As the model number implies, this relatively new to the United States product is an integrated stereo pre-amplifier with separate stereo amplifiers in one chassis with a single A.C. power cord. It offers low distortion power output of at least eighty watts per channel into eight ohms and substantially more (but not double) into four ohms loads.
Esthetically it is particularly attractive in a very simple and rather subtle way, particularly with the silver faceplate panel on my sample. I have a "real thing" for silver or champagne colored front panels; in other words anything except black. I am simply tired of black components and while I am at it, elimination of black grille cloths on loudspeaker cabinets should be the next to be declared "old-fashioned" or out-of-date. At a glance, the controls on the front panel are not readily apparent! Actually there are a group of six very slightly protruding round buttons, almost exactly three fourths the size of a dime, centered near the bottom of the panel with the same finish as the panel. Top left has a group of small red LED's indicating inputs and the top right has a display window showing among other things the exact volume in one half-decibel increments. Most listeners and all reviewers appreciate that. Exact repetition of volume levels is a necessity when testing or reviewing any audio product. Even a very slight increase in volume or gain, is usually perceived as being better in some aspect and is not fair in any comparison.
During most of the review period, the Berendsen was situated immediately in front of and below the rather superb Cary 306/200 up sampling CD, HDCD player. A brief look would leave the impression they were probably products of the same company even though the Cary is three thousand dollars more expensive! Shared with the Cary is a similar simple, esthetically plain styling that is borderline classy. A beautiful gem, whether a diamond or a gorgeous London blue topaz needs a setting to show it off and even a masterpiece of a painting or drawing almost demands a frame or border to set it off, confine or define it. Neither product has that finishing esthetic touch to be described as truly classy or sharp in my not so humble opinion. Unfortunately, looking over recent issues of print magazines reveal my opinion to be rather singular and as old fashioned as classic MacIntosh components. Very brief e-mail comments from our perceptive readers would be appreciated.
Hidden in this seemingly simple appearing component is a sophisticated integrated amplification product featuring three toroidal transformers. One is for the preamplifier section and one each for the two power amplifier sections all contained on one chassis. Those interested in specific design details will appreciate that there are no capacitors in the signal path, that the power supply capacitance is typical of hundred watt, or more, amplifiers and that each of eight inputs is individually adjustable to balance volume to match each other. Additional flexibility allows for simple setup of what is basically a balance control without any possible degradation of audio quality.
The present user's guide is adequate but Sedrick Harris of Acoustic Partners is revising it even though most users would have nearly everything figured out very quickly. There are a couple of caveats unique to this sophisticated product that are clearly spelled out even in the early edition of the user guide. To be completely safe and secure in its surprisingly flexible usage, read the brief guide first. Pay attention to the fact that the preamplifier section does invert polarity. A true power on/off button is rather hidden on the rear panel. It would seldom need to be used as one of the six front panel buttons is a standby switch allowing a small amount of power to keep the preamplifier section at a ready-to-work temperature. Pressing it turns on both the left and right amplifiers and pressing it again turns the amplifiers off leaving it in the standby mode.
The other buttons (called keys in the user's guide) are volume up, volume down, input selection up, input selection down and tape output activated. Pressing the standby button activates everything and the volume setting will indicate the number 80. That volume setting typically results in barely audible sound from your loudspeakers. The increments are in half-decibel steps. In my system, most of my listening was done between 145 and 155 with occasional forays between 160 and 165 simply to really push it rather hard. Pushing it rarely resulted in audible change other than a fleeting bit of compression on a couple of discs with wide dynamic swings while playing at extremely high volume settings. Unflapple is a good word to describe its stability and lack of change over a wide dynamic range when used with the highly recommended optional DeMarzio power cord.
