According to Webster's, debauch is defined as "to seduce from chastity" and 'to corrupt by intemperance or sensuality" - a key of course helps. And that's just what this little amplifier provided me with. The SA-34 gently grabbed my arm, sweetly whispered promises of carnal delight into my ear and gently pulled me into my listening room for countless evenings of wanton debauchery. The SA-34 SB illuminated my entire room with a warm, inviting, remarkably deep and layered soundstage. On large-scale classical works, there was remarkable separation between the sections of the orchestra, with a lovely halo of space around individual instruments. Vocals were compelling, engaging and immediate. Music was remarkably lucid and articulate, with a pleasantly rounded bottom end. The treble was smooth, slightly rolled off and possessed of a feathery delicacy that was evident on stringed acoustic instruments. I could not detect any hint of midband thickness or opacity.

In fact, the SA-34 displayed an exceptionally well-defined, clean midrange. I became more aware of subtle nuances in recordings such as the intake of breath by a soprano before launching into an aria, or the wetting of lips, the spaces around notes, the snapping of fingers, shimmering cymbals and the quick transient snaps and pops of plucked strings and snare drums. All the subtle cues that fool one's brain into believing that there are real live performers present in the listening room? They were starkly evident on this little SET integrated. Music was alive!

With great surprise, I discovered that I could play music at a reduced volume without the sound becoming recessed. It felt as if there was more power available than the measly 4 watts specified. This may sound strange, but this little amp could fill my room with greater ease than either the more powerful Unico or B60. I had to crank up both amps to get anywhere near the sheer presence and immediacy of the SA-34. Even then, neither displayed the liquidity and sense of natural ease that the Song had. On the other hand, the SA-34 could not deliver the sheer slam of the Unico. Nor did it offer the extended highs or bass grunt of the husky Italian. As good as the SA-34 is, I can only imagine how awesome a more expensive 2A3 or 300B based SET amp must sound. Song has already warned me that when I eventually do hear a decent 300B amp, I'll probably never go back to solid state. Holy thermionic bliss, Batman. Tie me up, I can hardly wait. And throw that key away...

One would suspect that a 4wpc amp would limit musical genres and recordings to so-called audiophile discs of chamber music and small jazz ensembles. While those types of recordings worked extremely well on the SA-34, there was nary a protest when I fed it a heavy diet of large orchestral works, electronica, and Rock'n'Roll. There went another false preconception! SETs can play real music.

The Rough Guide to Asian Underground [World Music Network 1096] is a terrific smorgasbord of Western and Asian electronica that has been in my heavy rotation pile since the summer. This tabla and sitar-laced dance music is a tad lean and recessed on my B60, thus requiring some serious stick to get rolling. On the SA-34, this recording sounded full and fleshed out. I became more aware of previously obscured subtleties such as a chirping flute or an acoustic guitar plucking away in the background. On heavily thumping dance tracks, the little SA-34 bounced right along, without the bass frequencies becoming bloated or sluggish.

Dynamic ability was spot on. Rush drummer Neil Peart's stick work on Tom Sawyer [Moving Pictures/Mercury 534631] sounded fast; taut with no overhang. Rim shots simply erupted into the room. Not once did the SA-34 trip up on the myriad of quick, on-the-fly gear changes that Rush so easily manage. Alex Leifson's axe work was downright thick and grungy via this SET. Even vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee's banshee-like wailing was far more agreeable here than on the Unico or Bryston. While the deep bass grunt of the Unico was absent, the lower end of the spectrum was still full and remarkably fast and tuneful. No lagging, flabby bass here.

On Michael Tilson Thomas' recording of Orff's Carmina Burana [CBS MK 33172], soprano Judith Blegen gives a truly wondrous performance during "Tempus est iocundum". Her beautiful voice was rendered so fully, I could make out subtle little details such as her stealthy inhalations, the pursing of her lips, and most of all, the sheer passion Blegen obviously felt for this piece. More importantly even, I got goose bumps! A chill ran up my spine and the hair on the nape of my neck stood on end. Wow. Is that not what HiFi is supposed to do?

