SPL: Reference level performance, German build quality, and innovative designs

My review just went up on the Stereo Times website on a full loom of SPL (Sound Performance Lab) of the Elector line-stage, s800 single chassis amplifier, and M1000 mono-block amplifiers. This 30 year old German company is mainly known for their professional gear made for recording studios. They started designing and building gear for the audiophile market five years ago. The preamplifiers/amplifiers are raved about by European audiophiles and have received superlative reviews in many German based reviewing mags.

The build quality is what you would expect from a German company and they have developed a technology called VOLTAIR 120V which is incorporated in all their electronics. Of course, the most important factor is performance and all these pieces are "killer" regarding the beautiful music they create. Then, add on that for an imported German piece of gear that's reference level, the asking retail prices here in the US is amazing. For all the details take a look at the review. 
Hi Terry . I really enjoy the way you find and communicate audio bargains. 
Hi teajay - 

Just read the review!  Great job!  It's nice you mentioned what makes the SPL equipment technically unique as well.

Audio Archon - Authorized SPL dealer
Man, this stuff makes me think many reviewers are just basically skilled marketers and copywriters shilling for dealers and distributors. Great to hear about a product that’s new to the US market, as always, but jeez... another “greatest value in audio.” 
I’m sorry if it sounds personal... Not my intention (and I’m sure it would fun to play with new gear all the time)...

That looks like a very compelling piece. I hope you will report back.

I really hope someone picks up a Director MK2 and reports back regarding the DAC.
Hey, How long for the SPL Elector to arrive with your dealer? I ve checked around with various dealers and not one has them in stock, and I was quoted 6 to 8 weeks delivery times!!!! Yikes.....

Interested in SPL also.  Checked around with dealers and gotten vague responses about timeline ranging from April to late summer to unknown. Anybody found a way to get one with a firm confirmation on delivery date?
Jaymark, did you receive yours yet?
Same here, i also look at Elector or possibly Benchmark LA4. 'dI like something which is dynamic,- a bit of swing, which i am afraid none of these will offer :-(
I got my SPL Elector preamp from Underwood HiFi within a few weeks of ordering it.  No real delay in delivery.  It has been in the box since arriving but will be put in play soon.
Teajay I read your review, how do you think the performer s800 would compare to my Wells Audio Inamorata?
Hey jimbones,

I have actually had in-house your Wells Audio piece. The major differences would be:
1) The SPL is much quieter and will give you greater clarity and micro-details.
2) The SPL is much faster with more a sense of aliveness then the Inamorata.
3) The SPL is not an overall warmer amp then yours, but the colors/timbres are richer and denser.
@Amorstereo thank you for your response. It sounds like like you really liked the SPL Performer. I cant wait to get mine.

@teajay you reviewed the system as a whole. Did you try the preamp in another system and if so, what did you think of it?

The SPL Elector preamp has given me killer performance.  Extreme clarity, great spatiality, and tubelike tonal colors.  This is one helluva preamp and, at the asking price for a little over two grand, it's a borderline steal of the new millennium. Highly recommended.

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@jaymark how do you like using the remote control? I've found that motorized volume controls often give very imprecise changes.  I'm looking for something that can give me a reliable 1db (maybe 1.5db) change, without jumping up or down by 2-3 db or worse.

Hey dishhifi,

I have had the reverse experience, love the Apple remote in that I can go up exactly 1db notch very easily to get to the exact sound level I'm seeking.

Thought this might help some people in that I am about to let an SPL Elector pre (new, so still breaking in) go head to head no holds barred with a gently used, soon-to-arrive LTA Microzotl Level 2 using my Mac Mc152 amp.
Having had the SPL here for a week or so I can absolutely confirm it’s fantastical-ness (and the fantastical-ness of the people at The Music Room and Mario my salesman whom is super knowledgeable and friendly for letting me demo these preamps- albeit not before I paid for both of them in full! He’s not THAT friendly. HA!). There’s also a great YouTube video on the SPL from them by a guy named Duncan which is what swayed me to try it (plus the redoubtable Terry’s glowing rhetoric of course).

