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Sugden A21SE Phono Stage Two
phono preamplifier

06.02.2014..

By now the process is irreversible, without offending the digital lovers. The analogue keeps on in reconquering the territories it had too quickly abdicated. The high-fidelity companies have understand that. Also Sugden, that has never aimed to manufacture supports dedicated to the vinyl, has started to look after this sector. We are still in the embryonic phase, of course, but the electronic devices of the British catalogue are delicious, charming and well performing. In the list, enters with discretion an interesting phono preamplifier, at a budget cost, with a small inventory of technical/manufacturing characteristics at the border with the higher category. I'm talking of the A21SE Phono Stage Two, which is an evolution of the model Stage One. This last one was designed to be matched to the integrated amplifier A21SE, from which it was fed via a specific cable connected to a low tension card put on the rear panel. The Phono Stage Two is a substantial improvement of the predecessor, since it has a separate power supply that reduces interferences and noisiness.

 

It features a two box design. The dimensions are really compact, the line is essential and sober besides having a consistent solidity. The twin cases haven't been designed to stand out. On the contrary, they can be placed also in the hidden spaces of racks crowded with devices. The equipment is completed with a budget power cord, a connecting cable for the mains power supply and an Allen M3 key useful to remove the four bolts of each lid. The power supply hosts, on the back panel, the IEC socket, the on/off button and, on the front side, a blue LED, besides the output to plug the connecting cable. The internal board is perfectly dual, with a pair of fuses, a pair of filter capacitors of 3300 mF each, a pair of transistors and a transformer by A.M. Transformers LTD., made in U.K., encapsulated in a strong container. In the phono case only the rear panel has two pair of inputs and a pair of RCA outputs. The circuit is totally discrete, syntonic with a dual-FET input. The Burr-Brown INA 217 84 W 1 XXB and OPA 2064 AP 66 W 1 F98 opamps keep very low the levels of distortion against a good dynamic reaction.

 

Although very compact, the A21SE Stage Two is flexible in the functioning since the single input accepts both MM and MC cartridges, also with low output and with several possibilities of setting. The company provides the jumpers to adjust the impedance settings indicated on the bottom side. The MM input is the traditional 47 K. The MC input has three load positions: low output, 100 ohm and 470 ohm. We have at our disposal a segment within whose limits it's possible to employ several cartridges. The care put on the factors of noiseless and dynamics finds a response in a signal/noise ratio greater than 64 dB and a gain, not specified, just below 40 dB, with an output sensitiveness of 350 mV. We all know, alas, the misleading effect of the lab measurements in comparison with the real performances of a device. It happens even with the top machines, let's imagine with small components like ours. It's better to devolve upon the nature, that is our ear and upon our perceptive sensitiveness.

 

The manageability of the Sugden A21 SE allows for a nomadic test. I've looked after the cooperation of some friends and their qualitatively progressive systems. Generally, even with variable results in detail, the small preamp has never shown the ability of raising the substance of mediocre hi-fi chains, but it has responded positively when connected to top sets. The behavior was very accommodating with classy machines, as if it would go along with all the quality of the signal received, only to then lay down when it had to act as a puller if matched to less noble systems. The tone of the A21SE S2 is a British Sound, in the meaning we gave in the tests made with Onix products. A soft, enjoyable, captivating sound that is more orientated to the whole rather than to the peculiar. No one of the traditional sound parameters, like micro and macro dynamics, scene, three-dimensionality, naturalness, etc. are astounding. But I have to say that I've never accused any listening fatigue. On the contrary there were some pleasant feelings of musical coherence, with my system and a 470 ohm Clearaudio Stradivari V2 cartridge. Less appreciation with a Koetsu Rosewood, which is characterized by a low impedance and, therefore, needs a more exigent endowment of interfaces.

 

The Sugden phono stage seems set to carve out a place among many other models of the same level. To get the authentic analog sound, though, at least the one in my mind, a pair of opamps and a quite good power supply are not enough. The A21SE has a meaning and a dimension as a completion of a system which includes a modern integrated amplifier without a phono stage, or as an instrument to make appreciate our vinyl records. Hence, in those situations that are coherent with a limited expense. Then you know, the appetite comes with eating...

 

Official technical specifications

Inputs: Moving magnet, Moving coil, LTVS power in

Outputs: Fixed line level output

Gain adjustment: Internal selection for MM or MC

Load Adjustment: Internal for MC 100 and 470 Ohms. MM fixed load 47k

Earth terminal: Screw type

External power supply: Mains powered

Input sensitivity: MM 3.0mV MC 0.15mV

Output: 350mV

Frequency response: +/-1.5dB 20Hz-20kHz

Signal to noise:>64dB

Gross weight (packed): 2kgs

Dimensions: Phono amplifier 140x60x77mm (WxHxD) - Power supply 140x60x77mm (WxHxD)

The A21SE stage two has a mains power supply and cannot be operated by the A21SE LTVS

 

Official Italian dealer: to Il Tempio Esoterico website

Official current price in Italy: 790.00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Giuseppe "MinGius" Trotto's system

by Giuseppe Trotto
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