Sugden Revisited: In Which the Reviewer is Motivated to Ownership

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One of the few downsides to reviewing audio equipment is that when you are done reviewing it, and you find it absolutely wonderful, unless you’re “Mr. Deep Pockets” you have to give it back.

Such was the case when I finished my review of the Sugden A21SE Signature Class A Integrated. Here was a piece of audio that changed my perspective on listening and enjoying music, and I had to give it back!

If you read my original review, you know how much I love how this integrated makes music, and when I returned it, it left a void in me that my current system (at the time) couldn’t duplicate. My Naim gear made beautiful music, make no mistake about it, but this Sugden just took listening to music to a higher and importantly different plane.

Well, once it was gone, it was not long afterwards that I knew my course of action. I called my friendly neighborhood audio maven, Charlie Schnyder, at Stereo Haven (www.Stereohaven.com ) and asked him to put one aside for me as I was starting the online auction process of selling the old to bring in the new. Cheerfully, Charlie said, “When you’re ready, it’s here for you.”

Have I conveyed clearly enough to everyone how important it is to have a real audio retailer that you can trust to give you the advice and support you need? If not, let me say it clearly now: find one! It may take time, because there are a lot of them out there that want you to listen to music their way, that want to mold you to their way of thinking and listening. But when you do land on the one for you, keep them, and when you’re ready to buy, buy from them, not the internet! I am very fortunate to have found Mr. Schnyder; he is not only a consummate audio professional, but also a no-hype, bona-fide audiophile who wants to help everyone on their path by helping them weed through all the glitz and glamour that resides within the pages of Stereophile and Absolute Sound. Even if there is not one near you, they are only a phone call away. Make some calls!

Now, where was I? Ah yes, the wonderful Sugden! Well, after some weeks, I was gone from the Naim fold, and happily called Charlie that I was ready to “Come home.”

 

 

 

It was like Christmas morning when I open the box that housed my integrated. I had my rack all set up to go, so it did not take long to install.

I decided on the Audioquest Type 4 speaker cable to run to my Devore 3XLs, as this cable to my ears made the best match--even more than some of the more expensive cables, and again I owe a big thank you to Stereo Haven and Charlie’s back for bending down and changing out cable after cable until I found what I liked the best.

I powered up and let the system warm up a bit before starting--knowing that there will always be a breaking-in period for both the amp and speaker cable, I was not prepared to hear things as I did when I auditioned the “broken in” unit.

While it was warming up, I made myself a proper cup of English tea and opened my bag of Twiglets to snack on.

 

 

I started out listening to vinyl--always my first choice, and what I spent the most time listening to when I was auditioning the piece. I was amazed at how closely the sound already was to what I had heard during the auditioning; the Sugden obviously is not needing the amount of break in time that most of my other stereo equipment has needed in the past.

I was still able to pick out all of the texture and tone that I noticed before right out of the box--and no, it’s not the tea talking, I know what I heard. And I can happily say now that after a few weeks and a lot of listening, this little baby is running on all 8 cylinders--or should I say 30 watts? The leading edges and decay on the drums and cymbals is mesmerizing (even more so now with the Audioquest speaker cables, which are a much better match than my Naim cables were when I auditioned the unit). Vocals, male and female, are more organic and “human” with that “reach out and touch them” quality. My ankle is sore, though, because during all this music playing, the pace and rhythm are so spot on perfect that my foot kept rocking along with every beat on every album. Oh well, it gives me a chance to tell a good story when someone asks why I am limping!

I have been listening to records that I thought I knew how they sounded in a new light. It’s not that I am hearing anything I have not heard before, it’s that I am hearing them in a way I have not before, which is more lifelike.

I am wondering now how the Sugden phono stage would sound compared to my original Dynavector P75 with my DV cartridge. I wonder when Charlie will get one in that I can borrow to review. It will be interesting, given my Well Tempered Amadeus was voiced with the cartridge and phono stage--but what fun it would be to compare! I love audio!

When I turned to CDs I was equally spellbound, as I am sure you knew I would be. One thing that a CD does have going for it is dynamics. Not to bore you with what I listened to, because it would be way too much to list, suffice it to say it was just about every genre of music other than Pop and Rap. The Sugden plays them all with aplomb.

The dynamic swings this amp can make with only 30 watts, and I know I said this earlier, is just astounding. I really feel this is the perfect match for my Devores.

I also have this pride of ownership thing going on, that I realize to some borders on the geeky if not downright creepy, but when you have something that you know was made by real people who care, and who have been together as long as many of the people from Sugden I am told have been, and they are willing to put their name on it...I feel as if I have been allowed to be adopted into their family. So, yes, I have a picture of their factory framed, and, yes I have my testing tag in a frame, and yes I even have a framed picture of when they went on vacation this past summer because it is such a great picture! I don’t care what anyone says, I love this kind of thing, this kind of craftsmanship, this kind of family, and I feel privileged to be a part of it.

 

             

 

With the A21SE, when I finish listening to my music, it has me anticipating my next listening session! Yes, this is a gushing follow up. I enjoy what this amp does in my system to my music more than any other I have had to pleasure to listen to.

To those out there on the fence, wondering if something this affordable can sound that good when there are so many others out there saying that much more expensive things sound the best ever, let me just say this: Listen. Listen and trust your ears, not theirs. Trust your ears and not your wallet. You do not have to spend more than the cost of this Sugden to get a piece of audio equipment that could easily be the last one you might ever want.

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0