You are looking for a new heart of the system: a new amplifier. Integrated. Perhaps with a d/a converter and/or streamer on board. But it has to be a serious device. Best in class! A top performer…! Strength, finesse, control. Everything must be there. We test seven amplifiers in the price range 5000 euro to 6500 euro. Both with and without dac and streamer. It’s Battle Royale Time!
The integrated amplifier is the heart of the system for many enthusiasts. This switching and power hub allows you to conveniently switch between the various inputs, regulate volume in a nice way and provide the speakers with the necessary power. An integrated model has a few advantages over a separate pre- and power amplifier. First of all, space; one device instead of two or three. Signal paths are shorter. After all, you don’t have to pull any cables between the front and output stage. This is now simply connected internally with short cables. In addition, you only need one mains cable and you have lost only one power outlet.
A disadvantage is that the pre- and power amplifier share the power supply and that there may be a little more influences from power supply fields. This results in a little less punch and a little less definition than with a high-quality, sperates. Provided everything there matches and is in order, of course.
Insight and skill
And here we come to the next point: simplicity. And solid engineering. A good brand just knows what it’s doing and will get things right. For example, in some cases a higher level is possible than with loose components that do not play well together. And that’s just sometimes. No matter how good the individual parts are, they have to work together. It’s like marriage. Individually, they can be two sweet, good people. But that doesn’t mean they match up and can successfully share a life…
We tested the seven candidates on two systems. First on the set with the Focal Sopra No1 with the Metrum Acoustics Ambre streamer and Pavane-dac and cabling from Audioquest, Grimm. Balanced or unbalanced (if balanced is not possible). If an amplifier with streamer falls within the price range, we test the streamer and dac. Otherwise we don’t; although we do listen briefly of course. We test the amplifiers via the Isotek Titan as well as well as with the Kemp. This is due to possibly fluctuating results. For example, the NAD M32 doesn’t like filters…
In addition, we are testing with the cinema system which consists of a set of DALI Phantom 280S in-walls and an Illusonic IAP8 processor with built-in streamer. Cabling is there from QED and Audioquest.
By testing on two systems we get an idea of the stability, matching and possibly changing results with other speakers. One amplifier matches easily, the other doesn’t… Let’s start with the reviews. We just put the amplifiers in alphabetical order in the menu. This is not necessarily the test sequence or a hierarchy.
Among other things, we used it as test tracks:
- Opéra by Emanuel Santorramana (CD, 16/44.1)
- Lovesong, Adele (CD, 16/44.1)
- The Spoils, Massive Attack (HR, 24/48)
- Pariah, Steven Wilson (HR, 24/96)
- … And some more tracks.