Exposure XV integrated amplifier Page 2

Extended listening revealed the XV to have some remarkable qualities for such an inexpensive product. Soundstaging was particularly impressive. The XV threw a nice sense of the music existing in three-dimensional space, with layers and layers of depth, though it tended to have a somewhat distant perspective, with the music set behind the loudspeakers rather than pushed forward. It was like moving from Row E to Row T. I tend to prefer this type of presentation: the listener is drawn into the music rather than kept at arm's length by an over-forward aggressiveness. If this trait is overdone, however, the music can lose immediacy and vitality. Fortunately, the XV maintained a sense of palpability, energy, and life, yet at the same time was never aggressive.

I had an unusual experience while listening to music through the XV: with my eyes closed, the rear wall of the listening room seemed to be much farther away than it actually is. Instruments toward the rear of the soundstage were presented with great space and distance. These characteristics were most evident on naturally miked recordings, particularly of orchestral music.

Image placement and focus were superb. This is one of the XV's strongest areas: the ability to throw tangible, well-defined images across a wide, deep soundstage. Moreover, there was a remarkable ability to keep instrumental images distinct from one another and from the whole, both spatially and texturally. The XV's presentation was the antithesis of congested, confused, blurred, or flat—characteristics one often hears from entry-level equipment. The new Robert Lucas record (Built for Comfort, AudioQuest LP-1011) was presented with a terrific sense of individual musicians existing in space. I had not expected this kind of three-dimensional layering and spatial resolution at the Exposure's price level.

The XV's bass was solid and tight—provided the amplifier wasn't pushed beyond its limits. At lowish playback levels, kickdrum had a solid, punchy quality. As the playback level was increased, however, the punch became weaker and the bass tended to become flabby. In addition, pitch definition became blurred and the presentation became unpleasant. This is to be expected from an amplifier of lowish power output; considering the XV's output and price, the performance was more than adequate. The Hales Signatures may also present a more challenging load than most loudspeakers. When driven within its limitations, however, the XV gave a good sense of weight, power, and dynamics. As might be expected, however, the XV was no match for the extension and solidity of the Audio Research LS2B/Levinson No.23.5 combination.

The Exposure's treble was relatively free from hash and grain, yet lacked the liquidity and smoothness of the reference system. Again, these comments apply to the XV only when it was driven at appropriate power levels. If the XV was pushed too hard, the treble became unpleasant and the soundstage delineation vanished. The orchestral swells in "Jupiter," from Holst's The Planets (London 417 553-2), were a good example: The violins sounded sweet, smooth, and focused until near the climax, when they became strident, edgy, and lost in the blur. As the volume decreased, the shrillness decreased proportionately and soundstage focus returned. This occurred at less than concert-hall levels through the Hales Signatures.

I was especially impressed by the XV's midrange quality. Instrumental timbres were rendered with a smooth, natural quality. One often hears a metallic or synthetic character overlaying instrumental textures in this price range. The XV, however, was the antithesis of flat, sterile, mechanical, or synthetic in the mids. Moreover, there was a superb sense of bloom and air around instrumental and vocal outlines that greatly added to my listening pleasure. When these qualities were combined with the excellent soundstaging, transparent rendering, and sense of ease, the result was an eminently musical performance.

I must add that these qualities were apparent only when the XV wasn't overdriven. Although it would produce moderately loud volumes with the Hales Signatures, there wasn't enough power to produce the listening levels I tend to prefer.

Looking specifically at the phono performance, I found it superb, and a bargain for the $200 difference between the XV and XX. Though the 0.3mV–output AudioQuest AQ7000 produced adequate listening levels with the volume just over halfway up, noise was never obtrusive. Higher-output moving-coils should be even quieter.

Finally, the XV had excellent dynamics, with a lively, upbeat quality. The sense of slam and effortless power heard from larger amplifiers wasn't there, but the XV's presentation of the music's rhythmic feeling was excellent. It was always easy to get caught up in the music, an impression fostered in part by the XV's good pace.

When driven within its power-output limitations, the Exposure XV is capable of delivering a superbly musical experience. The amplifier had some special qualities not often heard at this price range. The XV's soundstage depth and spatial resolution, natural presentation of midrange textures, and excellent sense of rhythm and pace exceeded expectations. The phono section was particularly impressive, expanding upon the qualities heard from CDs. The result was an ability to enjoy the music; I never found listening a chore. Although I wasn't disappointed to return to the LS2B/No.23.5 (or VTL 225W/Vendetta), there was no urgency to do so.

Potential purchasers should be warned, however, that the XV's musicality disappeared when asked to deliver high output levels. If you have a large room, insensitive or low-impedance loudspeakers, or like to listen to music at high levels, the XV won't do it for you.

With those caveats, I can enthusiastically recommend the Exposure XV. It offers more than a glimpse of what the best high-end gear promises, and at a fraction of the price. If the XV is Exposure's entry-level product, I look forward to hearing their most ambitious efforts.

Exposure Electronic
US distributor: Fidelis Music System
460 Amherst Street (Route 101A)
Nashua, NH 03063
(603) 880-4434

Ortofan's picture

... heat sink for the output transistors, this is it.
Can't believe the designer thought that a simple L-bracket attached to the rear panel was sufficient.

If the author was under the impression that the Exposure's "overall build and parts qualities are excellent" and "the unit is nicely finished", he should have examined a Pioneer Elite A-71, which was a contemporary of the XV and sold for about the same price:

johnnythunder's picture

there was something very special and individual about this Exposure amp and it's contemporaries like the Naim Nait Creek's 4040 and Audiolab's 8000A. In some ways the NAD 3020 is the original of these UK designed integrateds, all quirky and punching way above their weight musically and sonically even if they were not luxury products per se. They all clarified details and penetrated into the music in a very different way than most audio products of their time.