Sugden Prestige Anniversary LE integrated amplifier

29.04.2015..

The brand Sudgen means coherence and tradition. James Sugden has been the precursor of the production of class-A amplifiers. He started in the ‘60s with the A21 model, ten years before the commercial release of this kind of design and circuitry. Fifty years later, Sugden releases on the market a celebrative model, the Sugden Prestige Anniversary LE integrated amp, strictly handmade in England and, coherently, in pure class-A.

 

The advantages of the class-A are undeniable. The power of an amplifier is not all, indeed!

And there is another extreme, absolutely not secondary. Especially if the choice are loudspeakers with an efficiency beyond 90 dB/1w/1m. After many years of listening sessions, I am persuaded that the amps with low power have a better tone quality and can better playback the micro details at normal listening volumes. Habitually, the class-B uses complementary transistors in push-pull mode to amplify the positive and negative half of the signal. Each is in a rest mode while the other works. This configuration has about 70% of good energetic efficiency and when the positive and negative semi-waves of every transistors intersect, it induces a signal discontinuity or a cross distortion. The human ear is sensitive to such occurrence. In a class-A circuit the two transistors, not complementary, operate in continuity on the entire input signal and always act as conducers. The continuous component, that determinates the intersection of the two alternations, is eliminated in the output by a transformer or, in the tube amps, by a capacitor with a high value, like in our integrated amp. If on one hand, the class-A circuits develop an acknowledged tone quality and a capacity in current higher than the class-B, on the other hand, they require a remarkable power supply, because the performance is very low, often less than 25%. In the class-A, the transistors dissipate a constant power, independently of the width of the input signal, and all the energy at the service of the modulation is dissipated as form of heat. Even if the production costs are very high, Sugden has made of the pure class-A its banner, endorsing the worth of the sound performances.

 

Generally speaking, the integrated amplifier has been, in the audiophile history of each of us, the component around which we made our systems in youth when we could not afford, economically of for room problems, articulated audio sets. A turntable, an amp with a phono input, a pair of loudspeakers, many records: this is the recipe of happiness. Writing a review of an integrated amp is for me a kind of operation nostalgia. That does not mean that such device could not give listening satisfactions, though.

 

Aesthetically, the Prestige is coherent with the manufacturing austerity of Sugden. Nevertheless, the gray metallic rings around all the knobs of the black front fascia make the design quite charming. The chromatic game gains from the golden connectors that are like luminescences on the black background of the chassis. On the back panel are the IEC socket, four line inputs, an optional phone input, a tape output and a preamp output to connect another power amp. Besides, there are four terminations for the loudspeakers and a pole for the mass. The quality of the connectors is very good. The heatsinks are well structured and, most of all, effective. In fact, my sensation is of lesser heat with respect to previous or similar class-A models of other brands. The sensor implies an ALPS motorized potentiometer and a remote control. Inside, the dual configuration comprises two separate output cards in vertical position. Well dimensioned is the power supply with a huge toroidal transformer isolated in the middle to avoid the transmission of resonances to the circuits. The toroidal transformer reserves a secondary winding to each output stage allowing the contiguity to the radiators. A third one is dedicated to the preamplifying stage, which, differently from the previous models, is without the balance and the mono, and is designed to get the most linear signal path. Sugden has always privileged the use of the toroidal transformers to the E-core ones, for two reasons. The first one, fundamental, is because the core of the toroidal transformers is made of thin metal layers and their overlapping could affect negatively the adjacent parts, mainly if the component is not correctly orientated. Secondly, for a physical reason. Since it is flat, the toroidal transformer is easily placeable inside a chassis and it does not require empty spaces on its top. The active components are not esoteric – there is also something Made in China – but it is known that the English company takes extremely care to the ratio of the component quality and the point of insertion, following the purpose of the coherence on the entire lot. The preamplifying stage is just behind the front side and is separately supplied in order to assure the transparency of the signal. From the card departs a cable direct to the relay near the five unbalanced inputs. The output cards use Sanken transistors in single-ended configuration. They give an output power of 25 watts into 8 ohms.

