Positive Feedback ISSUE 69
Ovation SA8 Amplifier
as reviewed by Gary Lea
Same Intro applies to all the AVM products in this trio that I have reviewed so it will seem like Déjà vu. Most likely because it is repetitive!
Déjà vu, from French, literally "already seen", is the phenomenon of having the strong sensation that an event or experience currently being experienced has been experienced in the past, whether it has actually happened or not. Do something spontaneous to rid yourself of the sensation. Or Deja Vu Showgirls Voted #1 Strip Club in Las Vegas.
Symbiosis (from Ancient Greek σύν "together" and βίωσις "living") is close and often long-term interaction between two or more different biological species. In 1877, Bennett used the word symbiosis (which previously had been used to depict people living together in community) to describe the mutually beneficial relationship.
Now why on earth is he opening up a review with definitions of two completely unrelated subjects and one of the definitions having two completely different meanings? Good enough then.
1. Déjà vu obviously referring to the fact that I did a 3 component review of AVM products when they first entered the US market right here in these pages. The alternative definition is an ode to Las Vegas where I reside. A town in which form many years the CES convention high end stereo exhibits and the Adult Video convention took place in the same building. Hence the fact that Déjà vu is arguably rated the number one strip club in Vegas. For the sake of this article definition one is the one that matters.
2. Symbiosis is the reference to an interesting interaction between a mix of two or more audio components that are solid state and tube.
There you have it. This review is both a Déjà vu experience for me and it is about the symbiosis between a set of solid state and tube components all living together in relative perfect harmony, (noting that nothing is ever perfect if it is created by man).
AVM Ovation SA8 Amplifier
The first item to arrive in my audio room was the Ovation SA8 stereo amp. This is a solid state behemoth of sorts as it delivers 200 watts per channel at 8ohms and 360 watts per channel at 4 ohms in a box measuring 16.5 inches deep by 17 inches wide and 10 inches high. Not the biggest amp in the world but still visually large. Then comes the part where you have to schlep its single chassis’s 92.4 pounds of heft.
Combine all the factors and this is a behemoth in my book. (Normally I would place the manufacturers technical info here but this time I am saving it for the end of the review after closing comments.)
The amp arrived in a nice shipping case, handles and all which made carrying it a bit easier. I was really thrilled by the visual aesthetics of the amp once it was uncrated. All silver with a smooth front plate with a deeply engraved AVM logo on top and nicely executed aluminum heat sink fins down each side. The back panel was simply elegant in layout and easy to connect cables to. This is a shining example of German efficiency and ergonomics.
What all that means to the end user is that the SA8 provides plenty of distortion free, lightening quick response and a fairly neutral delivery. I set the amp up in between my Jolida Music Envoys and connected the amp to my Jolida Music Envoy preamp, Cary Audio CD player and my Opera turntable. After letting it run in for about 40 hours I began to do critical listening.
What I noticed immediately was a sense of warmth that I had not experienced with the MA 3.2 amps. I praised the MA3.2s for incredible dynamics, soundstage and overall delivery of the music but I don’t believe that I labeled them as warm at all. At first I attributed this to the Jolida being a tube preamp. Just to be sure I substituted a Bel Canto solid-state preamp in its place and yet the hint of warmth remained albeit a little less pronounced.
This amp is definitely dialed in with a bit more warmth than the MA 3.2s have but the resounding impression I was left with was the positive attributes that I noticed in the MA 3.2s were all there in spades and with zero loss of any of the dynamic punch, immense soundstage height and depth, incredible imaging and still the neutrality was there but with a bit of sweetness. That may almost sound diametrically opposed. Is it possible to have sweetness and neutrality in the same sentence let alone in the same musical performance. I say hell yes. I think way too often we equate neutrality with sterility and that is certainly not the case. Live music is not sterile. It is often very warm and what I found the SA8 doing was delivering the warmth of the music without any artificial bloat or enhancement. I have only listened (at length at least) to one other solid state amp that did this as well as the SA8 in all my career of reviewing some 17 years now.
I utilized the exact same reference music for this review as I did for the previous AVM review simply for the congruency of it all. From my previous review "I played a very diverse selection of music and as an example of the sort of shifts in styles and loads to the system I might throw down in a single listening section it was not uncommon to go from the Ji Grandi del Jazz recording of Stephan Grappelli GDJ47, recorded in 1969 and 1973 right straight into Joe Satriani's Flying in a Blue Dream LP, Relativity Records in their entireties. Grappelli's mostly acoustic jazz requires a certain finesse to handle properly and to deliver with the correct amount of up close, small, smoky, scotch laced, club intimacy. Tracks include the late and great beyond words, Django Reinhardt."
What I found during the audition of the AVM SA8 amp alone in my systems was incredible punch to bottom end. Delivery was about as swift as a lightning bolt hitting an object on the ground. This was true especially with large scale dynamic passages such as those experienced in Holt’s Planets. Large orchestral swings were handled matter-of-factly without the system breaking the tiniest of sweats to run the gauntlet. Rock such as Joe Satriani’s "Flying in a Blue Dream" rattled the foundation but with a crystal clarity of instruments that I don’t often find. The separation of the instruments was as good as I have ever heard in my own audio room. I think if there was even a slight kink in the armor of the SA8 it might be in more delicate jazz deliveries. While they were totally acceptable there was some slight loss of intimacy when compared to the Jolidas. Not enough that it would deter me from buying it. It is just something in the gut that I noticed while trying to be über critical and curb my obvious enthusiasm for what I was hearing. (full and honest disclosure). In one final reference to the MA3.2 review I stated, "Most importantly though was the ability of this amp to produce all of the wonderful contrasts, dynamic swings and delicacy of Eva Cassidy's "Somewhere Over The Rainbow". This is the track I always revert to for a final summation. Only a top flight set of components can do it justice, reveal the depth of emotion, the delicacy of an angelic voice and the slam of the dynamic changes needed to bring a tear to the eye. The AVMs pass with flying colors. Sort of a rainbow of colors if you will. (Yes I really did go there and I am not a bit ashamed)" Again this was a repeat performance with the same outcome that I had in the previous review. Stunning seems to sum it up perfectly! As with the 3.2s the SA8 did a fabulous job of bringing the full range and depth of Eva’s voice front and center. Delicacy was delivered with appropriate breath and volume. If she whispered I swear you would feel it across the room. When she soars towards the end of the song her range comes through totally controlled and scales effortlessly upward. It ‘s not that the amp overly controls the delivery but rather allows the listener to hear and understand the divine range and control that Eva possessed over her own voice.
As I have stated in the other two reviews in the series these components work well in any situation you throw them. Are you looking for a great power amp with a lot of grunt, clarity beyond reason and a lack of harshness and grain? This AVM will do it for you. Not only that but it will do it for you for a lot less than some of the competitors with the same or similar specs, engineering and quality. As I said in the CD 5.2 review, AVM = Absolute Value Maxed!
One final note that I have saved for this installment. I would be remiss if I did not go on record as saying that the symbiosis between all three components in this group rocked my audio world unlike it has been rocked in recent pass. Since the fabulous Ayon group I had three years ago gracing my room nothing has impacted the overall enjoyment of my listening as did the combination of the SA8, the CD5.2 and the PA5.2. What made this most magical was the cost versus performance values. One of the best I have ever seen! Gary Lea
Ovation SV8 Amplifier