BVaudio A300S Integrated Amplifier
|BVaudio A300S Integrated Amplifier|
17 July 2002
Power: 110W RMS into 8 ohms
Distortion: THD = Max 0.01% / IM = Max 0.004%
Inputs: 5 Line inputs RCA
Outputs: 1 tape output, 1 preamplifier output, 2 loudspeakers
Signal to Noise: -105 dB (20 Hz-22 kHz)
Bandwidth: 80 kHz
P.O. Box 690249
Quincy, MA 02269
I always thought of integrated amplifiers as the component you buy when you have limited space or the room décor does not allow for a stack of audio equipment. Typically, I picture integrated amplifiers driving small bookshelf speakers for café style listening. You know, sitting on the couch, lightly listening to the music with a book or magazine. However, I realized that the people at BVaudio do not have the same impression when I received the A300S integrated amplifier.
The BVaudio design philosophy is to build amplifiers, pre-amplifiers, and integrated units that are true to the original recording without extra processing or "enhancements." I must admit the strong claims on their website grabbed my attention as they described real and detailed bass, perfect localization, three dimensional sound and analytically perfect reproduction with the A300S. I thought this was especially strong wording for a company that entered the high fidelity market only five years ago. However, I later learned that BVaudio has been manufacturing professional amplifiers for musicians in Europe for the past twelve years. They build amplifiers ranging from 200 to 1000 watts per channel, and the design of their integrated amplifier demonstrates they understand how to build power amplifiers. As I learned about the background of this company and read their strong claims, I became very eager to hear just how their A300S integrated amplifier performed.
Typical of many integrated amplifiers, the A300S has a slim and simple design with a small footprint. The current A300S has a thick baked silver face; the next manufacturing run of this unit will have a brushed aluminum finish. But don't let the small casing and simple interface fool you; this is a well-built and well-designed integrated amplifier. The chassis and casing is solid, no plastic or flimsy materials are used on this amplifier. There are plenty of input, output and speaker connectivity options. The RCA and speaker connectors are sturdy and stood up well to several changes of interconnects and speaker cables. Inside the A300S are two custom-built 300-watt toroidal transformers used in the fully balanced dual-mono design for each channel that add some weight and power.
I was surprised to find that even with the twin toroidal transformer design this unit runs very cool. During long listening periods and high volume conditions, the A300S remained very stable. To further keep the components of the A300S discrete as possible, the BVaudio design includes two other independent power supplies, one for the processor unit and another the for preamplifier stage. Looking at the inside of this amplifier is as impressive as listening to it. The A300S is one of the heavier and more powerful units in its class. This integrated stereo amplifier weighs in at 31 pounds and is capable of delivering 110 Wpc into 8 ohms and 170 Wpc into 4 ohms. Not many integrated amplifiers, especially in the under $1,600 price category, offer this type of high power dual-mono design.
The A300S includes 5 gold-plated RCA line inputs and 2 pairs of gold-plated 5-way binding posts. Also, this amplifier includes a removable power cord, an output option for a tape deck and pre-amp option to bypass the internal amplifier. The A300S does not offer balanced inputs or a phone stage. However, balanced inputs and a phono stage are available in BVaudio's P1 pre-amplifier that can be matched with the PA300 power amplifier that includes the same power plant as the A300S. The 2-pair of binding post is a nice feature that provides the ability to bi-wire from this single unit. However, I found the spacing of the binding posts somewhat crowded when using spade connectors in a bi-wire configuration.
BVaudio also supplies a remote control, which is certainly a nice and welcomed feature in any integrated amplifier. The pre-amp section of the A300S provides the ability to set and store user-configurable parameters through the use of the five input buttons, two up/down buttons and a single line LCD screen. The A300S does not include bass and treble adjustments, but this does not surprise or bother me knowing that the design goal of this unit is true uncolored and unmasked sound. Another nice feature of the A300S is the ability for the user to create custom names for each of the five inputs. Setting the input labels can be a tedious process while you looping through all the available characters and symbols, but once complete it provides a nice level of customization. Also, each input can be programmed to maintain it's own sensibility value. You may find yourself asking what is sensibility? I did. Well, don't look in the manual because you won't find the answer. Sensibility is the equivalent to sensitivity; this feature allows the user to match the input sensitivity of each of their components to maintain a consistent volume across all inputs. To avoid further confusion, BVaudio will be changing the name of this parameter in the next manufacturing run of the product.
The digital control section of the A300S utilizes components from National Semiconductor, Analogue Devices and Burr-Brown. This non-traditional control section allows BVaudio to achieve very precise channel matching within 0.05 dB. The use of a high-end potentiometer (a traditional volume control) cannot provide matching closer than 2 dB. The A300S digital volume control ranges from -60 db to 0 db, in 99 steps, and the volume is adjusted through either the remote control or the front panel. I was surprised to see BVaudio use the step value and not the decibel value to display the volume setting. I am used to seeing the numbers move from a negative value to zero instead of 0 to 99. Not that this really matters anyway because most people adjust the volume by their comfort and not the number on the volume control. If you choose to use the front panel, you will notice the lack of a dedicated power button and volume knob. Pressing one of the five input buttons will turn-on the A300S and holding one of the input buttons will put the unit in stand-by. Personally, I like a dedicated power button and a "knob" type volume control instead of up/down buttons, even if the volume is digitally controlled. Regardless, this non-traditional control section provides the A300S with terrific control, and the design focus of this amplifier is truly the sound.
