The Vincent SV-236 arrived in a battered cardboard box with worn packaging that offered no clue as to what lay within—a gleaming brushed-aluminum integrated amplifier whose looks, features and performance belie its $1795 suggested retail price.
One of several new Vincent models that debuted at the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show, the SV-236 is a hybrid integrated dual-triode pre-amp mated to a solid state power amp, a design approach long proven to deliver the best of both worlds—the warm harmonic richness of tubes and the dynamic authority of solid state. Just say "no" to the heat and reliability problems of output tubes and the weight of output transformers.
Externally, the Vincent is a beauty— elegantly designed and nicely crafted, silver throughout except for the black rear panel. Upfront are four large, easy-to-use knobs, three selfexplanatory function buttons (POWER, TONE, LOUD), and six input indicators. The sides of the unit are thin-vaned heat sinks, all perfectly polished—no sharp edges anywhere, unlike many more expensive amps.
In the center of the thick faceplate is an amber-lit round window, through which is visible one of the tubes. The amber light can be dimmed or brightened in four steps via a DIMMER button on the slim metal remote control. The input select and volume are the only functions that are duplicated on the remote and on the front panel. The remote has a MUTE button that the front panel lacks; the LOUD and TONE controls can be engaged only via the front panel. A tiny red LED embedded in the amp's motorized volume control blinks when pressing volume up or down on the remote and when the amp is muted.
The back panel on the SV-236 has six pairs of gold-plated RCA input jacks (unbalanced), two pairs of linelevel outputs (rec out and pre out, but no tape monitor input and no power amp input), and four pairs of heavyduty gold-plated five-way binding posts—two pairs for each channel, for easy bi-wiring. There's no phono input—for that you need an external phono stage. In the lower center of the back panel is a receptacle for an industry standard 15A IEC power cord. The receptacle has an inboard AC fuse holder with a 10A fuse.
The interior of the amp is equally well thought-out, with separate shielded compartments for power transformer (a "low noise" 5kV unit), preamp, motorized volume control, and power output stages. The circuit layout is spare, with high-quality parts, including a pair of compact 63V/10,000uF power supply capacitors on each output board, matched sets of complimentary output transistors (flat-pack 2SC 33519/ 2SA 1386), and poly caps in critical positions. The tone controls are passive, with all related components mounted on a separate board.
Careful circuit layout and parts selection, combined with extensive internal shielding and what must be a superb grounding scheme, make the Vincent very quiet. Even with the volume control wide open, there was little residual noise. The manufacturer specifies signal:noise ratio at 90dB.
The Vincent went into action right out of the box. I plugged it straight into the wall (no power conditioning) with the supplied AC cord and connected a 16' pair of Nordost SPM Reference bi-wire speaker cables to my Montana loudspeakers, a larger, custom-made version of the company's esteemed EPS model. My on-hand sources included a Marantz DVD-910 DVD player, an older California Audio Labs Icon CD player, and a modified Denon DVD- 2900 universal player. I used Vincent's supplied interconnect (maker unknown) as well as Kimber Silver Streak and a 2 meter pair of Nordost Quattro Fil.
What was immediately most apparent was the Vincent's ability to produce deep, powerful, authoritative bass. No bigger than a budget-priced A/V receiver, the Vincent SV-236 is a serious powerhouse. The seemingly bottomless bottom end had me plowing through my CD collection for bassheavy favorites—Patti Smith's superb cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry," on Land, her two-disc retrospective [Arista Records], Kitty Margolis' jazzy treatment of "Money" on Left Coast Life [Mad-Kat Records], Pink's awesome hit "There You Go" from Can't Take Me Home [Laface/Arista], or Chuck Prophet's seductive "You Did" from his recent Age of Miracles [New West Records]. The Vincent/SPM/Montana combo was a winner in the bass department—no subwoofer needed.
But should you be so inclined, the Vincent's "pre out" jacks are ideal for feeding an active subwoofer. So configured, my James 10 SG provided plenty of low-end reinforcement with the Montanas. It's important to have the right amount and the right quality of bass reinforcement—music without a strong foundation feels as insubstantial as a house built on stilts, as unsatisfying as a meal of cotton candy.