I have a confession to make. I love hockey. Geez, what surprise - a Canadian who loves his nation's singular obsession? All kidding aside, us denizens of the north live and breathe that sport. With a population of 30 million, Canada has approximately 500,000 kids in minor league hockey. Both my boys (ages 6 and 10) play the game, my wife is the trainer for my eldest son's team. A favorite NHL player of this great sport is recently retired ex-Toronto Maple Leaf Doug Gilmour [left]. I admired Dougie because he was a relatively small guy who played far bigger than his 5'11", 175 lbs frame. He was drafted by St. Louis in the 7th round, 134th overall in the 1982 Draft - hardly an auspicious beginning for one of hockey's grittiest centermen who ultimately scored 450 goals and won the Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989. Wondering what any of this has to do with audio? Well, just as I have a place in my heart for Dougie, so I also have a spot for the little guys of audio. They may not readily pop up on the radar screen of mainstream audio, but many are doing far more interesting things than the big boyz. In fact, I'd even suggest that the boundaries of audio are currently being expanded predominantly by the smaller firms. Look at the range of companies whose products are reviewed on 6moons. Most of them are not exactly household names - but that does not mean they don't offer first-rate products to discerning audiophiles.

Toronto's Song Audio is one of the small, new kids on the block that has generated serious buzz in the local audiophile scene. In fact, the word on the street has Song's $3,600 SA-1 preamp outperforming the highly regarded Herron. Since the SA-1 and matching $4,000 SA-300 MB monoblocks were a wee bit out of my audio experience/affordability zone, I decided to track down Song's $1900 SA-34 SB single ended triode integrated. I was hopeful it would offer at least a taste of the alleged glories of single-ended triodes.

Song Audio is the brainchild of the supremely affable Mr. Song Kim, who first fell in love with music in his native Korea via AFKN, the Armed Forces Radio Network-Korea. He worked for the U.S. Army's 2nd Infantry Division as an interpreter/ translator, and later for the U.S. Government in Vietnam. These experiences exposed him to many American audiophiles who introduced him to the world of McIntosh and Marantz. At the height of the Vietnam War, Mr. Kim and his family immigrated to Canada to seek a more harmonious home and greater opportunities for the children. Mr. Kim's life long-long passion for music eventually saw him enter the audio marketplace in 2001. Song Audio currently offers the SA-34 SB integrated amplifier under review, the SA-1 line level preamp, the SA-300 MB 300B-based monoblocks and two bookshelf loudspeaker models. Song Audio is also the Canadian distributor of Loth-X loudspeakers and the costly, yet surprisingly effective, Argent Room Lens.

I emailed Song back in August, expressing interest in his SET integrated. Mr. Kim promptly replied back and invited yours truly to his home for a demo. To be honest, I was not convinced I would find the SA-34 to my taste. No doubt Song meanwhile wanted to ensure that I wasn't just another gear head obsessed with thunderous bass and the clinical extraction of every little detail in the recording chain. You see, Song Audio is simply not concerned with such audiophile obsessions. Mr. Kim's products are aimed at music lovers; people who are more concerned about grooving to tunes rather than making out every little tape splice, tick and pop. Prior to the SA-34, I had never spent serious time with SETs and admit to having less than positive preconceptions based on what I had read and heard from other audiophiles.

I expected to hear an overly rich and warm midrange, with rolled-off highs, little or no bass, and all the dynamic punch of a sack of wet mice. I was further troubled when I saw how Mr. Kim had wired the SA-34 up to a pair of single driver Loth-X bookshelf speakers. Yet again those nasty preconceptions reared their ugly little heads. I was anticipating gutless speakers with a ragged upper mid range and no highs. Now, I thought for sure I wasn't gonna like this at all. Not one wee bit. Get me outa here. Alas, after I'd listened to Mr. Kim's setup for about twenty minutes, I started to channel Dr. Seuss' character in Green Eggs and Ham who, without ever tasting them, repeatedly complains to his persistent companion, "Sam I Am", that he didn't fancy green eggs and ham and wouldn't try them under any circumstances. Of course, the perseverance of his diminutive friend eventually paid off. He finally did sample said green eggs & ham and exclaimed they were quite tasty after all. While this setup did confirm one or two of my assumptions, the overall presentation was extremely lively, involving and musically coherent. After a half hour, I knew I had to bring the SA-34 home so I too could dig into my green eggs and ham and enjoy a proper breakfast of musical protein.

