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Spread Spectrum Technologies Thoebe II preamplifier and Son Of Ampzilla II stereo power amplifier Review

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Driving Sound Lab U-4ia Euphoria

What I observed as detailed in the preceding paragraph is a shame because the quality of the sound is extremely good when the SST combo is used with electrostatic speakers. I had occasion to also use the new Sound Lab U-4iA Euphoria with the Thoebe II and Son of Ampzilla II, and once again the experience was remarkable.

I consider myself blessed to have the latest, smallest of the Sound Lab Ultimate series speakers in my listening room. It was this speaker system, along with the King III, which convinced me that SST components are at home with badass speaker systems. SST is making more affordable electronics which can do big music with excellence – big rock, big electronic, big orchestra – you name it, the SST pairing can do it upscale and upscaled. I would go so far as to say that the Sound Lab U-4iA and SST combo are super-synergistic, among the better matches of electronics and speakers I have assembled.

When I want to test a system for awe-inspiring sound I might turn to the track  “Fundamentum” by Lesiem. Synthesized backgrounds are filled in with Latin chorus and English lead vocals. Scale is the operative word, and the Sound Lab U-4iA lived up to its name as the piece exploded into a seemingly horizon-wide event with rock solid palpability. Older works such as the Alan Parsons Project’s Amonia Avenue needed only one bump (+1) on the bass to compensate for an anemic bottom-end in the recording, after which adjustment I felt drawn back to my college days when I could replay the music with gusto for half a day and never tire of it.

At the other end of the spectrum, I often wish to play at closer to live level  “Never” from Heart’s Greatest Hits but do not because it is skewed with too much upper frequency energy. However, one flick of the finger – OK, two flicks to be precise – resolves the problem with the entire album, not just one song! By bumping the treble down one notch (-1) my ears relax and can lift the listening level without irritation.

 

DAC with preamp or preamp with integrated DAC?

I had occasion to conduct some light comparisons between two contemporary integrated sources. The Exogal Comet is a DSD-capable DAC with digital preamp, and the Thoebe II is an analog preamp with a DSD-capable DAC. So, which is superior? Which way should the audiophile lean when it comes to building a better system?

When I started comparisons I thought one or the other would prove to have a clear edge in performance, but now I suggest they are equally valid paths toward superb file playback and streaming audio. The Comet is a more innately, tonally rich DAC and serves up a bit more generously scaled soundstage, however it has no means to correct for an imbalance tonally if a mismatch occurs between it and the source or preamp. The Thoebe II, on the other hand, offers well-executed adjustments for just that purpose.

The outcome of which was preferable independent of the Son of Ampzilla II was inconclusive. Every time I switched speakers or rewired the system the lead changed between the Comet and the Thoebe II. I was forced to conclude that as they sit either one can be made to outperform the other, but this is dependent upon the system established. However, this takes not at all the potential synergy of the sibling Son of Ampzilla II into account. I discuss this further, below.

When I hear the SST Thoebe II, my ears remember the precision, but also the at-times-clinical nature of the ESS Sabre chips. When I hear the Exogal Comet, I recall many times reaching for an alternative power cord in a bid to improve the punch and drive of the system. I can make either one obey my whims and control not just a suitable, but also a thoroughly captivating audio system. Still, it is a lovely thing to have the Thoebe II’s convenience of a push-button solution to the tonality issues that might face a system.

 

A most rousing rendezvouz with the Trio15 Voxativ

Another unexpected pleasure of this SST review was the stirring of my soul by the partnering of the newly hatched, Pure Audio Project Trio15 Voxativ speaker. Previously, as can be read in my review of the same, I familiarized myself with the competent Pure Audio Project TB15, which uses a similar class of driver, the 8” full range Tang Band, supplemented with the Neo15 woofers. As delightful an experience as that was, my spirit soared when I heard the Voxativ. My, oh, my, I had not known such things were possible with single driver speakers!

If one could distill the virtues of the electrostatic down to one driver, this would be the result. I sat astonished that a single driver could sift through so much information and lay it out neatly. The tonality was nothing short of breathtaking! Excuse the hyperbole, but the experience made quite an impression, such that I am being forced to reconsider single driver speakers entirely.

I will say more about this in my review of the Voxativ version of this speaker, but suffice to say there exists in full range drivers as much variance in performance as components such as amplifiers and turntables. Remember, this experience was at the hands of the unusual SST products, not a cherry picked DAC, pre and amp. That the Thoebe II and Son of Ampzilla II could pull off that performance bumped the “Premium Component” assessment gauge a few notches upward.

