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Audio Space AS-8i / 8i MKIII
Lost In Space

Review - Audio Space AS-8i Tube Integrated Amp (27-7-2000)

Those smooth operators don't give up on the girl. An enamoured CHERYL GOH tackles yet another musical casanova that knocks on her door...

THE first thoughts that rang through my head when I heard the name were of unearthly proportions. The unforgettable doo doo-doo doo hypnotic theme of The Twilight Zone, Event Horizon, Spock, even colonies of nasty Klingons.

Leaning tower of audio ... the AS-8I injects richness and warmth into music, leaning towards all kinds of music except rock.

Unfortunately, none of these had any relevance whatsoever to the article that arrived at my doorstep -- the Audio Space in question was a tube amp. Or more precisely, an integrated amp called the AS-8I.

In this modern day and age, where black shiny boxes with crude silver knobs are found appealing and silver space-suit apparel is the "in thing,'' this straight-up Hong Kong-made design is a pretty refreshing sight. Me, I'm a sucker for classics, so I guess it was a good start right out from the box.


The Audio Space AS-8I is indeed a beauty; if you like tube amps in general, then this one will certainly appeal. The aesthetics are the usual for a tube amp -- huge input and output transformers surrounded by vacuum tubes. The front panel is clad in a superb gold finish with a volume and input selector knob for use with the four inputs in this line-level design.

The AS-8I makes use of four KT88 pentodes and, one 12AX7 and four 12AU7 triodes. Just as a refresher, a triode is a tube with only one grid whereas a pentode is a tube with two more grids than a triode. Pentodes tend to have higher distortion than triodes unless special circuit designs are used.

In this case, there's a switch that allows you to select between triode and ultralinear operation. Invented in 1951, the latter uses only beam tetrodes or pentodes and special taps on the output transformer -- the taps connect to the screen grids of the tubes, causing the screens to be driven with part of the output signal; this lowers distortion considerably.

As for the tubes, insertion is no problem at all as long as you have pretty good eyesight and make sure they're inserted in the correct alignment. The 4mm plastic binding posts are adequately spaced, giving you lots of room and the cable holes are large enough to accept even thick multi-core cables. If stuffing cables into holes ain't your thing, then yes, they accept banana plugs beautifully. The amp has a four and eight ohm output impedance, lending flexibility in the choice of speakers.

As for other specs, the power output is 55 watts per channel in ultralinear operation, dropping 28 watts in triode mode.


Two Micromega Minium integrated amps in mono were used alongside the AS-8I for comparison. Source was a Marantz CD67 CD player linked to the amps via a Musical Fidelity X10D buffer with modified valves, while speakers were a pair of Mission 751's sitting on sand-filled Apollo AZ stands. Speaker cables were two metre runs of Audioquest Indigo and interconnects were one metre Audioquest Quartz.

It's an easy listening amp this, one that'll have Mike Flowers and his pops on repeat-play forever. It can drift through music when other amps merely stamp all over it, and thrives on the mellowness of muzak, trumping up the double oh! in 007 theme tunes. Load up The Jazz Network's version of Bare Necessities (from The Jungle Book) and relax amidst the tinkling piano notes, shimmering cymbal splashes and full but gentle trumpet calls.

Music flows ever so gracefully through the AS-8I, and by choosing not to reveal every minute detail in a recording, it ensures hard or harsh productions sound smooth, all the while having a wonderful sense of space and warmth.

With The Corrs, the amp delighted with the way it balanced vocals and instruments, the cover of Stevie Nicks' Dreams being delicate with the vocals, but having great lowdown motive power. It was also just at home with big lavish mixes like Robbie Williams' Let Me Entertain You, thundering out the bassline in tight, controlled fashion while keeping the singer prominent against the lush backing arrangements.

Play some classical material and it responds with keenly-timed poise, putting real spirit into the dynamic contrasts of Franck's Sonata for piano and violin in A major without ever losing control. Nina Rautio's Anna in Puccini's Le Villi comes across as almost larger than life, with the ambience of London's Henry Wood Hall providing a wonderful music backdrop to her singing, with instruments sounding vivid and with excellent sense of scale and weight. How the music flowed!

Load up Sibelius' Second Symphony and the results are truly spellbinding. Throughout the more subdued passages, the gliding strings and woodwinds sound sweet, and are located within a spacious acoustic environment. When the brass and timpani suddenly erupt, you're greeted by a full scale "whooomp'' that takes your breath away with its depth and impact.

For a valve job, I was surprised by the AS-8I's drive, which suits a big orchestra on the rampage as much as it does a live set like Eric Clapton's 24 Nights. Indeed, it's well suited to big musical landscapes, producing bass that can be measured in acreage across the floor, allied to a strong midrange and gorgeously liquid treble that you feel you can reach out and touch.

Switch to George Michaels' Jesus to a Child and that sort of effortless seductiveness is just the approach you want. His voice sits beautifully at the heart of a dense, rich soundstage making the most of the track's heavily produced breathy feel, and the super-smooth swingbeat jazz of Erykah Badu's Certainly oozes its way into the room, her vocals beautifully phrased at the heart of the soundstage.

As for rock 'n' roll? I'm afraid not. The amp, although adequate in every other department, doesn't seem to possess the excitement and sheer forcefulness to drive hard, pounding rock. Snarling guitars lack their ooomph and hostility whilst low-end thump doesn't ever really kick in. Suede's Beautiful Ones sounded distant and the sheer bitterness of the presentation is lost as the soundstage shatters. Rockers would certainly do better with some solid-state muscle.


Overall, the Audio Space AS-8I is a very good amp, having much more going for it rather than against it. True, the bass isn't groundshaking nor is it a driver in the absolute sense, but what it lacks in sheer quantity it delivers in speed and tunefulness, and that ensures everything from dance to soul is invigorating and involving.

It all boils down to what sort of music you like, really. Trust me tho' -- if you're into classical, R&B or that jazz thing, then just walk this way. You're gonna love this one.

Model: Audio Space AS-8I tube integrated amp
Price: RM6,380
Distributed by A&L AUDIO STATION (03-241-3884), G19 Sungai Wang Plaza, Jalan Sultan Ismail, 55100 Kuala Lumpur.

For: Injects a general richness and warmth into every piece, giving most forms of music a sense of weight and spaciousness; detail is superb and vocals are lush; seductive at its best.

Against: Unfortunately, not a rocker; lacks the sheer drive and excitement that brings heavy rock to life.
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