The SA-34 SB is an appealing piece with a pleasant retro look. The chrome-plated bronze chassis is attractively framed by a pair of solid Cherry wood cheeks. The center-mounted 24K gold-plated solid bronze volume control is connected to a quality Noble pot. The proprietary transformers are encased in classy black metal enclosures at the rear. The front left toggle switches between two inputs while the right handles power on/off. A standard IEC jack is centrally located on the rear of the amp and flanked by 4 /8 ohm gold- plated metal binding posts atop the deck, directly aft of the two outermost transformer casings. The terminal posts are seriously chunky, with free-moving lock washers similar to WBT designs. I could crank down the posts without them slipping, nor did my spade connections loosen over time.

The supplied power cable is rather special. Instead of the generic Belden cord, Song sweetens an already delectable deal by throwing in his own 1.5m $400 power cord - no upcharge. This is a serious cable, housing 98% pure solid silver conductors with Wattgate 320 IEC and Marinco hospital-grade AC plugs and encased in an attractive forest-green fiberglass cloth sleeve. I can tell you that this cable positively blows away any stock cable. How so?

It adds a good dose of bottom-end crunch and dynamics, along with slightly better liquidity and smoothness. On the SA-34, I preferred this cable over my Wireworld Aurora III and DH Labs Power Plus cables. However, the DH Labs wire ran a very close second to this silver-wired upstart. All in all, the 25 lbs. SA-34 is a sweet-looking amp that is built like your proverbial brick shithouse.

The SA-34 is a zero negative feedback, single-ended vacuum tube amp with a pair each of Electroharmonix EL34s and 12AX7s, for power output and input duties respectively. The EL34 is a pentode commonly used in push-pull designs but here strapped to triode operation. While SET amps with true triodes like the 300B and 2A3 are probably sonically superior, they are also far more expensive. Song's goal is to offer a sampling of the mythical glories of SET sound at an entry level price. Other than replacing the odd tube now and then, the amp's auto-biasing circuitry makes it essentially maintenance free and thus perfect for someone new to the world of tubes.

Unique among entry-level priced valve amplifiers, the Song Audio integrated uses 5AR4-based tube rectification rather than the more common, smaller and cheaper silicon diodes. Rectification, in case you were unsure, is not an activity involving the assistance of your proctologist. It's simply the process whereby alternating current (AC) as supplied by your local utility company is converted into direct current (DC) to become acceptable for a component's power supply. Song Kim believes sand-based rectification is inferior due to its inherent switching noise. Tube rectification, while more expensive, is said to have far less intrusive sonic effects.

Amplifiers can't get much simpler to operate than this. Just hook up your connections and flip the power switch. It takes a few seconds for the amp to power up, after which the SA-34 does run quite warm, to really strut its music-making legs after approximately a half hour of use.

The SA-34 was hooked up to my resident 89dB Meadowlark Kestrel 2s via JPS Labs Ultraconductors and DH Labs Q10 cables. Sources included the just-reviewed Music Hall Maverick SACD and my Rotel RCD-971 CD players. Interconnects were JPS Labs Superconductor+, DH Labs Air Matrix and Revelation. Power was supplied via stock, Wireworld Aurora III, DH Labs Power Plus and Song Audio AC cables. My Bryston B60 solid-state and the Unison Research/PCX Level 2 Unico hybrid integrated amplifiers occasionally sat in for comparison. Room acoustics were enhanced big time by the amazingly effective but outrageously priced Argent Room Lens.