Surprises on high

I kicked off with my Avantgarde DUO reference system. I stacked the three Bel Canto components on the top shelf for easy access and quickest cable changes. The 2i proved quiet as the proverbial grave, quite a feat with >103dB speaker sensitivity. The separates combo played as ghostly dead once connected in balanced fashion. Single-ended hookup caused a nasty, unexpected and ultimately elusive ground loop.

Muting whatever system was active to switch cables took all of one minute. I needn't have worried though. While both presentations were clearly cut from the same yarn, the differences were not only surprisingly audible but centered, least anticipated, on the treble. Simply, the 2i was more lit up. It exhibited more HF energy, drew stronger contrasts to highlight outlines around performers and forged the concomitant and immediate perception of added transient detail. Combined, this created a sense of excitement that contrasted with the separates' greater relaxation.

While the transparent quality of the eVo architecture is by now quite legendary, the 2i seemed to inch ahead yet farther. This certainly didn't span an impossible mile but was appreciable enough to make me feel rewarded with a bit more detail and liveliness. None of the famed midrange purity, soundstaging acumen, exceedingly defined yet realistically weighted bass performance or tube-like naturalness were affected. This heightened resolving power was not purchased at the cost of analytical coldness but rather made for greater active involvement.

Take Sezen Aksu's Adi Bende Sakli, an album currently playing inordinate requests chez nous. "Ben Sevdali sen Belali" opens with multiple plucked guitars and cello con arco. The 2i better resolved the various sounds of irregular friction between horse hair and string, the guitarists' stealthy yet audible fingering changes on the fret boards, their sharp attacks of shortened strings bursting like millisecond sparks from embers while illuminating the surrounding darkness of space. Sezen's vulnerable broken voice, and those more remote ones of her backup singers during the chorus, were drier, more damped via the eVo 200.4. The 2i mimicked a careful reduction of room absorption to boost its "live" factor without turning overbearing cathedral. Sibilants and leading edges were slightly more emphasized.

"Tutuklu" on the same album is a very seductive number with typical house style synth beats. On a fullrange speaker like the DUOs, those can pleasurably massage the family jewels to cause an involuntary notch up in volume by a few clicks for - ahem, some more good vibrations.

The 2i rendered the ones way down low in the gutter with the same weight and impact but had a bit more bloom in the upper midbass, a sense of aura related to its HF halo that made the eVo 200.4 sound somewhat more damped or contained in this band.

Image a lunar satellite live feed. One astronaut jumps off the shuttle onto hard rock, another into sand. In slow motion, you can see how the sand kicks up while compressing slightly underfoot - the 2i's bloom in the midbass. The impact on solid rock doesn't feature this minute elasticity - the eVo 200.4's comparative dryness.

While the astronaut's knee joints will clearly prefer the cushioned sand landing, your overall listening preferences certainly won't be based on physical pain. I personally favored the 2i. Those like me who fancy the signature sound of French speaker manufacturer Triangle -- lively, among other reasons, because of a craftily contoured treble -- would likely give the same nod. A Spendor fan might prefer the eVo 200.4.

But these are just personal fancies based on relatively small differences. The more important factor to appreciate is that ever since Krell, with the original KAV 300i, legitimized the integrated amplifier concept in US-based High-End circles again, more and more manufacturers have followed suit. Consumers are catching on that the old mantra of "separates rule" is far more relative than retailers intent on selling multiple boxes might want you to know.

With today's ultra-efficient hornspeaker load that concentrates on the first quarter watt for most listening, the integrated amplifier was every bit as good as the more expensive separates equivalent. In fact, it was arguably superior in certain areas, this likely a function of system synergy plus personal biases. Unarguably, it was not inferior in any aspect. Let's see whether somewhat more challenging loads should qualify that last statement.

