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Sanders Sound Magtech Mono Amplifiers Review

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The opportunity to review Roger Sanders’ products practically came overnight when a local audiophile called and said his demo period was over and Roger had agreed the Magtech Mono Amplifiers could be hauled to my place. An extended listening proved them worthy of public comment.

This is a somewhat abbreviated article in which I forego the peripheral accouterments of a review in favor of a leaner approach. I normally discuss much of the designer/manufacturer’s background and philosophy. I also typically build several systems with various configurations. There will be little of that, except what is pertinent to my conclusions. There will also be fewer anecdotes and commentaries.

I will try to include some listening impressions with particular pieces of music, but most of my discussion will be descriptions of relative performance characteristics. Thanks for understanding that this review may not contain some expected elements, such as details regarding setup and tuning relative to the room, etc.

The Magetech Amplifier was originally designed by Roger as a part of a complete system for use with the Sanders electrostatic hybrid speaker (the current iteration is the Model 10). Over time the amplifier has gained a reputation for excellent build quality and for excellence in use with other panel speakers. As the mono amps were available to me, I thought there would be much potential upside to trying them, especially with the Kingsound King III electrostatic speakers. As magnetic planar and electrostatic speaker owners know, these transducers are often challenging to “wake up,” that is, to play with the intensity of dynamic speakers. Those with lower power amps discuss how the listening level has to be high before the speakers become engaging. There certainly is truth to that! I recall when I owned a pair of Magnepan 1.6QR Speakers. The day they were delivered I thought I was the most blessed of all audiophiles on the planet. Over time I started to suspect that they were power hungry, so I took the Threshold T-50 Amplifier out of the system and put in one of Outlaw Audio’s early 5-channel amps. The absolute sound quality of the Outlaw amp was lesser than the T-50, however, I bi-wired the speakers using four channels of the Outlaw amp, and due to its superior ability to drive the speakers with more authority I continued to use it. I was enamored of big power at that time, but I might not make the same choice today. Today I would not be willing to sacrifice either quality or the ability to drive a speaker superbly.

While the soundstage and imaging of a panel speaker is particularly pleasing, it is a frustration to long for better macrodynamics. The solution widely accepted is to utilize a more powerful amplifier, one that especially provides the current to drive a panel speaker. I have found that to be true; lower powered amps such as the First Watt J2, while qualitatively superb, simply cannot infuse the panel with the same intensity as an amp like the Pass Labs XA200.8 pure Class A monoblocks currently in review. This was even so with an electrostatic panel such as the Sound Lab Ultimate 545. I recommend for any less efficient panel speaker that a higher power amplifier be used, whether tube or solid state.


With the Exogal Comet DAC

My initial use of the Magtech Monos was with the Kingsound King III. This is a rather large transducer on the order of a Sound Lab product; in fact, the King III compared in review to the Sound Lab Ultimate 545 favorably. In my listening room, the electrostatic panels are no easier to drive than the King III. Roger Sanders indicates clearly on his website and in his white papers, such speakers require more current to drive properly. More reserved amplifiers such as the First Watt J2 (25wpc) are not able to drive the speaker with great authority and to higher listening levels. A lower powered amp simply does not have enough to give. Those who have not used a higher power, higher current amp may disagree. Give an alternative amp a listen and I suspect your opinion will change.

During the review I sent my Sonore Signature Rendu SE back for an upgrade. With the Small Green Computer SonicTransporter 4T i7 AP, the Sonore was my primary source. It returned retrofitted with optical cable inputs to utilize Sonore’s systemOptique, which uses an optical converter and fiber optic cable into the unit to exchange the former Ethernet signal for an optical signal. (As that upgrade is complete at the time this article is being finalized, I strongly endorse the upgrade as well as the front end components.) As a stopgap measure, I pulled out the trusty Musical Fidelity M1 CDT Transport. Don’t laugh; this $700 device has been mind-bendingly good with DACs such as the Exogal Comet.

The amps are more warm and rolled off, yea, even lush, than I expected. I had just been using the Exogal Comet and Ion with new HyperDrive. The Exogal system is more detailed and cleaner than any DAC and amplifier combo used previously. An analogy I used years ago when comparing the sound of Pathos AcousticsClassic One MkIII amplification to that of the Ayon Audio Spirit Tube Integrated Amplifier returns to me about contrasting tastes; the Magtech is more like brown sugar and the Ion more like white sugar.

To compare closely I used the Comet also with the Magtech Amps and kept the system as unchanged as possible. Chief distinguishing characteristics were more precise musical lines drawn on instruments with the Ion, and a rounded feel on instruments with the Magtech. To give perspective, the Gold Note PA-1175 Amps, which I also used mostly in mono, have a Damping Factor switch that makes them sound in high damping mode like solid state, and in low damping mode like tube amps. The Magtech leaned toward the low Damping Factor sound of the Gold Note amps.

