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In a different style, the more recent live recording of Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting Le Sacre du Printemps got a very fair rendering. The kinetic and full-bodied version of the Los Angeles Philharmonic was expressed with a broad sound field and the highly percussive warhorse pranced in the listening room without doubt. The L.A. Philharmonic's enormous precision, control and lean muscular organic sound were conveyed in full force. While such recordings might be impressive on most audio systems, there are a few necessary details to enhance ultimate realism: soundstage width and depth and whatever weight and acoustic pressure your system can really muster. The Vincent SV-238 handles all this very well and maintains pleasant timbres and a fluid gestalt during massed mayhem.

Leaving Salonen, I progressed to the very first Hiromi Uehara album, one of the best torture tests for transistor amplifiers. The Vincent again demonstrated its powerful abilities of controlling any difficult load up to excessively loud levels. It is certainly difficult to enjoy the young Japanese lady at anything but loud levels. Hiromi's music is clearly a lusty invite to crank up the juice indecently. What about the Vincent? The SV-238 puts you center stage. It delivers the necessary speed and power required by the furious game of the Japanese pianist and her team mates. The speakers exhibit sovereign authority. Hiromi's stop and go are perfectly served and if you pay attention, Rachmaninov will seem lazy by comparison.

It is not frequent that one listens to acoustic instruments with such intensity and at this particular opportunity, it seemed extremely helpful to measure distortion at high output. The hammered attacks of the piano reproduced at realistic levels always offered a very clean sound with pleasingly rich timbre. Loud volumes do not degrade the Vincent's handling of harmonic complexity and no meaningful variation can be perceived when the circuit enters class AB operation. It remains coherent regardless.

The tonal balance of the Vincent is slightly dark due to some recession in the upper midrange. Its sound is quite tube-like there in warmth and liquidity. Substituting the Rotel RB-1092's class D power stage, the difference was obvious. The physicality and weight of the Vincent equal the best class A amplifiers. The SV-238 delivers good bulky bass with big dynamic impact but no transient excess that could be detrimental to musicality. One of the most striking aspects is its perfect control and absence of any confusion during the most complex musical pieces.

Showing strong abilities, one could consider this integrated amplifier an interesting power amp and it undoubtedly is. But if generally most of the integrated amps of its price range could stand improved preamp sections, the Vincent SV-238 clearly punches above average, reproducing a very detailed and accurate sound with impressive transparency. Design and technology are so well balanced that the delineation between integrated amplifier and separates becomes difficult (and it also removes the perpetual struggle to find that perfect interconnect cable between amp and preamp). This is astonishing performance for an integrated amplifier in a highly competitive class. If you were to look for equivalent performance amongst prestigious brands, you should be prepared to seriously increase your budget. In my opinion, few amps can compete in this specific price range. The interesting LSA Standard hybrid also built in China but designed in the US and comparable in price might.

Conclusion: The overall high level of the Vincent's musical performance, build and features makes it difficult to levy any complaints. At the price, it becomes nearly impossible. Nevertheless, if I were forced to bring some lamentations to the table, I would say that the physical depth combined with the weight make a difficult task of integrating the Vincent with that last beautiful audio rack your wife picked a few weeks ago. I personally opted for a crass DIY solution made from Ikea coffee tables.

A second but only eventual criticism in the perennial upgrade game is the impossibility to connect a separate preamp. But all things considered and taking into account the outstanding quality of the internal preamp section, this really is academic. Finally, what truly is exceptional about the SV-238 is the absence of particular weaknesses. This fact might indeed be the rare warranty for any music lover to get satisfaction over the long haul and to match their amplifier with a wide range of future speakers and electronic ancillaries without eventually calling the amp the weak link.

Obviously, I cannot call the Vincent SV-238 the best integrated amplifier available (only someone omniscient could) yet I'm quite confident of its many strengths and few shortcomings. Most important, it is an extraordinary value at less than 3,000 euros. In this range, it should prove nearly impossible to identify competitors capable of similar power reserves which would control such a wide range of speaker loads with the Vincent's fine combination of authority, elegance and delicacy. If you are looking for a companion for your expensive new full-range speakers but money is limited, this Vincent is undoubtedly a very interesting option before you can swing the €8,000 integrated or separates of your dreams. Should that time come, you might simply feel far less inclined to act upon it as the upgrade could seem far less of an upgrade then. But I rather think you'd not be too bothered by that.
Vincent Audio website