Break-in or burn-in is one of audio's many controversial subjects particularly when applied to electronic products. I have been writing about audio products on and off for thirty years and reading about them for an even longer period. Putting my comments in the form of a challenge, to describe what I have never heard of being openly done and written about, I will now describe the scenario. Joe Friend tells Hank Goldenear, "I just received three brand new model Supers from the X company. I am going to completely burn-in one or two of them and not do so to the other one or two and will mark each one as A, B, or C as the only distinguishing feature. I will bring them to you and let all three warm-up for an hour. Then good old Hank Goldenear, you can play each one two or three times for fifteen minutes and you tell me which one or ones I had burned-in continually for a week." A neat project or test that seemingly has never been done or never written about. I wonder why.
Of course the excuse that the reviewer did not let the product burn-in completely while reviewing might not be useable any more. If a survey were done, I would bet that most audio reviewers would be firm believers in product burn-in and have lived with some specific examples that proved their beliefs. I admit that I do routinely burn-in all products before listening - just to be safe. In fact, to begin or finish the burn-in period I put on Purist Audio Design's "The System Enhancer Rev-B" for a few hours. That is available from Purist Audio Design (cable manufacturers of Clute, Texas). The unit under review here had been completely broken-in or burnt-in before arriving. It had to sit and wait its turn to be auditioned and I deliberately did not plug it in for any possible degree of added burn-in.
Not long ago I had read a review of a component in another magazine. I forget both the reviewer (sorry) and the magazine. What I retained from the review was the very interesting impression that the reviewer enjoyed the full, rich and engulfing sound when he attended live concerts. His preference, when listening to his undoubtedly fine sound system, was for a leaner or less full and rich quality, so that he could more clearly hear fine details in the recording that in turn would make it easier to evaluate recordings or components. I believe that I will long retain his ideas even though I prefer a fuller or richer tonal quality at home as it more closely approximates what I hear, feel and sense in a reasonably good concert hall. I have continued to think long and hard about the subject and it has great merit for a reviewer, though when reviewing recordings, I really hate to find and pick out tiny or meaningless details in the overall picture presented by the recording. In any event, that windy prologue introduces the feeling I had the first evening I listened to the impressive Berendsen IPA-80, integrated amplifier. It simply had a different tonal balance or feeling than I was used to. It was a bit leaner or less full sounding than what I have been accustomed to.
Those couple of octaves inhabited by what is usually called the mid-bass and upper-bass ranges was simply less "there" or less prominent than usual. It was not as if the tonal balance was skewed or tilted to the octaves above the middle or the mid-range. Overall clarity was enhanced, particularly from the middle of the mid-range on down. Horns, trombones and cellos were not as big or impressive as I am used to. There was nothing else that I can even consider as being a negative quality to report. What a simple and glowing report to say that everything was fine, no complaints, everything worked as it should though the tonal presentation may not be exactly as preferred. The bargain price did not influence those comments, its just "frosting on the excellent cake". I will give some specific comments on new recordings being reviewed while reviewing this excellent Berendsen IPA-80. Within forty-eight hours, quite a bit, but definitely not all of that relatively lean tonal presentation had disappeared.
Replacing the (stock?) A.C. power cord with the optional and recommended DiMarzio A.C. power cable pretty much eliminated vestiges of a too lean tonal balance. I recommend the choice of the DiMarzio power cable for almost all users. I was almost shocked at the improvement, even though Sedrick Harris had alerted me. This was probably the greatest degree of overall sonic improvement wrought by a better A.C. power cord ever in my personal experience. Did the Berendsen get fully burned-in again or did I simply get more used to what was now my reference, my only reference, as I had not yet gone back to my previous components - not even once? I shall go back to them and report to you when I start writing the summary in a few days. If you find many home theater systems to be simply fat and over blown sounding, the Berendsen may be the just what you crave with its hint of leanness. With the (stock?) cord, then tonally it was almost strangled down to lean. After all was "heard and done" communication with Sedrick Harris indicates that the A.C. power cord included as "stock or standard" with my review was not so - even the length was wrong! What exactly happened is unknown at this time. I can positively confirm the excellent performance of the Berendsen with the optional DiMarzio power cable and the fact that it is a DiMarzio product.
