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Integrated amplifier
Rock II (Anniversary Edition)

Price (in Poland): 12 000 zł

Manufacturer: SoundArt

ul. Chrzanowskiego 14 | 04-392 Warszawa | Polska
tel.: 22 670 75 50 | 602 216 782 | 501 057 377


Manufacturer’s website:

Country of origin: Poland

Text: Marek Dyba
Photos: Marek Dyba

Published: 3. April 2013, No. 108

ZI assume that most of you know, or at least heard about Polish audio manufacturer SoundArt. If not from some personal experience than surely from Audio Show exhibitions, because this company has been participating in it for many years now (see HERE). If I remember correctly it was the StandArt brand that appeared on the market first, with the product range consisting of some audio stands with oil damping, and spring suspension, and some speaker stands. The designs were based on solid engineering and they did their job very well so many people attracted by the uncompromising designs paid quite a lot of money (comparing to the competition at the time) to get these for their systems.
SoundArt is another brand created by two exactly the same guys - Sławomir Lewandowski and Sylwester Witkowski. The design of the devices they manufacture: integrated amplifiers, CD Player, headphone amp polarizes potential customers strongly – some love it, some hate it (it's not just mine opinion, but also of many people I talked about that). But even if the design, the look of these devices might be somehow controversial, their performance was always excellent, allowing them to compete with many foreign, well known brands. At least two reviewers I know (Alek Rachwałd and Paweł Gołębiewski) bought Jazz amplifier for they reference systems (Paweł also had Sarah CD Player) as their need for having very well performing amp out-weighted the vanity each audiophile has in him, that tells us to buy some well known brand rather than even better performing but unknown one. I had a chance to listen to Jazz in systems of both these gentlemen and I could only concur that this was a great choice for a reviewer as it offered great performance, clean, transparent sound that allowed to easily distinguish differences between reviewed products, plus it also had a lot of output power and current to drive even the most difficult loads. Of course the same reasons should be good enough for most audiophiles to buy Jazz for their systems. Such a purchase should stay in most rigs for many years, surviving many changes of other elements, before it would eventually become the weakest link. I considered it for my system some time ago, and what stopped me was its size, as it's really huge (especially the depth is way above average), and it also weights a LOT, which would make it extremely difficult for me to move it around.


Recordings used during test (a selection)

  • Georges Bizet, Carmen, RCA Red Seal 74321 39495 2, CD/FLAC.
  • AC/DC, Back in black, SONY, B000089RV6, CD/FLAC.
  • Etta James, Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson, Blues in the Night, Vol.1: The Early Show, Fantasy, B000000XDW, CD/FLAC.
  • Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio, Autumn in Seattle, FIM XRCD 043, CD.
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela, 11:11, EMI Music Poland, 5651702, CD/FLAC.
  • Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin, Atlantic/Warner Music, WPCR-11611, CD/FLAC.
  • Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones, Live At The Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981, Eagle Rock Entertainment, B0085KGHI6, CD/FLAC.
  • Pink Floyd, Wish you were here, EMI Records Japan, TOCP-53808, CD/FLAC.
  • The Ray Brown Trio, Summer Wind, Concord Jazz, CCD-4426, CD/FLAC.
  • Renaud Garcia-Fons, Oriental bass, Enja, B000005CD8, CD/FLAC.
  • Buddy Guy, Blues singer, Silvertone 01241-41843-2, CD/FLAC.
  • Isao Suzuki, Blow up, Three Blind Mice, B000682FAE, CD/FLAC.

Although it took place almost 10 years ago I remember my first experience with Rock amplifier, which was than, and still is, the entry level amp in SoundArt's portfolio. It looked differently then, with tubes not hidden inside casing and with transformers covered with tower-like cans, which made it look like a power plant or space ship rather than integrated amplifier one would want to place in one's living room. So while some customers valued this design for being so exotic, others thought it too extravagant. Obviously no matter what you do, what kind of design you offer there will always be some happy customers and some that will not buy the product because they don't like its looks. Anyway the looks of the first Rock might have been bit too controversial so guys from SoundArt decided to make a new version, that not only would offer a better performance but also different, hopefully less controversial looks. The Rock II gained a new casing, looking similar to the one of Jazz model. It is still not a design that will be liked by everybody, but it is definitely less controversial, more people should like it, and I think much less can now reject Rock only because of how it looks.

