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Sonic Frontiers Power II Stereo Power Amplifier Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 May 1997
ImageThe Sonic Frontiers Power II is a $5000 stereo power amplifier rated at 110 watts per channel at either two, four or eight ohm impedances. Its aesthetic design is somewhat post modern in that the aluminum case and Sonic logo give the Power II a futuristic feel. The 16 tubes suggest at first glance, a more traditional approach to high end amplification.

Sonic Frontiers is far from a traditional electronics company. Over the past 10 years this Canadian firm founded by Chris Johnson and Chris Jensen have caused a stir in the well established tube electronics market. It isn't easy to get prime placement in A-list US retailers, yet Sonic has. It isn't because of sweet talking either. Their gear performs; the Power II is a good example.

Living with the Power II
From the moment you open the boxes for the Power II you are reminded that you have invested in something special. The entire process of setting up the amplifier, which took me 20 minutes, develops for you a hands on relationship with your amp. When you gently slide in the 16 tubes (8 matched 6550C/KT88 for power output, 6x 6922 input/driver and 2x 5687 high voltage drivers) using the white gloves provided, you get the hint that the Power II is going to provide a more emotional ownership than a standard, sell-another-box-on-a-Saturday stereo amplifier.

Listening to the Power II
Once I inserted the tubes and broke the Power II in for a few days, I began listing very carefully to an obscure collection of music on my system. The Power II has the ability to make music sound lively and exciting. The cliché of tubes sounding "warm" as compared to solid state amps isn't a cliché for no reason. The Power II has an appealingly warm, detailed and complex sound.
"Baubles, Bangles and Beads" from Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim's 1967 collaboration (Reprise) features a historically "correct" sound with instruments placed exactly in the soundstage. The guitar was on the left, the percussion on the right and Frank focused in the center of the soundstage. The tonality of the cut was warm and more engaging than I ever remember it being. As is customary on Sinatra records, the orchestration is amazing but never did it overshadow The Chairman of the Board. The sound was always present, powerful and detailed, but it was also clear that Mr. Sinatra was the star of this show.

Some of the most amazing experiences I had with the Power II was listening to Pink Floyd records. The Power II is so capable of resolving little details that other amps smear over. On "Another Brick in the Wall part 1" from The Wall I had the chance to test both the resolute qualities of the amp while exercising the headroom. The cut features a helicopter intro that is taxing to even the best amplification system. The Power II held its own during the onslaught of sound and quickly changed gears to handle the super-present vocal section of the song. On my reference amp, the Mark Levinson No. 333, a 300 watt solid state amp costing $4000 more than a Power II, I found much more headroom of these very difficult sections, yet there were still little details like the resonance of the high hat and the crinkling of papers that I never paid attention to until I auditioned the Power II.

On more modern recordings the Power II did even better. On "Lovetown" by Peter Gabriel from The Soundtrack from Philadelphia, I witnessed with my ears the Power II take an emotionally charged performance but flat sounding recording and turn it into gold. Peter Gabriel's more recent records have sounded flat to me, but in this case, his voice leaped out of the soundstage. It was strong, sensitive, detailed and not-edgy at all. The other instrumentation, including Tony Levin's Chapman Bass Stick playing was still flat sounding. I consider making Peter's voice sound this good a miracle. Re-mastering the entire record is a little beyond the scope of any amplifier.

The Downside
The Power II needs to be kept in tune. Biasing isn't automatic, but it is easy to do. The tubes wont last forever, but by turning the Power II off when not listing, you can expect to get a good two to three years of life from the tube set - not to mention a much longer tube warranty that Sonic's competitors. Warm up time takes a good 15 minutes. High end solid state amps (Krells and Levinsons) warm up and sound 100 percent a lot faster, nor do they need as much (any?) attention over the years.

The Sonic Frontiers Power II is a wonderful amplifier. It is capable of musical, dynamic and detailed performances. It does take slightly more effort to own, but its sound is worth the effort. Sonic Frontiers does everything possible to increase your pride in ownership. If you invest in a Sonic Frontiers amp, it is likely you'll get hooked. The performance, the sound and the value are all there. Is there anything else?

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