Before the Sonneteer Campion came along demonstrating a hifi separates amplifier in a shop was quite simple. The dealer turns the volume control to about 11 o’clock on the dial and the amplifier performs to its optimum. The problem, once back home is that turn the volume knob too much past 12 o’clock and the loudness stops increasing, but the noise does. To the point where at about 2 o’clock on the dial the listener isn’t only damaging their hearing, but also their loudspeakers. The reason for this? The amplifier is clipping. In less technical speak, the maximum level the amplifier volume can go has been reached. Anything beyond this, overdrives the unit into distortion.
Manufacturers, at the behest of retailers, have been doing this for a very long time. The perception is that if the amplifier is this loud at 11 or 12 o’clock then imagine how much louder it can go. The truth is almost always, not much! This however is quicker to sell and on to the next customer. A similar game is played with CD players where in place of the standard 2Vrms output some manufacturers add a little gain to say, 2.2Vrms. This 10% increase gives the impression in a quick comparison test of a bigger, thicker sound. The truth is, of course, that you are not comparing apples with apples and is no reflection of the true performance of what you are testing.
Perhaps naively when we designed the Campion, we weren’t aware of all these trade trick so we went out to get the best performance out of the system. The volume control on the Campion amplifier and all other Sonneteer amplifiers since do not reach their optimum loudness until about 5 o’clock on the volume dial. The payback is twofold. The first being a wider dynamic range of volume is achieved and hence more resolution and the second being far superior balance tracking. The latter point is in reference to the volume control component itself performs best in its left to right channel tracking in the second half of its complete cycle. So an argument can be made that any amplifier that doesn’t do this is cheating you of a lot of quality that can be had without any extra cost. Shop keepers who hate customers hanging around the shop testing may beg to differ.