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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: APL HiFi NWO 3.0-GO; Raysonic Audio CD-168
Preamp/Integrated: Red Wine Audio Signature 30.2 [on review]

Amp: First Watt F5
Speakers: ASI Tango R; Zu Audio Essence [on review]
Cables: ASI Liveline interconnects, Crystal Cable Ultra loom; Crystal Cable Reference power cords
Stands: 2 x Ikea Molger, Ikea butcher-block platforms with metal footers
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S, custom AudioSector 800KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option for 120V Raysonic
Sundry accessories: Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, sugar cubes and phase inverters
Room size: The sound platform is 3 x 4.5m with a 2-story slanted ceiling above; four steps below continue into an 8m long combined open kitchen, dining room and office, an area which widens to 5.2m with a 2.8m ceiling; the sound platform space is open to a 2nd story landing and, via spiral stair case, to a 3rd-floor studio; concrete floor, concrete and brick walls from a converted barn with no parallel walls nor perfect right angles; short-wall setup with speaker backs facing the 8-meter expanse and 2nd-story landing.
Review Component Retail: €,600

I passed the test! I grinned at Boris Susanj's unsolicited e-mail a week after my TopAudio 2008 show report hit. When chancing upon Sutra's exhibit of their new model 1.3 class T amp in Milan, I'd hunkered down. After Boris hit play, I'd instinctively spurted out "Renaud Garcia Fons". Well, he could have played me 1001 songs I'd not have recognized. But give me Arcoluz or any other album by this French monster upright bassist and I'll identify any cut in a heart beat. A man should recognize his lovers in the dark after all.

Apparently I was the only one to spot RGF. That and my show report comments convinced Boris to solicit this review. The secret handshake had passed without my notice. Bless the powers of good music. True too, I love battery-powered Tripath amps by Firenze Audio, Passion &ound and Red Wine Audio. Those all cost rather more than the Sutra which runs a traditional bridge rectifier and power transformer. Having admired build 'n' parts quality in Milan through a glass case which showed each part that makes a 1.3 [above], I was curious. Where would less money and AC instead of battery power move relative to the above referenced amplifiers? Were their DC power supplies the performance necessity they claimed or implied? How far lower would slumming with the Sutra fall on the audiophile satisfaction index? What kind of sonic flavor would it pursue within the presumably general T-class neighborhood?

"At every show, you hope to spot at least one component that's priced below one grand and seems to offer a ton so you bring home an easy recommendation. At Milan, the Sutra 1.3 was it. Check out the parts that go into it - 30,000uf of capacitance, a 60VA toroid, an Alps Blue pot, van den Hul hookup wiring - and all to put out 15wpc at 90% efficiency." Here is a euro product to act locally if you're a European who feels self-conscious about going after the KingRex, Trends or Winsome Mouse Asian micro boxes. Plus, the low-power Switch-Efficient Transistor (SET?) amp phenom has shown real market traction. Virtue Audio's collaboration with Audience lead engineer Roger Sheker is merely the latest iteration.

When a concept like T amps mushrooms, you needn't be Dirty Harry to ask yourself: Do I feel lucky to author yet another amplifier in a badly jammed market; or is this really a good-sounding platform which requires little tarting up to have plenty of people notice? Cynics always invoke ad spin and people buying what they're told by crooked reviewers. That theory holds little water with really affordable stuff. A lot of it is cheap enough to risk on a lark. Sufficient units are actually out there being listened to. If the core Tripath platform sucked, people wouldn't hesitate dumping it. The used market would soon be flooded and the concept condemned by foul feedback. So why hasn't this movement crashed yet?

If you don't need a lot of power and low-impedance stability, the specific Tripath/TI chips popular in this sector are perhaps the most cost-effective way to build and own good sound. Gain-clone National-chip amps are another viable option but less efficient. They require bigger power supplies, hence a bigger design budget. Back to the Sutra. The above reconfirms not to expect whiz-bang circuit breakthroughs. We're looking at a proven recipe that's simply been packaged in a sturdy attractive box, fitted with high-quality parts inside and stuck with a fair tag on the outside. No big claims, no extreme tech, no sizzle, no trophy rights. Perhaps that makes it boring to big-ticket hunters and deep-pocket star reviewers. But it'll be of prime interest to realsizationists and earnest students of current economics.

By the way, in Eastern wisdom traditions, sutra -- "of minimal syllabary, unambiguous, pithy, comprehensive, non-redundant and without flaw: who knows the sūtra knows it to be thus" -- relates to aphorisms or condensed sayings of the Buddha and other great teachers. Adopting this term for an audio company emphasizes the essentials. Here it means 3 inputs, 10 watts RMS (15 into 4 ohms), no remote control, a passive attenuator and 600 euros. As Boris added: "Your bit about 'blue collar' in your first comments struck me because this is something we want to address with our products and pricing. Since the late '80s, there seems to have vanished the mid level in hifi. Either you have now cheapo all-in-one systems or you have to go into esoteric territory. We're just a little scared now from what you've already written because there seem to be huge expectations for our small amp. We suggest a break-in of 50 hours or more before a careful listening session."

Scaling expectations. That's a prerequisite for anyone fluent in expensivo. But there's much gimmickry too in audio, much emphasis on vault-like overkill, features and glitz that won't matter to the ears. The most important thing with affordable amps is always to match them to proper speakers. Do that and the differences between cheap and expensive amps can be a lot smaller than expected. If cheap correlates with good. Good should mean low power to make what constitutes an adequate or even overbuilt power supply something very manageable. Avoid multi-stage complexity and you also avoid the need to address their innate distortion escalation. And so on. The keep it simple concept has merit on many fronts. With the Sutra being an amp+pot concept, i.e. a 'passive' integrated without active preamp stage, your source's output stage drives the Sutra. Hence you want low input impedance. The opamp input buffer for the T-chip sits behind the pot which presents from 1.3K to nearly 20M from 9:00 to fully open.

To play loud enough with a 2-volt source, the Sutra needs sufficient gain. That figure is 22dB. It's somewhat modest on paper. Testing would have to determine the range of copasetic speaker sensitivities. On how Sutra the company came to be, Boris shared this: "We can say that the seeds for Sutra were planted in 1999 when I co-founded the company, ACAB Design. ACAB worked mainly in marketing and is now managing a big educational project for a multinational corporation in Italy To launch the 1.3 amplifier took almost ten years, the rise out of the Tripath 'phenomenon' and the meeting of two music-loving electronic engineers. Like most people, we were amazed by the sound quality of the T amp and as I said, we wanted to tackle the problem of people not listening to good gear. This is paradoxical. In an age of hi-rez music, we're listening to worse hardware than casette recorders of 25 year ago.

"The other issue is, how do you attract people who are normally reluctant to step into a specialist hifi shop but love to listen to music, to buy hifi gear? Suggestions are welcome but one thing is certain - they definitely won't fork out thousands of euros to buy hi-end stuff. My friends are perfect examples. They are music literates but they never get into a shop unless I drag them and knowing my passion for hifi ,they ask more and more advice on what to purchase. Let's say that it was sort of putting 2 and 2 together...

"Our assembly is done entirely by hand and some part are made by us like the knobs which we craft from a solid chunk of alloy. Whenever we can, we use Italian parts/components made by small but reliable companies like the toroid made in the Veneto region or the input switch, which is made by a well-known company named Palazzo located in Turin. The on/off switch is a Swiss Schurter."