Ron Nagle

July 2004


Kind of like the words in that old song: You can’t blame me for feeling amorous, these amps are simply glamorous, are they wonderful, marvelous, just you wait and see … or something like that. In any event, it looks like Roy Hall has done it again. The Shanling Audio SP-80 is a drop-dead-gorgeous, art deco with a touch of Fritz Lang, EL-34 based amplifier from China, Shenzhen China to be exact. It’s a computer-executed forte of milled aluminum brought to the US by Music Hall, the U.S. distributor of the SP-80 and ten other sensibly priced products, most notably the CDT-100 and SCD-T200 CD and SACD players which are styled with the same cool retro look as the excellent Mambo solid-state integrated amplifier I reviewed earlier this year.

The Hardware

When unpacking the SP-80s one of the first things you’ll see is a pair of white cotton gloves neatly folded on top of the molded foam inserts. This is a great idea because, immediately, two important things are conveyed even before you lay eyes on the contents: value and craftsmanship. Proceeding with my now gloved hands I carefully removed the amplifiers from their molded inserts and in the same fashion, the four matched tubes all contained in a triple walled cardboard carton. As I lifted them into position, I would guess they weighed in at about 33 pounds per amp. That was yet another favorable quality that impressed me and reassured me that no cheap economy was utilized in their manufacture. 

The top of the amps are milled from solid blocks of satin finished aluminum attached to a rectangular aluminum chassis supported by gold-plated round posts at each of the four corners, the posts have half-round rubber cushions on the bottom. The overall appearance is a very visually striking mixture of pale champagne and satin silver with gold and bright chrome accents. The two driver tubes are a 6N8 and a 6N9 both enclosed in Deco chrome three ring cages. The technical aspects of these amplifiers are scant and I find this to be true of most Chinese manufactured audio components. I had to phone Roy Hall to find out what class of operation the SP-80s used and he informed me that it was running “A/B”. This makes sense when you consider that they are rated at 50 Watts per side and they are using two EL 34 tubes at the output. I suspect that they are running far more Class B than Class A possibly like AB/1 but that is only conjecture on my part. I remember my old Dynaco 70 used two EL 34 output tubes per channel and developed only a little more than 30 Watts. Additionally supporting this theory is the fact that during breaks in and with prolonged use, the tubes ran fairly hot but never got really hot.

When it comes to peculiarities, these monoblock amplifiers have more than one. They operate by a hand held remote in a master/slave configuration. A thin cable terminated with 2.5 mm plugs at each end connects the amplifiers at the back next to three gold binding post’s labeled 4 and 8 Ohms. A small, two-position toggle switch (also on the back of each chassis) allows you to select which is the master control amplifier and which is the slave. The owner’s manual doesn’t specify which amplifier should be the master. When I first powered them up one of the amplifiers blue florescent displays had a meaningless collection of bars and dots. I had to reverse the position of the toggle switches to get both displays to make sense. That was not the only consideration, if you switch on the slave amplifier before the master you will get the same garbled results so it will necessitate a bit of trial and error to get it right. When not in use, you can switch the amps to mute and not turn them off so they can idle and remain warm. However, when it comes to tubes doing that would not be my choice. One last nit to pick: Only one version of the milled aluminum remote control is used for all of the Shanling products. So you will find yourself with a very versatile product but only three of the many functions actually do any thing. You can dim the display or control the volume or switch the amp to mute that’s it, I do wish it were a functionally dedicated remote control. 

Aural Aspects

I initially used the SP-80 Monoblocks in my reference system powering my rebuilt modified Quad ESL-63 panels. They remained in that position for about a month and in that time I played a wide variety of recordings. Many times I sat in front of those speakers with paper in front of me scribbling away and taking notes. More than once I took a break trying to gather my thoughts together looking for some Geshtalt concept. When I eventually found it, it turned out to be something like a Seinfeld show plot, “About Nothing”! More exactly I heard nothing bad but then again I was not really moved to write anything at all. These amplifiers on these speakers somehow did exactly what they were supposed to do save one small thing they never involved me in the performance. As I sat at my keyboard, I was still partially at a loss to explain it. I know it was probably a mismatch of some kind but according to the Quad people these 50-watt amps are more than the 30-watt minimum recommended, so that wasn’t it. Also you can get decent bass, but not very deep bass, from these 50-Watt amplifiers so that still doesn’t explain it.
I decided I had to turn to my little Aurum Cantus SE’s; and once again they helped to fill in many of the answers I searched for.

These are Chinese two-way speakers that use an AC G2 ribbon tweeter that is super revealing because it is super fast. Originally I purchased them to review cables reasoning that any small nonlinear response would be easy to hear. I powered up this pairing and all quite suddenly, serendipity! What a match they made. It was hard not to let you toes start tapping. The Shanling SP-80’s and the Aurum Cantus were seemingly made for each other. Nothing is hidden save the last octave-and-a-half of bass. From the mid bass on up to the limits of my hearing they are fast detailed and sing with a natural harmonic tonality that lets you hear into the performance. I recently bought a used CD of the Paul Simon album, “Graceland”. My two favorite cuts are tracks 5 and 6, Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes and You Can Call Me Al. At four minutes intoDiamonds you can hear Ladysmith Black Mambazo as a deep background rumble growing louder underneath a complex layering way back in the center image. I love the way the electric bass in these two songs threads the music together and under lines the arrangement instead of simply establishing a tempo.


I have used the Aurum Cantus speakers with a total of five different amplifiers now, two of them costing a lot more than the $2,490 Shanling SP-80. So far, this is the best sound I’ve heard from them. Furthermore, I know that I can listen through the speakers and hear the amplifier driving them; I know what characteristics they impart to the sound. Apparently what was needed was speed and dynamics to complement the amp’s inherent tonal accuracy. At this point, you might be, “thinking that’s fine and dandy but I don’t have your ribbon-equipped speakers.” That’s true, but the point is the Hi-def Aurum Cantus speakers would most certainly reveal any amplifier-related weaknesses if they had any. Let me put it another way, the faster and more revealing your system is the better. It doesn’t absolutely have to include a ribbon tweeter. The Krell LAT-1 speaker immediately comes to mind as an example of a highly detailed conventional piston driver system with lightning reflexes. The Shanling SP-80 amplifiers, matched suitably with efficient high-resolution speakers, honor the sound of music without imposing anything on it. For me, they would form the heart of a second smaller system, that is if I didn’t live in a space limited apartment. They look wonderful and sound great and they certainly merit your audition. I wish I could keep them.

Rated output power: 50 Watts RMS @ 8 Ohms 
Total harmonic distortion (THD+N): < 0.1%
Frequency response at rated power: 20Hz- 30kHz +/- 1db.
Load resistance: 4-8 Ohms.
Signal to noise ratio: >90db.
Input: RCA
Mains power: ~100V – 120V @ 60Hz.
Line fuse: T2.5 Amp @ 250V A C.
Power consumption: 400W Max.
Dimensions: (mm) 205 W X195 H X 460 D.
Net weight: 15 kg.

Music Hall: 108 Station Road Great Neck, NY 11023
Tel: 516- 487-3663
Fax: 516-773-3891

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  1. Neil B says:

    Puurrrrrrrrrr, Can you hear me, I own a pair. In fact, I’m listening to Dave Brubeck Blue Rondo A La Turk through my Impulse Lali speakers, Hiang Sheng T28A tube pre-amp, powered by 2 Shanling SP-80. Never was a better time for the EL34 tubes.
    Newcastle, UK

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