The Logic3 Valve80 is an iPod sound system with a difference, using valves for a retro look.

On the one side we have the marvels of modern audio technology. There's digital audio recording, sound read by lasers, hundreds of gigabytes of music held on an iPod the size of a pack of cards... and all ushered in since the Philips marketing campaign at the launch of CD in 1982, that promised us ‘Perfect Sound Forever'.

On the other side are the traditionalists who think that vinyl sounds better than CD, that valves are better at amplifying your music than transistors, and anything that promotes itself with the word ‘digital' will sound thin and soulless. The old analogue kit sounds warmer, richer, more natural, they tell us.

And in part, the valve and vinyl brigade may be right, and valves have had a long history of excellence in audio - see boxout. It's little surprise then that Logic3 has decided to take the trendy valve route with its new Valve80 iPod stereo system. With three valves standing proudly on show, the Logic3 Valve80 must be an audiophile product - except that these valves are more window dressing than a practical move toward old-school audio technology...

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Before the silicon chip, before the transistor, the device that opened the world to the possibilities of amplification and electronic switching was the thermionic valve - known as the ‘tube' in the US. Its most basic version is a diode valve, with triodes, tetrodes and pentodes to follow, all making possible the 20th century's electronic revolution.

Nowadays the valve is still prized by some audiophiles, who appreciate its benign distortion characteristics - and by guitarists who like to overdrive them to create a euphonic fuzz.

A huge roomful of valves powered the first electronic computer, built by the British in the 1940s to decode German Enigma ciphers. The technology may be obsolete in this century but these devices, with their warm and softly glowing glass envelopes, have a simplicity in operation that can still make for high-performance hi-fi; a purity of sound that ensures their continued use in certain audio circles.

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The Logic3 Valve80 is an iPod sound system with a difference, using valves for a retro look.

The Logic3 Valve80 main unit is a stereo amplifier with three inputs, manually switchable from the front panel. It's built into a solidly built metal chassis with chrome-polished steel body and glossy black endcaps. A large black block on the left of the amp is a cover over a mains power transformer, with the iPod dock on the top deck's right side, neatly framed by a polished metal balcony. And in between are the three small glass valves, sitting inside a Perspex and steel cage, glowing subtly when viewed in a darkened room.

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Two of these valves are 6N1 double triodes, akin to the ECC83 popularly used in guitar amps as a pre-amp valve. Here it appears that they're used in the driver stage, boosting audio signal before the Logic3 Valve80's main power amplifier stage.

The forward and more conspicuous of the tube trio is a 6E2 ‘magic eye' valve, featuring two glowing phosphor strips that lengthen from above and below to denote music signal level. Unfortunately the feint green strips only really come out to play with the volume turned up high - but when they do they provide an attractive diversion of lab-tech eye candy.

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The Logic3 Valve80 is an iPod sound system with a difference, using valves for a retro look.

The real power for the Logic3 Valve80 amplifier is hidden inside, two solid-state stereo amp chips wired in bridged mode, giving an output power of around 40W per channel. This hidden tech is the actual muscle that drive the speakers.

Each loudspeaker is finished in a superb piano black lacquer, with detachable cloth grilles covering the drive units inside. The speaker is a two-way design based on a 4in bass/mid cone fashioned from yellow Kevlar cloth. Above this sits a soft-dome tweeter, mounted in a bullet-shaped enclosure that neatly rests on the top of the 21cm-high cabinet.

With an iPod mounted in the Logic3 Valve80 dock, you can control volume and playback functions such as play/pause, track skip and shuffle mode from a small remote control handset. Using the remote you can even adjust tone with ± treble and bass controls, although there's no visual indication to show your settings, nor indeed for the volume position.

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Sound quality of the Logic3 Valve80 system is relatively impressive, making it one of the better sounding iPod docks on the market. There's a gentle lift to treble that brings more perceived clarity to sound, showing details like finger noises on acoustic guitar. At the lower end, bass is nicely tight and controlled - not subterranean trouser-flapping stuff but tuneful and well balanced in the context of the size of the loudspeakers.

There's a good balance overall, which does justice to most types of music from rock to classical, and gives good clarity to vocals too.

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Logic3 Valve80 [PC]: Specs

  • 40W hybrid valve/solid-state stereo amplifier system for iPod
  • 2 x two-way bookshelf loudspeakers
  • horn-loaded tweeter soft-dome tweeter
  • 90mm Kevlar-coned mid/bass driver
  • 2 x 6N1 triode valve
  • 1 x 6E2 meter valve
  • composite and S-video outputs
  • 2 x RCA phono auxiliary inputs
  • 20W power consumption (idle)/35W (loud)
  • 368x152x165mm
  • 4.1kg
  • 40W hybrid valve/solid-state stereo amplifier system for iPod
  • 2 x two-way bookshelf loudspeakers
  • horn-loaded tweeter soft-dome tweeter
  • 90mm Kevlar-coned mid/bass driver
  • 2 x 6N1 triode valve
  • 1 x 6E2 meter valve
  • composite and S-video outputs
  • 2 x RCA phono auxiliary inputs
  • 20W power consumption (idle)/35W (loud)
  • 368x152x165mm
  • 4.1kg

OUR VERDICT

The Valve80 covers similar ground to the Fatman iTube, another hybrid valve/transistor design. Once you acknowledge that the valves of the Valve80 are more for show than go, you can appreciate a well-made iPod sound system that gives reasonable volume levels and a easy-going but detailed sound – all in a neat and stylish retro package.

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