State Of Play – Part One

Kuzma, SJS and Living Voice – another perfect musical balancing act from Definitive Audio

By Roy Gregory

Turning up at an audio show with a bright orange turntable is either an ostentatious play for press coverage or a sign of significant confidence. In the case of Definitive Audio, it’s probably both!

Recent experience with the Living Voice Auditorium R25A speaker, the most affordable model in the Living Voice range, suggest that it has set about rewriting musical expectations up to and including twice its £5.5K price-tag, so it’s no surprise to see the company operating on a high. But with one of the speaker models undermined by the R25 being their own IBX RW3, perhaps it’s time to hear what happens when Definitive Audio take it up a notch. We’ve probably all heard (or at least heard about) the massive, massively expensive but supremely impressive Living Voice Vox, horn-based systems shown each year in Munich. But what sits between the R25A at £5.5K and the Vox models that start at £500K – and what about the rest of the system? After all, the whole point of these articles is to underline the fact that you can’t listen to a loudspeaker without a source and amps to drive it.

That orange Kuzma – with matching Orange record!

Of course, as well as manufacturing the Living Voice speakers and other selected items, Definitive audio also distributes a range of products, including both the SJS amplification and the Kuzma source components featured here. Imagine the kind of system you’d assemble around the R25A and then take a couple of steps up, all along the chain and you’d end up with a rig pretty much exactly like this. Stung into action by the developmental step change in performance represented by the R25A, the speakers here are the latest versions of the established IBX, the RW4. Outwardly identical to the previous model, they have a completely redesigned crossover, with considerably more attention paid to out-of-band artefacts and significant component upgrades throughout. Front-end is that unashamedly orange Kuzma Stabi R turntable, which might be only one step up the range from the skeletal Stabi S, but is fitted with the bells and whistles 4Point tonearm and a CAR 50 cartridge, both of which sit well within spitting distance of the top of the Kuzma family tree.

The signal from the cartridge feeds the in-house designed LV-SUT transformer that combines copper windings with permalloy cores, before reaching the SJS Model 3 Enhanced all-tube and tube rectified phono-stage. That then feeds the SJS Model 7 Enhanced line-stage, another all tube, tube rectified design whose minimalist fascia echoes its source select and level control only functionality. The “Enhanced” moniker denotes upgraded internal components and underlines that the money here has all been spent on the inside. The casework is neat and tidy, but it won’t be taking its place in the Design Museum any time soon. Instead, the true beauty of these products lies in the almost OCD attention to detail that has been lavished on the internal layout and construction, the minimalist signal path separated by multiple bulkheads from the complex and OTT power supply. The priority here, as with the other SJS components, is pure audio performance; if you want adjustable sensitivity, nameable inputs, balanced connections or a remote control, you’ll need to look elsewhere. But if musical access and insight is your aim, then you’ll find SJS singing your song.

Common values…

Having made a point of the line and phono-stages’ somewhat prosaic external appearance, it’s only right to acknowledge the beautiful styling of the SJS Model 5 Enhanced power amp. The broad curves and depth of its elegantly sculpted timber chassis perfectly offset the dense, angular blocks of the mains and output transformers that pack the top-plate, barely leaving room for the classical tube complement, a single 6SN7 input/driver valve and 300B per channel. The visually dense yet stylishly satisfying result is possibly the most attractive tube amp I’ve ever come across, with an almost Bauhaus simplicity and effortless form meets function purity that laughs in the face of brutalist, pseudo rack-mount casework or those more exaggerated flights of aesthetic fancy alike. Nor is that beauty wasted, as the heat generated by a pair of 300B output tubes suggests that you’ll want the amp operating ‘free-range’, rather than in a cupboard. If ever there was an audio product that does what it says on the tin then this is it; the SJS Model 5 doesn’t just play music beautifully – it’s beautiful while it does it.