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June 2014
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Sophia Electric Magic 126S-03 Dual Mono Stereo Integrated Amplifier
Magic is in the air!
Review By A. Anthony Nicosia

 

Sophia Electric Magic 126S-03 Dual Mono Stereo Integrated Amplifier  Sophia Electric, a Virginia based company, is among other things well known for making a variety of vacuum tubes. Their tube lineup ranges from the mighty 300B to smaller input/driver tubes such as the 12AU7. It was their tubes that initially captured my attention causing me to look more intently at their company. That all started while searching the web for a quad of replacement tubes for my four mono bloc power amplifiers from Dignity Audio, model DA08 300B. Tubes though are not their only interest as they also offer integrated or mono bloc power amplifiers, loudspeakers and a Magik Box. Amplifiers are designed by Richard Wugang and his father Dr. DWU, with help from Anne W.J. and X.HE, both designers/managers.

One of their more recent designs is the Sophia Electric Magic 126S-03 Dual Mono Stereo Integrated Amplifier. The 126S is manufactured at three different price points. There is the basic 126-03 (reviewed today) at $5000, the 126S-05 at $8000 and the 126S-05 limited edition (designed for TAD/JBL horns) selling for $12,000. The S' standing for cathode self-biasing, always a plus when dealing with tube amplifiers. I have one amplifier where you must take off the bottom to get inside to adjust bias, another is done on the rear of the unit while a third is self-biasing, and I prefer the later. The 126S-03 was built for those who while desiring the 300B sound needed something a bit more powerful. At 25-watts per channel into an 8 Ohm load it is about three times more powerful than a standard 300B 8-watt amplifier, enabling the 126-S to better control loudspeakers of lower efficiency. With their 126S-05 ($8000) you get the addition of upgraded transformers and an upgraded circuit. The 126S-05 limited edition includes everything from the first two models plus an upgraded circuit which is specifically designed to drive TAD/JBL horns loudspeakers, using one or two 15 inch woofers per side.

 

Walking Around the 126S-03
Before sitting down for any initial listening session it has always been my policy to do a physical inspection of the product on hand. The black faced front panel is quite sparse, sporting only two silver knobs and of course some lettering. One knob is for volume control while the other is used to select between one of five inputs located on the back panel. In-between those two well-spaced knobs are simple but elegant lettering stating "Sophia Electric Virginia, U.S.A.". The power on/off switch is located on the left hand side near the rear of the unit, a little awkward for those who might nestle this amplifier in a tight fitting cabinet without much side room. Although as beautiful as the 126S is that would seem like such a waste as it would make more sense to keep this amplifier openly displayed. The top plate is silver in color with three large transformers located at the rear of the unit, all lined up in a straight line. Those transformers are silver with black tops, matching the overall silver and block motif of the amplifier's aluminum chassis. Immediately in front of the transformers arched in a small semi-circle are four EL34 power tubes. Directly in front of those tubes and slightly recessed into the top plate are two input tubes.

The review sample came with two Westinghouse 6U8A (made in the USA) and four Electron EL34-B (made in China) tubes. When looking at page four of the owner's manual you will see where to place each of these tubes which they have conveniently labeled for you as V1 thru V6 respectively. Taking a peak around to the back panel you will see that the five inputs are for RCA connectors with no XLR inputs provided, not uncommon for an integrated amplifier. There are no labels for inputs or loudspeaker connections on the rear of the unit. When looking at the back panel left to right, the inputs will match up with the input selector on the front going one to five respectfully. Loudspeaker connections come by way of three binding posts with the owner's manual explaining that the middle of the three connectors for each channel being the 4 Ohm tap with the other red one being 8 Ohm. While a bit puzzled about why there was such minimal labeling on the amplifier it dawned on me just how nice it actually looked this way. Aesthetically I found it quite appealing once the initial setup was out of the way.

