I took a listen to SoulNotes little SA 710 amplifier a few months ago and awarded it an overall score of 8.2/10 so when we were asked if we’d have a listen to it’s bigger brother and associated CD player I was very keen!
The design of the two black boxes carries on from the SA 710 and is simple and elegant with little being given to unwanted and unnecessary frippery. The only concession to any kind of blingness is the SoulNote nameplate which sits in the middle of each of the two units’ facia. Both units are of standard width but are both quite shallow in depth.
SC710 CD Player
The SoulNote SC710 uses a Burr-Brown 1792A DAC with filtering provided by the NE5532 chip implemented without negative feedback. An 80VA power R core transformer is used as well as double Darlington discrete non-negative feedback power supply.
On the front black panel you’ve got all the usual buttons dealing with play, stop, eject and search back and forward. There’s the on/off switch and above that you have a blue LED to let you know the unit is powered up. The display is a simple red, LED affair showing track number, minutes and seconds.
Round the back there’s a pair of RCA outputs, a pair of XLR outputs and an RCA digital output.
SA730 Integrated Amplifier
This is a 75W a channel (8 ohms) integrated that again used negative feedback circuitry. Into 4 Ohms you get a healthy 115W a side.
The front has button selectors for the two XLR inputs and 4 RCA inputs which click with a pleasing solidity and have a green glow around them when selected. A power on button with blue LED and a motorised volume pot and that’s your lot.
On the back panel there’s the two stereo XLR inputs, the four stereo RCA inputs and a pair of substantial loudspeaker binding posts.
The pair look good together on the rack and come with a lightweight remote commander that controls both the CD player and the amplifier. This remote covers all the necessary functions with the volume going up slowly which is a nice feature.
For the purposes of this review I wanted to use the SoulNote CD and amplifier as a pairing as I believe this is likely how they will be bought. With the reference 95db Mummy speakers we usually use the 75W on offer was a bit overkill and as we had a pair of Roksan Darius S1s in fro review (thanks Tufan for the extra couple of weeks with these) we used these as they’re a more real world partnering.
The two were listened to in the main system too and I’ll note that where applicable.
Over the period of time we had with the SoulNote kit we managed to listen to pretty much every genre of music we own from rock to folk to jazz to electronic. Regular readers will know there’s a distinct lack of classical in our collection!
On rock music such as Marillion’s “Fugazi” it’s clear that the CD player is delivering the amplifier with a good quality signal and there is certainly nothing missing in the mix. At low to medium volumes there’s a solid stereo image presented and you get the full range of frequencies with mid and highs to the fore slightly. There’s good speed and slam with snares having the required snap to them. Bass is a little recessed at these volumes. Fish’s vocals sit bang in the centre of the mix and there’s good insight into is vocal style, with little vocal effects in the mix coming through well. However, this kind of music isn’t made for these lower volumes and cranking up the pot you get the feeling that the amp is really coming into its own. There’s a real sense that the amplifier is taking control of the speakers and that speed and slam I mentioned a moment ago just gets “more so”. Bass is tight and a little dry with no bloom or overhang. Vocals are pushed a little forward in the mix and synth and guitar leads have the required soaring quality. This pairing do rock music very well indeed with drums having impact and power to them when needed, but also allowing softer touches on cymbals to have the right ring and shimmer to them.
Even at loud levels the amplifier doesn’t feel like it’s running out of steam and remains in control of the speakers. Perhaps at louder volumes the very high frequencies become a little more pronounced than I would have liked but the bass and mids remain tight and controlled.
Popping the SoulNote CD player into the main system and taking out the Pioneer DVD transport into the Valve Audio Devices DAC there is good air around instruments in the higher frequencies with a decently open sound. Bass has a touch more control to it than my valve based reference, but vocals are projected further forward in the mix than I’m used to. Overall the tube DAC I have suits my taste more and I would say it presents a more harmonious, richer sound, but perhaps lacks the snappiness and immediacy of the SoulNote .
