When JJ asked me what I wanted to
review next, I found it quite easy to say, tube amp. I’d just finished a
review of another receiver, and as much as I enjoyed the experience, the
thought of spending time with a high quality two-channel system was simply
Tube amplifiers to me have always carried a mystique about them. Growing up
in an era of solid state equipment in the 1970’s, tube amplifiers were for
those recluse audiophiles that you found buried in their basements knee high
AV123 has a great reputation for putting out excellent products at amazing
prices. In fact, their systems bundled together at economical prices are beyond belief. Add first class customer support,
and you have the makings of a long term relationship with some very happy
At CES 2005, Mark Schifter and AV123 were showing among other things, the
Onix SP3 Melody tube integrated amplifier and the XCD-88 CD player. Not
knowing I’d be spending time with these new units, I was over ogling the
fine line of Rosewood veneered rocket speakers and the new line of
impressive Emotiva separates.
I anxiously waited for the delivery of two boxes from AV123. To my surprise
and delight, three were delivered. Mark and crew also sent along a pair of Onix Reference 1 Mk II
bookshelf speakers. I then realized I was looking at
one of those unbelievable bundles complete with CD player, amp, and speakers,
which was everything I’d need to have an independent two-channel system. I
couldn't wait to get it set up and running.
Independently, the XCD-88 CD player sells for $299, the SP3 sells for just under a grand at $999,
and the Ref 1
bookshelf speakers go for $1,200 per pair, but combined, the package sells for
I looked at the numbers cross-eyed. In other words, if
you’re in the market for a pair of monitors, you get the CD player and tube amp for
249 bucks more.
Or if you’re looking for a nicely priced tube amp for say $1K, add $449
more, and you get the CD player and a pair of Rosewood bookshelf speakers.
No matter how you rationalize, this is a great deal.
Add the budget XCD-88 CD player
for $299, and you have the makings of an instant audiophile quality setup.
It’s no secret that manufacturers like AV123 are assembling products
overseas and therefore keeping costs down. The SP3 is designed in Australia and built in
China, so Mark Schifter is able to bring to the American market incredibly
priced high-performance products.
Referred to as the “X-Product” line of components by Onix, the XCD-88 CD
player is also very simple and elegantly detailed. A brushed aluminum face
is also mimicked on the very slick remote control.
The front display is
sized legibly, and the controls are uncomplicated and easily operated.
This $299 budget unit includes both analog and digital outputs, coaxial
and optical. The DACs are 24 bit/96 kHz Burr-Brown, and it can decode HDCD.
It has a detachable
power cord, which I appreciate.
The remote control for the XCD-88 is immediately impressive from a design
standpoint. However, in practical measures, I have some issues with it. Although
it is logically laid out, my aging eyes made it difficult to read
the small labeling, especially in dimmer light (it's not
Onix Melody SP3 Integrated Stereo Tube
From the moment I used the supplied white gloves to remove the 56 pound
unit from its container, I fell immediately in love with the look of the
SP3. The contemporary styling, polished gunmetal grey color, soft turned
edges, a simple elegant volume knob, and the perforated tube cover, all make
you want to caress the unit . . . like running your fingers down the hood of a
The Melody SP3 is a class AB push-pull design (vs. single ended) and produces
38 WPC at 1% THD. Amplifier power in tube amps is usually rated at a higher
THD because distortion tends to be even-ordered, which is easier on the
Ten tubes comprise the makeup of the SP3, including 4-5881, 2-12AX7, 2-6922,
and 2-12AU7. All tubes were chosen for their reliability, and the SP3 comes to you with the tubes installed and bias properly
set. Many manufacturers send the tubes independently boxed with instructions
for proper order of placement.
pair of tubes has slotted sleeves that match the finish of the SP3,
providing protection. Under the perforated cage which is easily removed, are
the larger 5881s.
As many tubeophiles like to place their equipment on some form of
vibration isolation, the Melody integrated amp sits on three raised legs, blunted on the
Each side, left and right has a single switch, one for power and the other
to select the input. The SP3 handles two inputs. Each side also has a
set of five bias access controls.
The rear boasts both 4 Ohm and 8 Ohm sturdy gold taps. The Onix Reference 1
speakers supplied for review are 4 Ohm.
Onix Reference 1 LE Speakers
Onix Reference 1 LE bookshelf (monitor) speaker is a two-way design with 1" tweeter and
5.25" woofer. The enclosure is constructed of 1” thick MDF. The driver crossover is
in the 4th order between the Vifa (Denmark) XT Ring Radiator tweeter and the
Atohm (French) driver. Veneered in Rosewood, the Ref 1 monitor is rear
ported, and has a single pair of sturdy gold binding posts.
Rated at 4 ohms with
an efficiency of 88 dB, the 24 pound speaker boasts a frequency response from 42
Hz to 35 kHz, within ±
3 dB (untested).
