In a remarkably short time, the world of single-ended triode amplification has created its own set of niches. Calling it a ‘hierarchy’ would suggest some sort of pecking order – and I’d rather not be so egotistical as to assume the right to creating it – so let’s just say that ‘lines have been drawn’.
At one end of the spectrum, there exists a group you might think of as The Establishment, companies like Audio Note, Alema, Cary, Unison Research and a few others which, by virtue of either influence, size or longevity, seem to determine the flow of the S.E.T. market. Another group is the still-young-but-bound-to-have-impact band of manufacturers from China (and there are enough to form a genre of their own). Yet another consists of brands which are thought of mainly for their push-pull amps but which also offer S.E.T.s, companies like EAR/Yoshino and Jadis. There are the original pioneering brands from Japan, the wares of which we rarely get to see over here. There are kit-only manufacturers. And lastly, there’s the biggest group of all: the myriad small makes which hold special appeal for the sort of solderhead who wouldn’t be caught dead owning a piece of equipment anyone’s ever heard of outside of a show report.
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Far be it for me to discourage the cottage industry; indeed, I’d rather champion it and will, on my deathbed, remind my critics that I wrote about Croft when it couldn’t get arrested, GRAAF when it was known only to a small group of Italians and scores of others. I say this only to let readers know that whenever we (not just I) publish stuff about small-ish companies, the big boys and the retailers go ballistic because they feel that the column inches are better spent dealing with hardware that you can actually buy in most shops. That aside, the object of this preamble is to point out that no single (hi-fi) sub-culture in recent memory has inspired the birth of so many new companies in so short a time in the way that S.E.T.s have. And Arion is one of those hoping to move from cottage industry to Establishment status.
Arion’s Nemesis has two things going for it, which make it stand out in a crowd so large and so overpopulated that I’d like to nuke half of it. The first is that it’s remarkably inexpensive for a two-chassis, quasi-integrated, true single-ended triode amplifier bearing a quartet of those holier-than-thou 300B valves. £2999 is still a lot of money to a lot of people, but it’s not a amount to spend on an amplifier that will drive all manner of speakers (not just f***ing horns) and still give the customer that required sense of smugness which accompanies S.E.T. ownership. The second is that it doesn’t look like every other S.E.T. on the market, by virtue of its granite-like trim. I didn’t say that it looked good, just different. But, gawd, does it smack of built-in-a-garage, designed-on-a-napkin, hair-shirt hi-fi funk. And I’m one of those who’s outgrowing audio primitivism, in the same way that my middle-aged spine and backside have determined that I’d rather own a Mercedes SL500 than a dirt-bike.
Nemesis (talk about an immodest nomenclature) consists of an amplifier section with a 330x390mm (DxW) footprint and an outboard power supply in a chassis measuring 230x230x130 (WDH). The latter contains the on/off switch and is connected by a fat umbilical cord to the main chassis. It’s a multi-way connector like the one CAL used to connect the two halves of the Tempest SE, with 25 individually-screened strands. The main chassis contains two pairs of 300Bs delivering 18W/ch of pure Class A single-ended power (hear those swoons…), these output tubes driven by a 5687 per channel. The valve line-up is completed by a mil-spec 5814 per channel to handle the input signal.
As the front of the review sample contained a volume control (it can be ordered without one), I ran a single source straight in via the phono sockets on the back and by-passing the intrusion of a pre-amp for most of the listening sessions, in order to give the Nemesis its best shot. Input sensitivity is 250mV/1W, and I drove it directly off the Marantz CD12 K.I., the Marantz CD63SE and the Theta Data III/Pro Gen Va combination, as well as trying the various players through a couple of pre-amps (GRAAFiti WFB TWO, Krell KRC-3). The volume control also adds an element of flexibility in that the user can set the input level to match all sorts of pre-amps, as well as controlling the volume in a single source system.
Among the design details are such niceties as paper-in-oil capacitors made especially for Arion, an ALPS volume pot connected to the rear input terminals via pure silver wire, screened OFC copper hard-wiring used throughout, branded goodies including Beyschlag 1 percent metal film resistors and Nippon Chemi Con caps, and input valve bases featuring gold-plated sockets. The Golden Dragon Titanium 300Bs output tubes reside in locking ceramic valve holders, and all of the valves have separate high and low tension supplied individually. The power supply and mains transformer are completely isolated in their own housing. Two groups of three gold-plated speaker terminals to allow connection of 4 or 8 ohm speakers.
Read more about the Arion Nemisis on Page 2.