We have all salivated over reading reviews of the Mega-Buck audio gear. The stunning outer visual beauty is matched by the exotic internal parts only made at night's during a full moon on the thighs of sexy female virgins. Oh how our life would be ever more satisfying if one of these nearly unobtanium units were to find their way into our home. For some it is a complete Meridian digital system, others may desire the true Audio Note Ongaku "Class A" 211/GT4C with zero negative feed back. How about Loth-X's $30,000 battery powered Silbatone C-102 pre-amplifier as reviewed by Yours Truly in February of 2002? The list goes on and on.
Why is it that the same can be said for many different hobbyists? How about a nice Hasselblad with true Zeiss lens, the Ferrari Enzo, or a nice Patek Philippe minute repeater with tourbillion? Whatever your hobby (or "poison") is, the truly great items always appear to be priced in a way that only those with large inheritance, a cool rich uncle, trust funds, or folks who's Spider Sense could detect the Dot Bomb bust and bailed out early.
Then there are guys like me who flipped burgers at McDonalds, worked electronics sales at the retail level, or are/were students aspiring for high-end sound on beer and Ramen Noodle budgets. Why is it that the glossy mags always tantalize us with unobtanium like an air brushed Playboy model? These female angels teasing us into thinking there is somehow something we may be missing in life... when reality may be far from what our wild imagination portrays. The great news for those of us with more brains than zeros within our bank accounts is that with each passing year new music reproduction gear is not only better, great sound becomes less expensive! Enter the Sophia Electric Baby amplifier.
Offering ten watts per channel, this stereo unit has a pair of Russian military 6P1T tubes operating in push-pull "Class A" while the input and driver tube are NOS 5670. The entire unit has a very low signal to noise ration of -95dB. The female RCA jacks may be very basic as are the binding posts, yet various upgrades are available for those who are fortunate enough to have a few extra sheckles in their bank account. In fact the visuals can be upgraded to top status as seen below.
Note the front wood piece is gone and has been replaced by side decorations. While my unit also has a front-mounted headphone jack, Richard of Sophia Electric says in the future it will be on the back. No matter if you choose the basic unit or full upgrades, the circuit is the same. Only the visuals, jacks, headphone addition, and capacitors are affected. Below is an e-mail i received:
The upgraded loudspeaker binding posts (pictured above) are quite beefy and seem substantial. Construction is very impressive and the unit feels solid and quite heavy given its diminutive size of 7 x 9 x 5 (WxDxH in inches). What may come as a surprise in the very wide bandwidth [12Hz to 45KHz (0dB)], for a tube unit that retails for $799. Yup, that's right! The basic Baby is not "under a grand... at $999" or some other lame sales ploys, but a solid under $1,000 unit that will leave a penny over $200 in your pocket... presumably to buy DIY parts for making your interconnects and loudspeaker cable... or a few cases of beer and steaks for that summer blow out part with your buddies... or gas money for going to the beach or lake (so remember the beer money).
Perhaps i should have titled this section "Getting Off", though the possible sexual connotations may then interfere with the sound quality review below. No need for you, my highly valued and appreciated reader, to experience premature re-education. After all the years of conditioning that only Mega-Buck items being in some high "Class" (sic) status means anything below four figures need not apply. Come to think of it, a "Class" system seems so... British. In any event, items such as the Rega turntable, Lehmann Audio Black Cube phono stage, various NAD/Rotel offerings, the old Ensemble DAC, or Aperion Audio sat/sub loudspeakers are truly a blessing for those of us with high-end audio desires with mac' and cheese budgets. i can happily say that the Sophia Electric Baby amplifier now fits into this category quite nicely.
And Here Is Why...
Let us assume you have in your hands a $799 tube amplifier that is built well, is very reliable, and has good looks to boot! Add to this a front mounted volume control so if you use just one source, there is no need for a pre-amplifier. While this is all well and good, but if the unit sounds like rubbish, then what is the point? Fortunately for us the Baby has good sound to match! What was that i hear from you? Stop the teasing and on with the pleasing? Ok...