 

What I have immediately done is placing the Sugden in an open and airy space so to have a better dissipation of the heat. The knobs are noiseless and light. The clicks of the input selector are almost impalpable. The connection to my system has not been unpainful. With the Klipsch first series vintage, in mono-amping mode, the outcome has not been appreciable. The tone quality has come out distort, unnatural, cold, almost unrecognizable. The scene was flat, not well extended with scarce dynamics. The performance has definitely increased with the Klipsch set for bi-amping. I have used the output of the integrated amp to drive the bass section and, at the same time, I have connected my tube KT66 G.E.C. NOS Quad to the pre-out output to drive the mid-high range. As soon as I have found the balance of the gains, the sound has started to breath and spread in the room. The sound stages have found their balance, the depth has remarkably increased and got a certain degree of naturalness and realism. There is no big sound pressure but a relaxing character of the emission. Also the most aggressive instruments, like the saxophone or the piano, are always “domesticated” and brought back to a dimension of lightness. The main virtue of the amp is the control of the music at every level of volume, without any clipping. Although agreeable at listening, the match Sugden-Klipsch has not satisfied me, so I have thought to something else. A friend of mine has given to me a pair of ProAc Response D28 and I have found my reward. The scene is three-dimensional and focused. The response on the bass range is agile, articulated, fast and flexible. The instruments, well defined in the sound stage, with their structural lightness, have compensated a certain lack in the macro-dynamics that is typical of these kind of speakers. The mid-high range is a bit forward but the overall balance is acceptable. With the ProAc you have to work a lot on their placement because the woofer assembled in the top of the front panel entails remarkable sonic differences even with moves of just a couple of centimetres. The voices have never been congested or swollen, even in the most deep baritone expressions. I suggest to run-in the Sugden at least for one hour. Then it becomes sweet and comfortable. It metabolizes the acoustic music and gives it back with the tone and the shades of the recording. The guitars, the violins and the string instruments are consistent and authentic. The piano and the horns are vibratory, although soft. The Prestige gives physical and musical warmth but it does not evoke a sound brotherhood with the tube amps. It gives its best in the mid range, which is airy and fluid. It cedes a bit in the orchestra performances, since it does not comply with the spatial extensions and the sound pressure. To enjoy it you have to turn the volume up. With the electrified music, the bass is acceptable but there is a lack of drama. Same with the drums. Both, however, are very well controlled. The high spectrum is light and delicate, never aggressive and the voices are always enough material.

 

The Sugden has always been at ease with bookshelf loudspeakers like the JPW Monitor, or standmount speakers, like the B&W 805D, where it has a good dynamics if you do not go below a certain gain. Hence, it is not suitable for night listening sessions at low volume. The character of this integrated amp emerges not from the details but from its overall performance. It can stimulate the emotion by producing sweetness and light also with low quality takes. It is not an amplifier for all systems and tastes. It has to be interfaced with “airy” and bright machines and loudspeakers. It has to be tasted with the indulgence reserved to an uncommon musical companion which only request is to sit comfortably and listen carefully.

 

 

Official technical specifications

Line input sensitivity: 170mV

Power output: 25W into 8ohm one channel working

Frequency response: +/- 0,5dB 20Hz-20kHz

Bandwidth: +/- 3dB 6Hz - 200kHz

Signal to noise: >83dB

Inputs: 5 line inputs

Phono input: optional MM/MC

Circuitry: pure class A

Remote control

Packed weight: 11kg Gross weight (packed) 

Dimensions: 430x92x350mm (WxHxD)

 

Official Italian dealer: to Il Tempio Esoterico website

Official current price in Italy: 2,450.00 EUR

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

 

by Giuseppe Trotto
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