Sonneteer Byron CD-Player
Sonneteer Alabaster Integrated Amplifier

Robin Lybeck

Published 1st May 2005

Picture by Sonneteer

"Power is nothing without control" is the well-known slogan for an international tyre manufacturer. While tyres and highend-audio are quite far apart, some parts of the slogan immediately came to mind when I sat down to write a few words about the latest equipment test I was working on for Many audiophiles (and audio manufacturers for that part) have an ongoing obsession with power, often at the expense of sound quality. What´s really the point of having all that power if the control is lacking? By this I mean that a 500W power amp will sound awful all the way if the first watt sounds awful. At this point I must admit to being some way down the path of big, powerful solid-state amplification myself. When I look back at the amplifiers I´ve owned over the last 5 years, only one has had a power output of less than 200W (into 8 ohm), and that was a pair of 150W Sphinx-monoblocks....

The whole question of power vs. sound quality and above all, the question of whether high power is necessary during normal listening came to mind when I was offered to review the Byron cd-player (1995€) and Alabaster integrated amplifier (1995€) from British manufacturer Sonneteer. The Alabaster has a power output of 52W into 8ohm and 95W into the 4ohm load represented by the Dunlavy SC-IV´s in my listening room, compared to the 300W churned out by my own reference, the Audionet AMP I (nowadays 350W out of Audionet AMP II G2 monoblocks). So this test would really give me the opportunity both to try out equipment from a new manufacturer on the finnish market and compare the sonic differences between a largish power amp and the smallest integrated amplifier to have visited my system so far. I initially had my doubts about whether it would be possible to compare the sound of the Sonneteers to my personal reference Audionet-components (ART V2 player, 3200€ and AMP I, 4050€), or if they would be too different to place on the same start line. Time would show me that the comparison would be very interesting indeed.


The Sonneteers arrived in quite sturdy cardboard boxes, with clear markings. The first thing I noticed upon unpacking was the common, stylish design. These products certainly belong to the same family. The overall build quality was good, the Byron cd-player surprising me with its lightness (compared to the ART V2 at 18kg) and the Alabaster on the other hand with its considerable weight. The Alabaster has no remote, which turned out to be a smaller nuisance than I´d expected. Luckily, the Byron was equipped with a plastic "standard" remote, so operating the source while sitting on the sofa became easy enough.

The mechanical operation of the knobs of the Alabaster was exemplary, while the buttons on the Byron were a bit flimsier, but still not enough to warrant any complaints. The Alabaster was equipped with two pairs of WBT-style (one per channel), protected binding posts, so I had to rely on banana plugs on the other pair of my Dunlavy Z6 speaker cable. The binding posts themselves were ok though, providing good contact. I was a bit disappointed to find standard-issue RCA-connectors on both the amp and the cd-player. By "standard-issue" I mean non-gold-plated connectors attached only to the inner side of the chassis. In addition, the RCA outputs were positioned very close to each other, so I had some trouble getting the locking WBT-connectors of my Siltech interconnects to fit side by side. Once all connections were made, everything worked just fine. I did notice a slight "thud" from the speakers every time I turned the amplifier on, but it was nothing to be alarmed about.

In the manual for the Alabaster, Sonneteer actually makes a warning statement about the amp running hot. I can´t really agree with this, as the amp never got more than moderately warm in my open shelf, even after longer periods of high-volume listening. One should probably avoid placing it in a closed shelf, though. Generally speaking, the manuals themselves covered only the most basic facts of the components, which is quite enough in most cases. Sometimes it might be nice to get a bit more information, especially on the technical side of things.

Once everything was unpacked and the setup was complete, I used the Sonneteers for constant background music for a couple of weeks in order to get them thoroughly burned-in. No critical listening was done during this period, even though I couldn´t resist taking a "sneak peek" every now and then. During most of the review period both the Byron and the Alabaster were connected to the system, with the exception of a short test versus an integrated Creek amplifier (more on that later). So essentially all listening impressions cover the combination of both products, not specifically one or the other.

