Words such as Frankenstein and Metropolis were used by my guests to describe Raysonic’s SP-120 Integrated Amplifier when they saw it for the first time. And I’m not surprised. Most guests gazed at the SP-120, as though they had never seen anything quite like it. They probably had not, as the amplifier in an average home likely doesn’t look like this. This amplifier exhibits a look comparable to a fine hand-made suit rather than a commercial, run-of-the-mill outfit.
The Raysonic SP-120 is a two channel amplifier driving 50 watts into each channel. It has a frequency response of 20 Hz to 40 kHz with a harmonic distortion of less than one percent and a signal to noise ratio of 88 Decibels. Its input sensitivity and impedance are rated at 450 mV and 100 kOhms, respectively. The amplifier’s stainless steel body houses 8 vacuum tubes.
Getting around on this machine was a minimalist affair. The front has two control knobs on either side separated by a green LED display. One knob is used to adjust the listening level and the other to select the source of choice. The center display shows the volume level and the source currently selected. Both the volume and the source can also be controlled via the accompanying remote control. The remote has seven single-push buttons. Four individually labelled buttons are used for selecting the source (CD, Tuner, Line, Aux) and two buttons are used for adjusting the volume level. A slightly larger mute button completes the remote. The silver remote is made mostly out of plastic with a stainless steel face to match the amplifier. On the back of the amplifier are gold-plated binding posts for each speaker that accept either spades, banana plugs or bare wire. Each channel has one 4 and one 8 Ohm tap with a ground tap. There is also an IEC plug so you can upgrade to a power cord of your choice.
I ran this amplifier through two systems to get a better feel for how it performs. The first setup included a pair of Angstrom loudspeakers and a Pioneer SACD/DVD-A player as the source. The initial listening test amazed me by the space and depth it created while listening to some of my records. Details I had never heard before became apparent with a sense of more air and space between them. When listening to music things became more liquid and natural with more of the harmonics intact. During movies the dialog was never this clear with subtle background noises appearing more evident than ever. It sounded like an electronic haze was lifted, leaving the feeling of air and clarity. The initial test easily impressed me. With things warmed up it was time to take this beauty down to my studio.
In the studio I ran the SP-120 with my custom-made JBL speakers that have a sensitivity of around 96 dB. I use these speakers for mastering recordings. They have a very fast and dynamic sound. They also tend to show most shortcomings of sources and recordings. Normally I run this system with my Audio Research SP-9 preamplifier and an Audio Research VT-100 tube amplifier. After enough time to warm up, many of the same attributes that I heard on the other system came through, but with a greater degree of resolution. There was also an added sense of space that I was not normally accustomed to hearing except on small single-ended amplifiers that usually hover around the nine watt area. This added sense was hard to pinpoint as a sound, as it was closer to a feeling of spatial cues present in real life. Make no mistake, this was not nine watts of warm, gooey power but a very clean and solid image of sound.
Taking it from the top down, the high frequencies tended to shine with a natural glimmer and show the differences and details in metallic instruments. In electronic recordings such as the Photek Solaris album you could easily hear when a 909 cymbal was used and what type of distortion was used or how it was compressed. On the SACD recording of Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue I could hear just how hard the cymbal was hit and if it was a hit with brush or a hard stick. All of this was accomplished at lightning speeds with a very natural attack and decay.
Moving through the midrange, these same recordings had that same rhythm and pace but with a very round and three-dimensional image. There was a greater depth and harmonic richness than with my Audio Research setup although my setup had a tad more of a pinpoint character. Vocals sounded incredibly clean and never too rich. On Sade’s greatest hits CD, her voice came through much as I thought it should – it sounded like off a tape in a control room. It was easy to hear the way tape sounds and the microphones that were used. Whether it was the vocals, a snare drum, or a synthesizer, everything came through in an awesome display that showed class like a great French Chef’s meal.
At the bottom end of the frequencies was where the foundation was poured. Sure I’ve heard great tube amplifiers get most things right but fall short in the bass. This time the bass was in full presence. Fast, deep, round but not boomy bass was what I got. From rock tracks on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon SACD to various drum and bass recordings I was mastering, everything came through with perfect timing to the rest of the picture. Bass also seemed to reach deeper than I remembered with other amplifiers.
Ultimately, this amplifier delivered the performance that most tube amplifiers aspire to. The integration of the sonic picture was the area of top marks. From front to back and top to bottom, the flow and pace of the picture was natural and close to life. Much as a fine wine or a finely tailored suit, the subtle details were present in every song I played through the SP-120.
Now here is the part that took me by surprise. I was informed of the price of this work of art towards the end of this review. At $2380, it may be unfair to compare the SP-120 to other tube amplifiers in this price range. Its performance simply outshines most of the competition.
Raysonic’s SP-120 integrated tube amplifier is a true class act!
Harmonic Marketing Inc.
Raysonic SP-120 Integrated Amplifier
Output power: 50 w x 2 channels
Input sensitivity: 450 mV
Input Impedence: 100 kOhms
Harmonic distortion: <1%
Frequency response: 20 Hz – 40 kHz
S/N ratio: 88 dB
Input: 4 sets
Speaker output: 4 or 8 ohms
Vacuum tubes: KT-88 x 4, 6SN7 x 2, 12AX7 x 2
Dimensions (LxWxH): 44 x 33 x 19.5 (cm)
Weight: 19.5 kg