Yes, the SPL Elector is no joke- it’s detailed, dynamic, fast and dead silent electrically with lots of inputs and the innate ability to learn to use most any IR remote you like. I like that with said (individualized) IR remote, you can jump up or down in volume in small enough amounts for my needs. Quibbles? I wish you could turn off the friggin’ meter lamps like I can on the Mac (bit much in a darkened room with a scotch- tryin’ to set a musical mood here!) and I wouldn’t exactly say it’s built to the standards of my KTE May Dac or my Meitner MA3 or for that matter, my Mac amp. It’s maybe a bit thin as regards the metal casing etc. and the finish doesn’t exactly scream Jeff Rowland competitor. But then, it’s not 5 to 10 grand either.
But as a functional preamp? It is sonically a bit special. To my ear, more special than some I’ve had here recently- a Pass XP12, Topping pre90, the very highest end tubed Mac pre and a Schiit Freya S (which I actually loved - lots more than I thought I would! Almost kept that amazingly fun little guy!). Never heard the Coda pre/gear.
The SPL is preliminarily maybe a touch warm (?). Maybe?? Though that could be the Mc152 amp. Or my mood going in to summer. It’s early going. Some bright/annoying recordings are suitably bright/annoying so it does have me doubting myself on and off. But tonally, spatially and in terms of pace and electrical quietude it really seems a marvel at the price! It’s capable of gorgeous string tone and arresting transients for sure. Terrific accurate/taught bass. Beautiful texture on Yo-Yo Ma’s cello on his recent recording of Beethoven cello sonatas with Emanuel Ax.

  The Music Room is apparently now a legit dealer for SPL so you can demo this gear (hallelujah! It’s like the UK finally:) and they also have open box SPL from time to time as well. Hence I took the plunge- they make it easy.

So if any are interested, will try and report back with some preliminary findings after the LTA is in the house later this week/this weekend. I’ll go balanced into the LTA and single ended out (of necessity as no balanced outs I think) SPL is balanced in and out.

Actually, I like the SPL pre so much at this point I almost thought about trying their amp! The stereo one not the monos- don’t need all that power. Ah but I just got the Mac (yes from The Music Room but pre-Mario so not from him) and really like how quietly it goes about it’s business and how effortlessly powerful/pure it is. And how you can turn off the friggin’ meters! Hint hint!

Maybe one day after the pre is nailed down I’ll try their amp too… Anyway will try and report back about the pre comparison.



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So this comparison wont take weeks or months of careful listening while blinded in the vacuum of space holding an Apx-500 precision measuring device after all.

In sum, the LTA Microzotl level 2 pre is warmer and denser with ’beautified’ string tone/woodwind tone and excellent detail etc and the SPL has comparatively a more expanded airiness and spaciousness/instrumental separation while imparting (allowing through?) a bit more overall scale/size to the proceedings. The entire presentation of the LTA is very obviously more ’humid’/warmer/denser though not really syrupy or rolled up top (particularly with my MA3 DAC, pianos and triangles still have enough ’ping’ and original instruments on a bad recording can still annoy sufficiently ;) It retains excellent detail retrieval such as the breaths between clarinet phrases in clarinet concertos and the valves being clicked as the notes change.

The SPL is not quite as ’dense’ in terms of instrumental presence i.e. there is a might more solidity and corporeality to the image itself with the LTA. But as I say, perhaps as a consequence of less density (?), with it there is more air all around and the players are more perceptibly separated when spread around a venue. The SPL also seems to stage a bit wider left to right and possibly front to back. I guess you could say things -- everything-- sounds ’bigger’ through the SPL. I had the image of taking a piece of paper folded many times like a paper fan, then holding the ends and half expanding it (LTA) vs. fully stretching it out (SPL) though that’s a dramatization of course.

All this means system synergy is again key, particularly with regard to tonal qualities; with my Holo May KTE DAC for example, for my ear, with the Mac amp, the LTA pre is a bit too much of a good thing- a bit too humid/warm, though this does lend a beguiling tonality to sax/woodwinds etc. But pianos for example, aren’t as lit up and pingy as I feel they should be - more felt and wood and a bit less string maybe? With the Meitner MA3 as DAC (balanced out into LTA level 2 balanced inputs), it is less warm- better- but still a bit much for me in this regard. Certainly a click or two more though back toward the perceived ’neutral’ line though.

I’d say both pres are a bit warm overall, but there is no doubt the LTA offers the more humid/dense/compact view of the two at least when paired with my relatively high powered (and maybe slightly tonally warm) Mac MC152 solid state amp. Quite sure this isnt necessarily the intended pairing for the LTA pre, but on the other hand, I understand many have felt it to be an able and versatile performer in their various systems.

As it stands, I dont think the LTA will be for me in this particular system and I am deciding whether the SPL will be the ticket, as it does truly excel with space/airiness, imaging and pace, but it also a bit ’warm’ or ’analogue’ as The Music Room calls it. They’re right in that regard.

I’m actually starting to think that, for this particular set up, especially when employing a slightly warm DAC like say, the Holo KTE, perhaps a more ’straight wire with gain’ approach would be the way to go preamp-wise so as not to pour honey over a bit of caramel.