Back to the pairing and switching CDs for something a little less hectic and I reach for Madeleine Peyroux’ “Careless Love” and as I’m putting the CD into the tray I notice the tray is a bit on the flimsy side – a common enough complaint with CD players using generic transports! Pressing play on the remote has the tray sliding in to the machine silently and smoothly though. There’s a few seconds delay whilst the player reads the CD which had me reaching for the remote to press play again for the first few discs I played.
I buy a lot of second hand CDs and often take pot luck on artists I’ve not come across before and sometimes the discs look like they’ve been used as frisbees at a chimps tea party to the point my usual transport gets quite fussy about playing them. Not so the SoulNote with it playing pretty much every CD I threw at it bar the very worst examples… which I really ought to get round to binning!
Anyway, back to Madeleine and it’s clear from the first opening bars of “Dance Me To The End Of Love” that the SoulNotes can play this popular jazz style too. There’s not the same finesse as when I’m using the Tellurium Q SECA and reference DAC and pre, but there is a feeling of control again …and of course the SouleNote goes louder with these speakers! The play between drums and bass is portrayed really well and with the syncopated rhythms you can’t help but tap your feet along in time to the music.
There’s good balance to the sound with mids (vocals again) being slightly highlighted and I think that many will actually enjoy this kind of presentation. There’s loads of smaller details in the music in evidence with little touches on the bass fretboard being clearly distinguishable. This pairing seem to be overall pretty neutral sounding with just a hint of warmth to the sound which I put down to the mids being slightly exaggerated.
When switching out the SoulNote amp for the little Clones audio i25 (which I really rate for the money) you appreciate the extra power of the SoulNote as well as the firmer control it displays over the loudspeakers.
Some electronic music now and to Deep Dish’s excellent “Yoshiesque Two”. The East Coast disc opens with the fabulous vocal of Julie McKnight on The Kings Of Tomorrow’s “Finally” and I immediately began to get that goose bump thing you get sometimes when you hear a tune you know portrayed really well. There’s a clarity and tone brought out that just sounds great, with the slight delay effect being very much in evidence. I found myself hitting the rewind button on the remote but found it pretty unresponsive and it taking me back to the end of the album…pressing the track number button worked fine!
When the beat finally comes in there’s that speed and slam thing again and it really suits this kind of music very well. The stereo image is wide enough, but not overly exaggerated, with different layers of instruments being clearly defined. Bass lines are bouncy, tight and stand out in the mix. This style of music is again well suited to the SoulNote pairing’s style of delivery.
Switching out the Roksan speakers for a pair of Triangle Signature Alphas we have in for review there’s still that sense that the SoulNotes are taking control of the speakers and you can clearly hear the very different presentation the two speakers have.
The SoulNote CD and amplifier are a natural pairing that clearly play to each others strengths. The open and airy nature of the CD player is complimented by the amps powerful and forceful presentation. There’s oodles of power and great speed and slam (sorry for repeating this yet again but I can’t think of how else to describe this) to the music (PRAT perhaps?).
I’d suggest that the systems strong points are playing music that has solid rhythmic foundations and comes into its own when the volume is turned up loud. The amp isn’t the last word in absolute finesse when compared to our reference, but it will appeal to those that like to boogie and enjoy listening to music rather than analysing the sound coming out of the speakers.
There’s a slight forwardness to the mids, but this is nicely tempered by the rest of the character of the pairing and overall gives a well balanced presentation.
There is scale and there is dynamism to the music with the SoulNotes and I for one really enjoyed my time with them…not sure about the people down the valley though as I did play a lot of music very loud. As I say not the last word in absolute finesse when compared to our reference system, but they do love to party and will appeal to a good few people I believe!
The pairing isn’t by any stretch of the imagination falling into budget territory, but for the money you get an amp with power and control, plus a transport and DAC that perform reasonably well in comparison to our much more expensive reference.
Build Quality – 7.9/10
Sound Quality – 8.3 /10
Value For Money – 7.9/10
Overall – 8/10
Recommended for people that are looking for a no-nonsense, well performing pairing that deliver a powerful sound with great bass weight and punch.
Price when reviewed:
Amplifier – €4200
CD Player – €4000