Vincent SV-237 Integrated Amplifier with Aurum Altan VIII Speakers
Vincent is a house-brand of the German audio product company Sintron Vertriebs GmbH, more simply known as Sintron. Along with Vincent, Sintron owns the brands - T.A.C. (Tube Amp Company) and Dynavox. Vincent was established in 1995 and encompasses a large array of amplifier products, all of which are designed and engineered in Germany, though Vincent has taken advantage of manufacturing in other locations, outside of Germany, to meet its objective of producing highvalue oriented products. Vincent today has a number of product lines, including the premium Line; solid Line; tube Line; onset Line; powerLine; cable Line; speaker Line and even a rack Line.
design | features
Vincent’s most successful amplifier to date has been their SV-236MK integrated tube-hybrid amplifier. Recently, in 2013, Vincent introduced a successor to their SV-236MK- this successor dubbed as the SV-237 ($2,500). The new SV-237, follows in the footsteps of the SV-236MK, being an integrated hybrid (tube/solidstate) stereo amplifier that sits within Vincent’s tubeLine of products. Rather than an update to a successful design, the SV-237 is purported to be a complete revision of the original SV-236MK circuit design that lifts performance to a new level, particularly in the areas of musicality, transient response, signal-to-noise ratio and dynamics.
Unboxing the SV-237, its bold and masculine lines began to make an impression on me. If you are looking for a component with a lithe form, to hide within a room, look elsewhere, as the SV-237 is anything but. I would even go so far as to say that the SV-237 has almost a sinister look to it, especially in the studio black of the review sample. A slightly softer persona might be achieved by opting for the silver finish but the stealth black suited me just fine. In fact, I found the aesthetics reminiscent of 1940’s war-time military electronics - a genre that my Grado SR80 headphones also call to mind. A solid aluminum faceplate with slightly rounded corners hosts a horizontal furrow in which a tone defeat button, loudness button, power button and blue LED input selection lights reside. Four knobs, with circular chrome surrounds are provided for control of treble, bass, input selection and volume. By far, the most distinctive and interesting feature was the single round porthole that was centred on its fascia. Through this porthole the SV-237 bared tribute to times past, as there, seemingly just for my viewing pleasure within a mirrored alcove was seated one of its three vacuum tubes. When powered on, this tube could be seen faintly aglow; however, Vincent obvi-
ously wanted to make a stronger impression, as the SV-237 incorporates a dimmable orange backlight that significantly increases this ‘tubey’ effect – tastefully, I might add. The metal panels of the amplifier were surprisingly sturdy and resisted the rattles that I’ve only too often heard lesser specimens reveal when faced with my firm raps. To its sides the SV-237 possessed a full set of gill-like cooling fins – of a healthy gauge. Turning to the back, I found robust five-way binding posts and RCA input jacks. Overall fit and finish on this Vincent integrated was definitely beyond its price level. The SV-237’s chassis is full-sized at 17” wide, 6” high and 17” deep and its weight of 45 pounds made me take it even more seriously. Convenience came in the way of an IR remote but not one of those plastic throw-aways; rather, here was a full-function wand of exceptional quality – solid, weighty and made of thick gauge aluminum that gave me control over volume, mute, dimmer, input but sadly, not power/stand-by.
The SV-237 provides five stereo RCA line inputs, one USB input (limited to 16bit / 48 kHz), one stereo RCA record-out, one pre-out, two remote power triggers and two full sets of left and right five-way binding posts for running two pairs of stereo speakers. However, no phono-stage input. As mentioned, this is a hybrid amplifier, where pre-amplification is vacuum tube based (uses three tubes 1 x 12AX7 and 2 x 6NIP-EV), while power-amplification is fully solid state, in the attempt to marry the best of both worlds. Frequency response is specified as being 20 Hz to 20 kHz, with a power output capability of up to 2 x 150 Watts (8 ohms) and 2 x 250 Watts (4 ohms). Amplification stays in ClassA up to 10 Watts/ch (8 ohms) before switching to ClassAB. Finally, total harmonic distortion is 0.1 % (1 Watt, 1 kHz) with a signal-to-noise ratio of 82.8 dB.
