Reviewer: Jules Coleman
Source: Well Tempered Classic w. Roksan Shiraz; Audiomeca Obsession transport connected to Audio Logic 24 MXL tube DAC via Stealth Varidig cable; Combak Reimyo CDP 777 [in for review]; Well Tempered Reference [in for review]
Preamp/Integrated: JJ-Tesla 243; Shindo Monbrison
Amp: Mark Pearson EL-34 monos Combak Reimyo 300B [in for review]
Speakers: Duevel Bella Luna Diamante; Wilson Audio Sophia
Cables: Stealth; P.S.C.; Audience Au24
Powerline conditioning: BPT BP-3.5 Signature and Blue Circle Music Ring 1200
Stand: HRS MR1 rack [in for review]

Sundry accessories: Harmonix feet, Black Diamond Racing cones, Vibrapods
Room size: 30' x18' x9'
Review component retail: $17,800

Ken Shindo began designing preamplifiers and amplifiers as DIY projects in the 1970s. By the end of that decade, several of his designs were well known and highly respected. In 1977, he began manufacturing in earnest, establishing Shindo Laboratory dedicated to the design and manufacture of world-class audio components. One of his first Shindo Lab branded products appeared in 1979. It was an amplifier based on the original Western Electric 300B output tube and the precursor of what would become Shindo's most popular current design - the W.E.300B Ltd [below]. Now twenty five years later, the House of Shindo has become synonymous with distinctive, state-of-the art audio equipment. Among high-end DIY hobbyists, Shindo himself has attained legendary status for the creativity and imagination of his designs while, both in Japan and abroad, he remains respected and admired by his peers for the exquisite execution of his designs and especially the musical values embodied in each of the products bearing his name.

Nor is Shindo Laboratory short on product. Indeed, it is a veritable full- function, one-stop, state-of-the-art audio manufacturer. Shindo designs and manufactures a full range of preamplifiers and amplifiers, speakers -- including the extraordinary Latour field coil (sneak peek at the only one currently in the U.S. to follow) -- turntables (a modern version of the legendary Garrard 301 including a modified Ortofon arm and a retooled SPU cartridge), as well as cables and interconnects.

Shindo Laboratory has its heart in analogue playback. Judging from the lineup of extraordinary preamplifiers which includes the Monbrison I recently reviewed -- all but one of which feature phono stages, many of which also built-in step-up transformers adequate to drive low output moving coils like the Ortofon SPU -- Shindo is not embarrassed to wear its heart on its sleeve. Rather, Shindo Laboratory proudly embraces its link to the grand tradition of great tube designs. Indeed, the chassis design of the Sinhonia F2a monoblock amplifier that has graced my reference system for the past several months -- and is likely do so for years to come -- recalls the Marantz 2 amplifier of yore. Further paying homage to its roots, the Sinhonia, like other Shindo products, is painted the ubiquitous Altec green though the Sinhonia is a somewhat lighter, almost faded shade of green than the Monbrison.

Unembarrassed by tradition and heritage, Shindo is even less likely to jettison successful tested designs in favor of the latest flavor of the month. The Sinhonia F2a has been in continuous production since 1985. 1985! That makes this amplifier design nearly twenty years old. According to their website, it is also the amplifier Shindo employs in "his lounge".

Though designed twenty years ago and having undergone only minor modifications since, the Sinhonia F2a exhibits none of the so-called classic tube sound. There is nothing rounded, romantic or sluggish about it. And that pleasant tube roll-off at the frequency extremes? No chance. The Sinhonia has an openness, clarity, transparency and extension that is absolutely bracing. Once you hear it, you cannot help but wonder how those hearing it for the first time in the mid '80s must have been taken aback by its presentation. The Sinhonia is a remarkable amplifier; so much so that its retail price of $17,800 makes it, by my reckoning, a bargain of extraordinary proportions. If its 40 watts/channel aren't enough to drive your dynamic speakers, sell the speakers and buy something suitable.

Design and Meaning
The great Japanese designers are not, how shall I put it, into size. The glorious Kondo Neiro amplifier has a relatively small footprint as does the quite captivating Combak Reimyo 300B amplifier currently in for review. The same is true of all the Shindo electronics I've had in-house or have seen or heard elsewhere. The aesthetic is simple, functional, honest and personal. The design reflects not only what the equipment does and how it does it, but also who the designer is and what is important to him.

And so while functional and simple, each design aesthetic conveys a deeply personal meaning. In Shindo's case, that meaning is expressed in the historical references -- references both subtle and intentional -- of Ken's designs. If you know tube gear and its history, you are drawn to the way in which the Sinhonia references the Marantz 2 chassis. You either get this reference or you don't. If you get it, a smile comes over your face and you are even more excited by the prospect of listening to the amplifier. If you don't get the reference, no problem. The aesthetic will be perfectly acceptable in any case. I got the reference and loved the look largely because of it.

Each Sinhonia monoblock measures 14.95" x 6.3" x 8.6" WxHxD and weighs in at 40 lb. The layout is straightforward. All the tubes, inputs and speaker connections are exposed along the front edge of the amplifier chassis. The power and potted output transformer are encased at the rear under the Altec green metalwork, shifting more than half of the amplifier's weight to the back. The only part of the chassis not Altec green is the silver top front plate. Let's take a tour. Looking left to right, the extreme front-left cylindrical capacitor and large rectangular NOS oil can capacitor behind it both feed the power supply. Next is the NOS ECL82/6BM8 triode/pentode input/driver tube which uses the adjacent interstage transformer under its small grey hood to split phase and drive the F2a output tubes.

In front of the input/driver tube are two RCA inputs for preamplifier matching, with the first specified at 50k ohm input impedance, the second at 100k. (I experimented with both inputs in conjunction with the Monbrison preamplifier and detected no discernible difference in performance. With Shindo's output transformer-coupled preamps, the 50k Ohm input may provide a better match.) To the right of the RCA input sockets is a small attenuator control for adjusting inter-channel balance. This knob is not intended to control gain or absolute volume, something which is to be done at the preamplifier. The amplifiers sound their best with this trim attenuator fully open or bypassed. If required, output balancing is accomplished by backing off one or the other amplifier level control.

To the right of said level control is the green light bulb that indicates power status - though the tubes lighting up is a pretty good indicator as well. Behind this bulb sit the Siemens F2a output tetrodes in push/pull configuration. To the back and between them resides a 2A slow-blow fuse. To the right of the power indicator -- and for shortest signal path, directly in front of the output tubes -- sits the barrier strip for speaker cable connections. Taps for 4, 8 and 16 ohm speakers are provided. Two NOS 6AU4GTA damper diode valves for power regulation then nestle to the right of the output tubes, in the amp under review sourced from GE. Behind these tubes exits the captured two-prong power cord. Between them and the barrier strip, the power mains toggle demurely awaits flicking by the expectant listener.

The Sinhonia is configured for pure Class A operation and the manufacturer reports its output at 40 watts per amp.