Cafad

Integrated Amps: An Addicts Guide.

354 posts in this topic

No, I didn't. It wasn't that I didn't want to, I just had to pick and choose.

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That elusive lotto win would help there

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I feel a little strange quoting myself here but way back on page one I wrote this little paragraph.

The Yamaha A-S1000 retails for $2500, the Burson PI-160 for $2300 and the Marantz KI Pearl Lite for $2300. Now if the Pearl Lite gives us $2300 worth of sound quality then I would say the Burson by comparison should cost between $3000 and $3500 and the Yamaha $3750 to $4000. And that should be food for thought for anyone who is budget conscious.

Now if I use that scale things could get very confusing, but if I change it they might get even more confusing so I'll stick with it just for now. The Myryad and Exposure would be from 4k to 4.5k and 4.5k to 5k and the NAD C390DD would sit between 7k and 8k. All arbitrary of course but it illustrates just how good the NAD is as an audio component.

Now comes the really hard part, describing the sound. The NAD C390DD is very, very close to infinitely neutral. It gives you what is on the disc (or file) and nothing more, no coloration of any kind.

So why then, does it sound warmish to me? I think it is the warmth that comes from a complete lack of cool character rather than the warmth that comes from an amp that is built to sound warm, if that makes any sense. It doesn't sound warm but it sounds even less cool and thus is warm by default.

It also makes you listen, really listen, because all those songs you like suddenly sound just that little bit different and your brain is trying to figure out why. Complex passages are absolutely beautiful to experience but if you are listening to a song that was just on the disc as a filler (ie the artist hasn't tried too hard to make it sound interesting) then it really sounds like a filler and the track appears dull and boring.

Also it does not emphasise the bass, to the point where I was wondering what was happening for a while. Eventually I realized that most of the amps I have heard already are actually artificially deepening the bass where they should not. When the deep bass is actually on the disc it shows up just as big and deep and loud as it ever has but much of the bass I am familiar with on many songs was lighter than I am used to. It does make the songs sound just that bit better balanced for it too.

And that is the big thing about the NAD, everything in its place. Even representation across the board for the highs, mids and lows with no exceptions (unless the song requires it). A big, linear soundstage with a large sweet spot (I estimate about 3 times the size I am used to) and a very smooth progression from one speaker to the other within that soundstage. It is not that it does nothing badly, it doesn't even do anything mediocre, the worst it ever sounds is on the excellent side of "very good".

I think this amp should come with a warning, because after hearing it and (oh dear!) getting used to it, I fear that any normal person will become rather intolerent of poorer amplification and that could be a very expensive intolerence to develop.

Edit for a typo and a comment.

I haven't tried to describe the highs, mids and lows because they sound so neutral and natural that I am convinced that this is exactly how the artist wanted them to sound and so commenting on them would feel like commenting on the artists opinion rather than the capabilities of the NAD in reproducing them.

Edited by Cafad
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OK, I've gone through a little post NAD therapy and ready to get back to the trialing of more conventional designs. As an aside I have to leave the NAD off my preferences list as it is both a DAC and an integrated amp, which is a good thing because if I rated these amps on a scale of 1 to 100 the NAD would be sitting at about 125.

So, back to the world of analog class A or A/B and some class D.

I have picked up, over ebay, for the massive sum of $500, one of the first Myryad intergrateds, an MI120. It is about 16 or 17 years old now, old enough that it doesn't use the standard toshiba 2SA1943/5200 pairing (since they didn't exist back then), it uses the previous toshiba 2SA1302/3281 pairing. I was expecting this amp to be pretty good since it is technically the grandaddy of the little Z142 that I like so much, what I was not expecting was it to sound as good as it did.

I have a feeling that this search for the "integrated amp that works for me" is nearing its end because this MI120 ticks all the important boxes.

Beautiful lush highs and upper mids to the extent that Evanescences' first album sounds more like Amy Lee with a piano and a backing band, it elevates her vocals and the piano to an entirely new level. Loved it. And the effect was repeated for Dido and Norah as well. It also did a great job with Mark Knoffler, so its vocal skills are not just limited to the ladies.

The mids were nice and smooth and "gave way" to the vocals, not so warm sounding for an english component this amp, far more smooth (with a fluidic feel) than warm.

The bass was slightly underemphasised (reminiscent of the NAD) but when it is meant to be there the bass performance is second only to the Exposure 2010S in its depth, resonance and smooth presentation (again with a slight fluidic effect to it).

The MI120 also has a sense of energy, a foot tapping factor that is almost as catchy as the Sonneteer Campion and a speed that is not quite as fast as the Sonneteer or the Z142 but is applied to the whole of the frequency range whereas the Sonneteer and the Z142 concentrate on the mids. A more mature, more versatile and more powerful version of the Z142 would be a fair description of the MI120.

