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
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.
Opening 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
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
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
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.
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