Supravox Vouvray review: a powerful, energetic and balanced hybrid amplifier

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This week we reviewed the Supravox Vouvray tube amplifier, a hybrid model equipped with a tube preamplification stage and a class AB power stage. Behind its simple aluminum front panel and lacquered wood-covered chassis, the Supravox Vouvray houses an amplifier capable of delivering 2×70 watts into 8 ohms that has a high current capacity to serenely power all types of speakers.

Sold for 3,699 euros and a recipient of a Diapason d’Or award, will the French manufacturer’s first amplifier be able to compete with models from well-established brands in this field such as Cayin and McIntosh?

The Supravox Vouvray amplifier placed in between the Cayin CS-55A KT88 (left) and McIntosh MA252 (right).

Supravox Vouvray: the brand

Supravox’s story began in 1935 when a former naval engineer Mr. Dorliac created the company SEM (Super Electro Mechanical). SEM, which then manufactured machine components, started producing speakers shortly before the Second World War. After the war, SEM’s director of studies and production, Mr. Liebert, developed the brand’s first exponential cones. This led to the development of a range of full range drivers that were 6.7”, 8.2”, 9.4”, 11” and 13” in diameter and all equipped with an exponential cone. At the time, Alnico and Ticonal were the materials used for the magnets. The first SEM drivers with Alnico permanent magnets were manufactured in the late 40s.

Launched in the early 50s, the SEM X.F.53 driver was equipped with an AlNiCo magnet.

The Supravox trademark was registered in 1956 at the initiative of Mrs. Dorliac, thereby perpetuating the research and achievements of SEM, in particular its full range exponential cone drivers.

From 1956 to 1960, the consortium of TV and radio manufacturers led by Sylvain Floirat (the CGTVE, which includes Tévéa, AMPLIX, TELEMASTER, AIRPHONE…) ordered almost all of its drivers from Supravox, the models equipped with the magnetically shielded Ticonal motor in particular.

From 1958 to 1960, Supravox took part in research for the soundproofing of the Concorde’s cabin, using around forty speakers with 11” drivers.

In 1964, the RTF (French Radio and Television Broadcasting organization) was looking for full range drivers to equip its studio monitors. In response to this demand, Supravox created an 8½” full range driver under the reference 215 RTF 64. With its revolutionary exponential cone, this driver was used in the studios of the ORTF (Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française), RAI (Radiotelevisione italiana), RTL (Radio Television Luxembourg) and EUROPE 1, and is still enjoyed by many audiophiles today.

The Supravox 215 RTF 64 (left) and Supravox RTF 64 bi-cone (right) drivers.

At the same time, Mr. Léon developed his iconic Elipson conch speakers, with and without “rabbit ears”, which he equipped with the Supravox 215 driver and tweeter or 215 bi-cone driver.

Some Elipson speakers from the 45 series (above) as well as some Elipson BS50 speakers were equipped with a Supravox driver.

In the late 60s, Supravox carried out its first special studies for manufacturers. In 1968, the T 104 was introduced, a driver designed to equip emergency lane terminals on the motorway. Approximately 150,000 drivers of this type were made.

In 1977, Supravox introduced the KOS speaker, a 2-way bass-reflex model equipped with a 11” ticonal magnet midbass driver and a piezoelectric tweeter, with a natural woofer cutoff frequency of 5000Hz (16 dB/octave).

In 1979 Mrs Dorliac passed away, leading to the acquisition of Supravox by Mr. Ghio. While continuing the production of drivers, he began manufacturing high-fidelity speakers with the help of Mr. Jacques Boenich in his small cabinetwork facility in Noisy-le-Sec. This led to the creation of the Salon and Picola speakers, but also the RV subwoofer.

In 1993, Mr. Ghio closed the company as he couldn’t find a buyer when he retired. But in 1994, his friend Guy Le Cornec, a former acoustic engineer and Supravox apprentice decided to take a risk and invest everything to relaunch Supravox on the international market by releasing a new version of the 215 RTF 64 in 1995.

The 1995 version of the Supravox 215 driver benefitted from technical progress and new materials available at the time.

On October 1st, 1996, Supravox returned to the market by exploiting its expertise, new technologies and technical improvements made to materials (ferrites, papers, adhesives). The new range of Supravox drivers maintained the brand’s signature: high sensitivity full range drivers.

Production of these drivers was artisanal at first, initially carried out in Parisian cellars before moving to Saint-Pierre-des-Corps in Touraine from 1996 to 1999. Production then moved to Bléré until 2018. Parts were manufactured and assembled by hand in France.

The Touraine region was home to Supravox’s workshops for 22 years (here the former site in Bléré) and was the inspiration for the name of the Supravox Vouvray amplifier. Located on the northern banks of the Loire River, the town of Vouvray is also famous for its sparkling wine (which should be enjoyed in moderation!).

