Epos M22 Speaker System and Butler Audio TDB 5150 Amplifier Page 2

Butler's technology, called Tube Driver BLUE, has roots in Thomas Edison's lab. While testing the earliest light globes, an Edison engineer noticed a blue glow around the positive pole in a vacuum bulb. At the time, since the first light bulb was patented, the phenomenon became known as the Edison Effect. Others later refined it into the electronic component since called the vacuum tube. According to Butler, Tube Driver BLUE uses the Edison Effect to enhance biasing of the Sanken bipolar output devices.

At its simplest, and unlike other hybrid designs, Butler has DC-coupled the triode tubes through the output devices, with a claimed net result that the tubes can respond to the load imposed by virtually any speaker. With its patented current-multiplying DC-coupled circuitry, according to Butler literature, the TDB 5150 can meet any load head-on and deliver "authentic power-vacuum-tube characteristics hundreds of times greater than normal capabilities of the driver tubes." Because so much of the design is proprietary and literature is often prone to at least a bit of puffery (and because I don't claim to be an engineer), I can only tell you this about the 48-pound animal: It seems as if it has power on limitless reserve, even when the most demanding film soundtracks should cause it to wheeze, sputter, and clip. And, unlike some other amps with vacuum tubes, the TDB 5150 is as close to a turnkey amplifier as you can get.

After I inserted the RCA connectors (no balanced inputs here) and attached speaker wires to the five-way binding posts, I turned the amp on, waited about 30 seconds for a warmup transient delay until I heard five clicks (one per channel) signaling that output had been stabilized. That's it; you only need to push the Play button on your source component, and you're ready to go.

If you've ever tried tubed equipment, you know how tweaky some amplifiers with vacuum-tube output stages can be. You generally need to manually keep the bias level adjusted, often separately for each of the many output tubes. And, since tubes wear at different rates, you may need to adjust bias on a regular basis. Remember, with Butler's TDB 5150, the output stages are solid state, so the amp requires no bias adjustment. Also, despite its tube pedigree, the Tube Drive BLUE circuit runs shockingly cool to the touch. The only way you can tell visually that the tubes are working is by the cool glow of a modern blue LED situated beneath each tube, in full view behind a slotted-grille fascia. Yes, the amp runs warm when working hard, but, thanks to the topology and massive heat sinking, you can touch the TDB 5150 with relative impunity.

And the TDB 5150 has protection upon protection built into it. If a fuse opens, a red light adjacent to the affected tube will signal you. A monitoring circuit opens the speaker relay if it senses excessive DC voltage. An over-temperature circuit breaker will open the relay should the operating temperature exceed 115 degrees Celcius. There's more, but you get the picture. And, if you have the option, you can wire the TDB 5150 for remote operation with, say, your processor.

I could go on and on, but let's just say that the proof is in the pudding in the case of this amplifier-and-speaker-system combination. The system worked equally well when responding to the very different demands of both Gladiator and the underrated Underworld. In the former, brass and drum fanfares coupled with sword clang, and the system revealed massed horses' hooves charging in battlewith clarity and a great sense of realism. In the latter, the system's rendering of the sense of ambience, thunderclaps, and flying bullets enhanced the brooding nature that the story line demands. Yes, this system kicked proverbial glutes, delivering involvement for hours on end.

The music-reproduction capabilities were equally engaging. Voices displayed minimal sibilance yet were rich in harmonic overtone structures. Stringed instruments had all the right harmonic bite without ear-bleeding edge, and electric guitars ripped relentlessly without making me wince. Music became a joy to listen to for hours, without that dreaded listener fatigue setting in.

A Few Caveats
When I substituted my reference System Audio speaker array for the Epos system, I noticed a much wider panoramic presentation across the front soundstage that even seemed to spread outward beyond the edges of the left and right channels. As well, the System Audio setup revealed greater subtlety of detail and more bottom from its subwoofer. There simply was more there, whether the Butler TDB 5150 or my reference Parasound Halo A52 served output duties. In addition, it took much longer to match the ELS SUB to the rest of the M Series speakers, since I had to ear-ball the low- and high-filter adjustments. The dials lack any markings as to where in the frequency range they were. Of course, it's unfair to compare my reference System Audio setup with the Epos system, considering the reference system comes in at almost twice the price.

So, the bottom line is this: If you're looking for a speaker array that can serve your two-channel and 5.1-channel requirements, look no further than the Epos M Series. If you're not afraid of an amplifier with a unique topology that performs as if it costs more than double its asking price, look no further than the Butler TDB 5150. And, of course, you can pair the Epos and Butler and live quite happily for years to come.

• Set-it-and-forget-it vacuum-tube-driven amplifier with incredible power abilities
• Nearly ideal speaker array for a small-to-medium-sized room
• A lot of bang for the buck; meets audiophile and videophile demands beyond expectation