AOM Logo May 2003

The Synthesis Seamus
Integrated stereo tube amplifier and power supply

David Aspinall

For some months now (a rare indulgence in the life of the reviewer) I have been making the acquaintance of the Synthesis Seamus tube amplifier. It sits black and red and glowing inconspicuously, married by thick black cable to its power supply, the whole combination occupying less than a single shelf in my corner unit.

Fed by the Arcam Alpha 6 CD player, and feeding a pair of Meadowlark Swifts.

Synthesis Seamus integrated amplifier

The net result has been considerable pleasure. I have enjoyed particularly the Synthesis resolution of complex strands of orchestration. Too, its ability to place soloists and instrumental groups in a wide and deep approximation of the original space. Listen to it tackle the various challenges of Rachmaninov and Stravinsky. Something as dense and rhythmically dynamic as the brilliantly orchestrated Lento assai - Allegro vivace of Rachmaninov's final masterwork, the Symphonic Dances [Goossens/LSO, Everest VC 9002]. Then its CD disk mate (!!!) the Goossens Le Sacre, admittedly not the most penetrating performance of the Stravinsky, but vintage 1960 analog, with a marvelous three-dimensional soundstage, the LSO winds, horns and percussion popping up and out everywhere, piercing the imaginary front stage with every variety of alarming interjection. Enough to send one superannuated tabby for shelter. (I don't mean the wife - she was in the kitchen.)

Or, listen to Ella ask 'which is it gonna be - love or gin? Wife or sin? Let's begin' [The Jerome Kern Songbook, Verve 825 669-2]. Comping piano behind right speaker, brass somewhere outside and beyond that, sax and bass cosy at the left, drums too, but behind, Ella's voice gloriously caught right in the middle and higher up. Whether it's up tempo or ballad (the silky All the things you are) this has to be the most sublime mating of material and interpreter.

Then a recording of the same age (early 60s), like distinction, both artistically and sonically. Roy Orbison's Evergreens Crying and It's Over [Columbia CK 67297]. The voice is again well-placed at centre, instruments arrayed close all around but nicely separated. I heard details I had not noticed in 40 years acquaintance (e.g. marimbas?). These are among the rock era's greatest monuments (no pun intended - they were originally Monument recordings). They are lovingly refurbished in this Columbia release and glowingly rendered by the Seamus.

If I have one reservation about the Synthesis that has continually resurfaced in my consciousness, it would be that the clarity in the upper frequency range is perhaps gained at the expense of a thinning out of lower midrange. The phenomenon is less noticeable in jazz/pop repertoire, but becomes more apparent in richly recorded orchestral repertoire. Say the Chadwick double disc [Reference Recordings RR-2104CD], where the José Serebrier-conducted Czech State Philharmonic sounds somewhat dry and emaciated in the low strings. This is not to say there is an absence of bass in general, but somehow a rather disproportionate emphasis of both the higher and lower frequencies. Perhaps too this factor owed more to my test speaker match.

And somehow it is less noticeable in my favourite analog recordings [say the Dorati/Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies, Mercury 432-015 2] than in DDD originals. Don't ask me to explain. But a Chadwick comparison, the same Symphonic Sketches which form the introduction to the Serebrier set, this time from a 1956 Mercury performance [Howard Hanson/Eastman-Rochester, Mercury 434-337 2] reveals a noticeably richer reproduction in the crucial lower strings. Nevertheless, even the Mercury, despite marvelous instrument placement and clarity, has a conspicuous bias toward the upper range, betraying a parallel problem but without identical symptoms. This brightness might not bother all, but I suspect some manner of deliberate tilting toward the 'modern' ear, i.e. the customer whose ear is accustomed to testing equipment by its brilliance and gut thump. (This characteristic was noticeable in the Orbison CD, where the majesty of one of popular music's greatest instruments, namely the Orbison vocal chords, was mitigated by the undramatic but discernible imbalance. The whole range was there, but something of the baritone end's power and mellifluousness was not.)

All in all, the Synthesis Seamus gives a decent, occasionally spectacular performance, but with the reservation that the veteran audiophile, who is more concerned with balanced tonal response than crisp highs, intoxicated more often by subtlety than scintillation, will want to go elsewhere. The rest of the audio audience will be well-served.

Synthesis Seamus Integrated Amplifier/Power Supply

Manufactured by Synthesis
Via Vanvitelli 16, 62010 Morrovalle (MC), Italy
Phone: 39 0733 567474 Fax: 39 0733 567154
web: e-mail:
Price: US$1250.00
Source of review sample: Distributor loan


Inputs: 4 line
Outputs 1 rec.
Input impedance: 100 Kohm
Output impedance: 6 ohm
Power output: 50 Watts into 6 ohm
Frequency response : 20Hz to 20 KHz
Configuration: Pentode
Tube compliment: 4 x 12AU7/6189 4 x 6CA7/EL34
Power input: 210@240v 50Hz
Power consumption: 200 Watts Max
Dimensions Amp. (w,d,h): 320x220x120 mm
Dimensions Sup. (w,d,h): 145x220x100 mm
Weight Amplifier: 10 Kg
Weight Supply: 5 Kg
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