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Review: Altitude 3500-SS Stereo Valve Amplifier

Some readers may be annoyed by the sight of a review of a valve amplifier in SILICON CHIP - but we often get requests to publish a modern design. So we thought it would be useful to put this model through our usual performance testing.

By Leo Simpson

Let’s get one thing straight: we are biased! Most readers will already know that as we have always stated our preference for solid-state amplifier designs, even though quite a few people are interested in valve amplifiers.

Click for larger image
Underneath, the Altitude 3500-SS is very neat, just like the top side. The only real giveaway that it is a valve amplifier are the sockets on the PC board (and possibly the absence of ICs and transistors!). This shot also gives a good idea of the rear panel input/output layout with its gold-plated sockets.

Having noted our bias, let’s try to set it aside while we check out the impressive Altitude 3500-SS amplifier.

This very well presented amplifier is made by Fountek Electronics Co Ltd, in China but has been carefully tweaked for our market by the noted Australian designer, Russell Storey, on behalf of WES Australia.

It is fairly conventional in layout, with the valves on top of and toward the front of the chassis while the very large power and output transformers are at the back. These transformers have cylindrical housings but they are unlikely to be based on toroids – they are too tall for that. We think they probably have conventional E-I laminated cores.

The chassis itself is especially impressive, being made from interlocking aluminium extrusions 7mm thick while the top and bottom plates are 3mm thick aluminium secured with multiple stainless steel countersunk screws. Everything has been precision machined for close fit of all sections. The valve sockets are recessed into the top of the chassis and they sit on a large PC board underneath. The front panel knobs also fit into machined recesses on the panel.

The valve line-up is two 12AX7 and two 12AT7, both twin triodes, and four EL34 pentodes, used as matched pairs in each channel.

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