Jolida JD-202A Integrated Amplifier 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Integrated Amplifiers
Written by Brian Kahn   
Sunday, 01 June 2003

Introduction
The Jolida JD-202A Level 1 Modification amplifier will most certainly capture the attention of those enthusiasts looking for performance tube gear that doesn’t require a armored truck delivery of funds to make it affordable. The modified JD-202A integrated amplifier is the latest product incarnation from high-end audio veteran Walter Liederman (co-founder of Hi-Fi Buys). Under his new company moniker “Underwood HiFi,” (formerly the Grahm Company) Liederman buys the stock JD-202A and has it modified at the Parts Connexion. This product takes its place beside other Liederman modified gems from Jolida and Shanling in the Underwood HiFi line.

The amplifier in question starts life as a standard $750 Jolida JD-202A, then is shipped to The Parts Connexion, where it is extensively modified with tubes and components designed to substantially increase the performance of the product, all without dramatically increasing the price. The Jolida JD-202A with Level 1 mods is a 40-watt-per-channel stereo integrated amplifier that measures 12.5 inches wide, 12 inches deep and eight-and-one-quarter inches in height. The finished unit weighs a modest 28 pounds. The Jolida JD-202A can be purchased with the Level 1 mods in place for $1,040. Those who already own the original version can have it modified at the Parts Connexion for $500. The modified JD-202A has a one-year parts and labor warrantee, provided by Jolida.

The modified Jolida JD-202A integrated tube amplifier utilizes two matched pairs of 6CA7/EL34 power output tubes, 12AX7 tubes in the pre-amplifier circuit and 12AT7 power driver tubes. The design is retro, with exposed tubes in front of transformers. There are two knobs and a power switch on the front panel, one for controlling the volume and the other to select between the four line level inputs. The back panel features four pairs of single-ended inputs, four and eight-ohm speaker taps, a fuse and an IEC power cord outlet. For my most listening tests, I used my B&K CM4 loudspeakers with the Jolida JD-202A.

Modification
After the base Jolida JD-202A is disassembled, the following changes are made: Two sheets of Soundcoat chassis damping material are applied. The stock input driver tubes are replaced with Russian Electro-Harmonix 12AX7 and 12AT7 tubes. Four polypropylene power supply bypass capacitors are installed. Six Multicap PPFXS signal path polypropylene film and tin foil capacitors are installed. 24 Riken signal path resistors are installed. Four Holco H2 non-magnetic, metal film resistors are installed on the plate of the phase splitter. Four HEXFRED ultra-fast soft recovery “high voltage” rectifying diodes are installed in the power supply. One SF4007 Vishay-Telefunken diode is added to the bias supply. The above modifications all utilize TRT WonderSolder and take between three and four hours to perform.

The Music
I ran the Jolida amplifier for better than a week to allow the electronics and tubes to break in. I also let the unit warm up for at least one hour before each listening session. For best performance, I strongly recommend that you let this and any other tube gear warm up before any serious listening session.

For starters, I reached for a disc that I hadn’t heard for quite a while, For Duke by Bill Berry and His Ellington All-Stars (Real Time). This well recorded album features a small jazz band in an intimate setting. While listening to “Take The A Train,” I noted that the horns had huge body and presence and the highs were open and not shrill, all signs of quality tube electronics. The sound was relaxed and tonally balanced. The soundstage appeared small and intimate, making me feel as if the band was about 10 or 15 feet away and the instruments were well placed in the soundfield. The “Perdido” track featured bass notes reproduced with authority at moderate levels, without any bloated, blubbery notes associated with lesser-performing tube equipment. The saxophone in this track was very realistic and engaging. On the “Birdland” track, the tuba playback demonstrated a lot of weight and detail for such a modestly powered amplifier. This song is paced fairly quickly and the Jolida had no problems averting congestion. The sound was very liquid through the midrange, demonstrating the tube’s reputation for truly palpable midrange frequencies. As with most tube gear, I felt at times that the highs tend to be slightly rolled off, giving the music a relaxed feel. This, however, is not atypical for most of the tube equipment that I have auditioned. Let’s face it, you don’t buy tubes for lightning-fast transients and rock solid accuracy, you do so for their uniquely seductive presentation.

Next, I moved on to a larger-scale performance, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, featuring Eric Kunzel conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (Telarc). The little Jolida portrayed a much larger soundstage than I expected. I did feel that the modified Jolida became slightly compressed when it was driven to higher volumes and its ability to resolve details could become slightly degraded, yet this is very typical of any electronics driven to levels beyond their normal working range. What this tells me is that the amplifier should definitely be paired with a pair of efficient loudspeakers for optimum performance. Interestingly, though, the sound remained consistently sweet through the midrange, even when the amp became strained. I then listened to Eric Clapton’s Slowhand release (Mobile Fidelity). The track “Wonderful Tonight” had Clapton’s voice floating about 10 feet in front of me. His voice was solidly anchored and very accurately reproduced. The guitar was reproduced with very palpable warmth and detail. I enjoyed this recording very much through the Jolida amplifier.

