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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: iMac 27" fully loaded, Audirvana 3, Soundaware D300Ref, Denafrips Terminator Plus with 32 x upsampler and clock outputs engaged
Preamplifiers: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature w. Elrog ER50, Nagra Classic, Townshend Allegri+
Loudspeakers: Acelec Model One
Cables: Crystal Cable, Grimm Audio and LessLoss
Power delivery: Puritan Audio Lab
Room: 4 x 6m
Review component retail: €1'500+ for preamp (depends on configuration), €1'399 for amp
Systematically. It's how we'd like to assemble a satisfying hifi. The actual route to it is often more haphazard. Even reviewers can chance upon an unexpectedly winning combination well after a review first published. So these short features grouped under the same constellation logo are about the grace of hindsight, occasionally from sheer dumb luck when certain items just so happened to be on hand and produced unexpected sparks. In all cases, our archives will already have published feature reviews on the main components. But those reviews are about parts. Today's report is about proven combinations. Often the key players will be the amp+speaker pairing. After the room, that's the biggest variable. Adding a particular digital source (I don't do vinyl) won't markedly tip the balance or wipe out the winning bits. Neither will cables past a base level of competence. So don't expect complete itineraries. This is about locking in a particular sonic flavor or presentation with the most important determinants. Sorting out the secondary and tertiary players remains at your own discretion.
icOn 4Pro during bypass test against Bakoon AMP-13R's own attenuator
Passive aggro. When autoformer passives get as good as Pál Nagy's, they become very aggressive competitors. Unlike resistive passives, their input Ω goes up as SPL go down. To the source they becomes less and less visible as a load. Meanwhile output Ω goes down as SPL go down to increase bandwidth. Unlike TVC with limited bandwidth, there's extension to 200kHz at any setting. Unlike AVC/TVC with rotary selectors of limited steps, the icOn 4Pro's 68 steps switch by remote. Its switches aren't noisy reed relays but ultra-fast Vishay Fets for zero clicks but unlimited life. Unlike most competitors, modularity means that you fix the number of i/o; whether they be RCA/XLR; whether balanced electronically or by twin AVC. Outputs can even buffer without gain. It's all determined upon order time. A pre-paired Apple wand controls volume, balance and mute. There are display dim/sleep modes and other customizations. Sonically it showed our €15'000 Nagra a clean set of heels and competed directly against the Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature. Those details and other embarrassments of riches are in the review.
Of course any good preamp needs a good power amp. To stay on similar budget, we go from rainy Manchester in the UK to sunny Florence in Italy and knot our tie.
Gold Note's PA-10
A recent review of Gold Note's PA-10 on Darko.audio.com ended thus: "Bar the Klipsch Forte III—a-love-it-or-hate-it loudspeaker—the Gold Note PA-10 has excited me more than anything else I've reviewed for Darko Audio. I didn't think a simple power amplifier would do that. Bellissimo!" Phil Wright's well-deserved applause reminded me of my own very positive experience with this 75wpc stereo amp. It bridges to 300w/8Ω yet still doubles down to 600 into 4. Like very expensive class D from Merrill Audio and AGD, Gold Note's petite class AB proposition runs on gallium nitride Mosfets. There's adjustable damping factor and a choice of black, silver or champagne anodizing.
For bijou kit that outperforms what's expected at its price, the icOn 4Pro plus PA-10 strike me as a heavy-hitter combo and one that looks good with the silver amp for proper accessorizing etiquette.
Autoformer passive vs. elite Elrog ER50 direct-heated triodes. The icOn 4Pro more than lived to tell the tale. What's that definition of opera? They get stabbed by a knife and start to sing. Something like that.
Like this very immediate ultra-transparent preamp with its contrarious superior bass enunciation over premium active circuits, the amplifier is of the fast energetic sort without getting lean, frisky or forward. The two should make for a very dynamic compact duo that fits side by side on one standard shelf. If your tastes run to inefficient speakers or heroic music played at unhealthy SPL across unusual distances… Gold Note's bridge-tied mode builds in an upgrade path to quadruple power. For anyone who feels spoken to by today's system, that should simply be excess to avoid.
For cables, get something from Chris Sommovigo's Black Cat Cable stable like Coppertone. It'll hit the same sanity-meets-surprise notes of high performance for a fair price, in friendly dress code and size. Shake or stir. Serve. Bottoms up and cheers. In a far posher mood, don't hesitate to stick particularly the icOn 4Pro into seriously more elite company. Just do so before you commit to anything else. If you meet this passive after to realize that you could have saved 90%, you'll go stark mad. There. That was my good deed for the day. Now I can go back to slumming it with our Vinnie Rossi L2.
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