Country of Origin
This review first appeared in April 2023 on fairaudio.de. By request of the manufacturer and permission of the author, it is hereby syndicated from the German original to reach a broader English audience. Ed.
Reviewer: Martin Mertens
Analog sources: stst Motus 2 table with stst Vertex arm and Zyx Yatra pickup
Digital sources: RME ADI-2 DAC FS with AKM chip, Antipodes S40
Preamps: SPL Elektor, Lehmann Audio Black Cube SE II phono
Power amp: Bryston 4B³
Loudspeakers: Horns FP12, Genelec 8020
Cables: In-akustik reference LS-404 Micro Air, Cardas Clear Light, Boaacoustic Silver Digital Xeno
Miscellaneous: Audioplan FineFilter S, PowerStar sockets, PowerPlant S device filter, PowerCord mains cables; Keces P8
Component supports: Horns EX
Room size: 17m², 2.6m ceiling
Review component retail: €24'100 as reviewed
If we look at current developments in the hifi sector, we see two opposing trends. There's the 'smart direction' in which devices get ever more compact, light and versatile. There's the 'massive attack' mode of uncompromising materials and often purist circuitry pursuing highest perfection. The 52kg new top integrated from Audio Analogue serves just one purpose so let's be particularly excited about the promises it holds for our listening den. There's something special about the AB in ABsolute. The amplifier can operate in peak sonic but energy-inefficient Class A bias; or in more efficient Class AB mode. In the former it does 50wpc/8Ω, in the latter thrice that. The power supply is overbuilt to deliver 200wpc into 2Ω class A, 600W in class AB. The circuit itself is a fully symmetrical zero-feedback concept with custom power transformers, 12 output transistors per channel and a total of 163'200µF capacitance. The two mains trafos which isolate their channels stack one above the other. Class A's inefficiency demands copious thermal dissipation by way of massive radiator surface which results in not inconsiderable wasted heat. This contributes to the stout weight and dimensions of this machine. Don't be fooled by cute pictures. At 48cm wide, the ABsolute exceeds the industry standard by 5cm. 26.5cm of height eclipse most rack spacing which in addition needs sufficient clearance for the warm air.
This machine is a purist affair with two balanced XLR and three RCA inputs which are selectable by remote or on the front. The master knob works as on from standby with a 3-second hold, volume control by rotating and sequential input switcher when pushed briefly. The active input confirms by numerical LED to the left and the volume by a chain gang of LED to the right. The volume control on the RR version tested upgrades the standard potentiometer to microprocessor-controlled discrete resistor ladders. The switching relays produce low mechanical clicking noises but Audio Analogue ensure that unlike elsewhere, nothing bleeds acoustically through the loudspeakers. One button above and another below the master control select class A or AB mode. That's it for the front. On the back are the obligatory power mains switch and equally indispensable speaker terminals plus input sockets. The included remote is well made, all aluminium and seven buttons deep including standby/on. As simple as the features are, the really impressive bits live inside. The entire circuit is symmetrical and strictly dual mono down to the dedicated mains transformers developed for this model. Only top-quality parts make an appearance including mil-spec resistors for minimized thermal distortion. Mechanical construction is uncompromising and reflected in heat sinks carved from solid like works of art.
Some time ago I fell for the Musical Fidelity AMS35i of very similar philosophy even if it 'only' managed 35 Class A watts, didn't know Class AB mode, used a conventional volume pot but sounded fantastic. Unfortunately its expanding case cracked every now and then when warm whereas the Audio Analogue ABsolute was as quiet as a church mouse on said score. After listening to the AMS35i for a long time, I wanted more power reserves, less heat and lower power consumption. This eventually led to my current pre/power combo of SPL Elector preamp and Bryston 4B³ power amp. To be honest, I'm even looking at Class D monos given the current energy discussion. And now this. The Audio Analogue ABsolute blew up my low-draw Class D plans in seconds when it seemed to convert every gram of its considerable mass into pure euphony. Had I somehow expected that the sonics of the Audio Analogue AAdac would revisit, this thing requires its very own descriptions; that's after the de rigueur warm-up due to its Class A mode. Let's start with the final frontier, space. From the start this amp succeeded in something which many other amplifiers have a hard time getting right. It built up a clear yet absolutely relaxed spatial illusion. In this aspect in particular, my hearing is reluctant to tolerate poor illusions. So I usually must get used to a new component over time. With the ABsolute however, three-dimensionality snapped into focus immediately and despite best intentions to only check briefly whether the amp worked after transport and installation, I sat spellbound for the duration. Things were insanely tacit and I didn't have to strain or focus at all to hear how big the recording venue was or where its musical actors located.
I just had to continue across a wider range of recordings. I could hardly get enough of this impressive dimensionality; recording permitting of course. On Babyblues, Y'Akoto were almost larger than life between the speakers and I'm sure that's how it's supposed to be. Eva Cassidy's Live at Blues Alley on the other hand kept me at arm's length; or the sound engineer willed it so. She sat three to five meters away, life size, guitar on lap singing, accompanying musicians spread around her a bit farther back. I really had fun when I let my secret passion for film music and musicals run wild. Such recordings are often very expensive to produce in terms of any realistic perspective. Against the background of current debates on environmental protection, "Air" from the classic musical Hair comes to mind. Tidal had a remastered version of the 'Original Soundtrack Recording'. And so mesmerized was I by what happened on stage that I had to listen through the whole thing from "Aquarius" to "Let the Sunshine In".
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