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How do you achieve the very impressive specifications especially in the frequency response?


"To achieve broad frequency response you have to work out the interleaving such that primary to secondary capacitance is very low yet coupling between them very tight. Talking about the ability to drive difficult speaker loads, the secondary wire must deliver very high current."


What remains behind such seemingly complex factors is an inherent and unwavering mandate to keep the circuitry as simple as possible. "Sometimes less is best. After many attempts to create an extraordinary amp topology, I tried many types of driver tubes. After extensive trials I came to the conclusion that the well-known 45 was the very best to drive the 13E1. The 45 has a very detailed sound, a wonderfully fluid midrange and the bass is very natural and can reach very low. When designing a driver stage with the 45 you must use an anode choke to provide high swing voltage and drive the 13E1 control grid so that  the driver never runs out of signal."

The extremely rigid chassis features a glossy black acrylic fascia sporting a single blue on/off LED. A small chrome plaque has Cymer Audio and By Elson Silva engraved. The rest is made up of heavy steel panels assembled with high-quality hex bolts (and not the easily burred Chinese variant but the long-lasting kind made in the US as Elson points out). The rear panel houses high-quality pure copper Cardas posts that cater to 8- and 4-ohms speakers, a single RCA input and an IEC power inlet. The top panel shows the EH 12AU7, a National Union 45 and the British STC 13E1 beam tetrode.


A laser-cut decorative chromed steel panel surrounds the valves. On either side of the 13E1 are small slots with pots beneath for bias adjustments which should only need to be done once every six months. A small on/off switch rounds out the controls. The three massive transformers take up the rest of the chassis, these being the filter choke, power and output transformers. A chrome plaque atop each has engraved a description of the transformer’s function and the stylized Southern Star name. The immaculate internal layout is highlighted by silver/oil Mundorf capacitors and PSC silver wiring throughout. After much experimentation with all manner of exotic capacitors Elson arrived at the Mundorfs for a balance he found most suitable.


A further design element is variable negative feedback from 0dB to 6dB. This allows a certain and useful adjustment for different speakers. Elson is adamant that his feedback control has zero impact on signal purity but can reap benefits in bass quality. More feedback provides tighter bass control, less feedback the opposite. In the context of my system and room I used about 3dB. This gave me a superb balance of tight bass and midrange beauty. The specs are a mix of classic valve and 21st century precision (bearing in mind that this is a SET design). As its name suggests, the SE-35 puts out a conservative 35 watts into either 8Ω or 4Ω over 20Hz to 20kHz. Power bandwidth is 35 watts from 30Hz to 18kHz ±1dB. Input impedance is 100kΩ and damping factor 16. Harmonic distortion at full power is 2.8% with a signal to noise ratio of 90dB. Each 430mm D x 290 W x 220 H monoblock weighs 25kg. Elson picked each part for its sonic quality, longevity and reliability for true artisanship in all aspects from circuitry, engineering to design. Overall the SE-35 has the look and feel of a component that will outlast me by a long shot. 


Heavenly stars. I’ve said it before—and I may have inadvertently been guilty myself—this business is rife with clichés. "Nothing prepared me for what I heard..."; "I rediscovered my music collection..."; "better than the opposition at twice, three times, five times the price..." and so on. No wonder our community grows more cynical by the day. I’m more conscious than ever not to use  sweeping over-simplifications... and yet, would you allow me to restate all of the above? Seriously.


I’ll try and spare you the clichés. What I won’t spare you from is communicating my absolute captivation with this extraordinary piece of valve amplification. The SE-35 is the most transparent, vivid and immediate sounding amplifier I’ve ever had in my system. It’s the most real, clear and true. It communicates not only the most delicate and accurate harmonic information allowing instrument and voice alike to sound their most lifelike but it also translates the phenomenon that pours from a musician’s creative mojo onto the recording and then via the wonders of electrons and oscillating magnetic forces to your ears and brain. It steps out of the way. It transmits rather than translates. That’s what’s at the core of the SE-35. It communicates the truth faithfully and as authentically as I can gauge. I’ve since found that the truth is beautiful.


Examples extend as far as my collection but take Ian Dogole’s Ionosphere. The variety of African drums this brilliant percussionist has mastered is mind-boggling. On any track—which in the main are blends of Afro and Jazz rhythms—the drumming most especially from the steel drum is so real and present that I’d have to drag out another doozie of a cliché and say they were ‘in the room’. The term in this case sums up staggering dynamic contrast, extraordinary transient attack and superbly accurate tonality. Cliché or not, that’s what it’s like. It’s a combination of sonic qualities rarely seen combined at this level of superiority. The quotient of emotional connection and attachment that tricks the mind into believing an instrument is ‘in the room’ is very high. And as a side note, what’s with the loss of control over facial muscles from ear to ear?


Cat Power’s Jukebox contains several wonders that never fail to engage or even move. "Silver Stallion" is one of my favorites. It features a startling guitar intro followed by Chan Marshall’s closely miked honey with a twist of rasp vocals. Its pure simplicity would belie the challenge posed at reproducing it convincingly. Via the SE-35 the guitar was rich in tone and decay, metal-string crisp, full of body and scarily dynamic. But once that voice entered so natural, present and alive, I was lost. Chan was singing for me at a private gig (how I wish!) with every inflection and intonation transmitted intact.


The more music played, the further and farther the voyage of discovery became. The SE-35 presents an unimpeded portal into micro detail and otherwise buried low-level minutiae in a totally cohesive and music-enhancing way. As Elson describes, the electrons seem to flow unhindered and free to deliver unsoiled unblemished musical intensity. It’s a tone and timbre thing too. Instruments are defined and easily perceived without ambivalence or effort to undercut the experience.

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