Synthesis is an Italian electronics company with a strong emphasis on valve designs, and an equally strong bias toward value for money. The range is comprehensive, with more than 20 models across four separate ranges (and more to follow). The Soprano and Soprano LE integrated amplifiers represent the entry-point for the brand.
The Soprano is a small, elegant, and somewhat minimalist integrated amplifier with a solid-state preamp stage and a 12-watt valve power amplifier section that uses a quartet of EL84 valves. The EL84 is perhaps less well-known in domestic audio circles compared to the more powerful EL34, but the little EL84 power-pentode is a popular choice in some guitar-playing circles, most notably for the ‘chimey’ sound of the Vox AC15 and the Marshall ‘Model 1974’ combo amps from the 1960s and are still highly prized today. The Soprano amp includes a built-in AKM-based DAC that supports PCM audio to 24‑bit, 192kHz precision (on USB; 24/96 on optical and coaxial S/PDIF), and a MM phono stage; moving coil cartridges and DSD are not supported, although given the relative affordability of the Synthesis, it seems unlikely that it will be partnered in systems where the absence of a MC input or DSD replay will be a problem. Similarly, the lone line input might have been a stumbling block in the days of separate CD player, FM tuner, and tape recorder, but I suspect that most Soprano amps will be used with a record player and a laptop, and for the most part, that’s how I used it.
The Limited Edition version of the Soprano is restricted to just 200 pieces. It differs from the standard version in terms of finish (the brushed aluminium or black front panel is replaced with a more refined titanium look), higher quality RCA input and loudspeaker output terminals, and a limited-edition plate with designer and owner Luigi Lorenzon’s signature (and a certificate of ownership). More significantly, the power has been upped from 12W to 15W per channel.
The four EL84s sit to the left of the front panel, glowing away nicely, but kept from prying fingers by a horizontally-vaned, black powder-coated protector/heatsink that runs the length of the amp (it’s removed with two small Allen bolts, but actually looks good in situ). Controls are limited to five small push-buttons (with accompanying LEDs) for channel selection, and a larger push-button for power, plus a remote eye and a larger power LED above the remote control. The whole unit is narrower than most modern audio and, combining that with the titanium front fascia of the LE, gives the Soprano a timeless and classy appearance, akin to classic Quad valve devices of the 1950s.
Affordable valve audio equipment is usually dismissed with a flourish by the cognoscenti for being either badge-engineered off-the-shelf Far Eastern products, or ‘designed in Europe, built in a sweatshop’ designs. Aside from the somewhat banal nature of this gripe (especially when it arrives typed on a laptop or smartphone designed in the US and built in Asia), it’s simply not true here. Every single piece of the Synthesis range is designed and built in Italy. Not ‘assembled’… built. Managing to build both up to a standard and down to a price is difficult and admirable, but it’s something that Synthesis does well, and the Soprano LE is the result. In fact, were it not for the very slightly clunky feel of the push-buttons, the light touch to the volume knob, and a remote control that is functional but lacks the ‘blunt instrument’ heft of the big-boys in the audio world, you’d put the Synthesis Soprano SE close to £3,500 or £4,000.