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  1. #1
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    Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    Has anyone ever owned a Sonic Frontiers preamp? More specifically, a Line 1 model? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

    I'm buying my second Line 1. The first bought in 2009 and sold in 2011. A few days ago I bought another ... granted, partly for reason of nostalgia.

    As tube preamps go, the the SF preamps had the reputation of not being very "tubey". That's some thing that was and is OK with me. I will vouch for the fact, though, that my original did deliver a fair measure of that typically "holographic" tube sound, (at least with the right tubes).

    My original Sonic Frontiers Line 1 ...



    My forthcoming NEW Sonic Frontiers Line 1, (yeah, I do like the black faceplate better, oh well) ...

    ~ Bill

    Win10/Foobar2000 => Topping D90 DAC => Sonic Frontiers Line 1 SE+ preamp => VTV Purifi 1ET400A stereo amp with Sparkos SS3602 op amps => Zaph Audio ZRT speakers (DIY) + PSB Subsonic 5 subwoofer

  2. #2
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    Hi Bill, good to see you. What happened to the ARC and Pass?

    I've never heard the SF but understand the gear to have been very good.

    Funny story, brush with SF, a local store had one of their power amps in on trade, they didn't seem to know much about it and I didn't know that much about tubes, just beginning, I got the amp home, hooked it up, no sound. Come to find out no tubes were in it, LOL
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  3. #3
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Peabody View Post
    Hi Bill, good to see you. What happened to the ARC and Pass?

    I've never heard the SF but understand the gear to have been very good.

    Funny story, brush with SF, a local store had one of their power amps in on trade, they didn't seem to know much about it and I didn't know that much about tubes, just beginning, I got the amp home, hooked it up, no sound. Come to find out no tubes were in it, LOL
    Hi, MrP,

    I sold on both the Pass X150.5 and the ARC preamp. I'm not sorry about these going, (at least not for now ). Both were sold for reasonable prices -- I can't afford to hang on to equipment I'm not using.

    Sonic Frontiers has been out of business for 20 year at least. Fortunately, though, their equipment can still get excellent service at Parts Connexion (pcX). The owner there, Chris Johnson, was an original owner & founder of Sonic Frontiers. pcX offers upgrades to the Line 1 and most SF products. If I like my new Line 1 I'll like go for their SE+ upgrade.
    ~ Bill

    Win10/Foobar2000 => Topping D90 DAC => Sonic Frontiers Line 1 SE+ preamp => VTV Purifi 1ET400A stereo amp with Sparkos SS3602 op amps => Zaph Audio ZRT speakers (DIY) + PSB Subsonic 5 subwoofer

  4. #4
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    I had a Line 1 and a SFS-50 for about 2 years. I sold them to buy a Bryston kit (BP25 and 2B SST). The Line 1 was great but the SFS-80 was not reliable. Cost me a lot of KT-88 in 2 years. Try to have it fixed locally but without success.
    Like you, I regret selling my Line 1.
    Simaudio Moon 600i v2 - Simaudio Neo 260D - Rega P8 Ania Pro - Modwright PH 9.0 - Elac Adante AF-61/Gaia II - Bis Audio cables

  5. #5
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    Quote Originally Posted by PierreB View Post
    I had a Line 1 and a SFS-80 for about 2 years. I sold them to buy a Bryston kit (BP25 and 2B SST). The Line 1 was great but the SFS-80 was not reliable. Cost me a lot of KT-88 in 2 years. Try to have it fixed locally but without success.
    Like you, I regret selling my Line 1.
    I enjoyed your reply, especially that you regret selling your Line 1.

    I don't have much desire for a tube power amp. I intend to match the SF with my Purifi amp; the Purifi is basically SOTA, at least in terms of resolution and dynamics.

    It might have been worth sending your SFS-80 to Parts Connexion for repairs -- they still provide expert repairs for SF. I was personally assured just days ago by Chris Johnson, the owner, that the Line 1 is fully repairable. I'm luck maybe: pcX is in Burlington, ON, and it's a day trip for me to drop off equipment there in person.
    ~ Bill

    Win10/Foobar2000 => Topping D90 DAC => Sonic Frontiers Line 1 SE+ preamp => VTV Purifi 1ET400A stereo amp with Sparkos SS3602 op amps => Zaph Audio ZRT speakers (DIY) + PSB Subsonic 5 subwoofer

  6. #6
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    I had a Line 1 in the house for several weeks. I was repairing it for a friend. Very tube-dependent sound. If you love to roll tubes, you’ll love the Line 1. Glorious tube midrange, fairly extended highs. Tuneful bass - not super deep but for acoustic instruments it really shines. Electronica - not so much. Fairly noisy, again tube dependent.
    Tom