The company also resumed its industry and professional audio research and development activities, following design briefs to create new models: a 7.8” waterproof driver for Disneyland Paris’ outdoor sound system, a 5” waterproof megaphone driver for the marin-pompiers (military firefighters belonging to the French Navy, Ed.) that could work in temperatures ranging from -4°F to 302°F, and other exclusive models for high-end speaker manufacturers.

Following the death of Guy Le Cornec in 2009, his son Yann took over to ensure the continuity of the company.

In 2017, Akylis Capital bought Supravox with the goal of continuing to manufacture existing products while respecting the work accomplished by the brand. Driven by Jacques Vincent at the head of the company and technical director Cyrille Pinton, Supravox also began to develop new products for audiophiles.

The company then moved to new premises in Montévrain (Seine-et-Marne department) in October 2018. All production facilities were improved as Suprox invested in new machines (CNC ECOCA EL-4610E, CNC winding machine, TechnoPhysik 4 500J magnetizer, Audiomatica CLIO QC V5, etc.) and introduced new assembly tools designed and manufactured by the company itself.

Revealed to the public in late 2019, the Supravox Vouvray is the French brand’s first amplifier. Let’s hope that there will be more to follow.

Today, Supravox’s catalog includes drivers, speaker building kits for DIY enthusiasts, several speakers, subwoofers and the subject of this review, the Supravox Vouvray hybrid amplifier.

Supravox Vouvray: packaging & accessories

The Supravox Vouvray tube amplifier comes in a double cardboard box inside of which it is securely held in place in between two blocks of high density packing foam. It is wrapped in a fabric pouch designed to protect the lacquered finish from scratches.

One of the packing foam blocks has two cutouts to hold the solid aluminum remote control and the power cable with its thick protective and insulating sheath. Two user manuals are included, one in English and one in French, as well as two spare fuses.

A power cable, two user manuals (English and French) and a very elegant solid aluminum remote control all come with the Supravox Vouvray amplifier.

Supravox Vouvray: presentation

The Supravox Vouvray hybrid amplifier is the French brand’s first tube amp. While the preamplification stage uses vacuum tubes (two 12AU7 triode tubes), the class AB output stage is composed of transistors mounted in push-pull. Entirely designed in France, it is manufactured in China in accordance with very strict specifications to provide outstanding build quality as well as an affordable price for such a high-quality amplifier.

Solid aluminum front panel and buttons, lacquered wood casing, big vintage logo: the Supravox Vouvray amplifier is instantly appealing.

Vintage look

The Supravox Vouvray stereo amplifier’s design can be described as being understated and vintage. Its metal chassis is covered with a beautiful black lacquered wood casing that perfectly enhances the front panel, which is made from a single piece of solid aluminum. The construction cannot be faulted: it is perfect and exudes both luxury and solidity.

Three openings in the top right corner of the front panel reveal the gain stage’s two vacuum tubes. Underneath, from left to right, are the headphone jack, the balance potentiometer, the input selector and a larger volume potentiometer.

The left side of the front panel accommodates the power button as well as the brand logo and model name, above which are two needle VU meters (one per channel).

70 watts per channel/8 ohms

The Supravox Vouvray’s gain stage features two 12AU7 triode tubes. It is connected to a phase shifter stage equipped with bipolar transistors (2SB and 2SD series). The class AB output stage uses two bipolar transistors (Toshiba 2SA1943 and 2SC5200) mounted in push-pull. This configuration provides a generous output power of 2 x 70 watts into 8 ohms that can reach 2 x 120 watts into 4 ohms.

Large power supply

The Supravox Vouvray’s power transformer is an EI model designed and custom-built to deliver the voltages required for tube input stages. It also provides the amplifier with a high current capacity, allowing it to drive the vast majority of speakers on the market, including those that are considered demanding.

Analog inputs

Even though dematerialized audio content has become the norm, the Supravox Vouvray amplifier hasn’t taken this into account and only features analog inputs. The amplifier’s rear panel features three stereo RCA line inputs as well as a Phono MM input with integrated preamplification and RIAA equalization.

The Supravox Vouvray exclusively has analog connectors.

This can seem somewhat anachronistic given the large number of hi-fi amplifiers equipped with an integrated DAC and USB, optical and coaxial digital inputs available on the market. Looking at it optimistically, however, this gives the user the freedom to choose which USB audio DAC or network audio player to use according to their requirements and budget.

Lastly, it is important to note that the front panel of the Supravox Vouvray amplifier features a 6.35mm jack headphone output that can power the majority of hi-fi headphones on the market.

