Reviewer: Artjom Avatinjan
Translator: Viacheslav Savvov
Sources: Mark Levinson SACD-player №512, Studer A807 open-reel tape deck
Amplifiers: S.A.Lab Hercules MkII, S.A.Lab Hercules SE
Loudspeakers: Magico Q3
Cables: S.A.Lab High-Level loom
Equipment rack: Finite-Elemente Pagode Master Reference HD07
Review component retail price: €100'000

If you have read the Bravo test about a flagship amplifying combo from S.A.Lab published here in the spring of 2016, you probably remember our announcement of the upcoming S.A.Lab Hercules system. An opportunity to take a closer look came my way during the autumn Hi-Fi & High End Show 2016 in Moscow. The system was introduced by designer Alexey Syomin personally. The amplifier's 250wpc output power is closer to that of a solid-state than valve amp and principally stipulated by powerful 6п45с/EL509 beam-power tetrodes manufactured in the USSR. Each monaural amp runs four in a push-pull configuration. A worthy partner to these electronics once again proved to be a pair of TAD CR1 speakers; plus a Studer A807 open-reel tape recorder which you can't get by without, can you?

Along a full-sized soundstage and absolute control of dynamic relief (noblesse oblige!), the sound contained everything one expects from the Sound Analysis Laboratory designs. Among other things there was a perennial sanguinity with emphasis on melodic expression caused not by sheer power but finesse. All this resulted in considerable interest from the visitors to the show and a Top High End Product of the Year Award.

Following this, a Hercules MkII was not long in coming. It's this amp we'll talk about now. Alexey himself told me everything I wanted to know about it. Surely some things he mentioned should be left unpublished. Nothing wrong with that. IP is sacred. During our conversation, he habitually began to speculate about inductance, saturation, inner resistivity, surge current or emission characteristics. He is totally at ease with all these terms. I had an urge to interrupt him with something like: "Hey, remember who you are talking to!" In other words, we weren't engaged in this conversation on equal terms. Fortunately musical communication doesn't require an intermediary. Nothing explains music better than music herself.

We listened to the Hercules MkII amps in a suite belonging to the SoundProLab audio salon of Moscow. Their system comprised 145kg/ea. Magico Q3 speakers with grapheme woofer diaphragms, diamond-coated tweeter domes and sealed cabinets. And surely there again was the Studer, indispensable for any Sound Laboratory demo. A quick glance at the list of amps offered by their portfolio is enough to separate them into thematic groups, quite contrary to how product ranges are habitually perceived.

For instance, there is an 'antique' group comprised of Ligeia and Erato. There is the 'musical instrument' group with the amps and phono amps Stradivari, Amati etc. There are the knights, one black, one white. Finally there are the heroes Samson and Hercules. One thing in common between them is relatively high output power. You'll agree that it would be pathetic if specs for the Samson read 9 watts per channel. In fact, Hercules has twice the power over its 'sibling' — 250 watts against Samson's 120. We can almost envision a lean but wiry fighter with Philistines standing shoulder to shoulder facing the mighty towering Hercules athlete. The difference in cabinet sizes alone corresponds with this vision.

I've already mentioned that the output stage of the original Hercules was based on powerful radial 6п45с tetrodes. In the Hercules MkII, those gave way to 6п36с as first approbated by the Samson amp (an important parallel between our two heroes). The first thing I asked Alexei was: "What are the similarities and differences between the first and second incarnation of Hercules?" "The differences are fundamental", he answered. "We wanted output power to remain the same but the 6п36с is a less powerful tube compared to the 6п45с. Therefore we had to install eight tubes in the output stage; four per phase in push-pull ultralinear mode (this mode is realized only in the MkII). In other words, the number of output tubes doubled. The input tube remains a 6072 and the driver tube is one of my long-term favorites, a 6V6."