Integrated Amp Reviews

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Herb Reichert  |  Apr 09, 2024  |  6 comments
I've been to a few bowling parties and passed a bottle around a few fire pits, but I've never watched an audiophile unboxing video. Lately though, I have been paying closer attention to my first impressions of each new audio product as it enters my realm.

I'm finding it interesting to notice how a device previously unseen and unheard declares itself one small step at a time as I open its box, feel its heft, observe its form, study its manual, and, finally, wire it into my system. Those start-up experiences, plus my gut feelings during my first moments of music listening, establish a tone of innocent discovery I wish would last the whole month. It never does.

I mention this because my first impressions for my first-ever review of an ARCAM product, the Radia A25 integrated amplifier, were in that "innocent and receptive" mode from the instant I saw the box sitting outside my door.

Alex Halberstadt  |  Feb 21, 2024  |  30 comments
In 1976, a Soviet fighter pilot named Viktor Belenko made an emergency landing in Hokkaido, Japan. He was flying a MiG-25 supersonic interceptor jet and, upon touching down, requested political asylum. This proved to be a stroke of brilliant luck for the Americans. The MiG-25 remains one of the fastest and highest-flying aircraft ever produced, and Belenko's defection allowed them to have a tantalizing look at the technology inside.

Among the top-secret loot found inside the Soviet jet was a large, heavy triode vacuum tube used as a regulator in the power supply of the MiG's radio. It was known as the 6C33C. (The enormous electromagnetic pulse caused by a nuclear explosion would fry a transistor. Tubes were used in military equipment with such an eventuality in mind.)

Ken Micallef  |  Feb 08, 2024  |  4 comments
When I reviewed Luxman's L-509X flagship integrated amplifier, in May 2018, that sleek machine shook me to my vitals. I wrote, "Record after record, the L-509X illuminated every important aspect and area of the recording. It lived and breathed in the air around the notes, consistently creating big, solid, spatially natural images that presented me with a) the roundness and complexity of each instrument, b) a holistic sense of the musicians' intent, c) excellent touch and texture and impact, and d) a unified whole, regardless of musical style or dynamic level." I concluded, "the Luxman L-509X integrated amplifier takes a different path to musical involvement. The L-509X is one of the most intimate-sounding, dynamic, texturally nuanced, truthful purveyors of music of my experience."

Luxman's new flagship integrated, the L-509Z, has the same thick aluminum top plate and steel casework as its forebear and weighs a similarly knee-crushing 64lb. The older L-509X cost $9495; its newer, younger sibling rachets that up to $12,495. The front-panel controls are nearly identical, including those big, eye-catching dual VU meters; except for a new 4.4mm Pentaconn five-conductor mini headphone jack and a mute button, the Z matches the cosmetics of the X to a T. But as in all things, appearances can be deceiving.

John Atkinson  |  Jan 10, 2024  |  13 comments
Three products were recently subjected to second opinions: I reviewed the revised RS250A version of HiFi Rose's RS250 streaming D/A preamplifier and the optional DC1 DAC module for Audio Research's I/50 integrated amplifier; Ken Micallef wrote about his time with the Volti Razz loudspeaker.
Robert Schryer  |  Dec 22, 2023  |  70 comments
Sometimes I think expensive components—I'll let you decide what constitutes expensive—should come with a big red sticker on the box that reads "WARNING! This product will probably not meet your expectations!" That's because when you spend a lot of money on something, you expect that something to have no flaws and to sound nigh perfect. Why else would you have paid so much? As you gaze at it, touch it, and listen to it, it constantly reassures you that you made the right decision by picking it over all the other, less pricey candidates. It has to be unambiguously better than any component of its nature that has passed through your system, or else, what was the point in all that upgrading?

Prior to this review, I had expectations about the product under review, the Leak Stereo 230 ($1695 with the walnut enclosure), based on, among other factors, price.

John Atkinson  |  Dec 07, 2023  |  2 comments
I first met Musical Fidelity's founder, Antony Michaelson, in 1978, when he was running tube amplifier manufacturer Michaelson & Austin. I still have an M&A TVA-10 amplifier, which was designed by the late, great Tim de Paravicini. Soon after Antony founded Musical Fidelity in 1982, he employed de Paravicini to design the A1 integrated amplifier.

The A1 was a slim solid state design with a class-A output stage that output 20Wpc into 8 ohms. By contrast, the massive, dual-mono Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 800 integrated amplifier, which Michael Fremer reviewed for Stereophile in November 2015, featured nuvistor tubes for its small-signal circuitry, coupled with a solid state, class-AB output stage that could deliver 330Wpc into 8 ohms.

Herb Reichert  |  Oct 04, 2023  |  13 comments
With a system like this, Thoreau would never have gone into the woods to begin with.

Last weekend, I visited an old friend who lives near Walden Pond of Henry Thoreau fame. I hadn't visited him since before the pandemic. He had just finished adding a wing to his house that included a dedicated hi-fi listening room the size and shape of a small church. Below a cathedral ceiling, the sweet spot featured seating for no fewer than 30 guests. Besides serving as his main listening room—he has another one that's smaller—it serves as a large residential parlor with a baby grand piano for use in chamber music performances, which feature prominently in his and his wife's social calendar.

It was a high-SPL thrill to experience his towering, field-coiled RCA theater horns powered by RCA 845 amplifiers.

John Atkinson  |  Aug 18, 2023  |  16 comments
The first true high-end component I owned was an Audio Research SP-10. I reviewed this two-box, tubed preamplifier in the May 1984 issue of the English magazine Hi-Fi News & Record Review. "The SP-10 presented [recorded] information in a more coherent, less distorted manner than any preamp I've tried," I wrote in the review, concluding that "the SP-10 made me realize how many good records I owned." I purchased the SP-10 and brought the preamplifier with me when I moved to the US. Four decades later, I still have that SP-10. "Every now and again, when I want to be reminded of the magic it brings to my music, I set it up, plug in the tubes, and spend an evening spoiling my ears," I wrote for an article in Ken Kessler's 2020 book on the history of Audio Research.

