Van Alstine DVA 850 Hybrid Monoblock Amplifier

The Best of Both Worlds

Equipment report
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Tubed power amplifiers
Van Alstine DVA 850
Van Alstine DVA 850 Hybrid Monoblock Amplifier

Earlier I pointed to the tubes’ presence as helping to endow the DVA 850 with a healthy sense of musicality. But an amp’s sheer power can also help produce an ease of presentation—witness for example the mighty Boulder 2150 mono amplifiers that I had in situ a few months ago.

Another benefit raw power can produce is a guilty pleasure that a goodly number of us enjoy: dynamics. A couple of years ago David Wilson told me that he would do nothing that would sacrifice dynamics. I can understand the sentiment. A few days ago I was in Miami and heard the New World Symphony. The brass fortissimos in the Sibelius violin concerto were delivered with a visceral force that was enough to make you jump out of your seat. If you want to produce some kind of simulacrum of the real thing, you’re going to need to try and recreate some of that jump factor. Having more than a kilowatt of power in reserve—as the DVA 850 does—helps you accomplish that.

So I popped on the venerable Verve recording of a live performance by Jimmy Smith called Root Down, which I have on both CD and LP. The amps delivered a real thump on the drums on the first cut “Sagg Shootin’ His Arrow.” You get not only a sense of the kick-drum being whapped, but also of the air billowing out from it. It almost feels as though the impact is emanating from below the floor, that’s how low the amp goes. At the same time, on “Let’s Stay Together,” the amps did a superb job of delineating the bass line—it doesn’t lose its grip on the deepest notes, and the rhythm comes through clearly in the nether regions rather than being an oleaginous clump of sound. For all this early funk recording’s dynamism, the DVA 850 also allows you to luxuriate in the sound. I’m not talking about a diminution in transient speed, but a fuller and more rounded presentation that, more often than not, audiophiles associate with tubes. When Jimmy Smith speaks on the recording, his voice has more authority and huskiness than a purely solid-state amp would likely convey.

The DVA 850’s appealing qualities were even more apparent on LP. Take András Schiff’s London recording of Mozart’s piano sonatas. On the Sonata in A major, I was immediately aware of the ample hall space that the amps served up, not to mention the precision of Schiff’s touch. The amps also provided a nice sense of decay on the notes—something only hinted at on the Jimmy Smith CD that became more readily evident on this LP. On the scale of amps that provide an easy sense of emotional connection to the music—allowing you to get past the sensation of listening to electronic equipment—I’d have to rate these amps very high indeed.

None of this will likely come as much of a surprise to industry veterans. Frank Van Alstine, the designer of this amplifier, is known as an experienced hand who delivers the goods. When I mentioned to an old friend in California that I was receiving the amps, he raised his eyebrows significantly, or at least as significantly as I could discern over the telephone.

I don’t know that there is a secret ingredient here so much as a shrewd mind at work that balanced the variables and produced a high-powered amp that manages to remain extremely musical. In fact, these amps make me think right off the bat of a friend in Denver who has been searching for longer than he probably cares to admit for an amp capable of driving his current-hungry Sonus faber loudspeakers. All along he’s craved more musicality than he can really afford. (You know who you are: Consider this a shout-out.) This is one amplifier that anyone intent on putting together a truly musical system without spending a fortune should definitely consider.

No, the DVA 850 will not trounce much pricier amps from the likes of Boulder, Ypsilon, or Soulution. It lacks the ultimate gravitas, sheen, transparency, and musical sophistication of those megabuck amplifiers. Put on a really demanding symphonic work and you can start picking nits about the sound of the strings and so on. But that’s not the sweepstakes that this amplifier is competing in. For my money, the DVA 850 is a prodigious  product that anyone looking for real-world amplification with a beneficent sound should consider.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Hybrid monoblock
Output power: 850W
Tube complement: 12AT7 (input stage)
Inputs: Switchable RCA, XLR
Dimensions: 17" x 7" x 13"
Weight: 36 lbs. (each)
Price: $3699 (each)

2665 Brittany Lane
Woodbury, MN 55125
(651) 330-9871