If only it had been just that bit deeper, a little tighter and a touch more smooth in the bass then this would be the perfect amp for me. As it is I am very excited about Trevor Lees telling me that he is getting in the MXI2080 and after he tells me the price I will buy one (I could try to be less eager but he is getting to know me so there wouldn't be much point in acting like I might not buy one if the price is too high, we both know I'm going to) and then it just might be the last amp I need. Fingers crossed!

That won't kill this thread either, I have enough amps on hand (and a couple in transit) that I can keep the thread going for a couple of months. In the meantime I have been collecting up some cables for a future review thread. And if anyone with a pair of usher S520s is willing to donate some time and effort I am willing to send them 3 or 4 amps to trial, let's see if we can find the "best" amp to pair with those little bookshelf wonders.

Cheers guys and gals, and have a good weekend!

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Ten days and no new reviews, damn I'm slacking off! I decided to switch back to the Exposure 2010S instead of moving forward after the MI120, loving that deep, smooth ocean of bass. It's like chocolate ice cream for the ears. Musical Fidelity will be next, I think, though it may take a few more days to tear myself away from the Exposure.

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Ten days and no new reviews, damn I'm slacking off! I decided to switch back to the Exposure 2010S instead of moving forward after the MI120, loving that deep, smooth ocean of bass. It's like chocolate ice cream for the ears. Musical Fidelity will be next, I think, though it may take a few more days to tear myself away from the Exposure.

Agreed. There's a deep richness to the Exposure.

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You wouldn't have heard the Exposure 1010 by any chance John? I've been wondering how it measures up?

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You wouldn't have heard the Exposure 1010 by any chance John? I've been wondering how it measures up?

Alas not. :-/

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My new Myryad MXI2080 arrived yesterday and I have to say I like the look of her chassis (not quite as much as I like the look of Kate Beckinsales' chassis, but close, that is how good it looks!) the Myryad is impressive . Dual mono construction and the pre and power sections are not connected internally, they have to be connected via the back panel, Myryad supply a pair of nice thick jumpers just for that purpose (no brand name on them but they look to be Neutrik plugs to me). Spare pre out and power in jacks are there if you want them and the entire top panel is vented so you can see the internals without having to take the top off (that's a big thing for me). Two torroidal transformers mean separate power for pre and power stages, everything about this amp screams quality at me. And it sounds rich, sweet, full, smooth, tight and strong (I could probably draw another comparison to Kate Beckinsale there, but I won't). Not quite as rich or as smooth as the Exposure 2010S but it carries a more full bodied sound to it in the mids and highs. If that bass mellows just a little with run in this could be the one. It is definitely as good as its grandad (the MI120). I should really stop typing now, I've only listened to a few songs on 2 cds and the amp is brand spanking new so I should be holding off on developing an opinion but it is just such a slow day at work I thought I'd type up a post. Cheers all!

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Thanks for the great thread Cafad. I was interested in your comments on the Perreaux E160i as that was my amp for the last 9 years, recently replaced with a Musical Fidelity M6i. Agree that the E160 is a bit lacking in detail, and it doesn't seem to have the punch one would expect from a 160W amp. Still it served me well. The new Perreaux integrated, the Audiant 80 watter would be a worthy addition to this review list if you came across one. I probably should have auditioned this amp, but balked at moving to an amp of half the rated power, which is no doubt flawed logic as my speakers are easy enough to drive. Keep the reviews coming, nice work.

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Thanks stuarth, glad you're enjoying the thread. I agree about the Audient and I really would like to get hold of one but there are just no second hand examples available and the new price is still over $2k, I can pick up 2 or 3 other amps for that much coin and have 2 or 3 times as much fun. I'll get one eventually but I don't think it will be soon.

I take it you are enjoying the MF M6i? Care to make any comments on its performance? I'm always interested in other opinions of good integrateds and I've yet to get to an MF.

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I take it you are enjoying the MF M6i? Care to make any comments on its performance? I'm always interested in other opinions of good integrateds and I've yet to get to an MF.

I don't have many reference points for comparison, compared to the wide range of amps you have listened to - but I can start by saying that the build quality of the M6i impressed me. It's a big solid beast and I liked the large volume control which operates smoothly (vs the E160 which has no volume knob at all). Putting out 200 watts into 8 ohms it has heaps of power and most of my listening is done below 9 o'clock on the dial. There's a built-in USB DAC which I'm not using but could be useful if my audio-GD NFB1 was out of action.Both imaging and midrange detail is improved over the E160i. I find some harsh recordings can sound a tad fatiguing but that may be down to my speakers (NZ made Image 414 floor-standers) and a somewhat reflective room. Returning to the Audiant - it is a nice-looking piece of kit and also has a built in DAC (Sabre ES9006) and phono stage. Even if I didn't have both those already, reducing clutter does have its appeal.

