Vincent SA-94 Preamp and SP-995 Mono Power Amps

One of the first of the brands to design in Europe and build in Asia from the outset, Vincent is perhaps best known for its valve designs. In fact, the company is completely device agnostic, as the SA-94 preamp and SP-995 mono power amps ably demonstrate. These are solid-state amplifiers through and through; in fact, the range is known as ‘SolidLine’ (as opposed to its ‘TubeLine’).

They are also truly balanced, dual mono affairs. The channels in the line preamplifier are about as separate as its possible to get in one chassis. OK, so the SA-94 has just one plug socket, but almost immediately after that the juice separates to two toroidal transformers (one per channel). The pre uses a Vincent-developed FET module, which acts to DC-couple the ¬five single-ended and one balanced input. It’s an elegantly obvious device to operate in some respects, with hard buttons assigned to inputs below the display, the basic display tells you all you need to know without super fluous extra features, and there’s not much in the way of multifunction front panel keys. Everything is also replicated on the remote control (and more… there’s a balance control that is not on the front panel). The only thing to confuse the listener… the old-school volume knob has been replaced by large up/down buttons on the right hand side.

Improved and enhanced from Vincent’s SP-991 (with a DC Servo, using a OPA2604 op-amp in the power supply), the SP-995 monoblocks sports 15 FET output devices and eight 10,000ìF capacitors acting as a reservoir, so that it is capable of delivering 100W in Class A into an eight-ohm load, and even 350W into a two-ohm load, which is extremely impressive. It can also be run in Class AB mode; less heat, more power, less clean sound. Think of this as the difference between ‘re¬fined listening’ and ‘partaay’. This is controlled from the front panel. The amps support balanced or single-ended operation and there is a 12V trigger circuit that can be used between pre and power to ensure power up and down happen in the right order.

The power amps offer Class A and AB sound. Use Class A, and use the amps in balanced mode. Class A and balanced brings a combination of precision and naturalness to the presentation. Class AB on the other hand takes that clarity and freezes it out, making a performance that is as cool and cold as it is powerful. If you need the additional power Class AB brings to drive your speakers for anything other than parties, ¬find some other amps.

Staying squarely in Class A then, the combination of the pure and as clear as a mountain spring qualities of the preamp are a perfect foil for the smooth re¬finement and big powerful bass of the powers. The two combine to make a sound that stays just the right side of ‘full fat’, an harmonically rich and entertaining sound that could so easily fall over into a thick and almost – flabby sound, but never, ever does.

This makes for a sophisticated sound; the kind of thing that sounds great playing Maria Callas or Miles Davis as you sip your second Rob Roy of the evening. It’s not the kind of thing you would play Green Day through while you necked your pint of snakebite. There is plenty of power on hand, but it’s graceful power. Seductive, but not tube-like. Rich, but not lush. Detailed, but not analytical and certainly not etched. But it’s perhaps this that is the main thing that delineates the Vincent from the very top of the tree. The really, really good amps often have a similarly sophisticated Miles Davis character… but can also sound good playing something from Dookie. But don’t think this compromised, instead it’s a lifestyle choice. And given that a lot of audiophiles will end up using this Vincent amp combo to play Miles Davis, it’s probably the right lifestyle choice.

This means you get a fundamentally clean and powerful sound with a very tidy and large soundstage, and excellent solidity. Playing Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique (Symphony No 6, played by Mariss Jansons and the Oslo Phil on Chandos), the size and scale of the orchestra is given full voice – and this is orchestra played large, especially in the impassioned, ‘open a vein here’ ¬first movement. It’s not just big scale, because there is a lot of re¬finement on offer too, but if there’s a soundstage to be resolved, it will be portrayed to full effect on these amplifiers.

Moving over to some classic jazz in the shape of Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley’s Somethin’ Else shows the big scale applies universally, and this small combo could do with sounding less expansive. It’s still good and open sounding, just big and full in the bass. This makes the amps ideal to partner with high-quality standmounts and some of the more clean sounding full-range standmounts, but less of a natural combination with speakers that come with bassier or more fat sounding bottom ends.

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