RMAF 2016: DeVore Fidelity and Tone Imports highlight Well-Tempered, Sugden’s powers of persuasion

A solid state of mind.

High-efficiency speakers and tubes, that’s what you’re supposed to do, it’s what we’re taught. I should know, that’s my jam. Jonathan Halpern of Tone Imports, and John DeVore of DeVore Fidelity are like the peanut butter to my jam; we’re all of a school that is single-ended triode and 96dB heavy on homework in its curriculum. So what was I suppose to make of DeVore’s O/93 two-way floorstanders ($8,400 USD) being juiced by solid state amplification that Halpern had supplied? I’ll tell you what I made of it, that Halpern is – as always – a brilliant guy.

Sugden A21SE integrated amplifier, 30 watts of pure Class-A operation.
Rocky Mountain Audiofest coverage brought to you be Noble Audio.

The Sugden A21, which outputs 23 watts of British power operating in pure Class A ($2,400 USD), and it’s bigger, beefier brother the A21SE at 30 watts ($3,250 USD) are the only two solid-state amplifiers I ever wanted in my personal system when my (reasonable) budget constraints were lifted a few years ago. I demoed them both side-by-side, for more than a month, and was deeply impressed with the little A21’s ability to wring a helluva lot of musical texture, and honest to God pleasure from my music collection through my Harbeth P3SERs, and M30.1s. The A21SE did exactly the same thing, but with a walloping dose of more to everything: bottom-end grunt, bass  heft with even more tightness, midrange punch, and top-end extension. Ditto to the depth, and breadth of the sound stage. To my ears at the time, this was a s close as you were getting for under $5K to single-ended triode sound in a solid-state package. Listening to DeVore’s beautiful O/93s relaying their analog telegraph to my ears in Denver, I have to say I still don’t think I’ve heard an integrated in this price range that sounds so close to SET.


Sugden Masterclass PA-4 MM/MC phono stage.

Halpern had the Well Tempered Labs Amadeus ‘table, and ‘arm  ($2,850 USD, DPS power supply $400 USD) fitted with an EMT TSD75 – fine-line elliptical stylus – ($1,950 USD) plumbing the Marianas Trench of a number of albums during my several jaunts into the room, with the Sugden Masterclass PA-4 phono ($2,500 USD), pulling pre-amplifier duties. A Masterclass DAC-4 ($2,250 USD) was handling ones and zeroes from a laptop. Auditorium 23 interconnects ($795 USD – 1.0 meter), and speaker cables ($980 USD – 2.5 meters) rounded out the hook-ups with Box Furntiure‘s S4M Maple four-shelf stand ($2,950 USD) taking care of the supporting cast.

EMT TSD75 cartridge on a Well Tempered Amadeus.
0/93 detail.

award-sighting-smThis was such a relaxed, nuanced, and heartfelt sound, and DeVore, and Halpern always spin the most engaging records, so whenever you find yourself near the room you can’t help but be pulled into it just because of the great tunes always wafting out of the door. For price point, simplicity, and sheer, unbridled musicality this room was a true standout at the show, the fact that John, and Jonathan, and their partner in crime Mike Smith always have such lopsided grins on their faces makes this a room you don’t really want to leave, because in all honesty, it just had everything I value in a system.

About Rafe Arnott 389 Articles
Editor of InnerFidelity and AudioStream


  1. Have you heard the First Watt amps of Nelson Pass? I wonder how they compare to the Sugden, as other reviewers categorize many of those models as SET-like as well (and they aren’t too dissimilar in price or power either).

    • Hi Ron,

      Yes, I’m familiar with Nelson Watt’s gear, in particular the First Watt J2 power amp, which I think is absolutely top-shelf. You’re not going to go wrong with a Pass Labs model, or his First Watt designs. Another manufacturer you might want to check out is Croft.


  2. Great report! Does anyone have any experience using the Sugden amp with Zu Audio speakers? Since the Zus are high-sensitivity and high-impedance it sounds (on paper) like a good combo.

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