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Jolida JD301RC: A sweet-sounding $425 audiophile tube amplifier

Audiophile tube amplifiers can sell for as much as a nice car, but the Jolida JD301RC goes for less than an iPad 2.

The Jolida JD301RC amplifier Steve Guttenberg

Jolida may not be the most recognizable name in consumer electronics, but the little company has been selling overachieving budget-priced audiophile tube gear in the U.S. since 1992. I have a few friends using Jolida gear, and they're all enthusiastic supporters of the brand. I reviewed the Jolida FX10 all-tube amp late last year.

The Jolida JD301RC ($425) is a 30-watt-per-channel integrated stereo amplifier. It's a "hybrid" design that uses a pair of vacuum tubes (12AX7) in its preamplifier section, and National Semiconductor MOSFET transistors in its power amp stage. The JD301RC has four line-level inputs (Tuner, DVD, CD, Aux), plus one 3.5mm jack on its front panel for convenient hookup of iPods or other portable devices. The amp is 11.5 inches wide by 8.75 inches deep by 3.25 inches high and weighs 8 pounds. The little remote handles just volume and mute. The JD301RC is available in "silver" and black finishes.

Improvisational jazz group Attention Screen's latest CD, "Attention Screen Takes Flight at Yamaha," puts the JD301RC's power potential to good use. Recorded by Stereophile magazine's John Atkinson, with apparently no dynamic range compression or equalization, the CD pushed the JD301RC to strut its stuff. The music sounded absolutely live, and Bob Reina's piano and Mark Flynn's drum kit were vivid in their presentation. Some tube amps can sound overly lush or mellow, but with the JD301RC the sparkle of the drummer's cymbals was lifelike, without any overhyped edge or glare. I loved the way the notes of Don Fiorino's lap steel guitar hung in the air between a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 speakers. The JD301RC may deliver just 30 watts per channel, but the small amp didn't inhibit the band's freewheeling, spontaneous grooves one bit.

Robert Plant's recent "Band of Joy" CD demonstrated the JD301RC's muscular sound. The band's big bass drum thwacks provided a rock-solid foundation for a number of songs, but the bass never turned thick or bloated, staying as firm and tight as, well, a drum! The soundstage spread wider than the actual locations of the speakers in my room, and the instruments projected an almost physical presence. That's what tube amps do so well, and the JD301RC lived up to my expectations.

To finish up I watched the "King Kong" DVD in my two-channel home theater with the JD301RC driving the Diamond 10.1 speakers (full review in tomorrow's post). When Kong wrestles with the dinosaurs on Skull Island the little speakers didn't sound so little. Kong's heavy breathing and ferocious roars made me jump; paired with the right speakers the little amp can make a big sound!

The Jolida/Wharfedale sound, combined with my Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player, was definitely high-end, but the price was still in the affordable range (feel free to substitute a less expensive Blu-ray or CD player). The Jolida JD301RC goes for less than the cost of an iPad 2, and I can pretty much guarantee most Jolida owners will be enjoying their amps for many years after the average iPad winds up in landfill. My friend Gene still listens to the Jolida he bought in the late 1990s.