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For auditioning purpose, I've focused on ten recordings over a wide spectrum, each with its own artistic and sonic merits.

Ahn Trio: Ahn-plugged [EMI 7243 5 57022 2 7]: Unplugged is out, Ahn-plugged is in! The Korean sisters' classical piano trio plugs right into modern compositions by Bernstein, Piazzolla, David Bowie/Pat Metheny, Michael Nyman and Henji Bunch and is charged with zest and vibrancy. For explosive dynamics and transient, cue up Bunch's "Concerto for piano trio and percussion"; for imaging and proportions of instruments, Nyman"s "The Heart Asks Pleasure First".
Rameau: Suite Les Paladins played on period instruments by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Gustav Leonhardt [Philips 432 968-2]. The most imaginative Baroque composer brought entertaining excitement to the French court and theatres with scenes of storms, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Here the music is stately and graceful by comparison to his more programmatic numbers but still full of vitality and charm. Perfect for demonstrating detail and textural layering.
Marin Marais: Suites for viola da gamba played by Juan Manuel Quintana, with Delores Costoyas on théorbo and Attilio Cremonesi on harpsichord [Harmonia Mundi HMC 905248]. The viola da gamba is a seven-stringed ancient cello played between the legs. Master of the instrument and musical director of the French King's orchestra, Marais nurtured viola da gamba music into virtuoso pieces as well as heartfelt sentimental poems. Not all Baroque music is laid back. A few tracks from "Suite in A minor" here prove to be heart-tugging even with seemingly aged and weary period instruments like the théorbo, a large lute that gives out low grandpa grumbling noises, great for checking out contrasting timbres and decaying resonance in relation to ambience.
Marisa Robles: The Narnia Suite [ASV CD WHL 2068]. Inspired by C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, celebrated Spanish harpist Marisa Robles composed this exquisite suite and recorded it with her harp ensemble. You'll marvel not only at the lyrically descriptive melodies but also the sonic magnitude, color range and expressive power of the various kinds of Celtic harps and pedaled harps, accompanied by equally mesmerizing and imaginative flute and piccolo. A musical adventure and sonic feast that includes special effects extruded from unconventional playing techniques.
Operetta Duets sung by Barbara Hendricks and Gino Quilico, accompanied by Orchestre de l'Opéra de Lyon conducted by Lawrence Foster [EMI 7243 5 55151 2 4], a great program in perfect partnership, all splendidly recorded to give us a top-rank vocal demo disc.
Sibelius: Music for Mixed and Female Choir [BIS CD-998]. Rarely performed patriotic jewels long hidden in the commercial hay stack resurface at last with rightfully willful performance from the Jubilate Choir of Finland conducted by Astrid Riska. Another vocal demo disc for its rich harmonies and shades of tone colors.

Sibelius: The Wood-Nymph [BIS CD-815] played by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vänskä. Scandinavian mythology painted in darkly hued orchestral colors with delicate intertwining instrumentation. A must for checking out orchestral layering and textural details. The long sustaining build up over 10 minutes in the first track is the ultimate test for dynamic range and rhythmic accuracy.

William Bolcom: Songs of Innocence and of Experience conducted by Leonard Slatkin [Naxos 8.559216-18]. With close to 450 performers from the University of Michigan School of Music Symphony Orchestra, Contemporary Directions Ensemble and no less than five choirs, more than a dozen soloists, this 3-CD album won three 2006 Grammy Awards for Best Classical Album, Best Choral Recording and Best Classical Contemporary Composition. When I raved about this wonderful work of art in my Chinese review column three months before the Grammy Awards, I had no idea I was hand-picking a real winner. A monstrous recording to gauge how your system measures up.
William Bolcom: Music for Two Pianos played by Canadian husband and wife duo Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann [Naxos 8.559244]. Reviving the ragtime in his own style, Bolcom's eclecticism embraces all genres and beyond - Latin American dances reminiscence of Gottschalk, the ragtime idiom portraying The Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve cake walking calmly out of the Paradise! Highly imaginative playing vividly captured.
William Bolcom: Violin Sonatas played by Solomia Soroka, violin, and Arthur Greene, piano [Naxos 8.559150]. These four violin sonatas seal off my commitment to champion the works of my favourite living American composer. The sensual "Second Sonata" was inspired by the great jazz fiddler Joe Venuti. The Third, "Sonata Stramba" (meaning "weird") was dedicated to the greatest violin teacher of our time Dorothy Delay, honouring her 75th birthday back in 1993. The last movement is a weird fusion of dark Argentinean tango and Arabian music that teases the audience with endless sonic novelties. So is the "Arabesque" and "Jota" from the Fourth Sonata. Attacks from the bow and the felted hammers come alive - if your system is good enough that is.

