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August 2009
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
World Premiere
Edge Electronics i3 Integrated Amplifier
Honest, pure and allows the music to flow unmolested.
Review By Ron Nagle

Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

  There is a boatload of satisfaction getting a scoop on the competition. This exclusive report will be the first i3 evaluation appearing in print anywhere. That brings me directly to the subject. The i3 is Edge Electronics newest integrated amplifier; however there is a lot more to this story. This product from Edge Electronics will inaugurate a new and more affordable line called the Premier Series. Starting with this product the Edge Company is launching a venture into an entirely different demographic. Edge Electronics started back in 1987 and manufactured only ultra high-end audio. This respected firm is far better known for their cutting edge (no pun intended) assault on the state of the audio arts. Their range of component audio products begins at the top of the line with the NL Reference Monoblock amplifiers. The NL Reference amplifiers are priced at $140,800 a pair. Each one of these pyramidal shaped amplifiers represents an assemblage of 220 pounds of aluminum and electronic component parts.

By comparison, the new i3 integrated amplifier is obviously made to be far more affordable. At a price of $1998 it has a reasonable to virtually every audiophile. To reach this price point the i3 eschews nearly all of the CNC milled aluminum casework that is the very distinctive hallmark of the Edge Company’s high-end components. The cost effective power supply is Class D and the circuitry is housed on a single PCB utilizing some surface mount devices. But even sans the signature millwork the overall appearance is still very attractive in a sophisticated and refined way. I would describe it by saying it is sleek and modern, and I like it.

 

Functionality
My sample i3 has an attractive black satin finish with a contrasting array of silver sand textured aluminum controls. The i3 has a large digital volume control knob directly in the center of the milled 3/8-inch thick black anodized faceplate. The left half of the faceplate has a rectangular blue colored “VFT Dot Matrix” status display. Farther to the left is the power on/off button and a small blue power on LED. As you might know digital volume controls usually have no stops at either the extreme clockwise or counter clockwise positions and they do not work when the power is shut off. The thing I do is to adjust the volume down with the remote just before shutting the system off. The digital control if operated manually has very soft detents and changes the sound level in very gradual 0.5db increments the same incremental steps as the remote volume control.

Arranged in a horizontal row are seven push buttons six are for source selection. From left to right they are: Phono (moving magnet), CD, Tuner, DVD, Aux, Tape and Bypass/Hold and at the lower right side a headphone jack. The seventh on the far right is an unusual multi function push button labeled Bypass/Hold. If the last action taken was to mute the amplifier the function of this control is disabled until you turn off mute. The Bypass/Hold button actually has six separate functions. It works like this: Press and hold the button and the display will change to display one of the six functions. When not muted the blue dot matrix display will indicate the last bypass on /off mode you selected, the readout will indicate either Bypass on or Bypass off. Repeatedly pressing the Bypass select button will toggle the selection between the two on or off states. Now with a source selected and while it’s playing you can step through four additional selections. They are, Increase or Decrease individual speaker volume by either rotating the center volume control or by using the hand held remote.

The display will read either plus or minus numbers expressed again in half-decibel increments, the adjustment range is minus 70dB up to +20dB. Another push of the Bypass/Hold button and the same function is available for the other speaker in a stereo system. The last two selections are treble increase or decrease and Bass increase or decrease again adjusted with the volume controls. All of the tonal adjustment settings are displayed on the Blue Dot Matrix readout in half-decibel increments. It takes a bit of time to get accustomed to this unique control. I used it to set up a balanced and solid center image in a two-channel music system but additionally it can do some other useful things. Can you remember a time when receivers had a contour/loudness switch that increased both the treble and bass levels in your speakers? This level change made the sound seem more dynamic at low volume. Well you could conceivably duplicate that same effect by stepping through the i3 control functions. Time to go and check out the options available at the back or input side of the i3 chassis.

Looking at the rear panel there are as previously mentioned six pairs of RCA coaxial line level inputs. Additionally there are another three RCA pairs they are labeled REC OUT, PRE OUT, the last is an AMP IN connection. Optionally removing two U shaped jumper wires on the back panel allows the separation of the preamplifier and power amplifier sections of the i3 so that you could use them independently. But we are not going to try that since you will be paying for the whole package. Directly in the center of the back panel are four insulated EU specified speaker cable-binding posts. Two are for the left channel, plus and minus polarity and two more plus and minus polarity for the right channel. Just below these is a two-position selector switch that allows for the connection to either 4 or 8-Ohm speakers. The last two notables are the IEC power cord socket and just above that is a switch to match mains power to 115 Volts or 230 Volts.

