Pursuit (Audio): Tubular Bells

Vacuum-tube amps sound warm but look ultra-cool.

Depending on how old you are, vacuum-tube amplifiers may not be something you’ve heard of. But ask any seasoned audiophile and they’ll tell you that nothing recreates the warm sound of a well-made tube amp. From classical music to jazz to the latest Top 40 hits, all your songs can benefit from tubes. The debate about whether or not they actually sound better than transistor amps rages on, but don’t concern yourself with that. Just know that these five compact amps sound great and are sure to get a lot of attention from your gadget-loving peers.

Roth MC4 Music Cocoon ($500) It might look like a lot of money for what amounts to a fancy iPod dock, but don’t worry. This amp will lift your mediocre MP3 files to new heights. It’s appropriate, then, that it’s called the Cocoon, because your music will be transformed.

Fatman iTube Mothership ($15,000) The price tag is eye-popping, but the sound will make your friends drool. The pre-amp has enough room to accommodate all your components, and the monoblocks each have enough juice to spit out 200 watts of power. This is the amp for serious music junkies.

Glow Amp One (US$488) With its USB input, this amp merges new school with old school. You can use the USB to hook up your computer or connect an iPod. And with its beautiful glossy white, yellow or red paint jobs, it won’t look too shabby on your shelf either.

Unison Research P70 ($7,995) Before you even turn this Italian amp on, you’ll be impressed. The front glass panel is handcrafted in a factory in Murano, Italy. The sight of the tubes shining through almost justifies the cost. Put some Bach on, bask in the glow and imagine you’re in your own private cathedral.

Mystère ia21 (US$2,995) Perhaps the most straight-forward looking of the bunch, this amp is like a stealth bomber in its sound delivery. You can even swap munitions by changing the vacuum tubes from the neutral KT88s to the more mid-heavy EL34s depending on your mood.