Review: Audionet SAM 20 SE Special Edition Integrated Amplifier: After a few days I received at my home a bulky double cardboard box protected with a good thickness plastic wrap that contained, carefully packed and protected, the Audionet SAM 20 SE solid state integrated amplifier or limited special edition of its SAM model that celebrates the 20th anniversary. of the German brand. If we look at the information provided on the Audionet website, the integrated one has the following improvements:
- New MOSFET power transistors with extremely low series resistance for higher fidelity and more detailed transient response (as used in the higher end WATT chip).
- Extremely powerful and fast power supply, ensured by a 700VA cast and encapsulated toroidal transformer and new extremely low impedance, very high audio quality main capacitors with 25% higher capacity of 15,000 μF instead of 12,000 μF as before (total sum of 120,000 μF instead of 96,000 μF).
- Even more optimized internal wiring, all signal cables are made of silver and gold, providing the highest resolution and finest details.
- New high-grade mica condensers everywhere with a crucial effect on the sound. Its natural materials ensure a unique sound neutrality.
- Engraved front panel and redesigned rear panel.
- Audionet SAM 20 SE dedicated metal remote control.
- Built-in Phono card with the following enhancements: New highest quality onboard OpAmps with ultra low noise and fast FET inputs.
The supplied amplifier is black (although it can also be chosen in silver) and has a thick 8-millimeter front made of anodized brushed aluminum with a sleek and minimalist look. The blue LED screen is located in the center (Audionet also gives the option of red LEDs). Below this the receiver for the remote control. On the left the power button and the Menu button, on the right of the front the down button and the up button that serve both to raise and lower the volume and to move through the integrated menu that is controlled by a microprocessor with its own technology . The top deck has four millimeters thick and generous vents. This is firmly fixed to the chassis with three screws on each side. That the screws are not hidden makes it much easier to remove the cover to configure the phono preamp that the electronics houses inside.
The sides of the machine are also made of anodized brushed aluminum eight millimeters thick. Brushing not only aesthetically favors the machine but also gives us a good grip on it.
The internal chassis of the amplifier is made of black painted sheet steel.
In the rear the Audionet SAM 20 SE unfolds its battery connections, we left to right, vertically: u na balanced input (XLR), four RCA inputs and one phono input. Below the inputs we have a horizontal pre-output and a REC output. Further to the right in the center of the rear we have the speaker connection terminals and just below these a 1/4-inch headphone input.
A little further forward and near the lower edge of the rear we have the ground connection for the phono and then a Link Audionet socket for configuration, updates and connection with other electronics in the brand’s ecosystem.
Finally, at the extreme right, we have the IEC power socket and just above it an on / off button that we must use whenever we are going to manipulate the connections or the internal phono preamp. It should be noted that the manufacturer advises us of the need to have the machine connected in electrical phase and indicates which pin of the IEC connection has to be connected to the positive. The integrated features matching feet with the four dark bronze buttons on the front that give a note of distinction.
The supplied remote control is made entirely of brushed aluminum of the same quality and aesthetics as the integrated one and also allows you to operate an Audionet CD player as well as access the system menu where you can configure the light intensity of the screen and customize the name of the audio inputs, among other things.
“Scientific Magic” is the company’s slogan. Audionet has a lot of engineering with its own technologies that it implements in its catalog. On its website there is a section dedicated to making them known, so I think it is convenient to move on to critical listening, that is: the magic part.
Being a brand new machine, I have had it rolling for a few weeks, at a rate of no less than eight hours a day, taking care to use both music in digital formats and vinyl records so that its internal phono preamp was also loosening.
