One of the great joys of sharing time with a two-year-old son is seeing the world through fresh eyes. To Miles
every fallen gold aspen leaf is worth bending over taking a look at just as each full moon is magical and its following new moon raises the same question, "Daddy, where moon go?" And, apropos to this conversation, every good song on the stereo is worth grooving to. To see him funk it up to "It's Your Thing" by The Isley Brothers, to watch him swaying on the couch to Grant Green's take on "Minor League", to catch him being drawn in by the slowly rising strings of Gorecki's
"3rd Symphony" (he comes from the next room and sits on my chair with me when he hears this!) or to revel in him stomp wildly about the backyard when I crank some Muddy Waters is to be reminded of the power, poetry and beauty of music. It also helps to clear the cobwebs from the reviewer part of my mind. Listening to gear for its sonic attributes should be an onerous task as it distances you from the music, but like a great many "adult" tasks, over time one becomes inured to its drawbacks, and instead of casting them off we end up wearing them as bravely won battle scars. Miles will have none of that and I suppose we should not either.
The 9 watt per channel Sophia Electric 300B Amplifier Mk. II is not yet another me-too 300B design in an off the shelf box - something that is in part noticeable with your first glance at the amplifier. Outfitted in mirror-polished stainless steel, the chassis floats two inches above the ground via integrated grey titanium-nickel cones at the corners. At 18 inches wide and 15.25 inches deep, the footprint of the amplifier is large but, at least for me not unmanageable. The black transformer housing covers the rear third of the chassis and is topped with a 24k gold nameplate which balances perfectly with the 24k tube rings and gold-plated RCA jacks mounted on the front fascia. The overall look exudes class, refinement and combines to set the Sophia Electric apart from the crowd; however, the most significant difference between the Sophia Electric amplifier and most other 300B designs lies not on the surface but in the tube choices.
Power, need I say it, is courtesy of a pair of 300B tubes, one per side. These 300Bs are Sophia Electric's own mesh-plates, renowned for their broadband power and detail. A pair of 5Z3PA tubes handles rectification. So far, standard fair, where the Sophia Electric design differs is in the SRPP input/driver stage. While SRPP design is quite common in 300B amplifiers via a single 6SL7 per channel, Sophia Electric augments the 6SL7 signal by adding an EL-34 to the circuit, wired in triode, which dramatically raises the current in the driver stage while maintaining linearity. This, according to Sophia Electric, allows the 300B to see "the maximum potential" current, which in turn, is said to expand both the frequency reach and power of the 300B.
Inside the chassis, Sophia Electric employs all point-to-point wiring and premium parts while the rear apron supports three high-quality 5-way speaker posts per side - one ground and both 4-ohm and 8 ohm taps. These posts are well-spaced and easy to hand-tighten. The overall fit and finish of the 300B Amplifier Mk. II is uniformly first class and easily the equal of products costing many times more.
The Sophia Electric 300B spent most of its time driving either my reference Merlin VSM loudspeakers or a pair of Silverline Panatella IIIs. Upstream components were primarily my First Sound Presence Deluxe pre-amplifier, a Cary SLP-88 pre-amplifier, Cary 303/200 CD player and my Dodson DA-217 mk. II DAC. Wiring was via Cardas, Audio Magic, Acoustic Zen, Stereovox and Shunyata Research while power was conditioned by Shunyata Research.
During amplifier burn-in I found that the correct partnering equipment was essential in order to understand the Sophia Electric amplifier, not because she needed help, rather because she demanded and then rewarded honesty in each part of the system. Thus I found myself moving to the most neutral setup possible - Cardas Neutral Reference cables, Cary CD player, First Sound pre-amplifier and Acoustic Zen power cords.
Warmed up, with the system locked-in and regardless of musical source - whether the aforementioned raunchy R&B of the Isleys, the subtle jazz of Grant Green, the existential bite of Muddy Waters or the ethereal prayers of Gorecki - the 300B delivered a nuanced honesty coupled to an relaxing flow and beauty. This rare and intoxicating combination builds its strength, as do most 300B amplifiers, from the middle outwards - though the Sophia Electric reaches deeper into the bass and does so with more authority than most 300B amplifiers.
Ok, if you read the above carefully you probably noticed a major qualifier. I mentioned that the Sophia Electric offered, "the best bass I have yet to hear from a single-ended, single-tube per channel 300B amplifier", a comment that is in direct reference to the Manley Labs Neo-Classic 300B amplifier.
The 'B' Word
I play the piano, poorly for sure, but I play an excellent instrument that I am also fortunate to hear played by my teacher and this gives me pretty fair insight into the sound of the piano. It is creaky, clanky and cantankerous. And, simultaneously it is flowing, resonant and lyrical. The Sophia Electric reproduces this duality better than all but one or two amplifiers I have heard in my room, and not just with the piano but with all instruments. It faithfully replays the warts, the clangs and smears, but seems to pay special attention to the underlying premise of a piece, to the reason for the music. More often then not, it finds that in the tonal range and beauty of those instruments. Piano is rendered in both wood and string, female vocals have mouth and chest, guitars have speed and resonance. The result escapes easy categorization. After months of listening, writing and mulling it over I am left with only one word to describe what it does. It makes beauty.
The Sophia Electric 300B Mk. II amplifier does a great many things superbly. She reveals tonal nuance, excels at micro-dynamic shadings, offers rich and real midrange tones, reaches fairly deep into the bass and does so with surprising power. As importantly, she does nothing poorly, especially in light of her power rating. Above all this, the Sophia Electric 300B Amplifier Mk II makes music and she does so with beauty. The first of those things is the ostensible goal of this pursuit, but in that attempt, not a few folks have abandoned the second. Not this lovely amplifier. She unleashed a tonal purity, tonal detail and dynamic flow that mimicked reality so well that more than mere notes were released into my room. Within her limits, a superb product indeed.
Power Output: Nine watts stereo
Output Type: Single-ended 300B amplifier with no negative feedback
Output Tubes: one 300B per channel
Driver Tube: one EL-34 per channel
Input Tube: one 6SN7 per channel (power amp version), 6SL7 (integrated version)
Frequency Response: 10Hz to 32KHz (±3dB)
Signal To Noise Ratio: more than 90dB
Weight: 90 pounds
Dimensions: 18 X 15 X 10 (WxDxH in inches)
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