HiFi: The Willsenton R8 Integrated Tube Amplifier is a NO BRAINER BUY.
By Steve Huff
This may be the biggest no brainer purchase in the history of HiFi high quality audio integrated amplifiers. Seriously.
I have heard/tested or owned maybe 50-75 integrated amplifiers in my 30 years of HiFi. These amplifiers have ranged in price and quality but a few went up to insane wallet busting levels. I have reviewed a few of these amps on these pages over the years. One of my old faves in the realm of tube integrated amplifiers has always been the Line Magnetic 219ia.
That over 100lb beast had some magic but also was a VERY expensive amp to retube or even run. It put out massive heat and sometimes even produced a buzz or hum. It was and is massive in size but nonetheless a superb magical amp at $7500 retail. Made in China, yes, but it delivered the goods and then some. Line Magnetic is known as one of the premium tube amp maker in China. They do a fabulous job.
When I saw this Willsenton R8 being hyped I knew I had to give it a go and at $1295 shipped (plus tax of course) from Amazon prime (Now $1495), I knew it was a risk free endeavor. Now, I did not believe for a second that it could be as good as some brands such as Prima Luna, Audio Research, and even the Line Magnetic as the price point was so much lower than those amps.
For example, Prima Luna has the EVO 400 Integrated at $5k and it too is an all tube integrated with beautiful quality inside and out and stunning modern day features. How could a cheap Chinese made amp (that seem to be everywhere on Amazon these days) even get close in build or sound for so much less? I doubted it could but yet I ordered one to find out.
The R8 comes with a protective Tube cage as well.
Shocker! I was surprised to see my R8 arrived two days after I ordered (free shipping) and the packing was supreme. In fact, this amp is packed better than some mega buck amps I have owned, even one that cost me 20X this price. When I opened the boxes and took out the amp I was blown away by the construction, the design and the quality parts used.
To me, this looked nicer in quality and build than my old Cary amps and as good or better than the $7500 Line Magnetic. Hmmm. I opened it up, as others have before me, and saw the beautiful job that was done on the hand wiring. Yep, this is a hand made, hand wired amp with point to point wiring. Something you do not see much these days in the realm of high end.
Most companies have cheaped out and gone to circuit boards all the while convincing reviewers to get on board and state that is a better option. Well, it really isn’t. Point to point hand wiring is IMO superb for a few reasons. Not only for sound, but for ease of repair. The internal parts and caps are all of great quality, not up to the quality of a Prima Luna but remember the price is 4X less for a similar tube integrated amp.
I expected transformer hum, buzzing, hissing, etc. In fact, my Naim Atom brings a hiss from my 99db Klipsch Heresy IV speakers when idle. When I plugged it all in, using my Nordost Blue Heaven interconnects, power cable and speaker cables it all looked so nice.
I added a simple but powerful Bluesound Node 2i, using it’s internal DAC. Nothing fancy. I powered it up and let it warm up for about 20 minutes.
I sat down, cued up some tracks I know back to back from evaluating gear and what happened next literally changed my belief system on what is possible (more on this down below) at this price point (when we do not have greedy big name companies at the helm making thousand of dollars of profit per piece). It seems as lovers of audio, 2 channel music reproduction, we have been trained to think more expensive must be better. We see exotic amps that go into the tens of thousands of dollars and beyond and some of us lust just to hear them, to see what they could possible sound like.
What we do not realize is an amp that may cost us $10k most likely cost the manufacturer less than $2000 to make, sometimes even less. There is HUGE profit in high end audio for some big dealers. I mean HUGE. In fact, some companies go by the fact that if they price their pieces high, people will want them because they will relate that high cost to being “the best”.
It’s a psychological game some of these audio companies play. I am not making that up. It’s true.
I can tell you I have heard many of these exotic amps, and yes, many are amazingly good but not all of them are worthy of their cost. That leads to buyers remorse for so many in 2 channel audio who buy a pricey piece of gear thinking “this will be the best and I can be done”.
We think this mega amp will bring us audio nirvana but when all is said and done, we realize we spent a fortune on something that really is not bringing any more enjoyment than the last piece we had in our system. We then continue our search and it never ends. We buy, we sell, we try crazy things to change the sound when all along all we really are doing is driving ourselves insane from marketing hype.
Me, I just try to enjoy the music. I enjoy nice gear. I really enjoy nice gear that doesn’t cost a fortune but it’s so hard to come by a truly amazing delicious piece that will cost us so little as there are usually serious compromises.
It’s why I settled on Kliscph Heresy IV speakers as my full time listening room speakers (UPDATE: I loved my Heresy so much I now own three sets of Klipsch Heritage). They make me happier than just about any other speaker I have listened to, regardless of cost. Even if they are not the most refined, deep or color free speakers they pay music that sounds like real music.
Nope, they are not like typical audiophile speakers that get up there in cost but those always (and I mean always) get boring for me over time. I have found that no speaker sounds like a Klipsch Heresy IV.
It’s also why I love the Bluesound Node 2i, as I find and have found nothing that gets close to it for the cost of $550. I an now even using its internal dac as it does MQA with Tidal streaming and it does sound quite special.
It’s only when I compare it with a nice dedicated DAC that I notice an improvement and even then, it doesn’t make me enjoy the music more, rather it makes me notice the effects of music more. In reality, a pricey DAC just offers a slightly different presentation. I have found that the quality that brings me more enjoyment is a human and organic type of quality. That richness that exudes from my speakers offering up a warm yet spacious sound, with a solid bass foundation and that holographic soundscape that draws me into it. Is the R8 capable of doing this for me just using the Node as the source? I was thinking “no” but was hoping it would get close enough.
For now, let’s dig into the R8 and see what the hype is about.
JET BLACK BACKGROUNDS
First of all, this amp is dead silent when on, even with my crazy efficient speakers. No noise. no buzzing, no transformer noises. It’s impressive and something I normally only see in high dollar integrated amps. The amp has several inputs and uses 4 KT88 tubes, 2 6SN7 and 2 6SL7 tubes. You can swap the KT88’s out for EL34’s which will offer a lighter footed more spacious sound. There is a switch on the back to go from KT88 to EL34. Unheard of at this price point. I left those KT88’s stock for this evaluation as that is how most will be running this amp.
