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AcousticPlan Sarod Preamplifier & Santor Amplifier Review

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AcousiticPlan Sarod PreamplifierAcousiticPlan Santor Amplfiier

When a Plan Comes Together – Like in a pair!

The AcousticPlan Company was formed in 1996 by German Claus Jäckle after spending 15 years experimenting on music reproduction. Claus was driven to find new and unusual ideas in the way of music reproduction. High quality components require not only innovative design and professional engineering skills, but also a devotion to craftsmanship and the relentless pursuit of perfection, according to Mr. Jäckle. The integration of superior components, e.g. special broadband drivers, signal transformers of their own development or circuits in hybrid technique far-off any mainstream, supports the design. The development and production of AcousticPlan components involves people with different professional backgrounds ranging from engineering to product design and music performance. All of them are fascinated by the art of music reproduction and devoted to continue the great tradition of German engineering.

AcousticPlan focuses on hybrid tube/solid-state architecture. Why the hybrid technique? According to the company literature the following explains their take on this subject:

“The endless quarrel about whether a tube or a transistor will yield superior sound results will never be definitely settled. But much more important than a special device (whether tube or transistor) is their integration in the circuit. Electronic components should never be evaluated as isolated parts. They are elements of a circuit that works as a whole. The pleasant and typical sound of tubes depends on their transfer characteristics. Any circuit design has to account for this. AcousticPlan uses transistors therefore only for those parts of the circuit where their parameters are superior to those of tubes: at MC Phono input (PhonoMaster) and at the power stage just for impedance converting.

The highest aim of any electronic engineering is to reproduce the original sound as authentic as possible. A closer look, however, will discover that this aim can only be realized approximately and in an illusionary way. Neither the acoustical conditions of a concert hall nor the position of the listener’s seat can be reproduced accurately. If the recording is done via multi mic arrangement the reintegration of the various tracks doesn’t have much in common with the original concert hall experience.”

Complete article is available for reading here.

The units, be they amps, preamp, phono stage or CD player all share the same aesthetics. Aluminum cabinets in compact size with thick machined aluminum face plates anodized in a brilliant, mid-hue blue. Pictures do not do the units justice. Both units come with an outboard power source of sizeable structure and weight and are tethered together with umbilical cords. This is either a blessing or a curse depending on how you view it. The main units are compact in measurement and easy to place. The umbilical is long enough to be able to put the amp and preamp on one shelf and the power sources on a shelf below them. Either way you have some choices for configuring them into your system.

The first component to discuss is the Sarod preamp. Since this is the first stage in the amplification process, AcousticPlan feels that this component is basically responsible for the sound quality of the final result. Keeping that in mind AcousticPlan has tried to minimize the number of amplification stages. By using a single triode in the signal path of the line inputs, it is felt that this minimalist design yields greater sound quality. I cannot say that I disagree after living with the unit for a few months. Set up is easy and straight forward. The way that I set them up in one of my systems was preamp with power supply on one shelf and amp with power supply on the other shelf. (See picture).

This makes for a tidy setup and as I said, it is hard to argue with the look of the units. They are simply first rate in construction and feel.

I utilized the Sarod as part of the whole AcousticPlan setup but also used it as a separate unit driving my Jolida Envoy monoblocks to see how it mated with other units. I am happy to report that it did a stellar job in both uses. I found the sound to be full with extended highs and smooth midrange without any harshness, but also a bit more restraint in the warmth zone compared to a full tube unit. This gave the Sarod a very detailed presentation overall, and I found it to bring out a bit more analytical sound from my Jolida Music Envoy monoblocks. I have tried some solid-state preamps and generally the sound becomes a bit more strident that I prefer. I have also had some tube preamps that made it all sound overly warm..