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  7. #7
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    Quote Originally Posted by W9TR View Post
    I had a Line 1 in the house for several weeks. I was repairing it for a friend. Very tube-dependent sound. If you love to roll tubes, you’ll love the Line 1. Glorious tube midrange, fairly extended highs. Tuneful bass - not super deep but for acoustic instruments it really shines. Electronica - not so much. Fairly noisy, again tube dependent.
    Yes, as for tubes, back when I had my original Line 1 I did a fair bit of tube rolling -- mind you, not the most expensive tubes. Different tubes did make a difference; I concentrated mostly on the gain tubes, i.e. the 'middle' row of two.

    At the time, the best tubes I found were Amperex white label 'PQ' 6299 tubes; I bought them used, not NOS. I paid under $100 for the pair. I believe I saw some actual NOS copies selling at several hundred dollars each. Unfortunately in retrospect I sold these tubes with my original Line 1.
    ~ Bill

    Win10/Foobar2000 => Topping D90 DAC => Sonic Frontiers Line 1 SE+ preamp => VTV Purifi 1ET400A stereo amp with Sparkos SS3602 op amps => Zaph Audio ZRT speakers (DIY) + PSB Subsonic 5 subwoofer

  8. #8
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    My Line 1 was not noisy at all. Very quiet.
    If I remember correctly, I use JJ TESLA tubes.

    Here is my old (15years+) SF
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Simaudio Moon 600i v2 - Simaudio Neo 260D - Rega P8 Ania Pro - Modwright PH 9.0 - Elac Adante AF-61/Gaia II - Bis Audio cables

  9. #9
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    Quote Originally Posted by PierreB View Post
    My Line 1 was not noisy at all. Very quiet.
    If I remember correctly, I use JJ TESLA tubes.

    Here is my old (15years+) SF
    Nice pic, thank you.

    Did you mean you owned your Line 1 15 years ago? If so, I owned my SF Line 1 a bit more recently as mentioned, from some point in 2009 'till some point in 2011.

    By the way, the Simaudio Moon 600i v2 looks like a pretty sweet device although a bit above my budget.
    ~ Bill

    Win10/Foobar2000 => Topping D90 DAC => Sonic Frontiers Line 1 SE+ preamp => VTV Purifi 1ET400A stereo amp with Sparkos SS3602 op amps => Zaph Audio ZRT speakers (DIY) + PSB Subsonic 5 subwoofer

  10. #10
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    Quote Originally Posted by Feanor View Post
    I'm buying my second Line 1. The first bought in 2009 and sold in 2011. A few days ago I bought another ... granted, partly for reason of nostalgia.
    My concerned re. the Line 1 is whether I will like it today. I liked back in the day but that was with different associated equipment; most of the time I owned it, I was using a pair of Monarchy SM70 Pro's. But today I's driving a VTV Audio Purifi stereo amp.

    The two are very different beasts. The Monarchys were a high-bias class A type, fairly transparent but a also a bit mellow in presentation. By the contrast the Purifi is super transparent and resolved and also hyper-dynamic but lacking in warmth.

    I have tried my current Schiit Freya + in Tube Mode which produces tube effects of a mild sort. However I also fined that with certain types of music -- in particular large-scale orchestra -- I loose too much transparency, consequently I end up listening using the Freya +'s Passive Mode, (in my case that doesn't loose any dynamics).

    I'm hoping the the SF Line will preserve more of the inherent transparency than the Freya + -- the Line 1 doesn't have a Passive Mode
    ~ Bill

    Win10/Foobar2000 => Topping D90 DAC => Sonic Frontiers Line 1 SE+ preamp => VTV Purifi 1ET400A stereo amp with Sparkos SS3602 op amps => Zaph Audio ZRT speakers (DIY) + PSB Subsonic 5 subwoofer

  11. #11

    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    I am surprised that there is even a market for SF products so many years after the company shut down.
    I once owned their CD player (SFCD-1, I think). It looked a lot like the preamp.