It brings 45 watts per channel in Ultralinear mode and 25 watts per channel in triode mode, which is switchable on the fly from the remote or the front panel of the amp. Again, something we usually only see in amps that cost 3-4X as much. It always starts up in Triode mode and for me, that is my preferred mode without question. Triode mode sounds sweeter, softer, a little more expansive, with the vocals presented nicely and a bit back in the stage so they are not forward or in your face. In UL mode, the vocals come forward and the amp goes from sounding like a sweet tube amp to a more modern sound with crisper snappier highs and a snappier bass.
Even so, the triode mode for me sounds like tubes, and that’s the sound I love. Sweet, a tad relaxed, wide open and luscious with some meat on the bones of each instrument. Something my Naim pieces seriously lack, that meat on the bones on the instruments as naim is more about the boogie, the speed, being light footed and bold.
This amp was bringing me the tube sound I remembered so well from years past. It brought back memories of the Line Magnetic 219ia yet it sounded different, and also had more gusto and oomph while retaining a lot of the magic. The transformers on the R8 are huge for an amp of this class, and adds to the weight of this 65lb beast of an amp. They get warm while in use but never so hot you can not touch them. This amp is quality through and through and I would hope someone would not let the fact that it was made in China sway them from it because this amplifier is just as good, if not better than some USA designs that cost much more.
The sound of this amp when mated with speakers that are a good match will truly blow your mind and if you have only listened to solid state amps you will be TRULY BLOWN AWAY here. To me, there is no contest in the sound between the R8 and any solid state amp I have owned, even one of my all time favorites the nearly $10,000 Luxman 590 AXII.
While I love the timeless Luxman design, build and sound, it does not sound like the R8. It does not have the weight, the humanity, the soul of tubes yet this $1295 R8 does and it has gobs of it. Am I saying the R8 bests the Luxman? No, I am not. The Luxman is timeless, a heirloom quality piece. It’s gorgeous to look at and listen to and will offer a lifetime of gorgeous music. It gets a huge recommendation from me even today. A lifetime amp. The Luxman is built to the highest standard but does bring a lighter presentation that focuses more on instrument separation than bringing lifelike weight to said instruments. It’s also close to $10k. That one is when you are ready for a “last amp ever”. The R8 can be that as well, if you enjoy the sound and looks it brings.
Listening at night with the R8 was a truly magical experience on some nights with one night bringing a tear to my eye. Something that hasn’t happened since I reviewed the $26k Vinnie Rossi L2i SE. Was that mega exotic amp more enjoyable than the $1295 R8? Well, no but the R8 to me sounds just as satisfying in some ways. The L2iSE was as premium as it gets in an integrated but the R8 seems to have even more oomph, and such a sweet sweet holographic sound that the L2i SE also has but remember the price difference here. It is HUGE. The L2iSE is the better amp without question. Another one to keep for ages. But it’s $26k loaded. $24,600 more than the R8 that offers no less musical enjoyment.
The R8 is an amp that big companies who charge a fortune for their integrated amplifiers will despise. It’s an amp one can buy on Amazon Prime for under $1500 that delivers on build, sound, parts quality and beauty for so much less cash than they can ever or will ever offer. It’s hand made, with point to point wiring and QUALITY caps and parts and transformers (which is the heart of a good tube amp).
It’s a solid base to a high quality 2 channel audio system and one that doesn’t have things stuffed in such as a DAC or streamer, which is a GOOD thing. This means that all you have to worry about are your tubes and tube life. Speaking of tubes, the stock tubes are not the best but they sound very good and for me, more than good enough. So good, I have no desire to change them out just yet. I am sure I will experiment eventually but I am no hurry to spend $500+ to try new tubes when these sound so damn good.
I will also say that this amp is now my preferred amp for the Klipsch Heresy IV speakers. I have never heard then sound this good, no matter what I ran them with and this is with just this amp and a Node 2i streaming and doing DAC duties. The Node 2i and this amp come in for $1500 less than a Naim atom, and this setup sounds better.
I was able to hear a $5000 Prima Luna EVO 400 integrated amp as a friend loaned me his for a few days a little while ago. I loved that integrated but have to say that the R8 gives nothing up in build or performance to the $4000 EVO. They share more similarities than differences and while the Prima Luna will use a few more parts that are indeed a few notches up and offer convenience features that are not in the R8, the sound quality is really VERY similar.
Each have that tube spaciousness, air and holographic thing going for it. The PL may be a little more richer in sound (though not sure on that) but worth an extra $3600? No way! Maybe if they were $500 apart in price but at $2600 more for the PL, I am thrilled to say I have an amp here that meets it in build and sound for much less.
The Prima Luna is the better amp though for long term if you care about auto bias, ultimate build, a smoother more modern design and the best parts you can get but did you know that the PL amps are also made in China? Yes indeed the PL amps are China made amps as well. With that said, the difference is minor when it comes to the music. I would be happy with either but happier with the R8 as it saved me $3600. I am not saying this to bash PL, but saying it as this amp truly gives up very little to those designs in build, or sound quality.
I get excited when I find a piece that comes in at this cost yet punches WAY above its price point. Again, I am using speakers that mate VERY well with the R8, and efficient speakers at that. The Heresy IV and R8 bring so much more oomph and it seemed to bring out so much more tight bass and mid bass from my Heresy IV.
That is one thing the R8 does for the Heresy IV speakers… improve the bass and oomph (though this may not be so for the I, II or II Heresy as those are lighter in the bass by design). All the while keeping it tight and musical. I actually feel my wooden floor shaking when I turn it up to 10AM on the dial, shaking from a huge big full warm sound with extended bass and a wide open sound stage. Not as wide or uber detailed as some Solid State amps I own but much more enjoyable. Never fatiguing. I could sit and listen for hours on end, and sometimes I do.
I also hooked up the Q Acoustic C300’s and WOW! They sounded so much fuller, richer and warmer than they did with the Naim Atom and Nova. A different presentation for sure. While the Nova made these imaging kings, the R8 made them luscious, plump, spacious and vocals were so full and rich. This alone shows the huge difference between tubes and solid state. Both are wonderful presentations but both are so different.
This is an addicting amplifier and again, the amp looks like a much more expensive piece. In black, it looks better than most amps I see in the $5k range and I like it much better than the silver as the silver has a two tone thing going on. So in the flesh you will be surprised at just how nice this amp looks.
