Solen Tiger Tube/MOSFET Integrated Amp Reviewed

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SolenTiger-Image.gif

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.

Additional Resources
• Read audiophile power amp reviews from the likes of Krell, Mark Levinson, Audio Research, Linn, Naim, VAC, VTL, NuForce, Pass Labs and many others here.
• Read about tubes on the Audiophile blog, AudiophileReview.com.
• Want to read audiophile stereo preamp reviews? We have dozens from brands like ARC, Krell, Classe and many more.
• In the market for audiophile loudspeakers? Here are over 100 reviews from brands like Wilson Audio, THIEL, MartinLogan, Bowers & Wilkins, PSB, Vandersten, Magnepan and many more.

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
Phono/Aux.

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
complaint.

Read More on Page 2

HTR Product Rating for Solen Tiger Tube/MOSFET Integrated Amp

Criteria Rating

Performance

3

Value

3

Overall

3

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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Two main strengths allow the Tiger to stand proud in a price
sector crowded not only with good integrated amps (with phono
sections) but also with less expensive separates combinations.
The first is its way with dynamics. In no way does the Solen have
the sheer power of the similarly-rated BB100, but it still
behaves like a lot more than a 2x50W amplifier selling for under
#900. To keep within its capabilities, I'd recommend slightly
less difficult matches than the Sonus Fabers -- the Monitor Audio
Studio 10s, for example, worked a treat with the Tiger -- but the
hungrier, more ornery designs will not embarrass this baby. It is
able to swing from soft to loud with consummate grace, especially
if it's not being asked to deliver the kind of bass possible with
a design like the Stages.

The other noteworthy characteristic is its gloriously transparent
midband. Slight cloudiness affected the extreme treble, almost a
softening effect, but this is only worth noting because the
all-important midband is so open and refined. And this effect was
noted more when using the Tiger's outboard phono section than
with the line inputs or the phono section of the SP-14. Not that
the phono stage is that bad; it's just that the line stages are
better. And as far as the PA-2 goes, keep in mind that it retails
for a mere #170 so it's actually pretty good value.

The general behavior of this unit favors CD, so offering it in
standard form as a line-level-only device means an instant
savings for those who have abandoned the LP. Using CDs designed
to impress rather than entertain, the Tiger was able to handle
outrageous 'torture tracks', like the stampedes on Telarc's
Round-Up or our own 'garage door' without suffering from
compression. More thrilling was its superlative behavior in all
three dimensions, with space and location perfectly preserved,
even if the soundstage seemed scaled down a shade...but in the
right proportions.

But this slight reduction, say to 9/10ths scale, is wholly in
keeping with its 'little jewel' nature, a reminder that good
things often do come in small packages. It has charm on many
levels -- aesthetically , sonically and ergonomically -- and the
triangular case occupies a comfortable spot in between novelty and
domestic acceptability. At #870 in line-level form, it has to be
judged a wise purchase for the iconoclastic audiophile, a
musical, wholly pleasurable bargain of an amp. Funnily enough,
it'll even make you feel good about the pending Europeanization 

of the UK.

Additional Resources
• Read audiophile power amp reviews from the likes of Krell, Mark Levinson, Audio Research, Linn, Naim, VAC, VTL, NuForce, Pass Labs and many others here.
• Read about tubes on the Audiophile blog, AudiophileReview.com.
• Want to read audiophile stereo preamp reviews? We have dozens from brands like ARC, Krell, Classe and many more.
• In the market for audiophile loudspeakers? Here are over 100 reviews from brands like Wilson Audio, THIEL, MartinLogan, Bowers & Wilkins, PSB, Vandersten, Magnepan and many more.

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