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Fatman iTube ValveDock MkII review

John Archer



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Fatman iTube ValveDock MkII
  • Fatman iTube ValveDock MkII
  • Fatman iTube ValveDock MkII
  • Fatman iTube ValveDock MkII
  • Fatman iTube ValveDock MkII
  • Fatman iTube ValveDock MkII


Our Score:



  • Lovely build quality and finish
  • USB as well as iPod playback
  • Great value


  • No Wi-Fi
  • Can't turn it straight back on after turning it off
  • Some might prefer a more clinical sound

Key Features

  • 2x25W output
  • USB PC connectivity
  • iPod dock
  • Valve amplification system
  • Unusual reflective design
  • Manufacturer: Fatman by TL Audio
  • Review Price: free/subscription

Once upon a time, hi-fi gear used valve amplifiers with vacuum tubes to boost their power and/or amplitude. And then dastardly silicon turned up in the 1970s with its all-conquering transistors, and poor old valve amps slipped away into the shadows, loved by nobody but a few stubborn hi-fi die-hards who refused to move with the times.

Cut to 2011, and it’s fair to say valve amps are undergoing a pretty major renaissance. That 'stubborn few' mentioned earlier is turning into a growing tide of hi-fi aficionados who’ve had enough of the supposedly ever more clinical sound coming out of ever more digital hi-fi kit, and are turning back to the 'old ways'. So much so that what was only a few short years ago a seriously esoteric valve amp market, signified chiefly by terrifying price points, is now starting to get mainstream. Well, maybe not mainstream in a Comet or Currys kind of way, but certainly mainstream in terms of it being something you can now buy without being either rich or obsessed with old-school hi-fi.

Perhaps the ultimate expression of just how far the valve rebirth has progressed is the gloriously named Fatman iTube ValveDock MkII, from TL Audio. For as well as being an iPod dock that uses valve amplification, we’ve also found it selling for just £266. Which includes a pair of rather fetching piano-black speakers. Bonkers.

Actually, bonkers really is a very appropriate word to associate with the Fatman iTube ValveDock MkII. For absolutely nothing about it could remotely be considered normal.

For instance, the iPod dock and valve amp come as two striking separate units, with their own individual power supplies, and joined by nothing more extravagant than a (supplied) stereo audio RCA lead.

Then there are the three valves that jut out of the top right side of the amp like some kind of hi-fi sentinels, creating a warm glow when the unit’s on that inexplicably creates a matching glow somewhere in the recesses of your music-loving heart.

Add to this a big lump of black 'seriousness' looming up from the amp’s left side like some kind of mini nuclear power station, plus an extraordinary 'mirrored' finish for both units, complete with a repeating wallpaper-like motif, and there is no doubt that you won’t have seen anything quite like the Fatman iTube ValveDock MkII before. Um, unless you happened to own the original MkI version, that is. In which case you can at least attest to the impact this crazy-looking system has on friends and family who behold it.

Perhaps the craziest thing about it all, though, is that to our eyes the whole system is actually rather gorgeous. Especially in a dimly lit room, when the glow of the valves can clearly be seen. Go figure.


March 3, 2011, 1:58 pm

No iPhone 4 docking? Fail. Pity, as this is a thing of beauty.


March 3, 2011, 2:15 pm

I used to own the Carbon MKI. Grudgingly had to sell it after moving in with the other half who had a Zeppelin and at the time with a kid on the way thought glowing valves would be more hassle than it was worth.

But, I sorely miss the sound it generated. I spent a huge amount of juniors uni fund on a proper hi-fi plus speakers but the sound the Fatman can make was a joy - and that was with "low quality" mp3's. It won't be to everyone's taste but with the sort of synthy indie/rock stuff I love it simply sounded awesome - and that was through both the included book end speakers and when trying out with my MA RS6's.

And for the record I think it sounds better than the Zeppelin - though not by much.


March 3, 2011, 5:12 pm

This review could have used a bit more info with all the, um, enthusiasm. Judging by the images, there's a headphone port in front -- did you try it (with decent, high impedance headphones)?

And how exactly does the USB port work? Does it appear as a USB DAC ("sound card") when you connect a PC? Now that I've zoomed in on one of the images, the port is labeled USB DAC, so that's apparently how it works. That's actually extremely cool; USB DACs are one of the best ways to improve audio quality on PCs by getting the process out of the (electronically) noisy computer. It'd been interesting to know what DAC chip they're using.

Other people might have preferred a way to connect their non-Apple MP3 players via USB instead of a USB DAC. Though I guess you can always connect other MP3 players (or anything else for that matter) in place of the dock. In fact, it's a huge shame that they don't also sell just the tube AMP/DAC module!

Personally, I don't (yet) buy into the whole tube thing. I understand that it does alter the sound and people like that, but it seems to me that it should be easy enough to replicate the sound alterations as a digital filter. I guess that just doesn't have the same panache...

Lee Horner

March 4, 2011, 1:29 am

Does anyone know if the Usb input is compatible with the Ipad using the camera connection kit as not all USB dacs are compatible.
If not could you test this as it would greatly increase the usability of this dock.


March 4, 2011, 1:20 pm

I'm confused about the connectivity options. Could I use my Squeezebox Touch with this without unplugging the iPod Dock ?


March 4, 2011, 2:53 pm

@drittenorn - if anything like the MKI then yes. The dock plugged into a seperate set of interconnects on that model and there was a couple of other aux connections. So, I would say that the squeezebox would work fine.

@morsch - It all comes down to personal preference but I would suspect it would take a digital amp of considerable cost to get to the sort of sound that a valve amp can produce. Like I say, it very much comes down to the sort of music you like. If you prefer more electronic, dancey sort of stuff then stay clear. Digital amps offer a sort of precision sound (Im hopeless at describing sound as you can tell!) to my ears. I hate the term "warmth" for valve amps but to be frank, it sums up the sound pretty much spot on. And I guess if it was easy enough then valves would have died out years ago.


March 4, 2011, 6:44 pm

Thanks @Jones. I had another think and it looks like it would have to via the USB DAC (which the SB Touch supports as an output) since it looks like there only one line input with this model rather than the two of the previous model.


March 4, 2011, 7:25 pm

I've owned the iTube Red-i with Speakers for three years which is very similar to this model, just without the USB DAC and separated iPod dock. It's ideal for my bedroom where a softer and more subtle sound is required. I love it but will say that there is a slight lack of bass from the accompanying speakers unless you turn it up on the controls.

Murdo Mathewson

March 23, 2011, 7:57 pm

@Greg, re your iPhone 4/Fail comment, you can dock your iPhone 4 if you like. And, remember, any iPod/MP3 player/mobile phone you can't dock (such as an iPod Shuffle) you can simply hook-up via the line inputs on the amp's rear panel.


March 27, 2011, 3:48 pm

The Fatman website says that these are iPhone compatible in Flight Mode. Is that correct? Is that normal when using an iPhone in a dock?

Murdo Mathewson

April 15, 2011, 2:17 pm

@Spencer 34: that's not unusual. The original iTube design pre-dates the iPhone launch so, without Flight Mode switched on there is the potential for some occasional background noise. In practice, though, I haven't heard it - this is especially true of this model where the iPhone, when in the dock, sits apart from the amp section anyway. (I handle UK PR for Fatman.)

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