One of the first of the brands to design in Europe and build in Asia from the outset, Vincent is perhaps best known for its valve designs. In fact, the company is completely device agnostic, as the SA-94 preamp and SP-995 mono power amps ably demonstrate. These are solid-state amplifiers through and through; in fact, the range is known as ‘SolidLine’ (as opposed to its ‘TubeLine’).
They are also truly balanced, dual mono affairs. The channels in the line preamplier are about as separate as its possible to get in one chassis. OK, so the SA-94 has just one plug socket, but almost immediately after that the juice separates to two toroidal transformers (one per channel). The pre uses a Vincent-developed FET module, which acts to DC-couple the ve single-ended and one balanced input. It’s an elegantly obvious device to operate in some respects, with hard buttons assigned to inputs below the display, the basic display tells you all you need to know without superfluous extra features, and there’s not much in the way of multifunction front panel keys. Everything is also replicated on the remote control (and more… there’s a balance control that is not on the front panel). The only thing to confuse the listener… the old-school volume knob has been replaced by large up/down buttons on the right hand side.
Improved and enhanced from Vincent’s SP-991 (with a DC Servo, using a OPA2604 op-amp in the power supply), the SP-995 monoblocks sports 15 FET output devices and eight 10,000µF capacitors acting as a reservoir, so that it is capable of delivering 100W in Class A into an eight-ohm load, and even 350W into a two-ohm load, which is extremely impressive. It can also be run in Class AB mode; less heat, more power, less clean sound. Think of this as the difference between ‘refined listening’ and ‘partaay’. This is controlled from the front panel. The amps support balanced or single-ended operation and there is a 12V trigger circuit that can be used between pre and power to ensure power up and down happen in the right order.
The power amps offer Class A and AB sound. Use Class A, and use the amps in balanced mode. Class A and balanced brings a combination of precision and naturalness to the presentation. Class AB on the other hand takes that clarity and freezes it out, making a performance that is as cool and cold as it is powerful. If you need the additional power Class AB brings to drive your speakers for anything other than parties, find some other amps.
Staying squarely in Class A then, the combination of the pure and as clear as a mountain spring qualities of the preamp are a perfect foil for the smooth refinement and big powerful bass of the powers. The two combine to make a sound that stays just the right side of ‘full fat’, an harmonically rich and entertaining sound that could so easily fall over into a thick and almost flabby sound, but never, ever does.
This makes for a sophisticated sound; the kind of thing that sounds great playing Maria Callas or Miles Davis as you sip your second Rob Roy of the evening. It’s not the kind of thing you would play Green Day through while you necked your pint of snakebite. There is plenty of power on hand, but it’s graceful power. Seductive, but not tube-like. Rich, but not lush. Detailed, but not analytical and certainly not etched. But it’s perhaps this that is the main thing that delineates the Vincent from the very top of the tree. The really, really good amps often have a similarly sophisticated Miles Davis character… but can also sound good playing something from Dookie. But don’t think this compromised, instead it’s a lifestyle choice. And given that a lot of audiophiles will end up using this Vincent amp combo to play Miles Davis, it’s probably the right lifestyle choice.
This means you get a fundamentally clean and powerful sound with a very tidy and large soundstage, and excellent solidity. Playing Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique (Symphony No 6, played by Mariss Jansons and the Oslo Phil on Chandos), the size and scale of the orchestra is given full voice – and this is orchestra played large, especially in the impassioned, ‘open a vein here’ first movement. It’s not just big scale, because there is a lot of refinement on offer too, but if there’s a soundstage to be resolved, it will be portrayed to full effect on these amplfiers.
Moving over to some classic jazz in the shape of Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley’s Somethin’ Else shows the big scale applies universally, and this small combo could do with sounding less expansive. It’s still good and open sounding, just big and full in the bass. This makes the amps ideal to partner with high-quality standmounts and some of the more clean sounding full-range standmounts, but less of a natural combination with speakers that come with bassier or more fat sounding bottom ends.
