This review was especially written for us by the editor of Russia's AudioMagazine and is published here in an exclusive syndication arrangement hoped to introduce an exotic Russian valve hifi brand to a broader audience.

Reviewer: Artjom Avatinjan
Translator:Viacheslav Savvov
Sources: TAD D600 CD player, Michell Orbe SE turntable with SME 4 tone arm and Lyra Helikon cartridge, Studer A810 tape deck
Phono gain: S.A. Lab step-up transformers, SA Lab London phono stage
Integrated amplifiers: S.A. Lab White Knight Special Edition, S.A. Lab Blue Sapphire, S.A. Lab Erato five-chassis
Loudspeakers: Tannoy Westminster Royal with Tannoy ST200 super tweeter
Cables: Physic Style Everest interconnects, SA Lab speaker cables, Purist Audio Design Corvus power cords
Equipment rack: Finite Elemente Pagode Master Reference HD07
Review components retails: €11’000 each


6moons readers may have noticed that devices bearing musical or at least artful names occupy important positions in the catalogue of S.A. Lab, a Russian high-end manufacturer. Take for example the Lilt (a way of singing), the Ligeia or Erato (mythological ladies with an affinity to art), Audiophile Jewellery (the second name for the Blue Sapphire integrated amplifier based on the KT-150) etc. Moreover, Amati and Stradivarius decks were recently added to their illustrious lineup. These names are legendary. They hardly need an introduction. The umbrella or range under which this new group of components rises is the Luthier Series from Sound Analysis Laboratory (which is long hand for S.A. Lab). Luthiers of course are creators of classical stringed instruments like lutes, guitars, violins, violas, celli and double basses. Much of literature and even film deals with famous luthiers and their instruments. Do you remember The Red Violin movie? High-end audio manufacturers too enjoy an obvious affinity with these famous families and musical instrument maker dynasties. Let's just mention Sonus faber. This manufacturer traditionally names their flagship speakers after luthiers and the cities where the greatest representatives of this craft lived. With S.A. Lab the naming principle is connected not to national similarities but musical associations: components with breathtaking sound bearing the names of the most famous of violins and celli.


Basically the essence of the gear in question could be expressed in a more precise way as the ‘Great Luthier Series’ because they are given not ordinary but extraordinary names. These machines—or in any case, such were the intentions of their Russian engineer Alexei Syomin—provide for the highest possible sound and musical qualities similar to the rank they occupied in the music business with the instruments created in the North Italian city of Cremona two or three centuries ago. It occurred to me numerous times and not only in connection with the present review that Alexei is a real sound maestro, a Russian Kondo as I call him. He selects schematics and technical solutions, electronic components and iron cores for transformers as delicately and thoroughly as Niccolo Amati searched for suitable pieces of spruce, maple and fir and cooked up lacquer for his instruments to make them not just sound but sing.


Hearing names like Amati, Stradivarius etc., I always recall dialogue from thrillers about thieves absconding with violins. "How much can you get for your instrument?" the ignorant sleuth asks a grief-stricken musician. The latter answers "it's hard to say" and after a long meaningful pause adds, "it's priceless". Judging by data coming regularly from Sotheby’s or Christy's, anything has its price, even the S.A. Lab Luthier Series amplifiers. Surely they are expensive but not as pricey as famous violins. Iron (the best valve audio) and wood (the best violins) differ in price like earth and heaven. The Luthier Series presently consists of only two components: the Stradivarius phono stage and Amati integrated amplifier. Both are the subject of this review and I used them as part of a system consisting mainly of S.A. Lab devices whose sound character, capabilities and musical signature I know very well. Only the turntable and speakers were from other brands. It goes without saying that this is a strictly limited range. Each deck is expected to be produced in a quantity corresponding to the count of the greatest of luthiers. Besides Amati and Stradivarius, one should expect a forthcoming Guarneri (whose nickname was Del Jesu ‘The Heavenly’ whilst Niccolo Paganini played one of his instruments called Il Cannone); Vuillaume whereby a Frenchman will sneak into our august Italian company; and so forth. But details of this rollout are sparse at present and likely up for revision. What’s certain is that there will at best be six or seven samples of each.