There was surprise and no surprise in the outcome. With System A, everything fell into place as expected. There have been a lot of myths surrounding Apogee. Rest assured, the Apogee-phobia is not applicable to my 6-ohm nominal/4-ohm minimal hybrid model. Though the Centaur Minor is still only about 83dB inefficient, the Qinpu managed to drive them competently at first glance so to speak. Upon closer audition compared to the Symphonic Line, the Qinpu demonstrated its weakness in the lower octaves. This was most evident with the Sibelius CDs and the Bolcom Songs. I tried to seek help from the bass tone control and it did improve a bit without throwing the entire frequency range off balance. I also reset the bass control on the back of the Apogee to the 'high' position (I normally keep that 'flat'). But the best solution came from the pre-out feature of the Qinpu, which became handy to connect to a pair of Yamaha subwoofers. The soundstage was not as wide and deep as my reference amps (150W x 2 @ 8 ohms, 300W x 2 @ 4 ohms) but imaging was proportionally correct. The Operetta Duets proved to be an easy pleaser in that case, pinpointing the position of the soprano and the tenor. Though the treble was also a tad thin, at least Barbara Hendricks wasn't shrieking. (She never did.) And the orchestral layout was almost three-dimensional. On the whole, I'll give the Qinpu a pass in this unfair test, bearing in mind the price difference of the amps amounted to more than 20 times. I'd further concur that the Centaur Minor is not an ideal match for the Qinpu. I then replaced the speakers with a pair of Klipsch Synergy F2. I was pleasantly rewarded with a fuller, richer tonal balance and open air spaciousness. I could even turn off the subwoofers.

With System B, I was not stupefied by the fact that the 70-watt Simaudio sounded more powerful than the 100-watt Qinpu. On paper, the output rating of the Canadian W-4070SE is only 70/140wpc into 8/4 ohms but inside, it houses a massive 750 VA toroidal transformer. Each channel is equipped with two 25,000 MFD power supply filtration capacitors and four Motorola output transistors, definitely overkill for a 70-watt amp. The chassis is only mildly warm after extended operation (12 hours) and can be installed inside a cabinet (exactly what I do), further proof that the amp has ample headroom in terms of power reserve. Victor Sims, the French-Canadian designer, once testified that this amp could drive any speakers with an impedance no lower than 1.5 ohms! That's why I use this amp to drive the demanding Mark & Daniel Maximus-Monitor. There was one other secret weapon that made this comparison such a handicapped race for the Qinpu: The simaudio integrated has adopted the proprietary Renaissance circuit that keeps distortion under control without the need for negative feedback and the damping factor is one of the highest among Class A/B amps, which is greater than 500 compared to the Qinpu's 100. Having said that, the Qinpu didn't fail drastically at all. In fact, it finished the race with dignity. The dynamics and transient speed were coming through in the Ahn-plugged CD. The "Narnia Suite" was rendered with grace and suaveness. The dark timbre and gut vibrations of the viola da gamba and théorbo were faithfully reproduced in the Marais Suites. After all, I shouldn't expect anyone to use a low-budget 100-watt integrated amp to drive a heavyweight bi-wirable bookshelf monitor that requires a minimum 100 watts to perform.

