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Reviewer: Paul Candy
Source: Eastern Electric Minimax CD player, Pro-Ject RPM 5 turntable w/Ortofon Rondo Blue cartridge
Preamp/Integrated: Manley Labs Shrimp, Audio Zone AMP-1, Pro-Ject Tube Box phono stage
Amp: Manley Labs Mahi monoblocks, JAS Array 2.1 [in for review]
Speakers: Green Mountain Audio Callisto (on sand filled Skylan stands), Gemme Audio Concert 108i [in for review], Silverline Audio Prelude [in for review], REL Q108 Mk II subwoofer
Cables: DH Labs Revelation, JPS Labs Superconductor+, Acoustic Zen Silver Reference interconnects, Audience Maestro interconnects and speaker cables, Auditorium 23 speaker cables
Power Cables: Gut Wire Power Clef 2, Power Clef SE, C Clef, Harmonic Technology AC-10 Fantasy, Audience Powerchord
Stands: Premier three-tier, filled with sand
Powerline conditioning: BPT Pure Power Center w/Wattgate 381 outlets w/ Bybee Quantum Purifiers and ERS cloth, GutWire MaxCon
Sundry accessories: Grado SR-60 headphones, Pro-Ject Speed Box, Gingko Audio Cloud 11 platform, Skylan isolation platforms [in for review], Grand Prix Audio Brooklands wall-mount shelving [in for review], Grand Prix Audio APEX footers, Isoclean fuses, Walker Audio SST contact enhancer, Walker Audio Ultra Vivid, Audio Magic/Quantum Physics Noise Disruptors, GutWire SoundPads, Herbie's Way Excellent Turntable Mat, dedicated AC line with Wattgate 381 outlet, Echo Busters acoustic room treatments
Room size: 11x18x8, short wall setup, hardwood floors with large area rug
Review Component Retail: $3,495
While I've recently upgraded to separates, my heart will continue to go aflutter when a new and interesting looking integrated amp hits the market. Some audiophiles see the breed as a step down. Not I. Some of the most enjoyable and musically truthful amplifiers I have heard were integrateds; the Leben CS-300X and Audiomat Arpege come to mind. Thus I was intrigued when I read of a new entry via Srajan's recent review on the Genesis M60 monos. A couple of email exchanges with Genesis Advanced Technologies' Gary Koh followed, then a short drive to audio retailer Audio Excellence just north of Toronto. One I60 was soon in my system cranking out tunes.
The I60 is more or less the integrated version of the M60 monos, with a built-in full function active preamp. No passive stuff here. Even the volume-control is special, sporting a hand-made stepped volume attenuator featuring precision-matched resistors.
A low negative feedback design, the I60 uses hand-selected, matched components such as custom designed hand-wound output transformers with high-grade copper and silicon steel; custom-made military-spec paper-in-oil caps; and tantalum-film resistors. The KT88, 6SN7 and 12AX7 tubes sit in low-noise gold plated ceramic tube sockets. All internal wiring is solid-core silver and point-to-point connected on a specially tuned, mechanically isolated non-ferrous plate. The I60 sits on a trio of hard conical footers as opposed to rubber feet.
As delivered, every tube is tested for linearity and low noise, then pair matched. Milspec versions of the 6SN7 are used for their reliability and durability as the phase splitter and driver tubes for both the I60 and M60. Each amp unit is burned in for 100 hours and the tubes are biased and rechecked before shipping.
Three rotary controls dominate the front panel. From left to right are power on/off, volume and selection for four line sources. On the far left is a soft blue LED to indicate power status. For some reason most blue LEDs I have seen attempt to barbecue my retinas with laser-like brilliance. I usually stick a piece of tape or a blob of Blu-Tac over the offending diode. This one is just right.
The rear sports an IEC power inlet, mains fuse, 4- and 8-ohm binding posts and four pairs of RCA input connectors. Bias taps and set points are conveniently located on both sides of the chassis near the front. Bias should hover around 2V. I checked several times over the couple months I had the I60 and bias never drifted. Also included is a matching tube cage on banana fittings to keep curious little hands away.
The build quality of the I60 was superb, inside and out. The high gloss black lacquer finish was beautiful if prone to finger prints and smudges.
Specs are as follows:
As Srajan mentioned in his M60 review, the Genesis amps are a collaborative effort involving Melody Valve Hifi's Mr. Wang, Genesis' Gary Koh and Arnie Nudell plus amp design guru/consultant Bascom King. While the basic amp is assembled by Melody in China, several crucial internal details are deliberately left out until the amps arrive at Genesis' Seattle factory (see sidebar).
