I've mentioned the circumstances surrounding the appearance of the RGi35ENR at my place of residence over in the addicts guide thread (post #95 for those who are curious). I've re-posted the pics pics above from there, they are the only ones I've got and we can't have a review thread without a few pics.
You know, sometimes I forget what it is that Iâ€™m looking for in an integrated amp. Am I looking for perfection? Wellâ€¦ sureâ€¦ why not, but Iâ€™m enough of a realist that Iâ€™m not actually expecting to find it.
Am I looking for extended highs (because I do like them!), sweet mids, natural mids, sexy vocals, deep bassâ€¦ I could go on and on.
But I think what Iâ€™m looking for is an enjoyable presentation, one that entertains. And Iâ€™m not really that fussy on the details (not until I put on my critical hat and reach for my clipboard anyway) Iâ€™m just after an amp that I will enjoy listening to, everything else is secondary. Most of the amps Iâ€™ve managed to get my hands on over the past few years have sounded pretty good, there were only really 3 that I had serious â€œlack of appreciationâ€ issues with and it wasn't so much that they did things badly it was more that they did things in a way that I really didnâ€™t like. Listening to them was still a worthwhile learning experience (even if I didnâ€™t choose to do it for very long). I am happy to say that the â€˜35ENR has provided me with another learning experience, and quite a pleasant one to boot.
Now Iâ€™ve been sent this REDGUM RGi35ENR Black Series (by accident, or possibly due to the wish I made when I saw that shooting star last week) to add to my amp experiences and I am happy to say that I quite like it. Itâ€™s got the kahunas of a paratrooper, more bass than a guitar shop and enough honesty that it could never hope to get itself elected to parliament. All of these are good things, but Iâ€™ve come unstuck in the past a few times now where Iâ€™ve discovered that even though I thought an amp performed great in initial listening they turned out to have a serious flaw or two once I put on my chosen test disc and put pen to paper so, let us get down to brass tacks shall we?
The cables in use for this test were Aurealis ICs from source to amp and REDGUM speaker cables. The source was my usual Consonance cd120 and the speakers were my Lenehan/ETI S2R stand mounts. The â€˜35ENR is rated at 65wpc and sports some pretty decent power claims down into 2 Ohms, if you want all the details I suggest you check out the indiegogo link here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/redgum-black-signature-series-amplifier-project
Or one of the SNA links, news here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/redgum-black-signature-series-amplifier-project
And discussion thread here: http://www.stereo.net.au/forums/index.php?/topic/66328-21-years-of-redgum-so-something-special-had-to-happen/
Triangle is bigger and bolder than ever with a longer ring out (or hang) time, trumpet seems to be ever so slightly smoothed/sweetened (so not quite as raspy as usual) but it retains its identity well (ie itâ€™s still very distinctly a trumpet), Piano is similar, just ever so slightly less crisp and more sweet than Iâ€™m used to, not enough of a change to annoy just enough to indicate a distinct personality. This is the first time Iâ€™ve heard â€˜slightly sweetenedâ€™ upper treble that I actually enjoyed.
I had a bit of a hard time coming up with words here, eventually I coined the phrase
â€˜naturally, neutrally, pleasant, and just a little bit mellowâ€™
to describe the mid range presentation of the â€˜35ENR.
Provides extra large helpings of Strong, Deep, Fast, Hard and Solid Bass. At lower volume levels the bass sits happily and unobtrusively in line with the top end and the mids but when you up the volume it really kicks in. At these higher volume levels it can intrude on the higher frequencies and hide some of the detail of them, however if you are listening at these volumes then it is unlikely that you would be seeking those details and more likely that you would be trying to drive your friends from the room (or possibly your neighbours from the street). There is a massive amount of bass on tap for an amp of this wattage rating. Very impressive.
7.75 (was to be an 8.0 but I marked it down 0.25 due to the occasional bass intrusion)
Very much the same as the mid range, the vocals seem to a bit understated but end up being very captivating all the same. The REDGUM doesnâ€™t seem to exerting an influence over them in any way, they certainly arenâ€™t sweetened, softened or smoothed, they seem untouched. An example of less is more maybe? It certainly makes the vocals very hard to score, Iâ€™m going to go with a 7.5 as I did with the mid range, but keep in mind that if â€˜un-interfered with vocalsâ€™ is what you are after then this should be an 8.0 or 8.5.