I was planning to review the latest product from Audio Research, the I/50 integrated amplifier, which costs $5500, earlier this year. However, with the uncertainty back then about the company's ownership, I postponed the review. When the news broke in June that Audio Research had been acquired by AR Tube Audio Corporation, a privately owned corporation that includes Valerio Cora of Canadian loudspeaker manufacturer Acora Acoustics as a director—see Industry Update in this issue—I unboxed the I/50 and set it up in my listening room.

John Atkinson  |  Aug 11, 2023  |  12 comments
Four products were subjected to second opinions in recent issues: Herb Reichert reviewed the Mk.II version of Klipsch's Reference Premiere RP-600M loudspeaker (above left); Ken Micallef wrote about his time with the MoFi Electronics SourcePoint 10 loudspeaker (above right); John Atkinson lived with the CH Precision I1 Universal integrated amplifier (above); and Julie Mullins auditioned Triangle's Antal 40th Anniversary Edition loudspeaker.
Alex Halberstadt  |  Aug 04, 2023  |  9 comments
The last time I had to box up my roughly 2600 records, during a move, I cursed up a storm and drank almost an entire bottle of tequila. I struggled to keep the vinyl alphabetized and kept running out of boxes, markers, and tape. And I discovered that I had more LPs of music by Miles Davis and Bach than by anyone else. In third place was George Jones.

The vectors of tradition, originality, and talent came together in Jones to produce a strange and unlikely gift. His music can make you feel things as suddenly and deeply as just about anyone's, but on top of this Jones had the greatest instrument of any male vocalist in country music, almost outlandish in its range and power. Then there was his technique: He could wring four syllables out of a four-letter word, and even when performing the same hit night after night, he varied the stresses and melismatic leaps depending on his mood. Sinatra called him "the second-best singer in the world."

Herb Reichert  |  Jul 11, 2023  |  24 comments
It was a cold March-in-Brooklyn morning. Clouds had been shedding wintery mix since daybreak. By 9am, birds were flash-mobbing my window, demanding suet. But I was frozen—unable to pull my mind loose from the grave flowings of American composer Ned Rorem's Book of Hours, as performed by Les Connivences Sonores on the album Musikalische Perlen (24/48 FLAC, Ars Produktion/Qobuz). The sounds in my room were sensuous and mesmerizing, and I needed to float in their mysterious energy as long as I could.

I was listening through the most compelling sound system I had assembled since I started writing for Stereophile. The dCS Bartók DAC/streamer was funneling the harmonic purity and hypnomagik of Odile Renault on flute and Elodie Reibaud on harp into HoloAudio's appropriately named Serene preamp, which was feeding Elekit's TU-8900 300B/2A3 kit amplifier, which was sending a few of its triode-tube watts to the TAD's $32,500/pair Compact Evolution One monitors, more compactly known as the TAD CE1TX.

Rogier van Bakel  |  Jun 23, 2023  |  11 comments
My first car was a decrepit, mustard-yellow Peugeot 304 with a navy hood. The blue hue wasn't a fashion statement; after an accident, the previous owner had gone to a salvage yard where only a blue replacement could be procured. When he grew sick of the car—because it made him look "like a frickin' ad for Ikea"—I paid him 600 Dutch guilders for the old heap, the equivalent of about $300 US. . .

Years later, when I got into hi-fi, I thought of that car and subsequent ones. What stood out to me most about high-end audio was: separates.

Sasha Matson  |  Jun 09, 2023  |  4 comments
In the 1960s, my dad gave me a Panasonic receiver with two cube speakers, just in time for the advent of FM stereo radio in the San Francisco Bay Area. Out of the blue one night, he just walked in with it. The receiver allowed me to plug in a record player, though I only had a few LPs. Later, when I went off to college, my mom took me shopping for a new stereo. I chose a Kenwood integrated amplifier—without a tuner but with the capability to plug in a tape deck, which I did. During my undergrad years, it served me well. Later, I switched to an NAD receiver, which allowed me to listen to the radio again.
Ken Micallef  |  May 06, 2023  |  17 comments
Back in the 1950s, Cesare Sanavio, then a new electronics graduate with a specialty in output transformers for tube amplifiers, began his career in radio and television, traveling to various locations outside his native Italy to apply his expertise. Eventually he settled in Paraguay and started designing tubed sound systems for public installations, teaching his son Luciano the art. A few years later, Sanavio and his family returned to Italy. There, he worked as a consultant to several hi-fi companies. Finally, in 1994, drawing on decades of accumulated knowledge of tube-amplifier design and manufacturing, and a particular focus on output transformers of the highest quality, Cesare Sanavio and his two sons, Luciano and Lorenzo, formed Mastersound.

When Cesare Sanavio died, Lorenzo and Luciano continued operations. In 2015, the company re-formed, with some new international business connections and a new CEO, Antonio Ferro.

John Atkinson  |  Apr 07, 2023  |  15 comments
Stereophile has favorably reviewed many NAD amplifiers over the decades. One of the most recent was the Master Series M10 class-D streaming integrated amplifier, which I purchased to use as my daily driver after I reviewed it in January 2020. The M10's price included a free license for Dirac Live low-frequency room equalization, which I found invaluable with my long-term reference standmounts, the KEF LS50s. So when I learned that NAD was introducing a 50th Anniversary integrated amplifier, the C 3050 LE, which also included Dirac Live, I asked for a review sample.