Forget Mick Jagger's "Can't Get No", he has more Babys than... The Sophia Electric Baby is a solid performer with clean, tight bass, endearing midrange and impressively extended highs. Fortunately for us the upper frequencies, while being downright too good for this price range, does not get irritating like a cheap high-feedback 1980's solid-state receiver. Whatever the magic formulation, the real enchantment of this baby is the midrange and upper frequencies. The bass is no slouch mind you. It is deep and tight, if a bit lacking the last word in definition. The midrange and highs, on the other hand, are stunning! There is a vast amount of definition pouring forth from my system (see my system details here) using the 93dB/W/m sensitive Audio Note Level 2 AN-J/SPx loudspeakers.
Another surprise is the very solid imagine and quite good soundscape ability. Not the last word in depth or width, yet very, very (did i mention it is very?) impressive. Add to this no buzzzzing. No Hummmm. No tube whoosssssh. Usually the cheap stuff, er um, "high value for the dollar" items have this background of grey (noise) that is always present. To my ears in my systems, regardless of the volume level you can tell that something is always present obscuring the innermost resolution with this noise. it brings me joy to say the Sophia Electric Baby stereo amplifier greatly avoids this deficit. It greets the listener with good amounts of inner detail, if a bit lacking in the micro dynamics department. Overall dynamics are good, yet with 10 watts of output one would not expect matching the Baby with lackluster designed inefficient loudspeakers. A properly designed loudspeaker should, in my humble opinion, provide at least 90dB/W/m and a sane 8-ohm load that never reaches below 6 ohms at any frequency.
Getting back to the midrange and highs, do not expect the Western Electric 300B "magic" or the proverbial rose-colored glasses (also referred to by some as "tube lushness"). It is more along the lines of full frequency smoothness and accuracy over augmented upper midranges (to highlight imaging/definition), bloated bass (enhancing lower frequencies), etc. The bad news is that cheap cables may show their truth "worth" making the uppermost frequencies appear to be a touch bright. While not overly sensitive, this is simply a quick reminder to those with less than neutral cables may want to investigate either DIY alternatives or find a more synergistic solution. As for myself, Max Rochlin Memorial Cable did quite well for analog duties. Alas, all other cables currently in my home are priced close to, or well over, the cost of the Baby(!).
All in all the Sophia Electric stereo tubed amplifier offers impressive sound easily challenging unit more than double the costs. While not the last word in bass definition, midrange romance, or in offering complete room holography, you do get plenty of soundscaping, inner resolution, very good bass, quite accurate midrange, and an uppermost frequencies reproduction that is simply too good to be true at this low price point. Those of you who desire more midrange lushness can go for the Black Gate and other options accordingly. Add to this the sheer lack of background noise that tends to obscure everything in its path and you have one hell of a bargain! Just remember the ten watts output and beware the cheap cables that bring out upper frequency nasties and you should be rewarded with many hours of musical bliss. Of course in the end what really matters is that you...
Power: 10 watts per channel, (stereo) Push and Pull "Class A" circuit
Input: One pair of female RCA jacks
Output: Four Russian military 6P1T (with special treatment for low noise)
Input/Driver Tube: NOS 5670 (USA)
Frequency: 6Hz to 80KHz (+/-3dB), 12Hz to 45kHz (0dB)
Signal/Noise Ratio: -95dB
Distortion: less than 1% at full power
Hum: not measurable (less than 0.3mV)
Weight: 20 pounds
Size: 7 x 9 x 5 (WxDxH in inches)
Color: Black metal chassis with hardwood deco
AC Power: 120V/60Hz or 235V/50Hz
Required break in time: 50 to 100 hours
Warranty: One year parts and labor, Sophia electric brand tubes one year, non-Sophia Electric tubes six month
Sophia Electric, Inc.