AcousticPlan Sitar

Mention the Sitar the name Ravi Shankar comes readily to mind. Referred to as the Indian lute, the Sitar in the hands of Ravi popularizes a contemporary style of Indian music to the West. The advent of “World Music” has been attributed to Ravi Shankar as one of the earliest pioneers, no doubt due to the acid culture of the seventies where George Harrison (of the Beatles) has described him as “The Godfather of World Music”. As a tribute to the instrument, AcousticPlan of Germany has named its integrated amplifier after the sublime instrument.
AcousticPlan is a small company based in Konstanz, a city located at the southern most tip of Germany at the Swiss-German border. AcousticPlan offers a small range of products ranging from two speaker systems, a tube phono stage, a preamplifier, a power amplifier and finally the subject of this review, the Sitar integrated amplifier.
The Sitar is extremely well built. Fabricated from all aluminium with a gorgeous blue anodised  faceplate, the compact Sitar belies the fact that it has an external power supply. Link via an umbilical, the minimalist design of the Sitar gives the bare necessities–power, selector and volume.

The external power supply has its own on/ off-switch and I suppose it would be necessary to keep the power supply turned on especially if you decide to conceal the power supply behind the reck on the floor or something similar. The amplifier unit itself can be turned on and off independently.
The Sitar is a hybrid amplifier. Rated at 40 Watts in push pull configuration, it employs a pair of MOS-FETs per channel. The input stage uses four E88CC. The phono stage is optional and the review sample comes with a phono stage. The phono stage uses two EC 86 and two E88CC. The phono stage is MM and MC capable. MC input has both low and high gain for different cartridge output via a step up transformer or solid state amplification.
Excellent parts are employed in the amplifier. There are four inputs which you would need to give one up for the phono version. One unusual aspect of the line inputs is, there are two sensitivity levels – Input one and two have a lower than usual sensitivity of 500 mV. Input three and four have higher input sensitivity of 200 mV (normal). This would be useful especially when encountering different sources with their high output levels may overload the preamp stage. So do not be mistaken that the amplifier does not have enough juice when used with input one or two
You may snigger at the 40 Watts from an amplifier that sells for 4400 Euros. The Sitar will wipe that grin off your face! The Sitar is a true High End product for those with small rooms and relatively high sensitivity speakers. It has no problems driving the Thiel 2.4 with aplomb, which is no easy load. I tried it on a variety of speakers at my disposal and I can vouch for the fact that at no circumstance, the dynamic capability of the Sitar at the helm is the limiting factor.

So what sort of sonic characteristic does the Sitar have?

How about an unforced natural balance that is very tube like yet a solid state vice-like grip? Is it tube like? If you are refering to warm and soft presentation so well loved by the tube fraternity. No, it does not sound the least tube like. Does it sound solid state (transistor)? If you were refering to the harmonically dry and bleached sound of natural instruments, the Sitar would have none of that.
It seems to possess neither the characteristics of tube or solid state but so utterly natural and unforced in its balance you may mistake it for a certain lack of character or blandness but it isn’t so. Its lack of any sort of deleterious distortions makes the Sitar truly transparent to its source. I tried two different CD players and the differences between the players were more obvious than ever. Correction, not just obvious but the differences were day and night. Ditto any changes in the cabling between the CD player and the amp.
Vocals may seem devoid of warmth on first listen but in the end you know it‘s not so. The warmth most audiophiles so highly valued, maybe a characteristic of the recording but in no way would I attribute the distortion, yes I would call it distortion, albeit of a more pleasant variety, to the amp. The last time I heard as impressive as this was with the Goldmund Millennium power amplifier, an amplifier that sells for more than 10 times the price of the Sitar. What you don’t get is the sheer scale and dynamic capability of the Millennium. You do get something for all that money!
The soundstaging capability of the Sitar is awesome. Plain awesome. No other word to describe. I can perceive outstanding image placement and all to scale. Perhaps not quite as expansive as some but what you do get is very strong image focus that makes identification of instruments or voices (go on, count them!) a mundane affair. In addition, the dynamic contrast makes for a very emotional presentation that on the right piece of music, brings tears to my eyes. I’m sure some of you may think, “Jeez, it sure sounds great but 40 Watts only...”. I have this to say, driving a pair of Wilson X1 with a low powered SETs with 3 or 8 Watts maybe stretching our imagination a bit, most amplifiers would throttle a long nicely at a fraction of its full rated output power most of the time and only the occasional peak would draw upon its full rated output. Music is of a dynamic nature and an amplifier that is capable of responding readily to the dynamics – both macro and micro makes for realistic presentation. While it is undeniable there are good high powered amplifiers like the Mark Levinson’s, Krells, Jeff Rowlands, and so on, some of the most musically arresting amplifiers I have heard is sub 100 Watts and some of the best in this range is between 40 – 70 Watts.
For a push pull amplifier design, the minimum number of output devices is a pair per channel, one transistor or MOS-FET or tube taking care of the positive sine wave and the other the negative sine wave. This is what we call push pull. A typical pair of MOS-FETs bipolar transistors generates about 40 – 50 Watts on standard ratings and with good power supplies; it is possible to increase that headroom by about 20 – 40 %.
To get more power, eg 100 Watts requires a second pair of output devices. This is where things get a little complicated. In theory you will need two “match” the characteristics of the two pairs of transistors to ensure they behave identical. Otherwise they sound worse than its single paired version. How is that done? You measure every output device and put the four that has the closest match. Guess who pays for the labour?
What makes for this amplifier’s outstanding performance? Is it because it uses the simplest form of a push pull amplifier design – just one pair of output devices per channel? Definitely a possibility, there are many examples of such successful design and execution. Is it because it is hybrid? If that is so, than there should be no shortage of amplifier manufacturers switching over to making hybrids. Why, it would solve a whole lot of problems like tube aging, costly output transformers, etc. Alas, as if things were that simple! The key is execution. A good example of its kind is the Lamms. Now you can add the AcousticPlan Sitar to that very short list of successful hybrids.