Amp Reviews – Three AMP-Enabled Integrated Amplifiers

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Sony TA-ZH1ES

The Sony TA-ZH1ES is more than just a headphone amplifier; it also serves as a high-quality DAC and analog preamp. Support for various input connections includes USB, S/PDIF coaxial and Toslink inputs – plus even an analog walkman-style input jack to connect portable devices is included! This amp provides multiple output options, including two 4-pin XLR, stereo mini, standard 6.3mm single-ended headphone jacks and balanced 4.4mm headphone jacks, to provide an authentic hi-fi listening experience. TA-ZH1ES also boasts DC Phase Linearizer technology to match different types of analog amplifiers’ phase characteristics and ensure smooth audio waveforms.

Sony TA-ZH1ES’ DAC section is as versatile as many standalone DACs, offering users various filter and upsampling options to meet their preferences. For instance, its DSEE HX upscaling option can elevate 44.1kHz sources into near hi-res sound quality; furthermore it features five modes – standard, female vocal, male vocal, percussion and strings – for your listening enjoyment.

When used with premium headphones, the TA-ZH1ES creates a wide and deep stereo image, as well as providing ample detail from complex recordings with subtle bass frequencies or mids frequencies. Furthermore, its incredible dynamic range enables it to deliver powerful hits when needed.

The Sony TA-ZH1ES’s balanced outputs provide a neutral and stable sound that’s free from distortion even at higher volumes, plus their improved ability to manage higher impedance loads than their single-ended counterparts. As a result, this device makes an excellent choice for high-end headphones; however, its ability to bring out low-level details may fall short compared to that of Chord Hugo.

Onkyo A-9110

The Onkyo A-9110 amplifier is an upgrade on its predecessor, the A-9010, which won numerous What Hi-Fi? awards since its debut in 2015. While both amps utilize similar designs, with digital compatibility as their focus points.

Its construction features high-grade materials and is engineered to avoid electromechanical resonance that degrades signal quality, with a thick 1.6mm metal chassis used to improve rigidity and damp vibrations, as well as large insulators installed between amplifier circuitry and speaker outputs for consistent and distortion-free audio playback. Furthermore, an A-9110 features an attractive display panel showing active input selection along with remote interactive terminals enabling system control from compatible CD transports, digital tuners or network streamers from Onkyo.

The A-9110 boasts 50W per channel at four ohms for impressive speaker driving power. Equipped with WRAT (Wide Range Amplification Technology), its time-proven high current platform, large custom audio capacitors and discrete power transistors deliver exceptional dynamic performance complemented by its low NFB amp section which captures analog and hi-res recordings’ depth and spatiality.

The A-9110 provides versatile audio source connectivity via four sets of stereo RCA inputs with MM phono stage support, an RCA line-level output for tape recorders, and 6.3mm headphone jack.

The A-9110 stands apart from budget amps with its Class AB design that ensures both channels receive equal amounts of power regardless of load. Utilizing Nichicon Fine Gold capacitors designed specifically for audio use – a significant upgrade over the standard caps found on other entry-level amps – its easy setup and use will delight owners, while its sleek uncluttered aesthetic should hold up over time.

Arcam A5

Arcam are a British company based in Waterbeach near Cambridge that create some of the best-sounding audio visual equipment on the market. Their Radia range of hi-fi components aims to deliver quality, trouble-free hi-fi sound to new generations of music lovers – and this integrated amplifier is no different.

Its impressive features include three line-level inputs, an onboard moving magnet (MM) phono stage of high quality and preamp output for connecting an outboard power amplifier. Furthermore, two coaxial and one optical digital inputs support music streams up to 24-bit/192kHz via its ESS ES9018 DAC chip.

The analogue section uses a push-pull class A/B design with SAP15 output transistors biased at 13mV so they don’t get hot and power consumption is kept to an absolute minimum. A large toroidal transformer provides plenty of current to drive the amplifier circuit while there is also an 8800uF reserve capacity bank of reservoir capacitors per channel to provide extra reserve capacity.

A5’s MM input stage can accommodate both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges, though MC models generally produce lower output levels of less than 5mV with higher impedance compared to their MM counterparts. Furthermore, its headphone output can accommodate most headphones up to 2kOhms for optimal operation.

All these features make the Arcam A5 an extremely competitive player in its price category, and its sound quality is unquestionable. It has an exceptional clarity with a sweet nature that never compromises the music or its life; mids and highs can be heard clearly while loud volumes don’t compromise its clarity.

Arcam XS 3

At one time, there was only one integrated amplifier bearing the Naim name: an energetic piece of hi-fi that combined fun with functionality. Since then there have been three, including this XS 3 we are reviewing today; it serves as the middle model, sitting between their Nait 5SI line of two models and their flagship Supernait 3. Revamp number two was completed in 2008, adding moving-magnet phono stage and tweaking power amp circuitry to improve responsiveness.

The XS 3 offers a balanced balance between speed and musicality that’s neither too hot nor cold, big nor small. It excels at rock, folk, jazz, classical music and even chart music, though really undynamic or compressed material may still cause issues.

Built-in phono stages often serve only to fulfill their intended function; however, the XS 3’s circuit stands out by offering an engaging and dynamic performance full of bite and pace – it truly stands out as a highlight!

At our home, the XS 3 was used with a VPI Prime turntable fitted with an older Goldring MM cartridge and Naim UnitiCore/Wadia 121 DAC from Naim. All this was connected to a Quadraspire QAVX rack, powered by an IsoTek Evo 3 Aquarius mains conditioner, connected to Audiovector R1 Arrete standmount speakers using Nordost Blue Heaven cables as well as stock Quadraspire power-lines from Nordost Blue Heaven; overall it offered plenty of value at PS1,300 cheaper than Supernait 3 as it can purchase either Chord Mojo/Poly combo or significant chunk of an Auralic Altair G1. So overall value can be assessed depending on personal taste but whether or not your budget allows this investment will produce great results regardless of its performance!

Lavardin ITx

The Lavardin ITx has been on sale for some time and features a minimalist design, featuring only a power switch and four input sources (selected manually through large switches) on its front panel. Even so, this amplifier boasts impressive 50W per channel output that easily drives even demanding loudspeakers to room-filling levels.

Contrasting other high-end solid-state amps, the IT is uncannily natural, revealing layers of music often hidden behind transistor noise. Moreover, its exceptional architectural clarity distinguishes it from digital amps; rather it allows you to understand what musicians are doing while also showing you artistic techniques employed by virtuoso players from all genres.

Particularly impressive about this amp is how well it conveys the time elements of a track – such as tempo, rhythm and melody – with real life authenticity. This makes the IT especially adept at conveying metal tracks’ force at higher listening volumes while at lower listening levels it never seems lax or confused like with some amps.

Lavardin has kept quiet on the specific details of its circuitry, making it unlikely that anyone can replicate their Memory-Free technology. But there’s no mistaking the ITx’s unique sound, which marries valve purity with transistor power; and could easily become this month’s Editor’s Pick.

This amplifier stands out with its exceptional transparency across the full bandwidth, and micro dynamics that never sound aggressive or clumsy – never becoming overtly aggressive or clunky – as well as tonal purity that puts many higher priced transistor alternatives to shame.

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