Don Garber Fi Super X 45 / 2A3

“The fi 2A3 amplifier is the simplest and most direct amplifier available today. It consists of a single triode voltage amplifier direct coupled to the 2A3 output stage, one of the best output transformers around, all connected with a few inches of silver wire. Anything more is unnecessary and detrimental to sound quality. Any and all attempts at higher output power are for some reason other than sound quality and are misguided. The 2A3 is the most natural and direct of the filamentary triodes (300B, 211, 845) commercially available and will get you closest to the essence of the music. Forget pentodes. 6550s are sonic dishwashers. All this purity means low output power, but with efficient speakers the music is lifelike: full, detailed, and above all palpable.” -- Don Garber from an early 1990's print advertisement for one of his first amplifiers, the fi 2A3.

Don Garber is a legendary name in tube audio. Mr. Garber was an artist and an innovator of the highest degree and his imagination and vision is evident in all of his amazing single ended amplifiers. Coming on to the scene at the very beginning of the Triode revival in the US, here we have what is perhaps his most iconic audio creation, the Fi Super X 45 / 2A3.

Don Garber was a painter living in New York City when he turned his vision to tube amplifiers in the late 1980s, opening a brick and mortar store on Watts street in lower Manhattan where he repaired and restored classic tube amps from the “Golden Age”, sold other builder’s amps on consignment and of course built and sold his own designs under his own brand, called Fi. Advertising in magazines like Sound Practices, over the years Don built a number of Fi triode amplifiers in most of the famous tube types, and a few that many weren’t aware of like the 46 and 421a. Often booked years in advance, all of Don Garber’s amplifiers are works of audio art and were built with his own hands. If the Smithsonian were to ever feature an exhibit on tube amplification, one of Don’s amps would be mandatory to the collection. Positive Feedback, Stereophile and others have told Don’s story in detail and I wont repeat it all here, suffice to say that Don Garber is certainly one of the pioneers of hifi single ended tube amplification. Don was a renaissance man of the tube world, a Michelangelo or da Vinci, and finally having one of his amps on this page is a great honor. Don died in 2017, and like some other audio icons, Terry Cain and George Wright come to mind, I wish I could have had the chance to meet him and sit down for a cup of coffee and talk audio for an hour or two.

The Fi Super X featured here is an amp unlike any other. A direct-coupled design, the X form factor allows the use of very short leads, with each section in its own space, and altogether it is a brilliant design. The “Super” X features upgraded Magnequest iron and is user switchable between 45 and 2a3, with each simply using a different rectifier. For use with the 45 (or the 2A3), the 5Y3 is in place. Of course I subbed this with an 80 globe on an adapter. For use with the 2A3, the 5V4 can be placed to give more dynamics. I’ve run a number of tubes through this beautiful amplifier and can say that all of the combinations sound good, but I do prefer the old globe 45 with the 80.

The build quality of the Super X is very good, and it is a compact design that is sure to be a conversation starter with audio and non-audio visitors alike. No one will have ever seen anything like it. The Fi logo and Don’s signature grace one panel, what nominally feels like the front, and give the amp its only exterior markings. In use I found the RCA connections to be a small hassle, I am never fond of front mounted cables, and my only design complaint would be that I wished the RCA were mounted on the back panel with the speaker leads, which would give the amp a cleaner front facing look. Small potatoes.

Sound wise there is nothing at all to complain about with this amplifier. It is quiet in operation, and sounds very, very good. Of course like any small wattage SET amp it will require appropriate speakers to fully appreciate, but if you have the efficiency this amp paints a very richly detailed soundscape with good bass, the wonderful liquid midrange that SET amps are famous for, and a non-fatiguing treble that still has good strong energy well beyond my ability to hear. I find that after all this time I am running out of adjectives to adequately describe the nuances of one amp to another, but this is a very clean and pure sounding amplifier that is sure to please anyone. I don't know how many of these wonderful amplifiers are out there, but if you see one it is definitely worth your time, and I am thrilled to have been able to spend some of my time with this one. Highly recommended.

A wildly imaginative design like no other!

Very clean industrial lines.

Don signed his amp in sharpie, something I always like to see. This is an artist’s work and deserves to be signed.

The power input is a tight fit. Too bad for all of those fire hose power cables, they will not fit in this receptacle.

The heavy duty Magnequest output transformers are a nice touch, and one of the things that makes this X super. High quality Cardas binding posts are always nice to see.

Here it is running a pair of 1930’s Speed 45 globe tubes. Nice! I prefer the 30's Speed globes to the new Emission Lab tubes, hands down.

Since this amp calls for a 5Y3 for the 45 tubes I can't resist placing an 80 globe here, in this case a long plate Majestic from the early 1930's.

With the 80 globe in place the bright red glow of the tube’s filaments act as a kind of defacto power-on indicator that can easily be seen from across the room.

Antique globe goodness everywhere. I think Don Garber would approve. If you have the chance to own one of these amplifiers, it is a milestone piece. Thank you Don for all that you did for our small audio community.