World Premiere Review
Yours truly spent a dozen years in Italy studying and tasting some dolce vita in cities like Rome and Florence. He fell in love with the bell paese and everything beautiful coming from that country; most of all the style. Italians have this way of creating that transcends typical "good taste" into something deeper, sophisticated and cool at the same time. Think about Maserati and Alfa Romeo, Armani and Valentino and you get the idea. The same can be said for their high fidelity audio products.
Today Pathos Acoustics offers a complete line of electronics including various amplifiers, CD players and DACs, even a pair of speakers. The Classic Remix integrated reviewed here is the latest iteration of the InPol architecture, meaning a hybrid design with tubes amplifying the source tension and transistors for the current output, conservatively rated at 70 Watts per channel @ 8 Ohm with a substantial power transformer and 45,000 μF of filtering capacitors providing the necessary juice. Before rushing into technicalities a few more words for the exterior design. Or maybe just one word, sublime!
The only element that pops up from the top plate is a pair of ECC88 / 6922 double triodes protected by three fins each. Looking through the holes one can observe the excellent SMD boards laying underneath. The back plate hosts everything else one would expect from an integrated amplifier including the power button, one pair of speaker binding posts, four line inputs and a pair of XLRs. The Classic Remix is a true balanced design and will transform all single ended signals into balanced ones. A pre-out is also available, meaning that the Classic Remix can act like a pre-amplifier in case of future Watt quests.
As with every integrated amplifier that respects the word "integrated" in 2014 Pathos offers at an extra $895 charge the option of an integrated DAC named HiDAC, designed around the Burr Brown 1793 chip and capable of resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz. A complete set of digital connections (USB, S/PDIF, and TosLink) are placed in the back. Pathos provides a USB memory stick with all necessary drivers for Windows and iOS. The review sample came complete with HiDac that acted as source for most of my listening sessions.
One of the most interesting features is the potentiometer chip, the TI PGA 2310. Though it might seem as a digital one, which translates into an incubo for many audiophiles, this is a true analog device especially designed for audio applications with wide gain, attenuation and excellent internal cross talk measurements. The volume knob on the front will not act like a typical one, so no 7 to 5 hour scale. When moved towards right it will pump up the volume and when left in rest it will return to a perfect upright position leaving the looks of the amplifier intact. Same goes for lowering the volume, a nice detail if you ask me. A slick remote control also made from aluminum completes the package. Interestingly, there are no markings on the remote either, meaning it will take you a few days to get used to what each button does. The Classic Remix arrived perfectly packed in a double carton box with standard power cord and a complete set of instructions.
During my weeks with the Italian amplifier I swapped the Electro-Harmonix valves provided by Pathos and used a pair of Philips E88CC Miniwatt Special Quality gold pin tubes that many consider as the best variant of the 6922 family. Besides saving the necessary time of burning in, these Philips normally sound slightly more open and smoother than the stock Electro-Harmonix ones. I would expect wider differences than the ones perceived, therefor I concluded that part of the amplifiers character is dictated from the output stage and tube rolling will not result as critical as with other tube designs.
La Moglie di Cesare...
For starters a pop icon, Amy Winehouse in what appears to me as her most emotional song, "Love is a Loosing Game", from Back to Black (Island Records, FLAC). Emotional it is with the Pathos, a somewhat melancholic interpretation from an already downhearted Amy. In fact the drums appeared a tad shy, losing some edge while blending adequately to the overall mood. This was a very enjoyable performance that got me thinking about the character of this Italian amplifier.
Moving to a jazz all-star team, Dizzy Gillespie with Stan Getz and Sonny Stit in the sensational For Musicians Only [Verve Records FLAC] and the Russian folk song "Dark Eyes" recorded in just one take with the pace being fast, very fast and musicians entering the center stage without losing a single hit. And best of all the Pathos was keeping the tempo in a fantastic way, like participating in the session as a soloist among equals. I also admired the way the little amplifier revealed the sonic differences between Gillespie's trumpet, Stit's alto sax and Getz with his tenor saxophone. Slight nuance differences coming from the three wind instruments made it easy to imagine the pandemonium of that epic session. Euphonic yet clear and definitely consonant sound came from both set ups, the Enigmacoustics speakers with Sopranino supertweeter had a slightly more airy top than my ATCs which presented a more neutral character and probably a bit closer to the recorded event.
