We are involved in an extensive listening programme to re-evaluate some of our amplification brands. What we do not like is a bright and forward presentation of which there are, sadly, many examples. Whatever we choose will be based on a natural, more realistic presentation of music reproduction, similar to that experienced in a concert hall.
Two of the best amplification systems we have heard over the years are from Spectral Audio and Edge Electronics. These are our reference sounds. Unfortunately neither of these brands is represented here in the UK but they remain amongst the sounds we measure others by in terms of speed, dynamics, tonal accuracy, and most importanly sound stage scale and depth.
Audio Analogue, with their new Anniversary remodelled products, and Hegel with their extensive range of superb integrated amplifier/DACs have impressed us with their organic sound quality enough to add them to our portfolio. We have evaluated some splendid amplifiers from AVM who make exceptional sounding products in a modular design with many variations possible. A selection of these are with us and their Ovation series, particularly their pre- power amplifier combinations, are up with the very best we have heard, rivalling brands like Edge, Boulder, Constellation and Solution.
Luxman offer superb range of product, all superb sounding. We have selected three of their integrated amplifiers which are remarkable in the sound-stage delivery. Very much a Class A sound even when they are not a fully Class A design.
Audiolab also offer a superb range of exceptional sounding amplifiers of high build quality which are hard to beat at the prices offered. Classy design and aesthetics are a bonus.
Founded in 1983, the company was brought to market to offer great value, very high-quality hi-fi electronics, with each being easy to use. Their first range, their 8000 series, is now considered a classic, warmly remembered by those who used them and who can attest to their build and audio quality.
The business was adversely affected by ownership changes and the economic slump of the early 2000s and the new owner ceased development in mid-2003. Eventually the audio side of the business was purchased by International Audio Group (IAG) which also owns Quad, Mission, Wharfedale and Castle Acoustics.
Audiolab was re-launched in 2005 under the leadership of Nick Clark with a new range of products under the 8200 Series to multi-award-winning, critical acclaim. The company has steadily grown since this time and has won many accolades for products including the legendary M-DAC, a stand-alone digital to analogue converter which rewrote the rule book of what was possible for the money.
Today Audiolab has two ranges, the 6000 and higher 8300 series. Both offer a very fresh, clean and modern aesthetic. They offer truly exceptional value offering above average sonic performance, excellent build quality at very reasonable prices. Their ranges consist of a gamut of very well reviewed electronics including integrated amplifiers:
This is considered as star performer for the money and has been highly reviewed. This is one of the best sub £1000 amplifiers on the market. It offers fantastic tonal accuracy for the money more often lost with amplifiers of this price. In addition, it delivers a more muscular bass than the specs would suggest. This is coupled with digital inputs, a superb phono stage, a decent headphone amplifier and all in a stylish box.
Class A/B amplifier - 50 wpc/8 ohms; 75wpc/4 ohms utilising a large 200VA transformer and an ample 60000uF reservoir capacity. Peak current of 9 Amps
High quality integrated 32-bit DAC with 4 x digital inputs (2 x Coax SPDIF, plus 2 x Toslink optical). All of which handle 24 Bit / 192 kHz with digital filter options
Digital Inputs: 2 Coax SPDIF; 2 Toslink optical
Analogue inputs: 3 RCA
Home cinema pre-amp bypass
Phono Stage – moving magnet only
Output: Pre-amplifier output using a simple signal path and precision analogue volume stage.
Headphone amplifier designed to work with a wide array of headphones through its gain bandwidth and high slew rate
Stylish chassis with integrated OLED display
Available in Black or Silver £599.95
A level above the Audiolab ladder from the 6000A described above. The look and feel of the unit are similar but the build quality is up from the 6000 series, using full aluminium construction. There is no integrated DAC in this amplifier allowing them to focus the unit purely on the audio performance. Natural partners from the same brand would be one of their stand-alone units (MDAC+), or one of their CD players from the 8300 range (8300 CD or 8300 CDQ).
