For many years at CES or the nearby The Home Entertainment Show, I have visited Roger Sanders and listened to his demonstrations of his electrostatic speakers. The sound has always been good and reminiscent of the many years when I owned electrostatic speakers, such as Radio Shack speakers with electrostatic top ends, Quad ESLs, both singles and doubles, Accustats, Martin Logans, and Infinity ServoStats. In addition to the quickness of electrostatics, I also recalled their dynamic and imaging limitations, which I thought were characteristics of these drivers. Then came 2009!
I wandered into the Sanders Sound room at the 2009 THE Show, sat down and waited while Sanders was answering someone’s question. When the music started, almost immediately I reacted with amazement. They were very dynamic, imaged, and mated the woofer with the electrostats seamlessly. I chose this suite as one of my top ten notable suites in my show review. Unfortunately for me, another Dagogo reviewer was also impressed and had gotten the right to do a review. But I learned that the developments that underlay the Sanders amp driving these speakers had also resulted in an amp for magnetic driver speakers. It is this Sanders Magtech amp that I am evaluating here.
While Sanders says that his ESL Amp will work on dynamic or magnetic driver speakers, he nevertheless decided to make an amp using many of the same parts but tailored to work with dynamic drivers. He states in his white paper on the ESL amp, that “Sanders Sound Systems amplifiers use a very modern, sophisticated, and expensive type of bi-polar transistor made by Motorola that combines very high power capability with an amazingly linear transconductance transfer function. As a result, we are able to reach virtually un-measurable distortion levels with only a trace of bias.” Another transistor made by ON Semiconductor is now used in both the ESL and Magtech amps, again with a very low bias, which accounts for their running so coolly. They are biased at only 7 watts at idle. Users are urged to leave the amp on even when not listening. I did notice that it takes some time when first turned on for the amplifier to reach its best–perhaps one half hour.
There are very nice binding posts and input jacks on the back along with an on/off switch which is part of an AC module. It is available in black or silver, although a purple one is shown on their web page. This is a handsome looking amp, as are the other Sanders Sound electronics.
This is the most powerful amplifier that I have ever had at 500 watts per side into 8 ohms. Since I am using 92 dB-efficient speakers, I have enormous headroom and it shows in what I hear.
Not withstanding Roger Sanders’ opinion that solid-state electronic shows no break-in characteristics, I found this amp improved greatly each day for over a week. As I am also reviewing the Synergistic Research charged interconnects and speaker wires, having used Jade Audio cabling for several years, I can also say that cabling in front of it affects its performance. Again, this was not a surprise to me. It also is affected by vibration isolation.
For the last two years, I have used the Halcyonics Micro 40 active isolation base under my amps. In my experience, this is the best isolation base. I installed the Magtech on the base in place of my reference H-Cat DF-100.2 Power Amp adjusted for the heavier Magtech and turned on the active isolation. I also merely connected the Synergistic Research Apex speaker wires and their Precision Reference interconnects from the line stage and turned the amp on. I will skip initial impressions and go to what I hear now.
The bulk of my listening centers on digital sources. I use the Exemplar Music Server with the Exemplar/Xindak Dac-5. All of the music was from hard drive copies. For some time I have been using the FIM K2 Sampler disc in evaluating systems, including at CES, THE Show, and the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I used it here also, although it is from the hard drive. The first cut, “Symphonic Dances” from Reference Records has the orchestra vividly placed in a panorama before you and has several stupendous crescendos. With no increase in the volume setting on the linestage, these crescendos were thunderous, enough to get a comment from my wife downstairs and, frankly, a wonder that I heard no protests on my speakers. This amplifier’s 500 watts per channel were well used here and frankly made me wish the H-Cat had such power. One could differentiate among the various instruments in the vivid soundstage before you, but I have to say it lacked the precision imaging that I find so striking on the H-Cat amp. Nevertheless, the dynamics, width of the sound stage, and lack of graininess in the sound, enthralled me. In the seats that I can afford when symphonic orchestras pass through my town, as well as the quality of these orchestras, I seldom experience what I heard with this and other symphonic pieces. Headroom is wonderful.
The second cut, “Zapateado”, a flamenco performance, is known to sound quite different from one system to another. Some make it sound like he is dancing on a hollow, poorly constructed floor, some that the mike stand is picking up vibrations from the floor, and yet others that he is a very heavy man. This amp gave yet another presentation, which was quite plausible but differed from what I heard on my reference amp. Furthermore, at various times the dancer moves around the floor in a circle. This was captured also on this amp. The realism is outstanding although I would not want to listen to such music for long. (Sonic Realism has many facets to it, one being dimensionality of instruments onstage; but it is always the shock factor in new experiences that gives the impression of superiority. Norm’s last comment is a good example of a seasoned audiophile, having heard most everything in the course of decades of listening, lending a fair hand at putting things in perspective. Speaking for myself, I can never get tired of haunting realism. –Ed.)
Cut five, “Touch”, has lightly struck bells that shimmer and gongs with nice decay as well as an enormous drum that just explodes on you, especially with my reference amp. It sounded much more recessed with the Magtech and although the drum had much energy, I preferred the sound on the reference amp. Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”, done by the All Star Percussion Ensemble, cut sixteen, provides an excellent test of ambience, accuracy of wood and bell timbre, and dynamics. There are substantial non-musical details in this recording, such as a thunderstorm early on, people moving around as the performance continues, and traffic noise outside. The percussion was quite dramatic with the Magtech, but the plausibility of the sound stage did not rival that of the reference amp, especially the background noises.
Until several years ago, I never found a solid-state amplifier that I could enjoy. I also grew to love SET (single-ended triode) amplifiers, which typically are flyweight in power. When I went to the Acapella LaCampanella speakers with 92 dB efficiency, I had to give up on SETs. Fortunately, there are now many exceptional solid-state amplifiers, including both the H-Cat and the Sanders Magtech. I am in a very difficult position having spent time with this amp. I like the strengths of both the Sanders and the H-Cat and realize that I cannot combine them. Were the Sanders amplifier to gain the Doppler correction circuit that is the essence of the H-Cat or the H-Cat to gain the power and dynamics of the Sanders Magtech, I could have both.
I can strongly recommend this amp for most users, perhaps with the exception of those with 100 dB-plus efficient speakers where its power may be of concern. Noise may also be a problem with such speakers, but I hear none in my speakers. It is much better than other powerful solid-state amplifiers I have heard and is also inexpensive at $5000, factory direct or through a few dealers. I would love to keep this amp available to me, but the times they are trying.
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