Will Vincent Laboratory West 801a

The type 10 is an amazing tube. This is one of the tubes that began amplified audio, one of the very first power tubes, and in my opinion one of the very best. Sometimes its right the first time, and that is the case with the type 10. Made for what was in 1925 a new technology, the consumer radio, the early 10 globes are like the first RAM chip or the first video card, an instant classic. In the case of the 10, the classic has a very direct and extremely clear sound that is kind of in a class by itself.

The 10 just isn’t built much for a few reasons; it requires somewhat unusual transformers (7.5 k primary) and many people are not familiar with the tube in the way that they are with the 45 or 300B. I’m not aware of a factory amp that is made for the 10, so the amps that are out these are DIY or small scale productions. Overall the 10 is a real rarity on the used single ended market. I’ve seen 5 of them over the years and owned 2 of those. And now Will Vincent’s “Laboratory West” 801a amplifier makes 3.

Here we have a top-shelf build on the 10 tube by one of the most experienced amplifier craftsmen on Planet Earth. Will and I talked a bit on the phone about the amp, and he told me that he had a lot of time to spend on this particular build, and that it is one of his best. Having it in hand, I believe it! But that is certainly saying a lot. For perspective, Will has hundreds of ST-70 amplifiers out there going back 40 or more years, and countless others; Baldwin 6L6, Push Pull 45, the list goes on. I’ve been watching Autospec’s listings for the entirety of my hifi journey, but only now 20 years on have we come together.

Enter the Big Red 801a. This is a big amplifier! One of the biggest I’ve owned so far, weighing in just under 70 pounds and with an 18x18 inch footprint, this is a monument to the Type 10 tube. The amplifier features vintage Baldwin power transformers and chokes, and Transcendar output iron. There is a full compliment of oil filled capacitors and fully shielded input connections for the type 77 driver tubes. The amplifier is tube rectified of course, in this case with a pair of 5Z3. A dual mono design, the only thing the channels share is the power cord.

The result is an amplifier that sounds absolutely incredible. Like many tube amplifiers, this one takes some time to warm up and bloom, but after 30 minutes or so the liquidity and deep soundstage open way up and this amplifier is a real treat to listen to. As I’ve written elsewhere, Thoriated Tungsten tubes like the 10 have a special magic; it's a brighter window on the hidden spatial cues in the program material that makes the music feel more live and present. It’s hard to describe but is easy enough to hear. And this one has it in spades. Deep bass and open airy highs all compliment a midrange that feels very realistic and alive. There is almost no noise at idle, it is very quiet. This is the only Will Vincent amplifier I have owned so far, but I am very impressed. Build-wise this is at the top levels of anything I’ve owned, even being in good company with the Yamamotos. Sound-wise this is also very near the top for me so far.

At this stage in life I’ve gotten away from labeling anything “the best”, but it would be hard to argue against the performance and sheer industrial beauty of the Laboratory West 801a. Although Will has other 801a amplifiers out there, I believe that this is the only one that he built on this sized chassis as a dual mono amplifier. At any rate, Mr. Vincent certainly knows what he is doing, and I think my next Vincent amp might be the push pull 45. We shall see. Highly recommended!

Update Fall 2020: After 6 months or so of this amplifier parked in my prime spot, I can say that, after and hour or two or warm up, no amplifier I have owned so far has had the ability to throw a realistically spaced soundstage in the way that this wonderful creation does. With the globe 10 running this amplifier sounds simply amazing. Tone is spot on. On smaller scale intimate recordings the voice and instrument are IN THE ROOM. Breaths are inhaled and exhaled in real space, fingernails beginning to engage the strings are clearly audible, cymbals shimmering in decay...all of it is right there floating in front of the listener. Listening to my daughter’s piano and guitar home recordings it feels just like she sounds when she plays right in front of me. It’s a little bit spooky, and if it impresses a 14 year old you know there is something happening! I wish it weren’t 70 pounds, but otherwise this is an ultimate amplifier that certainly deserves the spotlight.

Truly a monumental piece of audio artwork.

Although the amp is set up to run the 801a tube, I’m using a pair of 1920’s globe tubes here. The max voltage is exceeded a small amount but not too badly, and the tubes seem to run fine and sound wonderful.

Its hard to beat the type 10 globe.

This is the first amplifier I’ve owned that uses a type 77 tube. It seems to be interchangeable with the 6C6. There is a mesh plate version as well, but so far I only have one working mesh example.

The shielded cable for the input tube is a nice touch, and I haven’t seen it done quite like this anywhere else before. Will Vincent builds a solid amplifier.

This is a very unusual tube, a 1920's ceramic base 10 globe from Duovac, with the military designation VT-25.

This is just such an exceptionally well done amplifier in every way, obviously made with care by a master craftsman. And like the John Hogan 300B amplifier, this one is signed very elegantly by its Creator. Bravo!

A dual mono design, the only thing shared between the two sides is the power connection. The oil cap canister forest is a nice touch! Those massive Baldwin power transformers and chokes make this beast weigh in somewhere around 70 pounds. I had promised myself no more heavy amplifiers (I've had two hernia surgeries!), but thankfully in this case I just couldn’t follow my own advice.

By the by, here are the elements of the amp stand that I'm using: a nice $5 cutting board from Salvation Army, and a set of Steady-Pads, which are made to keep your washer or dryer from moving around in the laundry room and cost $10-15 for the four pack.

Here’s a sight that makes me happy! You never have to look twice to see if the 10 amplifier is on or not! This photo is the very definition of why I love tube audio. A brand new amplifier built with mostly vintage parts and running a 100 year old vacuum tube. 70 pounds of tribute, all to hear every bit of the precious 1.5 watt that the old tube can make.

Deep in the lab of Dr. Frankenstein...

Many of the 1920’s Tungsten tube flashings shine a wild haunted blue color. Its hard to see in this photograph, but you get a hint of it. The 10 and 01a both have this strange effect.