Remote control

The Supravox Vouvray amplifier’s remote control is very elegant and we loved the big vintage brand logo. Its all-aluminum casing looks reliable. This remote control won’t break if it accidentally falls out of your hand. Although its features are limited to volume control and a mute button, the amplifier’s potentiometer reacts almost instantly when one of the buttons is pressed and its motor is pretty quiet. The only complaint that could be made would be about the buttons, which seem slightly loose and don’t have a premium feel when pressed.

The Supravox Vouvray’s remote control is made of solid aluminum.

Key specifications

Design

  • Dual triode tube gain stage (2 x 12AU7)
  • Phase shifter stage with 2SB and 2SD series bipolar transistors
  • Push-Pull 2SA1943 and 2SC5200 from Toshiba
  • EI power supply
  • Symmetrical filtering provided by two 10,000μF capacitors
  • 2 VU meters indicating peak power output
  • Balance and volume settings
  • Source selector
  • Infrared remote control
  • RIAA phono preamplifier with integrated 5532 circuits
  • Headphone output
  • Manufacturing: France / China

Specifications

  • Output power: 70W + 70W RMS at 8Ω / 120W + 120W RMS at 4Ω
  • Frequency response (±1.5dB): 20Hz – 20KHz
  • THD: 0.05%.
  • S/N ratio: 90dB
  • Line Input Sensitivity: 175mV
  • Phono Sensitivity (MM): 1mV
  • Input impedance: 10kΩ
  • Output impedance: 4Ω, 8Ω
  • Tubes: 2x 12AU7
  • Replacement tubes: 12AU7EH, ECC82, E82CC

Connectors

  • 3 x RCA line inputs
  • 1 x RCA Phono MM input
  • Banana plug compatible screw terminals (1 pair of speakers)
  • 1 x headphone output (6.35mm jack)

General

  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 430 x 188 x 358mm
  • Net weight: 19.5kg
  • Power supply required: 230V at ±5% (50Hz)
  • Consumption: 260W (230V 1.5A)

Package contents

  • 1 x Vouvray amplifier
  • 1 x removable power cable
  • 1 x remote control
  • 2 x user manuals (French / English)
  • 2 x fuses

Supravox Vouvray: listening conditions

For our review of the Supravox Vouvray stereo amplifier, we connected it to a pair of Elipson Legacy 3210 compact speakers placed on NorStone Stylum 2 natural oak finish speaker stands, as well as a pair of Klipsch Heresy IV speakers. The speakers were connected to the amplifier using QED XT40i cables mounted with banana plugs. For our analog source, we chose a Rega Planar 3 (Rega P3) turntable equipped with a Denon DL103 cartridge and paired with a Thorens MM08 phono preamplifier. The preamplifier was connected to the amplifier using a NorStone Jura RCA cable. To listen to CD-quality and Hi-Res digital audio files up to 24/96 via Qobuz, we used a network audio player equipped with an Asahi Kasei DAC.

We tested the Supravox Vouvray amplifier with the beautiful Elipson Legacy 3210 compact speakers and Klipsch Heresy IV speakers. To the left of the amp, you can see the Rega Planar 3 turntable.

Supravox Vouvray: listening impressions

We began our test of the Supravox Vouvray amplifier by first pairing it with the Elipson Legacy 3210 compact speakers. We used the Rega P3 turntable to play Serge Gainsbourg’s album Aux armes et caetera, Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace, and the Hisaishi meets Miyazaki Films compilation album.

We listened to a few vinyl records for the first stage of our Supravox Vouvray amplifier test.

“Javanaise Remake (Dub Style)” (Aux armes et caetera) – Serge Gainsbourg: from the very first drum beats, the Supravox Vouvray demonstrated its ability to control speakers. This impression was confirmed by the generous and nicely articulated bassline. The cymbals were aerial and beautifully clear, the percussion instruments spread out on either side of the singer with a lot of energy and a perfectly controlled tempo, the lows were deep, well modulated and reactive. Serge Gainsbourg’s voice stood out clearly from the rest and had texture and substance: the artist’s sensuous inflections at the end of the word “love” swept us away.

“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” (Amazing Grace) – Aretha Franklin: a complete change of genre here with this album, recorded in 1972 in the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts, California. This was the opportunity to gauge the amplifier’s ability to reproduce the unique acoustics of this recording. On this rather upbeat track, the soundstage unfolded in a realistic manner with the singer at the center, the choir spread out horizontally behind her, the Reverend James Cleveland on the piano slightly to the left, the drums and bass to the right. The amplifier was entirely devoted to this piece, fully conveying all the intensity of Aretha’s voice and those of the other artists present. This energetic track was never tiring, and it was easy to let ourselves be carried away by the enthusiasm of the congregation. We were in awe listening to this extraordinary signer and her magical voice.

The Elipson Legacy 3210 speakers and the Supravox Vouvray amplifier are exceptionally well-matched.

