Recently my itch for a new integrated started to kick in, so I visited a few local audio stores.
First, the contenders:
Krell S300i, $2500, marked down to $2100
Anthem Amp 1 (tube), $1299, marked down to $744
McIntosh MC352, $7000 (used for reference)
Raysonic SP-500 (tube), $2900, marked down to $2249 (demo)
The review material:
Radiohead, OK Computer, "Exit music (for a film)" and "Lucky"
Braveheart Soundtrack, "Betrayal and Desolation"
Pink Floyd, DSOM, "Speak to me/Breathe" and "Us and Them"
The Raysonic were first. PF's "Breathe in the Air" was absolutely mesmerizing. Oh. My. GAWD. It's like somebody plopped Waters' head about 3 feet behind the speakers, right smack in the middle and he was singing right at me. Un-freaking-believeable. I was like a little kid again. Smile all the way across my face. It sounded THAT good. Unfortunately, the more I listened, the worse it seemed to sound. "Us and Them" lacked the impact I was used to. To put it bluntly, there was zero Bass. None, zip, nada. Moving the chair around helped, but it was still anemic at best. Hmm- the only thing I can come up with is that maybe the room at the store was overdampened or the speakers were too far out into the room. The speakers got good reviews in Stereophile... Radiohead's "Exit music" was stunning until bass was asked for, and "Lucky" again lacked bass when called for. Hmm. But the midrange! Vocals were simply STELLAR. I can't believe how realistic it sounded! My first "You are there experience", and it boggled the mind. The braveheart track was simply pathetic without bass- I purposely picked this track because of it's huge transitions- from bass drums, timpanis, and horns to violins.
The Anthem came next at a different store. Immediately, slightly more forward sounding than the Raysonic. It failed to present that "you are there" impression of the Raysonic. However, bass was nice and tight and quite abundant. Well, so much for that "Tube amps lack bass" arguement. This one poured it all out for me, though without the liquid midrange and holographic imaging that the Raysonic presented. Switched over to the Mac, just for kicks to see what I was missing. Much darker- almost intriguing and seductive. The soundstage was narrower and still lacked the depth of the Raysonic. However, I found that it was perhaps a little too flat for me- not lively, not involving, but still VERY nice sounding. I liked the Anthem better, I think. However, take note: The anthem was turned up more than the Mac (unknown to me, of course..) I couldn't help but think of Eyespy's DBT testing: "The louder one will sound better". Ugh.
Enter the Krell. Pink Floyd, "Us and Them". This amp was much brighter than the Mac, with more depth and a wider soundstage. It lacked the bass control of the Mac. Again, the volume control had been turned up, but only slightly. I fixed that and played the Braveheart track again. Drums had authority, but throughout the passage, a french horn blasts along, either irritatingly or beautifully. This was irritating. I found that I wanted to turn the volume down. I think the Mac won... Otherwise, it had presence and a nice wide stage, if still not very deep. Return of the Anthem. Gone was the irritating French horn, replaced by a midly annoying horn, but with much more layering underneath. I could make out the details of the rest of the orchestra previously muddled up by the Krell. Overall, I like the Mac, but for $7000, there's no way.
I finally brought the Raysonic home for a demo on my own gear and what a difference it made. The bass had authoity (almost frighteningly so) and the soundstage was still terrifyingly real. I really don't have any words to describe it except perhaps "magical". I don't know why I even considered anything else nor why I hadn't made this purchase earlier. If I'd only known what I was missing! Simply put- this amp will never leave my listening room. I can see myself upgrading every component in my system except this one.... Trully a remarkable amplifier. If you have the means and the urge- you owe it to yourself to listen to this amplifier.
The bad's (and every piece out there has them): it runs hot as hell. You can turn the heat off in your listening room 'cause you won't need it.
Exceptional soundstage, tons of power
Similar Products Used:
Krell S300i, MacIntosh MC352, McCormack 225, Anthem AMP 1, Proceed HPA 2, Levinson 332.
This is a fantastic value in audio. 50W of delicious sound per channel. These models come with a caveat. There is a voltage issue within the circuit which will cause it to malfunction. It's an easy fix, but a nuisance. It happened to me, $70 to fix, no problem. Raysonic assures the mkII does not have this issue.
