Exposure XV integrated amplifier

American audiophiles have long had a love-hate relationship with British integrated amplifiers. On one hand, they often provide superb musicality, sell for a moderate price, and don't take up much room. On the other, these British alternatives to Adcom or B&K separates often have low power output, nonstandard connectors, idiosyncratic appearance (footnote 1), and dictate the kind of speaker cable and interconnects you can use.

No product exemplifies this dichotomy more than the Exposure XV integrated amplifier from England. This 40Wpc (rated) unit offers the best of what makes British amplifiers appealing, and also illustrates why British integrateds aren't as popular here as their musical performance would suggest.

Most audiophiles are unfamiliar with the Exposure name, as was I until very recently. Exposure was founded by recording console designer John Farlowe in 1978. The company manufactures only preamps and power amps, and competes with Naim and Linn in the UK market. John Farlowe brought the professional ethos of ultra-high reliability to Exposure products; all are built to the highest reliability standards, avoiding techniques such as push-on connectors and flow soldering. The XV integrated amplifier reviewed here is Exposure's entry-level product; the company manufacturers a full range of preamps and power amplifiers.

Technical description
The XV is a straightforward design with a minimum of features. The front panel has three knobs: volume control, input selector, and record output selector. This last feature allows recording from one source while listening to another. An illuminated rocker switch turns the unit on and off.

The rear panel houses a pair of gold-plated Tiffany RCA jacks on the phono input and standard, lower-quality jacks for the line inputs (footnote 2). In addition to the phono inputs, three line inputs are provided (tuner, aux, and CD), and one tape loop. Loudspeaker cable connection is via two pairs of 4mm banana jacks. Although banana jacks are popular on British gear, I much prefer a good pair of five-way binding posts (or better yet, Cardas terminals or Music Posts).

The XV is available with either MM or MC phono stages. A customer with a MM phono board who decides later to get a MC cartridge can have his board swapped at his dealer at no charge. For those not needing a phono stage, the Exposure XX is available for $1095, $200 less than the XV. Other than the phono input, both products are identical.

Inside, the XV looks remarkably similar to Naim equipment (footnote 3). The layout, wiring, and execution are similar, but the XV has less internal wiring. A large (250VA) toroidal transformer appears more than adequate in size for the XV's 40Wpc power rating. The power supply features a single bridge rectifier and four large electrolytic filter caps. These caps, whose value was not printed on the outside, are custom-made for Exposure. The power supply is unusual in that every stage in the XV is fully regulated—even the output driver supplies, which is unusual in expensive amplifiers, let alone one at this price point.

The input and driver stages are all discrete, as is the phono section. The phono stage is a removable board piggybacked on the main printed circuit board to allow easy interchange between MC and MM. A pair of 317/337 regulators provides local regulation to the preamp section. Resistors are metal-film, and capacitors are primarily polystyrene.

I was curious about the electrolytic coupling capacitors in the driver stage. Electrolytics are usually considered anathema to good sound. They were, however, reportedly chosen for their superior sonic qualities, and exceeded the performance of film caps in listening tests. The electrolytics, said to be an exotic, tight-tolerance type made for a specific military application, are used in only some parts of the circuit: other coupling caps are polypropylene types.

The complementary output stage uses a single pair of TO-3 devices per channel. Two additional TO-3 devices mounted on the heatsink next to each complementary pair provide output-stage power-supply regulation. All three types of devices (regulator, NPN transistor, PNP transistor) are custom-made to Exposure's specifications and bear the Exposure name and part number. A large aluminum heatsink is bolted to the rear panel. No output inductor is used, requiring that the loudspeaker cable be of sufficient inductance to keep the amplifier stable, even with an unusually capacitive load. Exposure's warranty is void if their amplifiers are used with any cable other than their own.

Overall build and parts qualities are excellent. The unit is nicely finished and easy to use, but I don't like the idea of an amplifier that can go unstable with the wrong loudspeaker cable. Moreover, Exposure's cable is unwieldy and may not represent the current state of the art in cable design. I'd much rather chose my own. I'd also like to see five-way binding posts instead of banana jacks.

It was apparent from the first listening that the Exposure XV was a very different product. The amplifier's presentation was smooth, polite, and thrown well behind the loudspeakers. There was also a remarkable transparency, soundstage delineation, and overall involvement in the music. The XV seemed to have great promise, particularly with LP playback.

Footnote 1: My favorite descriptor for some of these British products came from Ken Kessler: "visually challenged."—John Atkinson

Footnote 2: Until recently, the phono input on Exposure products was labeled "gramophone."

Footnote 3: Unusually, both companies offer outboard preamplifier power supplies for their higher-end models.

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.