Positive Feedback has reviewed a number of products from Sophia Electric. Way back in Issue 8 of audioMusings hardware reviews, I was fortunate enough to review their "Baby" tube amplifier. Recently, I reviewed their gorgeous Coke Bottle KT-88 ST tubes. The subject of this review is the Sophia Electric Magik Box. If any component in high end audio could be described as gorgeous, the Magik Box must be it. A picture is worth a thousand words, yes... but how many times have you heard people say that something is considerably better looking live than the picture? To quote, "Sophia Electric's Magik Box is a pre-preamplifier with 6dB of gain designed to amplify the audio signal before reaching the volume pot on your preamplifier or integrated amplifier." It can also reduce the gain by 6bd by reversing the leads. This unit is a very straight-forward, highly functional, very stylish, beautifully built compact device. It is designed to work with MM/MC step up transformers, preamplifiers, between a preamplifier and amplifier, and between a digital component and your preamplifier. As long as there is a pair of RCA outputs on the unit you want to use it with. This unit is designed by Mr. Richard Wugang the President of Sophia Electric. It is said that Mr. Wugang has been involved in building and designing electronics since the age of 10. By the excellent craftsmanship that has gone into this unit, it clearly shows.
At first, one might think this device is for improving the sound of digital only. One can't be blamed for this line of thinking. It seems as long as digital has been involved with audio components, somebody has been designing some kind of add on component or another to fix, or improve digital sound with varying degrees of success. I know I have tried many of them, and indeed the first place I installed this unit was between my DAC and preamplifier, but not before some down and dirty break-in, where I placed this unit between an old integrated amplifier and CD player I keep for just such purposes. Next, I finished off the break-in process with my tube amplifier to coincide with the break-in of the Sophia KT-88's. After a good seventy five hours plus, the sound was notably improved and the unit was ready to go. After all there is a lot of wire in those two transformers in this small box.
For the listening sessions the Magik Box was installed in many different configurations in my system. I'd be lying to you if I told you the Magik Box didn't impress from the beginning. The performance improvements were immediately apparent, in fact very apparent. In either of these configurations the sound opened up. I heard greatly improved dimension of the music, images tightened up. But what I really liked, and what surprised me, was that the music sounded more dynamic, quicker, and for lack of a better word, tighter. The pace and dynamics in the lower frequencies sounded faster, deeper, and more solid. Details were more easily fleshed out. It was easier to follow lyrics and the music. There was a slight decrease in distortion and a cleaner overall sound. These traits were especially appreciated when I used it with my solid state amp. Whatever the Magik Box was hooked up to it never made the music sound overly rich, or rolled off. It never distorted the music, there was no loss of detail, and it did not skewer the tonal balance. My notes read that this unit polishes and cleans a digital signal to a point where it is more palatable, dimensional, and musical than ever before.
At this point I was stunned. I couldn't believe how much this little box improved the digital signal from my system. So I hooked it up to my analog rig. The same positive traits were easily noted. In fact, when playing an old Godley and Creame EP, I noticed that this album never sounded better. What struck me were the improvements in the spaciousness of the soundstage and the solid images.
I saw my son at his usual position on the couch in the den with his MacBook Pro on his lap. I asked him if he was available for the next hour or two. He said he was but there was a little issue of lunch. I think he knew what was coming. Fair enough. We hooked up his MacBook Pro to my DAC using the USB input to the Magik Box and then to the rest of the system. This laptop uses iTunes version 184.108.40.206. We listened to CD rips of the Gorillaz' Dirty Harry EP and the song "Highway (Under Construction)," an MP3 download off the Christmas favorite, "Winter Wonderland" from A Swingin Christmas sung by Tony Bennet, and some more downloads of Beck. Through the MacBook the music sounded full, rich, and dimensional with fast paced and taut dynamics. As soon as we pulled the Magik Box out of the system, my son and I looked at each other and said, "What the heck, the music caved in"!
