The Silbatone sound

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The Silbatone sound

Reader’s of Munich High End show reports will no doubt remember the room with vintage horn system that has appeared there every year for some time now, huge metal Western Electric horns have energy and immediacy that most speakers cannot compete with and while not exactly tonally neutral they can knock your socks off with the right piece of music. The company behind this room is Silbatone from South Korea which make an array of tube components that power that system. These amplifiers are designed by some of the keenest minds in tube electronics and they are clearly very good if perhaps overshadowed by the horn systems used to demonstrate them. It’s very unusual to see Silbatone amplifiers ‘in the wild’ so to speak, until recently there wasn’t even a UK distributor for the brand but Hi-Fi Traders from Hastings have bagged the account and told me about a system they had set up not far from home, I had to have a listen.

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The owner, Simon, has been enjoying tube based systems for several decades and already had a particularly suitable speaker when Paul Benge of Hi-Fi Traders and Dave Wood of Hi-Fi Guy demonstrated the Silbatone JI-109 integrated amplifier. That experience clearly made a strong impression because Simon thought that it was one of the best amps he’d heard and wanted to see what the Silbatone pre/power amps could do. He started with the 140 Watt P-107 hybrid amp but ended up with the 8 Watt P-105 mk2 combined with the L-103 mk2 preamplifier seen in these pictures. The other Silbatone (on the shelf) is an SQ-107 phono stage, it seems that once you start hearing what this stuff can do you need more. And listening to it I can fully understand why, rarely have I heard such a natural, detailed, powerful and beautifully timed system, and that was for the most part listening to CD which rarely truly excels in these areas. Clearly the Audio Aero La Source is an exceptional CD player and the Audio Note AN-E speakers are the top of the range Silver Signature versions with external crossovers, but nonetheless this system transcends the usual limitations to an extent that is rare.

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What Simon likes best is its ability to communicate on an emotional level which he says it does to a degree that he’s never encountered before, this must be down to the phenomenal tone and realism of instruments it produces. All acoustic sources be they voices or instruments have a vitality that’s extraordinary, this also extends to electrified ones such as guitars, where harmonics are revealed that most systems don’t even hint at. I was particularly taken by the vocal harmonies on Steely Dan’s ‘Rose Darling’, a track I’ve played countless times but even on vinyl has rarely been this astonishing. I love the way that the system never hardens or shouts, the most dense passages flow with ease and it becomes difficult to turn an album like Katy Lied off.

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The imaging is a bit different, it’s not pinpoint precise but makes most systems sound flat, notes are solid and well defined without any of the edginess usually encountered when playing at higher levels. It really does make other systems sound more like an outline than the whole picture. This can be said of other good systems based around single ended triodes but what you don’t often get is power in the bass as well. Quite how 8W can do this sort of low end extension and control I have no idea, but I love the way it feels. The Silbatone P-105 mk2 uses a tube called 275A that looks like a 300B and has similar output, but you don’t often hear a 300B with this much grip. The turntable in this system is a direct drive Thrax Yatrus, I was lucky enough to hear ZZ Top’s ‘La Grange’ on this because the CD that I had taken sounded rather too obviously remixed on this system, with thickened bottom end and excess reverb on the drums. The vinyl was superb, genuinely visceral in its realism, I’m pretty sure Billy Gibbons’ guitar has never sounded so good since it was recorded back in the day. This system has inspired me to beg Paul Benge for the next Silbatone piece that he gets, I have to hear these amps at home.

Turntable/cartridge: Thrax Yatrus & Oracle Thalia MC
CD player: Audio Aero La Source
Phono stage: Silbatone SQ-107 
Preamplifier: Silbatone L-103 mk2 
Power amplifier: Silbatone P-105 mk2 
Loudspeakers: Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver Signature
Cables: Cut Loose Audio Palladium