 

Testing
Over the course of two months I used three sets of speakers to dissect the character of the Edge sortie into the land of affordability. In an early conversation with the Edge tech support people I was informed that the i3 would sound best after it had been run in for 200 hours. Ok, guess I have to go with that but damn ain’t that a bit much? Thereafter I used my Sangean HDT-1 Digital Tuner as the source to send music through my system for the long-term.

The very first pair of speakers I hooked up was the Phase Tech PC1.5 these are a two-way very sensible $990 dollar match for this amplifier. The speaker cables I used are another logical match for this system they are the Kimber Kable 8TC. Five minutes into listening with this hook up I was surprised to hear dynamic contrasts and bass articulation that really grabbed my attention. At that time the recording I was listening too was, Time And Tide by “Basia Trzetrzelewska” [Epic EK40767]. In my notes I write, "better balance from top to bottom, tight fast bass and treble that injects life and excitement into the recording". I had previously listened to these same speakers in my reference system with my Marantz DV8400 universal disc player and my Audio Research SP9 MK3 tube hybrid preamplifier and a 360 wpc Sanders ESL solid-state power amplifier my speaker cable was the Kimber 12TC. Alas my reference system did not elicit the same kind of dynamic contrasts or the same sense of excitement. Our British cousins would comment that the i3 imparted a lively sense of timing and pace.

Next hook up in the i3 system was a $10,000 set of two-way speakers. By varying the i3 bass response/contour I was able to confirm a subtle but lingering impression that the overall balance of this pricey speaker pair benefited by adding a bit more bass level. Using the i3 Bypass/Hold button I did at one time or another reset all of the various speakers tonal balance. I can tell you this process very informative. All you had to do was push a single button to switch the tone control adjustments in or out it made for easy A to B comparisons. In this way it was easy to understand the way the speakers were originally voiced. I remember Carl Marchisotto the NOLA manufacturer and designer once commented that, “Speaker designers voice their speakers according to what they believe is musically accurate”. Understand all of my comments about this Integrated Amplifier are based on listening sessions with all selections turned off, that means the i3 is in bypass mode.

 

If One Hand Fells A Tree In The Forest...
In June 2006 a Cirque du Soleil show called Love opened at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas. The shows Beatles soundtrack was the culmination of a two year effort and collaboration between George Harrison and Guy Laliberte’ the founder of Cirque du Soleil. It was a compilation of Beatles music tracks reengineered by George Martin and his son Giles Martin. I used parts of the Beatles Cirque du Soleil soundtrack CD called Love [Capital EMI 9463-79808] to test system-resolving power. The very first track ”Because” is a vocal acapella selection with heavy studio reverb. Almost totally buried under the vocals at a very much lower volume are the sounds of flapping wings and a dove cooing. Farther along at about 52 seconds into this cut very faintly the sound of bird wings moving from the right speaker across the sound stage and over to the left speaker. At a lower sound level you should hear a bee buzzing around the right speaker at about 1.09 into this cut. The whole first track on this disc contains a menagerie of sounds recorded at whisper quite levels. All of these things are layered over a very revealing very quite background made possible by crystal clear resolution of microscopic details. I use another cut from this same album titled, “Get Back”, this song as you probably remember has a very dynamic driving bass and the i3 seems to control this bass line with great authority. I was so impressed that I rechecked the specification for the amplifiers bass-damping factor, it is a respectable 100.

At this price, Edge Electronics didn’t have to include a phono amplifier but indeed they did. It is a moving magnet stage or what is referred to as a high output cartridge amplifier. My Shure V15 Type V-MR cartridge generates 3.2mv RMS @ 1000 Hz and this should be another logical match for the i3 Phono Stage. The i3 does not have a separate grounding post for the Phono coaxial input on the rear panel. Therefore I assume that one of the neutral legs of the RCA cables connected to the Phono amplifier also doubles as a system ground. At any rate I did not experience any noise or hum problems when listening through the phonostage.

About a week ago I scored a near mint vinyl gatefold copy by “America, Homecoming” [Warner Brothers 0598-BS2655] for two bucks. I purchased it even though I already had a copy on my shelf that was in worse shape. The first track on side one is Ventura Highway this is a classic that ushered in a genre of sound alike recordings by many other artists. I guess there should be no surprise once again the vinyl recording exhibits crystal clear speed and detailing. The Phono amplifiers presentation is very much like the previous description of the higher level sources. Bass lines are tight and nicely controlled providing a foundation for the melody riding above. As I Listen I am reminded of what I have been missing from compact discs.