 

Parting thoughts

The two primary interests I had in working with the SST products were to determine whether a preamp with internal DAC could be justified in terms of performance. It can, and the Thoebe II is a fine example of the upscale sound available to persons looking to save money though melding a DAC and preamp. The other avenue of exploration was the competency of the Son of Ampzilla II as a push-pull amp to power all manner of speakers. It did so with aplomb, making it in my mind the more extreme component of the two.

SST may wish to find an avenue through which they can offer an upgrade path for the DAC section of the Thoebe II, so that prospective purchasers will not fret over obsolescence in this rapidly changing digital environment. However, in an absolute sense it will likely be quite some time before the Thoebe II would be considered to offer compromised digital sound.

My position on these two is that with all the fretting begotten of uncertainty of performance conditioned upon a guess, a mixture of brands, the audiophile can turn the situation in his/her favor by capturing the synergy of the Thoebe II and Son of Ampzilla II. Individually, the two stand with very good, popular components. Together, they take much of the guesswork out of shopping for a sound, and with tone and phase controls come closer to assuring a favorable result than blind selection of gear.

SST seems to be gradually moving more mainstream, away from idiosyncratic appearance and design, to familiar territory both in terms of design and appearance. This is good, not only for these components holding value, but for reassurance that they should work very well for you. Having used them with electrostatic, dynamic hybrid and full range, supplemented speakers and finding laudable sound, I’m confident they will reward you as well, and when well set up convince you that you have discovered one of the greatest secrets in all of the High End.

 

Associated Components:
Source: Macintosh Mac Mini; Sonos Digital Music System; Musical Fidelity M1CDT Transport
Playback Software: HQPlayer; Amarra 2
NAS: Buffalo Linkstation 500G
DAC:  Eastern Electric Minimax DSD DAC Supreme with Burson, Dexa NewClassD and Sparkos Labs Discrete Opamp Upgrade; Exogal Comet DAC and upgrade power supply, ifi Micro USBPower and Micro DAC
Preamp: TEO Audio Liquid Preamplifier; VAC Renaissance Signature Preamplifier MkII; Cambridge Audio 840E
Amps: Red Dragon S500; VAC Phi 200; First Watt J2 (two)
Integrated: Musical Fidelity M6i
Speakers: Kingsound King III; Legacy Audio DSW Clarity Edition; Kings Audio King Tower omnidirectional; Vapor Audio Joule White 3
Subwoofers: Legacy Audio XTREME HD (2)
IC’s: TEO Liquid Splash-Rs and Splash-Rc; TEO Liquid Standard MkII; Clarity Cable Organic RCA/XLR; Snake River Audio Signature Series Interconnects; Silent Source “The Music Reference”
Speaker Cables: TEO  Cable Standard Speaker; Clarity Cable Organic Speaker; Snake River Audio Signature Series Speaker Cables; Silent Source “The Music Reference”
Digital Cables: Clarity Cable Organic Digital; Snake River Audio Boomslang; Silent Source “The Music Reference”
USB: Verastarr Nemesis; Clarity Organic
Power Cables: Verastarr Grand Illusion; Clarity Cable Vortex; MIT Oracle ZIII; Xindak PF-Gold; Snake River Audio Signature Series; Silent Source “The Music Reference”
Power Conditioning: Wireworld Matrix Power Cord Extender; Tice Audio Solo

 

Copy editor: Laurence A. Borden

3 Responses to Spread Spectrum Technologies Thoebe II preamplifier and Son Of Ampzilla II stereo power amplifier Review


  1. Frank Wong says:

    Hi Doug,

    You have listened to many Pass amps. How close in sonic signature is the SOA II to the Pass XA30.8? Is it true that the SST amp sounded c warmer than the Pass X600 monos?

  2. Frank,
    God’s Joy to you,

    I have to date worked with three Pass products; two Pass Labs amps and the First Watt J2. Why do you not believe my statement in the article about the Son of Ampzilla II being warmer than the X600? I have told you the truth as I heard it in my system. Some people find it incredible that any amp might be warmer, richer, etc. than a Pass Labs product. Each amplifier manufacturer has his (or her) own sonic signature, and they can vary widely.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  3. Frank Wong says:

    Thanks Doug! God bless you!

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