I.   What We Think We Know, Part One

As a matter almost beyond discussion, we audiophiles believe that tubes sound better than the solid state because tubes produce a harmonically richer, better-rounded sound.  Solid state, we say, sacrifices bloom and rhythmic flow and is an intrinsically less musical presentation.  Many of us go further: single-ended triodes sound better than tetrodes and pentodes.  Given a choice, listeners should prefer an exquisite performance on a very small scale (an 8-watt 300B tube amp) over a sonically compromised performance on a larger one (any transistor amp).  

These beliefs have consequences which I’ll detail below.

II. What We Think We Know, Part Two

Another assumption, approaching an article of faith, concerns a class of amplification.  Few people question the sonic superiority of Class A circuits over Class AB or (Heaven forbid!) Class B.  Because they dissipate so much heat, solid-state Class A amplifiers have enormous heat sinks.    Because Class A is not efficient, such amplifiers tend to be quite large.
The result?  Our conception of a terrific solid-state amplifier is something the size and weight of an automobile engine block that roasts the listening room.  
And always we maintain our assumption that tubes sound better.

III.  Outward appearances

Each Wells Inamorata Signature is hand-assembled in the Bay Area by Jeff Wells and associates.  The unit weighs sixty pounds when boxed up – not much as state of the art amps go.  It has heatsinks on both sides, but they’re not the extravagant projections that we’ve grown accustomed to in elite designs, and that’s because it operates in Class AB.  It draws a mere 129 watts at idle, so I leave it on all the time.  The warmup period, in which the performance may vary widely before reaching stability, is gone.  If I don’t listen for a couple of days, the sound is still the same.  

The Inamorata Signature has two WBT NextGen RCA females and a pair of NextGen speaker terminals on the back panel.  These are the best inputs and outputs available.  Inside the chassis are Rike capacitors, cryogenically treated transformers, fast recovery diode bridges, and a Bybee Labs module for additional AC noise filtering.  It’s all part of Jeff’s methodical approach to design: every part makes a difference. 

The Inamorata Signature is the evolutionary pinnacle of a simple design.  Every amplifier in Jeff Wells’s product line is a refinement of that design, so if you can’t stretch to the Signature – which I believe to be a striking bargain at $15,000 – you can be content that the unit you choose has the same basic sound.  

IV.  Comparisons, Part One

I have spent more than a month writing this review because there is so little to criticize.  It doesn’t do anything wrong, and therefore I have found less to comment on than usual.  I was happy listening to the amplifier.  But what to say about the sound?

In a nutshell, this unit should be renamed the Inamorata Non-Signature, because it does so little to the music.  But that doesn’t tell you enough about what the amp sounds like; so I decided to compare it to other favorites.

Remember Clayton amplifiers?  These Class A solid-state units had the same straightforward presentation as the Wells: nothing added to the source, nothing subtracted.  They were unsentimental, and I mean that in the most favorable way.  Music was conveyed without editorial comment.  Contrast that to a lot of famous tube amps, which bathe the sound in rich, lush overtones, or many solid state units, which hammer out the details.  When I heard the Wells Signature, my first thought was that Clayton was back in business.

V.  Comparisons, Part Two 

My long-term reference amplifier is the VAC Renaissance 70/70, a 300B push-pull tube amp running in Class A.  It can drive the most demanding speaker loads and never seems to run out of power. 

It cost around $22,000 in 1993.  What would it cost if offered in 2018?
With that as background, I submit that the Wells Signature preserves more of the VAC’s musicality than any other solid-state unit in my experience; and does it while introducing levels of clarity, focus, rhythmic drive and bass control than tubes cannot provide.  I am not going to pronounce that the gulf between tubes and the solid state has finally been crossed – something that magazines have been promising at least since the VAC 70/70 was new – but I can state that tube fans will find much to love here, along with the traditional solid-state virtues.  

Let’s start in the lowest octaves.  My stacked Quads, which are “asymptotic” to 45 Hertz (means: wimpy bottom octaves), didn’t need bass support.  The last time I had bass like this from Quad 57s, I was using a Levinson ML-2.

The difference between the Wells and the Levinson – the first huge, heavy, hot-running Class A solid state amp in my recollection – is that the Wells doesn’t draw attention to its bass.  Bass is produced when the source has it, but it doesn’t overpower the rest of the presentation.  Remember “Krell bass,” grinding, well-defined low frequencies so prominent they made you forget the rest of the audio spectrum?  That’s not the Wells sound.  The problem with Levinson and Krell is that the tight bass was often purchased at the price of harsh, dry, bleached mid- and high frequencies.  Not a problem here.  

