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The Neoteric Listener - The GLOW Audio Amp Two

09-12-2018 | By Dean Seislove | Issue 99

Nearly a decade ago, my girlfriend and I co-wrote a favorable review of the GLOW Audio music system, composed of their Voice One loudspeakers, GLOW Amp One integrated amplifier, and Sub One subwoofer. Both of us were mightily impressed by the system's inviting sound and stylish good looks. It was our first experience with single ended Class A pentode design and high-efficiency speakers, and we were taken by how sweet and enjoyable the sound could be, given the compact design and relatively inexpensive cost for all three products. That same girlfriend is now my wife (but other than her marrying me, her taste is impeccable) and our love of music and music gear continues unabated. Over the years, we've had all manner of marvelous amplifiers and speakers in our home. Superb floorstanders and burly amplifiers of every stripe have graced our living room and, yet, the GLOW Amp system still lingers as a fine memory. The only blemish is the fact that, no matter how fine a speaker may be, my wife's initial accolades are inevitably followed by the deflating reminder that, "You know what speakers I really liked? Those little acorn speakers!" 

The GLOW Audio Voice One loudspeaker that we reviewed featured a full-range three inch hemp and bamboo driver capable of filling a small to medium sized room in satisfactory fashion. The Voice One deserved praise for having fine midrange qualities and offering very good extension in the higher frequencies. Its bass was limited, thus, the subwoofer complement was essential to really producing a true audiophile experience. Still, the Voice One was a tremendous bargain at its $418 price point. I say "was" because the Voice One's enclosure ("30 separate pieces of reclaimed wood, joined together in a puzzle piece manner to provide the variable enclosure thickness and faceted interior") made production simply too cost-prohibitive to continue. 

For years, I tried to go back and purchase a pair of Voice Ones for my wife, but, alas, the gorgeous pair of fire-engine red Voice Ones in our original review were now unavailable. Determined not to come up shorthanded, I was relentless in my quest to find someone willing to sell me a pair. I pestered the GLOW Audio sales rep at shows, I contacted the manufacturer, I made inquiries on Audiogon and Audiomart. Sadly, I faltered in my search for red Voice Ones. As the guard from the Wizard of Oz famously declared, "Not nobody, not nohow! 

It should be noted that one can still purchase one of the few remaining pairs of Voice Ones in silver for $418. Or, if you're blessed with enviable artistic skills, you can purchase a pair of unfinished Voice Ones to paint in any color or pattern you like, at the very reasonable cost of $248. Sonically, I can affirm that the Voice One loudspeakers sound to me as intoxicating today as they did in the original review. Even unfinished, their style still puts all of those crummy little black box bookshelves to shame. And if you can paint, well…

Just when I'd all but given up, my luck changed. A pair of red Voice Ones were discovered hidden in a crowded warehouse. A miracle! I quickly paid the fee. They arrived. I carefully wrapped them in beautiful paper. Plus eye-catching bow. My wife opened the box and recognized the GLOW Audio label. Her eyes opened wide and she looked at me. I looked back in triumph . She feverishly opened the speaker box. Here they are, at long last!

And then…and then…


"Fire-engine red!"  I exclaimed proudly, nodding my head like an idiot.

"Oh, I like them, but... but… didn't we review the brown ones? The ones that looked like acorns?"

Disaster! My memory, never good and declining into dotage, had confused the speakers shown in the review with the review pair. Suddenly, I'm the sight gag from the Bugs Bunny cartoon, turning into the "JACK-ASS" mid-air, crashing in the ground. I suppose I'm not the first husband who's ever botched the birthday gift, but, man, what a knucklehead! I'd paid full price for a pair of speakers that would remind one and all of my ineptitude, one song at a time. 

I slunk away, defeated. The only slight comfort to be salvaged from the whole debacle was the fact that, while arranging the speaker purchase, I also managed a review of the GLOW Amp Two, the bigger brother of the Amp One reviewed in the original column. Hopefully, the sound of the Amp Two would help me forget what would surely be known around home as, "The birthday incident." 

And so, on with the review. Like the GLOW Amp One, the GLOW Amp Two is assembled by hand, featuring point-to-point wiring and hand-wound transformers. The GLOW Amp Two improves on the Amp One by offering increased power (15-watts per channel) and features four EL84 power tubes operating in a push-pull configuration. While the Amp One is available in a number of colors and can function as a headphone amplifier, the Amp Two outdoes the Amp One's complement of vacuum tubes (6N3 x 2 and EL84 x 2) by offering a pair of 12AX7 input tubes and a quartet of EL84 power tubes. As a result, the Amp Two is a better match for much wider range of loudspeakers, including the pair of Triangle Antal 30th Anniversary edition loudspeakers used for this review. 