As for “Made in China”, so what. It’s made by a human being, and one that is obviously passionate about audio. We are all human beings and it doesn’t matter where we live or come from, but rather what we have in common. What we have in common is we are all living, breathing human individuals who are all living on this earth trying to live the best life we can. It doesn’t matter where an amp is made if it offers this kind of quality. I’ve seen much worse in USA made amps. I’ve seen better in USA made amps but that “better” comes at a huge cost for maybe a 5-10% improvement.
To me the R8 integrated amplifier is something we rarely see in high quality two channel audio. A product that delivers in all aspects and brings us no buyer remorse due to the quality and price. If I paid $4000 for an amp like this I could be happy. If I paid $7500 I may have buyers remorse. At $1295 I am jumping for joy at the deal I just snagged. I can see the price of this going up in 2021 (it did, to $1495 but still so so worth it). It’s such a steal at the current price and the biggest no brainer in the world of HiFi for any music lover.
In my 30 years of HiFi I have never seen a product offer so much for so little. If you have efficient speakers or even ANY of the current Klipsch Heritage speakers just BUY IT. If you have speaker that need to be “warmed up” with tubes, this could be your ticket. Again, this will drive even more difficult loads. It has no issue driving speakers due to its current and quality transformer. You will not be disappointed. If you are, return it. That’s a benefit of Amazon Prime.
Again, even with the Q Acoustics C300… this amp drove them without even starting to sweat. At 10-11 on the volume dial it was louder than I wanted it to be. They were huge, plump and sounded like a true high end speaker with the R8 driving them.
My HIGHEST recommendation EVER due to not only cost but what you get for the now $1495 you will spend here.
I bought mine from Amazon using Prime. They are often sold out, but the link is HERE if you want to see if there is stock. Mine arrived within two days, and took only about 20-30 hours to burn in and sound its best. I use the stock tubes and recommend doing so for a while so you get a full understanding of how good it is with these tubes.
Do know it will take the amp being on for about 20 minutes to sound its best. Once warmed up, it sounds so good. I am using Nordost Blue Heaven LS cables from speaker to power to interconnects. Not cheap but also the “starter line” from Nordost. Nothing fancy or exotic. I am using a simple Bluesound Node 2i for streaming and the DAC, and it meshes so well with this system.
As for tube bias, it could not be easier to manually bias the tubes. ANYONE can do it within 60-120 seconds and I give an overview in the video up top. The amp ships with a manual, and a screwdriver. When the amp has been on for about 30-45 minutes you can check the bias with the bias switches. Simply hold it down and the front meter will show you if the bias is a little under or over the recommended settings. If it is under, simply screw the small bias screw up top to the right until it is in the center. If it is over, turn it back. This is so easy and should be checked every 2-3 months. It’s a breeze to maintain and with the hand made quality along with point to point hand wired innards I see no downsides to this “budget” amp. It competes with the best of them and then some. A really special buy that I could not fathom sending back.
Again, there is no hum, no buzz, no noise, black backgrounds even with my 99db efficient speakers. Something that the $6k Cary 300 SEI and another low cost made in china amp from Amazon could not do. I sent those back.
Bottom line: Not only the best of the Chinese tube amps I have heard, one of the most enjoyable integrated amps I have ever heard or owned. It’s that good and let’s you get into high end tube sound for not so high end money. The real deal.
UPDATE January 4th 2021: I ordered and added some Mullard EL34 tubes (current production, about $120 for a matched quad) to see how this amp sounds with the magical EL34. With the Klipsch Heresy IV speaker the EL34 is even better than the KT88 as the Heresy IV excels in the midrange area.
The low end of the H4 does not go crazy low but if you can flesh out the midrange and plump it up some, the sound can be so inviting, warm and yet delicate at the same time. With the EL34 vs the KT88, the amp pushed the Heresy IV in a warmer way, widened the soundstage substantially and improved on the imaging. With more mid bass yet at the same time vocals project better and sound more organic. I sp much prefer the EL34’s here just as I did in the Octave V40 amp a while ago when running them with a Klipsch Heritage speaker.
I bought the EL34’s at Amazon HERE.
When you replace the KT88 with EL34 you must switch the amp off, turn the switch on the back from KT88 to EL34, insert the tubes, turn on the amp and bias the tubes immediately. After 3 hours bias again. The tubes will start to mellow out and get bigger sounding after about 5 hours of use. After 20 hours they will sound beautiful.
Hi Steve: On Craigslist > Electronics I was about to search for Ham radio equipment when an ad caught my eye for a used R8 in Las Vegas (I live 1 hour away in Pahrump, Nevada) for $1,200. My curiosity prompted the research which led me to this web page.
It has been over 4 decades since I enjoyed high-end audio sound. (My friend back in New Jersey has a pair of Ohm C3 speakers which I enjoyed very much.) Recently I happened upon a pair of Klipsch Chorus II speakers which I BOUGHT AT A YARD SALE FOR TEN DOLLARS (yes, I’m still smiling inside, ha-ha). However, I only have a Yamahha A-1020 Class A amp to drive them. The Chorus IIs sound fine with the Yamaha, but I know a hollow-state amp will sound much better. I’m a little reticent about buying a USED amp, especially if there’s a risk it has gone under the “golden screwdriver” [ham radio slang for an incompetent technician.] Any thoughts about this, and do you have any experience with Klipsch Chorus IIs? Thank you. P.S.- This will be my first hollow-state audio amplifier.
Hello! I never heard the Klipsch Chorus line but every Klipsch I have ever heard has a similar house sound. As for being a used tube amp from Craigslist… it would depend on brand and I would make sure to audition it for buzzing, tube issues, pops, crackles, etc. At $1200 I would buy new one instead. I have seen used R8’s go for $800. I paid $1200 for mine new when they were $1200 new : ) For $250 more you can have a new one, delivered via Amazon prime to your door with return provelages if anything was wrong, or if it didn’t work for you.
Hi Steve. Will this amp be compatible with B&W CM8 speakers which I’ve used with ONKYO TX-8270?
Those are 8db efficient so hard to say as it will depend on how large your room is. If large you will want more power. If a small room, and you listen at normal levels it could work.
