At his heart, Craig Uthus is a music lover and an amplifier designer. The former before the latter.
Craig Uthus is the owner and chief amplifier designer of the small boutique called Eddie Current. He also used to be a partner and the engineer of Moth Audio.
He’s a favorite of the audiophile community. I was already an owner of Eddie Current and Moth Audio amps when I started at Massdrop. (I owned the Super 7 and Balancing Act. Still have a Zana Deux, Black Widow, and a Moth Audio 2a3).
Craig tunes his amplifiers to be neutral (but never sterile) and slightly “lush” (but never muddy). Eddie Current amps also create a larger “headstage” or what some describe as a holographic presentation of the music.
So naturally, we wanted to work with Craig on a project to offer his sound through Massdrop. When we approached Craig to work on an amp that could be made in higher volumes and at a lower pricepoint, Craig explained that he isn’t set up as that kind of operation but that he already had a manufacturing partner in place and a design in mind…
Years ago, Craig found a partner in Russia to make a less expensive line of amps for Eddie Current to sell. For a while, Eddie Current offered a small amp called the Lunchbox. These were low cost and had a very warm sound, perfect for the headphones from a few years ago (many were bright to the point of shrill or had spikes in the upper frequency range). Some buyers tried putting incompatible or bad, untested tubes in the amps because they fit into the sockets, which burned out parts in some of the amps. When customers started returning the amps, it became difficult to continue selling them.
Since then, Craig has experimented with producing some of his own designs in a smaller form factor made at Laconic Lab and Craig has also been interested in some of the amps designed by Laconic. One such amp that Craig liked and passed around in the community was the Night Blues Mini, which made a big splash three years ago but lots of details such as importing/exporting from Russia, product testing and certification, packaging, cosmetic changes, amp support, and the small size of Eddie Current has prohibited Craig from selling them in the United States.
This project has been a labor of love from everyone involved. It’s taken a year and a half to get amp samples back and forth between Russia and the US, find the beefy power switch & just the right volume knob that Craig likes to improve the aesthetics, add a Staron faceplate, make changes to fitment of the panels and screws, develop the packaging, test the amp for certification, set up exporting/importing/shipping/finances with Russia, and change the artwork on the product.
We’ve had some different prototypes of the amp floating around for a while in the background during development plus there were two original amps that Craig Uthus sold three years ago, so you can definitely see some impressions today with some new ones over the next couple of days.
All of the responses to this amp have been incredibly positive and I have no doubt that this amp will have a very loyal following.
That’s the backstory. :)
What is this big deal and obsession with tube amps in the audiophile community???
The short answer is that some headphones have issues that tube amps uniquely remedy. At the same time, great tube amps can improve great headphones to reach an addictive and immersive listening experience.
Even if your headphone has the right levels of bass/mids/treble, detail & resolution, there are still other aspects of musical presentation such as attack/decay, and headstage/imaging that can be improved by a great tube amp.
Some headphones sound great but the presentation through an amplifier is too “fast” sounding, sometimes described as “sterile” or unnatural sounding.
Some headphones sound great but the sound seems to come from the drivers on either side of the head with a “blob” in the middle of the head between the ears. Imaging of the instruments and singer does not place them with depth, a sense of space or “openness”.
These can be subtle cues or pretty obvious, depending upon what you are used to listening to.
While it is hard to make the jump to an amp that costs over $2,000 if you have not been able to hear one, with Craig’s help we have an amplifier that gives so much of what the top amplifiers can do in an affordable (by audiophile standards) package.
The Massdrop x Eddie Current ZDT Jr. uses transformers from Germany, a circuit design that Craig describes as “clever” and “unique”, new old stock Russian tubes from the 1960’s, manufacturing by hand in Russia, and aesthetic touches approved by Craig.
Getting this amp up and running took longer than expected. If you make it into this first run, you will probably have the only amps from us for a while. Producing the first batch (we really wanted to get things started) will take longer due to a Russian slowdown in December/January due to customs backlog that occurs, plus the Chinese New Year will slow production since some parts are manufactured there. We will set a shipping date that is safe and hope that we can produce them faster for you.
Here’s to good listening!
EDIT (11/21/17): The faceplate is actually made out of Staron, a synthetic stone or marble.