SAE 2HP-D power amplifier Page 2

Despite the overall fast nature of the 2HP-D's sound, transients were not too etched or hard. The sound was smooth, grainless, and essentially free of added artifacts. The wide, well-organized soundstage also mirrored what I'd heard at CES: instead of generous depth and three-dimensionality, it was a bit more of a flat screen. But are those missing qualities—which I do hear from other, slower amps—merely artifacts caused by a somewhat soft, less well-controlled bass response?

The 2HP-D's grip on the woofers of my Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria XLFs produced the tautest bass I've heard from those speakers, but not the deepest or most fully fleshed out. While the SAE's ability to precisely and instantly start and stop the woofers' motion was remarkable, I thought the bottom end was somewhat overdamped overall, and too "snappy" to allow development of the textures and bloom that I know are on some familiar recordings.

But at this point I wasn't listening to the 2HP-D itself. I was listening to it in my system, and so made observations but no judgments.

Over time, as I played more and more very familiar records and digital files, a very minor but somewhat annoying midrange glare became apparent, especially when I increased the volume level. Once noticed, this glare was difficult not to hear—the curse of very revealing, transparent audio components. But was the 2HP-D producing it, or another component? That turning the volume up made the glare worse was too bad—the first time I heard it, it seemed clear that the 2HP-D was made for turning up the volume!

Get out of here!
I'd not yet changed power cords, so that was the first thing I did to try to locate the source of the glare. Swapping out the SAE-branded cords for the SCC ones from the Google and Broadcom guys—which, Barr told me, used the best Furutech connectors and conductors of Pure Copper Ohno Continuous Cast (PCOCC ) and pure silver—not only got rid of the glare, but produced improvements in transparency and image focus that weren't subtle, and that I could easily repeat by swapping in and out the two sets of cords.


This was but the first of many swaps that resulted in improved sound from the 2HP-D in my system. The next was the arrival of a second AudioQuest Niagara power conditioner, this one just for the power amps. That produced higher levels of transparency and dynamic slam. It became clear that the 2HP-D was an open conduit through which poured whatever I fed it.

Next came the all-tubed Audio Research Reference 6 line-level preamplifier—the first ARC preamp I've ever had in my system. The instructions said it required 600 hours of break-in, but its out-of-box sound was so well-balanced and harmonically correct that I couldn't imagine that further break-in would improve it. ARC's Brandon Lauer later told me that the preamp had already been broken in for me—a good idea for a review sample.

The combination of ARC Ref 6 and SAE 2HP-D brought things to a new level of splendiferousness. The 2HP-D's somewhat lean bottom filled in, but without softening bass transients or slowing the amp's low-end nimbleness. At the same time, the space behind the speakers opened up, producing the room-filling three-dimensionality I've long been accustomed to hearing in my room.

Things were getting really good. The stage was wide, deep, and airy. The bottom end had weight, grip, and evaporative speed—ie, notes lingered just long enough before giving way to the next. Overall transparency, too, was well maintained.

I'd previously played a few sides of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's CSNY 1974 boxed set (LPs, Atlantic/Rhino 8122796031) and had found the stage flat and the sound bright. With the Reference 6 in the system, the centered voices had more cushion and were set farther back on the stage, yet the overall transparency and clarity were undiminished. Guitar transients were precise, and the overall picture produced a you-are-there transparency and urgency.


Now things moved beyond the usual sonic descriptors and into the transportive realm, where you don't try to break things down but instead just enjoy listening—which, of course, can also be achieved at a very low cost, but on lower levels of dynamics, spaciousness, low-frequency response, detail, etc.

I thought things had gotten as good as they were going to. Then I decided to fire up the Audio Tekne TEA-8695, an all-tube, moving-coil–only phono preamplifier ($55,000) from Japan that includes an LC-based RIAA filter, point-to-point wiring, and eleven massive, super-permalloy-core transformers. Total weight: 92 lbs—almost as much as the SAE 2HP-D. I used the TEA-8695 for only a short time—I will be writing more about in the November issue's "Analog Corner"—and found it to have a luxurious sound with a transparent midrange and a powerful if somewhat overstated bottom end that was full-bodied and old-school.

With a few different turntables and cartridges, the combo of Audio Tekne TEA-8695, ARC Ref 6, and SAE 2HP-D was the bomb. Now my system had bottom-end heft and control, midrange transparency, top-end sweetness and detail, and produced an enormous three-dimensional soundstage. This was a sound I could fully live with—but it sure wasn't easy getting there!