Don’t look for bi-wiring however, as this is not included (or necessary in
The fabric grille covers most of the face, leaving but the Onix logo. The
speaker is so attractive with the Rosewood face, I removed the grille for
My primary listening room is about 12 ft x 16 ft with an 8 ft ceiling. This
I would consider a mid-sized room, so the SP3/Ref 1 combination is well
matched. I placed the amp on a birch shelf unit and the monitor speakers were
placed about 8 feet apart, slightly toed in, and about 30" high on
stands. As the speakers are rear ported, getting the placement just right
from the rear wall is crucial, and I spent much time finding the right
balance of bass.
I connected the XCD-88 player to the SP3 vacuum tube amplifier via
analog Ethereal cables. Once the package was set up, I gave the
amp about an hour to warm up. I also realize the speakers should be given
some time for a break-in period (I do strongly believe in break-in time),
but I wasn’t going to let this detail prevent me from an audition.
stock tubes with other tubes of choice is commonplace for serious
audiophiles and could be done on the Melody.
As this is specifically a two-channel review, I will mention that the Ref
monitors were used as both fronts and surrounds in a 5.1 system, more on
Operationally, the SP3 couldn’t be more straightforward. Those accustomed to
receivers and controllers with set-ups, distance and sound levels, bass and
treble adjustments, etc., might feel relief from those demands. I know I did.
The XCD-88 has some features I very much enjoy, certainly not exclusive to
just this unit but noteworthy nonetheless. A CD is loaded and the unit
immediately tells you the tracks and time. As the unit plays a track, if you
decide to scan for another, the CD player continues playing the current track
until you’ve found your new selection. Most CD players end abruptly and play
as you scroll, which I find annoying. It sounds minor, but I appreciated the
ear saving aesthetic.
I have mentioned that the remote is somewhat hard to use, and I also found
it needed to be lined up close to the main component for it to work. I
replaced the batteries, but the unit worked the same. I also noted that the
small buttons needed to be pressed hard for the remote to communicate
After all is said and done, we all want to know the bottom line. I won’t
wait until the end to tell you the Melody provided me with two-channel audio
pleasure I haven’t experienced in some time. The SP3 consistently delivered
a rich and lively performance.
Firstly and simply, the system worked flawlessly, no hic-ups. I was ready for
almost anything, including a hum, but there was none, as the SP3 was dead
The stepped attenuated volume control spent most of it’s time between 9:00
and 12:00 o’clock, which is about half way to the max. This indicates the 38 WPC are more
than adequate for the Ref 1s in my listening space.
Although I spent much time with the SP3 running other speakers, for the most
part I’ll keep my comments to the threesome provided by AV123. I’ll also
refer to the package of CD player, integrated amp, and speakers as the “Trio”
to keep my reference simple. Also, my musical taste does vary greatly, and I
used jazz, classical, and rock in this review. Natural sounding voices are
very important to me.
On the CD Live in New York, Stanley Jordon’s unique guitar playing is
wonderful. The Trio from AV123 delivered a spatial and broad soundstage.
Track 5, Stanley Jordan’s own “Flying Home” is a rich textured guitar solo.
I sensed a very slight echo of the concert room, and I became lost in the
performance. In fact, it was chilling.
I was recently treated to a live concert by Marta Gomez, a singer/songwriter
originally from Columbia. As this was a press conference, we were given a
copy of her latest CD, Cantos De Aqua Dulce. Chesky engineered this CD
perfectly, with all the suppleness and passion of the live concert. Although
it was completely in Spanish, I found her voice sweet and delicate enough not to
care that I only understood small portions of the lyrics. The key here is
how the SP3 delivered her silky vocals, and having heard her live and on CD
in the same 24 hours, the Melody SP3 reproduced her live performance
The Onix XCD-88 CD player is HDCD compatible, which sent me scrambling
through my CDs looking for material. Roxy Music’s Avalon fit the bill. The
melodic title track features Bryan Ferry, with soft and sweet backup singers.
The AV123 Trio played back the snappy percussions and haunting saxophone nicely.
I was also pleasantly surprised at the range afforded by the Trio, from a
very low ample bass to extreme highs. Case in point, in Musica Pacifica’s
performance of Vivaldi: La Notte, Concerti per strumenti diversi, the deep
bassoon and cello blended beautifully with the delicate violin, flute, and
The Trio sounded neither extremely warm, nor overly bright. But, tube sound
is different than solid state, so you just have to hear it for yourselves.
I did mention that my appreciation for the Ref 1 monitor speakers inspired
me to try them both as fronts and surrounds in a 5.1 setup along with my own Krix loudspeakers, of which they nicely matched timbre. If you enjoy both
two-channel and surround from the same speakers (after all how many of us
really have two separate rooms), then consider Reference 5 MK IIs as front
left right, with the Reference 1s in the rear. The Onix as described
above are full and rich, and without hesitation, I would recommend a complete
If you’ve been spending most of your time lately tweaking a multi-channel
audio/visual system, you may very much enjoy the simplicity, the elegance,
and the sheer pleasure of an honest, back to basics system. As a newbie
audiophile, this package gives you instant credibility.
And finally, the XCD-88/SP3/Ref 1 package is an unrivalled bargain at
$1,449. Note that this is a sale price running currently. It won't
- Piero Gabucci -