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Issue 139    September 2016
In Focus: High-End Audio Amplification
Editorial By Alan Sircom


Hi-Fi+ Magazine139 September 2016


  Amplifiers get something of a bum steer in audio. They are the part that pulls the audio system together, they are complex and diverse components that could just as easily feature a 100 year old tube as a state-of-the-art amplifier module, and they need to cover everything from phono equalisers and built-in DACs to headphone outputs and home theatre bypasses. Yet they are the most prone to 'it all sounds the same' criticisms.


In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. With an increasing power supply burden from a range of digital and analogue inputs and outputs being included on an amplifier, the onus is on amp designers not to impose a sonic penalty on the audio system. We are also seeing a remarkable state of flux in amplifier design, both in terms of output device choice, and in terms of what a product might conceivably be connected to today.


There are some who see the inclusion of headphone amplifiers as beyond the scope of the amplifier 'proper', but our reaction to that mind-set is to wonder if they consciously avoid the rest of the 21st Century, too. The landscape of high-end audio has changed significantly in the last few years, and products that might not have been considered eligible to join the club have improved immeasurably and are now demanding entrance.


We're also seeing a distinct trend in amp design: a conscious move away from the high-end being represented purely by pre-power designs. Instead, we are seeing the continued rise of the one-stop-shop amplifier, which combines digital and analogue sources and inputs and takes over the role traditionally played by a separate phono stage, DAC, preamplifier, power amplifier, and more. We think keeping the box count down is a good thing, especially when you work as a reviewer and your house becomes something of a shrine to cardboard! However, from the standpoint of power consumption, domestic tranquillity, and even sound quality, 'small' no longer means 'compromise'.


In a very real way, running regular themed issues like this gives one a very real sense of how the audio industry is changing and growing. The late Peter Walker of Quad unleashed a meme on the audio industry, that runs "all competently designed amplifiers, working within their desired operating levels, sound the same." What we are seeing here is those desired operating levels are expanding apace. We now have the electronics with the headroom, the dynamic range, and the bandwidth to handle any signal or speaker!



Alan Sircom, Editor Hi-Fi+




































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