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SonoSonic Stereo Amplifier review
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Author:  angust63 [ Sat Oct 01, 2005 10:06 pm ]
Post subject:  SonoSonic Stereo Amplifier review

I recently purchased a SonoSonic stereo amplifier from registered CAM dealer Nelson at SonoCable. His amp is based on the Tripath TA2024 Class-T Digital Audio Power Amplifier IC. This is the chip that has had the DIY forums abuzz with introduction of the Sonic Impact amp then later various mods for it making it more worthy of audiophile acceptance. Audiophile grade Class-T amps appear to be popping up now from vendors like Red Wine Audio and their Clari-T and Bolder CableÂ’s own battery powered model (since phased out it appears).

The SonoSonic is a tiny piece of equipment. It looks like a battery pack or one of them tobacco tins Grandpa used to stash his money in. It does have clean lines and a sleek, brushed aluminum finish. IÂ’d say that, apart from its small stature, the SonoSonic would not look out of place on anyoneÂ’s hi-fi rack.

I had been in the market for an amp to tie together my analog section – a Technics SLBD20D turntable with an Ortofon TM40U cartridge, an ex-Pro phono stage made by a company called Cottage Industries out of California, and a Luxman C-02 Preamp. I was tired of unplugging my HT processor from my AMC 5-channel amp in order to listen to vinyl. When Nelson offered his SonoSonic for sale on his website, I decided that the price was right and that it would be easier swapping speaker cables (banana plugs) from it instead of RCA jacks like I have to do now.

Nelson was very good in addressing my desired application and suggested several options. I chose to include a level control so that I could plug the phono stage (or other sources) directly to the amp. The amp arrived on schedule and I couldnÂ’t wait to hook it up. I would have had it plugged in right away except that I couldnÂ’t budge the speaker terminal retainers. The ones supplied are smaller than conventional jacks and are knurled instead of being hex-shaped. With their close proximity to the high quality RCA terminals on the back, it was hard to really get a good amount of leverage to loosen them off. I will say that the speaker jacks will work fine with banana plugs or spades. I have compression style banana plugs on order so I wonÂ’t have to worry about the speaker jacks again. Heavy gauge bare speaker cables might be a worry though.

After I hooked up my 87 db 4-Ohm rated Totem Dreamcatchers, I connected my TT and phono stage directly to SonoSonic and spun a couple of LPs. I tried out Suzanne Vega’s self-titled debut album and then Joe Jackson’s “Big World.” Both sounded clear and precise. Guitars sounded natural and percussion was very detailed. I really got a sense of a wide soundstage with a sense of space between the instruments. I was most impressed with the high resolution reproduction I was hearing. I definitely liked it. If anything, the only fault I could find was that the SonoSonic couldn’t eke a bit more low level bass out of the Dreamcatchers. Admittedly, the Dreamcatchers are too small to provide much more than highly detailed mid-bass plus Ortofon cartridges have a reputation for being lean sounding. Still, I was hoping for a bit more bottom end with this arrangement.

I then tried my Rotel RSP-976’s output into the SonoSonic. I use the Rotel as my DAC for 2-channel digital music sources. The SonoSonic still impressed me. There was a lot of detail that was presented – something I love to hear in music. Playing Metheny & Haden’s “Beyond a Missouri Sky” or Peter Malick Group”s “Chance & Circumstance” (with Norah Jones on vocals) sounded cleaner and more precise than my AMC amp. The AMC has the brute power for loud volumes and big dynamics but the SonoSonic plays with way more finesse and a lot less noise. It also runs about 100 degrees cooler too.

