In one of the first online reviews of AVID’s newest integrated amp, Long Live Vinyl fails to find fault with the £7,000 AVID Integra.
At the end of February, I attended the annual Bristol Hi-Fi Show and one of my first ports of call was the room occupied by AVIDHIFI, who were demonstrating some of their turntables and loudspeakers, as well as launching their brand new integrated amplifier, on test here, the Integra.
This new model represents an introduction to AVID’s range of amplifiers, joining the company’s highly regarded Sigsum integrated amp, which at £13,000 is almost twice the price of the Integra. Now, £7,000 is hardly entry level in the wider world of hi-fi, but AVID is not your average consumer electronics brand; their goal is audio perfection, not pandering to the budget vinyl-spinning market.
The Integra shares many features, both visually and internally, with the Sigsum amplifier. Both are fully integrated designs housed in a sturdy yet stylishly finished case, so everything needed to amplify the output from your turntable
and its cartridge, as well as four line-level sources, is included in the box. The onboard phono stage is AVID’s Pellar design, which employs a passive RIAA circuit using premium-quality capacitors.
Headphone users will find a jack input connector on the amp’s front panel. At the rear of the unit, where all the RCA phono inputs and speaker output terminals are situated, there are switches to adjust the input gain to suit moving magnet (MM) and both high- and low-output moving coil (MC) cartridges. Additional RCA connectors are provided for customised resistance-loading plugs to be inserted, so that the resistance value can be set to suit any cartridge.
Power-wise, the Integra delivers 110 watts into 8 ohms, which is ample to drive any loudspeaker to realistic volume levels. Sure, there are amplifiers in this league that offer outputs in kilowatts, however the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The important thing is the quality of the power. With its huge mains transformer and large capacitors in the power supply, the Integra will feed even the most power-hungry speakers with plenty of clean power. How this translates into sound quality can be thought of in terms of control; the Integra exhibits a vice-like grip across the entire audio band, including the all-important bass frequencies that provide the foundation for high-end sound reproduction.
The integrity of the Integra is maintained through its absence of superfluous bells and whistles. There’s no balance control, nor, heaven forbid, tone controls. Remote control? No way. However, the excellent ALPS RK27 volume pot is so luxuriously smooth you’ll want to use it all the time.
This goes for the amp’s switchgear, too. Dialling through the input options via the front-panel rotary switch is a tactile pleasure, further demonstrating the build quality of the unit, while pressing the Mute button cuts the output with a satisfying clunk. The Mono button is a relay switch (like the input selector), so you hear the electrical click-into-action a fraction of a second after pushing the button. Do use this switch when playing mono records,
as it effectively cuts extraneous noise and instantly upgrades the perceived condition of your old mono vinyl.
A Sweet Top-end
Spinning a few of my favourite test records shows off the Integra’s capabilities, especially its authority and grip, which lets the music speak for itself. Notes start and stop precisely, expressing rhythmic flow in an unforced way. Tonally, its palette is broad, allowing the music to be enjoyed in a relaxing yet emotionally engaging manner. It doesn’t attempt to shine a light on the treble region to hype detail, however nothing is masked. There is no blurring of a note’s leading edges, nor slurring of its decay, while the vanishingly low noise floor allows for inky black silence in the space between each note.
My reference valve amplification chain has a sweeter top end and more lush tonality, yet this isn’t the musical truth, rather a beguiling and romanticised version of it. The Integra avoids this toffee-flavoured presentation in favour of clean and clear transparency with none of the tonally grey and sterile sound of lesser solid-state amplifiers.
Playing Talk Talk’s Spirit Of Eden (Parlophone, 1988), the depth of emotion conveyed is achingly beautiful, while the wild dynamic shifts between soft and loud passages are rendered vividly with perfect precision.
It’s a truism that the very best equipment reveals the greatest contrasts, both in terms of timbre and dynamics. The Beach Boys’ mono 45rpm Good Vibrations (Capitol, 1966) is a composite of several versions of the track recorded in four different studios. The contrast between the light and airy verses chopping into the dense, undulating choruses is
portrayed starkly, while the throbbing bass in the bridge section is both deeper and firmer than I’m used to hearing.
Criticisms are minor and unrelated to the Integra’s performance. Styling is always a matter of personal preference, so while the blue LEDs indicating Power On, Mono and Mute are not to my taste, others will love the purposeful look and neon glow.
AVID’s most affordable amplifier is a terrific entry into their world of sonic perfection, with all the convenience
of having a top-class, versatile phono stage, line preamplifier and stereo power amp in one box. As the company acronym attests, A Very Interesting Design indeed.