Class A/B amplifier – 75 wpc/8 ohms; 115 wpc/4 ohms. Peak current of 15 Amps
Frequency response: 1hz – 100 kHz (+/- 3 dB)
Dual Mono construction
Audio and power sections are completely separated in the chassis
Inputs: 5 Analogue RCA plus home cinema pre-amp bypass; 1 XLR balanced; 1 x MM or MC Phono input
Outputs: 2 Pre-Outs for power amplifiers; 2 sets of speaker binding posts to allow for bi-wiring
Stylish chassis with OLED display
Full Aluminium construction
Available in Black or Silver for £899.95
Heralding from Germany, AVM have been developing and manufacturing electronic equipment ‘for the highest quality of musical reproduction’, for more than 30 years. They have been producing this, with the goal of delivering ‘joy and emotion to the listener’. All the design and development is done in-house and all models are fully manufactured in their own German factory.
During our investigations, we were impressed with their quality of musical reproduction, along with their striking looks and their outstanding build quality. They aim to use simple, logical design principals to achieve optimal performance levels. Because they do not design unnecessarily complicated circuits, there is less requirement to use compensating components for them to function correctly. This allows for a focus on the best components, and by carefully selecting these electrical components there is less of a fingerprint or character imposed on the musical reproduction.
AVM offers a range of equipment encompassing Amplification (Pre/Power & Integrated options), CD & Streaming, All-In-One units, Turntables and a Phono Stage.
Firstly, there is a very powerful amplifier delivering 2 x 220 wpc at 8 ohms (2 x 330 wpc at 4 ohms), with 2 sets of switchable speaker outputs.
Next, contained within, is a TEAC based ‘Pure CD Drive’ to give outstanding CD reproduction. It is acoustically shielded and spring-mounted to protect from unwanted resonances and structural feedback loops.
Connectivity is ample with 4 analogue line inputs and 1 phono input (for both MM and MC). To compliment this it has a range of digital inputs (Coax, Optical and USB). There is both a pre-out and line-out.
This unit can also stream from the Network (LAN, UPnP or Wi-Fi) including from a NAS, from a hard/thumb drive (as the CS 5.2 has no internal storage/ripping capability), or from web services such as QOBUZ, TIDAL or internet radio. The streaming client firmware is updateable and upgradable, making the CS 5.2 future-proof. It also includes a RDS FM tuner.
It is fully controllable through vast menu functionality including; tone controls with bypass function, adjustable input sensitivity, individual naming of inputs etc. It is remotely controlled using either the RC S remote control app (for free download for both Apple iOS and Android) or the optional RC 9 full colour remote control.
As a bonus, it also has a high quality pure Class-A headphone amplifier with 6.3 mm output.
EVOLUTION CS 5.2 BT All-in-one Streaming CD Receiver – black or silver £5495
OVATION CS 6.2 All-in-one Streaming CD Receiver - with X-STREAM Engine - black or silver £10995
OVATION CS 8.3 All-in-one Streaming CD Receiver - with X-STREAM Engine and AVM803T tube output £12995
The OVATION A 6.3 Integrated Amplifier is a Class A/AB high current MOS-FET design from AVM’s flagship OVATION series and is a very versatile unit. In our listening tests we thought it delivered true sonic thrills, with great drive and dynamics –both macro and micro - with a very live and musical presentation. As well as the sound quality, the build quality is exceptional, even at this price level.
The amplification section provides 2 x 200 wpc at 8 ohms (2 x 330 wpc at 4 ohms) through 2 sets of speaker terminals. It has a very interesting design topology using 20 MOS-FET transistors per channel to deliver up to a huge 180 amps of current and has a fully balanced and DC coupled input stage.
The latest version of the Ovation A 6.3 now includes a very high quality DAC for streaming.