The unfortunate reality of dealing with some if not all Chinese manufacturers is that they are likely to copy whatever improvements you make to their basic design platform, then ship those out the back door to some oily grey-market onliners at heavily discounted prices.
Therefore, your product can be undercut by the very firm that's building it for you. Apparently, it's not uncommon to see these knockoffs available even before the legitimate product reaches the market. I discussed this sad state of affairs with Gary who admitted that he expected going in that his amp would be copied sooner or later. Hence he decided to save certain vital modifications for arrival stateside. These involve alterations to the feedback loop and other items to retain the musical flow which excessive feedback kills off while still offering excellent bass control and proper damping.
It's well known that changing a cap or resistor can have a profound influence. It's final minutiae like these where Genesis hides its ace. As Gary says, "It takes real work to voice the amp to where it is now. I can't even begin to count the number of late nights I spent soldering in components, listening, taking one out and putting another one in... ad nauseam! And much of the time, changing values made less of a difference than changing the brand of the component - like an Auricap vs. a Nichicon (3 grades of them) vs. a RelCap..." Indeed. I have witnessed this myself with another manufacturer where just swapping a single resistor had an enormous impact. Why go through the blood, sweat and money to design and voice a product only to see it stolen, rebadged and sold at a discounted price elsewhere?
If you see an amp that appears identical to the I60 or the M60 monos at a considerably lower price elsewhere (I found knockoffs of both at two different sites), they are not the same. This applies to several brands as I learned. Recently a Canadian distributor locked up the exclusive domestic rights to offer a particular Chinese brand. Exclusive? I found the entire line available at up to two thirds off with a US-based online grey marketer. Perhaps they're identical to the official line? How can consumers tell? How could even reviewers tell without engineering credentials and well-equipped test benches?
In the end, it's not our job to enter this grey zone and deal with people and products that openly defy formal distribution contracts and operate unethically. Customers dealing with these outfits are on their own. As regards our Canadian importer, unless he can somehow differentiate his official product from the clones or force the manufacturer to stop his back-door practice, what dealer will carry his line? I wouldn't. Unfortunately, this behavior is slowly undermining large segments of the high-end industry. As Gary Koh stated in an email to me, "when the last dealer in the US goes out of business because of these internet discounters, where will you and I and your readers go to audition equipment?" Unfortunately, the decline in the number of competent retailers who can actually provide decent customer service to offer value-added benefits that justify paying full price has contributed to this situation. Chinese imports now exploit customer dissatisfaction with this state of affairs by aggressively selling on price, often involving direct drop shipment to your door from China. Should your domestic voltage be different, you could be stuck with a cheap step-up/step-down transformer or internally changed transformers that don't sonically measure up. Again, you're on your own.
|The I60 was dead quiet in operation, eliciting no weird noises, ticks, pops or hum. Controls worked flawlessly and felt substantial. For a tube amp, the I60 ran surprisingly cool. The I60 projected a wide open detailed soundfield with plenty of layered depth. There was terrific solidity in the bottom end (who doesn't like a nice hard ass?) that didn't lose control at higher volume levels yet remained integrated with the rest of the spectrum. The I60 displayed an iron-fisted cornering grip that I usually associate with solid-state designs. In fact, it was difficult to believe there were only 60 watts on tap. It seemed there was far more steam in the boiler room. Most if not all integrateds I have heard start to fall apart at some point but the I60, as in the Timex watch commercials of old, took the beating and kept on ticking unperturbed.
The top end was open and with plenty of detail but didn't at all sound etched or hyped. The I60 was also very clean sounding, refined, detailed and resolved low-level information to a surprising degree.
Glenn Gould's solo recordings [Sony S3K 87703] are generally -- and some would say notoriously -- dry sounding and lacking in warmth and ambience. With the I60, I certainly heard that plus Gould's infamous vocalisations which I rather enjoy. So many contemporary classical recordings sound technically perfect yet bland and lacking in personality which is something Gould could never be accused of. I observed excellent transient detail and Gould's characteristic touch and phrasing reproduced effortlessly. I easily heard the sonic limitations of any recordings I chose but I also dug a little deeper into them than anticipated. There's a fine line between resolved and sterile. The I60 performed admirably in this regard.
Andreas Staier's Hamburg 1734 [Harmonia Mundi HMC 901898] has to be one of the greatest harpsichord recitals ever recorded. Staier plays a modern copy of a 1734 Heironymus Albrecht Hass instrument whose maker was inspired, if you can believe this, by the complex tonal range of the organ. I swear you've never heard a harpsichord like this. It's downright mind-altering. If you buy one Baroque disc this year, make it this one. With the I60, the recording was downright hypnotic. The timbre, scale and wonderfully expressive playing were first rate.
