Deliberate planning for 1992 may or may not have had anything to
do with it, but the Europeans used the late 1980s to make their
mark in high-end audio. Smashing a UK-US monopoly on 'serious'
equipment, companies like Goldmund, Gryphon, YBA, Sonus Faber,
Ensemble and others have shown that the Continent can now boast
some serious competition. Until recently, though, any Euro-fi of
merit has been decidedly expensive. Now there's a new piece aimed
straight at the heart of the entry-level sector...where UK
electronics reign supreme.
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Solen is a French manufacturer of tube/MOSFET hybrids, their
initial appearance at the Hi-Fi Show eliciting an expected
response: 'The shape! It's a triangle!' Well, sort of, but
Solen's designers are clever enough to know that too radical a
look means death in the shops. At eye level, therefore, the Solen
Tiger B50 line-level amplifier in its solid aluminum case looks
'normal, with a rectangular faceplate bearing a volume control,
source select buttons (each sporting a red tell-tale ¬inside¬ the
button) and a power switch.
But the upper corners, when viewed from the front, are slotted,
and it's only when the eye travels to the top plate that the
observer realizes that those slots are the front edges of the
amplifier's heat sinks. The designer sweeps these down the sides,
and they meet at the back, forming a rear panel 150mm wide --
compared to the frontal width of 370mm. So yes, it is triangular,
but with the rear point sliced off to produce a sensible surface
for mounting the five-way speaker binding posts, sockets for CD,
Video, Tuner and Tape In/Out, and gold-plated sockets marked
Straight out of the box, the Tiger is phono-stage-free, as its
line-level tag suggests, but the company does manufacture an
outboard phono section, the PA-2 Phono Module, as an option. This
consists of a small, Walkman-sized black box with gold phono
sockets, an earthing tag and a captive lead terminating in a
tiny, Neutrik-style connector. This is the power lead, the phono
stage being driven by the Solen Tiger itself via a tiny socket
labeled 'VA', sited just below the speaker terminals.
The Tiger is small but densely packed with circuitry, the
triangle of a chassis surrounding a massive toroidal transformer;
the main circuitry is best viewed from the underside. The
relatively small size of the unit reiterates the company's
intention to employ ultra-short signal paths. The circuit itself
consists of a hybrid design in shunt-regulated push-pull
configuration, with a pair of ECC81s used in the pre-amp section.
The company, as with others who have used this topology, states
that valves at the input stage offer the widest possible overload
headroom, 'with the dependability and low output impedance of a
solid state design in the power stage'. MOS logic-controlled
circuitry is used to route the signals directly from the inputs
to the pre-amplification stage.
The power amp section was designed for stability and 'grunt' but
with fast rise times, in effect creating one of those NAD-like
situations where a tiny amp can behave as if it were a big mutha.
I used the Tiger -- the name became more appropriate with every
listening -- with all manner of 'difficult' speakers, including
Sonus Fabers and Apogee Stages, and it served dutifully without
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