I have never used another pre-amp that sounded any better as the AcousticPlan did with the Envoys; this is really saying something. Generally the beauty of components designed to work together from the start is a symbiotic relationship that is simply hard to beat. That is the case with the Jolida system and with the AcousticPlan system. While they sound better mated with their complimenting units, the Sarod brought to the party a slightly leaner sound that tended to be a bit more analytical than the Jolida preamp but never harsh or with any glare. It was just a bit more up front overall in delivery of the fine details. I found that over a period of time I began to appreciate that sound but ultimately would not replace the Jolida preamp with it. The AcousticPlan pieces imply sound better when working together.

When listening to female vocals, what really stood out was the clarity of not the vocals but the pure background from which they emerged. In essence, what was NOT there was the most outstanding trait. You can never quite get away from some form of tube hum in a mostly tube system. Even with hybrids there is bound to be some of it. The AcousticPlan Sarod seemed to almost completely lack that particular trait and delivered a quieter and darker background in almost every application. At the end of the day that is exactly what a preamp should deliver, just the source material, which has always been one of the selling points of passive preamps: Nothing in the signal path creating noise, no matter how minute it might be.

The Santor stereo power amp follows the same design philosophy as the Sarod. It is a pure class A design and again the number of amplification stages is reduced over the more mainstream designs. The voltage amplification passes through only one triode followed by an impedance converter with MOS-FETs. AcousticPlan uses extensive protection circuits to recognize any faults in the tubes or power stage. In the case of the power stage, an extremely fast release is said to prevent damage to speakers without relays at the output.

After years of utilizing the generous output of the 211 tubes generating 200 watts per side in the case of the Jolida into 8 ohms, you get a bit spoiled. So when presented with a whopping 50 watts per channel I was not looking to be impressed. That is a good thing because this amp actually behaved and sounded like it was pushing twice the power than it actually was. What it did produces it did so with slam and punch. The one aspect of this amp that stuck out was how well it delivered the bottom-end of things. The bass was full of punch and kick. In fact a kick drum pushed out air the way you would feel it in a small club. I have sat close to drum kits in small areas and been able to feel the air come through the hole in the front skin of a kick drum. That was the same feeling I got with the Santor. Nice punch. When turned up it continued to offer up the same slam without losing any of its poise. Fast and dynamic in its delivery without any fuss or hint of resistance to being driven hard. That is what the Santor delivered time and time again. On tunes such as “The Cosmic Hippo” by Bella Fleck, the bass was not only powerful but maintained a sense of musicality, rhythm and pace. The mid range was not as sweet as I find with a pure tube setup; but again, being a hybrid, it took the best of both worlds and merged them into a package that made for a very listenable presentation without fatigue.

When mated to a number of different speakers including, but not limited to the Chario Sonnets, Usher Audio CP6311, the Tyler Acoustics D10 and a few others along the way, for good measure it seems that the AcousticPlan setup never met a speaker it did not like. Certainly when you are only providing 50 watts per channel the higher the sensitivity the better, but even my little AAD Silver Reference One monitors at 87 dB took to the AcousticPlan stuff pretty well. I imagine a speaker of 91dB or higher would be almost a perfect match for this setup and will produce very satisfying sound levels in a medium sized room. In my room there was a bit of a struggle to really get to high sound pressure levels. It usually takes an amp with a lot more power and a more sensitive speaker to be able to overwhelm my room.

As I stated earlier, I never got the opportunity to use the optional phono stage so I cannot comment on this but I can say that overall the pair were quite commendable, and AcousticPlan has done a very good job indeed of combining the strengths of both tubes and solid-state in a pleasing and very enticing way. The fit and finish is as good as I have seen, the package is nice and tidy, and the blue front face plates are to kill for. If you have a moderate size room and are not looking for the last word in concert level sound pressure levels, but rather transparency, speed and dynamic swings, this is a system that bears some close scrutiny. If you are looking for a great sounding, compact and handsome system that gives you all the benefits of both tubes and solid-state with very little in the way of the downsides of both formats, make it your plan to check out the Sarod and Santor combo.

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