Listening - midrange magic

After the burn-in period it was time to get down to business. The first impression of how a component might sound is seldom completely correct, but in this case that impression lasted from the beginning to the very end of the review period. This first impression was one of a sweet midrange and overall airy sound. I must also start by saying that the Sonneteers at this early point surpassed the expectations I had harbored for them in advance, such was the level of musical reproduction.

The first disc to hit the player was an old favorite of mine, Dire Straits´ "Communiqué" (Vertigo 800 052-2). Even though the record doesn´t set any standards in recording quality, I´ve listened to it enough over the years to recognise most of the changes caused by a new component. With the Sonneteers, the overall sound had a very seductive quality, with excellent timbral accuracy. Low-level resolution was excellent in the midrange, with Knopfler´s voice sounding just like it should. The midrange presence also brought the guitars forward in a very pleasant manner. The bass-impact was decidedly lighter and a bit more rounded than with the more heavyweight Audionet-components, but together with the nature of the midrange the overall presentation was suitably relaxed. The treble was very smooth and quite detailed, even though it had less sparkle than it does through my regular setup. On the other hand, some of the occasional and very slight excess "sizzle" from the Audionet-Siltech combo was missing, leaving a sound completely devoid of aggression.

No review is complete without some reference-quality cd´s from German label Stockfisch. This small label carries a roster of very accomplished musicians, and every release I´ve heard so far has been top-notch in terms of recording quality. This time around I started with the first Stockfisch-cd I ever bought; Allan Taylor´s "Colour to the moon" (Stockfisch RTD 357.6021.2), which sounded very natural and relaxed. The Audionet-components might have imparted a bit more of the ambience from the recording venue on the overall sound, but the difference compared to the Sonneteers was much smaller than expected. Allan Taylor´s voice had a slightly more rounded character, but not to a disturbing level with regular listening volumes. With higher volume, the voice got a bit soggy and increasingly "wide" in terms of soundstage placement, but I have to emphasize that this demanded considerably higher sound pressures. Paul Stephensons´ "Light Green Ball"-album (Stockfisch SFR 357.6023.2) has a somewhat cooler tonal balance compared to Allan Taylor´s, but once again the Sonneteers produced a smooth, liquid and unforced sound that one could easily fall asleep to. The soundstage had excellent air and depth, but lacked the surgical precision with which the Audionet-components place instruments in and on the stage. This has both a positive and a negative side; while the Audionet-components made the sound appear a tad more focused, the Sonneteers presented a soundstage that appeared less physically limited.

Like I mentioned in my last review of the Nordost Red Dawn cables, I find myself coming back to Pink Floyd´s "Division Bell" (EMI 7243 8 28984 2) every now and then and enjoying it as much every time. Now I started at the beginning, with the slow intro "Cluster One", which slowly builds up from nothing to include several instruments as well as a number of other ambient sounds. This time the intro built up to become positively huge in terms of soundstaging. While not quite as focused as usual, the sound had all of the eerie quality it´s supposed to have. Nick Mason´s cymbals had all the definition they needed, as well as very natural "sound decay", with the ringing fading slowly away into the distance. On "Wearing the inside out" the saxophone in the beginning was nicely rendered, just like David Gilmour´s voice. Once again, the leading edge of the guitars was a bit softer than usual, but as a whole the sound remained very relaxed and enjoyable.

The other recordings I listened to at length basically confirmed what the ones before had hinted at: The Sonneteers were excellent midrange performers, with a thoroughly enjoyable and airy "tube-like" overall sound. The greatest difference to the Audionet-setup could be found in areas like treble extension, bass control and extension, focus and dynamics. But as a whole, the Sonneteers didn´t have to be at all ashamed of their performance, quite the contrary.