Audionet SAM 20 SE SOUND
Jazz: Herbie Hancock – Gershwin’s World (SACD)
The pianist Herbie Hancock is one of my favorite artists. At 80 he credits a very extensive discography covering a multitude of styles and genres. Carlos Santana is another veteran artist who has also cultivated quite a few styles. Both share something in common and that is that they have masterpieces, magnificent albums but also mediocre works when not calamitously pachangueras. However, with Santana you have it easier because if you want to get it right you only have to buy his first albums, the rest only for his most staunch fans. With Herbie – bad seat – Hancock, things get complicated because he wanted to be the sauce for so many stews that his good and bad records are shuffled like a deck of cards. But let’s go with one of the excellent ones, it is the SACD that the pianist dedicated to the musical legacy of the American composer George Gershwin and that is entitled Gershwin’s World.
In the sixth track entitled “Lullaby” with Herbie on piano and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the sound manifests itself without apparent effort. Hancock’s piano transmits lyricism in the high notes and body in the lows. The microdynamics are splendid and don’t clog up when the string section enters the scene. Although it is not recorded in native DSD but in high resolution PCM, a very good dynamic range has been respected, so the volume of the integrated must be turned up a little more, which is appreciated in orchestral crescendos. In addition, this range without amputating brings us closer to the size and weight of each of the orchestra instruments that fill the room without being suffocated.
On track 12 entitled “Prelude in C # Minor” the voice of soprano Kathleen Battle sounds natural, bewitching, hypnotic. The double bass is heavy enough to fill but not overwhelming. The percussion produces a commendable sense of depth and that considering the imponderable size and proportions of my room is worth noting. Although the first weeks I thought I was in front of an electronic one that draws an advanced scene, with the filming of the machine that scene has been delayed until its natural place behind the speakers. With a staging that respects the image in its three axes: height, width and depth, musical passages have a vast place where they can materialize without any scourge and as soon as the recording is good it will cause us that ineffable feeling of “being there.”
Now is the time to test the analog section of the amplifier and see if its phono preamp lives up to the rest of the electronics or is just a compromise hairpiece. Accessing the internal phono card requires removing the twelve screws on the top cover and it is not too laborious to configure the gain, resistance and capacitance parameters. I would only recommend the use of antistatic tweezers for users with Bud Spencer type fingers.
Pop – Simply Red – Stars (LP 1st German Pressing 33 RPM)
Stars is the most famous album by the band led by vocalist and songwriter Mick Hucknall. His production is perfect: neither as crude and amateur as the first album (although over the years one looks at those naked and pure records with different eyes) nor as over-produced and overloaded as his later works. Having its sweet and souler side, which cannot be missing from any Simply Red album, it also has songs with electrifying rhythms and loaded with the bad grape necessary to check if the Audionet SAM 20 SE amplifier can play it again without wrinkling too much.
I put the needle at the beginning of the record, “Something got me started”, and literally something makes me start moving my head first and my feet later. His bass and piano played with that funky fast beat make me question whether the turntable is spinning at protocol 33 with a third revolutions per minute. With Herbie Hancock the integrated amp sounded silky and relaxed but now it sounds lively and electrifying. The phono preamp is capable of extracting a lot of information from the groove and the record sounds with power, clarity and precision.
Another not so famous album cut but just as fast is the one that closes the A side. “She’s got it bad” has exquisitely recorded drums and bass. So extremely funky and danceable that although it can be heard perfectly at 75 or 80 dB, it hypnotizes us to turn up and turn up the volume. And it is most paradoxical because the integrated works so comfortably that we do not have a sensation of volume, in the sense that it is going to run out of control or that the drivers are in danger.
It is that feeling of security that comes from driving a large German saloon where we can step on the accelerator and only the speedometer makes us aware of the speed we are taking because the machine does not flinch. As we increase the volume, the room is filled with music, the drums are demonized and we achieve that volume that gives it a realistic scale and body. The bass is a prodigy of expressiveness, control, and punch engraved with that old-school flavor. Not in vain the original mastering was in the hands and ears of the always colossal Bernie Grundman.