“The Dragon Boy / The Bottomless Pit” (Hisaishi meets Miyazaki Films) – Joe Hisaishi: with this iconic orchestral score by the Japanese composer, the Supravox Vouvray showed us the full extent of its talent. It displayed softness during the opening with the piano and xylophone before revealing amazing energy with the thunderous percussion, providing astonishing impact. The strings and brass scores were striking, with great velocity in the transients and tremendous energy. The gong resonated with amplitude. It was very rhythmic, perfectly timed, vast and nicely laid out. We were impressed by the accuracy of the timbres (the brass instruments, in particular, were superb) provided by the amplifier, the way it harnessed energy and its ability to organize the sound space in such a way that every element was well organized and remained intelligible despite the outbursts of decibels that occurred at times.

The Supravox Vouvray’s power reserve makes it possible to fully exploit the dynamic potential of the Klipsch Heresy IV’s 12” woofer, even at low volume.

We then switched to the network player to access our Qobuz playlists on an Android smartphone. We also took the opportunity to connect the Klipsch Heresy IV speakers to the Supravox Vouvray.

“Green & Gold” (Blood – 24-bit/44.1kHz) – Lianne La Havas: the guitar notes in the opening were smooth, delicate and quickly highlighted by the aerial cymbal. The strong bassline then came to rhythm the piece, supported by the drums. The lows were tight, intense and excellently controlled. The singer’s voice provided a velvety rhythm. She seemed to be in the room with us, her voice effortlessly taking shape right in front of us. The Vouvray amplifier had no trouble handling the speaker’s 12” woofer, which delivered generous, deep and responsive bass. At 2’43”, the artist’s singing unfolded across the room with a convincing echo effect. The finger clicking was just as realistic, before the track resumed with just as much energy as before.

“Make it Rain” (Muscle Shoals – 24-bit/44.1kHz) – Foy Vance: the Supravox Vouvray conveyed with accuracy and emotion the intimate blues/jazzy atmosphere of this track. The drummer’s hits at the beginning seemed to fall in slow motion, yet a certain heaviness was revealed by the amp. The artist’s sometimes hoarse voice was accurately reproduced. The brass instruments, keyboard and guitar were restituted with confidence and precision. Each instrument was correctly positioned. What a delight for the ears!

“Devil Inside” (Kick – 16-bit/44.1kHz) – INXS: thanks to the Supravox Vouvray, we were able to experience all of the energy in this very lively track from the Australian group. It was clean and precise like any good 80s pop-rock hit, but we were impressed by the texture of Michael Hutchene’s voice, which was excellently reproduced. The Klipsch Heresys speakers’ 12” low frequency drivers were generously powered by the Vouvray amplifier, which allowed them to do justice to the energetic drumming and omnipresent bass without faltering, even at (very) high volume. The guitar and cymbals were transparent and lively without hurting our eardrums. What a nostalgia trip!

Supravox Vouvray: compared to…

Cayin CS-55A KT88: the Cayin features not only a tube preamplifier, but also a tube power stage. It is a little less powerful than the Supravox model both in theory and in practice, and is also less rigorous and fast in terms of note attacks and bass response. That said, it is important to keep in mind the fact that it is available for half the price of the Supravox Vouvray. The more dynamic and lively French amp doesn’t have digital audio inputs like the Cayin, but it provided us with more musical pleasure…

McIntosh MA252: the MA252 is the American manufacturer’s entry-level model (sold for €4,990), but that doesn’t mean that its performance is any less than stellar! Soft, refined and smooth, this hybrid amplifier knows how to effectively power any speakers you pair it with. Providing lows that aren’t as powerful but have more substance, the Supravox Vouvray has nothing to be ashamed of in comparison. It offers a balanced, energetic and lively sound.

Supravox Vouvray: conclusion  

During our review of the Supravox Vouvray amplifier, we were impressed by its remarkable performance. It displays constant linearity and vitality, no matter the volume. Both its power reserve and control in the lows are impressive. The bass is clean, punchy and precise while remaining smooth and nuanced.

We found that the tones were very accurate and appreciated the reproduction of the vocals; as well as the substance of the realistic sounding instruments. The presentation is spacious, with a soundstage that is both deep and wide. As a result, the Supravox Vouvray amplifier provides very convincingly organized sound levels, allowing the different elements of the soundstage to be positioned with ease.

As you can well imagine, we were thoroughly impressed by the Supravox Vouvray hybrid amplifier’s perfectly handled power and overall balance, which results in a rich, natural and lively sound. This is a great amplifier!

What we liked

  • The power reserve
  • The balanced frequency ranges and the linearity
  • The smooth, deep and nuanced lows
  • The spatialization of the sound stage
  • The tonal accuracy

What we would have liked

  • Nothing else

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