Each time I spoke with the people at BVaudio, they reinforced the company's goal of providing analytically correct reproduction. The design goal of their equipment is not to achieve a nice or warm sound, but as true a sound to the original as possible with all the finest details. Once I started listening to the A300S integrated amplifier I realized BVaudio had achieved their design goal. Three-dimensional, natural and detailed, these were the first thoughts that came to my mind when I started listening to this unit.
I was immediately impressed with the sound of this unit from the first time I pushed play on my transport. The music was very transparent and natural. Immediately I was able to localize all the instruments. The A300S can place each instrument in it's own space and provide all the subtle details of that instrument. I was amazed by the resolution of the A300S, especially at this price point. The bass response is quick and tight, with plenty of detail at high or low volumes. Performance proved to be consistent through various volume levels and speakers. As I listened to the Ultimate Demonstration Disc from Chesky Records, the dual 300-watt toroidal transformers proved to provide the A300S with plenty of power during demanding transient passages allowing the amplifier retain control of the loudspeakers at all times. I found the power and performance of this unit to be comparable to power amplifiers costing twice as much and without a built-in pre-amp.
Besides exceptional sonic detail and naturalness, another distinct quality of the A300S is its imaging. This integrated amplifier, with dual-mono design and precise channel matching, truly sounds like two completely independent amplifiers and therefore provides exceptional imaging. I actually discovered this characteristic while preparing to break-in the amplifier. I figured I would casually listen to the Rolling Stones while letting the amplifier break-in before doing any critical listening. As the third track started playing, Sympathy for the Devil, the detail of the percussion instruments grabbed my attention along with the precision channel separation. I was very pleased to hear how the A300S could reproduce each twist of the shaker, playing each one notably differently, and offering a firm placement of the various percussion instruments. Ironically, I later learned from my contact at BVaudio that they don't suggest (or require) a break-in period with their equipment because each unit is tested for almost 10 hours before leaving the manufacturing facility. Basically, they believe in the quality of their engineering and manufacturing controls, and they are convinced each unit will perform as designed or it will not leave the production line.
The A300S is solid state and digitally controlled. BVaudio makes no claims to have a "warm" or "tube-like" sound, only to have a true and uncolored sound that does not provide additional processing to mask bad recordings. This is a fast and dynamic amplifier with a lot of punch for it's conservative 110 watts per channel. The low frequency response is tight and controlled and the high frequency and mid-range reproduction is very clear and transparent. This is one of those amplifiers that will really let you feel the music as well as hear it.
Once I realized the type of amplifier I was dealing with, I moved on to trying some fast and up-beat jazz. The amplifier had the power, punch and dynamics to support this music. The horns sounded very realistic, strong and very dynamic, but not harsh. Vocals were reproduced well and sounded very pure and transparent, not flat. Bass was quick and detailed. The A300S demonstrated good control over the low frequency drivers, maintaining a consistently tight sound, never booming or forcing the speakers to make non-musical sounds. In my opinion, this amplifier excels in mid-range and bass compared to many other amplifiers, especially in this price range.
In all audio systems, each component in the chain contributes to the final sound. I used components that I am very familiar with for this evaluation, and the A300S demonstrated a transparent quality, allowing each of the components to perform as I expected. I have listened to other pre-amplifiers and amplifiers that do not, or cannot, reproduce the differences between different components. The integrated amplifier design eliminates at least one layer of interconnect cables that could color the final reproduction. My listening experience with this amplifier has proven that the claims made by BVaudio appear to be true -- this unit was very neutral sounding.
Upgrading from the stock power cord made a noticeable and beneficial difference. I noticed smoother high and midrange frequency response, slightly greater presence and detail, while low frequency response and detail basically remained consistent. The A300S performed remarkably well with different loudspeakers, including a pair of KEF Q50 and the Audes Blues. The Audes provided more of a challenge than the KEF speakers and the A300S was very dynamic and stable, demonstrating great loudspeaker control for this size amplifier.
In summary, this unit provides tremendous value for the money. The A300S provides a nice transparent base to build a system around at a reasonable price. With the right components, this is a very musical integrated amplifier that does not forgive the other components in the chain like other comparably priced integrated amplifiers might. In conjunction with other quality components, the A300S can provide the musical reproduction of systems costing several times as much and has definitely changed my perception of the integrated amplifier. If you are in the market for an integrated amplifier with an emphasis on true musical sound and plenty of power, without unnecessary digital signal processing, I suggest giving the BVaudio A300s a listen.
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