In the words of Bill Hicks: “Who would have thunk it?” Valves and MP3, audio concepts from different time periods and philosophies coming together in harmony.
This is a two-box offering; a classic-looking valve amplifier is partnered by a dock connected via a line-level input – there's another for wiring up a CD player, and a cable for connecting a non-Apple MP3 player.
There are optional speakers (£100), though we'd always plump for a specialist hi-fi product like the Mercury Custom F1s from Tannoy, or Q Acoustisc 1010i.
In action, the iTube sounds stunning, with incredible musical insight for such an affordable device. The amp sounds as rich as perceived wisdom tells you valves should. That, coupled with the occasionally thin sound of MP3 files, means the balance is spot on.
The richness doesn't come as a huge surprise, but where the Fatman breaks with valve tradition is in attack, because it has plenty of drive and thump on tap, and is capable of getting the best out of the likes of American Music Club's Patriot's Heart. Instrumentation and vocals are well served too. The only thing lacking from its sonic canon is out and out volume.
This Fatman design (without speakers) was good enough to win a Product of the Year Award in 2007, which just shows the high esteem in which we hold it.
If sound-quality is paramount to you, make sure it's on your audition list.