Radu Tarta Shiny Eyes "Turbo" 45

The 45 is one of the greatest tubes of all time. Its my opinion, but its an opinion held by many who have spent some time in front of this fine tube type and have heard its glory. At 1.5 watts per channel, the 45 has a few challenges, but this is one powerful watt and a half, and it is pure magic when conditions allow it to open up and show what it can do. Few tube types have the special combination of warmth, space and ballsy aggression of the 45. Made in a time when existing technology meant it could never have been fully appreciated, it is only 90 years later that the real power of this fine tube is the focus of so many audiophiles and audio designers, who recognize the purity of tone and overall finesse of this ancient little triode.ß

Here we have an amplifier that is for me, to date, the ultimate expression of the 45 tube. Designed and built by the genius of Radu Tarta, this is a Sakuma style like-drives-like design that uses the 45 to drive the 45. In this case, the design is built around a special version of the 45 created by Emission Labs, the 45B. The 45B is a tube that offers around twice the power of the normal 45, and sounds essentially the same. Before hearing this I wondered if it would simply be a 2A3, but the 45B definitely has the signature thicker and meatier 45 sound. Of course, the amp retains the ability to run a pure 45 in the output stage, and is switchable between the 45 and 45B. The flexibility of so many choices and combinations of 45 possibilities makes this amp pretty unique and I do not recall ever seeing another 45 drives 45 amplifier anywhere before.

This amplifier is a work of great art and skill. Made with a seemingly unlimited budget and simply packed with top shelf components, this huge amplifier is a monument to the 45 tube. Weighing in around 55 pounds, this amp has a 21x14 inch footprint. Three top mounted panel meters show the high voltage and the state of each output tube. The amp features a pair of 6CJ7 half wave rectifiers and a 6SN7 gain stage. The output iron is Electra Print, the power transformer is custom made by Heyboer and this amp features Lundhal dual coil C-core interstage transformers. All filaments are DC regulated with separate dual bobbin Triad transformers for all 4 of the 45/45B tubes. Even the 6SN7 filament is fed from a regulated power supply. Radu has created one of his signature custom top plates for this amp, in a classy shade of muted copperish gold, and has mounted it in a base of exotic Bocote wood. The whole package just reeks bespoke one-of-a-kind craftsmanship and supreme quality.

In play this amp delivers a level of purity and you-are-there spatial effect that is just mesmerizing. The sound is very clean and fast, but still richly layered and detailed. It does take a bit of time to warm up and really bloom, but once in the sweet spot this is an amp that is a lot of fun to hear. In my time so far with this amplifier, I’ve left the 6SN7 and rectifier tubes alone, and have focused only on the 45. I’ve tried a whole pile of combinations of 45 tubes with this amplifier and have settled in on Emission Lab 45 driving Emission Lab 45B as my favorite flavor, with the somewhat looser and more euphoric combination of the Sophia mesh driving 45B being a close runner up. 45 globe driving Sophia Mesh plates, 45 globe driving 45 globe and ST45 driving 45 globe all have their somewhat different and varied presentations, and others may prefer one or another. In general, the older tubes sound a little more laid back and relaxed, while the EML-EML combination really has a grip and drive that feels dialed up to 11. The 45 tube rolling possibilities here are wide open and hearing the 45 as both driver and power tube is pretty eye opening. This is an amazing tube, and this amp is a masterpiece.

So far, my 45 journey has featured some really wonderful amplifiers. The Yamamoto A-08 was my reference for years, an amazing sounding amp that had such grace and elegance, but was eventually overshadowed by Alan Eaton’s more modest looking but slightly richer sounding 45. Now in direct back-to-back comparison, using the same tubes, the Eaton amp has been overtaken by this amazing creation from Radu Tarta. With the 45 driving 45 everything takes on a slightly larger and denser presence, with image and palpability increasing across the board. Placing the 45B brings even more lush realism. This is the modest but mighty 45 at a level that I have not experienced before, and it is thrilling.

At some point there is a place where things are approaching as good as it gets, where return on additional investment is vanishingly small, and I feel that this amplifier is at that point. There are certainly some big names out there in the tube audio world that are revered and worshipped like Gods; Shindo, Thomas Mayer, and the like. In comparison to this amplifier, such creations outweigh in price by a factor or three. But in actual performance I would be willing to bet that there is very little light between this amplifier and those legendary builds. However I am always open to comparison, so feel free to send one along for review, Dear Reader! In the meantime, I am celebrating Mr. Tarta and his amazing creations, and I believe the amplifier featured here is a good example of one of his finest. Bravo Radu!

This is a big amplifier by any measure. At 21x14 and 55 pounds, this monster takes up some space. The massive power supply makes up the bulk of the weight, and is also responsible for a large part of the superb fidelity that this amp has in spades.

That's a lot of Emission Labs! The EML 45 driving the EML 45B is my preferred setup with this amp, but there are so many possibilities and so far all of them sound great. The EML 45B have slightly darker plates than the 45, and a slightly different taper at the top of the tube, but otherwise they look almost identical.

Half wave rectifiers seem to be all the rage these days, in this case 6CJ3, a 9 pin Novar tube that comes from the early days of TV. These get HOT!

I really like the way Radu creates these custom top plates. What a clean and professional look. Here you can see the high voltage switch to go between the 45 and 45B output tubes.

This is a great looking amplifier, and I really like the Bocote wood base. This also came with a Walnut base, a little plainer looking but also very nice.

Nice, high quality connectors of course.

The panel meters are a nice touch and tell the story of the output tubes and the power supply at a glance.

Here running 1920’s-30’s Arcturus blue glass 45 globes driving Sophia mesh plate 45 globes.

EML 45 driving Sophia mesh plates.

RCA/Cunningham engraved base ST45 driving EML 45B.

EML 45 driving 1930's RCA/Cunningham engraved base ST45. These little ST45 tubes are not to be underestimated. This combination sounds very good, rich and warm with tons of detail retrieval and a very realistic tone. In general the vintage ST tubes have a bit more punch and “slam” than the globes, and pushed along by the big EML tubes these old Cunninghams sound amazing. Jeff Healey’s gruff voice on Last Call is breathtaking with this combo! No other amp that I am aware of allows this kind of special modern 45-vintage 45 combination, its really unique and is a 45 connoisseur’s dream come true.

Here is my preferred setup with this amp, the Emission Labs 45 driving the Emission Labs 45B. These are some premium tubes for sure and this amazing combination allows the amplifier to really open up and deliver it’s full potential. With the EML 45 in the driver spot the EML 45B has a grip and flair that is really remarkable and never fails to put a smile on my face. Wonderful! This is a really special amplifier, and combined with these modern 45 tubes it really is a great example of the cutting edge of 21st century triode tube amplification at its finest. This is one of my all time favorite amplifiers.