I cannot be certain of anything with the other power cord sent with the IPA-80. I am certain that Sedrick Harris and Acoustic Partners will work with you to see that you get the quality you want. The DiMarzio option is offered at a discounted price of $200 for a six-foot length when purchased with the Berendsen. Remember that I have spent a long time evaluating and comparing products to find the best, or at least close to the best, front end products, interconnect cables and so on to feed my electronics. You can access many of the individual reviews and comparative shoot out reviews for Enjoy the Music.com™ by going to equipment and then archives. If this fine amplification component does not sound as I have described it to you, better thoroughly check out what is feeding it and/or the speakers reproducing it. Remember the computer GIGO acronym of garbage in garbage out. The IPA-80 may be simply the messenger. Even the recently reviewed IsoRock 3 Reference isolation platform was used under the Cary CD player while reviewing the Berendsen. Actually it will be used with the Cary when reviewing most everything, as I was unable to part with it. Up goes the cost of reviewing again. Once you experience greater clarity and detail presented in a natural musical sounding manner, it is very tough to turn your back on it. Such is a prominent part of the audio hobby and an appreciated part by music lovers.
Some time back when it became known that I was preparing to do a comparative review of low priced vibration control devices, Sedrick Harris told me how good SSC Pucks were. I obtained some and they were one of the best performers. I used a set of the SSC Pucks under the Berendsen IPA-80 at all times during listening sessions.
A variety of new CDs were used to evaluate the IPA. There is a "must have" recording for music lovers featuring an outstanding chamber orchestra version of Mahler's most accessible composition, symphony No.4. The Berendsen reveals all crystal clearly right down to the bass clarinet, English horn, double-bass and most importantly the world famous Smithsonian Institution's Amati collection of two violins, viola and cello! This is clearly a superb reference quality recording on Dorian HDCD/CD 90315. Equally well treated by the IPA-80 is Colin Davis' masterly mature performance of Berloz's Symphonie fanastique with the Berendsen cleanly unraveling any hint of dense scoring with beautiful reproduction of the cellos and string bass though perhaps a tad lean or light weight overall. This outstandingly fine recording, engineered by Tony Faulkner is one of a continuing series by the London Symphony Orchestra on their private label, LSO Live. This is LSO0007 and all are bargain priced through Borders, Barnes & Nobles and Tower Music stores.
Basically the same can be said of the Act II, Scene 4 chorus from Wagner's Tannhauser, though here the great clarity reveals the alto voices along with the sopranos and both cleanly separated from the male chorus from Great Opera Choruses (Wagner + Verdi) Chesky hybrid SACD 230. Things change noticeably right from the first movement of Higdon's Concerto For Orchestra as well as her City Scape, world premiere recordings offered in this new Telarc recording (SACD 60620) in typical big, bold and rich sound. "Peachtree Street" (Atlanta), the last movement of City Scape was of extreme interest to me as I lived two blocks from that famous street for a couple of the years while attending post-graduate school at Emory University. The sound, played through the Berendsen IPA-80 was as full and rich sounding as any concert goer could desire, with no hint of a "lean" quality while easily revealing a great deal of unforced detail. Any seemingly contradictions here will be investigated and if need be, mentioned in the summary that will be written after returning to my usual reference components. It is probably simply recording or recording techniques of these four different companies.
After due consideration and much reflection I need to specifically declare my recommendation for use and enjoyment of the finely finished and very flexible Berendsen IPA-80. The Berendsen was designed to be able to be sold for no more than two thousand dollars. There must be a great deal of pressure with the lowered value of the U.S. dollar versus the Euro and the IPA-80 offers a great deal of performance and features for that price. In a previous issue Steven R. Rochlin was very impressed (he is not easily impressed) with the Almarro A 318 integrated amplifier (Editor Steve says "The Almarro is an amazing bargain and sounds great. Place it in your must audition list!"). It is a tubed design and with a wood chassis at a slightly lower price than the Berendsen and a potential competitor for listeners desiring a good tubed amplifier.