A black plastic IEC input socket is also included for those who either prefer switching out the supplied stock power cord or who require a different length then the standard cord provided. My review sample did not come with a power cord from the factory. When matched up with one of your everyday garden variety cords normally included when purchasing audio products, of which I had plenty on hand, the 126S still sounded basically the same yet aftermarket cords did enhanced its many positive attributes. I would think that purchasers of a product at this price point will add their own sonic flavor with the use of an aftermarket pc. A power cord and interconnects from Acoustic Revive, a company out of Japan and a stable in my system, were chosen for this review. As for those who love turning the amplifier over to expose its underside, once there you will see four perforated areas providing air circulation and a set of four tall rubber feet with felt coverings. The felt allows the amplifier to move more easily when resting on a smooth surface and was a nice touch when sitting atop my Salamander Audio Rack.

With a net weight of fifty pounds spread out over its overall dimensions of 8" x 18" x 12" (HxWxD) the 126S actually felt quite light. Perhaps it was in comparison to my Harmon Kardon Citation II power amplifier with its three very heavy transformers in the rear making for an awkward unbalanced weight distribution of approximately seventy pounds from its pretty similar 9" x 16.375" x 11.5" (HxWxD) chassis. My older amplifiers, the HK Citation II and McIntosh 225 both sport shorter feet, unlike the 126S, making it more difficult to get my fingers under when moving the amplifier. With those two my fingers were constantly getting pinched when trying to set it down in different locations whereas with the 126S that was not a problem.

Sophia Electric Magic 126S-03 Dual Mono Stereo Integrated AmplifierOpening up the 126S chassis I saw a well laid out clutter free interior with point to point wiring, an Alps volume potentiometer and a dual mono design. A dual mono design means that both sides of the amplifier left and right are completely separate to the extent of even having their own DC (Direct Current) power supplies. While the 126S is made up of two identical amplifiers it still shares the same chassis (as it is not a mono block design of course) and power cord. While some might debate the merits of sharing one common power cord I must say that regardless, this was one quite amplifier with incredible sonic attributes, which actually is the ultimate point of all this anyway. As for those power transformers, they are custom built in house, for keeping a direct eye on quality control and so as to voice the 126S in a manor to which manufacturer would ultimately prefer.

 

Finally, Time To Enjoy The Music
My listening session started with a pair of Spendor SP1/2R Loudspeakers situated on Skylan stands heard to the tune of the Philip Glass Solo Piano [CBS MK 45576] CD. Now the piano is a complex instrument made up of many parts, such as a felt hammer hitting 250 strings, foot pedals to change its sound and fingers striking numerous keys singularly or in groups. This instrument of so many parts is difficult to reproduce accurately in our home audio systems. The 126S though allowed music to flow through my Spendor loudspeakers with a quick and natural flow to the rhythm of each song. Fingers danced upon keys, lightly touching and quickly darting from one to the next exhibiting both grace and clarity creating an involvement that drew me deep into each performance. The soundscape width and soundstage depth were quite favorable, just as I would expect from a top notch tube amplifier such as the 126S. Small details such as the reverberation of piano strings with varying decay times provided a life like rendition of musical passages. While not the ultimate at exposing every detail the tube side of this amplifier adding welcomed warmth to the music that was quite pleasing to my ears.

As of late my mind has been wondering back to the early recordings of Joni Mitchell and so out came the CD Court and Spark (Asylum 1001-2). Layering of singers on "Free Man in Paris" was quite good with background vocals provided by Susan Webb and David Crosby who were properly placed in the distant background of the soundscape. As for Joni Mitchell herself, well her voice with its typical strong presence rang through on song after song with a tenderness reminiscent from that era, at least as I remember it. With a combination of tubes and music from the 70's and earlier you have just got to love it. This Canadian singer with her multiple folk, rock, jazz, pop style of music was a pleasure to hear with the aide of the 126S. The word expressive comes to mind when I think of this amplifier as both singers and musical instruments alike took on life like qualities when played in combination with its tube-like essence. It is natural for tube equipment to take a bit of time before warming up and sounding their very best. For me that magical moment truly kicked in after about an hour of playing time. Not that it ever sound cold or sterile, just more spectacular when allowed to play for a while longer. It was like a fine wine, always good but opening up with the passage of time after having sat in the decanter for a bit. When that time came though it was quite apparent the music had suddenly taken a leap forward to fulfill the true potential of this amplifier.