If a jazz ensemble got me so excited I thought that a classic counterpart would do at least as much. Borodin Quartet playing Borodin's second quartet [EMI ASD 4100 LP] is a true hidden gem of the 20th century classical music. Cellist Valentin Berlinsky spent more than 60 years in the lead of this ensemble and if you even remotely listen to classic music find for your collection a nice clean copy of this LP. The Pathos-Mythology combination excelled in this recording; despite leaving something back in terms of attack and ultimate detail in the mid frequencies. The sound was a bit syrupy but with a sense of flow in the viola and cello passages that made up for those tiny defects. This combination was more enjoyable than the one with the bigger ATCs; I guess the English monitors command a beefier drive in order to give their best like my ASR Emitter I Exclusive (sort of) integrated amplifier.
The 180 lbs. German monster has kept me company for years and despite being categorized as an integrated amplifier having three chassis hardly can be considered as one. It is an unfair match for the less than one third the price and weight Pathos amplifier being as expected less capable in driving capabilities and resulting in a narrower soundstage and less defined lower octaves. The main difference though was a certain character that emerged, which was there, clearly audible in all recordings. The sound had a sensation of compact, focused timbre in the mid frequencies, as opposed to the airier ASR emitter. Slightly laid back, liquid and warm is what I would call the Classic Remix. A bad thing? Let me tell you that after playing side one and two of the quartets I went back and played side one again. And side two, again. In fact it was so appealing that I could not move on with my writing.
There are two bonuses coming with the Classic Remix, the first one is the digital section, which was more than adequate for the requested price and stood up very well against the just introduced Pioneer U-05 DAC (€800 for the European market, though not available in the USA). The Pioneer can handle DSD as an extra and being built around a pair of ESS SABRE 9016 DAC chips results in a more detailed sound than the HiDac in certain rock classics like AC/DC's Back in Black [Atlantic Records FLAC] but lacks in terms of musicality when acoustic and jazz records hit the playlist.
In fact the HiDac module is similar to the one used in the well-known Pathos Digit and Endorphine CD players with the addition of a USB to I2S receiver designed by Marco Manunta of M2Tech. Sounds like a great pedigree for a built-in DAC and there is more. The HiDac will be upgraded within 2015 to the new "Evo" version which will include a web application resulting in the possibility to control the DAC through a PC and to connect a hard disk and a Wi-Fi dongle directly to the Classic Remix transforming this integrated into a music center. This upgrade will be made available to those who have already purchased the existing HiDac with a visit to the authorized dealer. The application is still in beta so there was no way of testing it.
The second bonus is the headphone section. Using the Audeze LCD-X and playing "Cornflake Girl" by Tori Amos [Atlantic Records FLAC] the sound was transparent, tonally well balanced and the piano notes had a nice, naturally long decay. No sign of congestion while maintaining the characteristic tube warmth and effortless sound. I was so positively impressed that I immediately contacted the Pathos team in Italy and requested details about the headphone section design. This is not just a headphone amplifier; they implemented a dedicated power supply and used the tube pre amplifier with a specially designed power output section in order to get 1.6 Watts / 32Ohm! This was more than enough to drive the Audeze cans with finezza, deep bass and faithful timbre. For comparison let me point out that the Pioneer U-05 headphone section only outputs 180mW / 32 Ohm clearly lacking the impact of the Pathos counterpart.
Ilconto, Per Favore!
It managed to play along with my notoriously hard to drive ATCs and did not embarrassed itself with the very expensive ENIGMAcoustics Mythology monitors. Being a hybrid combines warmth and musicality of the tube section with the drive of a solid-state power output bringing together the best of two worlds. It even held the ground against the mighty ASR emitter which rivaled in terms of musicality. Built quality is excellent and one would never guess this unit is only $5190 with HiDac included. What more could you ask for?
Dimensions: 370mm x 280mm x 170mm (DxWxH)
United States Distributor