Very heavy build. It may benefit from damping as the tube covers ring like crazy. These were left out of the mkII design.
Absolutely non-fatiguing. I can listen for hours. The sound is very luscious; an expansive and forward midrange, clear and penetrative bass, smooth treble response.
Auditioned vs a Naim SuperNait and Rowland monos. Both downright stellar. The sp120 held it's own, and given the cost/performance ratio, my choice was clear.
Some reviews state the input level is too high; that on the lowest volume setting '1' it's too loud to be quiet. I noticed this but it didn't bother me. I was informed the technician and the fourth input is for high level components.
Customer service is respectable. Emails are returned by the end of the next business day. The manual is useless. Biasing the tubes recommended to be done only by Raysonic. If you have a multi-meter then you can do it yourself... the probe and adjusting screw are on the top plate just to the inside of the power tubes.
This was less than $1500, last models are around for $600-900. This is an absolute steal. Even the mkII which will retail for about $2500C would be a bargain for what you are getting. This is for you to audition if you want big sound without a big price tag.
Easily 5 stars for value, and 4 Overall because I know that there are several products in the much higher ranges that can better it.
This is my first foray into the Tube world - it was prompted by the earlier purchase of a tube Guitar Amp - a VOX. This amp was so vibrant and yet smooth I thought I would that maybe a tube amp for my audio system might be of some benefit.
WOW - was that ever an understatement!
So off I went (with my speakers) to my buddies at Lockridge Hi-hi, just north of Toronto. They setup the SP 120 with a couple of different CD players and the review began.
I had a couple of CD's that covered pretty much all genres of music that I tend to play more frequently - Classical, jazz, solo artists and some Annie Lennox, Hootie and Nellie Furtado
The in store test was pretty much what I expected - a very clean and controlled delivery, extremely spacious soundstage, very well controlled low end and beautiful clean and smooth highs
One problem with an in store demo is it is not the same as your home - we had to play with the position of the speakers, which were very boomy at times, but we eventually figured it out
So far your probably thinking - Were's the WOW ?
Well - I had heard the amp a few time before at the store and was suitably impressed, so based on that I purchased the unit. - OK I was a little more impressed than it appears above..
The WOW came when I got it home and connected it to the rest of the system.
Once out of the box I allowed it 15 minutes to warm up and then started going through some more material - it was then that the frenzy set in!
I could not believe the magnificent sound of this amplifier - smooth, clean ,detailed, controlled, spacious.
I could pick out individual musicians across the soundstage. Various types drums came to life and sounded incredible, bass details I have never heard before lept out and the voices were so smooth. And there was depth - finally I have depth
I have a BB King CD that I had found difficult to listen to because it sound so harsh - with this amp it sounds amazing.
Album after album was frantically searched out and tracks played and every one sounded incredible. I spent the whole day listening.
My conclusion is that this amp alone has sparked an enthusiasm in me which had been lacking for several years.
The look of the unit is impressive and the weight too.
It gets a little warm - so if you have kiddies mount it high on a strong stand out of reach if little fingers
It is a very simple unit - volume and an input selector with 4 inputs and a 4 or 8 ohm load capability - that's it.
The finish is amazing and it looks really cool too!
It does have a remote control (cheap plastic), but the boys at Lockridge supply the upgraded metal control for free.
The volume control is a little different in that the change is not immediate - it adjusts the volume to the newly selected level at a predefined rate - a little strange.
It likes reasonably efficient speakers so I'm told - so I would suggest another model if you have exotic speakers that need a lot of power - but I have seen this one handle sever floor standing models in the store, including Tannoy and the smaller Neat floor standing speakers with ease.
My setup is:
- Magnat Speakers (German 3-way design - 8" woofer)
- Pioneer Elite DVD
- Rega P2 with RB250 and Ortofon cartidge
The previous amp was an old Yamaha Receiver - so now you know why I found such a huge difference!
This amp is designed in Toronto and manufactured in China under very tight quality control.
If you like all genres of music then give this amp a listen - it will not disappoint you. - you can listen to this puppy all day without fatigue - trust me!
I now use the Yamaha for it's Tuner section and this amp even makes the radio sound good.
The upgrade for me was mazing - if you haven;t tried a tube amp get out and give this one a listen.