I have to make mention of this, the â€˜35ENR has a massive level of channel separation, so much so that many vocals and instruments that I am used to hearing â€˜smack bang in the middle of the speakersâ€™ migrated to the left or right by up to a meter (for a few songs there I must have looked like I was watching a tennis match, my head was turning left and right so often). This is a pretty damn cool effect (IMO, obviously), you could almost call it â€˜enhanced stereoâ€™. Now I stopped giving scores for soundstaging a while back, and this is a pity because here the little REDGUM excels. If I was awarding scores this one would have to be a 9.0.
Pretty much as expected, it would score somewhere between 6 and 7, maybe 7.5, which was a bit of a let down after the 2D result above.
Overall Performance Integration:
Loves its transients, puts out a very dynamic and solid performance that it is generally happy to let the bass take the lead in (at higher volumes anyway), the highs and mids can be surprisingly delicate and detailed at times but the amp does like to remind the listener that it really likes to emphasise its bass performance. This is one of those amps that loves everything to change, while it doesnâ€™t mind nice mellow flowing music it absolutely loves big dips and crashes. In some ways it puts me in mind of a 20 year old with a new sports car, heâ€™s always smiling but heâ€™s smiling wider when heâ€™s accelerating, braking or changing direction.
Ability to Emote:
Iâ€™m going to split this in two here and award one score for the mids and highs and one for the bass.
7.0 (mids and highs) a nice light allure that slowly and gently drags you in, that naturalness speaks to you but it does it a bit slowly since it takes a little time to work out exactly what it is you are hearing.
8.5 (bass) Grabs you by the scruff of the neck, drags you to the end of the pier, wraps a chain around your left foot and then throws you (and the two bricks attached to the other end of the chain) off the end. Even if you are not a fan of it, you are definitely going to react to that bass!
Electric Guitar Test:
7.5, very good but that natural mid range doesnâ€™t quite let me hear the â€˜feedback edgeâ€™ that I like. Luckily this score increases to 8.0 if you crank the volume over 85db.
80â€™s Rock Test:
7.0 Perfectly adequate but just not outstanding. I may try some other 80â€™s rock just to confirm.
Another amp that is just that little bit different to most. Itâ€™s been a long time between drinks in my chosen hobby lately but at least I can say that those drinks have been â€˜strong and interestingâ€™ ones. Since REDGUM use a passive volume control I was expecting to hear some of that softening of the leading edge of notes that I heard with the ME240 (particularly when I ran it without a low impedance source) and/or the mellow liquid sound/effect of the Exposure 2010S2. I could hear it (to a lesser extent) with the REDGUM RGM175 system I had previously too, so it was pretty surprising to discover that it just didnâ€™t happen with the â€˜35ENR. Good stuff!
In fact, there is very little about the sonic signature of this amp that reminds me about the RGM175 system that I had recently. Admittedly it was 5 years old and this amp is about 5 minutes old so that may well explain it. I will say that I like the â€˜35ENR more than the RGM175 though, and Iâ€™m not sure that all of that difference can be said to be due to my â€˜soft spotâ€™ for integrated amps. Iâ€™m thinking those three initials make quite a difference.
Another thing I discovered was that the amp is sensitive enough to easily display the difference between 2 DACs, I had the REDGUM CD5ENR hooked up and was doing some swapping back and forth between it and my Consonance cd120 and found that the character of the amp changed significantly when I switched between the two, the bass increased by at least 10% with the CD5 ENR, and was pushed out by 2 or 3 feet which separated it (in the soundstage) from the top end and the mids which seemed to stay where they already were, in between the speakers. Now I know the two players have quite different sounding character but it is rare to find an integrated amp that can display that change in character so vividly (if only they all did then there would be far fewer people walking around claiming that DACs donâ€™t make a difference). That is a definite feather in the little REDGUMâ€™s cap.
All of this is about in line with what I would expect to get in an integrated amp in the two to two-point-five thousand dollar range (Iâ€™m talking Aussie dollars here). It certainly fits in with many other amps Iâ€™ve heard that sit in that price range. Butâ€¦ it isnâ€™t in that price rangeâ€¦ is it?
OK, so now that Iâ€™ve typed somewhere around 1700 words about the integrated amp in question, how about I try it out as a power amp? If I wind the volume pots fully open then I can, and, to my way of thinking, if I can then I really should. And quickly, before anyone asks for it back.