  12. #12
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    Quote Originally Posted by nicoff View Post
    I am surprised that there is even a market for SF products so many years after the company shut down.
    I once owned their CD player (SFCD-1, I think). It looked a lot like the preamp.
    Yes, it's been a long time since production stopped but sales are still fairly common. I suppose the fact that SF equipment is still supported by Parts Connexion is the reason. The boss there, Chris Johnson, was an original founder of Sonic Frontiers and there are couple of techs there who worked for SF back in the day.,
    ~ Bill

    Win10/Foobar2000 => Topping D90 DAC => Sonic Frontiers Line 1 SE+ preamp => VTV Purifi 1ET400A stereo amp with Sparkos SS3602 op amps => Zaph Audio ZRT speakers (DIY) + PSB Subsonic 5 subwoofer

  13. #13
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    Quote Originally Posted by Feanor View Post
    Nice pic, thank you.

    Did you mean you owned your Line 1 15 years ago? If so, I owned my SF Line 1 a bit more recently as mentioned, from some point in 2009 'till some point in 2011.

    By the way, the Simaudio Moon 600i v2 looks like a pretty sweet device although a bit above my budget.
    Yes I bought my Bryston in 2005. The photo of my SF was taken in 2004. So I bought them used in 2002 or 2003.
    At my age I think my 600i (bought in 2018) will be my last one.
    And yes it’s a great device. Thanks.
    Simaudio Moon 600i v2 - Simaudio Neo 260D - Rega P8 Ania Pro - Modwright PH 9.0 - Elac Adante AF-61/Gaia II - Bis Audio cables

  14. #14

    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    I owned a Line 1. Still miss it. It fail on me once in a particularly nasty way - the volume control encoder went south and whichever way I turned it, gain went UP. Was an easy fix (I did it myself) but I might suggest that you get a spare just in case, I think partsconnexion still has them.
    Main system: PS Audio P5, CAPS server w/HDPlex power supply, Hegel H160, AQ Colorado and Rocket 44, Vandersteen Treos, PS Audio DS DAC. NAD M4 tuner, Mcintosh MR74. Analog: Bryston BLP1, Ortofon Quintet Black, customized Tavish Adagio phono pre. AudioSensibility Statement interconnects. Rythmik Audio 15-inch sub. Other stuff: Sequerra Met 7's (original) Met 7 MK. II, REL Q108, Berning ea-230's, Micro Seiki BL51 with Grace and Rega arms. Too much else to list, I am gonna leave a heck of a pile of stuff when I die.

  15. #15
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    Thanks for this. That volume control problem has happened to me a couple of times. It doesn't happen every time in come out of Standby but once in while. It's only the volume knob that's the problem, the remote works fine.

    Parts Connexion is a drivable distance from me so I might take a day trip there if Covid-19 restrictions are relaxed a bit.
    ~ Bill

    Win10/Foobar2000 => Topping D90 DAC => Sonic Frontiers Line 1 SE+ preamp => VTV Purifi 1ET400A stereo amp with Sparkos SS3602 op amps => Zaph Audio ZRT speakers (DIY) + PSB Subsonic 5 subwoofer

  16. #16

    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    That volume control was the main reason for these preamps not sounding "tubey". The original version ran a volume control IC that worked off of 5VDC, and as such overloaded pretty easily at high volume. Later on they switched to a 12V version that was much better, and I believe was also offered as an upgrade.
    FYI, the front knob controls the volume IC, they were and are prone to failure. They are a digital rotary encoder.
    I'm seeing a lot more companies going to this type of volume control and either have the encoder control a chip volume control or a bank of relays.
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  17. #17
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    My SF Line 1 is into Parts ConneXion for the "SE+" upgrade as well as the Volume control repair and chip upgrade. This work will probably cost me the equivalent of about US$1200.

    Considering I paid US$900 for the preamp, one may consider whether the upgrades are worth it. One way to look at is is, Which high-quality, full function (except phone), fully balanced & differential preamps can one buy for $2100, even used? Not many.

    I dropped it on in person to Parts ConneXion because its only a 1.5 hour drive from my home -- safer and quicker than shipping.

    While the Line 1 is in the shop, I'm driving my power amp directly from my Topping D90 DAC; the sound is quite tolerable but not the same.

    Of interest maybe is some tube rolling that I did, (see thread on another forum). Just before the unit went to pcX I was running the JJ E88CC/6922 gold pin which offer a relatively high dose of tube attributes. I was terribly disappointed by the vintage Amperex which were my favorites a decade ago; now I find the midrange is 'way too "fat".
    ~ Bill

    Win10/Foobar2000 => Topping D90 DAC => Sonic Frontiers Line 1 SE+ preamp => VTV Purifi 1ET400A stereo amp with Sparkos SS3602 op amps => Zaph Audio ZRT speakers (DIY) + PSB Subsonic 5 subwoofer

