Low-frequency performance was in the solid-state tradition—clean, accurate in pitch, forceful. Its focus and grip can lull you into thinking that its ultimate extension is deficient, but to my mind it’s a lack of artifacts or colorations that’s making the bass-range difference. To allay concerns, just put on program material with authentic low-frequency material like the M&K direct-to-disc LP The Power and The Glory and you’ll hear the seismic rush of tuneful pipe organ bass and the exhale of ambient cues that any experienced concertgoer will instantly intuit as musical truth.
Only towards the end of this evaluation did it occur to me that I’d listened to more vinyl than I normally do. This was for a couple of reasons, but primarily because the Integrated 1.0 invites the listener to play the best analog. Such was the tonal honesty and transparency of this integrated that I just couldn’t stop myself from grabbing one vinyl favorite after another and in a sense rediscovering sonic charms and, in some instances, catching a tiny musical revelation that I’d heretofore missed. That’s what great equipment can do to an otherwise familiar audio system. It reignites a passion for the hobby that even on the best days can wane just a bit. The secondary reason was because I had Parasound’s new JC 3 Jr. phonostage on hand for a forthcoming review. I was eager not only to hear its overall performance but to compare it with my current reference phonostage, the superb John-Curl-designed Paraound JC 3+. And yes, Junior is definitely a chip off the old block.
With the ATC SCM19A active towers available to me I spent some time listening to the Inspiration preamp section. These two-way floorstanders were connected to the Inspiration’s preamp outputs via Analysis Plus Micro Golden Oval XLR interconnects, a superb high-contrast wire that brings forth memories of Shirley Bassey singing the theme from Goldfinger, “He loves only gold…He loves GOLD!” Isolating the preamp section confirmed what I had already surmised. The preamp might be an even bigger star than the amp section. The ATC’s bloomed and boomed like never before with tighter midbass action and images growing ever more focused within the deepening acoustic space. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention that the headphone amp’s performance was equally transparent, noise-free, and dynamic. It’s a little awkward accessing the jack from the tight confines of the back panel but otherwise I have nothing but praise for the headphone circuit.
And how does the Inspiration stack up against some of the top integrated amps that I’ve had the pleasure to review? The Pass Labs INT-250 remains the impeccably balanced pile-driver of the group with low-frequency weight and dynamic impact akin to someone dropping a boulder on your chest. The MBL Corona C51 has the velvety mids, the dark, sexy and glorious lower mids, the resolution, and the grip. And then there’s the unearthly Ypsilon Phaethon, as absurdly transparent and highly resolved as the Constellation but with a mastery of harmonic density and midrange color saturation that cocks heads when first encountered. It has an ability to delicately hold and caress notes, almost as if it had more wind in its sails at the end of the race than at the beginning. The Constellation on the other hand, is a maestro of speed and control offering musicality that breaks from the starting blocks like an Olympian with a gold medal on the line. Further encapsulating these temperaments isn’t easy, but in a nutshell, the sensual Phaethon suggests a touch more heart over head, while the analytical Constellation intimates a bit more head over heart. Philosophies equally valid and equally arresting.
The Integrated 1.0 calls to mind the Paul Simon song “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor,” a sentiment that pretty much describes the wide range in high-end offerings that TAS reports on every month. Given its relatively approachable cost, the 1.0 is a rarity inasmuch as its performance so closely aligns with the company’s stellar, though for many, unapproachably high-priced flagships. If you haven’t guessed, I’m very taken with this amp. To my way of thinking it’s nothing short of a new high for the bottom of the line.
Specs & Pricing
Power: 100Wpc into 8 ohms, 400Wpc into 4 ohms
Inputs: Two XLR stereo, two RCA stereo, USB/RS-232 (for service and control)
Outputs: XLR pre-out
Dimensions: 17" x 5.5" x 19"
Weight: 43 lbs.
Suite 1, Level 6
580 St. Kilda Road
Melbourne, Vic 3004
Sota Cosmos Series IV turntable; SME V tonearm; Sumiko Palo Santos cartridge, Ortofon Quintet Black, Ortofon 2M Black; Parasound JC 3+; dCS Puccini; Lumin S1 Music Player; Synology NAS; MacBook Pro/Pure Music; ATC SCM19A (SCM20SL) loudspeakers; Audience Au24SX cables and power cords, Synergistic Atmosphere Level Four, Nordost Frey 2 & Audience Ohno; & Kimber Palladian power cords. Audience USB, AudioQuest Carbon firewire; Wireworld Starlight Cat 8 Ethernet, VooDoo Cable Iso-Pod; Audience aR-6 TSSOX