After the experience from System B, I prepared for the worst with System C, knowing that the minimum entry fee for the Mark & Daniel Maximus-Ruby also starts at 100 watts. To my surprise, the Qinpu fared with confidence and eloquence. Apparently there are some major differences between the Qinpu and my reference amp, the most obvious being speed and energy. The NuForce is faster, cleaner and more energized, thereby resulting in more authoritative bass and more forceful orchestral tutti. The damping factor of the NuForce is claimed to be greater than 4000 at any audio frequencies [by the time you measure this not at the amplifier but speaker terminals, i.e. with the speaker cable in-between -- or worse, with the crossover inserted by measuring at the voice coil lead ins -- this figure will be considerably lower - Ed]. The output power is a robust 160/300wpc into 8/4 ohms. Yet the beauty of it is that this amp uses its power in a very relaxed way, as though with inexhaustible energy. I also shouldn't discount the fact that the Deltec DAC enhanced the musicality to quite a large extent. Some of my friends who cannot accept Class D amps because it is Class D will prefer the milder approach of the Class A/B Qinpu.

I am one audiophile who should not be called an audiophile because I uphold no audio principles or beliefs. I embrace the many different or even contradicting approaches of delivering music with open enthusiasm. I never find the NuForce/Mark & Daniel combination fatiguing. But I can also appreciate the mellower initiative of the Qinpu. Take The Wood-Nymph for example. With the NuForce, the long crescendo build-up was well paced and charged with latent energy, which, when finally released, exploded like a volcanic eruption. The scope and scale was epic and grand. With the Qinpu, the scope was slightly reduced but the scale was in proportion. The explosive climax was depicted in a calm and controlled manner like volcanic lava gently merging with ice. Undoubtedly, the NuForce opened up a bigger, deeper soundstage but the Qinpu was no miniature. The more important thing was how it also maintained the same musical involvement throughout. Likewise for the ambitiously orchestrated Bolcom's Songs and the multi-layered harmony in the Choir Music by Sibelius. The Qinpu never let the complex passages disintegrate. It had less intensity perhaps, less microdynamics for sure, but no significant detail was hidden. What really won my heart was the Qinpu's ability to control and command the Mark & Daniel overhung, long-throw bass driver and wideband mid/hi driver despite its low damping factor. The bass didn't seem to lose that much. The mid to high frequencies were seamlessly coherent. That really made the sforzando attacks in Bolcom's Violin Sonatas and Music for Two Pianos more exciting and the timbre of the period instruments in Rameau's Suite Les Paladins come to life.

There is one important question that I have been conveniently dodging: why didn't I compare the Qinpu with other integrated amps? An in-home audition was hard to arrange for the obvious reason: no dealers would loan me a kick-boxing sparring partner. The Onkyo A-9555 was the only one I listened to in a showroom on a special trip just to find out how it fared. It was mated with Mission M34i floorstanding speakers at that time. This combination, purely from memory, was clean and fast but somewhat shy in bass extension. Handicapped by the speakers perhaps? The amp actually utilizes Onkyo's 4th generation 'Vector Linear' Digital Technology, a modification of the pulse width modulation technology. Enriched with discreet MM phono circuitry and an interactive remote control, this is perhaps the only worthy contender againstthe Qinpu if you're not prejudiced against Class D.

If everything I said so far makes sense to you, you don't need a conclusion from me. If you still remember how disadvantageous it was for the Qinpu to race against the more expensive amps in my three reference systems, bearing in mind that none of them are integrated amps, you should be convinced that the A-1.0X is indeed one black stallion. It passed the ultimate test of low-impedance, low efficiency speakers and delivered command performance in a wide repertoire. It made the Klipsch Synergy F2 sing and the Mark & Daniel Ruby rock. It's rare to find an integrated amp that feels at ease with two extremes in speaker design. My 50-watt Audio Zone AMP-ST costs more than the Qinpu and clips during orchestral climaxes when mated with the Ruby. With this kind of bang for this kind of buck, it's time for us to re-evaluate the true meaning of good value. And please don't say "they don't make amps like that anymore" quite so readily next time. Qinpu has just refashioned the integrated amp in the good old-fashioned way.
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