Connectivity is plentiful with 5 high level analogue inputs consisting of 1 XLR balanced and 4 RCA unbalanced, along with analogue outputs consisting of 1 line-out (RCA), 1 pre-out on RCA and 1 x XLR.
Complimenting the analogue inputs there are a range of digital inputs too. These consist of 1 RCA Coax, 2 Toslink Optical, 1 USB with up to 384 kHz / 32 bit & DSD 128. Finally, there is the inclusion of Bluetooth 4.2 for a wireless option.
Headphone users are supplied with a pure Class-A headphone amplifier with 6.3 mm output.
There is also a home theatre/AV bypass mode through both analogue and digital inputs. This allows easy home cinema integration, where this unit would be used as the power amplifier to the main speakers, controlled by an existing pre-amp processor.
Unusually, there is the ability to adjust bass, treble, contour (loudness) and balance to make room integration easier. The unit can be controlled from the included RC3 remote control (or optional full colour RC 8) and is available in silver or black and is delivered in an OVATION flight-case.
OVATION A 6.2 Master Edition Integrated Amplifier - purist version £6495
OVATION A 6.3 Integrated Amplifier with DAC – black or silver £9995
OVATION A 8.3 Integrated Amplifier with DAC and AVM 803T Tube technology £12995
We have evaluated the new Pure AA designs from this long established Italian company. In particular, the heavily re-designed Puccini Anniversary integrated amplifier is a very impressive product, quite an advance in sound over its original version. The tonal balance is very natural, but very dynamic when called for. A large and deep soundstage which is always something that appeals to us. Dual mono in its layout, with inputs separated left and right, and handed. One very large toroidal transformer and a power supply giving 25 amps current. Audiophile grade components abound including the high quality RCA inputs and winged speaker terminals. It delivers an understated 80 wpc into 8 ohms, which is more like 100 wpc and 185 wpc into 4 ohms. More than capable of keeping most speakers under control. The most important thing is the sound: very elegant and smooth but not euphonic or lacking in detail. Even played loud it retains its composure. Quite a different refined presentation setting it apart from the more usual competitive brands in this price point.
The Maestro Anniversary integrated amplifier takes this design philosophy to a much higher level with the dual mono, fully balanced, zero feedback design that includes two transformers. Output jumps to 150 wpc into 8 ohms and 300 wpc into 4 ohms, probably conservative ratings.
This is one of the best integrated amps we have heard in a long time delivering huge 3-dimensional sound stages with a very natural tonal balance. Again superb dynamics and will drive most speakers with ease. Both the Maestro and the Puccini employ zero global feedback technology.
We have just had the pleasure of auditioning the Bellini Anniversary pre-amplifier with the matching Donizetti Anniversary power amplifier. All dual mono, zero feedback designs; output from the stereo amplifier is 250 wpc/8 ohms and 500 wpc/4 ohms. Sonically very similar to the splendid Maestro Anniversary, as one would expect, but the authority and extension to the bass is raised to a higher level. Superb build quality and value for money compared to the obvious competitors.
There is an entry level integrated amplifier in the AA range called AACento which is not dual mono in design and is built to slightly lower specification but offering superb value at its price point. It includes a phono stage and headphone output.
AACento integrated amplifier – 100 wpc/8 ohms £3249
Puccini Anniversary integrated amplifier – 80 wpc/8 ohms £3999
Maestro Anniversary integrated amplifier – 150 wpc/8 ohms £7249
Bellini Anniversary pre-amplifier £5499
Donizetti Anniversary stereo power amplifier - 250 wpc/8 ohms £9499
All models available in black or silver.
This Norwegian electronics company has been around since the mid-1990s but in recent years has become much better known in the higher end of the audio market. They have a very focused range of products which include five integrated amplifiers, two pre-power amplifier combinations. All these amplification systems utilise their unique design “SoundEngine” which is a local error cancelling system preventing distortions in the audio amplifier circuit stages whilst preserving the fine details and the dynamic range of the original recorded music signal. The SoundEngine Technology cancels crossover distortion found in all types of class-AB amplifiers and the human ear is very sensitive to high frequency distortion components in the music signal. The result is a much cleaner, organic sound with a larger dynamic range and lower distortions.