 

Vinyl Takes Center Stage
Now it was time to gently push aside those CD's allowing my vinyl recordings to take their rightful place in the forefront of this review. It is true that I currently now own, and have owned countless tube gear; it is also correct that my large collection of vinyl is another guilty pleasure of mine. The record [Columbia 32348] On Stage featuring Logins and Messina captures their incredible live performances at Carnegie Hall in New York and Winterland in San Francisco. Hearing Kenny Loggins sing "Danny's Song" with such emotional attachment, captured nicely thank you by the 126S, reminded me of when my two children were first born and the great dreams I had envisioned for them. Here on this simply ballad I turned the volume up to where it filled my room with the sound of his singing accompanied solely by his guitar. With medium efficient loudspeakers (sensitivity of 88dB/W/m) in a medium sized room (18' 8" long by 13' wide with a cathedral ceiling peaking at 13' in its center) my comfort level hovered with the volume knob positioned at 9 o'clock. There might be others who would play it louder but not me.

The music was crystal clear and without any noticeable strain or breakup from high to low on the musical scale. Turning up the knob to a 12 o'clock setting made me uncomfortable but not the 126S which continued playing as well as it did at 9 o'clock just louder. 2L has starting making vinyl recordings, with my most favorite one to date being the Mozart Violin Concertos[2L-038-LP], a must have for collectors of Classical LP's. Here the 126S allowed for an expansive soundstage, reminding me of my Magnepan 3.6's with the ability to engulf my room with music. The sound from the violins was light and delicate lending a more natural interpretation of that performance. Dynamic range was good feeling quite effortless as it was asked to reproduce loud passage swings. Stereo imaging was also excellent as was its ability to create a spacious environment in which to enjoy the music. The 126S most certainly helped me get the most out of my vinyl pressings.

 

In Steps The Magnepan 3.6 Speakers
Sophia Electric Magic 126S-03 Dual Mono Stereo Integrated AmplifierMy Magnepan 3.6 loudspeakers are rated at 4 Ohms but typically dip much lower, making it a difficult pair for some amplifiers to properly tame. As for power requirements the factory recommends they be driven by amplifiers of 75 to 250 watts putting the Sophia Electric Magic 126S-03 below suggested levels. Still it tempted me to pair the two together as I was curious to find if some of that midrange magic from the 126S could be imparted onto the 3.6's. First up was an old favorite DVD-Audio of mine from the Who, Tommy [Geffen B000210319]. This would not be exactly an easy challenge for the 126S as we are talking rock and roll at its finest and sounding best at high volumes.

To make it even more difficult I was pairing them with loudspeakers that love high current amplifiers. Still I find it best to dive right into the lion's mouth when it comes to challenging new equipment, getting them to stretch their limits just a bit. Quite interesting though, they matched up well with the Magnepans and I found them enjoyable to listen to. There were of course limitations in regard to power outage but for "normal" listening levels they kicked butt taking no prisoners while surprising me with the ability to control the Magnepan's mid-bass playback so thoroughly. Keith Moon on drums had all the weight and speed one could expect from his performances and as long as the playback levels stayed reasonably sane the 126S and Magnepan combination was rock solid. As for mid-range magic that too was still quite apparent and equally enjoyable. On a vinyl copy of Unforgettable [Mercury Records MG 20572, Mono Recording 1961] Dinah Washington's voice sounded, well magical. While not her typical classic jazz or blues recordings this LP did included her version of "Unforgettable" which saw its way into the Grammy Hall of Fame in the year 2001. Besides showing off her vocal muscles and control, of which she has plenty, the 126S once again hit me straight in the face with its delivery of emotional texturing.

 

Summation
So if you were to ask me today, what makes CD's sound closer to vinyl and vinyl closer to live music, my answer would be the Sophia Electric Magic 126S-03 Dual Mono Stereo Integrated Amplifier. If you get a chance to hear it at a show, over a friend's house, at a dealer or through a factory direct home loan program you just might be pleasantly surprised. The 126S has found a nice niche with its $5000 price range, not inexpensive but well below the upper range for a quality tube integrated amplifier with these abilities. Think what you are gaining by going integrated rather than with separates, less interconnects, one less power cord, savings on self-space and of course a shorter signal path with one less component, either amplifier or preamplifier depending on how you would like to look at it. Keeping it simple the 126S is self-biasing for those who like to just sit back and enjoy the music without having to check tube bias every time tubes are changed or for normal routine maintenance. To top it off the 126S was a beautiful piece of gear that sat proudly displayed on rather than inside my audio rack. Hey if you got it why not flaunt it. With its six tubes aglow, three large silver and black transformers, jet black faceplate with silver knobs the 126S matched my black based silver top VPI Classic 3 turntable that sat right next to it.

