MITCHELL & JOHN­SON SAP201V IN­TE­GRATED AM­PLI­FIER/DAC

IN­TE­GRATED AM­PLI­FIER/DAC

Australian HIFI - - CONTENTS -

A cu­ri­ous name with a cu­ri­ous his­tory, but what a great lit­tle am­pli­fier!

Badge engineering is com­mon in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, where in­stead of man­u­fac­tur­ing their own ve­hi­cle, a car maker will buy a model from a com­peti­tor and sim­ply at­tach its own badge. So here in Aus­tralia, the Holden Nova was ac­tu­ally a Toy­ota Corolla and the Ford Laser a Mazda 323. This prac­tise was once also com­mon in the au­dio in­dus­try, most in­fa­mously with Lex­i­con’s BD-30 Blu-ray player, which was a re-badged Oppo BDP-83.

The Mitchell & John­son SAP201V that is the subject of this re­view is just such a re-badg­ing ex­er­cise, but with a bit of a twist, be­cause Paul Mitchell and David John­son were for many years the of­fi­cial Bri­tish dis­trib­u­tor for San­sui, dur­ing which time they traded un­der the name San­sui UK and sold the San­sui SAP201V, a slim-line in­te­grated am­pli­fier with a MM phono stage and a built-in DAC. Two years ago, Mitchell and John­son changed their com­pany name from San­sui UK to Mitchell & John­son and also changed the badges on their San­sui prod­ucts. Ac­cord­ing to Mitchell & John­son, the badged mod­els bear­ing the Mitchell & John­son logo are: ‘up­dated and im­proved ver­sions, with real im­prove­ments and fea­tures.’ (But when I quote ‘Mitchell & John­son’, I am re­fer­ring to the com­pany it­self, be­cause Paul Mitchell is no longer at Mitchell & John­son.)

THE EQUIP­MENT

None of the im­prove­ments made or the fea­tures added to the SAP201V seem to have af­fected its ex­te­rior one whit. It has the same four line-level in­puts plus mov­ing-mag­net phono stage as the San­sui, to­gether with the same built-in DAC, although it’s cer­tainly a very good DAC: Wolf­son Mi­cro’s tasty 24-bit/192kHz WM8761.

In­puts are se­lected via the push-but­tons on the front panel be­low the dis­play, which from left to right, are Line-In, Phono, CD, Net Player, Aux and TV. It was here that I noted a dif­fer­ence be­tween the orig­i­nal and the badged ver­sions. San­sui’s am­pli­fier had ‘Tuner’ on the front panel where Mitchell & John­son’s has ‘Net Player’ and San­sui’s had ‘Tape’ in the po­si­tion Mitchell & John­son’s has ‘TV’. A fur­ther push­but­ton to the right se­lects be­tween op­ti­cal and coax­ial dig­i­tal in­puts.

There is no USB in­put. The large ro­tary con­trol to the right of the front panel dis­play is named ‘Con­trol’ be­cause although it is the Vol­ume con­trol, as you’d ex­pect, it also does ex­tra duty as a bass and tre­ble tone con­trol. (Though I’d query the gram­mat­i­cal skills of who­ever decided on the ter­mi­nol­ogy ‘Press to Func­tion’.)

When used as a vol­ume con­trol, the vol­ume you set is in­di­cated vis­ually in the dis­play both by a dB dis­play, which rather weirdly goes from –80dB to –5dB, and by a se­ries of open square boxes along the bot­tom of the dis­play whose length in­creases with in­creas­ing vol­ume. That is, the louder you’ve set the con­trol, the more boxes there are across the bot­tom of the dis­play. While I was per­fectly happy with the dB read-out, I for some rea­son found the row of boxes to be vis­ually jar­ring.

The power but­ton at the far right turns the unit on, with the ac­com­pa­ny­ing LED glow­ing red to in­di­cate standby mode, and blue to show the unit is ac­tu­ally op­er­at­ing. Standby mode can only be ac­cessed from the re­mote con­trol, though if you don’t have ac­cess to the re­mote for any rea­son, you can de­feat standby by turn­ing the am­pli­fier off with the power switch, wait­ing five sec­onds and then turn­ing it back on.

The re­mote con­trol is one of those low-cost ‘credit-card’ style re­motes that uses a CR2025 lithium but­ton bat­tery. Mitchell & John­son sup­plies the CR2025 bat­tery sep­a­rately from the re­mote, which means you have to in­stall it your­self, but this does at least af­ford you the op­por­tu­nity to check the bat­tery’s ‘useby’ date. The re­mote also con­trols Mitchell & John­son’s CDD201V CD player.

The rear panel of the SAP210V is nicely laid out, but all the RCA con­nec­tors have nickel-plat­ing rather than the more usual gold-plat­ing. The speaker ter­mi­nals, on the other hand, have a very high-qual­ity gold-plated fin­ish. Nice. Also nice was that the la­bels that iden­tify which con­nec­tor does what are printed ‘up­side down’ as well as ‘right-way up’, so you can eas­ily read them no mat­ter whether you’re hang­ing over the am­pli­fier from the front, or look­ing di­rectly at the rear panel.

