In the world of audiophillia, my mind tends to keep track of certain brands that i feel have potential when they are first introduced to the public. During the Winter Consumer Electronic Show back in 1998 (WCES 98) a pair of Loth-X loudspeakers was voted my best sound of show (see show report by clicking here). At that time Loth-X was a new and unknown company from Singapore. Since then i have watched this company expand to now offer a complete line of loudspeakers, turntables and amplification. Construction quality on all their products appears to be of the top-shelf variety (for the given price range). A choice of highly refined, if not completely custom (and costly), parts is also at the forefront of every Loth-X design. Loyal reader of Enjoy the Music.com's Review Magazine will recall my February 2002 review of Loth-X's Silbatone $30,000 C-102 battery powered pre-amplifier (review can be seen by clicking here) and Herb Reichert's review of their ION BS 1 loudspeakers. Yes, you read that correctly my friends. A $30,000 all-singing, all-dancing, ear opening and mind blowing sounding pre-amplifier. At hand today is their less expensive, if still pricey, integrated 300B based amplifier.
Like the $30,000 C-102, the $16,000 JI-300B chassis and knobs are precision machined from a solid aluminum block and, in turn, are hand finished. The chassis has an extremely solid feel, yet is lavished with seductive curves that harks back to the beauty of the fine Italdesign-Giugiaro with a touch of industrial design added for good effect. Knobs on the JI-300B are fitted with ball bearings for precise, yet smooth action and an ooh-la-la luxurious feel. Operating the Silbatone JI-300B brings about the same feeling of refinement as experienced with my Hasselblad 503CW or one of the many Patek Philippe timepieces. Of course outer beauty and superior operations are worthless unless the supporting parts are also of complimentary quality. It is the "heart" of the JI-300 that provides a glimpse into this piece's final music reproduction capabilities.
All Parts Are Not Created Equal
Those of us with highly sensitive loudspeakers, such as the 103dB+ sensitivity of the Duos, virtually any noise from buzzing to background hiss becomes highly evident. Here is where the claimed 98dB signal-to-noise ratio of this integrated unit is a must-have. Sometime i cherish the days of 92dB or lower sensitivity loudspeakers. This hides all the background noise problems in lesser amplification devices. Of course the upshot of using the Duos is that if i have no noise problems, odds are you will not too. A reviewer makes some sacrifices when he signs on to this insanity. Back to the music...
Stringed instruments such as cello and violin were portrayed with a wonderful balance of string/bow and body. In fact the JI-300B excelled in this regard! Classical music from Bach to Beethoven was highly enjoyable affairs. the aural and textural "colors" were all brought forth with amazing grace and clarity. The main difference between the Silbatone JI-300B and my newly upgraded to current status Wavelength Audio Cardinal X-1 monoblock amplifiers (full review forthcoming) were in the more seductive tendencies of the Silbatone. Also of note is that midbass frequencies appeared to be more defined by the Cardinal. Not that one rendition is "better" than the other, it is more a personal preference of the so-called "more accuracy" Cardinal X-1 versus the musical leaning of the Silbatone. Of course the Cardinal does not include a pre-amplifier and therefore my conrad-johnson Premiere 17LS was in the signal path versus the JI-300B alone. i did try the JI-300B with the 17LS and this proved how transparent this critically acclaimed pre-amplifier is! While not up to the $30,000 Silbatone C-102 standards, it shows how being a reviewer has so many choices that can affect the overall synergy/sound of a music reproduction system. Perhaps having experienced many different products separates the men from the boys? Back to the music...
Initial transient speed was quite good, though the nod goes to the Wavelength X-1. Still, there was an overall feeling of being drawn into the music with the JI-300B whereas the Cardinal had a certain "flowing like a stream" with virtually no "signature" or "beat" sound of its own at all. When i refer to "beat", this seems to some insidious type of way an electronic component has the timing of the music not flow freely. Instead, there is something happening where the music appears to be not allowed to stream endlessly and instead is gushed out in micro-spurts. This may also explain why some people prefer vinyl over 16-bit/44.1kHz CD (and why higher resolution digital formats are winning converts daily).
As for imaging, the JI-300 is excellent. My review unit was capable of producing a wide and deep soundscape with the ability of bringing natural hall space within my listening room (when the source material permits). With wonderful microdynamics at hand, there was a grace and ease portrayed which brought a deeper personal involvement into the music at hand. The Silbatone JI-300B is one amazing unit at bringing about the emotional content within the source material.
Summing It All Up