Hands On with Samsung’s New Vacuum Tube Audio Systems

Sections: Analog, Audio, Digital, Mini systems, Stereo, Surround sound

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What’s the first amplification technology that comes to mind when you think audiophile sound? Tubes, right? (If you didn’t say tubes, you’re wrong.)

And what’s the last company that comes to mind when you think snooty high-end audio? Okay, that would definitely be Bose. But surely Samsung would clock in pretty low on most people’s lists.

Put tube technology and Samsung’s styling together, though, and as I finally had the chance to hear for myself last night at an event in New York, the results are quite striking. I originally wrote about Samsung’s tube tech just before CES, and had a chance to eyeball the gorgeous DA-E750 Audio Dock on the noisy show floor, but last night was my first opportunity to hear it in action.

And now I want one.

Pictures alone simply cannot convey what a lovely looking device the DA-E750 is, especially with the mahogany finish. Initial demos were a little quiet for my tastes, but still revealed a much warmer, smoother sound than you would typically associate with an iPhone/Galaxy S dock. The $799 price of the DA-E750 definitely positions it in the same arena as Bowers & Wilkins’ Zeppelin, and from what I could tell, it holds its own in that space very well.

The most memorable musical selection from the more official listening session was a cut from the new album by Justin Townes Earle (who also did a one-man set later in the evening, captivating the crowd with his unique sort of up-tempo mix of James Taylor, Neil Young, and Elvis Costello. Check him out if you get the chance. I mean, Cali Lewis was standing right at the front of the room, and all eyes were still on Earle. He’s that good.)

After hearing the  DA-E750, I also had a chance to check out Samsung’s new HT-E6730W Blu-ray 3D Home Theater System, and, better yet, A/B it directly against last year’s equivalent model. The HT-E6730W, like the DA-E750 Audio Dock, also boasts hybrid tube preamplification, digital amplification, and glass fiber drivers, and I’m not sure how much of the difference in sound from last year’s model is the tubes, and how much is the new drivers, but it’s a distinct difference either way — more open, airy, organic. You could also hear the benefits of the integrated, tiltable height channels in the new system much more distinctly. It sounds yummy for the money ($999). My only concern is that the home theater system just doesn’t look as sexy as it sounds, especially compared with the Audio Dock. The speakers themselves are definitely an aesthetic improvement, but the black box itself, in my opinion, would benefit from some of the DA-E750’s sumptuous styling.

After the concert, I snuck back downstairs for a less formal listening session with the DA-E750, and we were asked if anyone had an iPhone or iPod they wanted to pop into the dock. (Earlier demos were done wirelessly with a Samsung Galaxy phone; the dock mechanism, which slides out of the back with silky smoothness when you actually want to connect a Galaxy or iOS device, is neat, discrete, and also capable of charging said devices).

After asking the room to make sure no one would be offended by the naughty words, I stepped up and threw some Girl Talk at the dock. Loud, I might add. And despite the fact that it’s not exactly the most refined music (in content or audio quality), the DA-E750 not only knocked the rough edges off the sound, it also positively cranked, pumping out oodles of bass without blinking, and filling the room with what would later be described as “the first time anyone heard the word ‘bitch’ that loud at a Samsung event.”

During the midst of all the profanity, we also got more details on the tubes in the DA-E750. They’re both 12AU7s from JJ Electronics. That’s a very good thing. Now for the not-so-very-good thing: the tubes aren’t user replaceable. So after 7000 hours or so of use, you’ll have to take the DA-E750 into an authorized Samsung service center to get them replaced.

But, needless to say, I still want one a very lot. Samsung had a lot of neat audio tech on display, including a number of non-tube docks and all sorts of shapes and sizes, but the  DA-E750 was definitely the shining star of the evening.

The DA-E750 Audio Dock (SRP: $799.99) and HT-E6730W Blu-ray 3D 7.1 Home Theater System (SRP: $999.99), along with a whole host of other new audio devices from Samsung, will be available sometime this spring.

Oh, and PS: A little birdie also told me personally that we’ll have an official statement soon that should lay to rest silly concerns that Samsung’s new TVs are a tool of Big Brother. For one thing, facial recognition profiles are only stored in the TVs themselves. For another, Samsung has a robust privacy policy that applies to all of the new models. More details on that when the company’s official reply to all of this brouhaha hits my inbox, which should be soon.

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  • James Delaney

    BOSE is not high-end audio – Your credibility is lost with that comment.

    • Dennis Burger

      Oy, the sarcasm went right over your head there, didn’t it?