Together with a friend we also compared the Sonneteer Alabaster to a Creek 5350SE integrated amplifier (1230€). The Alabaster was decidedly more airy, as well as sweeter and more detailed in the midrange and had a larger soundstage. The Creek, on the other hand, expressed a greater level of overall neutrality, dynamic punch and bass control. Between these two it would have been a tight race, with the Creek leading on music with greater dynamic contrasts, while the Alabaster clearly was the champion of jazz, classical and acoustic music. In the price range represented by these amps, I don´t think You can go far wrong with either.


Overall impression: Natural, smooth and relaxed. Excellent midrange definition and timbral accuracy, slightly soft in the bass.

Balance: Reminded me of some tube gear with its smooth and enjoyable tonal balance. More to the lush side of neutral.

Resolution: Overall resolution was better than I had expected, but the best areas were in the midrange and lower treble.

Transparency: Excellent. While not quite at the level of the Audionet-equipment, it wasn´t far off. Once again the midrange and lower treble rose above the other areas.

Realism: Also very good, especially with voices. Listening to vocal recordings for longer periods presented no other problem than the danger of falling asleep to the relaxed and natural sound.

Treble: A bit laid-back, but lacking nothing important. Cymbals sounded metallic, not only like an unidentifiable sizzle. Still, this was the area that showed the biggest difference compared to the reference setup.

Midrange: Like I´ve mentioned many times before, this is really where the Sonneteers excelled. Perhaps not in the most neutral way, but I find it hard to believe that they can be clearly bettered by anything in their price range. A revelation.

Bass: A bit soft, but reasonably detailed. Melded in excellently with the rest of the spectrum on small-scale music, but seemed to lack the last bit of strength on loud dynamic passages. Might work perfectly with smaller speakers, though. In my room, the SC-IV´s seem to demand quite high damping factors to sound their best.

Dynamics, visceral impact: Another area where a significant difference to the Audionet-setup could be heard. Microdynamics were fine, but macrodynamic swings seemed a bit subdued. Again, this was in no way distracting with normal listening levels. The Alabaster also lost a little in this area compared to the Creek, but on the other hand sounded less edgy.

Soundstaging: Very good. The soundstage was as large as all outdoors, but the instruments and singers retained their "original size". If the soundstage didn´t represent the last word in focus, it certainly compensated with width and layered depth.


Midrange performance and resolution
Natural and relaxed overall sound
Soundstage and retrieval of ambience

Points to develop;
Dynamic impact
Bass control and tautness
Treble extension (with serious reservations, too much of a good thing wouldn´t be any better)

The Sonneteers left me very positively surprised. While I had expected quite a lot (without really knowing what to expect), they managed to surpass the expectations in many ways. These are clearly components for the music-lover, maybe not the last word in power and dynamics, but excellent in the midrange and not really weak in any area. During the test period they also functioned like a charm, with no excess noise or other faults. The Sonneteer-setup can easily be recommended to someone looking for natural, relaxed and utterly non-fatiguing sound. My personal experience leads me to believe that they might be best off paired with quite sensitive speakers, in which case they can deliver the best possible dynamics. As always, it should be remembered that the Audionet ART V2 and AMP I are very different components by nature, so the differences I´ve described might be very much smaller or nonexistent in other setups. I don´t think anyone can go far wrong with the Sonneteers, but it´s always good to "try before you buy". And while I might not have been tempted to change my own electronics to Sonneteer, they sure did their best to give the twice as expensive Audionet-components a run for the money. Not bad at all....give them a listen if you have the opportunity.