The Wells Signature portrays the rest of music honestly, without the embellishments of tube gear.  What many reviewers call “tube magic” my friend Joe Jurzec calls “enhancements,” additions to the signal that weren’t present at the performance.  Of course, this effect will depend on your system.  If your equipment tends toward the analytical, you may benefit from a little softening; but that is a deficiency in your system, and you shouldn’t try to correct one error with another.

The midrange and treble can be problems for solid state amps: they deliver crisp details but strip away harmonics, and the result is dessicated and very fatiguing.  For a half hour or less, such amps can be fascinating, but after that, you get irritated and start thinking about putting a tube unit in your system.

Switching from the VAC, that exemplar of tonal color, for the unadorned honesty of the Wells, made me wonder which was more true to the music.  A few trips to the local music conservatory, my city’s orchestra convinced me that, in my system, tubes present music as I would like to remember it, but the Wells Signature presents music as it is.

VI. The non-negative review

What comes out of this amplifier is what you put in, with gain.  If the source is grainy, you get grain; if it’s mixed poorly, you get confusion; if the music is performed well and the recording is engineered well, you get one of those wonderful experiences that we cherish.  

Take Cream’s Wheels of Fire album.  In “Spoonful,” Eric Clapton’s guitar begins with crisp transients followed by a faint overhang: Winterland’s (the concert venue) reverberation.  Ginger Baker’s drum solo, which I have acknowledged for its virtuosity, becomes more artful and creative than I had imagined.  The interplay between Clapton and Jack Bruce’s bass guitar is more dramatic when conveyed through the Inamorata.  

In album after album, on jazz, rock or classical music, the result was always the same: the amplifier maintained a tubed unit’s smoothness while removing a touch of romanticism.  
Something’s lost but something’s gained, as Joni Mitchell wrote.  

VII. The joys of solid state

Imagine a perfect SET amplifier.  It probably runs 2A3/Type 45/300B tubes and generates less than 10 watts.  It also doesn’t deal well with complex crossovers, capacitive loads, low load impedances; but we tolerate these limitations in order to gain “tube magic.”  I submit that the “magic” is really a way of softening harshness, especially in a high-resolution tweeter.  

Of course, this notional amp is completely unsuitable for all sorts of wonderful speakers.  You can’t drive a YG/Magnepan/Rockport speaker, or a whole showroom full of other terrific designs, with a few watts, no matter how splendid, and you’d be dreaming if you thought you could achieve realist sound pressures.  With this wonderful amp, you’re restricted to horn designs, or near-field speakers run at conversational levels.  

I happen to like horns a great deal, but I wouldn’t want them as my only source.  I’d like some variety, and a small SET amp won’t accommodate me.  

That’s where the Wells Inamorata Signature becomes valuable.  I don’t know speaker it can’t drive, including difficult loads like my stacked Quads, and it always strikes an intelligent balance between detail retrieval and musical portrayal.  At the asking price, I’m not aware of any competition.  Come to think of it, I’m not aware of a better solid state amplifier. 

I recommend that you contact Jeff and ask for an audition.  

Richard Weiner - Mono and Stereo Senior Contributing writer


$15,000.00 USD


150 WPC at 8 ohms, 210 WPC at 4 ohms
Frequency response: +/-0.25db from 10 Hz to 50 kHz
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: -103 dB, reference level: full power output
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): <0 .025="" 100="" 100w="" 1="" 20="" 8="" at="" i="" khz="" ohms="" w="">
Gain 30 dB
Input Impedance: 30k Ohms
Damping Factor: 200, reference 8 Ohms nominal
Inputs: 1 pair WBT Nextgen RCA unbalanced
Outputs: 1 pair WBT Nextgen 5-way binding posts per channel
Operating Voltage: 100V, 120V, 220V, 230V0r 240V at 50 or 60 Hz
Dimensions: 19 in. W X 6 in. H X 17 in. D
Shipping weight 60 pounds
Power Consumption: 129 Watts idle, 350 Watts maximum


Wells Audio
106 Bascom Court
Campbell, CA — 95008

Tel: +1 (408) 376-0861