Wanting to get the full benefit of the lunch I was about to buy my son, I thought quickly. Why not try running my phone through the unit. It is easy to do. We did this set up in several ways. We ran my EVO HTC M8 phone in Bluetooth mode to my Audioengine B1, straight into the amp and then this combo to the DAC and the amplifier. Then we tried the combination of the two through the Magik Box. We tuned in to my Spotify account and found some music in the Psychedelic Rock folder. Deep purple was playing, "Child in Time." It sounded good. It was not the last word in resolution, but it was acceptable. Next we played a copy of Canned Heat's Greatest Hits I ripped from my computer and synced to my phone. There was a step up in performance with the CD rip. In each case the music sounded better running through the Magik Box than just through the Audioengine B1 or DAC. Way better! In this set up the music sounded more dimensional and "polished". The music now sounded less hard and more cohesive through my humble phone. We were really enjoying it. We literally had a ton of music at our disposal which made it that much more enjoyable. The fact that the Magik Box was improving music played through my phone was just another testament of its ability. This unit should be standard issue with any digital device.
When removing the Magik Box from either of these set ups the music instantly got thinner, less clean and less involving. In fact it made you lose interest in the music.
The next test to me was the hardest and should reveal the most about the Magik Box. It was installed between my Marantz solid state preamplifier section and my tube amplifier. With pre-preamplifiers and add ons that I have reviewed in the past, this is where they trip up. It is usually in the area of transparency and resolution that is compromised in this set up. I am happy to report that the Magik Box passed this set up test just fine. It neither reduced nor diminished resolution or transparency. It only gave me more or less gain depending on the way I hooked it up. I do feel though that I prefer it in the path coming from my DAC or phono preamplifier. I feel it is more effective there. I have no issues with gain with my current set up.
Let's address the issue of what the music was like without the Magik Box in my system. Without it, the music became thinned out, anemic, and less involving. Dynamics sounded weaker and the bass was noticeably subdued. It was as if you had turned the music way down... the music just thinned out. Yes, I had turned the volume up 6dB to compensate for the additional 6dB from the Magik Box. It was now louder, but still thin overall. I listened to a trusty old CD to help me in this A/B. The JVC XRCD Extended Resolution Sampler is a disc I picked up at an audio show way back when. Track 1, "The Peacocks" from The Bill Holman Band, sounded thinner and less involving. At the beginning of track two, also by The Bill Holman Band, the trumpet blast could now peel paint off the wall it was so thin and bright. The trumpet solo was now thinner. The full and spacious dimension of the stage I had before was now diminished and the music now moved back into the plane of the speakers. Vocals on "Round Midnight" from Carmen Lundy sounded reedier. and yes, again thinner. On track 7, The Persuasions' "Merry Christmas Baby" sounded as if they lost weight and their rich, full voices were the victims of this crime. Like WW3 could throw us back into the Stone Age, my system got thrown back to less performance without the Magik Box.
I was shocked. I thought my system sounded good. It does sound good. It is a revealing and hi-rez audio system. But I didn't realize it was missing what the Magik Box brought to it. It brought fullness, dimension, and made the music very inviting. My immediate thought was that this could undermine the credibility of my past reviews. But then I thought this could only help future reviews if I kept it in my system. I know this review is one of the most positive I have ever written, but its performance in my system was instantly noticeable, and very obviously positive. If it skewered the tonal balance or timbre in any way I would have concern and reservation. I would have said so in the review. But it doesn't. It makes the music quite a bit more realistic and natural, especially with any of my digital set ups. Its improvements are easily noticeable and quite obviously lacking when it is absent from my system.
There are two facts that I feel will back up my credibility. One is my son. Far from being an "audiophile," he is like many millennial are in his age bracket. Although he has been exposed to a lot of high end gear in his life, his iPhone is his main source of entertainment. After the review and A/B testing was over, he turned to me and said, "You're going to buy that right? I don't see how you could do without it". The second is the fact that I bought the review sample. I really enjoy listening to music with this unit in my system; it greatly enhances the listening experience and I don't see how I could do without it.
In my past few reviews, I have listened to some mighty fine stereo equipment. But I have never had any component in any system I have owned that has as profoundly changed the sound in such a positive way as the Sophia Electric Magik Box. I tried the Magik Box in many different configurations, and in each one the results were excellent. Thank you Sophia Electric. I am floored by its performance.