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SE84C Review ("Blast from the Past") (Read 557 times)
Tone-Deaf
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SE84C Review ("Blast from the Past")
08/29/18 at 06:25:08
 
This is a review of the SE84C amplifier.  I bought the amp in 2003 because I was interested in trying a low-power amp at moderate cost.   Unlike many on this site, I do not have a lot of experience listening to different equipment, so I am not able to provide much by way of useful comparisons.  My “review” is simply offered as one data point for those with limited “audiophile” experience that are debating whether to try a low power SET amplifier.  While the SE84C is an old model, I think it is similar to its replacement (the SE84UFO).  

I use a Njoe Tjoeb CD player connected directly to the amp (I do not use a pre-amp).

Amp-Speaker Combination

It is hard to talk about the amp without also talking about the speakers.   I started with speakers with a sensitivity of 95db, and a frequency response down to about 55 Hz.  For me, the 2 watts per channel provided plenty of volume for most recordings.  I also liked the detail I could hear in the music.  For example, for the first time I really enjoyed listening to string quartets, I think because I could distinguish what was being played by each individual instrument.  

However, I did not think the speakers had enough bass.  While I am not a “bass head,” and I selected the speakers knowing that they only went down to 55 Hz, the limited bass was more of a problem than I expected.   On some songs, the missing bass was obvious (for example, on the song “Whisper Not” on the album “The Wes Montgomery Trio”).  I also noticed that on classical music the instruments often would seem out of balance, with strings being too prominent and horns and brass instruments getting buried.  This may  happen because some of the body for horns and brass may come from the bass.  In the end, I was not satisfied with this combination.  

I then tried less sensitive speakers from my main system (Paridigm bookshelf speakers from about 1995 that have a sensitivity of about 89db).  Voila – the recordings now had the deeper base lines and the balance between instruments that I am used to.  However, these speakers often did not give me the volume that I wanted without noticeable distortion.  

Taking what I learned, I bought a pair of Klipsch Reference Premier 260f speakers, with a sensitivity of 97db and which go down to about 35hz.   This combination gives me the sound quality I was looking for along with reasonable volume.   I know that some feel Klipsch speakers are too bright and “harsh,” but to me it is a good combo.  I also think that the speakers can be toed-in or toed-out to help “tame” the high end if necessary.  With the new speakers, I found that I was no longer analyzing issues with the sound, but instead simply enjoying the music, which is my ultimate goal.    

SE84C Characteristics

I mostly listen to older recordings, and I can generally turn the volume all the way up without noticeable distortion.  However, for many newer recordings the sound is clearly distorted at full volume – this probably reflects how some modern recordings are mastered.  One problem with the SE84C (corrected for newer Decware amps) is that the volume control is located on the back of the amp, and it can be awkward to reach around hot tubes to get to that control.  Moving the volume control to the front of the amp may lengthen the signal path, but I think the better ergonomics outweigh that factor.

The high bias setting is clearly louder, has more bass (even after equalizing volume between the high and low bias settings), and is “crisper” and “more detailed.”  For the bass-shy speakers, the bias setting was not enough to make the bass work for me.  With the RP-260f speakers, the high-bias setting provides plenty of bass at moderate volumes, and may even be a little bass-heavy (at least to my taste) at high volume.  The low-bias setting to me seems a little bass-shy at all volume levels.  

Overall, this amp seems more revealing and detailed than what I am used to (in a good way).

Conclusions

To my ears, the SE84C and Klipsch RP-260f combination is a noticeable step up in audio quality from my solid state stereo.  I feel like I have proved up that the low-power SET amp and high efficiency speaker combination works for me, and that the “modest” SE84C provides a basis to build a more complete system.  I plan to continue to upgrade this system for now using the SE84C as the amp, including:

  • Adding a better digital source to allow use of internet radio, streaming, playing of digital files on a hard drive, as well as CD playback.

  • Adding a Zrock.  One possible use is to use the low-bias setting on the amp (which seems to be a little bass-shy) and use the Zrock to then dial in additional bass, making the sound more adjustable.

  • Adding a Zbit, which I think can allow shaping of the sound by “gain riding” by using the higher voltage available from balanced outputs.


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Lon
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Re: SE84C Review ("Blast from the Past")
Reply #1 - 08/29/18 at 11:11:29
 
Great review, and that is a well-seasoned and well-loved amp!

I've had a C amp, and a "Select" amp and know how wonderful they can sound. That said, the new Zen amps with UFO transformers are a different, superior beast--you would love the sound of one of those, something to consider!
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HR-1,ZP3,ZTPRE,ZBIT,ZROCK2,SE84UFO3-25th, CSP3-25th;PS Audio:Soloist SE,DMP+DSD,P10, PowerBases,XStream Statemt spk cb,AC-12 power cds;Mapleshade:SamsonV2+V3;Oppo UDP-205;VooDoo Cremona +Amati,Iso-Pods;Aurios;MD90-T SE tuner; headphones: Oppo PM-1,Sennheiser HD800
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Tone-Deaf
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Re: SE84C Review ("Blast from the Past")
Reply #2 - 08/29/18 at 16:20:04
 
Thanks for your insights, Lon.  

While I am going to move forward now and start building a system around the SE84C, I do think somewhere down the road I may get a more up-to-date Decware amp.  In particular, I am intrigued by the ERRx speakers because it sounds like they work well in untreated rooms, but I think I would want a few more watts to drive them (maybe a SE34I.5).

But until that time, I will probably add pieces like the zbit and zrock that can also be used later with a revised system.

Again, thanks for your observations.
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Lon
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Philip K. D*ck

Posts: 14812
Re: SE84C Review ("Blast from the Past")
Reply #3 - 08/29/18 at 18:02:52
 
Your suspicion is correct about the ERRx. I had the ERR and driving them with the Integrated or the Torii really gives them muscle. And they sound great in any room I had them in.
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HR-1,ZP3,ZTPRE,ZBIT,ZROCK2,SE84UFO3-25th, CSP3-25th;PS Audio:Soloist SE,DMP+DSD,P10, PowerBases,XStream Statemt spk cb,AC-12 power cds;Mapleshade:SamsonV2+V3;Oppo UDP-205;VooDoo Cremona +Amati,Iso-Pods;Aurios;MD90-T SE tuner; headphones: Oppo PM-1,Sennheiser HD800
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