I next hooked up my Toshiba SD-4900 DVD-Audio analog outs to the SonoSonic. Playing the same CDs yielded extremely detailed sound with a tendency to sound a bit brash. I had read that people found the Sonic Impact based modded amps tended to sound this way for quite a while until they have been fully broken in. Some have said it took almost 100 hours before it improved. I figure that I can certainly be patient and let the amp steel its character over time. I also know that I get a similar brashness playing DVD-Audio so I can certainly attribute it to the source. Bass from the CD sources was better than from my phono setup so it confirmed that the amp can reproduce bass nicely even if it is still a bit laid back. If anything, it is very detailed bass with less bloom than with my AMC amp.

I thought that I would give the turntable set-up another crack before writing this. This time, I introduced my Luxman C-02 pre-amp into the loop. All I can say is that this arrangement has me utterly floored. Wow. I mean . . . WOW!!!

Just prior to making the switch, I played my copy Ricki Lee Jones’ debut CD. I particularly love the song “Night Train.” Every part of that song appeals to me – the guitar parts, the bass, the vocals and the percussion and how it is all mixed and presented to the listener. The SonoSonic did a great job of placing the guitars on the sound stage. The drum parts were beautifully rendered. Ricki Lee Jones’ vocals sounded really good.

Since I also own this album in LP form, I spun it right away as soon as the Luxman was up and running. Did “Night Train” ever come alive! The bass line sounded more fluid and full. The brashness I heard earlier was gone. The overall sound was more refined and enjoyable. The SonoSonic still rendered the crystal clear highs with lots of detail. It’s just that it sounded a lot more natural or lifelike – less sterile if you will. What impressed me the most though was that by simply adding the Luxman and its tone controls, the bass I was missing before had rematerialized. It made my puny little Dreamcatchers sound twice as big. Subsequent albums I played with this set-up sounded just as good. In fact, the sound is so good that I would almost be certainly seeking other LPs to play so that (to use an oft-used cliché) I can hear things on them that I never heard before.

So my final thoughts are that the SonoSonic really gives me the sound and the flexibility I was looking for at what I think is a killer price. ItÂ’s a great rig that puts my current solid state amp to shame with its clarity and detail and lack of noise. It has convinced me to play vinyl now more for the high fidelity sound quality than for nostalgiaÂ’s sake.

Author:  Toby [ Sun Oct 02, 2005 6:09 am ]
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It has convinced me to play vinyl now more for the high fidelity sound quality than for nostalgiaÂ’s sake.

Good reason to play vinyl! :D

Thanks for this nice review. Bravo for all the experimenting you did, and reported on. I conclude that this tiny amp can take quite good associated gear.

I've been intrigued by this unit since I saw ( but didn't hear ) a Sonic Impact and now that I have your report I'm considering trying Sonocable's. It won't replace my tubes, I'm betting, but for a budget rig, a backup or a summer amp ( tubes get hot ! ) it seems affordable, well-built enough not to break, Canadian and cute.

Author:  sonocable [ Sun Oct 02, 2005 9:05 am ]
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Wow, thanks for the review! Its very comprehensive! I'm really glad you are enjoying the amp so much! :D


Author:  QuadESL63 [ Sun Oct 02, 2005 11:30 am ]
Post subject:  Re: SonoSonic Stereo Amplifier review

Thanks for the review! I think they are making a mono-block version soon so I will wait for that!

Author:  angust63 [ Sun Oct 02, 2005 12:02 pm ]
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Toby wrote:
It won't replace my tubes, I'm betting, but for a budget rig, a backup or a summer amp ( tubes get hot ! ) it seems affordable, well-built enough not to break, Canadian and cute.

Yeah . . . that is a good way to sum it all up too. :)

What has got me intrigued now is what a different (possibly tube-based) pre-amp would sound like with it. I'm thinking that one could feed the SonoSonic the best possible sources and it would perform like a champ. Obviously, mating it with a $2K tube pre-amp doesn't make economic sense. Still, I have my eye on something like a Dared SL-2000A tube preamp and wonder if that would be a good mate for it.