Before I report on the triple-woofer 6-driver 3-way Triangle Ventis (nominal 4-ohm) and 2-way nOrh SM6.9 monitors, a quick tip on Euro-style deregulation: As you'd expect, the five-way binding posts on the 2i are plugged to prevent the use of bananas or Deltrons. This is easily remedied. Take an ale or soft-tipped thicker needle and push out the small crosswise copper pins that fix the plastic plugs inside the banana channels. You can now unscrew the transparent hex nuts all the way, the inserts follow all by themselves, and the offenders are removed cleanly and quickly to go bananas or APe (if you use Analysis Plus with the locking WBTs as I do).

Manhandling more conventional loads down low

On the Ventis 222, using the same tracks as before, I heard the same treble-related differences but no others. Expectedly, the lowest bass didn't have the Stygian subwoofer quality of the DUOs. But that was true for either amplification rig and simply a function of the displacement differential between 2 x 10" sealed active versus 3 x 5.5" ported passive. To double-check the veracity of this observation, I searched my library for some bass-buster tracks. I unearthed a dusty, barely played Virgil Fox compilation [Laserlight 15 313] played on the Rufatti organ at California's Garden Grove that Dr. Hsu of Hsu Research subwoofer fame had sent for a previous VTF-2 review. Got bass? Time for a show'n'tell.

Cesar Franck's "Piece Heroique" with its elephantine bass pedal stomps, chromatic counterpoints and rumbling ostinatos would do. I cranked up the volume to sinner-at-the-pew levels.

Now asked to move significant amounts of air, the 200.4 pulled slightly ahead by offering tighter-fisted control, the 2i's subterranean rumbles a bit plumper, as though the Community Church was endowed with a few milliseconds longer reverb, the lowest bass difference more one of subtle quality than quantity.

For more contemporary ass-kicking than fire-n-brimstone sermons, I next turned to the Yellowjackets' bassist Jimmy Haslip and his scorching Latin opener "Los Feliz" on Red Heat [Unitone 13702-4802-2].

Same difference, with the 200.4's more massive tranny exerting that added finger of grip on drier, punchier bass while the 2i veered a few small degrees toward great p/p tube bass - a bit more rotund, not quite as crisp. And again, these differences were noticeable but not profound, certainly less so than in the treble.

With the SM6.9 rated at 87dB and amazingly good to somewhere into the high 30s when driven with the bridged eVo -- I shamelessly did just that during their review -- both rigs tied but bowed to the bridged eVo for the last word in slammatronics where theres' no substitute for raw power.

Adding up the eVo 2i - and what's that capital "V" doing there?

When, as reviewer or prospective owner, you're handed the final bill on the 2i, it doesn't add up. But it's not a deal but icebreaker kind of accounting error. Hence the capital "V" stands for victory - a cost/performance landslide that's chockfull of extreme user-friendliness and suave looks. And did I mention performance? It falls squarely into the preexisting award domain for the eVo amps and my personal esteem for the matching stand-alone preamp: Crystalline transparency; a tube-like midrange purity, naturalness of timbre and monster soundstaging without the bloom of valves; wonderful bass; and very extended yet silky treble that's never grating or dull but just right.

If you're shopping for an eVo, make sure you sample the integrated as well. Unless you have bears for speakers, you might likely repeat after me: 2i > eVo 200.2 + PRe1. With the $1,600 saved, approach your favorite local music seller and offer him this lump sum for 100 CDs, slightly discounted and tax assimilated. You'd not only make his day but your own. Definitive Blue Moon award material. Hand me that stamp! Now what should the caption read? Gimme a second to mull it over - my graphic artist sez it's gotta be short & sweet ...

manufacturer's website

Manufacturer's Reply

Thanks for the review - short, sweet and to the point. The eVo2i represents a straight path to musical enlightenment as your review clearly states. Indeed, such is the result of combining 90%+ efficient eVo power amplification with a clean preamp stage that I foresee more integrated magic in our futures.


John Stronczer
Chief designer, Bel Canto