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2014 Midwest Audiofest Tent Sale & Vintage Audio Swap
Sonneteer Orton – Integrated Amplifier Review
- Turn Table: Acoustic Solid 111 / Audio Note Arm 1 / Nag MM Cartrdge
- Phono Stage: Sonneteer Sedley & Pure Sound P10.
- CD Player: TEAC VRDS7
- Streaming: Squeeze Box and Cambridge Audio DAC Magic.
- Speakers: Triangle Antal ESw
This is the top of the range integrated amplifier from British manufacturer Sonneteer. The truth is, when Paul at Purite North told me he had taken on the range my initial reaction was surprise. Such is their stealth I was surprised they are still a going concern. In fact, to say that Sonneteer fly under the radar would be to flirt recklessly with understatement. I’m pleased to report that they are still here and going strong – and with some very nice kit too. Perhaps I’ve had my head in the sand, maybe they’ve been advertising in those fusty old paper magazines (No one reads them!) but for whatever reason I seem to have missed them. Interestingly their web site is very forward thinking and the Magazine section makes for an entertaining read. Clearly they are also pushing into the high end lifestyle systems market too, with some lovely looking bedroom and kitchen systems. There is also evidence of this with their high end HiFi systems being available in a range of rather swish optional colours – at a rather high £500.00 extra price tag mind!
The handsome black and silver fascia of my demo model hides a 50 watt into 4 ohms (33 watts into 8 ohm) line level integrated amp which is a dual mono layout. It sports 6 inputs, each of which has its own Gain setting (programmed through the supplied remote) no Rothwell attenuators needed for Sonneteer customers.
The layout on the back is nicely thought out, with handy upside down labels for ease of installation. A small thing, but to this reviewer a real boon -I find hanging over the back of an amp, trying to connect everything in without being able to see which input is which most frustrating – so often it’s the little details which lend one a favourable aspect.
The back also has a line level out and a pre out (a matching power amp is available). There is a 12v out signal to switch the optional power amp on and off via remote and a separate IR input for the custom install boys to fit IR beads back to your Crestron or AMX type systems – more nods to the luxury market.
The build, fit and finish is exceptional. It’s quite Germanic in this respect, I really can’t see this thing letting anyone down for 20 years to come. Fit and forget? Nope, you’ll be having too much fun playing air guitar to ever forget it. This is an amp that manages a rare trick: you get oodles of pace rhythm and timing, but without it ever sounding in-yer-face or shouty. My first day with the Orton was spent re-visiting my extensive collection of Rock and Electronica, it was huge fun with dynamism and pace in spades. Worry not if Rock is not your thing, Beth Orton, Kate Bush and Jon Martyn are well served too. While it doesn’t quite beat a good valve amp in terms of open airy vocals and mids; it certainly does a better job in this respect than any other solid state kit I have heard, it is an open and spacious sound. Voices are textured and clean (actually clean is the word I keep coming back to with this amp) and I certainly didn’t want any more from it. It was never veiled, in fact it was Clean..open..you can pick an instrument and follow it all the way through the track. Any tiny (and I mean, tiny) trade off in the top and mids (compared to a really good valve amp) is repaid in spades in the lower mids and bass, which are incredibly tuneful controlled and layered. Depth is there but the amp has grip so one is never nervous of bloom. No valve amp I’ve heard can do this, it’s faster than Usain Bolt, but with the soft features of Jessica Ennis. Fluid might be the best word for it. Nice trick Sonneteer, accept a polite Cricket clap from me.
The clean sound reveals layers of detail and as I type Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand is being rendered like a Van Gogh – big swodges of paint, huge textures, but without ever going over the lines. Cave’s voice has real depth, the deep bass line never intrudes, it doesn’t smear the mid range and the plonking Hammond organ sound has a rounded fruity texture; when the bell tolls the sound is thrown off the walls in startling realism. There is detail too, leading edges of bass guitar notes, Cave’s intake of breath before he sings, it’s all there.
While listening to (and hugely enjoying) AC/DC’s Back in Black yesterday I didn’t expect this today. I thought, this amp ROCKS so hard there’s going to be a big “But” coming when I move onto more gentle tunes. That hasn’t been the case at all. I’ve just put Courtney Pine on and the speed at which sounds pop in and out is fun and there is real agility here, yet listening earlier to Faure’s Requiem I could have sat and dozed for hours, such was the delicacy of delivery.
Tonally the Orton is very neutral, I get an honest reproduction without colour. It inspires confidence.
Do you get the impression I like this amp? I’ll tell you how much I like it: I’m now feeling a bit of a fool for gushing so much over previous amplifiers I’ve reviewed. I didn’t leave myself enough headroom for weekends like this when I am properly amazed. This amp is £1995.00. I may have heard better, at twice the price ( I can’t remember when though). I urge you to demo one. Speak with Paul and he’ll be happy to oblige.
To sum up, we don’t do star ratings here, but if we did this is a five out of five. I have listened and listened, to everything from Nirvana to Handel and it has never put a foot wrong. in fact it hasn’t once failed to put a grin on my face. I am both surprised and impressed. It put me in mind of far more expensive amps. How do they manage to get such pace but with a gentle touch? I like this. A lot.
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