I've now had a few days to live with the bedroom-system C-J Sonographe SC25 preamp and SA250 125 wpc amp you see tucked into a DIY oak cabinet.
Some system context first. As the photo might suggest (apart from the way-too-revealing camera flash highlighting the need for shelf dusting), the standmounted Paradigm SE-1 speakers have to contend with fairly cramped quarters, and particularly the proximity of a reflection-unfriendly lowboy dresser in an 11'x13' room. I've placed a few ASC 9" Tube traps where I could atop the dresser and in the room's rear corners and probably get some, if not ideally placed, absorptive help from the queen-sized bed's pillows and covers, but otherwise it's a very "just live-with-it, Jim" acoustic environment.
Okay, enough excuses. The program sources feeding the SC25 are a Mac MR74 via Kimber Silver Streak, a Dan Wright-modded Pioneer DV-525 via Tara Prism 33, and a Motorola cable box for background Music Channel program via Vampire-terminated JSC IC's. Kimber Select KS-1020 links the SC25 and SA250, which in turn feeds the SE-1's via Tara original-version Space and Time speaker cable. All but the directly-into-the-wall SA250 are plugged into an Adcom ACE-515 power line conditioner. As a comparison benchmark, a Counterpoint SA-2000 tube/hybrid line stage and Rotel RB970BX 60wpc amp constituted the previous electronics lineup.
My inital impression upon listening to the out-of-the-box Sonographes was favorable but somewhat guarded. There was no question that the Paradigms benefitted from a gutsier amp, exhibiting a broader and deeper soundstage and more heft than I'd experienced with Counterpoint/Rotel combination. But there was just a hint of "electronic" in the presentation. Something attributable to the solid-state SC25? I wondered.
Not that I had the faintest pangs of buyer's remorse. I'd learned a long time ago that it takes even assumedly burned-in components time to warm up and cables that have just been reconnected to "settle." So I let the MR74 and the cable box feed the system (and occasionally put on a CD) and did little if any critical listening over the next couple of days. But even in passing I noticed that the presentation began to sound more liquid and more, if I can use the term, engaging.
I spent some time yesterday and today auditioning CD's I know well, mostly classical, jazz, and vocal, including some I've played earlier this week. And now I know why some Stereophile
reviewer in the late '90's saw fit to dub the SA250 "Class B." This amp's a sleeper. Taut, well-defined bottom end, more (and very liquid) extension at the top than some online commentary has suggested, and a midrange that's, well, wonderful. The nuanced and breathy inflections of Sarah Vaughan's voice, the reediness of Stan Getz's sax, the palpable and uncongested delineation of massed brass and woodwinds...all this from CD's spinning on a modded DVD player that, if memory serves, I acquired about a dozen years ago.
And that "electronic" signature? What was is nada
, nothing--no longer in evidence. No, the SC25 is not my Premier 17LS. But it's more than what I'd have termed "competent" a couple days ago. And, no, I'm not tempted to substitute the SA-2000 in its place. This is a case of "ain't broke, don't fix." There's synergy working here I don't want to mess with.
Final note: About an hour before I started writing this (and before I took the photo), I placed a set of just-lying-around Aurios isolators under the SC25 and relistened to a recorded-live Shostakovich Fifth (his son Maxim conducting) I'd had on earlier. Good grief, Charley Brown. Even more open and reach-into presentation.