The SAM screen indicates a volume of -15 dB and from the listening point at eight feet of the tweeters in the boxes I measure 90 decibels, some peak at 94 dB but decidedly an average of 90 decibels and the sound sounds incredibly linear. The stereophonic image and the arrangement of the instruments are not lost. Mick Hucknall’s voice sounds right in the center, the guitar, the bass, everything has gained power and weight but never at the cost of losing control or feeling blurred. Since there is no palpable distortion you get emboldened and want to turn the volume higher and higher. With the electronics at -10 dB the pressure in the room is like a sixth row rock concert. 94 dB mean and zero grain. The saloon remains unchanged by its autobahnbut this time I am aware of speed because believe me that if I had some hair left on my head, this torrent of funky soulero would have combed it back. There’s power, control, and finesse in unusual amounts. This is how I see how this SAM 20 SE, whose chassis does not raise more than eleven centimeters from the ground and that including its legs, is wearing them. Again, I note that a book should never be judged by its cover and even less by the thickness of its spine. I have to confess that I was left with the desire to see if I could still get a few more decibels from the SAM 20 SE but I have as a self-imposed rule not to put electronics or speakers to the limit and never, never, never the patience of any woman.
It has happened to me so many times that I think it appropriate to review that with this amplifier I have had the feeling of being able to live forever using its analog section without missing digital media but also vice versa: spending days and days listening to CDs or SACDs or virtualized music through Audirvana via Mac with a feeling of being fully filled and thinking again that I could be listening to digital media forever.
Jazz – Nathan Davis With Georges Arvanitas Trio – The ORTF Recordings (3LP 33 RPM – SAM Records)
I respect but do not share the opinion of those who claim that only vinyl records that came out before the mid-eighties are worth it. They say this not only because as of that date the recording studios, mixing, post-production and mastering were mostly digital, but because at the end of the eighties and even worse in the nineties almost nothing was released on vinyl and it was little that was done was with little technique and a lot of laziness. I buy them almost all that part of their argument but with the new resurgence of the format that does not make me close your ears to the few current bands and artists who publish in pure analogue, or to labels such as Analogue Productions, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab or Speakers Corner among others, which reissue 100% analog triple AAA records, with great respect for the original work and taking care technical and artistic production in detail.
Another label that has pleasantly surprised me is the French SAM Records specialized in reissuing 100% analog vinyl records from original masters mainly of works by American jazz musicians when they were on tour or exiled in Europe. This allows them to access the delicate and precious original masters without having to make a transoceanic trip, something that their owners that I know never grant from either side of the pond.
This Nathan Davis album with the Georges Arvanitas Trío is so delightfully well edited and cared for in all its details that it is worth it just for the sake of collecting, but the music that the grooves of his three vinyl records catch has a great value both from the musician plane and from the audiophile.
The second theme of the first album entitled “Yesterdays” begins with Nathan Davis playing the flute and accompanied by the piano in the background until drums and double bass enter. The flute can be an instrument that teleports me to a virgin Amazon forest or to a starry night on a tropical beach. Something has to seduce and enchant by its infinite range of tones, inflections and nuances. But it can also sound like the day our neighbor decides that coffee time is good to treat us with a hammer and drill sonata and place half an Ikea catalog right on the adjoining wall of the farm. A bad interpreter if it is also accompanied by a bad recording and a bad source, amplification and loudspeakers can become a real nightmare.
But Mr. Davis plays the flute with such know-how that it sounds with the grace of a gray heron that took flight in our ranch. Being a live recording, the engineer not only captures the instruments with all their chromaticism and dynamics, but also captures the atmosphere of the room. I’m not just talking about the physical reverb of the room but also its emotional aura. The applause of the few assistants to the recording confirm that atmosphere of intimate complicity that was recorded by the recorder for eternity.