The I60 resolved inner detail without sounding cold or analytical and it handled the all important midrange truthfully without excessive bloom or warmth. It also captured the tonal character or timbre of instruments. Piano, violin, viola, clarinet etc all sounded convincing in Schubert's Octet [Speakers Corner/Decca SXL 2110]. I particularly liked the natural way the I60 portrayed Elizabeth Schwarzkopf's vocals on Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs [Testament/EMI SAX 5258] as well as the scale and opulence of the orchestra. The string tone was ravishing and the recording sounded exactly as I imagined Walter Legge would have wanted with instruments and voices perfectly balanced and arrayed in a glowing acoustic.
The I60 also rocked when called upon. The Flaming Lips new release, At War With the Mystics [Warner CDW 49966] was a blast via the Genesis. Big deep powerful bass lines, pounding drums, screeching guitars and weird synth chirps and beeps were the order of the day. In the rhythm and pace department, the I60 chugged along with toe-tapping ease. The I60 matched well with my Green Mountain Audio Callisto as well as the horn-loaded Gemme Audio Concerti 108 and Silverline Audio's new floorstanding Prelude in for review. The Genesis took complete control of the Prelude's wee 3.5" aluminum/magnesium alloy drivers and drove them to rather surprising levels. It may seem odd to match a $3,500 amp with a $1,200 pair of speakers but the pairing was truly impressive. The positive results realized with three very different loudspeakers suggests that the I60 should drive just about anything.
In terms of solidity and deep-down control, the I60 blew the recently reviewed single-ended JAS Array 2.1 right out of the water. That should come as no big surprise since a competently designed push/pulll amp will generally have more impressive speaker-driving control and damping than a SET. The 2.1 excelled in the areas SETs are traditionally known for, i.e. intimacy, inner detail and refinement. However, the I60 gave up very little in this regard. Match that with impressive dynamic range and transient response and you've got yourself one firecracker of an amp. I no longer had my Stingray on hand for a direct comparison. I sold it to help raise funds to purchase my Shrimp/Mahi review loaners. (Help, somebody save me from myself!). However, my aural memory suggests the I60 is a weightier, more resolved sounding amp that should be compatible with a wider range of speakers than the Stingray.
Comparing the I60 to my Mahis was a little trickier since I could easily alter the latters' sonic presentation at whim via their UL/Triode and feedback toggles. Furthermore, we're talking separates with a substantial price differential to hardly make for a fair comparison. With that in mind, my new living-room denizens of the deep, while ballsier and more resolved than my departed Stinger, were a little veiled and ever so slightly coarse by direct comparison to the I60. Damn, I hate when that happens. Now you know why I dislike direct comparisons. On the other hand, my seafood platter was superior in relaying the spark and excitement of Johnny Cash at Folson Prison [Sony CK 65955]: "This show is being recorded for an album release on Columbia Records so you can't say hell or shit or anything like that."
While the I60 indeed impressed on so many levels to arguably be the tube integrated from a technical brilliance perspective, something in the context of my equipment and tastes was amiss. The Shrimp/Mahi -- and to a lesser extent the Stingray -- just had a way of projecting music in a more forward and outgoing manner that provoked a more emotional response from me. The I60's sonic signature was indeed cooler while also more open and aerated. I came to think of the I60 as Apollonian: clean, lucid and balanced, with the Shrimp/Mahis more robust, red-blooded Dionysian exuberance. My personal preference tends towards the latter. Mind you, emotional involvement is a highly subjective animal. What might keep my zipper up could, for you, be an evening of wanton carnality with Scarlett Johansson. Or we can ignore the touchy-feely stuff and cut right to the chase: the I60 excelled at everything I would expect from a high-performance integrated amp. If you are looking for a highly resolved, powerful, dead-quiet reference-quality amp with the tonal color that only tubes can do while avoiding any added cloying warmth, put the I60 on your list. There's a good chance it'll stir that elusive emotional trigger more for you than it did for me.
With its low level detail retrieval, quiet operation, balanced presentation, near effortless power and dynamic ability, the I60 is a terrifically built high-performance piece that should easily find a home in many systems. It is thus well worth checking out. It's one of the most refined and precise integrated amps I've heard yet and surely a whole lotta amp for the money. The I60 most certainly commands respect and, in the right system I expect, even mad love.
One factual point - the amp uses solid-core and silver wiring throughout. In some areas, particular the high voltage plate heaters, it is solid-core copper with an air dielectric. Silver multi-stranded sounded much better for the feedback loop so that's what was used. Most high-voltage signal path wire is solid-core silver.
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