Actually, while not as dense/beautiful sounding as the LTA or as spacious and expanded as the SPL, the Freya S I had here for a while, particularly in buffered mode run full balanced, was maybe a better fit here tonally speaking. I do wonder now about pres like the Benchamrk LA4 and the other ’straight A students’ majoring in Measurements and Objectivity (M and O) for this particular system.

I’m going to do a few more back to back comparisons before I decide, but this is a snapshot for now... Hope this might help some thinking about these two excellent preamps. Nice thing though is either could certainly be a beautiful thing with the right ancillaries and neither ’smokes’ the other, regardless of the considerable retail price gap. Can I say ’horses for courses’? I love that Brit HiFi saying and it’s definitely fitting here.


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@teajay Did you listen to the SPL amp with your CODA 07x preamp (I have it)? If so, how did it compare to the 07x and CODA #16 pairing (which I have heard). Or the 07x and CODA #8 which I have owned?

Just adding my thoughts to this thread, having bought an SPL Director Mk 2 preamp and S800 power amp earlier in the year, and more recently a Phonitor headphone amp and Phonos phono stage.

My main amplifiers were an EAR 868 preamp and Pass XA25 power amp. I bought the SPL amps as back ups for quick and casual listening when I didn't want to power up the tubes and class A amp, and for the hot months when the Pass amp turns into a room heater. I thought I would use the SPL amps occasionally and accept the downgrade in performance for convenience.

As it turned out, the more I listened to the SPL amps I began to go from thinking, "these aren't as bad as I was expecting", to "these are actually sounding pretty good" and then to "being honest with myself, I prefer the SPL amps to the EAR/Pass amps". I also preferred them to some other more exalted amps I have owned in the recent past - an Ayre AX5 Twenty, an ARV VSi75 and a Lavardin IT, amongst others.

I initially bought the s800 power amp because of Terry's review, in which he said it reminded him of his Pass XA25. In fact, I found that the SPL doesn't sound much like the XA 25 at all. Fine amp though the Pass undoubtedly is, I thought the SPL amp was better. It was faster, more dynamic, cleaner, more three dimensional and tonally richer. I also found it more engaging and musical, for my tastes. The fact that it was smaller, lighter, runs cool and can be left on 24/7 are just bonuses. Undoubtedly many would prefer the Pass amp - it sounds "bigger" and has more audiophile "cred" in both a sonic and physical sense - but the SPL suits my musical tastes better.

Similarly, in direct comparisons between my EAR and SPL preamps,  the EAR had the usual tube traits of spaciousness,decay, smoothness and tonal depth. But it also sounded a bit colourless and a bit slow. The SPL preamp gave up a bit of space and decay but was tonally more saturated, quieter, more colourful and more dynamic. On balance, I preferred it. Again, being able to run it 24/7 and no tube replacement concerns were icing on the cake.

I have since sold the EAR and Pass amps and am using the SPL amps exclusively.

A note on the DAC in the SPL Director Mk 2. It is very good, but not perfect. I sold a vastly more expensive DAC because the SPL DAC was showing me what I was missing in terms of space and dynamics. It is an accomplished and engaging DAC. But it also lacks bit of body and weight compared to other DACs (including the one it replaced). Orchestral strings, in particular, sound a bit thin and there is a slight high frequency glare to the sound of the DAC which can be a little fatiguing. Unfortunately, it is so close to being a great DAC, but falls a bit short. If SPL could engineer in a bit of warmth, tonal density and weight - things which are frequently associated with the AKM DAC chip it uses - it would be a killer. So,as a preamp, the Director is superb, as a DAC, a bit less so. That makes the SPL Elector (which is identical but without the internal DAC) the better buy, along with the DAC of your choice.

The Phonitor is also an outstanding headphone amp. I have a couple of other excellent headphone amps - the EAR HP4 and Niimbus US4 - and the Phonitor is at least competitive with all of them.

The SPL Phonos is an outstanding phono stage at its price. I have owned quite a number of much more expensive phono stages which are not as good. It is quiet, has exceptional detail and three dimensionality. Tonally it is on the warm side, and like the other SPL gear it is fast and dynamic. It does have a touch of hardness which I am hoping will disappear with run in, however. Currently my primary phono  stage is a (tubed) Tron Convergence Signature MM with an EAR MC4 SUT, which is truly outstanding and one of the best values in audio. I am hoping that with a bit of time the slight hardness in the SPL Phonos will relent and it will become my primary phono stage.



Thanks for the comments. The only SPL gear I own is the Phonos and I find it to be an exceptional phono stage. I don't notice the hardness you describe. But I bought it used and can't speak to how it sounds fresh out of the box.