I was expecting the usual ‘good power amps, shame about the pre’ from this pairing, if only because good preamps are always thin on the ground at any price point. In fact, what Vincent provides is a pairing that is very evenly balanced – both pre and monos are extremely natural sounding and if anything, the preamp is ever so slightly better than the powers. Now that is a rarity. In fact, the pre and monos are so close in performance terms it would seem churlish to split them up.
There’s been a niggling “I’ve heard this sound before” going over and over in my brain. It took a while to remember what the Vincent reminds me of, but finally it came to me – it sounds a lot like that classic early 1990s combination of PS Audio preamp and Counterpoint power amplifier that worked so well. OK, so the caveat to this is the Vincents only replicate this classic combo in Class A mode (Class AB does well, but it’s got a more aggressive edge to it). But the big bass, the transparency and the overall sense of order just reminds me of that classic combo.
Obviously, recalling an amplifier sound from the early 1990s, when it resided in someone else’s system and one that bears absolutely no context to anything in today’s market is about as haphazard as you can get. It’s almost like trying to recall the hair colour of the passenger of the 43rd car you passed on the Motorway last week. Except that the PS Audio/Counterpoint system was just so satisfying and enjoyable, and yet also so detailed and accurate, it stuck in the mind… and this is its modern equivalent. And like the PS Audio/Counterpart combination, it even shares the same observations, namely it’s more a beauteous sound than an energetic one. The amplifier combination is outstanding on opera, where the sense of theatre pushes the music along in its own right, but driving power chords and snappy electronica is slightly softened and bloomy. This is not really a deal-breaker for most people, but those who define systems from the temporal outwards will not approve of the Vincent combo.
The Vincent SA-94 and SP-995s are very good amplifiers in combination, and none too shabby taken as separate components. I marginally preferred the preamplifier to the powers when split, which is always a sign of good engineering because good preamps are hard to find. These are not amps that ‘disappear’ however; they impart their own distinct character on the music, and if you are in step with that character, you’ll find these a difficult act to follow. That’s not a bad thing, because the character they impart is easy to listen to and reminiscent of one of the best high-end combinations from highend’s heyday. We try not to focus on price here, but this offers a classic highend sound, but without an astronomic price tag and could represent the first step in a long and exciting high-end audio journey. Enjoy the ride!
Vincent SA-94 preamp
Inputs: 5x RCA stereo (LINE IN), 1x XLR
stereo (LINE IN)
Input sensitivity: 380 mV
Input Impedance: 47 kΩ
Outputs: 2x RCA stereo (PRE OUT), 1x XLR
stereo (PRE OUT), 1x RCA stereo (REC
OUT), 2x Power Control (3.5mm Jack)
Frequency response: 10 Hz - 20 kHz
Total Harmonic Distortion: < 0.1%
Signal to Noise Ratio: > 95 dB
Channel Separation: > 86 dB
Dimensions (W x H x D): 43x8.4x36cm
Vincent SP-995 power amplifier
Inputs: 1x RCA Main Input mono, 1x XLR
Main Input mono, 1x POWER CONTROL
(3.5 mm jack)
Outputs: connectors for up to 2
loudspeakers, 1x POWER CONTROL
(3.5 mm jack)
Frequency response: 20 Hz - 20 kHz ±0.5 dB
Nominal Output Power per channel at
8Ω (Class A/AB): 100 W (continuous)
Nominal Output Power per channel at
4Ω: 200 W (continuous)
Input sensitivity: 800 mV
Total Harmonic Distortion: < 0.1% (20Hz –
20kHz, 8Ω, at nominal output power)
Signal to Noise Ratio: > 90 dB
Input Impedance: 47 kΩ
Dimensions (W x H x D): 43x15x43.5cm
Weight: 19.5 kg per channel
Colour: black / silver
Price: £1,659 per channel
Manufactured by: Vincent/T.A.C
Distributed by: Vincent Shop
Tel: +44(0)20 8374 3958
Mob: +44 (0)79 83619671
by Alan Sircom | Oct 05, 2012