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The IA-30T is one of the cleanest sounding tube amplifiers I know and the polar opposite to Leben’s CS-600 and disparate also from machines by Prima Luna and Mystère (for example the latter’s ia-11). Instead its sound is far closer to the Leben CS-300, the Canor TP-106 VR+ and on a higher plane the Ancient Audio Silver Grand Mono. I’m purposely referencing only tube devices because I would not create the misconception that this sound character is easy to achieve. To be sure it is not a 'technical' or 'transistory' sound in the popular sense of these descriptors. Although it is based on similar clarity, expansive treble, taut well-controlled bass and lack of distortion, there is a superior soundstage with better differentiation especially in the midrange and treble bands. The sound is less distorted. I am repeating myself but I want to stress that the LAR amplifier explores new possibilities by lacking the typical distortions of both tube and transistor circuits.

I will begin my analysis with items that attract our attention negatively. Perhaps this is politically incorrect where it is thought better to praise and praise some more and sneak in any criticisms only at the very end and in small print. That’s one popular strategy I occasionally employ myself but then always on purpose and not to whitewash anything but rather to focus the reader’s attention on what I consider most vital. Linear Audio Research the company and its creator require no such tact and I think it better to start off with certain minor limitations. Such mentions won’t create any offense or frowns but rather cause insight to open the road to the next stretch.

The one element of the IA-30T I would like to change is its bass saturation. Coherence, control and differentiation were already spectacular and far superior to the recently reviewed similarly powerful Audio Akustyka Impetus amplifier and also better than the earlier mentioned Leben CS-600. Generally the bass performance was similar to my Special Edition Leben CS-300X but the Japanese amp was the more saturated. In "Transitory Life" on Laurie Anderson’s Homeland and "My Right Eye", strong bass transients with the LAR weren’t as palpable or fleshy as over the Japanese or my reference amp. Yet the LAR was far from lightweight. While it wouldn’t extend as low as Luxman’s M-800A or Tenor Audio’s 175S—I’m realistic and would never expect that—it was perfectly respectable except that I occasionally desired a more massive attack to call it perfect.

Interestingly this quality seemed the result of going for the best bass control and the need to keep this range as clean as possible. This I have recognized also in other well-designed amps where it is always about balancing one’s compromises such that they properly manifest a personal vision on sound and measurements. I view this as the outcome of a series of deliberate choices. If a future revision could retain the present pitch definition and control but add extension and fleshiness, it would be better still. One can of course already approach this to a certain extent with a strategic alliance of speakers, source, cables or even valve rolling. Regardless, I predict a coherence you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere. The IA-30T is a very complete well thought-out mature product with top-shelf parts. It seems best to mate to it ancillaries of the same even quality.

Honing in on the bass first should not have suggested any lack in the sense that the midrange or treble dominated. Rather it required an adjustment to listen to a tube amplifier which did not manipulate timbres. This is the result of a different path and unusual. Everything was exceedingly coherent and linear. In this context the midrange was especially worthy of our attention. It managed to go beyond clean into something human and natural even though this might seem like a contradiction in terms. Usually if the sound is very clean and disciplined, it is also too thin and artificial, i.e. devoid of the emotional factor. The LAR was different. Whilst being very clean indeed, it still managed to track all the subtle shadings of a vocal delivery. I was struck by this when listening to the SHM-CD reissue of Frank Sinatra’s I Remember Tommy which far exceeds all previous digital releases. The IA-30T played it with soaring dynamic contrasts but the most important thing for me was that the voice retained its natural timbre. It had the proper feel to make everything swing (Tommy Dorsey to whom this was dedicated and with whom Sinatra began his career was the king of the big band). The voice was clearly distinguished in three dimensions with a realistic shape like a man standing in front of an orchestra. That’s how I perceived it even if it was placed in only one channel.

Pop recordings that often make it difficult to separate out individual performaners also showed themselves in their best light. On this amplifier the leads of Michael Jackson (Thriller, 25th Anniversary) and Roberto Zanetti aka Savage (Tonight, 25th Anniversary Limited Edition), although a bit subdued by comparison to the surrounding instruments and not exactly highlighted, were terrific. It became apparent how the sound engineer mixed them deeper into the background yet there was no issue imagining how they stood between the instruments and pursued other goals than the percussion or guitar.