Mok and Martensen Inc., the Canadian distributor for Vincent, recommended pairing the SV-237 with the quadral (spelled in lower case) Aurum Altan VIII ($3,000) stand-mount loudspeakers. At the 2013 Salon Son & Image show in Montreal, I was taken by the exacting sound of the much more expensive quadral Aurum Titan VIII ($24,000) floorstanding speakers, driven by Vincent premiumLine components - so I happily accepted the offer of the Altan VIII. The Altan is designed and built by quadral in Germany. The German electronics and speaker company - quadral, has been around since the early 70’s and produces a number of loudspeaker lines and models – Aurum is quadral’s flagship loudspeaker brand. When I received the Aurum Altan VIII, I was enamored by its clean finish and sedate lines; dressed in a high-quality cherry real-wood veneer. The look was austere, though softened just a touch by gently contoured side panels. These speakers also had an integrated base that raised the speaker’s bottom panel up by about 0.25” atop four barely visible cylindrical metal pedestals – common amongst base ported speakers; however, the Altan is a rear-ported design.
The Aurum Altan is a 2-way standmount bass-reflex model that combines a quadral designed-and-built Kapton membrane magnetostatic tweeter with a proprietary 6.7” alloy (ALTIMA: aluminum, titanium and magnesium) cone mid-base driver. Power handling is up to 120 Watts and frequency response is a very respectable 38 - 65,000 Hz. With a sensitivity of 87 dB/1W/1m and impendence range of 4 to 8 ohms the Altan calls for good amplification. The Altan measures 16” (H) x 8.75”(W) x 13.5” (D) and weighs 27.75 pounds. The magnetic grills fit wonderfully and left no trace of their existence on the speaker front baffles – kudos to quadral on this attention to detail.
The SV-237 came to me partially broken in; however, I gave both the integrated amplifier and the Aurum Altan speakers a solid 300+ hours before beginning to evaluate them. In my evaluation of the SV-237, I used both the Altan and my resident Audio Physic Sitara 25 loudspeakers, both of which I connected using KimberKable’s 8TC speaker cable. I also switched in my reference Bryston BP6 / 4BSST2 amplification from time to time. Music came from my Squeezebox Touch, playing both CD-ripped and hi-resolution audio files via a Bryston BDA-1 DAC on loan from a friend - thanks Great Chief (Suave Kajko).
I listened to a CD-rip of the Fourplay album “4” and the track Sexual Healing. This is a slow paced song with a firm groove and great bassline, as played by Nathan East. The track, with the Altan in step, had a delightful sparkle and healthy upper-extension, revealing a feathery lightness, much like I’ve come to expect from well-designed exotic tweeters. Noteworthy, is the fact that the SV-237 did not disappoint, despite the obvious transparent nature of the Altan. I got a little carried away, given the ease of this track and its catchy bass strings, turning the volume up to 3/4 on the dial for a totally immersive experience. Even at this very high volume the track remained punchy and dynamic with a taut bottom end and crisp though smooth treble. Only on the heaviest notes did I perceive any dynamic restraint and hardening of sonics, which I attribute more to the speakers reaching their power limits than the SV237 running short on reserves. Hooking up my Sitara 25 loudspeakers produced an increase in transparency, detail, and texture, across the spectrum, which I expected, given that they are almost twice the price. There was also some further opening up of the soundstage in all dimensions. Vocals were a little fuller providing for a more in-the-room experience - some likely the result of the Sitara’s larger cabinet. With both speakers the SV-237 showed its proficiency with imaging. The Vincent integrated was capable of discretely holding elements in the track in place, across the volume range. To shed light on this experience, I can say that vocals were layered – with the lead singer clearly forward of the back-up vocals, a high-hat was firmly planted just inside and behind the left speaker, with an electric guitar playing deeper and farther to the left, again independent of the speaker. The bass guitar strings were solidly planted low and centre and ambient synth sound-effects floated noticeably higher to both the left and right. The soundstage was moderately deep but enveloping. The SV-237 could obviously handle dynamics and produce solid bass extension with a good measure of finesse in the high-frequency realm. It also could clearly demonstrate nuances in performance between the two pairs of high performance speakers that I had at my disposal.
