Review: Soulution 330 – a Swiss amp goes for a Highland fling

Device Type: Integrated Amplifier
Input: 2 × balanced (XLR) 2 × unbalanced (RCA) 1 × Phono MC (optional) DAC (optional) USB, SPDIF, AES, LAN
Output: Speaker, Preamp Out, 1 x balanced (XLR)
Dimensions (W x D x H):430 x 490 x 142 mm
Weight: 66lbs.
Availability: through Authorized Dealers
Price: $20,100.00 USD
Website: www.soulution-audio.com

Solution 330 integrated with anCnoc 12

Whisky pairings.

Some prefer to pair their whisky with food and while I am a fan of that, a good whisky with some outstanding high-fidelity gear is a pairing I often prefer.

This is something I’ve explored before in my writing elsewhere, but it’s just too good not to continue on with here, so when I had the chance to take on a short-term review of the $20,100 USD Soulution 330 integrated amplifier, I couldn’t resist swapping out my personal reference all-valve Audio Note Soro Phono SE Signature integrated amplifier and pairing the brand-new 330 up with an appropriate single malt for some of my listening sessions.

Considered an “aperitif-style” single malt, the anCnoc 12 Year Old is – like the beautifully designed and constructed chassis of the 330 – something to behold.

Liquid gold to the eye, especially so in an appropriate tumbler, this $65 USD Scottish Highland effort is out of the Knockdhu Distillery. Named anCnoc after ‘Knock Hill’ which is Gaelic for Black Hill, its subtly-flavourful complexity is only revealed after time.

The whisky mimics the 330 because while initially seeming austere, perhaps even antiseptic, it proved itself to be a warm companion with surprising and mature depth and resolution.

This wasn’t revealed in the first few sips to me – because there is no linger on the tongue here – but started to pervade my palette near the end of the first glass.

The solid-state 330 played out much the same story, requiring some significant investment time-wise before becoming properly bedded-in and opening up.

Aged in well-saturated and used Spanish and American oak barrels, it hits the mouth like a slap and elicited a quick exhale of exhortation for another. Citrus comes on strong first, which turns to a bready, fruity, butterscotch-like pudding with hints of field grass, earth and a crisp smokiness that bites as it slides back over the tongue.

Mouth feel is decidedly acidic (hence the citrus) and had me “sup-sup-supping” with my tongue on lips after every roll back of my head knocking it down. But if I let it linger in my mouth, it was as if the anCnoc wanted to be taken as more of a sherry-casked Speyside than a Highland oak flirt.

This was a direct reflection of my experience with the 330 which seemed far more inclined to have me believe it had glowing thermionic valves at its heart instead of transistors. A very neat trick if it can be pulled off believably, which the 330 consistently achieved while with me.

Keeping circuitry separated and in its own bailiwick is a priority at Soulution, as are independent power supplies. The 330 is a fully dual-mono implementation and has no less than six separate optimized power supplies – four of which are switched-mode designs with 1,200 VA of direct current via custom Solution high-speed voltage regulators.

Like the Series 5 amps from the company, the 330 features three-stage, high Class-A operation and gobs of capacitance storage: 160,000µF to be precise. It also features a Theatre Mode preamp by-pass, but I did not use the 330 in this capacity during my time with it.

The 330 puts out 120 watts into eight Ohms and 240 watts into four Ohms, has a measured <0.0001% of THD+N, a >120 dB signal-to-noise ratio, features two XLR and two RCA inputs and can be specified with both an MC Phono stage and internal DAC (this unit was not). It also comes with one pair of XLR pre-outs. It is also not svelte in anything but looks.

Weighing in at 66 lbs the 330 is a substantially constructed unit and features a wonderfully designed (and playful) remote control unit that was a pleasure to use and reminded me of the ‘Weeble” toy people I had as a child (Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down).

I did all my listening through a totaldac d-1 integral (outfitted with dedicated totaldac ethernet-filter cable and USB GIGAFILTER as a source streaming Tidal 16/44 and Master files via Roon.