The one thing I didn't really address in my review was the SonoSonic's volume levels in my listening room. I listen to it in my basement family room which is about 12' wide by 22' long. all my AV and audio gear sits on an open shelving wall unit along one of the short walls. Even though its rated at just 9 Watts with my 4-Ohm speakers, the SonoSonic plays loud - loud enough for my room at least.

Without the Luxman, I haven't had to turn the level control past the 12:00 or 1:00 position. With the Luxman, I barely had the volume past 3 or 4. There still seems like a lot of room left if I wanted to push a bit more.

Author:  samry [ Sun Oct 02, 2005 12:32 pm ]
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I'm very happy to read this positive review of Nelson's amp. Great to have a Canadian Tripath alternative.

Author:  angust63 [ Tue Oct 11, 2005 9:09 am ]
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Well . . .

I had a chance to hook this amp up to my ancient Mission 720s last night.

This amp does bass! :)

My 8-Ohm Mission 720s are rated at 86 dBA and the SonoSonic had plenty of power to drive them. The room I have the Missions in is a large L-shaped living room/dining room. I ran the SonoSonic directly connected to a cheap DVD/VCR Combo's analog output (I know . . . hardly audiophile quality :wink: ). With the level control at the 10:00 position, the volume was very room-filling.

Playing Blue Rodeo's "Five Days in July" yielded big, well defined bass . . . as much as what I would normally get from my Luxman M-02 amp. Once again, I was pleased with the clarity and resolution the SonoSonic gives the highs and mid-range. With the Missions attached, it was a nicely balanced sound overall.

I still want to try the SonoSonic/Missions with my Angstrom 200 HED (built by Theta's Mike Moffat) connected as a pre-amp. I'm keen to hear it with what I consider to be an outstanding DAC.

Author:  sonocable [ Tue Oct 11, 2005 10:05 am ]
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Glad its working great with your Missions as well! I never heard you mentiong this "Angstrom 200 HED"... is it a DAC or is it a preamp? I can't find much info on it online.

Author:  angust63 [ Tue Oct 11, 2005 11:10 am ]
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The Angstrom was built by Mike Moffat Labs (the guy from Theta Digital). It was his first digital home theater processor. I only use it for 2-channel playback right now. It sold for about $3500 new back in the mid-90s. I bought it for about $250.00 off of Ebay mainly to be used as a DAC and also for video switching in my secondary system. I was pleasantly surprised how good of a job it does as an preamp for analog inputs too.


Author:  finski [ Tue Oct 11, 2005 12:46 pm ]
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Nelson, has anybody reviewed the passive pre-amp (or do any CAMmers have it yet that would like to comment?)?

Author:  sonocable [ Tue Oct 11, 2005 2:06 pm ]
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finski, there are a few testimonials on my site of it, including one that has a link to a review that DavidS posted on Audio Circle just over half-way down the page:

The reviews from Ray P, Norman T, and David S are all for the preamp.

Author:  goose [ Wed Feb 22, 2006 3:20 pm ]
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Author:  angust63 [ Wed Feb 22, 2006 4:41 pm ]
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Hmmm . . . now that you mention it . . . :)

I have since mated a Bottlehead Foreplay to it. The Bottlehead really doesn't improve things much. In fact, I'd dare say that my Luxman C-02 really is much better at controlling some of the amp's rougher edges. Maybe the Lux is just plain more laid back than the Bottlehead. Regardless, that combo seems to work best for me. Conversely, the Bottlehead mated to my AMC amp sounds pretty sweet so I know it can perform well enough.

I have also tried my Music Hall MMF-5 connected directly to the Sonosonic and I thought that was a huge improvement over my cheaper Technics TT. The Music Hall is able to feed more bass to the SonoSonic and seems to be less edgy and a little more balanced overall. The sound is still a touch lean in the lower midrange, extended bass frequencies but it is hardly as anemic as the Technics was.

All in all, I think the Lux C-02/SonoSonic the most enjoyable to my ear. The Lux is out getting refurbished right now though so I'm looking forward to getting it back.

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