Our listening tests confirm that the sound of Hegel amplification is quite distinct to many other mainstream brands. A significantly lower noise floor, more transparency that allows low level aural clues to be heard easily. Not at all bright or forward, with a natural, organic tone marginally on the warm side of neutral. The result is a less transistor-like sound. Large three-dimensional soundstages and fine detail are excellent as you would expect from a company that takes low distortion and low noise as its priority.
All Hegel integrated amplifiers incorporate sophisticated DAC designs that allow all digital sources to be played easily. These keep and plays the digital source in their original native format throughout for the best sound quality.
Their integrated amplifiers show marked improvements as you go up through the model range, from the Röst, the H190 and to the new H390. All offer a superb sound and value for money at their respective price points.
The new H390 replaces the long standing H360, which for us was the value for money model in the range. This new integrated model has lot of trickle down technology from the flagship H590 and is a significant improvement in sound over the H360. It has an improved power supply with a large transformer, and a completely dual mono circuit layout. The inboard DAC is particularly impressive and superior to that in the outgoing H360. Very dynamic, fast and capable of delivering large sound stages.
The top of the range integrated amplifier from Hegel, the H590, is a beautifully compact and elegant design. It offers a sound that will compete very easily with many of the top brands in the high-end audio market at a substantially lower price. An innovative dual mono design from the pre-amplifier, with its dedicated high-quality power supplies and a unique volume attenuator, to the massive output stage using 12 ultra-fast high power output transistors per channel. This amplifier is super fast and will drive any speaker load with ease. A compact, one box amplifier that delivers true high end performance.
Compared to the H390, the H590 has a superior pre-amplifier in the analogue section and a marginally improved DAC for streaming. Whether you play CD format or high resolution files as a source, they will all benefit from the sophisticated DAC incorporated. Using the USB input, the H590 will also support high end formats such as DSD. It also includes MQA decoding and rendering technology, which enables you to play back MQA audio files and streams, delivering you the sound of the original master recording. A truly innovative product for those wanting high-end sound at a realistic price. Whilst the price is not insignificant, it offers a compact solution, exceptional sound, and superb value for money.
The NEW H95 which replaces the entry level H90 is now with us. The most significant change is with the highly upgraded DAC design. The streaming board is now the same as in the other integrated models. It will now incorporate Spotify Connect in addition to the the already excellent AirPlay integration.
Additional improvements in the amplifier section have resulted in a larger scale and level of extra detail perceived in the sound stage. The sound stage capability is very holographic and the authority delivered with high quality recordings is most impressive given the price point. Will easily outperform other branded amplifiers up to £2500. Most importantly, the price remains the same as the discontinued H90.
H95 integrated amplifier – 60 wpc/8 ohms £1600. NEW PRODUCT
H120 integrated amplifier – 75 wpc/8 ohms £2300
H190 integrated amplifier – 150 wpc/8 ohms £3300
H390 integrated amplifier, dual mono – 250 wpc/8 ohms £5000
H590 integrated amplifier, dual mono – 301 wpc/8 ohms £9300
P20 Balanced Pre-Amplifier £2350
P30 Balanced Pre-amplifier £5300
H20 Power amplifier, dual mono – 200 wpc/8 ohms £4300
H30 Power amplifier, mono amplifier – 1100 wpc/8 ohms £11500 each
(can be used as a stereo amplifier and converted back to mono)
Hegel H390 review HIFI+173 Jul 2019 (358 KB)
Luxman is one of the legendary brands in hifi, hailing from Japan the brand has been around since 1925. Luxman has focused simply on audio for all this time and is now world renowned for their high-end audio products. Luxman is always striving for naturalness in their presentation, allowing the listener to get closer to the music, through emotional involvement.