GLOW Amp Two

At first, I feared that the Amp Two would be incapable of driving the Triangle Antals (Sensitivity: 91dB, Minimum impedance: 3.4ohms) without incurring damage. After voicing this concern, I received this email reply from Glow Audio's Patrick Tang: "We are familiar with Triangle speakers; a few years ago we actually bought a bunch of them (not your model) on closeout and combined them with GLOW amps as part of a promo deal. They sounded great together. With a 91dB SPL rating and a minimum impedance of 3.4 ohms, they should play nicely with the Amp Two. I don't see any need for caution as far as how much power you feed the speakers. You should be fine cranking your system up as loud as your neighbors will allow. When you reach the upper limits of the Amp Two's output, you won't get clipping in the same sense as you would with a transistor amp, but you will notice some compression and distortion on peak passages."

As it turns out, the man's as good as his word. For some perverse reason, I kept turning up the Amp Two to play more loudly than I normally would for a review. My phone app sound level meter clocked the peak at 102dB, which is way too loud for my little room and my sensitive ears. The point is, the Amp Two can play moderately efficient speakers at a relatively high level over a sustained period. But if you're looking for an amplifier that cranks out kick-ass rock and roll to piss off your neighbors and scare off your landlord's cat, there are better options. 

GLOW Amp Two

What the GLOW Amp Two brings to the party, however, is a quintessentially classic tube amplifier sound. GLOW Audio sums up their design goal for the Amp Two thus: "It has the punch of a good push-pull amp, without the graininess that is characteristic of many push-pull amps in its price range. It has the sweet high end of the EL84, a tight, impressive bass output, and a natural sounding mid range." Using a MacBook Air to play files and stream via my Schitt Uber DAC to the aforementioned Triangle loudspeakers, I feel that the Amp Two is successful in giving a fine midrange that is, indeed, absent the graininess that besets other amps at this price point. As far as "natural" goes, however, that's a little harder to nail down. To be sure, the Amp Two possesses a warmth in the midrange that many would associate with the old-school tube amplifiers of legend. This is all to the good, to my ears. I prefer a warmer tonal palette and I love a wider soundstage. Too many contemporary amplifier designs quail in fear of being associated with a stereotypical tube or solid state sound, and end up sounding like nothing. Nothing interesting, anyway. High end audio should not be always having to say you're sorry. 

The GLOW Amp Two is a tube amplifier that sounds like one. No equivocations offered or needed. Like the Amp One, the GLOW Amp Two plays enjoyable music that you can listen to all day long. Playing Marconi Union's hypnotic selection, "Weightless" the pulsating rhythm and swirling synthesizers filled my listening room with mesmerizing instrumentation. Simple pieces like Julian Bream's  recording of "Prelude #1 in E minor" was simply lovely. Soundgarden's "Burden in My Hand" showed that the Amp Two has no trouble making the rockers really swing, without the accompanying fatigue produced by some amplifiers. The Amp Two drove my speakers capably with all music genres, and each tune was nothing less than delightful. 

Upon reflection, it's true that the Amp One continues to be the crossover model that should appeal to all—it's smaller, cheaper, features a headphone jack, and now ships with the very acceptable sounding GLOW DAC 1.3. The Amp Two, on the other hand, will probably be of more interest to readers of this column. The increased control and power on offer from the Amp Two enables it to be paired with a wider variety of speakers, including floorstanders. The GLOW DAC 1.3 is also being shipped gratis with the Amp Two, as is a free Aukey BR-C1 Bluetooth streaming receiver. Although most readers will probably already have a stand alone DAC, and possibly a Bluetooth receiver, Glow Audio is to be commended for making this as turnkey a purchase as possible. 

Speaking of bluetooth receivers, Patrick Tang's urging that I try the Amp Two with the Amazon Echo Dot as a source forced me to overcome my misgivings about voice-activated anything. Having the Bezos Brigade monitor my uncensored views of politics, religion, and college football play calling was less than appealing. But I have to admit, the sound of the Echo Dot streaming Spotify is certainly adequate for daily listening, and the ability to call out tunes at will is truly addictive. It's not like I'm hollering, "Hey Alexa, here's my bank account and social security number, buy me a lawnmower." I don't trust it, though, and I still unplug it when it's not in use.

Summing up, while the years have given my wife and me a broader understanding of the excellence of high end audio, the GLOW Audio Amp Two has all of the wonderful qualities that inspired the writing of our original review, and more. Currently being offered at a sale price of $880, the Amp Two is more than six hundred dollars less than its $1508 retail price. Throw in the free DAC, Bluetooth receiver, and cables, and you're looking at a fine value for an aesthetically striking, no doubt-about-it-tube amplifier. If you're lucky enough to have a pair of really high efficiency speakers from manufacturers like Zu Audio, Tekton Design, or Devore Fidelity, I think you'd be very pleased how nice the combination can sound at such a modest price. Most readers will find something of merit from the GLOW Two and, for the right buyer, highly recommended. 

And by the way, those mahogany acorn speakers my wife wanted so badly? One orphan speaker was found, another with a suspect driver was repaired, and domestic harmony was at last restored.

GLOW Audio Amp Two Tube Amplifier

Retail: $1508 (but now on sale for $880)