The Comet and Ion combo seemed lighter, less weighty, or perhaps with less “authority.” On a duet of “Wichita Lineman” featuring Jimmy Web and Billy Joel, it was apparent that the edges of notes and images of instruments were precisely drawn, whereas with the Comet and Magtech Monos those lines were smoothed, or perhaps one might say a rounding effect was heard. Part of that may be due to the Comet working without the additional two cores of DAC chips that were provided in the Ion, which worked in tandem with the Comet’s two DAC cores. It was not just the Magtech that seemed more smoothed when the Comet was used alone, it has been a characteristic of any amplifier used with the Comet alone.

There was an apparent ease of driving the King III with the Magtech Mono that escaped the Ion PowerDAC. Most amps that visited my room had a fairly high “replaceability factor” as they just could not drive these speakers robustly enough. I did not get that sense with the Magtech, which was a very good impression of the overall quality of its performance. Unlike most Class D amps with higher power I have handled, the Magtech, which is not Class D, avoided the “white and bright effect,” the bleaching of tones in exchange for precision and transient speed. Half kidding, I wondered if the Magtech has a “politeness circuit” to make it amenable to electrostatic speakers. If the Magtech were tuned hotter on the treble of an ESL it would cut like a blowtorch, way too hot. All the time in use in my systems the amp never stepped out of line by seeming garish.

One of the endearing qualities of the massive power of the Magtech was that older, poorer recordings have had much life breathed into them. As the copious power created more headroom, old recordings that seemed pathetically deflated compared to contemporary ones popped out like a 3-D greeting card. Listening through Toto’s Hydra was refreshing in that the additional air space rendered with the Magtech allowed the more strident aspects of the recording to settle. The band used a lot of forward drum kit cymbals and edgier electric guitar. In most systems I am reaching for some different cables to attempt a reduction in the mid-treble to top end. Not so with the Magtech, as the mid-treble seems drawn down a bit. I doubt that I would be able to stomach the Magtech amps with Vandersteens, as I think it would put me to sleep for lack of excitement. Perhaps not so oddly in that respect the Magtech amp reminded me of the VAC Phi 200 tube amplifiers in Mono that I used extensively!

4 Responses to Sanders Sound Magtech Mono Amplifiers Review

  1. Dave P says:

    I’ve been thinking about purchasing the stereo version of this amplifier for some time but paused for thought by the documented failures in the past. Now the mono version fails — during a review, no less. I’m not interested in paying God-knows-how-much to ship a heavy power-amp half-way around the world to the US if it’s faulty just after receipt. Mr Sanders has some explaining to do if his amplifiers are to be seen as anything other than great-sounding but unreliable (thus effectively junk for the prices charged).

    • We here at Sanders Sound Systems build Magtech amplifiers from the highest quality parts available. Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, so a small percentage of parts from even the best suppliers occasionally fail, which of course, causes the amplifier to fail.

      Amplifiers contain hundreds of parts, so it is not surprising that you hear of failures. While all amplifier manufacturers suffer failures, the more amplifiers a manufacturer makes and sells, the more failures will occur. We have sold thousands of Magtech amplifiers, so even though our failure rate is very low, you have become aware of some of them.

      Because electronic failures cannot be completely avoided, manufacturers offer protection to their customers in the form of warranties. Because we build our equipment to the very highest possible quality standards, we can — and do — offer a life time warranty on our products. I am not aware of any other amplifier manufacturer who offers such fine warranty protection to their customers.

      It is standard industry practice to require the customer to pay for shipping faulty equipment to the manufacturer for warranty repair. It is the manufacturer’s responsibility to repair or replace the faulty component at no charge. The manufacturer also pays for return shipping. So our warranty shipping policy is the same as any other in this regard.

      However, we are sincerely concerned about the cost and inconvenience warranty repairs cause customers. So we build our equipment in modular format. This makes it possible for us to send warranty replacement modules to customers so that they can fix the problem themselves. This makes it possible for us to give customers — especially our many international customers — the option to get problems fixed in their home without having to ship the amplifier back to our factory. Obviously this saves them time and money. So it is rarely necessary to ship anything to our factory for warranty repair.

      In summary, we offer the best customer support and service in the industry. We genuinely care about our customers and do everything possible to assure quick, easy service should a rare problem occur.

  2. Vladimir Dorta says:

    The 1kΩ balanced input impedance is so abnormally low that I checked the factory website in case this was a typo of your review (it wasn’t). A potential purchaser should make sure to check the compatibility of his preamplifier, or use only the unbalanced outputs.

  3. Charlie Mathews says:

    Hi Douglas,
    Correct me on this doesn’t CODA build the magtecch amplifiers?

    Anyway thank you for all your work that you do reviewing equipment…

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