What a very nice review. This would be my first tube amp. would it be wise to use it together with JBL L82 speakers with EL34 tubes
Hi Steve, thanks for your input. China Hifi audio offers the amp with a pre amp tube option for the PSVANE CV181-TII (3_ plus 2 Willsenton 6SL7 tubes for $240. In addition they offer power tube options of 4 Psvane EL34 PH for $206, PSVANE KT88-TII collection (4) for $244 and three others. I am new to tube amps. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks, Scott
I would by mallard EL34 from Amazon. https://amzn.to/3VDmXtk
I have these and bought them for the R8 and they are much better than the stock KT88 (and I prefer them to KT88 in general). As for the pre tubes I used some NOS for a while and enjoyed them but the PSVANE 181-TII are also quite nice, those are a great tube for the amp. I would 100^% go for the EL34’s from Mullard as they took the sound up a few levels.
Thank you, Steve
Can you please explain the basic sound difference between KT88 and EL 34. I like a clean bass sound, not muddy. Do you like the Linlai E for the pre amp.
I find KT88 kind of base and boomy. I much prefer EL34 which are smoother, better for vocals and very clean. The Mullard re-issues are wonderful here as are Gold Lion.
Very insightful review, thanks for putting it together. I have a set of Sansui SP-3500 speakers that I got from my dad about 25 years ago. We’ve been through a lot (my dad and I and me and the speakers!!) When I first got them I had a 80 watt solid state Onkyo receiver and the best turntable I could afford. I’m all about Vinyl, always have been. To me LOUD was best and this set up was just that. I’m at a point now where I’m more interested in better sound. I want to keep using these speakers and I’d like to include a Tube Amp in an effort to enhance and better pair the Analog elements of Vinyl. My turntable is decent and I run an Ortofon Blue stylus (I get there’s better out there, I’m happy). This stylus has allowed me the opportunity to hear things on records I’ve spun for years but never “fully” heard…..apparently!! 🙂 I’m hoping The R8 will build on this reality with the warmth and punch I know tubes can give. My concern is will this amp drive my speakers??
The speaker specs are: 8 ohm….Sensitivity of 98db…Frequency Response of 26Hz to 20kHz
Thank you in advance for your insight, it’s much appreciated.
I have Triangle Comete speakers that are 90db sensitivity and the r8 drives the easily. I rarely go past 9am on the volume dial.
Would this amp work well with Quad ESL 63 electrostatics or Spendor SP2/2??
I would probably go to a more powerful amp for those.
Steve Huff. North High 1989?
Nope, I graduated in 1987, Chicago South Side.
Steve, checking in to see if you are still using the R8 and if so how it’s holding up after a couple of years. Also, are yo unfamiliar with Black Ice Audio F11/22 tube amps? If so, any thoughts on them relative to the R8.
I have the R8 but it’s been in a small system in my guest house. I haven’t brought it into the main room in a while (what I use now is much better for my speakers). As for Black Ice Audio, I am familiar but not yet heard one. I hope to do this soon!
Bonjour et merci pour ce développé du R8.
Je suis attiré par le tube, mais me pose quelques questions technique simple.
J’ai un préampli que je souhaite conserver et un ampli transistor avec alimentation séparée que je souhaite aussi conserver.
Je possède de Martin Logan SL3 électrostatique, et tenterai bien d’utiliser le R8 pour alimenter mes SL3 (90db).
La SL3 Martin Logan présente une combinaison de faible impédance et d’angle de phase élevé, ce qui demande beaucoup à un amplificateur. À 50 Hz, une impédance de 4,5 ohms est couplée à un angle de phase capacitif de -47 degrés ; à 1 kHz, une amplitude de 5 ohms coïncide avec un angle de phase de -42 degrés ; tandis qu’à 8,2 kHz, une magnitude de 3,8 ohms se combine avec un angle de phase de -57 degrés. Dans chaque cas, l’étage de sortie de l’amplificateur sera sollicité au maximum.
J’ai aussi pensé réaliser une double amplification.
-Transistor pour le grave
-Tube pour medium aigu.
Avez vous des conseils, expérience en retour.
Par avance merci
i would like to hear how this compares to the new Audio Research i/50 or the Vincent SV-237 mk2?
Hi Steve, thanks for an informative review. Have you ever heard the Reisong A12? I know its cheaper and was just wondering how it would compare to the R8?
Regards, Graham W.
I have had the Reisong here, and wasn’t a fan. It sounded nice, but thin, bright and wasn’t anything I would own. I sent it back. The Reisong could be nice for a small super high efficient system but even with my Klipsch Forte IV the Reisong A12 sounded too bright and without much body. I tested it with LaScala’s and Heresy IV’s as well. Also the Devilles. The amp looks nice, is hefty, but the low cost also means low quality parts were used. I bought another amp from the same manufacturer (more pricey one) and it was DOA.
Have you tried the amp with K-horns? Any thoughts on this combination? I’m going to get one and those will be my speakers. Nothing sounds as warm and rich as a tube amp. I can’t wait to hear it.
I share Az W comment as I would not like that ugly thing to sit in my room. That said all tube amps AND chinese tube amps I heard sound good with efficient speakers (the classic usual prerequisite that nobody has yet understood).
Wonderful, wonderful review. Full of insight and knowledge. I learned a ton.
I bought the R8. I hook it up from my Node to the Pre-In so volume control is through the Node…beats the Willsenton remote….Is this a foolish idea for audio quality? (not asking about the DAC-ness of it all…just using the Pre In…thank you)
Steve, I’m glad you enjoyed this amp and I have heard others offering rave reviews. Honestly, it just leaves me depressed. Despite your plea to ignore the fact that this is a cheap Chinese amp, I just can’t. If recent events in Ukraine has taught us anything, surely it should be not to do business with tyrannical governments who are responsible for the most atrocious human rights abuses. We are currently in turmoil in Europe due to our reliance on Russian energy and are reaping rewards for ignoring such abuses in the interests of saving some money.
A few years ago the Chinese President visited the UK where people, quite properly protested against his regime. At the end of the visit he told the UK PM that UK would “pay a high price” for these protests. Really? What a wonderful world. It might be good to mention that you are supporting despots like him whenever you outsource or buy from China.
The device you typed this comment on was made in China.
