The A-50T is one of the most affordable all-tube integrated amplifiers on the market, but I wasn’t thinking about that as I ran my fingers over its half-inch-thick front panel and fondled the beautifully machined knobs or admired the quality of the rear panel’s RCA jacks and hefty, gold-plated speaker wire binding posts. Clearly, the A-50T’s quality is on par with amps that sell for $2000 or more.
Cayin is one of China’s oldest and largest high-end audio manufacturers; the company is justifiably proud of the fact that it builds every significant part of the A-50T in-house. Cayin doesn’t have to deal with the headaches and quality-control issues that too often come from sourcing parts from outside suppliers.
The A-50T delivers 35Wpc when used in “ultralinear” mode—and 16Wpc in “triode.” The latter is generally preferred by audiophiles for its sweeter sound, and while I’ve seen many amps over the years that go both ways, the A-50T is the first that’s switchable via remote. Right, I almost forget to mention it, but the A-50T comes with a remote, again, not something you see packed with too many budget-priced tube amplifiers. Granted, the little plastic remote doesn’t match the amp’s lavish construction standards, but if Cayin had to cut corners somewhere, the remote makes the most sense.
Tube neophytes take note: Tubes put out more heat than transistor amps.
Tip: The A-50T can be ordered with a built-in phono preamp for an extra $250; that still leaves three linelevel inputs.
I had an immediate and overwhelmingly positive reaction to the sound of this amp. It’s warm and juicy, like a wet kiss, but I never felt the A-50T was soft or lacking in midrange or treble resolution. Bass is wonderfully ripe, though sometimes to a fault. What can I say; 35 watts never sounded this potent before.
The A-50T wasn’t afraid to rock out, especially when it was hooked up to my Zu speakers. Listening to the Rolling Stones’ Live Licks CD [EMI] in ultralinear mode, I noted that the aging band’s swagger was intact, and Jagger’s vocals sounded great. Actually the best part of these live shows from 2004 was checking out Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood’s impassioned “riffage” and dueling sparks. If I had to pick on something, I’d note that with the volume cranked up, the A-50T’s bass can get a little loosey-goosey at times.
The amp also sounded great with the tough-todrive Dynaudio speakers, so it’s not all that fussy about speaker matching.
The little amp does “space” like the high-priced spread; all of my better sounding CDs and SACDs projected huge, three-dimensional soundstages with gobs of depth and full-bodied images. Take the Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack solo CD [Cleancuts Music]; the piano tone was natural, and John’s vocals, which sounded like they were being picked up by the piano mics, sounded real. The effect is more like what you’d hear if you were in the room and just hearing Dr. John without a PA system. To hear it is to love it.
Switching between “ultralinear” and “triode” modes with the remote didn’t change my feeling about the sound other than to appreciate the former’s higher power output.
Listening to a stack of Nino Rota scores for Fellini movies, I was struck by the A-50T’s rhythmic agility. The amp is just so musically engaging it’s hard to stop listening to it. Bravo!