Note that de­spite the fact the front panel no longer has a ‘Tape’ func­tion, the rear panel still has ‘Record Out’ sock­ets.

In­ter­nally, it ap­pears that Mitchell & John­son has used a dif­fer­ent power trans­former to the orig­i­nal San­sui, or en­cased the San­sui one in an iso­lat­ing shield. I couldn’t tell which be­cause of the shield. The out­put de­vices ap­pear to be iden­ti­cal to the orig­i­nal (one pair of Toshiba 2SC5198/2SA1941 bipo­lar tran­sis­tors per chan­nel), and the smooth­ing ca­pac­i­tors also ap­pear to be the same (four 4,700μF 50-volt elec­trolyt­ics).

IN USE AND PER­FOR­MANCE

Get­ting Mitchell & John­son’s SAP201V up and run­ning is straight­for­ward, as you’d imag­ine, so I didn’t need to use the man­ual, but I would imag­ine that some peo­ple, un­less they’d been told it had bass and tre­ble con­trols, might not re­alise this, be­cause although the unit comes with a prod­uct li­a­bil­ity state­ment in thirty dif­fer­ent lan­guages, it doesn’t come with a printed man­ual. You have to down­load one (as a pdf) from Mitchell & John­son’s web­site. I can see the ad­van­tages of this, in that it keeps costs down and means that M&J can en­sure it’s al­ways pro­vid­ing an up-to-date man­ual, but in the ab­sence of a printed man­ual I would have liked one pro­vided with the unit on a CD or a stick.

Be­cause I was a bit slow get­ting some mu­sic play­ing af­ter con­nect­ing the SAP201V I dis­cov­ered one of its op­er­a­tional quirks straight away, which is that it au­to­mat­i­cally mutes it­self af­ter about 20 sec­onds of not de­tect­ing an au­dio sig­nal, and shows a large MUTE in the dis­play. If this hap­pens you don’t ac­tu­ally have to do any­thing be­cause the in­stant the am­pli­fier de­tects a sig­nal it in­stan­ta­neously de-mutes it­self. I’d never run across this func­tion­al­ity be­fore and was puz­zled as to why it was nec­es­sary. My only thought was that it was to make it im­pos­si­ble for own­ers to hear any am­pli­fier noise through their speak­ers when they were not lis­ten­ing to mu­sic.

You can, of course, mute the am­pli­fier de­lib­er­ately us­ing the ded­i­cated ‘mute’ but­ton on the re­mote con­trol, which is also used to un-mute the am­pli­fier.

How­ever if you have muted the am­pli­fier man­u­ally, it will also au­to­mat­i­cally un-mute it­self if you move the vol­ume con­trol on the am­pli­fier it­self up or down, or touch one of the vol­ume but­tons on the re­mote. This is ex­actly what should hap­pen with a mut­ing cir­cuit, yet only one in one hun­dred am­pli­fiers has a mute cir­cuit that op­er­ates cor­rectly, so well done San­sui… or, rather, Mitchell & John­son.

The sec­ond op­er­a­tional quirk I no­ticed pretty-much straight away was that I had to turn the vol­ume con­trol a long way up to get a de­cent level of sound from my speak­ers, such that the SAP201V’s dis­play was show­ing –21dB. This isn’t re­ally sig­nif­i­cant, be­cause it makes no dif­fer­ence at all to the am­pli­fier’s per­for­mance, but it does mean that if you’re con­stantly ad­just­ing vol­ume for any rea­son, you may have to do a bit more knob-twid­dling than usual de­pend­ing on the out­put volt­age of your an­cil­lary com­po­nents. In view of this, I have to say that I was to­tally sat­is­fied with the smooth­ness and ac­cu­racy of the front panel vol­ume con­trol knob. I wasn’t so happy with the re­mote con­trol, or the but­tons on it… but then I’ve never been a fan of credit-card style re­motes.

The sound from the SAP201V was clean and tight, with the am­pli­fier de­liv­er­ing a bal­anced sound across the au­dio spec­trum, with­out favour­ing any part of the au­dio band. This was par­tic­u­larly ob­vi­ous across the midrange, where the vo­cal of Alexan­dra Oomens was de­liv­ered com­pletely im­par­tially on the track Some World Far From Ours on Sally Whitwell’s beau­ti­ful al­bum ‘I Was Fly­ing’. Oomens’ pol­ished, pro­fes­sional so­prano vo­cal was de­liv­ered by the SAP201V with what I thought was just a hint of added warmth to the sound that im­bued it with a rich­ness that I very much enjoyed.

