Sugden A21SE

J.E. Sugden, based in West Yorkshire, England, has been hand-building audio equipment for over 40 years.  The lovely A21SE is a 30 watt class A integrated amplifier that continues Sugden's decades-long heritage with class A designs.  In the early 90's I enjoyed a little Sugden A25, an entry level integrated amplifier operating in class AB, and I never dreamt I would be in the fortunate position to be enjoying a Sugden class A amplifier now.

Whether it is the lack of switching distortion, the large power supply, or simply excellent circuit design and execution, the A21SE provides an effortless sound, equally good from low to high volume, with exemplary clarity and tonal purity. Individual instruments are easily identified and followed, both tonally and spatially in the soundscape. The sound is inviting and engaging, especially in the midrange where most music in fact lies.

Jonathan Dimmock's excellent anthology of Sweelinck's keyboard works is an interesting test for audio gear: well recorded in excellent acoustics, with contrasting organ registrations and wide frequency range, and wonderful mean tone temperament.   In the first Onder een linde groen variation (performed on the period organ in the Reformed Church of Oosthuizen), the treble can sound piercing or uncomfortable in many systems, but with the A21SE, the treble is sweet, clear, and refreshingly in tune.  Likewise, the last track of Des Boosdoenders Wille Seer Quaet is full of authority, the extreme bass rumbling in full exhilaration (performed on the excellent reconstructed baroque organ at the Örgryte New Church in Gothenberg).

One of my favourite sopranos is the baroque specialist Maria Cristina Kiehr.  Listening again to an early recording of the music of Barbara Strozzi made with Concerto Soave, she has never sounded so real, so beguiling—or so human.  Absolutely stunning.


The Sugden was the last piece of our system to be put in place, and had the most surprising impact in that the sound all of a sudden seemed to lock in place and be in balance.  I didn't expect our previous amp to have been such a limiting factor, frankly, or that amplifiers in general could be, well, so significant.  The sound found a sense of ease and comfort, of naturalness, and of joy and peace.

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