Vincent Audio SV-500 Review – Rejuvenating Music

Background

Vincent Audio is a German brand that aims to provide high-end audio at an affordable price. I don’t have a long history with the brand, but the products I have received from them certainly live up to the hype. Today we’re focusing on the Vincent Audio SV-500 hybrid amplifier, which uses tubes on the preamp stage, and solid state transistors on the output stage. The goal is to provide a classic sound but with long lasting reliability and efficiency.

Features

This amp is fairly straightforward when it comes to capability and features. It features 6 total inputs, with the first four as analog RCA connections. It’s important to note that none of the analog inputs come with a phono preamp. The remaining two are Optical and Coaxial, with optical supporting up to 192 kHz sample rates. You also get two analog outputs with one being an unaltered Rec Out signal that passes through the same analog connection coming in. It’s free from any modification to the sound including tone control or the preamp stage. The second analog output uses the preamp to process the signal first. This allows you to send all signals out of the same RCA output, with variable volume, tone adjustments, and the lovely characteristics of the tube preamp stage. If the SV-500s power isn’t enough to drive the speakers of your choosing, pairing the SV-500 to one of their power amps is a great upgrade path. To make running external amps easier, the SV-500 also includes a pair of 12V triggers which handle switching your external amps on and off (most support 12V trigger control). Lastly, you have two pairs of speaker terminals that support 4 to 8 ohm nominal loads with 80 watts and 50 watts of output, respectively.

To give you some control over the sound, the SV-500 comes with a large volume knob that feels great to operate. There is a tiny motor that can move the volume knob for listening sessions when you resort to using the remote. The red LED will only blink on the volume knob when the amp is warming up, when you are actively adjusting the volume, or if you are muted. During normal listening, this LED will remain off.

There is also a tone control button in the center of the front bezel that splits the bass and treble knobs. The buttons and knobs all have an excellent feel, with smooth and constant resistance as you adjust them. Don’t expect to hear static or noise in your music when making adjustments to the sound. When centered, you can feel a tiny notch in the adjustment that indicates being at position 0, making it very simple to dial in.

The headphone jack is adequate for powering many different headphones with an impedence of 32 to 600 ohms. Anything lower than that may result in damage to the amplifier. Overall, the output was acceptable for efficient headphones. Using the tube preamp stage for the headphone output resulted in a vibrant, rich sound even at lower listening levels. High end headphones like the HE1000se from Hifiman would benefit from more power of course, as most amplifiers are not intended to be used as high output headphone amps.

Lastly, the remote control continues with the understated yet clean aluminum aesthetic. What seems to be carved form a large block of aluminum (minus the magnetic rear battery door), the remote feels great in your hand. It’s rather thick but narrow, and with a surprising amount of heft to it. I love this approach, and this remote. It doesn’t feel cheap at all, yet it’s also not over the top in any way. For buttons you have S1 through S6 for your source selection, a mute button, of course volume. There is no power button on the remote because the SV-500 uses a mechanical switch on the front bezel.

Component Configuration

For demoing music I’m using the Music Hall mmf 3.3 turntable which comes with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge. This dual-plinth turntable embodies the same essence of the SV-500 – incredible sound at an affordable price. The signal from the table is then passed on to the Vincent Audio PHO-500 phono preamp. The PHO-500 is a dual box system with incredibly low noise thanks to the power supply being in its own chassis. It also features a USB output for connecting your turntable source directly to a computer. When I’m not listening to records, my other sources were a computer connected via optical, and a music streamer device connected via analog. The music streamer is a new (to the US) product called the RS201E from Hifi ROSE. It has MQA support on Tidal, YouTube, support for internal SSD/USB direct media playback, additional apps, and a stunning user interface.

These components are all connected via AudioQuest analog, optical, and speaker cables. When connecting the SV-500 to the Alta Audio Alec towers, I used the Audio Quest Type4 speaker wires. When demoing on my Bowers and Wilkins 606 S2 bookshelf speakers, I used X-2 14AWG wire with matching AudioQuest speaker terminals. Power was handled via a Panamax line conditioner.

Sound Quality and Performance

This is where the hybrid amp shines. Vincent Audio designed the SV-500 to use three tubes on the preamp stage, with (in my case) Toshiba sourced solid state transistors for the output stage. Using tubes on the preamp provides the rich sound people love, but without the long term reliability issues when using tubes for the output stage. By using solid state amplification, the amp is efficient and reliable. The end result is an incredible sound characteristic that’s surprisingly difficult to explain. You’ll soon understand why…

When someone says the sound has a lot of energy to it, many would think the music may be too bright or harsh. That’s not the case here. What I found with most tracks is this amp tends to breath new life into music without ruining it. Vintage tracks are front and center with an incredible sound stage and vibrance to it. The music is full, well bodied, with just enough airiness to make your speakers seem larger and “happier” than they normally are.

The best example is a go-to track of mine played on record. It’s none other than David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. A masterful piece produced when stereo was the future of music. The slow build up encourages you to turn up the volume a little bit more in the beginning but you’re soon greeted by a front row soundstage that doesn’t scream at you. Then Bowie’s voice comes in and it’s as though you’re listening to him in the recording studio. I can partially thank the Alta Audio Alec speakers which is a hidden treasure in the high end speaker market, but the fact that a $1300 watt amplifier can power $10,000 speakers so well is incredible. The engagement of this song and the way it plays off the room is further enhanced by SV-500’s incredible presence. The music seems to have more heart to it, more energy, yet it’s all well controlled and smooth. The tube preamp arrangement is truly magnificent will change what you thought was possible in this price range.

The remaining magic comes from the power supply. It’s incredibly robust and almost over the top at this price point, but it’s part of the magic sauce the SV-500 has. The noise level is incredibly low at even the highest volumes (with the tone control board disabled/defeated). The beefy power supply helps provide speakers with bass richness they deserve, with no musicality lost on demanding tracks. It’s like having an 8L diesel engine to pull a featherweight trailer.

Perhaps the best way to describe this amp’s performance is to compare it to a great mid range home theater receiver. I have a Denon and Marantz receiver that I often compare directly to music-focused amplifiers. It helps put things in perspective for what most people have in their homes. The difference is honestly astonishing. If I could explain it in one sentence, it’s as if the home receivers sucked the soul out of the music. Sure you can “listen” to music, but the experience is essentially gone. Lifeless, dull, plane-jane… It’s as simple as that. Switching back to the SV-500 immediately showcases the music in a way that simply makes it more enjoyable to listen to.

One important note is the tone control board. It does a great job of adding some control to the sound without making it muddy or harsh. Both bass and treble adjustments blend nicely with good roll-off to the mid range. If I had one critique, it’s that the noise level increases a little bit with the tone board engaged. Simply disable it by pressing the center button in to have the lowest possible noise levels and a relatively flat sound.

Final Thoughts

I’m not an audio engineer or music producer. My biggest love in audio is the music itself. Instead of looking at quantitative data and basing opinions on what spec sheets would suggest, I find it best to just sit back and listen. Think of it more like a blind taste test.

What I like for sound may not be everyone’s cup of tea, just like a formally educated audio engineer having a preference on what he or she thinks is right for audio reproduction.

Of all the amps I’ve listened to in the sub-$3,000 range, the SV-500 is my favorite. It’s a classy design with a lively, playful sound that doesn’t punch you in the face when you turn it up. I simply find music more enjoyable to listen to when using it compared to any other amp I have or use right now. This hybrid amp has something special about it that brings more emotion and passion into the room than most would expect. With that being said, if you have the opportunity to demo or purchase one of these, I would certainly consider it. You may fall in love with it as much as I have.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*