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The Good Doctor Says Goodbye…
Another review cycle comes to a close.
For the past few months, I have been playing the dickens out of a sweet little KT-88 integrated amplifier (The Sound Quest SQ-88) and its full function brother CD player the SQ-12.
Those of you, who have been following my exploits with Chinese-sourced audio, will recall my description of one particular import scheme, where the importer has pieces made to order in China, buys a bunch, and then vends them under a house name. This describes the Sound Quest label.
My hypothesis was, and remains, that while this import schema may be a bit more expensive than some other methods, it offers greater security for the buyer. I think greater care is taken because of the up-front investment, and because the importer will bare the cost and problems with warranty work.
So, understanding that the US audiophile consumer still views Chinese-sourced equipment with a jaundiced eye, I decided I would put the Sound Quest components to the acid test; every-day use status, with no mercy, in both audio and theater application, and see how they held up.
The Sound Quest duo performed flawlessly, which is more than I can say for a number of other pieces in residence during this time (some you will read about, some you won't). No burps, no rejected discs, no hiccups …turn 'em on, and they work, which those of you with experience with tube equipment may appreciate even more.
The joke out there is that, whatever the name of the Chinese imported tube amplifier, the name translates to "fireball".
Well, I want to put that (darkly amusing) slur to rest.
I don't know what more a reasonable person could have expected from these two pieces, in terms of reliability and functionality. They performed perfectly throughout the review period.
I am in favor of this new trend with thick wood faceplates. The SQ duo is very natty in appearance, with good fit and finish at this price point. They are relatively heavily constructed and boast a pretty high WAF. Of course, I am always in favor of losing the tube cages (well, except for the clear WAVAC ones …damn, I still lust after that little WAVAC SE integrated, but $4k? Whew). The SQ duo are very attractive, with no trace of lumpy "industrial" appearance.
The 55-watt integrated amp retails for $1579 (with remote and free "footers" and the CDP for $1200 … (again, free remote and footers). I paired them mostly with the superb ACI Sapphires ($1400), which seemed a reasonable choice, and what I had available.
While the Sapphires are not an inconsequential load for a smallish amplifier (55 watts), the SQ-88 never balked or complained. I am sure I was clipping it at times, but there was absolutely no miss-behavior, sonically or otherwise. Driven very hard, it would simply defocus a bit.
The mix of these three components is significantly to the warm and sweet side of the neutrality scale.
I even threw the SQ-12 player into my main system (interestingly, it has balanced outs) with a pair of Jena Labs interconnects that are more expensive than the player itself (I wanted to hear precisely what it was doing) to confirm my suspicions that the CDP is voiced for analog lovers …which it is.
With a noticeable push out in the bass regions and a bit of softening at the top, this engaging player makes for a rich and fatigue-free presentation. There was the tiniest bit of hazing in the upper mid-range, but you have to remember, this modestly priced CDP is fronting a gerzillion dollars worth of high-end electronics, speakers and tweaking. I was surprised by how well it held up. On the ACI's that tiny bit of haze was not in evidence.
Combine this harmonic warmth with the prototypical KT-88 punchiness and rhythmic drive and no life is lost to the richer-than-neutral presentation. Harmonic textures (which I often find to be a problem for equipment at this price point) were very good, if again, somewhat to the ripe side of the scale; bass was extended and surprisingly tuneful, if not state-of-the art tight.
I found this additional energy in the LF to allow for many more options in speaker placement without the dreaded bass "suck-out". Getting the speakers away from room boundaries really opened them up in this application, but without sacrificing the low end. This would be a perfect combination of source and integrated amplifier to address a dry and hyper-detailed speaker. It would also be perfect for rooms, where one has to use the mid-to near field listening position. The ACI's are so absent any "beamy"ness, you can be in very close proximity to them without distress.
As a system, the results were very enjoyable, with most errors occurring in the "omissions" category.
Assuming reasonable interconnects, speaker cabling and stands, you could put a complete system together here for a little north of five grand. It will be reliable, very attractive visually, and hugely musical. Tuck one of those terrific ACI subs in for HT, and I am not sure what else one could ask.
Sound Quest SQ-88
KT-88 integrated amplifier, with remote volume control
SQ SQ12 High End CD-player
Quest For Sound