Shengya A-203MK fully balanced Class A integrated amplifier review

mainaman

Well-known Member
This is the promised review,useful to both prospective purchasers of my unit and would be importers.

Decision to buy it:

I had to dismantle my home theater setup and i decided to build up a real high-end stereo system.I had tried several very good amps at home,but nothing had the musicality,presence and definition i was looking for.There was a lot of choice for my budget of around 1200 pounds in the second hand market and i also looked what integrated amplifiers were available as new for that price.New:nothing interesting.Used:top end model from midfi brands like Arcam or Cyrus,middle range from high-end brands like Simaudio or Electrocompaniet or entry level from the likes of Krell and ASR.The better and bigger ones would have got some mileage and would probably warrant recapping and other maintenance measures.

I remembered the highly regarded Jungson Class A amplifiers,which were officialy imported to UK ten years ago and were surprisingly affordable.Back then "Made in China" audiophile gear was novelty,today it is the norm for almost all but the highest priced esoterica.Shanling and Consonance were/are other highly regarded Chinese brands.If you look past the "Designed and made in China" label you can find lots of interesting stuff,some officialy imported to UK,some not,like Auralic,Audio-GD,Lawrence Audio,Line Magnetic,Ming Da,Bada,Xindak,Dussun and many more brands.After some research i decided to buy the Shengya A-203;the same factory makes the Vincent gear,sold in the West.Any similarities between the amplifiers from both brands are surely not coincidental.

Purchase,shipping and delivery:

I will skip this section for now,the review would get too bloated.

Design,build quality,fit and finish:

The epic construction with thick milled plates,divided internal compartments and those front poles is as good as it gets outside the milled from an aluminium billet and laser engraved esoterica like the top end Ayre and Boulder amplifiers or audio jewelry from the likes of Nagra and D'Agostino.The aesthetics are very distinctive and there are some elements,which remind me of designs from Bo Christensen,Milan Karan,Antony Michaelson and Mark Levinson(the brand).It may be monstrous in size,but it is not ugly and it is more attractively styled than the Vincent ones,at least to my eyes.

The outrageous and extensively ventilated aluminium chassis is not just for show.The huge heatsinks surround lots of hardware.Most well-known high-end amplifiers at several times the price are much smaller,yet there are still blank expanses inside!The design doesn't seem to be extremely innovative,but it employs very solid and expensive high-tech engineering,derived from the acclaimed Shengya monoblocks(http://www.dagogo.com/shengya-cs-6-tube-preamplifier-psm-600-monoblocks-review).From what i can gather this microprocessor controlled monster uses cascoded differential input FET amplifier,ultra linear and ultra low distortion Cirrus Logic CS3310 electronic volume control,proprietory high-speed DC preamplifier,MKP film caps,precision metal film resistors,four gold-overlay silver-palladium Takamisawa(Fujitsu) signal relays,800 VA epoxy resin encapsulated(for vibration noise reduction and moisture isolation) and shielded toroidal transformer,twelve 10 000 uF(each) ELNA power supply electrolytic caps,and of course,fully discrete class A output stage with thirty two high output transistors!The all-metal remote is also heavier than some DACs!

I like that there is nothing superfluous or redundant like tone controls,headphone out,preamp out,integrated phono stage,integrated DAC,logarithmic meters,etc.All that increases the cost of an amplifier and most audiophiles would likely own a superior external phono stage,headamp,DAC,etc.

Criticism-none for the money.Well,it is not fully dual mono as it has just one transformer and the ELNA cans are not rated to 105 degrees.They are also on the small side,but multiple smaller caps fill and discharge faster,have a lower ESR,provide lower output impedance and improve the voltage regulation.These Thai made cans were measured on the DIY forum and they were within the advertised spec.120 000 microfarads is not that much for a high power output Class A design and i suspect that it is not fully Class A biased,just heavily Class A biased,but this would be of concern only to owners of very hard to drive speakers in large rooms.I have never had the need to venture below -30dB on the volume control and most of my music listening has been at around -40dB,-50 for heavily compressed recordings.

I cannot still compute how the Chinese can sell amplifier like this for so little.The BOM alone probably runs into the hundreds,even with the purchase power,parts sharing and economies of scale of a large factory.

Operation:

Totally convenient and reliable.It gets very,very hot in Class A,so make sure it has sufficient ventilation.The Class A mode draws 500 Watts on idle,which is reasonably frugal, and the Class AB mode draws much,much less.It is very quiet,without even a hint of transformer buzzing and only the slightest hiss when pressing an ear to the tweeters,totally inaudible 10 cm away.It has a huge footprint,but it is easily accomodated on the top shelf of my Quadraspire rack.There is a power amp input(HT bypass),so it can be used to power the fronts in a home theater setup.

Sound quality:

The main draw of Class A amplifiers is the lack of cross over distortion and the avoidance of negative feedback usage.There are state of the art modern Class AB amplifiers from Soulution,darTZeel and Boulder(i think),which do use local feedback loops and they sound out of this world,but the pricetags are equally sky-high.Modern Class D amplifiers like the very popular among both manifacturers and DIYers Hypex Ncore modules use lots of feedback,but let's not get into that rabbit hole.Topology is an important factor,but so is the implementation.

