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Exclusive hands-on with the Fatman iTube 452

CNET UK gets its hands on a very retro valve amp that's sure to please even the audio elite.

Fatman iTube

In the audiophile world, iPods aren't exactly highly regarded. And that sentiment often extends beyond iPods, to all portable music players. The very name "MP3 player" is, to the audio elitist, synonymous with poor audio quality, lossy encoding, and discarded fidelity.

It's sad that, for the most part, they're right. For those of us who want more, however, there are solutions. Fatman's iTube 452 is one such product, and we've been given one to play with. It's a 1,500-pound ($2,992) valve amp, with no less than nine heat-pumping valves to drive audio. Valve amps are something of a retro choice these days, but they do offer a different type of sound, in the same way that vinyl sounds very different to CD.

It's a warmer, more live-sounding audio quality, and the iTube 452 delivers it with amazing power. The 452 is an unimaginably weighty piece of kit as well, beautifully built like a late-19th century steam train. It's an epic amp to unbox and even more spectacular to hear.

What's weird is that the 452 comes with a separate iPod dock--the ValveDock--that doesn't reflect the main system's exceptional design and build. It feels lightweight, almost like it was an afterthought as the 452 was going to market.

It offers a very different sound quality as well. With the iPod classic plugged directly into the iTube 452 and a pair of Denon CX3 speakers, sound quality is just phenomenal, with so much warmth and life. But through the ValveDock at the same volume, sound becomes slightly muddy, with less definition and a less preferable sound to our ears.

Safe to say this doesn't feel like a problem. If we had the iTube 452 at home, we'd keep the iPod docked in the ValveDock for power, but output sound into one of the many line-level inputs around the back.

And if you do, you'll really feel the full power of this expensive and mesmerising amp. Fans of electronic, dance, and pop music may prefer to stick to a modern transistor-based amp, as these offer a harsher, more clean-cut sound that better suits the genres.

Far more suited to the 452 is rock, acoustic, folk, country, classical, and particularly vocal-driven music; anything that could be played live without amps, mixing desks, microphones or electricity.

To see the entire gallery of photos, click here. Viva la valves!

(Via Crave UK)