This is very racist, classist and nonsense Brian 🙁
Just because you don’t like the tirany chinese people are living, you will not buy things of them. So you just say that if someone lives opressed does not deserve wealth? Buying items made by a human being that lives under opression is not the same as buying energy off an opressing government… You rather buy things from the US, who are enslaving third world countries by means of outsourcing, just because it is a democracy? nonsense… you clearly are not aware how lucky you are to live in a democracy
HI Steve,because of your great review I purchased R 8 from Amazon!! I have Monitor audio silver R8 about 10 years and when I hook them up with R8 the sound was good but not what I like.I like to listen Yello,Jean Michel Jarre,Enigma,Sting and sometimes Jazz ,I have big family room so what do you think about Kef Q 750 or Q Acoustic Concept 40 or Wharfedale evo 4.4.Thank you for your time!!!
Was the sound too hard or bright with your Monitor Audio speakers? Was it the opposite? Hard to say unless I know what kind of sound you like. Any tube amp will work well with speakers that are an easy drive. I know Monitor Audio usually are easy to drive. The sound you get from your gear will depend on room 1st, Speakers 2nd, room 3rd, source//streamer/phono pre 4th, then amp or integrated. As long as the amp has the power to drive your speakers and the room isn’t too large for them all should be good. The R8 is a great amp, but it will have limitations due to its cost and capabilities. It’s not a $10k amp but can easily compete with those 2X+ its cost. The Q Acoustics will offer a smoother sound vs your Monitor Audio. The KEF probably will as well. The Wharfedale will be the warmest of them all. The only way to know though, is to try in your room.
Hey & Hi Steve, I’ve read your article here and several others over time when I was researching for my main amp for listening to music. Change that thought into a Home Theater System. Kinda glad I did, I have and very proud I did keep to my BUDGET and own my 2nd Denon the latest is the 6300H. I am going to pull the trigger and buy the R8 with the extra tubes ” EL 34’s ” I’m into the musical tones and can’t afford a Pass Labs system !!. The reason for the purchase is to have a 2 channel amp for music. I have some vintage Tannoy’s Duel Concentric 10 inch ” Reds ” in the original speaker cabinet, in pristine condition. I’ve read that the vintage Tannoy sing their best with a tube amp. I see reading through your
article, the mention of several different speaker manufactures, have you ever listened to a pair of Tannoy’s ? I have a house full and believe in the music quality and the sound that comes from a single, but not really because it is a Dual Concentric, paper cone speaker. I had read over the Klipsch Heresy IV speakers in the past but at that time I ran across my first set of Tannoy,s at like a fire sale for the 1/4 of the price. I am glad I did. Oh and adding more to this is the Sub Bass Speaker System, of sub manufactures … REL, model Storm III … whats so awesome about this sub is it connects to the left and right positive and the right negative called the Neutrik connection or still has the dedicated Sub Out connection. Of course this Sub Bass System has it’s own control panel and it’s a beautiful piece of furniture and even sounds better than any of my other furniture (haha)!! This Sub System still exists on the new REL but not on their Home Theater model, I mentioned this because I read here the question about a sub speaker line out. I know of only 2 Sub Speaker Systems that have the ” Neutrik ” connection and I don’t recall the other company. I would love to chat with you more about home stereos. Thanks … Vince from Savannah Ga.
Hey Vince! I have heard Tannoy on a few occasions but not in my space. I have heard the Kensington and thought they were beautiful in the flesh, and sounded beautiful. The looks are something to behold indeed.
I read and enjoyed your review of the Willsenton R8 and refer it to friends of mine. So far, five of them have bought the R8 and are extremely happy with the amp.
I want to start off mentioning that I have been repairing tube amps for about thirty years, including a number of them made in China. There is a factory in China called Spark that makes a number of amps branded under different names. I had been the main repair person here in the U.S. for Prima Luna. I own an older amp from a company called Cayin. Both of those amps are made in the Spark factory. The Cayin is very similar to the Willsenton, so I am completely sure knowing the insides of both amps that the R8 is made by Spark. I purchased two R8 amps from China Hi Fi and whether purchased there or through Amazon, they come with a one year warranty. I had been given a location in Wisconsin as Willsenton’s repair shop. Not being able to contact them directly and by being ignored whenever I tried China Hi Fi, I am sure that there is no repair shop in the U.S. and that this location serves as a warehouse only. I have offered my services to China Hi Fi to do repairs for them but was ignored. I understand the concern people have when their one year warranty runs out. Other than a blown transformer, I have confidence I could undertake just about any repair on the R8. If I was not sure of that I would not have purchased two of these units nor recommended them to any of my friends. I do plan on contacting the seller again in the future and if ignored possibly trying the Spark factory itself.
Please keep me in mind if you have any questions regarding the R8, hope I would be able to help. I could give you a list of the number of companies I have been doing repairs for, both past and present. I can tell you that the near equivalent of the R8 is the Cayin CS88, which lists for $3500. I am surprised that of all the reviews having seen or read, no one mentions this.
Less than a year ago my Willsenton died, 3 weeks to the day before my 1 year warranty expired. Contacted China Hi-Fi, Mr. Lee was very responsive. After some topical troubleshooting with little results, he gave me the address and contact of his repair guy (a couple guys actually) in Wisconsin. I paid for shipping to the shop, had it back in my house playing music in 2 weeks. They preformed the repair, provided details over the phone/email, and shipped it back no cost. The warranty is legit…at least it was roughly 8 months ago.
Hey, was wondering if I can have the repair guy there in Wisconsin ? I’m getting ready to purchase the Willsenton R8 and I thought this might be good info have around, especially if they can ” Tune-it – Up ” for better performance. Thanks for you time … Vince from Savannah Ga.
Would appreciate any contact information you might have on the repair shop in Racine, Wisconsin. I have inquired several times regarding names and a phone number at the shop and have been ignored by China HiFi.
Mitch, where can we find you on line?
I live in Port Hueneme, California and can be reached at (805)228-0562 (landline for now). You can also send an email to email@example.com.
I am in the process of contacting the person who says he knows the repair staff in Racine, Wisconsin. So far, those at China HiFi have ignored my requests to get information on the repair shop. I have purchased two of the R8 amps and they are working fine, but I have concerns about long term reliability and warranty coverage after the year is up. Recently, one of the people I have recommended the R8 to had brought his amp over for me to check out after it blew a fuse. Appears that one of the output transformers was oscillating. It was still under warranty, but I have not heard back from him since he shipped his amp to Wisconsin.
