several years may pass before you have to look for them. Also with this amp, you do not get the option to "roll your own" and mix and match like the more expensive tube devices out there. At this level and the fact that this is really designed for a tube noob, this is a small price to pay (literally).


In Use

When the VT-40.2 is powered up, it takes about 30 seconds before sound is output. This delay allows the tubes to fire up and stabilize. Each tube is highlighted with its own blue LED which blinks until the startup cycle finishes. I'll be honest. The blue glow is very cool. Nobody who has seen this amp in action has failed to comment on how it looks. In a darkened room with some relaxing music at the end of a long day…well, the VT-40.2 really worked for me.

My son came home from college the other day and absolutely coveted this amp. And why not? It would be ideal for a dorm room or as a desk top computer sound system. I initially used this to power my Revel F12 towers and it produced a rich, detailed sound. Treble was sweet and smooth. Bass had good depth and weight. I know "warm" is a common descriptor, but my feeling on this is that the VT-40.2 was rolling off the treble ever so slightly and made some of my older CDs sound less harsh. Cymbals sounded fine, but that very high end sizzle was a touch smoother and less airy. Sibilance was also reduced, but to good effect. Overall, this amp was able to produce sound quality that was less fatiguing on the ears over extend listening sessions. The VT-40.2 started to run out of steam when I ramped the volume way up, but in a small to moderate sized room it gave a great performance. I next moved the amp downstairs and used it to power my old Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble satellite speaker system. The VT-40.2 integrated well with them, providing satisfying bass and a rich mid-range. Vocals sounded remarkably well articulated and natural with this amp.

I hooked up my iPhone and enjoyed music from James Taylor and the Kingston Trio to Bach and Prokofiev. Basically, if you are not throwing a wild house party, this amp will provide you with good clean sound at volumes that are more than adequate for personal listening. Vocals and acoustic instruments sound particularly well with the VT-40.2. This would be a great amp for driving computer speakers. In fairness, I must warn you that after extended listening this amp ran warm…sometimes hot. Keep it in a well ventilated area and don't set things made of plastic too close to the amp. If you put it on your desk space, it will give you an excuse to keep your clutter down. If you have small children, be aware that the blue glowing tubes may attract curious fingers.


Conclusions

If you have always been intrigued by tubes but put off by the high cost of membership to the club, the EMP Tek VT-40.2 may just be your ticket to ride. It has a 30 day money back guarantee and if you order now, you can get the "special" with the amp and speakers for under $350. What do you have to lose? This is an ideal opportunity for you to dip your toe into the pool and not get soaked.

My problem lies in the fact that I liked listening to it so much, that I might be tempted to pursue some tube products from some of the hi-end guys. How does one resist the seductive call of the "tube siren"? This tube addiction may prove costly. So much for frugality!