Dice Electronics’ iTPA-220 iPod tube amplifier system is a bit like a strict vegan meal served inside a hollowed-out animal’s skull. Sure, there’s no meat in it, but good luck getting vegans to dig in. On the other hand, if you’re just an omnivore looking for good eats, you might find a lot to like.
In this case, the vegans are audio purists who treasure the sound of tube amps, and the animal skull in the mix is an iPod, packing compressed tunes that said purists would cringe at the thought of. The iTPA-220 makes overtures to the audiophile crowd with its old-school tube amp, but also ignores their analog mindset with a piece of cold digital gadgetry at its core. It’s an enigma, to say the least.
To better understand, a history lesson: Widespread use of fragile vacuum tubes to amplify signals went out with the introduction of transistors in the 1950s, but they survived the latter half of the 20th Century and still exist today thanks to the audiophile community. They cling to the classic technology for the warmth of the sound it produces – an ethereal quality that has been much harped upon but never quite nailed down to any measurable trait.
The same purists that seek out tube amps usually avoid digital audio. They treasure vinyl for the same warm qualities they find in tube amps, tolerate CDs out of necessity, and cringe at the thought of stripping some resolution from music through compression, no matter how discretely.
The iTPA-220 ignores the clash of mindsets and throws old and new technology together into one chic-looking package. While Dice probably won’t get too many purists to sell off their McIntosh tube amps for one, the system has plenty of its own merits.
Dice Electronics iTPA-220
Dual 6N3 vacuum tubes sit like jewels in their settings on either side of the amplifier, with a dock for an iPod between them. Together, they provide 20 watts of amplification for two channels, and feed the signal out to included stereo speakers. The whole system is finished in an elegant black, and a single knob on the face controls volume. There’s even an auxiliary audio-in connector in case you want to forego the iPod dock and use another MP3 player or other source of audio.
The twin bookshelf speakers that come with the system use 1-inch dome tweeters and 4-inch bass drivers. Dice claims the speakers’ “wood acoustic structure” endows them with a full dynamic range. They also tout an impedance of 4 Ohms, meaning they use they translate the amp’s output into sound pretty efficiently. Frequency response is between 40 Hz and 18 kHz.
Dice Electronics accepts preorders for the system on their Web site for $299. If you’re willing to set aside the fundamental collision of audio values at play, the iTPA-220 is one classy-looking audio setup that’s sure to draw spark some conversations when you use it crank out tunes at a party – and perhaps some arguments as well.