I moved to one of my favorite albums and a staple for equipment reviews, given its combination of a full symphony with electronic instrumentation and ef-
fects - none else than the “Tron Legacy Soundtrack” by Daft Punk. The dynamic track Rinzler was first up. The heavy, quick strikes on the tympani drums were visceral, dynamic, quick and full. The weight of the electronic bass notes filled my room and produced an immersive soundstage. The feeling I was given was that of grace under pressure – unlike many integrated amplifiers that sound lovely at low volumes, the SV-237 was capable of remaining composed at very high levels. The Vincent integrated was also able to drape a consistent level of warmth and maintain musicality at volume levels that typically become steely and harsh with lesser examples of affordable audio components –demonstrating the robust and stable nature of the SV-237’s output stage and toroidal power supply. Compared to my reference Bryston pre & power amplifier combo – the SV-237 held its own. What was noticeable was the SV-237’s fuller and warmer sound. The Bryston combo did produce a noticeably larger soundstage, brought forth an incremental level of delicacy and transparency and extended further at both ends of the frequency spectrum with greater absolute control but the mid-bass weight of the SV237 provided a more authoritative sound. Moving to the next track, The Game Has Changed, the opening synthesized drum beats were delivered with energetic impact and slam – with no apparent softening. However, as the track picked up and the violins, horns and electronic sound-effects kicked in I did notice a slight sense of congestion, only in direct comparison to my Bryston pairing. To be clear, the SV-237 in no way sounded offensive in this area, rather, it was more that the Bryston duo was able to reach a couple rungs up on element separation, mind you, at three times the price. The SV-237 was clearly able to produce an ample amount of high-quality bass with only a slight give on extreme grip and articulation at the very lowest frequencies. In the arena of bass weight and low-frequency control, I’m confident that the SV-237 will outperform many integrated amplifiers near its price.
I next turned to another one of my more recent go-to albums – “The Imagine Project” by Herbie Hancock, CD-rip. The opening track, Imagine, was enlightening, as it revealed something I had not heard before from the SV-237, a slight extra liveliness, giving the opening heavy piano notes a little glare – this seemed to be the only instance of this, perhaps due to a combination of factors – the precise pitch, the room… however, I did hear it with both sets of speakers and not with my Bryston amplifiers. Moving on, I noted Pink’s opening vocals had an earthy fullness, sounding complete in tone and very present – the sense of her being in my room definitely came across – just short of being able to see her tats and mascara. I took note of the reverb of her voice against the surrounding venue walls that helped to define a well-sized soundstage. The plucks of the bass guitar expressed the string tension and effectively drove the rhythm. On the track, Don’t Give Up, piano keys were revealed with natural detail, carrying with it a good measure of bloom, sparkle and reverb, something I’m accustomed to hearing with my reference setup. Vocals again had an organic richness supporting realism. I moved to the tribute to Bob Dylan’s - The Times, They Are A’Changin’. Here piano keys were delivered with a convincing radiance and warmth. Cymbal play on this track involves a lot of light pattering and the SV237 was up to producing the shimmer with its metallic character intact. Vocals were distinct with natural warmth and next came the Africankora - a string instrument with a very unique sonic signature. Not only was the SV-237 able to lay bare this instrument’s inherent string nature but also its characteristic harmonic qualities – making the kora sound like… a kora. The very quick plucks in which the kora is played calls for an amplifier with a quick clean response and correct tone – here the SV-237 proved to be very capable. The Vincent integrated amplifier, through the Aurum Altan, was impressive in its ability to deliver on treble details, while bass reproduction was extended, taught and resolute. I noticed that with the Sitara 25, the SV-237 was able to deliver voices with an even greater level of integrity by more completely revealing midrange body.
I have to admit that when I introduced the Vincent SV-237 into my system I was a little skeptical of its potential to keep me entertained. After all, I’ve grown accustomed, perhaps a little spoiled, by my reference equipment. However, within a short while I found myself losing my memory of that which came before and just enjoying the smooth, dynamic, fullbodied and detailed way in which the Vincent integrated served up the music. Was the SV-237 on the same plane as my Bryston amps? I can’t quite say that. The SV-237 had a few foibles too – it got quite hot on extended use (not unexpected for a tube hybrid) and the volume with the remote was just too jumpy – these though are nit-pickings. Overall, the Vincent integrated delivered on all measures, whether that be imaging, power reserves, tonality, control, detail or musicality. In fact, the Vincent was bolder in nature than myBryston gear– carrying the music with strength and potency. Where the Bryston gear pulled ahead was in its capability to deliver further on subtleties – providing greater frequency extension and control at the limits, more openness/air within a larger soundstage and greater detail, while coming across as more effortless – disappearing from the music rather than carrying it. This though is what high-end is all about, pushing the finer details to the limits. The fact that the Vincent SV237 comes so close to equipment at three times its price is an undeniable testament to its performance and value. I could only wish that all affordable amplifiers might execute so masterfully.
Honorable Mention: The Aurum Altan VIII proved itself to be a wonderful standmount speaker with amazing top-end extension, detail retrieval and bass reproduction that was well-matched to the Vincent SV-237.