Audiophile on a Budget? FX-Audio Tube-01 Is the Best Tube Buffer for the Money

I’m an audiophile.

And like most audiophiles, a good vacuum tube HiFi system makes me drool.

But unfortunately, nobody told my pocketbook. Tube receivers sell for several hundred dollars on eBay. Even DIY kits are generally over $300.

For a piece of equipment that my ears and budget could agree on, I decided to purchase this HiFi buffer.

Audiophile on a Budget? FX-Audio Tube-01 Is the Best Tube Buffer for the Money

It usually retails for $34.99, but I found one on eBay for $27. I figured that if it was a piece of crap, I could at least keep the glowing tubes for aesthetic purposes alone.

It came in the mail yesterday, and I’ve actually been really impressed.

Buffers vs. Preamps

It’s important to note that this is not a preamp. It is merely a buffer.

While a phono preamp boosts your turntable’s signal to a line level, a buffer merely runs the signal through a tube circuit.

The volume knob does allow you to boost the volume a little. But if you’re looking for a phono preamp, this isn’t what you’re looking for.

However, if you just want to increase your stereo’s performance and get the most out of your turntable, look no further.

Appearance and Feel

For a Chinese-made, no-name piece of audio equipment, this tube buffer is surprisingly sturdy. The chassis is a die-cast with a beautiful black finish.

The fittings for the tubes are nice and tight. A lot of cheap tube units are either so tight that you run the risk of breaking the tubes or so loose that they don’t stay in place. These fittings are perfect—comparable to the fittings in my Vox AC-15 guitar amp.

The RCA jacks are well soldered. There’s no give when you push the cable in, which sometimes happens with cheap units.

Then we have the main event: the tubes.

They are illuminated by subtle red lights from the bottom. I think the purpose is to give the illusion that the tubes are glowing brightly. Which is strange, because these tubes do glow, but the effect is not as exaggerated as the lights try to make it. The effect is a little cheesy, but it doesn’t overdo it.

Audiophile on a Budget? FX-Audio Tube-01 Is the Best Tube Buffer for the Money

The vacuum tubes, lit by the internal lights.

Performance

So it looks nice. But how does it actually sound?

This was the biggest surprise.

For under $30, I wasn’t expecting a huge boost to my performance. If anything, I thought that it might try to trick me into thinking my stereo sounded better just by making it louder.

But this does much more than that.

I was amazed at how much this little tube buffer increased sound isolation. The individual pieces of the drum set were more definite than ever. Guitars were crunchy. Atmospheres were rich and lush.

Vocal harmonies that were previously crowded and jumbled in my stereo field were now wide and clear.

My stereo receiver’s low end has always been thick and warm, but it occasionally slides into muddy territory. With this tube buffer, bass frequencies are crisp and responsive.

The buffer even tamed some of the troublesome frequencies that bog down the sonics in the midrange.

I’ve tried a few records in a number of sonic palettes. From the stripped acoustic folk of Bob Dylan to the sonic maximalist sludge metal of Baroness, every album I played through this tube buffer sounded warm and clear.

Before getting this buffer, I thought that my system sounded great. Now, I can’t believe how much muddiness I’ve been living with.

Shortcomings

As the old saying goes, “you get what you pay for.”

While this buffer generally surpasses its price, there just one thing that betrays its affordability.

There seem to be some shielding issues in the wiring. There’s a faint buzz that’s audible at high volume levels. I experimented a bit and discovered that the buzzing gets louder when I put my hand near the tubes.

But luckily, you can play the records at a healthy volume without hearing the buzz at all. And even if I turn the system up so much that it’s clearly audible, the buzz doesn’t interrupt the listening experience at all.

Verdict

The attractive exterior and solid construction alone are worth the price I paid for this unit. But the extra boost in performance is worth so much more. I would have been satisfied even if I had spent $100 on this.

The FX-Audio retails for $34.99, and it is available on Amazon [affiliate link].

Source: Personal purchase

What I Like: Clean, warm tone; Crisp highs and responsive lows; Massive improvement to my receiver’s EQ circuit

What Needs Improvement: Adds a faint signal buzz due to shielding issues


About the Author

Nathaniel Fitzgerald

Nathaniel FitzGerald is a longtime audiophile and independent musician living in South Bend, IN.

He has been collecting records and vintage stereo equipment for over ten years. He also runs a blog called A Year of Vinyl, where he reviews every record in his (sizable) collection one disc at a time.