The guy who preformed the repair was obviously contracted by CHFI, not sure if he is still working for them so I’d prefer not to publicly post his info. I will say, at some point during the warranty process China HIFI was non-responsive to my emails for about 2 weeks. Eventually Mr. Lee wrote back. He is best reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The email@example.com seems like the catch all address and is screened to answer all the general questions. As mentioned, the warranty is legit on what appears to be a very hi-quality piece. Honestly, if it had failed outside the warranty window, most general audio/electronics repair shops should be able to handle to fix.
Great review, thanks Steve. I’ve been a Schiit fan for some time, and own a single Aegir with a Saga+ pre, and have been waiting for my Freya+ to ship. Reading this review and knowing you reviewed the Aegir/Freya combo in the past and didn’t even mention them (!) leads me to believe the Willsenton would get the vote. I’m super curious about this amp, and just about to cancel my Freya order. I’ve enjoyed many of your reviews, thanks for the good work.
Hi Steve, I am going for this amp.. do you think it will perform as well with a pair of Quad ESL 2812’s electrostatic speakers ? Thanks in advance.
That is something I can not answer. I have not heard your speakers but at 86db efficient you would probably want more power if your room is large. If your room is small, this amp will power your speakers without issue.
This amp does sound awesome…while it works. I purchased one in February of 2021 and had it delivered from China HiFi directly in March. At first I loved it, but when the left channel stopped working and after I performed every test that the factory asked me to, confirming that there was a problem with the amp; all support came to an end. The company simply stopped responding. BUYER BEWARE!!! This company does NOT stand behind the product. I gambled and I lost.
Hey Conrad, so sorry to hear this. Mine still works great after a year, but it’s a tube amp and they can be finicky. My right channel popped one day and went out, but I put in a new tube, re-biased, and it was perfect again. I’m sure you tried a new set of tubes and re-biased? With any company, or any tube amp you can have issues. I recently ordered THREE cary 300 SEI amps trying to find a good one. All three were defective out of the box and sent back. A Raven Audio amp I was sent for review kept popping and going out on the left channel (it was a bad tube) and these are two companies right here in the USA. I had an SLI-80 from Cary 5 years ago that buzzed and hummed new out of the box, and had to be returned. The rub here is that when we buy an amp like this (that would cost $4k or more from a dealer in the USA) direct from China to save money, we do lose that dealer support. I recommend buying these (and any) China tube amps from Amazon, and only via prime. You get 30 days to check it out and can return it if there is an issue or you do not like it. But even in this way we take a risk as there is no dealer support after the 30 days besides what you experienced with the manufacturer. One can save thousands buying these kind of amps but the risk is always there. The solution is to go to a dealer and spend more (much more sadly) so we have dealer warranty support. I still see this amp as a deal and mine still works great. With that said, they should have taken care of your issue if it was under a warranty.
Hi can i use this as an headphone amp? With sennheiser 800s?
It has a headphone out but I have not tried it as I am not a headphone guy. From what I understand the headphone out is lacking, and the 800’s require a great amp to shine.
First, sorry for my poor English (I’mFrench). Thank you so much for this review, text and video are great and make me want to buy this very convincing amp (tube for the first time for me). I’m hesitating with another model between the R8 and the Willsenton R-801 (you can see here : https://www.amazon.com/Willsenton-R-800i-300B-805-Single-Ended/dp/B0841JL7V4). It’s more expensive but not that much. I don’t know if 300B tube is better than L34 or if it’s another kind of listening.
Thank you soooo much for your answer before to valid my basket !
A precision : at the beginning, I was following your blog for photography, not for music. At least, I’m very interesting for your playlist music, I love what I listened in your video !
Merci beaucoup pour la qualité de tes articles et le partage de cet art de vivre !
Hello. That amp is more of an 805 amp, using 300B as the driver. So it will be more like the Line magnetic 219ia from what it appears. I have not heard it but looks pretty nice!
I got the Klipsch Heresy III with the Naim Atom. pleased with the sound and ease of use. Is the Willsenton R8 a better alternative?
Well, the differences are this:
The Naim Atom is superb, an amazing all in one with built in streamer, dac and amp. It’s one of my all time fave HiFi pieces for the ease of which one can get into serious HiFi. It’s also like a gateway drug, as much as a Leica CL is for a Leica M or SL. With the R8, the sound will change dramatically. Not better or worse, as that depends on your tastes and ears. But I will try to describe what I hear between the two. Before I do that, do know you would need a streamer with the R8, as well as a DAC. I am using the $500 Node 2i which is bringing a very musical presentation.
The R8, especially with EL34 tubes, will bring more warmth, midbass and and fullness to the sound. After about 20-50 hours of burn in of the tubes, the soundstage will grow and you will have a fuller bigger sound that is very nice and natural. The imaging is where you take a hit, which for some, makes it more musical. The Naim is lighter footed, so not as warm or full but it brings better imaging to the speakers (when they are set up right) meaning better instrument separation and clarity. But with the Heresy’s you lose some of the musicality. It’s like a Hifi vs Musical performance between the two. HiFi or an Audiophile product tends to focus on imaging, details and bringing the performers to your space. An amp like the R8 sounds more tangible, ripe, chestier, bigger, and warm but it loses out on the all out imaging capabilities of the Naim.
With rock music, the naim can sound almost thin at times. With the R8 it’s tough to get any music to sound thin. Now the R8 is not overly warm or syrupy, and it also does some of the audiophile tricks but it’s more subdued. I feel with the Heresy IV’s it’s a better match.
If you feel your music is thin sounding at times, or bright or you have too much detail then the R8 will warm it up and give you a fuller presentation. If you feel your music is currently just right, the R8 may be too much of a good thing. All of this depends on placement, room, etc.
I would say the Naim is the technically superior piece as its made by Naim, and they are legendary. It’s also an all in one, so no need for a streamer or DAC.
So far I have been listening to the R8 every day, and so far it has only gotten better. Opened up more, the EL34 tubes are a much better match for Klipsch over the KT88 and they helped with this. Nicer midrange, more warmth and a bigger soundstage with smoother tighter bass. The Kt88’s have a bit of a bass hump at the bottom (where the Heresy’s do not have much bass) and an extended top end which can make them seem bright as well. The EL34’s took all of that away. So if you do move to an R8 I highly recommend buying a set of EL34’s as it will sound much better with the Heresy’s.