The vinyl recording exhibits enhanced delineation and placement between everything in the sound field and a clearer sense of a natural start and stop timber and timing. But as a consequence of this enhanced detailing it is unforgiving of any defects that might be present on the surface of the recording. If you consider this characteristic a trade off, than it is one I am willing to make. My last amplifier test is sending music through my very revealing Aurum Cantus SE2 speakers. I purchased these speakers primarily to test cables. They are two way monitors with a ribbon tweeter rated out to 40 kHz. The test will be to push up the volume on a CD with a ragged treble and see how the i3 reproduces the sound. The result: was, nothing added but nothing lost, the harsh highs were endemic to the recording and were not coming from the i3. Another way to say this is the high frequencies have clear and clean definition with no annoying artifacts.

 

Assessment
It will be kind of hard to wrap up this story because I will need to dig up some subliminal impressions and some insightful moments; right about here is where I go out on a limb. I really like this integrated amplifier even though you can get fairly close to its sound quality for less money. Long term you will find there is an almost ineffable something that sets this amplifier apart from the babbling hordes. No, it can’t do the same expansive soundscape of a good tube amplifier nor can it dig out subterranean bass information like some big buck amplifier. That is where Edge Electronics manufacturers higher end units and, as such, at this price level one is to expect some compromises. For the $2000 price of the i3 there is probably no other solid-state integrated amplifier that can. In order to find the appeal of the i3 you have to revisit the moment you realize you are listening to the clear clarity of life squeezed out of what could be mundane and possibly even boring. Indeed this nimble amplifier is beyond its class, it can swing dynamic contrasts better than integrated amplifiers that sell for twice its price.

Hard to describe yes, but after some quiet contemplation what I really need to do is to try and describe something that is not there. Far easier it would be to detail every happy little musical nuance that it reproduces. Looking at the specifications I think there is some justification and a possible explanation. The specification for Signal-to-noise is listed at 101dB, actually that is quite respectable for any amplifier. Maybe not a radical technical breakthrough and maybe you will have to follow the manufacturer’s 200 plus hours of burn in. But ultimately you will find an articulate honest and pure conduit that let’s music flow unmolested. At a blink less than $2,000 bucks indeed the Edge Company has captured the vibrant sound of music for this very auspicious Premier.

Semper Hi-Fi

 

Reference System
Sanders ESL Power Amplifier
Audio Research SP9 MK3 Preamplifier
Marantz DV 8400 Universal CD player, Cambridge Audio Discmagic-1 CD transport, Cambridge S-700 Isomagic HDCD D/A Converter fed into ART Audio DI/O Tube D/A and A/D processor Up sampling output to 48/96, Magnum Dynalab FT101a tuner and Dynalab Signal Sleuth.
Aurum Cantus SE2, Phase Tech 1.5 speakers
Sota Saphire 2, Grado Signature arm with Shure V15 V-MR.
Three meter Kimber Cable 8TC, 3 meter RCA, 3 meter, Wire World Eclipse-2, RCA, 1 meter Chord Silver Siren, 1 meter and Wire World 10 gauge IEC power cord, Audiobhan 0.5-meter unbalanced digital
Richard Gray 20 Ampere Substation power cvonditioner, Islatrol Industrial 20amp ac line conditioner, Alpha Core Balanced Transformer Power Supply, Audio Power PE-1 power enhancer, Triad 2-ampere isolation transformer
VPI Magic bricks, Argent Room Lens system, Room Tunes Panels, a comfortable chair.

 

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear  
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Solid-state integrated amplifier
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 100 kHz
Power Output: 100 wpc @ 8 Ohms (200 wpc @ 4 Ohm)
THD @ 8 Ohms, 1Watt @ 1 kHz: <0.015%
Volume Control: Digital with dot matrix VFT display.
Inputs: Six via RCA; Preamp input and output (jumpered)
Input Impedance: 33k Ohms
Damping Factor: 100
Speaker Impedance: Switchable to either 4 Ohms or 8 Ohms. 
SNR: 101dB
Speaker Connections: Five-way insulated binding posts
Remote Control : Volume and remote source switching
Dimensions: 17.375 x 2.75 x 4 (DxWxH in inches)
Weight: 14 lbs.
Price: $1998

 

Company Information
Edge Electronics
815 SE 47th Street
Cape Coral, FL 33904

Voice: (239) 945-6227
Fax: (239) 945-6338
E-mail: edgeamps@aol.com
Website: www.edgeamp.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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