Ketan Bharadia grooves to the sound of Sonneteer's Sedley MM/MC phono stage.
Sonneteer are a small company whose first two
products caused quite a stir here at World Towers. The
Campion and its bigger brother the Alabaster are two very competent
integrated amplifiers at their price points, but both have a serious flaw
from a vinylesque point of view - they're line level only.
Those of us who listen to the black disc have, up to now, needed to look outside
the Sonneteer family for a phono stage. All that's changed with the £399
There's a certain understated, functional elegance about Sonneteer components
which I can see going down well in living rooms across the land. It comes
from the full-width black casework and brushed aluminium front panel.
There's also that rare and expensive blue LED on the facia which endows the
Sedley with that extra bit of class compared to cheaper green or red types.
Loading flexibility is one of the aces
up the Sedley's sleeve. Investigate the back panel and you'll find two rows
of DIP switches (one for each channel) to adjust gain (MM or MC), impedance
and capacitance. The values on offer are 1OpF, 47pF, 1OOpF and 2OOpF for
capacitance and 1Kohms, 47ohms, lOOohms and 22Oohms fur resistance. Should
you leave all the switches open, your cartridge will be working into the MM
standard of 47kohm.
If none of the values above suit your cartridge, Sonneteer have left a
couple of blank spaces on the circuit board so they can insert custom
components. A choice of IEC and RIAA cartridge equalisation is offered as
well, the former rolling off bass below 19Hz to avoid cone-flap with warped
records and reflex 'speakers.
Internally the Sedley runs from the same 16OVA toroidal transformer as
the Campion integrated. Raw AC is first rectified before passing across a
bank of eight smoothing capacitors (four 1000uF 35V, four 470uf 35V).
Thence it travels to the symmetrical audio circuits, their high-quality
discrete input stage followed by a single op amp in each channel.
Star earthing is employed throughout, alongside Sonneteer's Active Ground.
Instead of connecting the sensitive amplification circuitry directly to
ground, it goes through an IC instead. Sonneteer say this lowers ground
impedance below the minimum theoretically achievable with a copper PCB track,
with benefits for the sound.
AND IN THE BLUE CORNER...
The Sedley was connected into a system of Roksan's Xerxes turntable and
Artemis arm with an Ortofon MC 30 Supreme MC cartridge.
Musical Fidelity's heavily class AlOOl line level integrated (which doubles
as an extremely effective space heater) was then called upon to drive ProAc
Response 2 'speakers on Target R2 stands. Other phono stages used for
comparison included the Roksan Artaxerxes (reviewed in October 1997) with
its basic power supply, which together cost around £550, and the
now-discontinued Deltec 505.
DOWN TO EARTH
During the course of a conversation with designer Remo Casadei about the earthing
socket on the back panel, I found out he recommends experimentation in this
area. In spite of a certain scepticism, I tried switching between tone-arm
ground connected and unconnected and was surprised to find a subtle
improvement when this cable was left off.
Apparently, different set-ups respond in different ways to the Sedley's
grounding. Having said that, in our listening room, irrespective of whether
this ground lead was connected or not, there was still a small amount of
hum audible when using the Moving-Coil input which no amount of shifting
equipment and cables could eradicate. Fortunately, this hum was well below
the noise floor of the record itself and so wasn't intrusive.
Though in no need of a spiritual uplift I turned to the R'n'B flavoured
Gospel music of Bebe and Cece Winans. What raised my eyebrows was the sense
of life and zest the music enjoyed through the Sonneteer. This had a lot to
do with the speed and dynamics on offer - there was very little of the
compression on crescendos which a lot of hi-fl inflicts.
Crisp transients were bolstered by the bass which, though taut and
beautifully layered, lacked a little of the weight and power that the dearer
Roksan managed. By way of compensation was the Sedley's agility and
articulation. Rhythmically the Sedley reminded me of Sonneteer's integrated
amplifiers and their flair for catching subtle musical accents. Reproducing
these accurately highlights the natural pace and timing of the music and
makes it so much involving and satisfying.
Boosting the involvement factor further was the abundance of detail on offer.
This, again In character with the Sonneteer amps, was presented in an
unforced manner that complimented the music. On Tori Amos' Little Earthquakes,
for instance, her vocals were hauntingly pure; I just stopped taking notes
and listened to the album all the way through.
The Sedley's enviable capabilities in terms of stereo
imaging and focus were ably demonstrated by Miles' Davis' Kind
Of Blue. This is a great recording, which the Sonneteer left me
in no doubt of. Instrument positioning was solid, almost as if
they had been bolted down in place. When Miles or John Coltrane
moved a few feet forward to play a solo, you knew about it. Of
course, if the vinyl front end isn't good enough, you won't hear
this clarity. But the point I'm trying to make is that this £400
phono stage wasn't holding the Xerxes back, and that's no small
achievement. Swapping phono stages to the Deltec 5OS I uncovered
a sound that was even more solid but also smaller in scale and
less transparent. The Roksan had a similar level of detail but
sounded a little less exuberant and thus not as Involving.
It was time to give the Ortofon a rest and try out
the Sedley's Moving Magnet input with a Roksan Corua Black MM.
The sound quality of this cheaper groove reader was obviously
below the Supreme's but what remained was the enjoyable, detailed
and metronomically timed musicality.
As you might have guessed I'm a bit of a Sedley convert.
It gives even the excellent Artaxerxes a run for its money, even
though its £150 cheaper. In some respects, like transient
speed and stereo sound staging, it actually betters it. Add the
flexibility of variable loading and fine build quality and you're
on to a winner.
WORLD VERDICT : * * * *
The Sedley combines transparency and fine dynamics with excellent rhythmic ability.
The one to beat.
Hi-Fi World Magazine (c) Audio Publishing Ltd.
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