A few (more) weeks with Junior.
I first read about the Wavelength Audio Junior in the pages of Art Dudley’s Listener Magazine back in 1997 (Volume 3, Numbner 2). I still remember how intrigued I was by Art’s words about the little EL84-based integrated amplifier that was Junior and how it could bring music to life. I needed that. [footnote 1]
Here’s the original description of Junior from Wavelength Audio:
Details, the 3 inputs are selected by the front rotary switch. The current selection is illuminated by a red, yellow or green led to correspond to the input selected. The selected input goes to the volume control, that is feed to one half of the 6072A dual triode (one half for right the other for left). This provides all the gain necessary to drive the EL84 to their respective power level. The BIAS for each tube is fixed at 40ma and is setable by a poteniometer on the top of the amplifier in front of the output tube. The value of current is visible on the meter as it is adjusted. Once adjusted, this does not need to be fooled with again. The screens on the pentodes are fixed with a regulator for quick fast results. The power supply is rectified with dual 6X4’s using a PI filter.
Junior pumps out 8/9 Watts of power and comes in a nice junior-sized 14″ (w) x 10″ (d) x 6″ (h) chassis with woody side panels. Junior’s original asking price was $1995 or roughly $3200 in today’s dollars. Let’s see how Junior has aged.
A Few (more) Weeks With Junior
I miss Art Dudley, may he rest in peace, and I miss looking forward to new words coming from his endlessly fertile and delightful mind. It really didn’t matter what Art was writing about because his wit and wisdom always made for a fascinating, and more often than not, educational journey. I can still recall the excitement his review of the review of the Wavelength Junior elicited in my younger self and the desire to see and hear one has burned within me ever since. According to Gordon Rankin, Mr. Wavelength Audio, less than two dozen Juniors were made so I am very fortunate to have one in Barn for a few week thanks to Adam Wexler of High-End Audio Auctions and StereoBuyers.
Holy crap! were my first thoughts and the exact words that came out of my mouth once I sat down in front of the DeVore Fidelity O/93s with Junior driving. Holy crap!
My surprise was due to Junior’s rather shocking full-body. That bass! Damn! How did Gordon make an 8 Watt EL84 integrated amp with such bodacious bass? I was flummoxed! Pleasantly so, mind you. Coming across hand-in-hand with that muscular sound, Junior must work out, was that lovely living inner detail and sparkle I’ve come to expect from amplifiers employing the EL84 pentode (I own one) in single-ended operation. If you like your music to sound intimate, as if the performer(s) is / are fully formed and so present you can nearly feel their breath, Junior delivers while packing a light heavyweight punch.
It loves brass instruments, for one thing: On disc after disc of classical and non-classical alike (Walter’s recently reissued Bruckner Ninth; the magnificent Kaplan Mahler Second; jeez, even the recently rediscovered pleasures of Exile on Main Street), horns benefit from the Wavelength’s single-endedness in both their musical rightness and sonic solidity. And the amp’s very good stereo imaging completes that picture: On the Bruckner in particular, those Wagner tubas toward the back corner seem a very real part of the landscape.
The Junior also distinguishes itself as Friend Of The Electric Bass. Notwithstanding a lower range that is, overall, shelved down just the slightest little bit (so the final bars of the Kaplan Mahler lose only a bit of thunder, although their effect remains emotionally powerful nonetheless), the difference between the Wavelength and lesser amps is the same kind of difference between, say, Donald Dunn [of Booker T. & the M.G.’s among others] on the one hand and some lesser player on the other. Bass lines move forward as well as make musical sense; sonically, each fat little note has a distinct life of its own. — Art Dudley, “A Few Weeks With Junior”
At my friend Stephen Mejias’ suggestion, I created a “Junior” playlist in Roon filled with the music Art refers to in his Junior review. Those closing bars of the Kaplan’s Mahler, which includes the rarely used kitchen sink section of the orchestra, sounded big and bold with only a hint of sweat as I pushed Junior’s volume past 12 o’clock. If you like listening to big music in a big room at big volumes, you’ll want to look at Junior’s bigger brothers. But, within its power zone, Junior presented a mighty Mahler with each voice getting its full timbral due.
