|Sonic Frontiers Power 3 Special Edition Mono Amplifier|
|Home Theater Power Amplifiers Mono Amplifiers|
|Written by Bryan Southard|
|Thursday, 01 March 2001|
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Overall, I found the Power 3 Special Editions to perform very well. The bass is abundant, perhaps not as quick and deep as on some solid state monsters, but solid state sound shouldn’t be expected from tube amplification.
Those who have read and have followed my opinions know that I love tube gear. It offers reality. In most cases, this reality is not without compromise. The compromises are most commonly made in the lower frequencies. I found the low-frequency extension of the Power 3 SEs to be the best I have heard from a tube amplifier. The low-frequency information was more coherent and present than that provided by the Audio Research VT100 Mk II. I feel that, top to bottom, the Power 3 SEs sound sweeter and less reproduced. However, I do feel that there is some midrange coloration not found in the Audio Research VT100 Mk II. Even with this coloration, though, I still preferred the Power 3s in nearly every category.
Compared to Sonic Frontiers Power 2s that I have been using, the Power 3 SEs are considerably more transparent and better in absolutely every category - a notable improvement.
The Power 3 SEs have an enormous amount of power. I am currently using the Revel Salons as my reference loudspeakers, which need higher power to get peak performance. I found the Power 3 SEs to possess control similar to the very high-powered Pass X350s, with the exception of ultimate bass extension. Let’s face it, as stated earlier, bass extension is what solid state amps do best.
The midrange of the Power 3 SEs is incredibly palpable and engaging.
The Power 3 Special Editions, being tube amplifiers, have the same problem that scares many enthusiasts away – tube maintenance. Tubes will last you in the area of 2000 hours. Depending on how much you listen, this could mean anywhere from one to three years of tube life between replacements at a cost of about $1,000 for the two amplifiers. My feeling is that if you can afford a $12,000 set of amplifiers, you probably aren’t worried about tube replacement, although math tells you that this will represent anywhere from $30 to $75 per month.
Additionally, worries of how to determine when a tube is going, or has gone bad, and making sure you have replacement tubes on hand so that you are not without music for an extended period of time while waiting for new tubes to arrive, are additional concerns.
Tube products can be a pain to position. You can’t easily place them in a rack, because of severe ventilation problems. It can be done, but care must be taken. Tube amplifiers get very hot, much hotter than solid state. Keeping them out and within reach can present a problem for people with kids and animals – again, another case where care must be taken.
The points that I have listed are all points that exist with any tube product. The fact is that tubes are not for everyone.
I do not think that the Sonic Frontiers Power 3 Special Edition amplifiers are perfect. For that matter, I haven’t heard any amplifier that is perfect. There are compromises inherent in every amplifier on the market. Knowing where you are and are not willing to accept compromise brings you to your best personal choice.
The Power 3 SEs are, however, the best tube amplification that I have had in my personal sound system to date. They provide a tremendous level of resolution and ultimate enjoyment. I feel they excel in providing the most important information, the finite detail that is often called air, or information that separates the instruments from the room. It is this level of detail that makes reproduction real.
If you can live without the ultimate bass control of the solid state mega-watt amps, and have a taste for truly realistic vocals and instruments, then the Sonic Frontiers Power 3 Special Edition is a great choice. For me, it has raised the bar and will become a permanent part of my reference system.