State Of Play – Part One

Upstream of the amp sit the Model 3 Enhanced phono-stage and the Model 7 Enhanced line-stage, together responsible for the quality of the signal that amp receives. A quick look at the phono-stage’s topology and specs makes you realise that the SJS units follow no old-school dogma but simply apply the best current thinking to achieve the best possible results. The Model 3 contains no fewer than five, independent, choke regulated power supplies, employs highly unusual German mil-spec EC8010 tubes, custom film caps throughout, passive RIAA using hand matched components and relies on batteries to deliver critical bias voltages. But it’s when you get to the line-stage that things get really interesting. If the SJS products in general demonstrate the old audio truism that you can never have too much power supply, the Model 7 also proves conclusively that the line-stage really is the guardian and gatekeeper of system performance. Given that (if you consider the record-player as a single entity) the Model 7 Enhanced is the most affordable unit here, that’s as impressive as it is astonishing . Yet it comes as no surprise, at least not to me, having used it in the context of far more ambitious systems, including the Engstrom Lars amplifiers and Vox Palladian speakers (complete with matching subs)! Given the sheer rarity of decent line-stages, to find one that’s capable of such performance at such a modest price is cause for serious celebration – as well as making the Model 7 a musical bargain the like of which you’ll rarely find!

Rare earth…

What makes the Model 7 Enhanced so special? Take a look under the lid and the beautifully constructed interior offers up a choke regulated, valve rectified power supply, point-to-point wiring and a PTFE board to actually carry the components: and those are some serious components, from Tantalum film resistors (including the one used to shunt the output of the ALPS Blue volume pot) to a mix of custom built and Dueland capacitors. Tubes consist of a pair of NOS 6111WA twin-triodes and a single EZ81, but most importantly of all, there’s not a cathode follower in sight – so there’s none of the softness, vague placement or ‘bass tomorrow’ temporal imprecision that go hand in hand with that topology (you know, that warm, rounded mush that is so often described as “valve sound”). Instead, the necessary low-output impedance required to actually drive cables and amplifier input stages is achieved by strapping the anodes of both halves of the 6111WAs together to create an unusual (and highly successful) parallel zero-feedback triode gain stage. In another highly unusual step, the anodes are also choke loaded, demonstrating once again SJS’s willingness to experiment and evolve traditional approaches. The result is a line-stage that grabs its amplifier by the tender parts and holds on tight. As a result, the signal that reaches the amp is direct, directed and purposeful, defining the sound of the system as a whole. When the Model 7 says “Jump!” the Model 5 might not quite respond with the traditional “How high?” but jump it certainly does! So when those timps explode behind the orchestral fabric of the New World, the sound arrives with a weight, scale and sudden impact that doesn’t just belie the modest power available, but makes a mockery of the numbers.