I started off with Radiohead’s fourth studio album, 2000’s Kid A which is basically part one to Amnesiac’s part two (both albums came from the same recording sessions) and features the band’s initial foray into deep electronica/experimental rock following singer/songwriter Thom Yorke’s mental breakdown after the gruelling promotion of 1997’s OK Computer.

On “The National Anthem” Jonny Greenwood’s guitar hook comes in with guttural authority as Philip Selway comes crashing in on the drums and a synth-laden wall of sound featuring disparate keyboard/effects over Yorke’s electronically-tuned vocals get injected into the gorgeous sonic mess. At about the 2:40 mark I’m physically startled by the chest-thumping punch of several alto, tenor and baritone saxophones as they come online amidst the cacophony of rhythm samples, trombones and trumpets. I’ve listened to this LP many times over the years, in particular through a number of EL84 and EL34 integrated tube amps and it’s been a great one for seeing how amps/sources are able to distinguish the constant amorphous splashes of instrumentation from one another.

Being familiar with the totaldac’s presentation of this album through my own valve-based gear, I couldn’t help but notice the smoothness to some of the more ragged-edges on horns from this cut that the 330 was introducing. The track still had the guttural slam to bass lines, lower registers of piano, keyboards and percussion I was used to, but there was an increase in speed to leading edges of notes that had me sitting up taking notice. This immediacy to attack shifted my enjoyment of the album into a higher gear as it helped to further emotionally communicate the frenetic vibe which the band was soaking the track in.

Etta James’ 1960 Argo Records debut LP At Last! is a favourite of mine for it’s simple R&B, blues and jazz arrangements, outstanding new material (“At Last!,” “Trust In Me,” All I Could Do Was Cry”) and its classic standard covers (“Stormy Weather,” “A Sunday Kind Of Love”). It’s also an album that has James close mic’d on several cuts which can cause lesser gear to struggle with sibilance and a spike in levels when she hits her consonants hard or gets shouty in parts.

My Dearest Darling has several studio musicians arranged in what presents as a horseshoe-shaped motif behind James’ alternately breathy and belted-out vocals which if not given proper air/space in the recording gives the impression of crowding the front/middle of the sound stage. Here the 330 rendered the recording effortlessly with every player locked into place and plenty of room for James’ to overwhelm the microphone with her powerful vocal pressurization. Timbre, tone and pitch was spot on, as was the hyper-realistic decay to vocals, cymbal splashes and piano notes. The presentation was so natural and smooth it had me grooving to what I was perceiving as lush second-order harmonics, non-linear clipping and a warmth to the sound that kept reminding me of an EL34 amp. I had to keep pinching myself: this was transistor-based output.

The Soulution 330 integrated amplifier exceeded my expectations on all fronts, whether it was in its spatial presentation of musicians within the recorded space – which varied from recording-to-recording as it should – or with its ability to present lush harmonics, true tone, timbre and pitch in a way that created an emotional connection to every song I played through it regardless of genre. Powerful dynamic swings, massed instrumentation, subtle vocal and instrumental inflections were all handled with a smoothness, effortlessness and solidity throughout the frequency range that not only reminded me of some of my favourite valve amplification, but also combined the speed and sheer grunt of solid state which I covet. A combined preamplifier and power amplifier of the highest order, the 330 is an integrated to seek out if your preferences lean towards the traits I just mentioned and you’re looking to turn away from a high box count in components. With its optional built-in phono stage and DAC the 330 could be an end-game solution for those looking to stream computer audio or play vinyl and CDs through a single-chassis amplifier.

