The James sub was of more value in support of a pair of Silverline SR-11 mini-monitors, by nature unable to render low bass unaided, but otherwise lovely performers. On 30" metal stands, and well out into the room, the Silverlines, driven by the Vincent, sang like Ferarri-red songbirds. Great amps should be capable not only of powerful, visceral bass, but of great delicacy, too. Bernadette Peters was right there in the room. "Cupid," "Blackbird," and "Hills of Shiloh/Faithless Love" on her CD I'll Be Your Baby Tonight [EMI] were rendered with all the shimmering detail one would expect from excellent hi-fi gear—airiness and image stability in equal measure. Kathleen Battle's live performance of the Gershwin classic "Summertime" from Kathleen Battle at Carnegie Hall [Deutsche Grammophon] is perhaps the ultimate test of audio delicacy, one in which the Vincent scored a perfect 10.
When it comes to hi-fi, I trust my own judgment—I've been messing about with audio for a very long time— but I also value the opinions of colleagues. Part of my agenda with the SV-236 was to hear it with other speakers and auxiliary gear in another location.
a seasoned audiophile with an eclectic taste in music, to spend an evening with the Vincent driving some of his speakers. We had pounded the pavement in Las Vegas at CES this past January, but both of us had somehow missed the Vincent products. He's got a world-class home theater—Legacy Whispers powered by Halo JC-1 amplifiers upfront and James S-103 speakers in the rear, for example.
For this audition we "turned around backwards," facing the opposite way we usually would for movies and music, and used the James as a stereo pair, pulled out into the room and fed from the Vincent via the same SPM Reference, but using the twochannel output from his Denon DVD- 5900 as a source. We listened to some of the same material I had tried at home—Chuck Prophet was as prophetic over the James as he had been over the Montanas, with similar bowels-of-the-earth bass. We also listened to several two-channel SACDs—Aimee Mann, Patricia Barber, and Elton John. All of them proved worthy—the Mann for its densely orchestrated production, the Barber for its dark moodiness, and Elton John primarily for the placement of instruments in the soundstage. The SV-236 never failed to deliver no matter what task we gave it.
Marc mentioned that the Vincent seemed capable of "almost surroundlike imaging" even though it's a basic two-channel amp. Like me, he was taken by its sheer effortless power and musicality. Not wishing to contaminate the experiment with any notion of value—there is way too much "label drinking" in hi-fi circles—I hadn't mentioned anything about the Vincent's price.
After an evening of listening, he called it an impressive piece of gear. "How much? Four or five grand?" he asked. "Guess again," I replied. "Try eighteen hundred bucks." Silence, then, "That puts it in an entirely different light . . . Wow."
The Vincent SV-236 is very much state-of-the-art, but in some respects is also an old-school integrated. The tone controls, for example, let you easily correct for bass-shy speakers or overly-bright rooms or recordingstasks that audiophiles often approach though ornate experimentation with cables and room treatments and component synergy. The inclusion of tone controls will make some purists sniff, but so what? Somewhere along the way audiophiles got this bizarre, misguided notion that recordings were perfect and that including tone controls in amplifiers somehow besmirched their perfection. It's beyond ridiculous.
The object of the game shouldn't be about going broke in the pursuit of some abstract Holy Grail of Hi-fi. It should be about enjoying the widest variety of music with the greatest degree of enjoyment at the lowest possible cost. By that measure, the Vincent SV-236 is a winner. If you're looking for long-term musical satisfaction, real-world versatility, and compatibility with almost every loudspeaker on the planet at a price that won't put you in debt for the next five years, the Vincent is for you.