A Fine Line: The BB100 Page 2

The first thing I learned is that most sane individuals will have a hard time finding any speakers (of the sort likely to be paired with a £995 integrated amplifier) which this animal can't drive. Indeed. I'm so sure about the BB100's ability to drive all manner of systems that I'm looking forward to the arrival of the Apogee Stage 'budget' model as a potential torture test.

sqnote Sound Quality
If ever there's been a case of a power rating not indicating an amplifier's true prowess, it's the 50W/ch accredited to the Beard BB100. Still more impressive for many will be its clear, unmuddied, taut lower registers – probably the best I've heard from any modern valve amplifier at this price point. The extension proved far greater than the capabilities of most of the loudspeakers I employed for listening, hence the need to enlist the JBL S119 speaker system.

Despite being unfamiliar with this 'omni', I was able to explore its 8in woofer and metre-tall cabinet to find out what the BB100 amplifier would do with test tones, synth-generated bass and organ notes.

All that the BB100 lacks in this area to threaten the big (solid-state or valve) muthas which command far higher prices is the kind of unbridled slam and absolute dynamics that you'd expect to roll out of a Kilowatt's worth of Krell into something like a Duntech Sovereign.


With unnaturally bass-heavy, or more precisely 'bass-predominant' recordings, the BB100 reaches its limits in style, behaving in a similar way to the Wilson WATTs by acting like a filter rather than falling apart. Instead of sounding squashed or compressed the BB100 simply stops, gracefully and euphonically. This behaviour is consistent throughout, and becomes especially beneficial when you reach the uppermost frequencies. Amusingly, it's here that the Beard BB100 sounds most like an all-tube design, because the highs it delivers positively shimmer.

Many modern valve amplifiers seem to be conceived to ape the sound of solid-state electronics, for the simple reason that an entire generation grew up on the latter and would find tube gear 'dull' or 'soft' rather than 'romantic' or 'sweet'. It may just be a matter of rhetoric or conditioning, but it's something which must be addressed, so I can understand the approach. But the BB100 is unashamedly a tube amplifier where it counts, where tube characteristics are strengths rather than weaknesses. And the results, should this amplifier find its way into enough shops, could convert a number of people who think that valves are plumbing fixtures.

Easy Sale
How Beard managed to get 18 off-the-shelf valves to run so quietly I don't know, but the silences are enough to confuse any who believe that all valve amps are noisy. This in itself makes the rite of passage painless for anyone born after 1958, and sales staff will not have to resort to apologies while explaining the pros and cons of valve ownership. Talk about an easy sale: all that the BB100 requires of its owners is an understanding of the need for ventilation, and anyone who's used solid-staters from Krell knows where not to stack.


The midband of the BB100 is not a transitional point, a crossover from firm bass to shimmering highs. These characteristics are not as clearly delineated as mere verbal descriptions imply. The midband, which is as precise and clear as is required to produce accurate images, realistic positioning and ambience and smear-free transparency, never approaches a level of hygiene which suggests the clinical or the over-etched. In this respect the amp is almost as 'tube-y' as certain classics of yore, but there's no added warmth to upset the overall accuracy.

Rather than showing concern for modernists in their initial approaches to valve gear, perhaps I should worry more about traditionalists who dread the thought of valve amps which are indistinguishable from solid-state. They should know, then, that the midband of the BB100 is one of the happiest compromises, more modern than, say, an Air-Tight design, but unlikely to be mistaken for anything from Salisbury.

Think Big
Where the BB100 most belies its price and best illustrates its valve heritage is in conveying air and openness. It's a big-sounding amplifier, one which pushes back the walls and pretends that your room can balloon at will. This is one of those all-too-rare products that makes you want to listen to your music more and more because it's just so convincing in so many ways.

I'm tempted to go mental over valve beauty, everything from its performance to its price to the sheer pride of ownership it will confer upon BBAP customers. But I'm also aware that I've yet to try it with what might be natural partners, such as the Celestion 3000 loudspeakers, the Apogee Stage, the Quad '63, the Martin-Logan Sequel and a number of Maggies. Then there's the fact that the company's own outboard phono stage won't be launched until this issue hits the newsstands.

Could this really be me talking, trying to be cool, calm and collected while witnessing what might prove be the birth of affordable high-end equipment? Caution? Restraint? Nope... I just don't know how to describe the comic book image of a mind being blown.