So impressive was the SupratecK Chardonnay that this reviewer couldn’t help himselfâ€”I had to have one. But of course, no obsessive/compulsive card-wielding audiophile worth his valves would dive in without pondering the quintessential archetypal question: What of the next model up, the Sauvignon?
Back in June 2004 I had the pleasure of discovering and subsequently reviewing (for another publication) the superb Supratek Chardonnay valve preamplifier from the great wine-making region of Margaret River in Western Australia. My observations of that unit were that it was cosmetically beautifully presented, internally elegant and endowed with high-quality components and innovative circuitry. It produced a class-transcending quality of sound that, in this reviewer’s opinion, placed it amongst the truly great modern high-end preamplifiers. I was smitten.
If I had no idea as to the monetary value and had attempted an intelligent stab based on experience of this crazy audio industry, and considering the ingredients of aesthetics, build quality and sound reproduction, the guesstimate of the price of admission would be between $5,000 and $8,000. On sound quality alone it can compete at an even-higher level.
So impressive was the Chardonnay that this reviewer couldn’t help himself—I had to have one. But of course, no obsessive/compulsive card-wielding audiophile worth his valves would dive in without pondering the quintessential archetypal question: What of the next model up, the Sauvignon? So I put that question to none other than Supratek’s designer, Mick Maloney, who sagaciously gave the low-down on his mid-level preamplifier. But first, let’s check out what’s on offer. The Sauvignon’s valve configuration is pretty much the same as the Chardonnay, excepting the physical location of the power supply valves. The Sauvignon’s control unit has two factory-matched 6SN7 valves. The 6SN7 is quite the magical valve and has a reputation for a sweet, bloomy and harmonically rich presentation.
The power supply has three valves atop. Like the Chardonnay, the Sauvignon has a central 5AR4 rectifier valve but where the Chardonnay had a pair of KT66s on the control unit for power supply regulation, the Sauvignon places the compatible 6L6WGC on either side of the 5AR4. The Sauvignon’s power supply feels substantially weighty, meaning the transformer (a high-quality toroidal), is of large stock and therefore of high capacity. As Mick explained it to me: ‘The power supply is designed to eliminate as many electrolytic caps as possible. You can’t get away from them in the tube heater supplies but there are none in the tubes’ power source. Electrolytics are the singularly worst parts used in modern equipment. Most modern equipment uses up to hundreds of them but the Sauvignon has none. Not easy to do, but it makes a big difference. The preamp circuit is direct- coupled from input to the output transformer, there’s only one poly cap and it could be argued that it is not directly in circuit.’
As with the Chardonnay, Maloney continues with the theme and philosophy of the preservation of phase coherence at all costs. ‘The differences between the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon are quite substantial even though they share the direct-coupling concept. The Sauvignon uses a very innovative circuit that preserves phase coherence even better than the Chardonnay. But you need phase-coherent speakers/ears to hear it. It also has a different method of loading the tube plates that gives even greater bandwidth and faster transients. I think the Supratek’s bandwidth and transient speed are what separates it technically from most other tube preamps which, with their dated circuits, are just a bit too slow and romantic—nice for a while but you soon start looking at a modern girl!’
Mick also mentions that apart from the technical performance and improvements over the Chardonnay, he sprinkles a little handful of artistic design condiment that gives the Sauvignon its extra life. Pass me the chilli sauce, please!
‘He who loves not wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long’ Martin Luther
The Sauvignon is a truly beautiful piece of industrial design and (along with the Einstein ‘Light in the Dark’ amplifier reviewed last issue), one of the most stunning-looking hi-fi components extant. Think timeless beauty à la Monroe, Kelly and Leigh. This thing is gorgeous! Build quality is on par with the cosmetics; all controls ooze class in their mechanical operation. Assured, confident, positive. The Sauvignon comes standard with two single-ended RCA outputs, a single balanced XLR output, a RCA loop-through home theatre input and four single-ended RCA line inputs. There’s a rotary switch around the back that varies the load to the transformer and two, three position (low/medium/high) gain switches on top, one for each channel.