Edited by stuarth

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At a retail of $3K it is more expensive than everything I have trialed except the Krell but since it contains both a high quality DAC and 160W of power it may just be better value for money than most of the amps already mentioned on this thread.

First time in a while I read this interesting thread.

That's the whole point of the NAD 390DD you get it all in one. I know of no combination of amp and DAC at about $3K that equals this thing little alone bests it. $7K - maybe equal it but I don't think it will best it. I think it takes something like $10K to do that - it really is that good.

Thanks

Bill

Edited by bhobba

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Bill, have you tried out the phono stage in the NAD? I had nothing to try the phono section out with (just the cd line in).

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Bill, have you tried out the phono stage in the NAD? I had nothing to try the phono section out with (just the cd line in).

A number of people have asked about that. I don't have nothing to try it with and neither has anyone I lent it to. If anyone out my way wants to borrow it to try that aspect let me know - but hurry - I will be on-selling it soon.

Thanks

Bill

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Just to add my initial experience to this great integrated amp review thread started by Cafad.

I now have both the Rotel RA-1520 and the Rega Brio-R (new addition) amps, and as both these were covered by Cafad previously, I thought I'd add my experiences with them on my system.

I only spent maybe 45 minutes listening, so this is just my initial impressions. I played tracks from Norah Jones, Chris Botti, Kings of Leon, Sarah McLachlan via Audirvana Plus, and John Mayer and Norah Jones via the P3-24. This opinion is just from what my average, consumer grade ear hears.

Firstly, I am happy with my Rotel RA-1520, but when the Brio-R first came out, I really wanted it to match my Rega DAC, and I love the shoebox size cases from an aesthetics point of view. Yes, its superficial, but I just couldn't shake the desire to be able to have a matching system. Especially, when the Brio-R had so many good reports.

The Brio-R is a really basic amp compared the Rotel features wise, for the same money. Both are around the $1K rrp. But the proof is in the sound. The phono stage on the Brio-R is really good. Better then the Rotel for sure, and similar performance to the Graham Slee Amp 2 SE I currently use. I found the Brio-R sound more forward then the RA-1520. The Rotel being a bit further back and a bit wider sound stage.

The Brio-R has a more intimate presentation then the Rotel. And it is a tad smoother and more relaxed then the RA-1520. However, it feels like the RA-1520 has a bit more energy then the Brio-R. However, the Brio-R presentation did seem to draw me in more. I'll have to test this point more in the weeks to come.

Both amps have more then enough power for my B&W CM5s in my room, with the dial not going past 9 o'clock.

My experience lately with anything I do to my system, the changes are subtle. So for the moment, I'm still happy with either. Both offer a slightly different presentation to the music. So just need to listen further to see which presentation I prefer more.

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Thanks for the M6i info stuarth, I really have to get to that MF of mine, it's been waiting far too long.

Quite welcome peacewise, glad you are enjoying/interested in it.

Thanks for the Brio R and Rotel RA1520 info bebop, I was hoping that the rotel would fair better on warmer speakers and it certainly seems to work well with your B&Ws. Enjoy the comparo!

I've had a little time to work with the MXI2080 now and while I love it to bits it has been a bit of a strange relationship. The sound started out stronger than the MI120 and nice and rich and smooth with a full body to the mids, I expected this to settle in as the hours stacked up but instead everything dropped away. The richness reduced to less than one third of "new", the smooth sound is still there but it is a background smoothness and is no longer a major part of the sonic signature of the amp. The full bodied sound that I was surprised at but really liked also diminished to a third or less of its initial level. All of this was a bit disappointing because I was expecting (wanting really) a version of the MI120 that had more of everything but what I received was an amp that sounds much more like a pre/power than an integrated.

Integrated amps have a sound (call it personality, house sound, colouration, etc) that distinguishes them and therefore makes some people like and some people hate them. Power amps have a similar sound but much less of it, a cleaner or more pure sound I suppose it could be called and this is what I find best describes the sound of the MXI2080. It is a pre/power amp that has traces of Myryad integrated amp in its DNA, traces of that richness and smoothness and a powerful full mid range but a much cleaner, much stronger sound than any of those integrateds it is decended from. I have happily listened to several of my standard discs at about 10db above my usual listening level and things sound awesome! No increased harshness in the highs, no muddled bass or lack of control in the mids, just a big smile on my face. I am now at the point where I have cranked it up and actually tried to make it sound "bad", throwing songs at it with thrashy guitar and shrieky female vocals just to see what will happen and it has taken everything I have thrown at it and given me a very minimal level of harshness, in fact it has taken several songs I am not real fussed on and made them thoroughly enjoyable to listen to. I think listening fatigue could certainly occur with the right (or wrong) music, but it would take a few albums to arrive and with the right (or really wrong!) music that is just about what you would expect.