Sophia Electric Magic 126S-03 Dual Mono Stereo Integrated AmplifierIf you are looking for peace and quiet then check it out as this is not your noisy tube amplifier. Though not tested with super-efficient loudspeakers they remained well on the quiet side with both my Magnepan and Spendor setup. Given the right room and loudspeaker efficiency this is most definitely an integrated amplifier to consider before making your next purchase. The 126S is well-balanced with regards to its overall presentation of music and nowhere did I find it lacking to the point I did not enjoy a performance. Of course with only 25 watts of tube power it must not be pushed beyond its natural limitations and matched with loudspeakers/room appropriately. Spaciousness is a word that comes to mind when thinking of the 126S as it allowed my Spendor loudspeakers to sound at their best in this regard. It was quite simple for me to become immersed in the music and forget about life's day to day strife. I often found myself coming home to unwind with the 126S as a way to put any minor troubles behind me and this after all is the point of an audio system. That being said, the Sophia Electric Magic 126S-03 Dual Mono Stereo Integrated Amplifier gets a high recommendation from me.

 

The Listening Environment
The review room is eighteen feet eight inches long by thirteen feet wide with loudspeakers and equipment kept on the short wall. The cathedral ceiling starts at eight feet on the short wall slopping upwards to reach a height of thirteen feet in the middle than returning to eight feet at the opposite end. The hardwood floor is partially covered by a nine by six foot oriental rug lying down the long ways facing toward the loudspeakers, placed dead center between but not under the listener or the audio rack. The room has no doors but there are two openings. One opening is in front of the right loudspeaker on the long wall giving access to the hallway the other behind the listening position to a formal dining area. There are two large floor standing GIF Tri-trap acoustical panels one in each corner of the short wall in front of the listener and two panels from Acoustic Revive located on the wall directly behind each loudspeaker. A third Acoustic Revive panel is placed flat against the right side wall and there are Numerous Auralex Studiofoam squares placed along walls as well as high up in each of the four corners of the room. All the audio equipment is located in a Synergy Twin S30 Salamander audio rack placed about a foot away from and in the middle of the short wall opposite the listening position.

 

Review Equipment
Magnepan 3.6R Loudspeakers placed on custom wooden layered platforms
Magnepan DWM Bass Panel
Spendor SP1/2R Loudspeakers on Skylan Stands
OPPO Digital BDP-95 Universal player
VPI Classic 3 Turntable
Lyra Delos Moving Coil Cartridge
Musical Surroundings Nova Phonomena Phono Stage
VPI 16.5 Record Cleaning Machine
Acoustic Revive Interconnects
Acoustic Revive Power Cord
Audience aR2p-TO Power Conditioner
Acoustic Revive RPT-4 Ultimate Power Supply Box
APC S15 Power Conditioner
Synergy Twin S30 Salamander audio rack

 

Specifications
Type: Vacuum tube stereo integrated amplifier
Amplifier Design: Self-biased EL4 push-pull circuit with Pentode tube as input/driver
Power Output: 25 watts per channel, two channels
Input Sensitivity: 0.375V RMS
Inputs: Five stereo sets of RCA
Output Tubes: Four 6CA7/KT77/EL34 family tubes
Frequency: 12 Hz to 35 kHz (+-3dB)
SNR: -90dB
Hum: 1.5mv with AC tube filament
Net Weight: 50 lbs.
Dimensions: 8" x 18" x12" (HxWxD)
Required Break In Time: 50 to 100 hours on tubes, 200 hours on output transformers
Warranty: One year parts and labor, one year for Sophia Electric brand tubes, six month for non-Sophia Electric tubes.
Price: $5000

 

Company Information
Sophia Electronic
Virginia, USA

Voice: (703) 992-8546
E-mail: sales@sophiaelectric.com
Website: www.SophiaElectric.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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