Be­cause I was a bit slow get­ting some mu­sic play­ing af­ter con­nect­ing the SAP201V I dis­cov­ered one of its op­er­a­tional quirks straight away, which is that…

The sound of the pi­ano accompaniment (played by Whitwell her­self) on the other hand was like a del­i­cate gos­samer thread wind­ing through the lyric and de­liv­ered with stu­dio-like ac­cu­racy. The beau­ti­ful warmth of the SAP201V’s sound is also ap­par­ent with the choral pieces on ‘I Was Fly­ing’, such as She Walks in Beauty, but I was ab­so­lutely cap­ti­vated by the sound of the Aca­cia Quar­tet and Whitwell’s pi­ano on Win­ter Love. Not only cap­ti­vated by the sound, but also ab­so­lutely en­chanted by the mu­sic, which is sim­ply su­perb. Whitwell is well-known for her in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the work of Philip Glass and Michael Ny­man, but ‘I Was Fly­ing’ shows she should re­ally be con­cen­trat­ing ex­clu­sively on her own com­po­si­tions, be­cause she’s an ex­traor­di­nar­ily tal­ented com­poser. (She’s also a wonderful pi­anist, of course, but there are lots of wonderful pi­anists, and not so many wonderful com­posers…)

The ex­cep­tional pi­ano re­pro­duc­tion of the SAP201V caused me to pull out Friedrich’s Gulda’s amaz­ing per­for­mance of Bach’s Well Tem­pered Klavier from 1972 and the SAP210V re­sponded with fab­u­lous de­liv­ery of the sound and the work it­self, with the tem­pos suf­fi­ciently slow that it’s easy to ap­pre­ci­ate the mas­tery of both the com­poser and the pi­anist and the wonderful tonal abil­i­ties of the SAP201V.

Although am­pli­fiers with built-in DACs may have been fairly rare when the SAP201V was in­tro­duced, that’s not re­ally the case these days, with many bud­get-priced am­pli­fier in­clud­ing DACs. That said, I found the per­for­mance of the SAP201V’s dig­i­tal in­puts to be a cut above the aver­age, with ex­cel­lent de­cod­ing through ei­ther the op­ti­cal or coax­ial in­puts, though at a pinch I’d sug­gest the op­ti­cal in­put sounded the best.

I tri­alled the SAP201V with a va­ri­ety of loud­speak­ers and found that although it worked mar­vel­lously well with high-ef­fi­ciency speak­ers (those with nom­i­nal sen­si­tiv­ity rat­ings of 87dBSPL and above) and with such mod­els was able to de­liver sat­is­fy­ingly high vol­ume lev­els with­out any au­di­ble cues that it might be ap­proach­ing the limit of its power out­put ca­pa­bil­i­ties, it was not as happy try­ing to de­liver the same high SPLs with low-ef­fi­ciency loud­speak­ers, with the dy­nam­ics not quite fully re­alised dur­ing crescen­dos in such sit­u­a­tions.

CON­CLU­SION

When it was re­leased to the UK mar­ket the San­sui SAP201V was priced at £299 to com­pete in the ‘bud­get’ sec­tor, where it was de­lib­er­ately po­si­tioned to un­der­cut Marantz’s PM6004 (sell­ing at £310) and Yamaha’s A-S500 (sell­ing at £330) which were at that time the two best-sell­ing ‘bud­get’ am­pli­fiers in the UK.

The com­bi­na­tion of cir­cuit changes and the ef­fects of in­fla­tion mean that Mitchell & John­son’s 2017 ver­sion of the SAP201V is more ex­pen­sive than Yamaha’s A-S501 and Marantz’s PM5005 and almost twice the price of Yamaha’s en­try-level AS-201, so it’s now po­si­tioned well out of the area in which it was orig­i­nally in­tended to com­pete. That it can still do so is tes­ta­ment to the de­sign.

Pe­ter Croft

The sound from the SAP201V was clean and tight, with the am­pli­fier de­liv­er­ing a bal­anced sound across the au­dio spec­trum.

Read­ers in­ter­ested in a full tech­ni­cal ap­praisal of the per­for­mance of the Mitchell & John­son SAP201V In­te­grated Am­pli­fier should con­tinue on and read the LAB­O­RA­TORY RE­PORT published on page 22.

Power Out­put: Sin­gle chan­nel driven into 8-ohm, 4-ohm and 2-ohm non-in­duc­tive loads at 20Hz, 1kHz and 20kHz. Mitchell & John­son SAP201V Int Am­pli­fier.

Power Out­put: Both chan­nels driven into 8-ohm, 4-ohm and 2-ohm non-in­duc­tive loads at 20Hz, 1kHz and 20kHz. Mitchell & John­son SAP201V Int. Am­pli­fier

Power Out­put: Sin­gle and both chan­nels driven into 8-ohm, 4-ohm and 2-ohm non-in­duc­tive loads at 20Hz, 1kHz and 20kHz. Mitchell & John­son SAP201V Int Am­pli­fier.

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