“Rip This Joint” from the Stones Exile on Main Street jumped, juked, and jived with boogie-inducing drive and pistonic energy. Little Junior can dance! while presenting each musical part of the Stones extended lineup with a level of clarity and rich voice allowing for a focus following the individual player of your choosing.
So I was fortunate to discover early enough in my three weeks with Junior: This is a great amp for Dylan, on both CD and LP alike. The sometimes weird but sometimes outrageously good sound on those early recordings was served well by the Wavelength. And the amp had the musical agility and, let’s say, emotional presence to put these many different moods across successfully. Dylan the forlorn lover, Dylan the absurd humorist, and the Dylan of righteous, howling rage all came through loud and clear—sometimes all at once, as appropriate. — Art Dudley, “A Few Weeks With Junior”
While I can’t go down Dylan’s Self Portrait road with Art’s albeit tempered enthusiasm (In truth, I cling unrepentently to my belief that this critics’ urinal of an album is redeemed by its first two songs), Dylan’s first 9 albums are pure gold. One beautifully dreary rainy fall day I played John Wesley Harding all the way through with Junior as guide and was reminded of my younger self hearing these songs for the first time where I hung on every word, on every twist and turn in Dylan’s phrasing, as if he was going to lead me toward a more meaningful life.
And it’s a hi-fi product through which real musical details—the way the performers caress and create every note and beat, as opposed to audiofluff like tape splices and the characteristics of the recording studio walls—take on life, vibrancy, and an enjoyable sonic wholeness. The Wavelength Junior, notwithstanding its budget status, is audibly very much a single-ended tube amp. — Art Dudley, “A Few Weeks With Junior”
During my weeks with Junior I jumped from Art’s playlist into more recent musical times and I was very happy to hear that Junior loves Phoebe Bridgers as much as I do, as it caressed her voice making it sound as sweet and rich as I’ve heard. Life, vibrancy, and an enjoyable sonic wholeness make listening to music thrilling and intimate with attention grabbing realness. On “Kyoto” from Bridgers’ Punisher, the opening driving rhythm is conveyed in perfect time that pulled me into the story and groove. This kind of reproduction is where emotional attachment lives and breathes and once experienced, it’s impossible to forget.
Junior also made the Swans Deliquescence drone feel ominous and foreboding, as it should, Einstürzende Neubauten’s Zeichnungen des Patienten O. T. was positively creepy and convincingly clangy, while SPAZA’s UPRIZE! was so moving I had to listen more than once while Junior was sleeping over. When you introduce a new, or old, piece of hifi gear into your system and find yourself nearly giddy with, I can’t wait to hear what this album will sound like enthusiasm, you know you’ve found a keeper. [footnote 2
My advice: Let’s see if we can’t beat a little sense back into the world when it comes to the importance of music, and how much or how little is reasonable to spend for good, non-mass-market hi-fi. And given the appearance of the Wavelength Junior-a brand new American integrated amp that’s remarkably fun to use and to listen to-this seems like an awfully good place to start. — Art Dudley, “A Few Weeks With Junior”
Life Is Fleeting, Music Is Infinite, Memory Comforts
Spending a few (more) weeks with Junior felt like spending time with an old friend. Through Art Dudley’s words, I’d imagined hearing Bob Dylan in a deeper and more meaningful manner thanks to Junior’s single-ended goodness. Sometimes dreams come true.
- This just in: I heard from Wavelength Audio’s Gordon Rankin and he believes this Junior is the very same Junior Art reviewed. The same one. Cool.
- As much as I’d like to adopt Junior, Flashback-Fi is a catch and release kinda deal (I typed that out as much for me as you)