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Amp/Preamp Asylum: REVIEW: Song Audio Ltd SA-1 Preamplifier (Tube) by aleksm@polyorb.com

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REVIEW: Song Audio Ltd SA-1 Preamplifier (Tube)

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Model: SA-1
Category: Preamplifier (Tube)
Suggested Retail Price: $3600.00
Description: Seperate Power Supply & Pre-amp
Manufacturer URL: Song Audio Ltd
Model Picture: View

Review by aleksm@polyorb.com ( A ) on December 25, 2003 at 07:15:48
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for the SA-1

I first saw the SongAudio preamp at the Montreal show a
few years ago. I thought that it looked nice, I don't think that it was
playing, and as many such things I did not pay too much attention to the
product. Through a fortunate set of circumstances, I had a chance to hear the SongAudio preamp at my place during the last listening party mid-august of this year. I as well as the other attendees of the listening party were immediately

taken a-back by the incredible musicality of this product and the tremendous difference it made in a A/B listening scenario - Herron/SongAudio. It made such a difference, that quickly we just unplugged the Herron and left the SongAudio preamp plugged in, and never went back to the Herron. I have lived with the SongAudio preamp now for about a month and a half or so, and purposefully, did not want to write about it until I have had an opportunity to live with it for a while..... I am not a reviewer, but I have lived with this unit for a while, and I wanted to let you know about my experience with it...

The SA-1 is a very ordinary looking unit, 3 toggle switches, a balance
control a volume control and an on-off switch on the power supply. The unit is in two parts - a power supply and the actual control unit (volume/balance). The front is a lovely shiny mirror type finish, the balance and volume switches feel like very high quality (gold color) controls. The rest of the switches (on/off, select and power) feel a little old fashioned, although very solid. Upon turning the unit on, after 20
seconds or so the unit does a soft power-up just like the Herron. Before I get to the sound of the unit, I want to state a couple of minor issues I have with the unit. First of all, the selection of the
input is done via two toggles - either select phono, or line, and then on the other switch you select either Line 1 or Line 2. I can appreciate the
ingenuity of having three inputs and two switches, but the arrangment
is in my opinion a little confusing... The second quibble I have is the mute switch, it would have been nice, that when a mute is selected, that the LED change it's color to something that would indicate visualy that the mute is selected. These are the only two issues I have with this unit. Otherwise, the unit looks and most importantly SOUNDS outstanding. I can appreciate that SongAudio wanted to save money in "frills" such as my quibbles above and save that money, by investing into what appear to be very high quality components. That is appreciated... After all, it's about the music isn't it?? I am no electrical engineer, but I can see that there is a tube used in rectification in the power supply, and a couple of more tubes in the unit itself... The preamp also comes with it's own power cord, which I have been told is a silver wire power cord.

The sound of the preamp is such that it realy has no signature of it's own that I can tell of, but instead, it ever so gently (and without favor to any specific sound range) controls the volume and passes the signal on to the amp itself. This results in incredible DETAIL which manifests itself as the actual SPEED of delivery of the sound. What SongAudio preamp is is DETAIL DETAIL DETAIL, SPEED SPEED SPEED, and IMAGING the music sources very precisely. Depth and width are there too. But, this is perhaps the preamp with the greatest amount of detail and speed that I have ever heard. Where with the Herron, I was able to hear a very detailed violinist perform, with the SongAudio you are able to hear the bow and the resin of the violin. That is the kind of detail that I am talking about. Where Herron glossed over the details, the SongAudio delivered all the details, whether you wanted them or not... A couple of things that would have been nice on the preamp - a color LED to indicate muting, and possibly a phase switch. However, if these 'frills' are sacrifised for the sake of superlative
sound , then so be it.. The preamp is not cheap - $5000 CDN. This is a unit
for the audiophile who is definitely COMMITED to two channel audio. It sounds equaly good with CD and analog front ends, and the superlative detail and speed are heard on both kinds of sources. I also don't seem to need to crank up the volume as loud with the SongAudio to get a reward in detail. The detail can also be heard in the bass, it is very very snappy and fast. I have come to the realization of how good the rest of my gear actualy is. My amp and the analog front end is actually much better then I thought.... Once more, I am convinced that the preamp is actually the heart of your system. It NEEDS to be good, because it controls the sound. It is the only piece of gear that needs to modify sound in your system, and it HAS to be good. Where other gear in your system is designed to get out of the way of modifying the signal, the preamp actualy needs to modify your signal (volume/balance). Is 5K realy a lot of money for a volume controller? If you can get a preamp this good, and it improves your musical experience to a point where you don't need to upgrade another piece of gear, then, you are 'ahead of the game'... Are there preamps
better then this? Yes probably. Are there preamps that cost more and don't
sound as good - definitely. An Aesthetix preamp, or a Jadis preamp can
probably out-detail the SA-1, but not at this price point....

Regards, a.m.

Product Weakness: Awkward switches.
Product Strengths: Musical detail, speed of delivery, imaging widht and depth. Natural and relaxed presentation.

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: BelCanto SE-40
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): SongAudio SA-1
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Michell Gyro SE
Speakers: Meadowlark Herron
Cables/Interconnects: NBS
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Jazz/Classical
Room Size (LxWxH): 24 x 18 x 8
Room Comments/Treatments: audio sponge on walls
Time Period/Length of Audition: 2 months
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): Chang Lightspeed
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: Song Audio Ltd SA-1 Preamplifier (Tube) - aleksm@polyorb.com 07:15:48 12/25/03 ( 0)