Associated equipment

  • Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE loudspeakers
  • totaldac d-1 integral streamer/DAC/pre-amp
  • totaldac ethernet cable/filter and USB GIGAFILTER
  • Audio Note Lexus/ISIS interconnects and speaker cables
  • Audio Note ISIS AC/Mains cables
  • PS Audio Direct Stream P20 Power Plant

COMPANY INFO
Soulution Audio
Canadian retail: Element Acoustics
11420 Blacksmith Place, Richmond, BC, Canada V7A 4X1
(1)-604-727-5585

COMMENTS
Bob Karp's picture

Enjoyable piece, Rafe, thanks! An audio friend and I often often embellish our listening sessions with a fine scotch or two (ok, or three :-). I won't claim/defend that the addition of scotch improves/impairs our critical listening, but ... I will say that it makes for an especially enjoyable experience! (You do, however, need to exercise extra care if vinyl is on the agenda!)

Sue's picture

Critical listening and booze don't mix. Apparently Rafe doesn't take his job too seriously.

Rafe Arnott's picture

As I clearly stated at the jump of the article:

"I couldn’t resist pairing it up with an appropriate single malt for some of my listening sessions."

If partaking in a libation while letting an amp, CD player, DAC, etc, bed-in, or while even critically listening and taking notes – alone or socializing with fellow audiophiles – is interpreted as my not taking my job seriously, then I feel sad for those who jump to such knee-jerk reactions and petty digs.

As my girlfriend (who works in the film industry pointed out to me) you know you've arrived and you're somebody in the scene when the haters come crawling out of the woodwork.

This is a site a committed to fun, to music reviews, to positive social discussions about hardware, music, and music creation, the mastering process and the million enjoyable moments that discovering a new band or song or piece of equipment engenders. If you're not part of the solution of getting people away from negativity and put downs, then you're part of the problem.

Anton's picture

Spot on.

PAR's picture

Enjoying a strong beverage while listening to music is one of life's great pleasures. However when reviewing a component for publication then it seems to me that a reasonable set of standards should apply. One of these being that what may be fine for casual listening should not necessarily apply for a formal review particularity if it can affect the the reviewer's acuity.

Here is a link so you may understand what Sue and I are talking about :

https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article/34/5/741/120517

BTW, as you may have discovered by now Sue has been an audio reviewer herself for many years and probably knows the ropes.

Anton's picture

Do SSRIs and critical listening mix?

Jesus.

The hobby is about joy, listening, sharing, and fellowship.

Next up, JVS kicking Rafe’s ass.

Venere 2's picture

FFS! Can a guy write about something without the "whiny brigade" crawling up his ass?!

Douchebag comments and friendly behavior don't mix...

rrose's picture

Hi Sue,

You should stick to AA Critics as that crowd buys into this type of nonsense.

The non-sense I'm referring to is your assumption, albeit based on nothing, that Rafe was drunk throughout the review period.

But hey, a cheap shot is always worth taking when you are trying to make yourself appear to be relevant.

Chuckles304's picture

Over on Stereophile JA mentioned consuming some quality micro-brewery products while listening to his Wilsons and he caught the same kind of flak. Something about not being sensitive to alcoholic audiophiles blah blah blah... I have discovered a heightened level of enjoyment when combining 14-year Oban with listening to music.

I for one enjoy seeing my two most favorite interests/hobbies combined in one article. I'll never be able to afford that amp but I'll definitely be looking for that whiskey.

Wavelength's picture

Chuckles,

Been to Oban distillery, if you like the 14, try the Distillers Edition, really a big step up.

G.

Aharon Kurtz's picture

Check your spelling of Thom Yorke. Missing a vowel the first time. Liked the piece and now have to seek out another bottle of the good stuff.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Thanks, Spellcheck changed it for some unknown "helpful" reason.
DaveM's picture

I have to say that I am warming up to your posts after I read the Scotch appreciation article!

SpinMark3313's picture

Tube gear well warmed up, a favorite recording, nicely performed and produced, from your source of choice, and a favorite glass in hand. My top choice? One of the several barrel aged stouts from Firestone, Hanger 24, and others.
You go Rafe! This pursuit of ours is fun and we all need to unwad our knickers, stop overanalyzing, and enjoy.
Yes, we look to you and others to guide us to good gear and recordings, yet what a delight to have brief windows into the worlds of the "pros" when, instead of a foil hat on your head, you have a glass in hand.
Keep it going and now and then I'll check in between listening sessions :-)

bobflood's picture

can and do make for a wonderful evening with friends but I do get the critical listening for the purpose of a review concern. Booze does impair the senses(the whole reason for its existence after all)so how is the reader to judge how much of the sound you describe and in this case liked is a result of the effects of the spirit and how much is real. Did it sound the same the next morning after the effects wore off?