All SoundArt's integrated amplifiers are hybrid designs with tube preamplifier and solid-state output stage. At the moment three models are being offered: Rock, Jazz i Swing (although the future of the last one is unclear as many of special solutions used initially only in it, have been implemented in the new version of Jazz).
For this test I received not only the newest, second version of Rock, called Rock II, but also its special, anniversary version, that was prepared in a short, five pieces batch only. The difference between regular Rock II and the Anniversary Edition is a separate power supply in the latter, and usage of some higher quality elements in the main circuit. The front of the reviewed version looks exactly the same as of the regular one. It's the back panel that tells us the difference – instead of classic IEC socket, there is another multi-pin one. Using a special cable, delivered with the device, one has to connect it with the second box, the power supply. The design of a front panel can't really be confused with any other brand – it is very SoundArt like. Two large knobs close to side edges, and a display that is hidden under a trapezoid-like shaped piece of plastic (acrylic possibly), that is wider on top, and than narrows towards the lower edge. Side walls are in fact radiators, and the top panel includes company's logo that is cut out through the cover but, as a precaution, designers placed a grid there so no one could stick their fingers inside. On the other hand that grid works as a small ventilation window for the circuits inside. On the back panel, apart from already mentioned multi-pin power socket, there are solid speaker bindings, two RCA inputs, and a XLR input. Remote control is another handy feature of this device. The external power supply, even though many will probably hide it away behind audio stand, has its own classy metal casing, with IEC socket on one side, multi-pin to connect it to the amplifier on the opposite, four nice rubber feet on the bottom, and a nice logo on the cover. The power cable that delivers current from power supply to the amplifier is very thick and stiff – that limits a bit a choice of position, where power supply can be placed. Mr Sylwester told me that it was this cable that in fact took the most time and effort to make for the anniversary version of Rock. Looking at my pictures I'm sorry to say that I did not manage to catch the look of this unit properly – actually it looks much better than on my photos. Surely you can't compare it to the golden beauties from Accuphase, but it's surely a solidly build and nicely finished amp, with quite an original look. As I have surely written many times already I'm much more interested in how the device sounds rather than how it looks, but I believe that in this particular case even people with high aesthetic expectations will be satisfied.

I've already mentioned my first encounter with original version of Rock, that took place nearly 10 years ago. We had an audiophile's meeting then and were comparing three Polish amplifiers. There was SoundArt Rock obviously, but also one of Baltlab's and Amplificator's (I think) products. It's been some years ago so I don't really recall all the details but I do remember that majority of participants in this particular system preferred Rock over competitors, because of its organic and very dynamic sound. As I remember it there was no huge difference in the class of performance of all three amps, but rather in the way each of them presented music, and it was Rock's presentation that in this particular system most of us recognized as the most „listener friendly”, most natural. As already mentioned it's been almost 10 years and now there is a new version of Rock. Some changes were made and not only about its looks, but also about its circuits, that allowed it to offer twice as much output power. Still, my first impression was similar to the one from 10 years ago – a smooth, natural sound, which might not seem to be what one might expect from an amplifier called „Rock”. I mean, considering the names of two other models – Jazz and Swing – one has to conclude that this „Rock” is about a music genre, rather than a piece of stone. And if so one would expect first of all some stunning dynamics, huge energy, thunderous bass, and maybe a bit offensive sound – everything that one might associate with rock music. Well, it is all there, but these features of the sound were not the first ones I recognized. Acoustic recording I started my listening session with, might be the answer why... The acoustic recording, of my favorite Ray Brown for example, require first of all elements like: smoothness, richness, correct timbre, acoustic surround, decay, sustaintion, and so on, to be presented in accurate, natural way, that could convince, or trick if you will, listener that he's listening to the live music and not just a reproduction.

Rock, as one would expect from a 'rock' creature showed its capability in lower range when delivering Ray's bass with proper weight and power, and the bass was properly tuneful, with lots of 'wood' in the sound, with fast attack and long decay. It also allowed bass to breathe which made it's sound even more natural and palpable. To be honest if I didn't know I might have thought I was listening to a tube amplifier, or maybe class A transistor not a hybrid design, as such amplifiers deliver bass with lots of 'body' and weight, and they take a very good care of decay, reverberations and so on. Many inexpensive solid-state amplifiers can't deliver a proper bass as most of them shorten the decay, taking care rather of speed of low frequencies and forgetting that these need also proper body, weight, and when that happens what we get is something closer to an electric bass guitar rather than to an acoustic bass. Rock doesn't make this mistake. It's better if I don't start a discussion whether this is due to its hybrid design, hence tubes on board, but... I think there might be something to it.