On July 4, John Fahey's After the Ball (LP, Reprise MS 2145) called. This spectacular-sounding gem was recorded in 1973 by Doug Decker, at Western Recorders and United Studios. Find a copy. It's got Fahey's crystalline acoustic guitar backed by a small orchestra playing a set of traditional Americana. I've played this album since 1973, and this system, with Audio-Technica's new AT-ART 1000 cartridge, got it all and then some. The space was voluminous, the images three-dimensional and generously sized. Fahey's guitar had greater body, dimensionality, and—especially—transient clarity than I'd ever heard from it. What a treat!


In the digital domain, using Simaudio's Moon Evolution 780D streaming DAC through the Ref 6 produced see-it-there transparency, sensationally precise reproduction of transients, and all the dynamic slam I could want, but the perspective was somewhat flattened and in my face. With better-recorded files and discs, such as Mavis Staples's One True Vine (LP, Anti- 87306), produced by Jeff Tweedy and recorded to tape, then digitally mastered by Bob Ludwig and included on CD that comes with the LP, the bass in the title track was less pronounced than I'm accustomed to, though the rock-solid control more than compensated. The acoustic guitar in the right channel produced less sustain and decay than I'm used to, but the clean, transparent attacks compensated for the loss of body.

Superclean, ultrafast, and artifact-free, with exciting transient clarity? Yes. The rich midrange, expansive midbass, and generous sustain that warmly linger when listening to the LP? No. The SAE 2HP-D's sound was more like that of the exotic sports cars Morris Kessler was selling when DAK bought SAE from Giorgio Moroder in 1989, and less like that era's softly sprung Cadillac sedans.

The SAE 2HP-D is a super-powerful, ultra-low-distortion, low-noise, high-tech power amplifier. It produced tightly controlled bass; fast, clean, delicate, precise transients; dynamic punch to spare; and delivered bountiful musical thrills. Others will find it on the lean, analytical, perhaps over-speedy side, with less than generously expressed harmonics.

But, again, the 2HP-D is like a high-performance car: It needs precisely the right tires. Making the 2HP-D sing required carefully matched components, or it could sound flat and lacking dimensionality, though it never sounded hard or, especially, etched. Its top end was lightning-fast yet smooth, and well refined without overdefined leading edges.

Though the 2HP-D's midrange and overall sustain were a bit stingy, again, the right partnering gear (in my case, ARC's Reference 6 preamp and Audio Tekne's TEA-8695 phono preamp) will give some listeners everything they might want. However, the SAE 2HP-D is clearly not an amp for those who prefer a soft, warm sound.

If I could afford to own the big darTZeel monoblocks and the SAE 2HP-D and the Audio Tekne TEA-8695, I'd have them all. With the mentioned associated gear, some recordings—particularly rock—came to life in ways I hadn't previously heard in my system.

SAE (Scientific Audio Electronics)
1749 Chapin Road
Montebello, CA 90640

Anon2's picture

I enjoyed this review on a variety of fronts. I am glad to see SAE back on the scene. I had an SAE tape deck back in the day, before abandoning cassettes for my first Kyocera CD player.

I hope that SAE comes out with some more products.

This review was also a walk down memory lane of California entrepreneurship from the 1980s. The story of rise, fall, and rising again (in the 1980s, 1990s, and today) provided lessons going far beyond the audio hobby. It's good to see a legacy California business bringing back brands once left for dead. It's even better to hear of an existing electronics manufacturer in the US, standing in the shadow of downtown/East LA and Dodger Stadium.

It's "To Die and Live (Again) in LA" with this great historical essay on SAE, Southern California industrial resourcefulness, a comeback that none expected, and a repurposed and retooled operation that was in the background but never really went away.

As an epilogue to this story, Tokai bank itself was swallowed up in a merger with Sanwa Bank (I remember the Sanwa Bank tower in downtown LA). Later these components all fell into the current Bank of Tokyo/Mitsubishi UFJ conglomerate.

It's another great testament that SAE, in light of all of this, now comes back as an independent brand, still tethered to its original founders, while the one-time creditor has now been absorbed through a series of mergers back home.

georgehifi's picture

These sort of arc welders are good for speakers like Wilson Alexia, which with the their negative phase angle plus load can represent a combined load of .9ohm

Cheers George