Blair Roger -- Two friends, Jean-Paul Caffi and André Calmettes, conspired to develop an amplifier that would conform to their special conception of what a hi-fi system should sound like. It started out as a hobby and soon became a passionate obsession. By 1983, they were ready to form a company to market their hand-built equipment and they called it Jadis.
When Jadis amplifiers first hit the audio market, they caused a real flutter in the High-End hen house. I remember some of the reviews of the early JA-200 that appeared in the print journals of the period. The price seemed truly outrageous. High-bias operation meant that the multiple pairs of 6550 power tubes ran very hot, and catastrophic failures when switching from ‘standby’ to ‘operate’ mode were common. The circuit design was idiosyncratic and flew in the face of accepted practices. Many measurements fell far below even average expectations. And yet – the critics could not deny the utter musicality and the extraordinary presentation with which these singular Gallic amplifiers were making their mark. Much to their credit, Jadis met the whole debacle with a massive shrug and went about their business, slowly improving their design’s most glaring faults, seemingly one unit at a time. They were producing real boutique items: the Bugatti of audio. The cult of Jadis had begun.
Product Design Philosophy
The idea that an audio manufacturer should offer a line of equipment with a coherent design philosophy has become a powerful marketing tool. Audio Note is one example that comes to mind. They insist that pure class ‘A’, direct heated single-ended triode amplifiers sound best. Their whole line is built around this concept.
They were not the first to put forward this strategy, however. From the very beginning, Jadis recognized the importance of a signature sound, which is the natural outcome of a coherent and consistent approach to audio design. In contrast to Audio Note, where specific tubes and silver wire are the keynote; it appears that Jadis has centered their philosophy on their massive output transformers. They are entirely hand-wound at the factory near the medieval, walled city of Carcassonne, France. They are said to be indestructible in service and under lifetime warranty. Highly over-specified, the largest examples are capable of accepting 600 Watts prior to core saturation.
Additionally, the importance of the tube and output transformer interface has not been overlooked. Their unique transformers have been designed to function with a distributed triple load: the anode, cathode, and the screen have separate windings. Power pentodes like the 6550, KT-90 and EL-34, are configured to function and sound like triodes with the advantage of considerably increased output. High-bias operation is the rule, high class ‘A/B’ for the new line of integrated amps and pure class ‘A’ for the monoblock designs, from the JA-30 on up to the dreadnought JA-800.
In spite of the forgoing, the apparent lack of dogma at Jadis is refreshing. Tubes are tested, matched, subjected to rigorous burn-in procedures, re-tested, and then carefully selected for specific amplifier designs. Nevertheless, Jadis seems to have little interest in raising one particular tube type to the status of an icon. It’s strictly ‘horses for courses’, as thermionic guru Tim de Paravicini once said. At one time, believers in the superiority of multiple pairs of output pentodes driven to the edge of their operating envelopes (and for some, regrettably beyond), Jadis has started to produce 300B and 845 based single-ended amplifiers as well. They have also responded to another trend in the audio market – single chassis amplifiers incorporating line level inputs and controls, such as the subject of this review. Current price: US$4795.00.
Getting Down with the Orchestra
As soon as the unit arrived, I checked it over for shipping damage, and decided to install the tubes to verify that our sample was functional.
The tubes were boxed, wrapped, and secured under the tube cage for shipping. An Allen key was required to undo four screws that held the cage in place. It was nowhere to be found! A quick trip to the hardware store. The clearance between the cage’s flange and its vertical side made it necessary to undo the screws one-quarter turn of the key at a time. This was tedious and time-consuming, but nothing compared to the challenge of removing the screw holding the back left corner of the cage down. This one was situated right between the power transformer and the left-most output transformer, with about one inch separating them. Of course, the tube cage was still in the way too. Lifting the cage free of the chassis, I found the Jadis-supplied Allen key packed neatly among the tubes! I’m going to write this off as a sample of Gallic humour.
The Jadis Orchestra measures 53 x 27 x 20 cm and weighs 20 Kg. In imperial measure that’s 21 x 12 x 9 inches and about 42 pounds. Sensitivity for rated output (40 Watts RMS per channel) is 250mV RMS. Input impedance is greater than 100 Kohms, and power consumption is 300 Watts maximum. Bandwidth at 0dB is 20 Hz to 20kHz and at -3 dB it is 5 Hz to 60 kHz. These are all figures supplied by the manufacturer. There are five gold-plated RCA line inputs and one record output available on the back panel. The tube lineup is two pairs of Ei Yugo EL-34 power tubes, with their distinctive pointed tops, and two 7025/12AX7WB inputs from Sovtek.
I had the occasion to open the chassis and discovered that the circuit is all point-to-point hardwired in a clever and logical fashion. The circuit is straightforward and elegant in execution. This kind of handwork is time consuming and expensive but worthy of the result. All solder joints were superbly done, and it is evident that the constructors at the factory take great pride in their work. The only printed circuit boards used are for the power supply and input selector. Interestingly, the transformers all had an approval stamp (VERIFI) with a date of June 3, 1997. Component quality was good, with small Philips electrolytic capacitors and a few polystyrene and polypropylene caps visible. It is comforting to know that the two pairs of power tubes are protected from arcing or over-bias operation by two .315mA fuses mounted inside the chassis.