The music festival resides in the media, in the highs the goldsmithing of the brilliance and details, but it is in the low and in the silence that it is capable of recreating a system where we are going to meet again with the soul of the recording, with its pulse, your heartbeat. I just have to turn up the volume on the track titled “A5” to double-check it. It sounds fertile, organic, alive and with neat nuances that the high definition of the amplification respects without falling into hyperbole or lack of tonal coherence.
George Arvanitas on the organ in the song “Nathalie’s bounce” is already a delicacy that could be enjoyed alone but the rest of the instruments are added and the party is simply mounted. It is impossible not to smile at least half a smile and kick an imaginary kick drum, even if the listening is preceded by a bad day at the end of the month and a good handful of bills in the mailbox. The amplification has control and finesse but also has punch and slam and what better than those rolls and final drums to highlight it. The audience applauds. I’m in.
Audionet SAM 20 SE Conclusion
With the new resurgence of integrated amplifiers, the market has more and more options to cover all kinds of demands on any budget. For all this, the enormous work that Audionet has put into this Audionet SAM 20 SE is much more commendable because it shines and stands out above the hundreds of available options.
The key to this integrated is between a perfect balance between grandeur and discretion in all its possible meanings. In fact, I’m still wondering what kind of scientific magic the Berlin company has done to put so much quality and power into an integrated that has such contained dimensions that it could be installed in any set, no matter how limited the space available. But make no mistake, even if it is a slim machine, its fifteen kilos of weight are pure strength and quality.
A good example is the power it declares of 110 watts at 8 ohms and 200 at 4 ohms. A figure that may seem “discreet” but is that those watts sound ultra-linear whether the volume is at the minimum perceptible or if we take it to its power limit. It will be due to its large declared dumping factor, but this machine has the best “torque” that I have ever experienced in an amplification other than class D.
The bass that this integrated prints also yields with an unusual power. He does it from absolute control. Without sounding ostentatious and without blurring the middle and upper areas of the sound spectrum.
The mids and highs appreciate the very neutral character of the electronics. The music sounds like straight out of the source. It flows like fresh spring water. There didn’t seem to be anything between the record and the speakers. The sound materializes with the smoothness of a class A amplification but with an extra reserve of almost inexhaustible power.
Its phono preamp obeys an exercise in engineering and optimization of such caliber as I have not found in any integrated to date. It is such a complete and versatile preamp that to find another with similar benefits we would have to go to an external preamp of no less than 2,000 euros onwards to get it close. In addition, that would not ensure the perfect synergy that this previous is guaranteed with the integrated one where it is housed. Its sound signature and its mission is the same as the rest of the integrated: to extract the maximum definition to the sound source without compromising the musical experience even remotely.
All the multiple pieces that make up this machine are like a discrete brick. Each one puts its small part to raise a solid building through whose windows the hum of a beautiful melody comes out. Science, work and will: that is his magic.
– The headphone input -which is at the level of what the electronics offer- would have been better on the front of the amplifier even if it is at the cost of breaking the aesthetic line of the integrated amplifier.
specs of Audionet SAM 20 SE
- Output: 110 watts into 8 Ω, 200 watts into 4 Ω
- Filtering capacity: 120,000 μF
- Damping factor:> 1,000 to 100 Hz
- Frequency response: 0 – 500,000 Hz (-3 dB)
- Harmonic spectrum: k2 typ. -101 dB, @ 1kHz, 25 W / 4 Ω, k3 typ. -106 dB, @ 1kHz, 25 W / 4 Ω
- THD + N: <-100 dB @ 1kHz, 25 W / 4 Ω
- SNR:> 103 dB (A-weighted)
- Channel Separation:> 93 dB @ 1 kHz
- Input impedance: line input: 10 kΩ, 150 pF
- XLR input: 3 kΩ, 170 pF
- Mains connection: 220..240 V / 50..60 Hz or 110..120 V / 50..60 Hz
- Power consumption: <1W standby, max. 700 W
- Dimensions: width 430 mm, height 110 mm, depth 360 mm
- Weight: 15 kg.