On the other hand SoundArt, as many rather solid-state amps, delivered amazing piano with its great size, weight and volume of the sound, that was also truly resonant, vibrant . At this price level these elements are usually delivered in a better, more convincing way by transistors. The Rock obviously showed here that it could compete not only with any other amplifier of a similar price, but also with many, as much as twice more expensive ones. The way it presented drums proved that hybrid technology was a good choice as it allowed to combine advantages of both technologies. On one hand there was proper speed, bass extension, very good grip, rock-like power, but on the other each sound was rich, saturated, and nicely differentiated. Moving to the other extreme – cymbals sounded crisp, resonant and properly 'metallic' while having also proper weight, so they never sounded too bright, or too harsh, which happens often to inexpensive solid-states.
The reviewed amplifier dealt with soundstage and spacing like... a good tube device – each of three instruments had its own place, 3D shape that maybe wasn't the most precisely drawn, but good enough. The soundstage usually (depending also on the recording) started between speakers or slightly behind them, and developed nicely towards the back. Sound was never offensive, not „reaching out” to the listener. When it comes to just three instruments delivering proper spacing might seem easy, but to do it truly right is a challenge for many amplifiers I know. Why it only seems easy? Because with just three instruments on the stage everything is plain and simple – you can't hide any downsides of the presentation, each aspect must be delivered in the best possible way, because if it's not listener notices immediately. This 12 kPLN amplifier did many things equally well as my own reference Modwright rig (costing twice as much) – that should tell you a lot.

OK than, let's move to more 'complex' music, even to the most 'complex' one – let's listen to an opera. Obviously I was going to use the same one, I had often used for tests - Carmen with Karajan conducting The Wiener Philharmoniker, with amazing Leontyna Price as the main character. I like to use this recording during my tests as it contains all elements one would need to assess any audio device. Sure it's a recording from around 50 years ago, but it is still a very special one, better than many contemporary ones both soundwise and performancewise, it's a true masterpiece of RCA Red Label.
Let's start from the end, from stereo imaging and presentation of dynamic events happening on the stage. Comparing to my Modwright setup Rock did shrink a bit the huge soundstage, but it did that keeping correct proportions. The depth of the soundstage was somewhat smaller but the proportions of distances between soloists in the front and choirs wondering around in the back were still the same. In fact I felt like I sat further from the stage rather than like the soundstage and everything on it became smaller. What I always look for when listening to this particular recording is how well the reviewed piece of equipment delivers all the movement on the stage as both soloists and the choirs in the back move around a lot. Rock dealt with that bravely being very close to what my Modwright system delivered in comparison. Vocals sounded naturally, with nice presentation of their timbre and texture; there was also w very nice differentiation, and smoothness that made them sound very live-like. Sure, my 300B SET delivers the same voices even in richer, smoother form, which makes them even more compelling, but it comes with some cost in both range extremes. Rock delivers voices in a very natural way, without pushing them forward and without a „cost” of rounded and/or slightly rolled-off upper treble and lower bass. It is the treble and bass in fact, that prove clearly how well tonally balanced Rock is. At the bottom, when it came to this thunderous entry of bass section that I always mention, this time it was truly powerful, dynamic, visceral even, and the attack wasn't hardened. That's what I mentioned already before – acoustic instruments bear some natural softness of their sound so to play them right the system, or any of its elements, must not harden their sound, as many inexpensive solid-state amplifiers unfortunately do. But SoundArt amp played it right – with proper power, kick, but with no hardening. Same goes for treble - when it came to a triangle or some bell these tiny instruments delivered crisp, vibrant sound, that might have almost drilled a hole in my ears, but the key word here is „almost”, as in the real life they never cross this line between crisp and vibrant, and harsh and unpleasant sound. Also in this case Rock II performed very well, delivering very nice, vibrant sounds with a nice, long decay, and these sounds were never unpleasant.
Such a 'large', dense recording with soloists, choirs, and orchestra allowed to assess Rock's surprisingly (considering price range) good resolution and selectivity, but also micro and macro dynamics. Putting it as simple as possible – the new SoundArt's integrated amplifier dealt at least well with each and every aspect of the presentation which, again – considering its price, is an extraordinary achievement of its designers.

