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Sugden Sapphire FBA800 power amp

03.06.2014..
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Forty-five years have passed since when James Sugden decided to churn out the A21: a solid state Class-A amplifier, capable of dispense a dozen of watts and become famous as the first amplifier of this typology to be manufactured in series.

 

Nowadays, when we hear the A21abbreviation, we immediately think to the English label and, if still on the catalogue, there will be a reason for sure.

 

In those years, and quite immediately, the Class-A amplifications got a discreet success and other manufacturers – one for all: Musical Fidelity – undertook the same way.

 

I wasn’t even born but, fascinating by the tales of my father, at that time hardened audiophile, I have taken the chance to test some of those historical amplifications, like the Sugden A21 and the Musical Fidelity A1.

 

No need to say that they have flaws like reliability or very high consumptions or lack of power, but, mostly with some musical genres, they could give an incomparable listening pleasure.

 

Through the years many things have changed. The era of the imposing class-A/B power amps, more efficient, reliable and with low consumption, has arrived. Besides, we have discovered the countries of the Rising Sun, the low-cost labour and so on.

 

Under these aspects, it seems that at Sugden’s, time has stopped. Also today almost all their amplifications are in class-A and every stage of the production is made in England, autonomously.

 

As we said at the beginning, they can boast forty-five years of activity. To celebrate them Patrick Miller has created the Sapphire DAP800 and FBA800 pre/power amp match.

 

By the way, we want to say something about the preamp, although without testing it.

 

It’s an analogue/digital preamplifier with two separate power supplies: a 50 watts toroid transformer for the analogue stage and a 15 watts e-core for the digital stage.

 

The peculiarity of the device is that fact that it uses neither oversampling nor filters in the conversion from digital to analogue.

 

After the very positive test with the two Sugden Masterclass MPA-4 monoblocks – click here to read ReMusic’s review – I was very excited to test also the Sapphire FBA800, so I rushed to collect it.

 

I like Sugden’s products, I admit, and for sure this FBA800, amplifier in pure class-A with 40 watts into 8 ohms, is quite expensive, 7,300.00 euro, but the quality is high.

 

Notwithstanding the generous dimensions and its 25 kg, the line of the amplifier is very sober. The colour of the device I have to test is Graphite but I prefer the Titanium version.

 

On the solid aluminium faceplate, below the writing "hand made in England", we can see the beautiful on/off button. At the ends of the cabinet are the two led lights indicating the correct functioning of the power amps, the selector for the balanced or unbalanced outputs and a button to attenuate of 6 dB the input sensitiveness and get a better synergy between preamp and power amp.

 

On the back panel we can see, together with the IEC socket, the balanced and unbalanced inputs and very good WBT connectors with a label indicating who has made the test, who has assembled the device, etc. So, if something goes wrong you know who is to be blamed!

 

On the ends are two big heat sinks, while on the top panel are two slits that help the side heat sinks.

 

All the cabinets made by Sudgen have very precise matches and use materials of top quality. In fact they all have been made "in house".

 

I take a look at the manual: always the same recommendations, like placing the FBA800 in an airy spot, maybe in the middle of the living room so your wife can appreciate itJ, and look out for the phasing.

In the manual there are no technical data, but you can find them on the website.

 

Once opened the top lid I can see the tidy layout, although the wiring is quite generous, and well-made PCBs.

 

The Sapphire FBA800 is a floating bridge pure class-A stereo power amplifier with a double amplification for each channel. The four power transistor are multi emitter devices with an output capability of 26 A per device.

 

The four filter capacitors for the output stage have been specifically developed for professional audio applications. The power supply uses a 350 VA, low impedance custom-made transformer with four separate windings. The FBA 800 is also provided with protection for the loudspeakers.

 

Other things to be mentioned are the gold plated circuit boards and the internal silver wiring. For sure such details don’t make the difference, but it’s appreciable to see the care put in the details.

 

Considered the thermal stress of the class-A amplifications, Sugden envisages long tests for the fining tune of the devices.