Associated equipment

  • Cd-player: Audionet ART V2 standing on Solid Tech “Feet of Silence”.
  • Preamp: Audionet PRE I G2 standing on Solid Tech “Feet of Silence”.
  • Power Amp: Audionet AMP I on DIY amp stand (2 x 50 by 60 cm granite slabs, 30kg each, with damping rubber feet in between. Whole stand supported by Soundcare Superspikes).
  • Speakers: Dunlavy SC-IV on Soundcare Superspikes.
  • Interconnects: Siltech SQ-80 G3 (cd-preamp), Siltech ST-48 G3 (pre-power amp).
  • Speaker cable: Dunlavy Z6 x2 (biwire)
  • Mains cable: Custom made Supra LoRAD for all components.
  • Mains filter/distributor: Siltech Octopus with SPO-20 mains cable.
  • Equipment stand: Sound Organisation 90cm wide 2-shelf stand for cd-player and preamp. Stand supported by 8mm spikes placed on Target vibration-reducing feet.
  • Room: ~20 Square meters. House construction: wooden frame, tile outer wall. Excellent bass absorption, no significant room resonance under 100Hz (measured).
  • Room treatments: 4x Svanå ABCyll absorbers placed at first reflection points. Large bookshelf covers entire back wall. Heavy rug on the floor between the speakers and the listening spot. No TV or screen between the speakers, projector screen (96” Da-Lite) ceiling-mounted and retracted during all listening sessions.

Musical selection:

  • Pink Floyd: The Division Bell (EMI 7243 8 28984 2 9; 1994)
  • Paul Stephenson: Light Green Ball (Stockfisch SFR 357.6023.2; 2002)
  • Allan Taylor: Hotels & Dreamers (Stockfisch SFR 357.6028.2; 2003)
  • Allan Taylor: Colour to the moon (Stockfisch RTD 357.6021.2; 2000)
  • Sara K.: Water falls Stockfisch (SFR 357.6025.2; 2002)
  • Dire Straits: Communiqué (Vertigo 800 052-2; 1996)
  • Hugh Masekela: Hope (Triloka GCT80232; 2000)
  • Charles Lloyd: The Water is Wide (ECM 1734549043-2; 2000)
  • Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances; Eiji Oue; Minnesota Orchestra (Reference Recordings RR-96CD; 2001)
  • Rimsky-Korsakoff: Scheherazade; Fritz Reiner; Chicago Symphony Orchestra (JMCXR-0015; 2002)
  • Blue Man Group: Audio (Virgin 7243 8 48613 2 2 CDVUS177; 1999)
  • Rammstein: Mutter (Universal 5496392; 2001)
  • Oscar Peterson: A summer night in Munich (Telarc CD83450; 1999)
  • Jacques Loussier: The Bach Book (Telarc Jazz CD83474;1997)
  • Jacques Loussier: Satie - Gymnopédies, Gnossiennes (Telarc Jazz CD83431; 1998)
  • Sophie Zelmani: Precious Burden (Columbia COL 489733 2; 1998)
  • Tori Amos: Scarlet´s Walk (Epic 508782 2; 2002)
  • Soundtracks from “The Thin Red Line”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.
  • + others

Product specifications

(specs according to Sonneteer webpage):

Alabaster integrated amplifier:

  • Power output (RMS): ~52W into 8 ohm ~95W into 4 ohm
  • Number of inputs: Five+Line out.
  • Number of speaker term: Four pairs
  • Input Impedance: 11 kOhm
  • Input Sensitivity (CD): 470 mV rms
  • Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.004% @ 1kHz (Full Power)
  • Bandwidth: 8Hz to 80kHz
  • Dimensions: (HxWxD mm): 70 x 430 x 280
  • Net. Weight: Approx.: 12Kg

Byron CD-player:

  • Transport: High quality SONY CD mechanism
  • Power Supply: Twin transformer power supply
  • Clock: High stability crystal clock at 10ppm
  • D/A Converter: Delta Sigma Digital to Analogue converter
  • Analogue Filter: Differential second stage
  • Digital output: S/PDIF
  • Frequency response: 2Hz - 20kHz
  • Dynamic range: 96dB
  • Analogue output level: 1,95V
  • Dimensions (HxWxD): 70 x 430 x 280
  • Net. Weight Approx.: 7Kg

Manufacturer: Sonneteer (

Contact in Finland: Penaudio (






All Rights Reserved
© 2000-2006