Vin­cent SV-237 In­te­grated Am­pli­fier with Au­rum Al­tan VIII Speak­ers

NOVO - - PRODUCTREVIEW - Ge­orge de Sa

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.

per­for­mance

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.

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