The fascia is made up of three rectangular marble plates with wide spaces in-between. In the plates' conjugate point sits a large display eye ensconced in massive walnut. The display shows S.A.Lab's logo and slogan and in the settings mode amplification parameters and chosen input. The shining eye evokes another association with mythology: among Hercules' contemporaries was Cyclops who, as we all know, had to get by with just one eye. The same eye installs in the companion preamp and in the single-ended Hercules SE amp whose front is indistinguishable from the preamp. In the horizontal space between two marble plates and level with the eye, a walnut-carved Hercules script is clearly visible in high relief. A large square ventilation cutout in the middle of the top marble panel is covered with a grille. During the musical labors of Hercules, this grille heats up only a little.

The preamp is provided with five line inputs plus three trigger ports. Both monos can be turned on by means of rear toggle switches or with a trigger signal. They are controlled with the included remote which also operates volume and input selection. The binding posts on the monos support 4/8Ω loading at the amp's full rated power regardless of speaker impedance. Soon after the music started playing, it became obvious that Hercules was capable of climbing the steepest dynamic peaks. Moreover, the relief of any effort was conquered not at the snail's pace of a real climber but with lightning speed; as rapid as a thought one might say. Another distinctive feature was the invariably full-blooded sound with sterling bass. I discussed with Alexey a variety of worthy amps from other manufacturers – those called the best in the world or the best ever. "Yes, I've listened to the so-and-so. Heavenly mids, the highest musical cuisine possible. But, I couldn't understand the way it played back bass. And for me, the overall sound was a little botanical. Some tracks were interpreted in a striking or even unsurpassable way like an audiophile woman's voice. But some attempts to go beyond this repertoire ended up in real disaster."

All in all I think Alexey Syomin aims to design robust amps without anorexia but perfectly controlled lower registers. And he certainly never forgets the "highest musical cuisine". The Hercules MkII exhibited these qualities in a convincing all-embracing way. 250 watts of output power meant that this was brought up to an impressive level. Meanwhile I must stress that this wasn't on par with cheap pleasures. It's by no means what some people call musical bullshit. Hercules' power plays at the very highest echelon. I must admit that there were times when the power factor wasn't important to me. Some will agree but a lot of people think differently. Their opinion must be taken into consideration too because the objective testing of any audio device calls for the ability to listen and evaluate it from other people's perspectives. One way or another, there is a direct relation between an amp's power and its price. Then the price in turn gets inseparably linked to perceived quality in general.

This link exists on a subconscious level but my subconscious whispered other things. After a good deal of consideration, I can claim for example that in art, the quantity factor and outward dimensions are never primary. A tiny Chinese boxwood statuette—I saw one in the Moscow Museum of Oriental Art—can be a real masterpiece but a huge Lenin's monument may be vapid despite both depicting a human being. This is true also for the music which audio systems play back. The system's aim is an accurate representation of the creative fruits of composers, performers, recording engineers (and audio designers) in the room, preserving all detail, proportion and nuance. Painting a full-scale picture is not compulsory at all. By the way, one's love for a big sound sometimes causes absolutely illogical actions. Take for instance a demonstration of a high-quality vinyl system with a mighty amp conducted in a hall nearly big enough for concerts when the LP's dynamic range hardly exceeded 50dB.

We can speculate about it for a long time but as often happens, reality puts everything back into its proper place. The way the Hercules MkII interpreted the sound of a large symphony, of an organ in a spacious cathedral or a high-energy Rock song never failed to impress me in the most striking way. The sound of Michael Jackson's Thriller on tape surely strikes even those who don't feel the slightest affinity for this kind of music. The amps do this without any signs of strain. Their sound can be concisely defined as high and pure musical energy. One of the obvious contradictions of the recording industry is the fact that many if not the overwhelming majority of recordings are made, figuratively speaking, with plenty of room to grow. I'm not taking about musical intricacies where the same release clearly yields more music being played back though a hifi than low-fi system. A lot of recordings must be reproduced only by means of a high-quality hifi or else the majority of sounds would either remain in deep shadow or the whole musical piece ends up creating a very inadequate impression.