| SHANLING AUDIO SP-80
Kind of like the words in that old
song: You canít blame me for feeling amorous,
these amps are simply glamorous, are they
wonderful, marvelous, just you wait and see Ö
or something like that. In any event, it looks
like Roy Hall has done it again. The Shanling
Audio SP-80 is a drop-dead-gorgeous, art deco
with a touch of Fritz Lang, EL-34 based
amplifier from China, Shenzhen China to be
exact. Itís a computer-executed forte
of milled aluminum brought to the US by Music
Hall, the U.S. distributor of the SP-80 and
ten other sensibly priced products, most
notably the CDT-100 and SCD-T200 CD and SACD
players which are styled with the same cool
retro look as the excellent Mambo solid-state
integrated amplifier I reviewed earlier this
When unpacking the SP-80s one of the first
things youíll see is a pair of white cotton
gloves neatly folded on top of the molded foam
inserts. This is a great idea because,
immediately, two important things are conveyed
even before you lay eyes on the contents:
value and craftsmanship. Proceeding with my
now gloved hands I carefully removed the
amplifiers from their molded inserts and in
the same fashion, the four matched tubes all
contained in a triple walled cardboard carton.
As I lifted them into position, I would guess
they weighed in at about 33 pounds per amp.
That was yet another favorable quality that
impressed me and reassured me that no cheap
economy was utilized in their manufacture.
The top of the amps are milled from solid
blocks of satin finished aluminum attached to
a rectangular aluminum chassis supported by
gold-plated round posts at each of the four
corners, the posts have half-round rubber
cushions on the bottom. The overall appearance
is a very visually striking mixture of pale
champagne and satin silver with gold and
bright chrome accents. The two driver tubes
are a 6N8 and a 6N9 both enclosed in Deco
chrome three ring cages. The technical aspects
of these amplifiers are scant and I find this
to be true of most Chinese manufactured audio
components. I had to phone Roy Hall to find
out what class of operation the SP-80s used
and he informed me that it was running ďA/BĒ.
This makes sense when you consider that they
are rated at 50 Watts per side and they are
using two EL 34 tubes at the output. I suspect
that they are running far more
Class B than
Class A possibly
like AB/1 but that is only conjecture on my
part. I remember my old Dynaco 70 used two EL
34 output tubes per channel and developed only
a little more than 30 Watts. Additionally
supporting this theory is the fact that during
breaks in and with prolonged use, the tubes
ran fairly hot but never got really hot.
When it comes to peculiarities, these
monoblock amplifiers have more than one. They
operate by a hand held remote in a
master/slave configuration. A thin cable
terminated with 2.5 mm plugs at each end
connects the amplifiers at the back next to
three gold binding postís labeled 4 and 8
Ohms. A small, two-position toggle switch
(also on the back of each chassis) allows you
to select which is the master control
amplifier and which is the slave. The ownerís
manual doesnít specify which amplifier should
be the master. When I first powered them up
one of the amplifiers blue florescent displays
had a meaningless collection of bars and dots.
I had to reverse the position of the toggle
switches to get both displays to make sense.
That was not the only consideration, if you
switch on the slave amplifier before the
master you will get the same garbled results
so it will necessitate a bit of trial and
error to get it right. When not in use, you
can switch the amps to mute and not turn them
off so they can idle and remain warm. However,
when it comes to tubes doing that would not be
my choice. One last nit to pick: Only one
version of the milled aluminum remote control
is used for all of the Shanling products. So
you will find yourself with a very versatile
product but only three of the many functions
actually do any thing. You can dim the display
or control the volume or switch the amp to
mute thatís it, I do wish it were a
functionally dedicated remote control.
I initially used the SP-80 Monoblocks in my
reference system powering my rebuilt modified
Quad ESL-63 panels. They remained in that
position for about a month and in that time I
played a wide variety of recordings. Many
times I sat in front of those speakers with
paper in front of me scribbling away and
taking notes. More than once I took a break
trying to gather my thoughts together looking
for some Geshtalt concept. When I eventually
found it, it turned out to be something like a
Seinfeld show plot, ďAbout NothingĒ! More
exactly I heard nothing bad but then again I
was not really moved to write anything at all.
These amplifiers on these speakers somehow did
exactly what they were supposed to do save one
small thing they never involved me in the
performance. As I sat at my keyboard, I was
still partially at a loss to explain it. I
know it was probably a mismatch of some kind
but according to the Quad people these 50-watt
amps are more than the 30-watt minimum
recommended, so that wasnít it. Also you can
get decent bass, but not very deep bass, from
these 50-Watt amplifiers so that still doesnít
I decided I had to turn to my little Aurum
Cantus SEís; and once again they helped to
fill in many of the answers I searched for.
These are Chinese two-way speakers that use an
AC G2 ribbon tweeter that is super revealing
because it is super fast. Originally I
purchased them to review cables reasoning that
any small nonlinear response would be easy to
hear. I powered up this pairing and all quite
suddenly, serendipity! What a match they made.
It was hard not to let you toes start tapping.
The Shanling SP-80ís and the Aurum Cantus were
seemingly made for each other. Nothing is
hidden save the last octave-and-a-half of
bass. From the mid bass on up to the limits of
my hearing they are fast detailed and sing
with a natural harmonic tonality that lets you
hear into the performance. I recently bought a
used CD of the Paul Simon album, ďGracelandĒ.
My two favorite cuts are tracks 5 and 6,
Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes and
You Can Call Me Al. At four minutes into
Diamonds you can hear Ladysmith Black
Mambazo as a deep background rumble growing
louder underneath a complex layering way back
in the center image. I love the way the
electric bass in these two songs threads the
music together and under lines the arrangement
instead of simply establishing a tempo.
I have used the Aurum Cantus speakers with a
total of five different amplifiers now, two of
them costing a lot more than the $2,490
Shanling SP-80. So far, this is the best sound
Iíve heard from them. Furthermore, I know that
I can listen through the speakers and hear the
amplifier driving them; I know what
characteristics they impart to the sound.
Apparently what was needed was speed and
dynamics to complement the ampís inherent
tonal accuracy. At this point, you might be,
ďthinking thatís fine and dandy but I donít
have your ribbon-equipped speakers.Ē Thatís
true, but the point is the Hi-def Aurum Cantus
speakers would most certainly reveal any
amplifier-related weaknesses if they had any.
Let me put it another way, the faster and more
revealing your system is the better. It
doesnít absolutely have to include a ribbon
tweeter. The Krell LAT-1 speaker immediately
comes to mind as an example of a highly
detailed conventional piston driver system
with lightning reflexes. The Shanling SP-80
amplifiers, matched suitably with efficient
high-resolution speakers, honor the sound of
music without imposing anything on it. For me,
they would form the heart of a second smaller
system, that is if I didnít live in a space
limited apartment. They look wonderful and
sound great and they certainly merit your
audition. I wish I could keep them.
Rated output power: 50 Watts RMS @ 8 Ohms
Total harmonic distortion (THD+N): < 0.1%
Frequency response at rated power: 20Hz- 30kHz
Load resistance: 4-8 Ohms.
Signal to noise ratio: >90db.
Mains power: ~100V Ė 120V @ 60Hz.
Line fuse: T2.5 Amp @ 250V A C.
Power consumption: 400W Max.
Dimensions: (mm) 205 W X195 H X 460 D.
Net weight: 15 kg.
Music Hall: 108 Station Road Great Neck, NY
Tel: 516- 487-3663