Exposure 3010S integrated amplifier

Three years ago, the idea of a solid-state integrated amplifier that sold for only $1250 yet combined some of the best performance aspects of a Naim Nait and a Dynaco Stereo 70 seemed likely to resonate with consumers and critics alike. And it did: Introduced in early 2005, the British-built Exposure 2010S was an unequivocal hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and remains in Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components." Deservedly.

Three years later, the landscape has changed. The US dollar is doing poorly as I write this—the price of the 2010S has crept up to $1395—and retail sales in some specialty audio categories have appreciably softened. Yet there's some cause for optimism: Demand for analog source components in particular is on the upswing, and music-delivery trends point to new opportunities for our own industry—or at least for those within it who are limber enough to keep up.

Exposure Electronics, Ltd., which confounds yet another trend by assembling their products in England while running the business from the Far East, has now unveiled a follow-up, of sorts, to the 2010S: an upmarket integrated amp called the 3010S ($2295, or $2790 with onboard phono preamp), itself a refinement of the Exposure 3010, itself derived from that humbler model we know and love.

Description
The family resemblances are unmistakable, inside as out. Unlike the 2010S integrated, however, the Exposure 3010S features an active preamplifier in front of a regular-gain power amp, with buffered line-out jacks for driving external amplifiers or powered subwoofers (via two pairs of phono jacks designed for those purposes). The 3010S uses different Sanken bipolar transistor pairs for output—the other differences being the addition of an extra pair of output devices per channel and the inclusion of a massive internal heatsink, so those output-device pairs can pass much higher current without destroying themselves. (For the 2010S, the output transistors were mounted to the bottom of the casework.) The new amp's toroidal transformer is also significantly larger than that of the old, though the custom-made reservoir caps in the power supply are the same.

As in the 2010S, a fair amount of PCB space in the 3010S is reserved for Exposure's optional standard-issue stereo phono preamp board, available in moving-magnet and moving-coil versions ($495 each). My review sample came with the MM board, connected to the main circuit board by means of a 10-pin plug and socket, and held in place with metal standoffs and machine screws. (Exposure's literature suggests that the phono board can be installed, with care, by the user who wishes to upgrade an existing line-only 3010S, although dealer installation is preferred.)

My sample of the Exposure was well built, in the best Brit-fi tradition: Connecting wires were nicely dressed, and the PC boards were robust and cleanly laid out. Good-quality Alps controls are used for volume and source selection, with DC motors on both for remote adjustment, and the presence of integrated circuits is limited to the logic board and the line-out buffer stage. I didn't notice any attempt at screening for the phono board, but the very large heatsink seems to have been placed intentionally between the huge mains transformer and the rest of the works, as a sort of a hum shield (but see below).

The front and rear panels held no surprises. The latter has two sets of 4mm speaker jacks, wired in parallel, plus two pairs of line-out jacks, a tape output, and five pairs of input jacks: all gold-plated RCAs. (Of the latter, the pair labeled Aux 1 was given up to the phono option.) The serene front panel has only an On/Off button, plus chunky knobs for volume and source selection. The remote handset duplicates those controls, adding only Mute: There is no balance control or mono switch, let alone controls for reversing channels or inverting absolute polarity.

I used the Exposure 3010S in two different rooms, with DNM (new style) speaker cables in one and Auditorium 23 speaker cables in the other. In both settings I placed the amp on simple wooden tables, using only the stock AC cord—and while I tried using Ayre Acoustics Myrtle Blocks as isolation devices directly under the alloy chassis, I heard no performance differences.

Listening
Some amps sound their best right out of the box; not so the Exposure 3010S, which hit its stride only after two or three days of steady use. Before that, I heard a distinct lack of mid- and upper-bass warmth, in addition to which the trebles were somewhat "gray," lacking color and sparkle.

The bass registers fleshed out nicely—baritones and cellos alike saw their sunniness restored—yet even at its best, compared with my reference electronics and most of the contemporary integrated amps with which I'm familiar, the Exposure sounded a bit blunted with all source material: almost but not quite dark. The predominant impression was one of the music being held back just a little.

Company Info
Exposure Electronics, Ltd.
US distributor: Bluebird Music Ltd.
310 Rosewell Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4R 2B2, Canada
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