  18. #18
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    I also had the JJ E88CC in my old Line 1. Very good.
    Bought them at the Tube Store.
    Simaudio Moon 600i v2 - Simaudio Neo 260D - Rega P8 Ania Pro - Modwright PH 9.0 - Elac Adante AF-61/Gaia II - Bis Audio cables

  19. #19
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    Quote Originally Posted by blackdog View Post
    That volume control was the main reason for these preamps not sounding "tubey". The original version ran a volume control IC that worked off of 5VDC, and as such overloaded pretty easily at high volume. Later on they switched to a 12V version that was much better, and I believe was also offered as an upgrade.
    FYI, the front knob controls the volume IC, they were and are prone to failure. They are a digital rotary encoder.
    I'm seeing a lot more companies going to this type of volume control and either have the encoder control a chip volume control or a bank of relays.
    Yes, I'm not speculating on the SQ results, but as mentioned, my Line 1 is at pcX for the encoder fix and also the volume control chip upgrade. I hope this will bring my Line 1 copy up to the highest standard for the device.

    As mentioned I'm having Chris & Glenn upgrade mine to "SE+" status. Perhaps there will be some SQ improvement but at least I'm hoping to added to the device's longevity.
    ~ Bill

    Win10/Foobar2000 => Topping D90 DAC => Sonic Frontiers Line 1 SE+ preamp => VTV Purifi 1ET400A stereo amp with Sparkos SS3602 op amps => Zaph Audio ZRT speakers (DIY) + PSB Subsonic 5 subwoofer

  20. #20
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    So a couple of days ago I got my Sonic Frontiers Line 1 preamplifier back from Parts ConneXion having had their "SE+" upgrade performed. I also had the volume control chips replace, (PGA 2311), and the defective rotary volume control encoder replace; (the latter is a common problem with the Line 1). The whole process cost me about US$1200.

    A big part of the SE+ upgrade is the power supply that includes replacing many capacitors, (mostly Nichicon), and the diodes, (Cree Schottky).

    The big buck parts upgrade, however, is was the Mundorf MCap Supreme Silver Oil capacitors used of output coupling capacitors -- the four of these cost about US$170.

    Various other small parts were upgraded, including resistors to Takman and Vishay versions. Some of the Vishay ran to quite a lot of money by resistor standards, i.e. almost $15 a pop.

    My main questions is, How much improvement to sound or other performance aspects are such pricey components likely to make?

    The power supply upgrades are ought to refresh and extend the life of this 20 year old component. I suppose in principle they, plus the volume chip upgrade, should reduce the SNR to a measurable extent.

    But how about sound improvements? Obviously there is no possibility for me to do an A-B comparison -- blind or otherwise. Subjectively I'm not hearing any radical change in the character of the Line1. However I feel I'm hearing a slightly sweeter, cleaner sound with less 'etching' of details and less very fine grain I imagined I heard before the upgrade. But rationally I can't be certain of these impressions.

    I'm attaching Before and After pictures of the Line 1 guts ...



    ~ Bill

    Win10/Foobar2000 => Topping D90 DAC => Sonic Frontiers Line 1 SE+ preamp => VTV Purifi 1ET400A stereo amp with Sparkos SS3602 op amps => Zaph Audio ZRT speakers (DIY) + PSB Subsonic 5 subwoofer

  21. #21
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    I would expect a noticeable difference from the items you describe, but, how noticeable I'm not sure. New part, like caps can require some break in time.

    An improvement in power supply itself typically yields better results.
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  22. #22
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Peabody View Post
    I would expect a noticeable difference from the items you describe, but, how noticeable I'm not sure. New part, like caps can require some break in time.

    An improvement in power supply itself typically yields better results.
    Well at least I have the impression of some improvement -- though, of course, I can't do an A-B. Like I said, a little sweeter & cleaner. Certainly I'm enjoying the sound.
    ~ Bill

    Win10/Foobar2000 => Topping D90 DAC => Sonic Frontiers Line 1 SE+ preamp => VTV Purifi 1ET400A stereo amp with Sparkos SS3602 op amps => Zaph Audio ZRT speakers (DIY) + PSB Subsonic 5 subwoofer

  23. #23
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    Re: Sonic Frontiers Line 1

    I had a sonic frontiers line 1 that I had a upgrade performed on also. It served me well for many years. I recently sold it and bought a integrated amplifier. There’s no guarantee but, the Best advice I could give you would be contact Upscale Audio, tell them what kind of sound you want out of your preamp and they’ll recommend you tubes.-at least that’s what I did, and it was worth it for me. Once those tubes got old I was too cheap to get another set of really good tubes so I just used some basic standard 6922s.

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