Daniel Lanois's soulful, poetic album Shine [Anti 86661] will definitely make my Best of 2003 list. This is a terrific intimate late-night album with Lanois' signature warm, slightly murky atmospherics. Lanois' wistful steel guitar on "Transmitter" was full, tangy and at times, ethereal. Guest vocalists Bono and Emmylou Harris pulled up a couple of chairs and sat right between my speakers for a song or two as well. This album had such presence and life through the SA-34 that the experience turned into a lovely, melancholic, sonic space trip.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the sheer visceral slam and extended frequency range of the Unison Research/PCX Level 2 Unico, to my profound shock, I sometimes preferred listening to music via the SA-34. This puzzled me greatly. The Unico appears to be a technically superior amplifier and it does sound absolutely terrific, with bags of definition and detail. Still, my musical mojo was exceedingly well served via this puny SET.

I expected that the SA-34 would run into trouble with my 89dB Kestrel 2s. Not. I was able to crank the volume as far as I wanted. The SA-34 never protested. It fact, on most recordings, this amp's loudness capability exceeded my max volume tolerance. However, the phase/time-coherent Kestrels with their minimalist crossover do present a reasonably benign load for amplifiers. I therefore suggest one heed Song Audio's advice and steer clear of loudspeakers with less than 90dB sensitivity.

This amplifier confounded my expectations. The pocket protector-wearing audiophile inhabiting the right side of my brain assumed this amp would ultimately be little more than an even-order distortion generator that obscured important musical details with a rich, euphonic glow. But the randy, carefree music lover inhabiting the left portion of my noggin discovered music to be at least as truthful and involving on the SA-34 as any amp chez "bon-bon" to date. It may not have the sheer muscle, frequency extreme extension and loudspeaker compatibility of most push-pull tube and solid-state amps, but this modest SET was extremely musical and simply loads of fun. Provided you pair it with suitable loudspeakers, the $1900 Song Audio SA-34 SB may offer you an ideal, inexpensive pathway to sonic bliss. Truth be told, I'm going to sorely miss this feisty little fella.

Near the end of the review process, I emailed Mr. Kim a few questions.

What prompted you to enter the audio market?
Following my lifelong devotion to music and audio, I felt that I had come to a point where I could genuinely make a contribution to audio by introducing 'cost-no-object' audio at 'real-world' costs. And we are beginning to see the results.
What are Song Audio's primary goals?

We hope to develop our own market niche by introducing younger people in their 20s and 30s and older people who love music to experience 'sound like they've never heard'. We also welcome former audiophiles who have become disillusioned with audio. We need to bring audio back into mainstream society. We also want to show that high power does not necessarily equate to high quality and that it is the responsibility of the loudspeaker manufacturers to aim for >90 dB/1 watt sensitivity in their products.

Why do you prefer SETs over push-pull vacuum tube and solid state products?

More music. The only serious way to make vacuum-tube amplifiers is single-ended triode in non-parallel mode with zero feedback. Anything else sacrifices music for more power. But solid-state can be excellent when done the same way (pure class A with zero feedback).
Why do you use vacuum tube rectification instead of cheaper solid state devices?
We use tube rectifiers because they do not generate switching noise and because they can contribute to the sound quality.
On the SA-34 SB, you utilize Electroharmonix tubes. Why? Do you recommend other brands or NOS tubes for use with your products?
Electroharmonix tubes sound right, are reliable, and are in production. For connoisseurs, we recommend experimenting with different tubes including NOS (such as the Mullard EL34).
What is the warranty on your products?
Tubes? Full replacement value if defective within 90 days from the date of purchase. Labor repair costs? Fully covered for a period of 1 year. All other parts? Full replacement value for 5 years. Servicing must be done by a technician approved by Song Audio with shipping costs to be paid by the customer.

Manufacturer's Comment: Thanks for the delightful review of our baby SET. Now you must try our seductive and intoxicating SA-1 and SA-300 MB.

All the best.

Song Kim

Manufacturer's Website