User Experience with Sophia Electric Prodigy Amplifier
I’d like to share my initial impressions from listening to my Prodigy integrated amp. After eagerly unpacking it late on a Friday afternoon and installing the tubes, I plugged in my phone and started playing Gil Shaham’s recording of the Barber violin concerto literally the second I turned on my amplifier. I have a CD of this recording, but I had not yet brought my Oppo SACD player to my new house. When I last heard this CD through my solid-state integrated amplifier from a company that is probably no longer around, I felt like very fine sandpaper was rubbing against my ear. This is despite how pleased I have been with this amplifier. My Prodigy amp didn’t sound bad at all, but I wasn’t terribly impressed. At least I didn’t feel any sandpaper rubbing in my ear, though. I let my wife hear some of this piece of music. She liked the clean look of my new Prodigy amp, which is a bigger compliment than if I were to say that, because she is much more gifted visually than I am. Anyway, I left some music playing while we went downstairs to watch a movie.
When I came back after watching the movie, I was flabbergasted at how the sound had improved! I played the same recording of the Barber violin concerto, but within a few seconds, I became conscious of something I had never heard before: each musical instrument sounded like it was a three-dimensional object. It would be like taking a picture of your friend next to a realistic-looking life-size cardboard cutout of a celebrity, and then noticing that actually, the celebrity’s eyes blinked, and then the chest started expanding, and suddenly you realize it’s not a cardboard cutout, but an actual three-dimensional person you’re taking a picture of. I had to ask myself, have I not been paying attention all these years listening to different sound systems? It’s one thing to not hear this on the humble equipment I’ve owned, given that the Prodigy amp is the most expensive piece of equipment I have ever purchased, but I’ve listened to systems in the 6-figure range at stereo stores and shows, and I’ve never had this sensation before. For example, I’ve been to Magico’s listening room at their factory twice. The second time, I sat exactly in the sweet spot as I listened to, I believe, the M6 when it was a brand-new product, connected to an amplifier in the five-figure range. And it wasn’t like I was straining to see if I could have this sensation while listening to my Prodigy amp, because I didn’t know it was a thing. But there it was in plain sight, and not just on that one recording. For example, I listened to a Freddy Kempf recording of a Prokofiev piano concerto (I think it was his third), and hanging there in a specific spot between my $500 KEF Q350 speakers was a small, but clearly three-dimensional castanet behind a wall of sound from the violin section. And all this despite using my cell phone as the sound source and not having taken the time to properly set up my sound system.
Although it’s been just over a month since I first turned on my Prodigy amp, I am not yet ready to give a detailed review because it takes time to experiment with different things, and I have not yet brought my Rega turntable from my other house. I have brought a few CDs, though, including the one with the Barber violin concerto. What I can say is that I never feel uncomfortable or tired of listening to my Prodigy amp; quite the contrary, there is a new sense of realism. It’s kind of like the difference between watching a sports event on TV, with all the details that come with that, versus attending a live event at a stadium, and watching and hearing all the sounds from the hustle of the individual players. Likewise, with musical instruments, there is a physicality you experience when you are up close. Piano or violin strings buzz, for example, sometimes quite violently. With the Prodigy amp, you get a sense of strings vibrating as three-dimensional objects. Similarly, voices emanate from three-dimensional people right there in front of you. It’s like if you were a child and you got your hands on a book where the pictures pop up in three dimensions, would you ever go back to only books with two-dimensional pictures?