The exterior of the unit, to my taste, is simply stunning. The quixotic offsetting of the components gives a pleasant feeling of tension to what would otherwise be a ho-hum exercise. You know what I mean. The old Dyna ST-70 formula: four EL-34s and a bunch of transformers. Instead we have a post-modern sculpture that could stand on it’s own in the most elegant of surroundings. The glowing tubes reflected in the mirror-polished top plate will bring a smile to your face and entertain your guests. And the space-deck just above those silky controls – well, it’s just made to display the CD you’re listening to right now. Notice the tube sockets. They’re ceramic with gold-plated pin contacts, an unexpected touch in an entry-level unit. If the odd, clunky, heavy-duty power switch bothers you, just have a look at a picture of a Jadis Defy-7 or JA-200. I believe you will find that Jadis uses the same switch on them too. I guess they do it for sonic reasons. In fact, I’m convinced that every component Jadis has chosen to use has been selected because of the effect on the sound of the amplifier. And that even goes for those cheap plastic five-way binding posts. I wouldn’t change a thing. Top of the line or entry level? The uninitiated could never tell by looking at this beauty from Carcassonne. Or by listening.
My system is analogue based. Since the Orchestra does not have a phono stage, I had to install one between the Well-Tempered Table and the line-level inputs on the back of the amplifier. I contacted Chris Johnson at Sonic Frontiers and he was happy to loan me one of their new Phono 1 dedicated phono stages (full review forthcoming). My Lyra Lydian cartridge has an output of about 0.4mV, so I requested a Phono 1 with 62dB of gain – the maximum possible. This turned out to be more than enough in combination with the 28dB gain of the Orchestra and the high sensitivity of the Quad ESL-57 speakers. I used my reference Kimber PBJ interconnects between phono stage and amp, and Kimber 4TC speaker cables.
If any of you were wondering whether the USD$4795.00 price of the Orchestra includes a Jadis active line stage, the answer is no – the Orchestra’s pre-amp section is entirely passive. That’s not really an important issue, however, because the amp is dead quiet and has enough sensitivity to easily handle digital sources straight in. Regarding phono noise, the Phono 1 gain stage is a champ and is a formidable accompaniment to the Orchestra.
What is it like to listen to the Jadis for the first time? It’s like going from an English four-banger to a car with one of those quad-cam sixes that the Japanese seem to excel at putting in their top-line vehicles. This is a piece of equipment that is grainless and effortless to listen to; utterly smooth and timbrally true to nature. It simply sounds more like real music than anything I’ve heard outside a show setting.
The EL-34s aren’t triodes but, if properly applied as such in a circuit, they can exhibit surprisingly good linearity, approaching that of the real thing. And they have guts too, with the verve and dynamism of forty push-pull Watts that sound more like one hundred – something I’d expect with the unit running in high ‘A/B’ bias. What I didn’t expect was the relatively cool-running chassis and transformers. It runs hotter than my old ST-70 and certainly hotter than the KT-99a tubed Sonic Frontiers SFS-50 I used to own, but nothing to be alarmed about by any means. I have to say I was slightly skeptical about leaving the Orchestra powered-up while I wasn’t in the room for the first few days, but I soon came to realize that this is a stable and reliable piece of hardware. I’m now in the habit of leaving it on all the time, even when I’m out of the house without any concern at all. I leave the Phono 1 on constantly as well, so the whole system is fired up, and ready to roll whenever I am. For those less daring, I must say that from cold, the sound of the Orchestra improves after about one hour. I found this a subtle but noticeable change.
The first record I listened to after the system warmed up was the ensemble Tashi playing Takemitsu’s Water Ways (RCA ARL1-3483). It opens with two harps calling to each other across the soundstage. Then a vibraphone joins in. I’d never heard the treble floating above the ESL-57s with such purity and integrity. Soon other instruments further down the sonic span join in: piano, clarinet, violin, cello, trombone, horn, and bass drum. The bass is surprisingly firm and powerful.
The Orchestra possesses an extraordinarily smooth balance throughout the spectrum, providing a stronger impression of live music than I have yet experienced with the Quads. The power level seems to suit the ESLs well, the soundstage is expansive, and they sound dynamic and full, especially in the mid-range. This amp has a superb and enchanting midrange, which I speculate is the result of the harmonic balance that Jadis has purposely tuned into it.
By reducing the output of the Phono 1 slightly, I discovered that I could listen to that pop war-horse, Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat (Cypress Records LAT1227), with the gain control wide open. The emotion that the singer pours into the poetry of Leonard Cohen was revealed with new conviction and candor. The moment in Bird on a Wire where Leonard Cohen doubles behind and an octave below Warnes, is remarkable for the grainless resonance of the bass voice. Even the most impassioned moments on Joan of Arc are handled with ease and the impression of great power in reserve.
As I grew accustomed to the sound of the new components, I became aware of the extraordinarily low noise floor they exhibited. I once thought noise in an audio system meant ‘tube rush’, or that muted sizzle that cheaply made solid state amplifiers spew when there’s no music signal and you’ve got your ear up to the speaker. These artifacts should be inaudible at normal listening levels, right? I’ve learned that the problem of noise is much subtler. It invades and infuses the music with something that irritates and whispers, ‘turn it off, turn it off…’ somewhere in the back of my brain. There was none of that with the Orchestra. No grain, no etching, no brittleness. Just, to quote Charles Baudelaire (poet and hashisheen), “Luxe, calme et volupté”.
Jadis has a remarkable entry-level product here. It completely puts to rest the myth of Jadis reliability and affordability. It is on an entirely different plane from other audio components, and I suppose, in the end, that is what Jadis is all about. Their pursuit is music and the most natural reproduction of sound they can possibly achieve. Don’t be afraid to treat yourself. Life’s too short.
Further information: Jadis