I don't think anyone who expresses this concern is being negative, nasty or non-fun loving but is just concerned that the review may not be accurate.

Rafe Arnott's picture
The Handmaid's Tale.

Writing about enjoying (and reviewing) a glass or two of whisky over several non-critical or critical listening sessions during the span of a few weeks in a fun – yet concise, and informative – but cheeky article gets the audiophile police pounding at our doors.

To those up in arms and pointing fingers while looking down their noses, I say I truly feel sad for you.

To those people who understand how to enjoy this perilously short, precious journey called life and more importantly have a passion for music, writing, literature, art, culture, socializing and reviewing audio gear, I say please enjoy the article and join us on the next adventures we'll be having here!

Anton's picture

Being able to enjoy a fine wine, beer, scotch, cheese, bread, charcuterie, a sunset, whatever, are foundational as part of life.

Are you allowed to listen in a room that is pleasingly lit or decorated, is that OK with the anti-pleasure police?

Please don’t let the people who prefer sour grapes to wine get you down. The article was perfect.

volvic's picture

As someone said above, I may not be able to afford the gear but the bottle pairing with the amp was perfect. Never heard of it will seek it out. The article was awesome, concise well written and loads of fun with the music played. I had a few quiet hours on Saturday and fired up the SME 10 and Linn LP12 and thoroughly enjoyed Billie Holiday and Count Basie while slurping an iced coffee. Thursday it might be a mint julep, none of it takes away at the marvel I get from listening to this great music in an active way. To those looking to rip shreds and spew bile in these articles please go away, let the rest of us enjoy the reviews and interact in a polite, stress free way with like minded people. Keep em coming RA.

volvic
aka Nick L.
New York, NY

spyder1's picture

Looks like Rafe is trying to add "Single Malt Scotch," sponsors to AudioStream.

notforcing's picture

In the review it says "I did all my listening through a totaldac d-1 integral ... ", but in the Associated Equipment it mentions Thales turntable and Audio Note CD 4.1x transport/DAC, but no totaldac, no anything that was mentioned in the review, possibly too much scotch whisky consumed :-)

Best regards,
Daniel

Rafe Arnott's picture

Associated equipment is what I have on hand in my home at the time the review was written.

It is all the gear that I had on hand that I didn't mention specifically in the article, because I only used the totaldac for my critical-listening sessions due to the fact that it is what I'm most familiar with for digital-audio reviews – this is a computer audio review site for the most part.

The 330 has no phono stage, no built-in DAC (in this configuration, again this was clearly mentioned in the article) hence no mention of the Thales in the review, I swapped out my Audio Note Soro integrated with the 330 so that's what I wrote about specifically; the changes heard which were derived solely from the amplifier swap while maintaining the totaldac as source.

If it makes you less anxious to have the totaldac listed in the associated equipment I have on hand, I'll include it.

Moving forward I can list everything in the house at any given review point, but it comes a lot of work that in the end actually has nothing to do with the review at hand.

Cheers Daniel,

notforcing's picture

If I understand you correctly, then, your use of the term "associated equipment" means all the other gear in your home, regardless of whether it is associated in any way with the item being tested. I would respectfully suggest that in the future you might restrict the list to equipment actually used with the item, as this would be more helpful to the reader. Only a suggestion.

Kindest regards,
Daniel

notforcing's picture

In your review, you write "I did all my listening through a totaldac d-1 integral (outfitted with dedicated totaldac ethernet-filter cable and USB GIGAFILTER as a source streaming Tidal 16/44 and Master files via Roon."