I don't think it quite knocks the Exposure 2010S from the number one spot but it does come very close and with its greater neutrality and more pre-out and power in options it is definitely a more versatile amp.

It does all this with just one pair of the now familiar toshiba transistors per channel too, I guess the designers at Myryad figure when they are on a good thing they should stick to it. This amp deserves more testing, maybe even an additional weekend, just to be sure!

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A few weeks ago Jventer asked if I would like to hear his Moon i1, and I said (which I am sure will surprise no one) yes! It arrived friday afternoon and I have pulled out the Myryad MXI2080 and put the Moon i1 in its place. Thank you very much Jv!

While it is early days yet I do have a few initial impressions to share. The manual lists this amp as 50W into 8ohms but it sounds more powerful than the Myryad MXI2080 or the Exposure 2010S, and it is certainly more punchy. The bass is very tight and has a very high amount of impact (sort of like the little Myryad Z142 pumped full of both caffeine and steroids) and it has a quite rythmic presentation with a very high foot tapping factor. Its performance in the area of vocals is excellent and with its great degree of separation from the intrumentals and the slightly forward presentation of the vocals it is rather similar to the Exposure. The mid range is moderately rich, slightly more cashed up than the MXI2080 but not as wealthy sounding as the MI120. The upper mids and highs seem alright but I haven't really noticed them as much as usual, they haven't called much attention to themselves, partly due to that bass impact hogging all the limelight.

I have a suspicion that the Moon might need more running in and have PMed Jv to ask for an estimate of run time as I have yet to hear an amp that sounds that tight after a decent run in, it sounds like it needs to deepen and loosen a little.

As a sort-or-relevant aside I watch my TV through my stereo so when I watch Doctor Who or Castle or whatever else the amp that I am trialing at the time is used for sound duty and I am slowly becoming aware that music and background music are a whole different kettle of fish. The Moon really emphasised the background music above and beyond the level I am used to. On (and no judging now!) the eps of Red Dwarf, Big Bang Theory and Alphas that I watched today this really added an extra degree of enjoyment. It sure helped the mood of the show. If Moon make a home theatre amp I think I could recommend it without even hearing it.

My first taste of Canadian HiFi, and it is good!

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Well written Cafad

I will reply to your PM.

I have trialled it for about 8 hours at work and about a weekend at home ( was on for longer). I would suggest that it may need time to settle in

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Ok, the Moon has run in for just on 100 hours and it has loosened a little, still a tightish sounding amp but not to the degree that it was when new. This amp has a powerful forward performance (which results in it sounding louder than most at equivalent positions on the volume dial) It has excellent resolution and detail with just a touch of harshness in the metallic sounds (my metal dome tweeters strike again!). It is a fast-and-tight sounding amp that separates instruments very well and has excellent 2D soundstaging, the 3D soundstage is good but not quite as good as the 2D.

There is something "odd" about its bass performance and it took quite a bit of listening for me to isolate what it was, on some songs it was just fine and as I would expect from an amp playing at that volume level and then on other songs it was so fast, tight, deep and strong that it was out of all proportion to the rest of the music. I think the Moons speed and forward style don't work well with artificially enhanced bass. Natural drum and bass guitar sound just fine but on some pop and rock songs where the bass is so deep and strong that it is obvious it has been synthesised and processed to sound louder, deeper or stronger than it naturally would the Moon goes that extra yard again and makes it extreme. So if you live on a steady diet of Pop or house music then the Moon is not for you, for any other kind of music I am going to place it on my list at number 3.

So my updated list is now

1. Exposure 2010S (its bass seems to emanate from the depths of the Mariana Trench, its sound is so fluid )

2. Myryad MXI2080 (clean, clear and rich, like a bottle of King Island rain water with just a drop of honey added)

3. Moon i1 (fast,hard, strong and ain't no friends with no synthesisers)

4. Myryad MI120 (the sound is so rich and smooth it could be made of honey-glazed Belgian chocolate)

5. Myryad Z142 (its mid range bounces about faster than a rabbit raised on a diet of mexican jumping beans)

6. Rega Brio R (so warm its use is restricted on days of extreme fire danger, and I told they keep one behind glass on every Antarctic research base with the words "Break glass in case of heating failure!" printed below it.)

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Well done Cafad.

I have metal tweeters as well and that is why I use valve amps.

Thanks again.

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Well done Cafad.

I have metal tweeters as well and that is why I use valve amps.

Thanks again.

No, thank you mate! I'm always happy to hear a new amp, if you have any other integrateds you would like to send to me I'd be only too happy to give them a trial and a write up. Did you notice the odd bass effect of the Moon?

Next up is Rocky500's NAD Silverline, unfortunately there is a bean harvester running up and down the paddock in front of the house just now (he started at midnight so there is definitely a siesta in my future later today) so I'll have to wait until this afternoon to play some tunes through the NAD.

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