 

From such tests came out also the cabinets, which have a fundamental role in the heat sinking.

The FBA800 uses a balanced circuit, therefore, if you can, the manufacturer suggests using the XLR connectors.

 

The stated 40 watts and the suggestions of the manufacturer to match this amplifier with high efficiency loudspeakers would prevent everyone to match it with my Vandersteen 2CI, but the temptation has been too strong and I couldn’t resist!

 

The Brit starts to play with a DIY solid state preamp with balanced connection, then with my old Audio Research LS8, in unbalanced mode.

After few tests, and notwithstanding the manufacturer’s recommendations to use XLR connections, I decide that I prefer the match with the Audio Research, and the Vandersteen give thanks.

 

The mid-range is clear, fluid, full of harmonic texture and refined: these are the qualities that, in my opinion, make you choose your amplifier.

 

Late evening and I can’t turn up the volume: the musical atmosphere given by the Vandersteen-Sugden is really magic.

 

The beautiful De La Main Gauche, by Danielle Messia, accompanied by the guitar, ends in a blink and I play it again and again. In the meantime, and just after fifteen minutes, the FBA800 is performing really well.

 

Now it’s time for Mina and De Andrè and interesting elements start to come out.

 

The soundstage is really deep and there is a great separation of the sound pitches. The placement of the two singers is very precise, with Mina performing slightly on the right.

 

I want to pause for a while on the cymbals and on their harmonic decay. I’m favourably impressed by the details and nuances which could appear marginal, but of which I can no longer do without!

 

I change over now to the Italiana In Algeri by Rossini extracted from the cd Fonè Forte Fortissimo and concentrate on the many instruments that are playing in this track. If you know the piece is not so difficult to recognize the single instruments: thanks to a tone colour than can make them quite real, together with an impeccable tonal balance.

 

But there is something else in this amplifier that involves me and that I cannot fully understand. So I go back to the editorial office and we test it in the set-up of the Editor Rocchi, since I think that his Klipsch Heresy I could be the daily bread for the Brit.

 

At last I realise: the low rate of harmonic distortion and the top microdynamics that the FBA800 can provide, contribute unequivocally to let the lucky owner always ready to get small info, maybe never heard before, helped by the low distortion that makes the listening session always fulfilling and never tiring.

 

Let’s go on with the tests and with Private Investigations by Dire Straits.

 

Can an amplifier doing always well and in all conditions? Luckily it cannot, otherwise it would be the only amplifier an enthusiast buys and all our fun and our work would be over!

 

With this track the FBA800 power amp, although with a powerful, deep, articulated low-range and with precious details like the definition and harmonic richness of the xylophone, shows a lack of mordent. The macrodynamics is not at the top, but this is not a typical feature of this kind of amplifications.

 

I won’t tell all the tracks we have played but only this message: Simply more music, as the Sugden’s slogan for the Sapphire series says. And it does it: we can listen to the music and forget about the system!

 

Which is the target for the Sugden FBA800? For sure an expert audiophile that has found in the high efficiency systems his ideal system. Someone that prefers quality to quantity, that can be touched by a jazz quartet, that wants to relax with some good music and that never ever will use his system for a party with house music.

 

7,300.00 euro is quite a sum but you buy a product that can last many years without getting tired of it and, what’s more, supported by a serious company like Sugden.

 

Official technical specifications:

Input sensitivity: 735mV for full output

Power output: 40Watts into 8ohms both channels working

Frequency response: 0dB 20Hz-80kHz

Bandwidth: 3dB points 6Hz-113kHz

Signal to noise: >96dB

Distortion at 1Watt,1kHz – >0.05%

Net weight: 25kgs

Dimensions: 430x206x460mm (WxHxD)

Official current price in Italy: 7,300.00 EUR

Official Italian dealer: to Il Tempio Esoterico website

Associated equipment: to Francesco Taddei system

 

 
by Francesco Taddei
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