Could you clarify what you used as Roon Core device running Roon Server?

Thanks,
Daniel

Rafe Arnott's picture
Hi Daniel,

Of course, I've should have been more clear. I'm currently using a MacBook Air 11" with 4 gigs of RAM, and a 128 GB solid-state HD, along with a 2TB external USD drive.

Nothing fancy.

Yet.

I'd like to upgrade to a dedicated Roon Core computer with NAS drive access for local files.

Perhaps something from LampizatOr:

Superkomputer

notforcing's picture

*Edited for brevity

I notice that you have one brand of whiskey featured prominently in the review. Is the brand happenstance, or is it because of product placement or a company provided sample?

Thanks,
Daniel

Rafe Arnott's picture

The whisky is in a couple pictures because I was discussing this particular bottle as part of my limited-review of the Soulution 330.

That way people know what the the bottle looks like if they want to try it themselves.

I chose it at random. No affiliation whatsoever.

slcaudiophile's picture

hey rafe. the distillers edition of the lagavulin 16 yr is out now. highly recommended!

notforcing's picture

Best wishes for the new site.

Daniel

ZombieFish's picture

Hey Rafe,

Just wanted to say that I am enjoying your writing, and the accompanying photography is excellent as well. Adding the whisky is fine, as we know the music and equipment is the central part.

Cheers

Rafe Arnott's picture
Many thanks for the friendly and kind post Zombiefish!

Working hard on a lot of (what I think will be) great content coming up from the crew and I.

Stay tuned!

slcaudiophile's picture

Rafe,

just an fyi ... i purchased the audio note Meishu SSP and AN-E SPE HE based on your reviews (well, the latter because you use them yourself) ... plus many albums you have used and recommend.

you are one of the finest and most capable reviewers in the industry because you don’t simply follow the typical “rule book” ... you also let your emotional connection decide how or what a component is successfull or not. that is what music is suppose to do.

thanks for all your work!

Rafe Arnott's picture
Dear Slcaudiophile,

Thank you very much for taking the time to reach out, and to write such kind words.

I'm so genuinely happy if I was able to contribute in some small way to your musical enjoyment of life.

The Meishu and AN-Es are a truly amazing combination IMHO.

Cheers,

–R

Wavelength's picture

Rafe,
Personal favorite is Oban Distillers Edition, anyway FYI @$49.99 my favorite place to buy spirts:

https://www.acespirits.com/buy-ancnoc-12-year-single-malt-scotch-sale.html

Thanks,
Gordon

Rafe Arnott's picture

I'm a huge of Oban, I haven't tried the Distiller's Edition yet (I think...) I will check online and see who has it locally for me.

Thank you very much for the suggestion Gordon!

Wavelength's picture

Rafe,

https://www.acespirits.com/buy-oban-distillers-edition-scotch-ship-scotl...

I also think the Dalwhinnie Distillers Edition is really good. A little smoother than the Oban but lacks that salt water taste that I really like in the Oban.

https://www.acespirits.com/buy-dalwhinnie-distillers-edition-16-year-sco...

When I was in Scotland last we toured the distillery and they pulled an 18y barrel off the wall and we got to taste it before it was watered down. Simply the best, though of course you cannot buy that in Scotland. ACE does have some available thought from certain distilleries.

Thanks,
Gordon

Rafe Arnott's picture
Thanks for the links Gordon, my wallet will be taking a happy hit on all these Scotches :)
philipjohnwright's picture

It's far better drunk separately.

Although whisky in food....malt lovers avert your eyes now please. Try a good shot of Laphroig instead of wine when making a risotto.

So you've sweated the onions, added the rice and heated it through and are about to start adding stock one ladle at a time. Cue a glass of wine first to sizzle like crazy and get sucked up into the hot rice. Laphroig works beautifully well instead, imparting that lovely smoky taste. Just make sure the choice of risotto is appropriate - aubergine goes well, particularly if smoked.

Yes it's sacrilege. Tastes divine though.

Phil

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