I then gave the Jolida Level 1 mod amplifier a real workout with Janet Jackson’s The Velvet Rope (Virgin Records). The relaxed sound encouraged me to crank it up to get that “in your face” sensation. The Jolida never became forward or harsh at any volume. When evaluating low-frequency performance in the track “Go Deep,” the cut had less impact and weight in the bass than the Parasound Halo combo that I reviewed a few months back, but maintained admirable detail and displayed infectious sweetness.

Yearning for some real hair-band music, I reached for Van Halen’s debut release (Warner Brothers), which perfectly filled the bill. This was the only recording that didn’t tickle my fancy when played through the Jolida amplifier. I found it to be a little too relaxed for stadium rock the way I like to hear it. When I listen to hard-driving music like Van Halen, I want it to have that edge that gets you rocking. The Jolida amplifier simply didn’t have the spunk to get this done. While listening to “Runnin’ With the Devil,” the electric guitar had no edge at any volume. This was the only album where I felt the laid-back presentation detracted from the music.

I then listened to some more jazz and blues to see how they held up after my rock ‘n’ roll experience. I put in the audiophile cliché Arne Domnerus’ Jazz at the Pawnshop (Prophone, Gold Edition) and immediately noticed that the size of the soundfield was well suited to the music. On “Jeep’s Blues,” the applause at the track’s opening sounded like it was in the room with me or, better yet, like I was in the room with the crowd. Single handclaps had that bone and flesh resolution that let me focus on individuals in the crowd. In many cases, I find that gear can provide exceptional crowd detail, but it is rare when the physical sound of an individual clap sounds so natural that it fools you into believing that it’s in your room. On “Take Five,” the upbeat pace of the horns and drums was recreated with a good sense of timing and rhythm, while the music was cohesive and presented well. Instruments sounded realistic both in size and texture, and had a very naturally-voiced timbre.

The last piece of music was from Mighty Sam McClain’s Give It Up To Love (XRCD). Again, the Jolida amplifier presented an accurate sense of space. The Hammond organ on “What Do You Want Me To Do” was smooth yet strong, with a very full sound. At moderate listening levels, the fiery vocals, guitar and strong drums were reproduced with no congestion and good overall balance. The strong, clear midrange served the vocals and music quite well. Overall, the modified Jolida amplifier performed like a tube amplifier, which would have a much higher price tag than the moderate-cost Jolida does. Tube amplifiers are a delicacy appreciated by the purist with a flair for midrange reality. The Jolida amplifier supplied a delectably palpable midband that is sure to put goosebumps up the spine of any vocals enthusiast.

The Downside
The modified Jolida JD-202A, as with most tube products, was noticeably laid-back. What this means is simply that you need to like tubes to love this amplifier. This amplifier is only moderately powered, so I recommend that you match some fairly efficient speakers with it. This will assure that you have plenty of volume and can maintain the ease and seductiveness that this amplifier is capable of supplying. I also recommend a rating of 90 dB or greater for energetic listening levels.

Some may say that the increased maintenance of tubes is a downside. I disagree with this, as the EL34’s should last 2,500-3,000 hours and the input tubes over 5,000 hours. However, maintainance is a consideration. Also, as with all tube electronics, the amplifier needs to be placed in a well-ventilated area, as it can get very hot, and must be segregated from kids and pets. If the tubes are touched, you can be burned, and if anything is spilled on them, the amplifier is toast.

The Jolida JD-202A has no remote control. Years back, this was considered the norm for high-end preamplifiers, as the feature was considered an extra expense and something that audiophiles thought could degrade the quality of the sound with introduced noise. Today, this is unacceptable, as nearly all gear at every level provides this convenience. If it were not for the extremely low price of this exceptionally-performing product, I would have had a different opinion of the omission of a remote control, which is still definitely something to consider before purchasing this amplifier.

Conclusion
For some, the though of a tube product that has been heavily modified brings fear of unreliability – in this case, that fear can be answered with, “Au contraire.” This amplifier performed flawlessly for the months that I had it for review. As far as the seller, Mr. Liederman is no newcomer to the HiFi realm. Many will be familiar with his other companies like Perpetual Technologies and, more recently, online retailer av123.com and Underwood HiFi.

I know of no other integrated tube amplifier at anywhere near this price that can compete with the modified Jolida JD-202A. At just over $1,000, this unit competes with units costing twice its price. While the JD-202A may not be the final say in neutrality, or play as loud or have the convenience of a remote control, it has a wonderful midrange that is hard to touch at anywhere near its price.

If you normally listen to aggressive music or keep your tunes cranked, this is not the unit for you. It does not have the power that the hard-volume listener seeks. Those who listen at moderate levels to vocals and acoustic instruments, and prefer more mellow music like jazz, blues, and classical, will be delighted by this unit’s detail, tonal balance and liquidity. The Jolida JD-202A is also well suited to those looking to build a reasonably-priced system. I felt that the edginess and brightness found in many lower-priced CD players would be well complemented by the Jolida’s somewhat laid-back nature.

Anyone who enjoys the sound of tubes and doesn’t want to spend $2,000-$3,000 to hear them should check this unit out. When used within the parameters described above, the modified Jolida JD-202A excels beyond its diminutive size and price to a level beyond.
Manufacturer Jolida
Model JD-202A Integrated Amplifier
Reviewer Brian Kahn





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