In our listening tests, the very first impression was one of exceptional transparency producing an expansive sound stage with well-defined separation on images. It is as if the loudspeakers have disappeared. Bass is full, fast and with superb texture, contributing to a very natural overall tonal balance. The delicacy in which the mid and high frequencies are delivered is a trademark for this brand, especially impressive with female voices which have a very realistic feel with no hint of sibilance. Male voices are delivered with great mid-bass tone, which really satisfies. This is all delivered within a wide and deep sound picture. We have always believed that the illusion of depth of image is where audio reproduction becomes closer to that of a real concert experience, and the Luxman sound delivers this extremely well.
The build quality is another area which separates Luxman from many competitive brands. The build quality of the chassis is of reference standard with precision fit and finish and include custom copper alloy terminals. They have a very recognisable aesthetic with their retro appearance with distinctive V.U. meters on the front panel. For those that might find these a touch bright, they can be turned off.
Interesting in-house technologies which include custom high stability power supplies, and with the L-509X, ODNF (Only Distortion Negative Feedback) circuit to achieve better spatial expression and clarity. Their LECUA (Luxman Electronically Controlled Ultimate Attenuator) system maximise the sound quality through the volume control.
Luxman’s long experience in the high-end audio world is best described as a very modern, up to date sound within a more traditionally styled, retro look chassis.
Luxman offer a range of amplifiers of differing design topologies including Pure Class A (solid state), Class A/B, as well as valve-based offerings:
Class A/B – Analogue only:
L-505uXII (Mk2) – Integrated Class A/B Amplifier – 100w @ 8 Ohms £3,799
L-507uXII (Mk2) – Integrated Class A/B Amplifier – 110w @ 8 Ohms £5,799
L-509X - Flagship Integrated Class A/B Amplifier - 120w @ 8ohms £8,499
C-700u – Pre-Amplifier - £6,499
C-900u – Flagship Pre-Amplifier - £11,000
M-700u – Power Amplifier – Stereo: 120w @ 8 Ohms (210w @ 4), Mono: 420 @ 8 Ohms - £6,499
M-900u – Flagship Power Amplifier – Stereo: 1.2 kw @1 ohm, or Mono 2.4 kw @ 2 ohms - £10,999
Solid State Pure Class A – Analogue Only:
L-550AXII (Mk2) – Integrated Class A Amplifier – 20w @ 8 Ohms (40w @ 4 Ohms) - £4,999
L-590AXII (Mk2) – Flagship Integrated Class A Amplifier – 30w @ 8 Ohms (60w @ 4 Ohms) - £6,999
For further information on other products in their range, please call.
We like valve amplifiers, and have considerable experience of the different types that are, and have been, available.
Designs of valve amplifiers fall into three basic principles: single-ended, push-pull and output transformerless (OTL). Push-pull designs are the most common as they can be designed easily to give as much power as required dependent on the number of push-pull pairs of valves utilised. Because of this, this design works well with most real world loudspeakers on the market. Single-ended designs inevitably mean low power output, but can produce superb results with appropriately sensitive speakers, but good examples of these are hard to find. OTL designs can combine the transparency of single-ended with the dynamics of push-pull, but there are only a few designs based on this principle.
There are many valve amplifiers on the market but not many that sound truly excellent. Those that do tend to be very expensive, possibly too highly price for what they offer. We continue to evaluate brands as they appear and will only select from those that satisfy our criteria on sound, value and reliability.
At present we are considering two OTL designs classic designs with completely modern interpretations. One brand from Germany called Eternal Arts with amplifiers delivering extremely wide bandwidth, powerful, but with a low noise floor. The other is from Italy called Alieno LTD 250: a Class A. OTL and OCL design generating 250 wpc from just two 300B valves. Seems unbelievable on paper but, from hearing a pre-production sample in a very high quality system, the sound was truly excellent substantiating the claims.