I was listening last night to the R8 and was thinking to myself how this amp is THIS GOOD for the money. I find myself liking it more than some amps I paid $7k for, but again, context is key. I feel this bests much pricer amps with my Heresy’s. It may not with some of the more demanding speakers out there as I certainly can not try them all : )
Did you find that you enjoyed the Heresy iv’s better when you connected them to the 4 or 8 ohm taps on the R8?
For me the 8 ohm sounded better. I would suggest to try them both as your tastes may be different. I always feel th e8 ohm tap offers more body, and the 4 ohm is a little leaner.
Hi Steve. Just wondering whether I can get enough power from the R8 to drive my 8ohm 88 db sensitive Wharfedale towers and/ or my 4ohm Sonus Faber standmounts with the same sensitivity. Medium sized room 6ft listening distance, mostly acoustic folk, jazz, some rock and classical. Would appreciate any guidance.
Depends on how big the room is really. That’s not a hard drive at all really and should be fine with the R8. When you start to get to 85/84db then it may be an issue. If your room is big or wide open you may wish for more power though. I used to drive my Sonus Faber Guarneri EVO’s with a 20 WPC tube amp without one issue, in a small room.
Thank you for the great review and recommendation. I’m new to tube amp stereo and was wondering how to adjust bass, treble, balance. I don’t see it on the front panel. Am I missing something that I need to purchase? (I have purchased and await delivery of the amp, Heresy IV speakers, and Bluesound Node 2i.). Thanks for any input and thanks for a great site!
Hello Richard. In the video on this page I go over how to Bias. Thank you!
Thanks for the insightful review, after reading it I looked at everything I could find about them on the internet and, two days ago, I ordered one. Anxious to see how they drive my speakers! I have a couple of 4 ohm Hales Revelation 3 speakers from the 90’s. Great speakers, but power hungry. I think, I hope, the Willsenton R8 will drive them well! Thanks again.
How did it go?
I’m just curious how this stacks up to the VTA ST 70, I already have a Cary 6SN7 preamp. I would prefer to buy American if possible.
a chinese product is as good or bad as any us product.
sound is not all that counts.
technical quality and safety is important on tubes, too.
that’s why many products fail european safety regulations for electronic devices (US, China, …, ) equally so but meanwhile less frequent thanks to adapted designs Europe-produced equipment. Cheap products (regardless of their origin) may look nice, but don’t alway have customer service and less so in that case a safety architecture leaving the risk to electrocute users or even fire.
Be more careful with such reviews on any equipment, find a trustable source to cross-check that matter not only on imported stuff. Again – this is not contra-China/US/any, just a though to consider quality in safety when reviewing risky devices, like tube power amps.
This amp is just as high of quality (in some cases better) than many USA amps I have seen. Quality parts, hand wired, dead silent transformers, solid tube sockets, and an amazing value. Mine has been playing every day and it keeps getting better. No crackles, pops, noises, or issues. Sounds best with my speakers with EL34’s. Also, one of my fave amps I have ever owned was the Line Magnetic 219ia. World class amp, made in China.
Completely dumb question here Steve, but 99% of my music is in iTunes. What would I need an analog amplifier to do with digital recordings? If I wanted to play my songs through decent speakers what do I need in between my computer and those speakers?
Never a dumb question. If you want to listen to very high quality music you would run a streamer such as the blue sound node 2i. This can stream wireless from your phone direct to the streamer. The streamer connects to your amplifier where it plays back through your speakers. This kind of setup brings you next level sound compared to something like a bluetooth speaker or earbuds. But a streamer with DAC is needed before the amplifier, unless you have an all in one like a Naim Atom.
So great to see you back writing again and delighted to see and hear that the move has been a positive one for you and Debbie!
I was hoping to pick your brains and get your feedback on a few questions if you don’t mind….
1. I’m also a huge fan of bang for the buck in HiFi audio. Have you come across any reasonably priced Chinese made audio cables that you’d recommend? Most of the USA or European are grossly overpriced IMHO and hard to justify with my wife!
2. A few years back you reviewed the Kef LS 50 Wireless and had superlatives to say about those speakers. I bought them at the time on your advice and have been absolutely in love with them. I was wondering what your take was on getting something like a tube pre-amp and taking a line into KEF LS 50 ii wireless to warm up the sound a little but to use the in built electronics in the KEF.
3. Explore the Heresy IV with the R8 amp and node 2i !
The reason that I am asking 2 and 3 above is that my listening room is quite small , wooden floors and quite bright. I’m in the process of treating it but there is only so much you can do with panels. Do you think the Heresy IV would work in a small room ? The R7II Klipsch that I had previously tended to sound very bright even in a treated room. Appreciate your feedback.
Finally a very happy , healthy, safe and enjoyable new year to you, your family and loved ones.
What phono preamp would you recommend to go with this?
Depends on budget as they range from $50 to $10k. A good all rounder that will not cost a fortune…
It is only $150 but as good as any $300 phono preamp I have used. Not the last word in refinement but has a nice hefty sound.
At that price point you should look at Rogue RH-5.
Great review as always. This amp really interests me. I’m wanting to get more into high end hifi. I recently added an RME adi2dac to my iMac which drives my Audioengine 5+ and Sennheiser 660S headphones. However, seems like I could get a big boost by putting this amp between my dac and headphones and then get speakers like the Klipsch Heresey that you highly tout. Do you think this is a wise decision for the setup I have? The DAC is MQA and DSD compatible and already sounds good as is but I want more! Thanks for your thoughts in advance.
I have not listened to the headphone out on this amp, but usually tube amps like this do pretty well with most headphones. This amp with the Heresy IV’s is about as good as I have heard these speakers.
Do you have a sonic impression vs the Raven Nighthawk w/ your Klipsch speakers?
The Nighthawk is a little bit more refined with imaging, etc. It offers a lighter sound where this amp has a but more heft to it, which is great for the Heresy IV speakers as it brings out more of the deeper bass from them than the Raven did for some reason. Also, this amp is dead quiet with these highly efficient speakers. The only other amp I have heard that was this quiet with these has been the Luxman 590 AXII at $9k or the Vinnie Rossi L2i SE at $26k. To be honest, I would choose this over the Raven amps because I feel this is better built, is hand wired, and offers most of what we look for in a tube integrated amp. I listened last night to this setup for 3 hours between 10PM and 1AM and have no complaints. I just wonder how this can be sold for this cost when we have USA made amps that are similar or not up to this level for so much more. For example, the Cary SLI80 I had was awful. A thin sound, a massive transformer buzz, and tube sockets that were set in crooked. This amp has not one flaw I could find. I have some hours on it and never an issue. I kept waiting for something to go wrong…never did.