Taking the name of this amplifier into consideration I had to get to rock, but also blues music at some point of this test. What is a must, if you want to play this kind of music, is a proper pace&rhythm, as nor rock, nor blues can sound well without it. There are few elements that contribute to pace&rhythm factor. First of all amplifier needs a very good grip over speakers (which might not be very difficult with Ardento Alter speakers), and that means delivering fast attack, and being able to cut off any sound immediately too, if necessary, and the other important feature is a good timing. I guess that the Rock's designers wouldn't even think about calling it with is current name, if it did not offer all these feature/aspects of the sound. And I have to admit that rhythm is really agile, which comes handy when fantastic Aussies from AC/DC start their rock'n'roll madness, but also when you listen to some psychedelic suite of good, old Pink Floyd, or even when it comes to some slow blues by the King of Delta. It does not matter whether it is about slow or fast rhythm, it always comes with this amazing hypnotic factor, that engages listener totally, making him tap, rock his head, dance or whatsoever. Pace was also relayed nicely – as usually I haven't tried any crazy-pace trash metal, but guys from AC/DC also serve their rock'n'roll really fast, and Rock II kept the pace with them without sweat. You have to remember that AC/DC recordings are surely not 'audiophile quality' ones, so making sure everything is presented in an orderly way is quite some challenge, that Rock dealt with swiftly. And even though I wrote before that in general Rock's sound is smooth, but when there is a need (like in rock) to sound bit rough (electric rock guitars rarely sound sweet) it does that. But again, rough if necessary, yes, but never too harsh, or too bright.
While listening to some blues I focused for some time on vocals. I liked these in Carmen, as they sounded rich, smooth and natural. This time I listened to many different voices of some wonderful vocalists like: Etta James, Janis Joplin and Rysio Riedel or John Lee Hooker. Although these vocals might not have been so palpable, so rich, so full of emotions as when played by my 300B SET, but they still sounded better than I expected them to. Nice timbre, texture presentation, lots of emotions and 'feeling' – so everything that is necessary to play the blues was there.


The simplest summary from my point of view would be this: if, which is not impossible in this economy, I had to downgrade my system, Rock II would be on a very short list of potential purchases. Why? Because it does everything at least well, or I can put it other way around: it never does anything wrong, it doesn't have any real weaknesses. In some aspects like pace&rhythm, or dynamics Rock is at least as good as my Modwright rig, and in some others like richness of the sound, resolution and selectivity it might be not quite as good, but, as usually in audio business, it is much smaller difference than the price would suggest. Its sound, maybe because of tube preamplifier, or because of both, tubes and MOSFETs on board, is really smooth, coherent and engaging. According to Mr Sylwester Witkowski (I did not have a chance to compare myself so I can only quote him) there is no huge performance difference between regular and anniversary version of Rock II, which means that you can have almost this level of performance at just 9 kPLN (!). I do not know any other integrated amplifier at this price level that would offer similar level of performance. On the other hand additional 3 kPLN for a separate power supply that usually improves performance (when done properly, of course, which, I have no doubts, is the case here) seems reasonable. And at 12 kPLN I still see no competition that could offer such an amazingly good sound.


ROCK II is an integrated amplified of a hybrid design, with tube preamplifier stage and a solid-state output stage. Unlike previous version, this one has a closed casing, with tubes hidden inside, that looks similar to other SoundArt models. We have received a special version of a Rock II, that was prepared as an anniversary addition in a limited series of 5 pieces. The main difference between regular and anniversary version is a separate power supply in the latter. The front of the amplifier is the same in both versions and it's been already described. Rock II is a dual-mono design, with independent power supply lines for both channels. In the reviewed version, power transformers sit in a separate casing. The tube preamplifier section is build around a double triode ECC83. The circuit uses voltage regulators to deliver DC current to the tubes. The output stage is build around Internacional Rectifier's MOSFETs, It's uses a push-pull topology with negative feedback, and it is working in Class AB. The whole circuit (on/off switch, volume control and input selector) is electronically controlled by a programmable ATMEL microcontroller.

Specification (according to the manufacturer)

Output power: 2 x 100 W/4 Ω
Frequency response: 5 Hz – 90 kHz (- 3 dB)
Slew rate: 80 V /µs
Damping factor: > 300
Inputs: 3 (1 x XLR, 2 x RCA)
Weight: 14 kg