IOTAVX SA3 vs Muzishare X7

When you’re looking in the budget / mid-fi range for 2-channel audio gear the first component you’ll most likely hear about is the IOTAVX SA3 integrated amplifier. It’s a great piece of gear from the U.K. that has two things going for it:

  • Great quality amplification for the price
  • A great upgrade path that lets you add a single mono block amp later on down the line when you want more power. Their setup allows you to utilize the SA3’s internal stereo amp in bridge mode outputting 100wpc for a relatively budget price.

If you’re looking for a budget(ish) tube amp that outputs the same power (45 wpc @ 8ohms) then you’ve probably heard of the Muzishare X7. It’s a great option if you want tube sound around the $1k USD mark, and looks pretty great to boot.

In this review I compare both amps’ sound signature to each other, and even throw in a tube preamp into the mix with the Feliks Euforia:

Watch the video above for the full rundown. I’ll post my song test notes here. They’re not pretty or formatted perfectly but that’s why they’re notes =)


Song Tests

  • Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
    • Tubes all the way. The solid state IOTAVX has more definition on all points of the spectrum but the soundstage and euphonics are not there, at least compared to the X7 in triode mode. The song feels bigger in scope and is the most pleasing to hear with the Muzishare.
    • Using the Euforia as a pre for the IOTAVX it did open things up a bit but the sound still leaned more solid state than it did tube.
  • Survival – Muse
    • Even though this is a rock song Muse loves including full orchestras on their tracks, to much appreciation of their fans. This is the song that I felt most torn on. While the tubes did provide that sense of epic-ness and airy-ness for the guitar solos and riffs, I actually preferred the IOTAVX for this song as it kept things dynamic and provided the best separation.
    • So here’s where you think the middle ground would win out, with the Euforia as the pre. This is partly true. In my case the bass sounded a bit on the bloaty and not as controlled as I preferred. This may have been just an issue with the tubes I was using with the Euforia and the IOTAVX was just amplifying that. Either way I had to turn the bass down on the SA3 and that sense of scope felt like it was missing compared to the other two setups.
    • In the end the IOTAVX was the most engaging with its superior dynamics and separation. The X7 wins out for the easiest listen. If you just want to chill out listening to music at home for longer periods of time, either for unwinding after work, or while having something on in the background while working from home, the rolled off presentation of the X7 makes busier rocks tracks an easier and more natural listen. It really just depends what mood you’re in.
  • Homoa – Kalana P’ea
    • Very sweet and pleasing acoustic song with male vocals. So with the Muzishare I initially tested in ultralinear mode because I wanted the details to better compete with the solid state options. It wasn’t until I switched to triode mode later that a big smile came across my face when I noticed the change in vocals and soundstage. Bigger body, more presence, more euphony. It felt more like being at a live show, and was just so pleasing all around that I’m really glad Muzishare included the triode option.
    • The guitar and ukulele strumming sounded the most pinpoint accurate with the IOTAVX, both by itself and using the Euforia as a pre, but the song to me really came alive when using the X7 in triode mode. That major shift in attention in the way the vocals are presented makes the dedicated tube amp a winner for acoustic music.
  • So What – Miles Davis
    • The IOTAVX by itself simply doesn’t compare to either the tube amp or tube preamp. I started with the X7 then switched to the SA3, and Miles’ trumpet immediately felt thin and lifeless comparatively. It’s something where I probably wouldn’t complain about as much unless I had a tube amp to A/B compare right next to it.
    • The real battle here is between the X7 and the Euforia as a pre. So with the X7 you get soundstage, you get more intimacy and lifelike tone from the wind instruments.
    • With the Euforia as a pre to the IOTAVX you get better details, more definition from the drums and what feels like a more precise and refined presentation. The top end extension here can’t be denied. It’s really crisp and is usually the sound most people look for when hearing quality home audio systems.
    • It’s important to know you get a noticeable degree of that top end extension back on the X7 when you switch from Triode to Ultralinear mode, but the super euphonic mids in triode mode is really fun to experience. Despite the loss in upper frequency details, I’d personally switch to triode and be more than happy. YMMV but the good news here is at least you have this option with the same amp.
  • Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor – Von Rosenthal da le Vegaz
    • Violins sound pleasantly crisp and well-defined on the IOTAVX SA3 by itself. The soundstage noticeably isn’t as expansive as the tube options but for this song it didn’t bother me as much, I really prefer how detailed, textured, and separated out the instruments are.
    • With the SA3 the peaks & valleys from the dynamics had me fiddling with the volume button more. There are parts of the song where it gets slow and intimate, then all of a sudden it picks up and gets loud and busy. I didn’t really have to adjust the volume nearly as much with the X7.
    • The IOTAVX with the Euforia definitely smooths out those dynamics in volume while adding a bit of depth to the soundstage. The thing is the difference isn’t as big as I’d like. It would be great if you had a level of euphony closer to the X7 coupled with the dynamics and detail of the IOTA by itself but for this song the Euforia/IOTAVX combo sounded more like the SA3 alone with ever so slight tube qualities.
    • Bottom line is I’d stick with the SA3 by itself, while still being curious what a dedicated tube preamp, such as the Schitt Freya+ could do. Keep in mind the Feliks Euforia, although a grand piece of equipment, is built first as a headphone amp while providing a preamp out as a bonus.
  • Clarinet Concerto – Radio Symphony Orchestra Pilsen
    • Classic Mozart with a beautiful clarinet solo, a favorite test track of mine. I was expecting the tube options to crush the IOTAVX by itself but to my surprise the solid state amp still sounded wonderfully euphonic. The SA3 is known as a transparent & natural sounding amp for the ~$550 price point and its neutrality makes it a superbly balanced tool for classical music.
    • While both tube options provide a better soundstage, the only setup that really wowed me was the X7 in triode mode. The way it provided more “body” and gave better texture to the clarinet was simply unmatched by the other combinations.
  • City Love – John Mayer
    • IOTAVX SA3 – great bass extension, excellent separation, lacks mid presence & “body.”
    • SA3 w/ Euforia – more mid region presence, big orchestra playing in the background not as defined. Bass extension and definition not as nice at the IOTAVX by itself but still decent.
    • Muzishare X7 – produces that bigger, room filling sound you’d expect. Upper frequencies and upper mids lose a noticeable amount of definition. Guitar solo sounds miles better here. Strums are more well-rounded, fuller-bodied and in your face with stronger presence.
    • Ultralinear on the X7 does give you more definition in the upper range but not to the level of the IOTAVX combinations. Still, I found it as a nice step up in microdetails over the wonderfully euphonic triode mode.
  • Easy – Troye Sivan
    • This is where the solid state setups pulls ahead of the X7 alone, even in ultralinear mode.
    • Synthesizers mated with speedy & more dynamic nature of solid state makes the song sound more crisp, more precise. Bass extensions get low and feel/sound divine.
    • That said, I really prefer the IOTAVX with the Euforia as a pre. When the chorus comes on Troye’s voice has this reverb applied at the studio and the Feliks noticeably gives it this bigger presence where the effect just fills the room with a wider soundstage vs being sharply defined and right in front of you. Bass has an ever so slight muddy presentation compared to the SA3 on its own, but is still plentiful and never ruins or casts a shadow on the experience.
    • Takeway- the IOTAVX by itself has the most refined bass. It sounds wonderful and really clean but lacks the enjoyment and fuller body of using a tube amp as a pre.

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