This integrated amp sounds amazing and thank you for the review! I currently am building a system that starts with my 2019 iMac as the music source. I currently have an RME adi2dac that delivers music to my audio engine 5+ speakers and Sennheiser 660S headphones. The headphone sound is pretty good but I’m wondering what sticking the R8 between the DAC and headphones might do to take things to another level. And then, I would also replace the Audioengine speakers with the Klipsch Heresey’s you tout. Thoughts? Yours are much appreciated . . .
I fully agree with you Steve, I have had the R8 for six month now to drive a pair of KEF LS50, a speaker known to be amp finicky due to the low sensitivity of -85dB. I was surprised that this amp drove the speakers with great tonal balance and authority in the bass. Surprise, surprise. What I also like about the pairing is, they make the LS50 sound natural, musical and at the same time, details, separation, airiness, imaging, layering and 3D-ness are there in spades. Another great thing about this amp is, the flexibility to tune the sound to one’s liking, with ultralinear and triode modes and two types of output tubes, EL34 and KT88, which sound very different. This feature alone made me decided to keep the amp, if I ever moved up to Willsenton’s SET model, the R-800i.
I am eyeballing the R-800i now as well! Those 845 and 300B amps are magical indeed. Hot, but sound so so good.
The R-800i is actually on par (performance & price) with a Line Magnetic LM508IA (USD1.4k in China after discount), which is sold in North America as LM805IA through dealers at a much higher price (USD4k+). I have had a chance to demo both the LM508IA and LM219IA, with Dynaudio Evoke 10 and 20 speakers and ATC SCM40 speakers. The LM508IA is superior than the LM219IA with these speakers overall. That makes the R-800i a great bargain.
I put in some el34’s today and I like it much better than the KT88’s with the Heresy IV’s. Much nicer mids, a bit warmer and fuller too. There are some high quality amps coming out of China. I still love that 219ia from LM though! Thanks, and happy new year!
Hi steve, and merry Christmas.
Nice review, Would love to see you do a comparison with the Sony TA-A1ES class A integrated. Have been hearing very good things about it.
And by the way have you seen the Philharmonic BMR speakers by Dennis Murphy? they also seem to be some exellent overachievers and offer something quite special. You can find some glowing reviews of them on audioholics and ASR forums, amongst others. Would like to hear, well read actually, your subjective impressions of them.
Hello! I have tried the Sony in the past. It’s more of an older McIntosh kind of sound. More localized to the speakers, not so much of a 3D soundstage. Lots of body, and very smooth. I also discovered its not true class A. Even so, solid state will not sound like tubes regardless of wether it is class A. For example, the Luxman 590 AXII is class A but has a leaner more detailed sound over something like a Line Magnetic 219ia which has a bug full class A tube sound. I love class A amps, to me they sound special. Problem is a really really good one will set you back some cash, they will run hot and cost more to run as well.
Thanks for the review ! I will have to check this out.
I saw you review on Amazon, so have you sold the the Vinnie Rossi L2i SE then?
I had no choice, had to due to the move. The plan was to not even have a new system at all, and focus on other things in life ; ) But Debby said I needed something as we had the room for it. I decided to try and keep my budget to $5k for a full system, which is still a lot of money but far from what I have had in the past. The eye opening thing for me here is that this amp gets me 95% of most amps I have owned no matter the cost, for under $1500 shipped and with tax.
I just received the R8 and I’ve got it hooked up to a mid 80s set of Heresy II speakers. I was surprised at the lack of bass, but I am coming off of using a Pioneer SX-838 that I engaged the Loudness button on. When running the Pioneer without Loudness, the Heresy sound just as dull and flat. With it on they sound perfect to me. At the moment I’ve rigged up a subwoofer with the Heresy and the R8 just because it sounds the same as the Pioneer did with the loudness engaged. Do you know if the Heresy II are that different from the IV regarding the low end? The R8 sounds great to me when I plug my 250 ohm Beyerdynamic DT-990 headphones into the amplifier. The bass is there, it just seems my speakers aren’t able to deliver because their response curve must be so horrid below about 60hz. I’m trying to figure out which speakers I should keep an eye out for to pair up to this amplifier. I tried using my original large Advents and I feel they’re lacking bass compared to what I’m used to as well. I may be addicted to that Fletcher Munson curve since I’ve never NOT listened with it engaged when I’ve been using my Marantz and Pioneer receivers. This is my first tube amplifier for speakers, so I’m not used to being devoid of tone control of any kind.
You are absolutely on point Steve. There is a stunning combo of the R8 and the Node 2i in my setup with the Node 2i occupying aux1 and needing it’s MQA to be heard. Great write up. A review worthy of reviewing.
Great review! Thank you. I placed an order of Willsenton R8 about 30 minutes ago. It will be delivered in two days. 🙂
Wow awesome! You will enjoy it!
Hi Steve, glad to see you are discovering the wonder of Chinese tube amps. While the Willsenton performs well, it looks like something only its mother could love. I wouldn’t want that thing sitting out in my living room. To that end I invite you to check out the Muzishare X7, same performance, infinitely better looks. I have mine hooked up to a set of Zu omen dirty weekends, coupled with Schitt Loki and Mani. Loving every minute of this triode goodness. Good to see you back, keep up the good work!
I find the Willsenton a nicer looking amp than the Muzishare ; ) In black. I do not like the Silver R8. To me the black R8, in person, is much nicer than the Raven Amps I have had here, the Cary SLI80, and a few others. It’s a beast at 65lbs and has as good of a build as Any USA amp I have had here. It’s dead silent, fleshes out the H4’s nicely and still has a full holographic 3d soundstage. It’s an amazing amp and gorgeous in the flesh. Also powers the Q Acoustic C300’s without breaking a sweat. I am familiar with the Muzishare X7 though and it’s also a knock out amp that delivers 100% on sound and looks and PRICE!: )
The R8 is a great integrated and a great value. Another superb integrated is the Reisong A10. Point-to-point wiring, with excellent build, parts quality, clarity, soundstaging, etc. I paid $350 for mine, which is an incredible bargain, given the overall quality.