Nice review. I've been using an SI amp I modded with auricaps, quality resisters, Panasonic cap on the chip, good case with quality copper wiring, good conectors, a quality stepped attenuator and, after trying battery power, a quality SMPS power supply supplied by nuuk (see his reviews on TNT). I've been playing cd's from a $3,000 cd player through it into OB'd Visaton B200's run-in for 300 hours. My listening room is 12'x12'x12' (small!). I've been runnning this setup for a few weeks. Total cost of the SI with mods is $350. (the stepped attenuator took up $200 of this). I've also played the SI through my Quad ESL57's with new trable pannels and high end turntable in the same room.
Ok, so the SI sound for me is clear and dry, with good imaging and nice dynamics. Definately up there with new $1000-$2,000 amps of a certain variety. However, its failings in my system were also clear. It lacks majorly in organic depth, specially in the midrange, making it, as some have said, thin. This thinness, while less so than cheap and nasty amps we've all heard so often, is still very fatiguing in long term listening, because one is made aware one is listening to sounds, not organic instruments. ( I include synthesisers as organic instruments here, as anyone with a wonderful system will know). As a result, the feeling of having musicians in the room, with all their attendant emotion and PRAT, is not found at all by this little amp.
To give an idea of amps that do what the SI can't, I have 3 inexpensive amps that I plugged in. They were:
Quad 306 ($300 used) and Tube Technology valve pre ($400 used),
Sony 3200F and 2000F pre (1970's high end - $400 used)
SET monoblocks (homemade - $400 used) and Tube technology pre.
The best of these was the Sonys, followed by the SET, then the Quad. The defining characteristic for me was how real, close and emotional the musicians and their instruments were to me, and the drive and PRAT conveyed of their perfomances. In all respects these 3 amps had it, and the Quad was somewhat behind the SET and Sonys, which were rather close to each other.
I own a Taylor 314CE guitar ($1500 retail) and am just about to spend 2 weeks playing a Steinway concert grand piano. ($70,000 retail). The SI in my system couldn't tell the Steinway from a $1000 piano, or the Taylor from a cheap guitar. Both the SET's and the Sonys can do that, specially through the Quad Esl's, and with my turntable. In fact the fatigue I get from the SI amp with cd and Visatons is not far off that I get from playing my girlfreinds piano (worth $100) or a reallly cheap guitar.
Something that I have to admit bugs me about much of the audiophile community is the theory that there are different ways that music sounds, depending on the hifi system. Rubbish! Musically, a Steinway concert grand sounds different from a 6' Steinway grand, sounds different from a Steinway 5' grand, sounds different from a Kawai 5' concert grand, sounds different from my girlfreinds piano. Thats what musicians pay for, and all know! And then there's the swing, emotion,vibe and PRAT that the better musicians create - not the hifi!!! Thats what makes MUSIC! I spent 3 hours in a shop recently choosing a Fender Strat for a freind, and the assistant (a wonderful guitarist) and I both knew the best of 30 strats as soon as we heard it, as any musician would. It conveyed emotion and PRAT like none of the others. It was like it was alive in my hands, and wanted to rock! YES.
This is an honest review based on the actual sound and feel of beautiful instruments (as used on most recordings) played beautifully by real people.
I shall keep my SI til I've built a gainclone, which Nuuk says can do some of what the class t amps can't for not much dinero. Meanwhile I love the fact that this little box (42x32x62) produces the music it does, within its very clear limitations, though it is NOT cheap, compared to my other amps and what they can do in finding real music!