Class AB sounds highly neutral,refined and resolved.I use it mainly for movies from the HTPC,satelite and gaming.The chassis gets only slightly warm and it surely aids the longevity and the lifespan of the caps.The music emanates from a black background and the amplifier possesses a colossal dynamic range,a firm grip on the 15" woofers and a dexterity when conveying the tiniest microdynamics and tempo shifts.No grain,etch and hardening.

In absolute terms it sounds a bit spatially compressed and not especially "exciting".However there is a special button on the front face,pressing it can only be described as though a different amplifier has been inserted in the system!

Wow!The aforementioned positive qualities and the balanced sound are retained,but there is much more air and presence,an almost velvety smoothness and much richer tonality.The images are tangible,the treble sparkly and there is an intangible immediacy and emotional involvement.

The A-203 is highly neutral and transparent,there is no emphasize to any part of the frequency spectrum,the leading edge or the decay.It adheres to the Goldilocks principle,has no descernible signature or voicing and as smooth as it is it wont sound nice if driven by a subpar front end.Fortunately the cost of owing a true high-end DAC or player has greatly decreased in the last several years.It was successfully paired with Teac UD-501.Patricia Barber and Hiromi Uehara(Jazz),Herbie Hancock(fusion),Alison Krauss and Rebecca Pigeon(folk),Kraftwerk(electronica),Mike Oldfield(world music),Enio Morticone(OST) and many more of the better DSD releases sounded "analogue".16/44.1 could astound too-John Campbell's gravelly voice in "Down in the hole" had a tangible presence and body and when the music had explosive dynamics like Rodrigo and Gabriela's lightning fast interplay or Stanley Clarke's percusive assaults the PRAT and the dynamic range were startling,the images and the texturing undiminished.Well recorded pop from Jennifer Warnes and Suzane Vega sounded amazing,as did electronica-Boris Blank's "Electrified" and Daft Punk's "Giorgio by Moroder"(24/88.2) were two of my favourites.Classical music-operas,chamber music and OSTs like "Interstellar"(24/44.1) and "The Mission"(DSD)-revealed that its sublety was equally top notch.Piano playback from jazz and classical albums had finely rendered attack,sustain,release and decay,from the delicate to the dramatic,and the dynamic range,resonances and harmonics were superb,the Shengya never strident or mechanical sounding.Being absolutely critical the violin,the hardest to reproduce stringed instrument,didn't have the bite without harshness and the harmonically rich tone one hears in real life,but only the very best(and expensive) hifi can do that and the Shengya came close.I suspect that a better DAC could address this too.

The amplifier also made me sell my very mint KEF Reference 2.2s as it immediately revealed a slight migband congestion,a sort of syrupy colouration,which wasn't detected by my previous amps.The Revel Performa F32 were a revelation,but their woofer problems led me to buy the Titans,which are an end of the road for me.The 15'' woofers extend to below 20Hz without a loss in output in my medium sized room as revealed by my measurements when experimenting with Dirac Live and the amplifier never sounds stressed,even when the music or the movie soundtrack sounds bombastic.The black monster's needs to be partnered with high quality speakers,i am thinking KEF Reference 200 series,Monitor Audio PL series(maybe Gold as well),ATC,PMC,etc.

The A-203 is not warm sounding,dry sounding,clinical sounding,tube sounding or "Naim" sounding.Creek Destiny has slightly better front projection and soundstage depth,but the Shengya is by far the better amplifier overall.

A DCS stack,Constelation amps and Magico speakers have much more holographic soundstage,more sublety,tonal colour and harmonic richness,better attack,sustain,release and decay...What about comparisons to hifi,which is not for millionaires?



I have owned integrated stereo amplifiers like Creek Destiny,Harman Kardon HK990 and others from Arcam,Parasound,etc. as well as several pre and power amps from Arcam,Parasound,Audiolab,Bottlehead,Rotel and Schiit.There was no contest,the Shengya was on a different level to all of them.It is very detailed from top to bottom,uncoloured and utterly relaxed and effortless.I would love to compare it with a Sugden Masterclass IA-4(R.R.P. 4099 pounds),a UK made Class A integrated amplifier,and top end class AB ones from Musical Fidelity like the NuVista and KW 500(1500-2000 pounds used).I have also owned several top of the range AV receivers,pre HDMI and HDMI,and the Shengya is million times better sounding than all of them.If the Shengya was to be officially imported to UK it would cost at least 2000 pounds and this would be a total bargain.
 
Last edited:

Charan

Standard Member
Hi There!

Thanks for this very detailed review of the Shengya A-203, an amp I am considering buying. I would be very grateful if you could answer my following two questions:
1. Do you still have/use this amp? If so, is it safe to assume you are happy with it performance and build quality?

2. In your review you mention some speakers called 'Titans' with a 15inch woofer. Could please give me the full make and modek of these speakers to help me research a bit more about them? As you seem to be happy matching them with the Shengya A-203? Do you still have/use these 'Titan' speakers? Still happy with their performance?

Thanks
Charan
 

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