There is a surprising amount of competition that I had not been aware of between $1,500 and $2,500. Unfortunately I have been listening and reviewing products in more expensive price ranges. Next up will be a $3,000 stereo amplifier only (no pre-amplification stage) and after that a pair of monoblock amplifiers for approximately $9,000. For most users, it almost demands the use of the optional A.C. power cord by DiMarzio. Many do not want to hear or believe that an A.C. power cord can have a significantly audible effect on sound quality. You may question me and check it out for yourself. Frankly I wish power cords did not make a noticeable or significant difference. It depends on which components and which power cords are being compared. I do not recall any combination previously reviewed as making such a great improvement as here. On demanding classical music it was as if the amplifier had become much more powerful, fuller, cleaner and clearer sounding - almost amazingly so. In either case, the high end was seemingly about as smooth or distortion free as solid-state amplifiers come while maintaining the distinctive characteristics of the various woodwinds. Female vocals also did just fine with perhaps a slight touch of "leanness".
The reason I bring those facts and the general situation to your attention is simply the following and I believe the few sentences say a great deal. For three weeks I listened only to the Berendsen IPA-80 in my main system. I specifically and deliberately listened for pleasure as well as while reviewing new recordings. In essence it was my reference amplification and used with a number of new recordings. Every aspect of my listening sessions was musically satisfying. I was pleasantly surprised as each of my temporarily replaced components, the preamplifier and each of the monoblock amplifiers was much more expensive than the Berendsen.
After that period using my old familiar reference recordings and then my usual amplification revealed the tonal signature of the Berendsen and its few slight shortcomings. The relatively full richness of my usual reference system was replaced by the relative leanness of Berendsen while seemingly revealing a tad greater detail in the upper bass and lower mid-range areas. This quality was particularly apparent with large-scale classical music recordings. Nothing seemed to be added to annoy or distract me; any minor sins were omissions not additions and a surprise at this relatively bargain price point. I would have to guess that the designer carefully balanced the amplifier and preamplifier sections to complement each other. That would be the reasoning behind my thinking about highly recommending the Berendsen and particularly with value pricing in mind. No inference is meant by a following comment.
If it fits your needs, buy it and use it as is, not because you can later use part of it with other components. The money saved buying it can and should be used, sooner or later, with quality accessories such as really good interconnect and loudspeaker cables, isolation devices and so on. Do remember, it was evaluated using some of the finest (and very expensive) performing accessories starting with A.C. power cords through isolation platforms allowing it to be heard at its best. The Berendsen comes with a compact remote control that will also control other Berendsen products. I rarely use remote controls and luckily everything can be controlled from the front panel, which affords me adequate exercise to eliminate my possible AACP (American Association of Couch Potatoes) membership.
The penultimate comment revolves around an unfortunate situation that was not caught until after the review weeks were over and the writing almost finished. The reviewed unit had been to some dealers for personal auditions. Unrealized by the U.S. distributor, someone had swapped a different, but similar appearing, A.C. power cord for the standard or stock power cord and much of my listening had been done with that "imposter". I have no idea if the stock or standard A.C. power cord would have sounded better and deadlines prevented finding out. Purchasers all have the extra cost option of the fine DiMarzio power cord available. Using it made an immediate and easily heard improvement in sound quality. It was not subtle. So my recommendation has to be based on the use of that optional power cord. For those wondering, I did briefly compare it to the best I have heard, one of our "Products of the Year" a couple years ago, Kimber Kable's Palladian PK-10.
Approximately five times more expensive, Kimber's, top model and unique, A.C. power card was slightly superior as expected. Wait till you have a true high-end system and want and can appreciate the best available, then seriously consider Kimber's best. Till then you will be very satisfied with what Acoustic Partners has chosen; an outstanding value in power cords, an excellent sounding complement for two hundred dollars. If you do not hear differences between A.C. power cords, lucky you. As for myself, I did not want to hear any differences and simply and naively for many years did no comparison reviews or evaluations -- ignorance was bliss.
The rating numbers are close to an absolute basis. A relatively low priced component such as the IPA-80 does not receive an inflated rating by out performing similarly priced models except for the "Value" rating. The four and a half notes awarded the Berendsen indicates a very high rating for its price = very good value.
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