A tube buffer is a small device that takes the signal from your DAC and adjusts the signal as to match your connected device. This signal matching works with the resistance of your audio cables and what your receiver/amplifier expects as a signal. By doing this, your receiver/amplifier receivers the perfect signal voltage from the buffer. In this post, I’m going to be reviewing my FX Audio Tube-01.
Life before a buffer.
Before I added a tube buffer to my desktop HiFi setup, I had my sound card hooked directly into my 1981 JCPenny stereo receiver. It sounded very good although it sounded like something was missing. Comparing the sound on my PC to the sound on a very good sounding radio station however revealed this missing warmth. Music just sounded better on FM to my ears. I would go for the next 3 years like this until one day, I found something on Amazon
Coming across the FX Audio Tube-01.
One day, I was thinking to myself, “I could really use a pre amplifier”. Back then, I used a headphone amplifier as a pre amplifier when I needed one. Upon looking around online, I had come across the idea of tube pre amplifiers. Basically, you could add tube like sound to your solid state gear while also being able to boast the signal. I came across a review on the FX Audio Tube-01. Although it was made in China, the reviewer stated that the Tube-01 was well-built. At the price of just $31.99, he stated that the Tube-01 enhanced his system. I was ready to order this tube buffer. This would be my first experience with any tube gear.
The anxious wait…
As usual, I can’t bear waiting for something to arrive at my doorstep. Even with Amazon Prime, it still took forever. When the Tube-01 finally arrived, I already had my JCPenny stereo receiver warmed up. Upon unboxing, There was the Tube-01 with it’s stock 6J1 tubes. I installed the tubes and hooked up the pre amplifier. The path was like this: My SoundBlaster Live! sound card outputted the freshly converted analog signal that went to the Tube-01. The Tube-01 then was outputting the signal to my 1981 JCPenny stereo receiver which drove my Electrohome SC 490s. For those who haven’t yet read about them, They’re from around the time tube gear was everywhere. As such, I knew that these speakers would like what they were about to produce.
The First Listen:
The first song I choose was “Grove In The Heart” by Deee-Lite. I knew that this song had a lot of mid and lower bass with a warm mid range that the Electrohomes already loved. Well right away, I noticed just how less harsh the sound was. Being so used to digital music sources, I never know that you could take a digital source and make it sound so good. The Tube-01 surprised me. There was still more to come however. Tubes do burn in after all. I let the system play most of the day before critically listening again.
The Second Listen:
For this listen, I played “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye. Now, we’re really talking a 60s-like sound. I was immediately shocked when the Electrohomes woke up from their 60s grave when the warm lower mid range they already had become tamed. I’ve never heard such detailed mid bass. The sound stage was even wider. The mid range sounded lush and warm while remaining very clear. The treble even seamed warmer. Remember me stating how the treble sounded different with the Electrohomes in their review? Well, the treble got tamed with the Tube-01. I was shocked at how a $31 device improved my system.
Tube-01 and the Pioneer SA-1270 – Different Results
Although the sound was improved, the results weren’t nearly as impressive. I was listening to my Pioneer CS-G203s. This is when the idea of tube rolling hit me. I remember when reading reviews on Amazon, people were rolling the stock tubes with new old stock ones. My Pioneer SA-1270 was a very warm sounding 1980s integrated amplifier. I felt like a set of colder tubes would make a better match. I ordered the Voskhod 6J1P-EVs. This was yet another long wait. As I was waiting, I kept being surprised with the Tube-01 and my desktop set up.
Rolling Tubes – Why It’s Addicting:
By rolling tubes, we’re changing the way the Tube-01 sounds. Upon installing the Voskhod 6J1P-EVs, I noticed something that the Electrohomes didn’t like. The mid bass had calmed down significantly. Other than that, the Tube-01 sounded significantly smoother. I let the new tubes burn in and decided to try them with the Pioneer SA-1270. This was a surprise. The first song I played was “Sweet Home Alabama”. The Pioneer CS-G203s didn’t even sound like speakers. They sound like a performance. I fell in love with the sound and cranked them up loud. I had to DJ my sister’s graduation party later that day. The Tube-01 was coming along. The sound stage was extremely wide. The clarity was unparallel to anything I’ve ever heard out of these speakers. Needless to say, there were quite a few people at the party that were shocked. Most have never heard an audiophile set up before. Let alone, one with that lush warm tube sound.