Jeff Rowland Design Group Model 7/II power amplifier Threshold SA-1 vs the Rowland 7

Sidebar 1: the Threshold SA-1 vs the Rowland 7

Both the Roland Model 7 and the Threshold SA-1 amplifiers are representative of a relatively new breed of amplifier—those designed for moderate (by perfectionist standards) power output into normal loads, but with tremendous current capability into very low-impedance loads. Rowland claims significantly higher power and current capability for theirs, but in direct comparisons the Rowland units did not sound as though they had more of either.

Both amps verge on perfection in every performance area (footnote 1) both featuring the sweetest, smoothest high end this side of Audio Research. (And I guarantee there is no ARC amp whose low end can even approach that of either the Thresholds or the Rowlands for tightness, punch, and control, footnote 2).

Where the Rowlands and Thresholds differ is through the middle range and the low end. Through the middle, both are very close to perfect neutrality, but the Threshold is, I believe, a little closer. With top-quality amplifiers still varying rather markedly in apparent closeness, it is almost impossible to determine which are right on and which are bright or sucked-out, but on the basis of what I have heard from the best tubed and solid-state units, I would say that the Thresholds are either right on or very slightly laid-back, while the Rowlands have just a shade less midrange presence.

Low-frequency performance from both is superb but, again, by comparison, the Rowlands have just a hair less punch and authority at the bottom than do the SA-1s. Or, you might say that the Rowlands are slightly tighter and better-controlled at the low end than the Thresholds. Which will sound "best" depends entirely upon everything else in your system, from cartridge to loudspeakers to room acoustics.

I prefer, by a very small margin, the Thresholds, but only because, in my listening room with my associated components, they produce more musically natural sound from the speakers I have on hand. The point I am trying very hard to make is that I cannot convince myself that either of these amps is intrinsically "better" than the other. "Conditionally" better might be a better assessment of the situation.

One thing is certain, though: Both should be considered alternatives to the higher-priced Krell units as driving amps for very difficult speaker loads, such as full-range ribbon and electrostatic speakers, and should by no means be dismissed as contenders for use with any other state-of-the-art speaker system. Both of these amps belong on that select list of power amps with which subsequent designs will be compared for some years to come.

A final note: My reference amplifier for use with the MartinLogan Monoliths has been the Electron Kinetics Eagle 2 (properly warmed up; some recent reviews published elsewhere suggest they weren't). The Thresholds are a better match for those speakers, providing somewhat sweeter sound, almost as much aliveness, and even tighter low end. On the Infinity RS-1Bs, the Threshold is the best solid-state amp I've found for both the Infinity bass or high end, but the Conrad Johnson Premier Fives (tubed) do an even better job on top.—Dick Olsher

Footnote 1: I guarantee you'll eat those words in another two years—maybe sooner!—J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 2: We'll see; Audio Research is paying us a visit in February with the latest version of the D-250 (the D-250/II "Servo"). I suspect they'll come close, in spite of their output transformers.—Larry Archibald

Jeff Rowland Design Group
PO Box 7231
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80933
(719) 473-1181