Set within a relatively small footprint, Paul Rigby reviews this budget power amp
Unlike audiophiles, hi-fi equipment is quite anti-social. We humans might enjoy lumping components together under the same chassis but if you actually took a minute to ask a DAC (30-40 minutes and a couple of pints would do it) if he enjoyed sitting next to a headphone amplifier, then you’d receive a grumpy reply at best or a mouth full of expletives at worst (depending on how much he’d actually drunk at that point).
You can actually hear the complaints too. Install a CD player next to a Bluetooth receiver in the same chassis and you can hear the resultant commotion as one series of electronics bleeds a veiling noise towards the other.
The mantra for any top flight hi-fi system is this: separate, separate, separate! Yes, there are great integrated amplifiers out there but there’s even better pre-amp/power amp combos. Move the big power supplies away from the relatively sensitive control systems and inputs and more peace will reign. Which means that noise decreases and the music has a better chance of reaching your ears instead of being blocked and hampered during its journey.
Separating an integrated amplifier into a pre-amplifier and power amplifier is great in theory but has, generally speaking, been the stuff of the higher-end designs and higher-end wallets.
IOTAVX want to change that because it’s just released the PA3 power amplifier, priced at under £300. Both eyebrows were raised when I heard the price point. So I had to review the thing.
Pushing out 45W into 8 Ohms over two channels, the PA3 amplifier is relatively small, spanning just 435 x 59 x 240mm and weighing a decent, for the size, 6.5kg. A Class AB amp, it features a generous toroidal transformer under the hood. The PA3 can also be used in mono mode (bridged). In this case, 100W are available for one channel into 8 Ohms.
On the front is a simple power switch. Around the back are speaker terminals, IEC power socket, trigger sockets to enable remote control when hooked up to other IOTA products, connection to a pre-amp and pre-amp outputs, with which the signal can be passed on to another amplifier as needed.
I started with Mike Oldfield and his Platinum (Virgin) LP from 1979. I played Into the Wonderland, featuring vocals by Wendy Roberts. A sweet, beautifully melodic and slightly melancholic, low key ballad.
Before I get stuck in here, you have to remind yourself that this is a budget power amplifier. One of the lowest priced – if not the lowest – specialist units of its type that I’ve ever reviewed in fact. As such, it performed remarkably well. In general broad terms, I was impressed by its balanced, neutral output. That is, there was obvious detail being delivered around the upper frequencies, there was a full and notable bass presence at the other end and there were no obvious nasties to get in the way sitting in between.
Overall, the IOTAVX is a good, solid machine. Because it is a budget unit you do lose out on the extra piece of dynamic reach and the finesse around the upper mids and treble while bass could be more organic. But then I would be spending £3,000 and not £299, wouldn’t I?
What the PA3 does, by separating the power amplifier, is to lower as much noise as possible. This means that you are getting far more midrange insight, detail and tonal balance than you will generally hear in an integrated amplifier around this price point (assuming that you buy a pre-amp of around the same price as this IOTAVX).
The confidence in the lower frequencies was high indeed with bass providing a massy, hefty response. Bass provided a real foundation to any music passing through it but it never added emphasis. It never bloomed or added warmth to the midrange so it retained discipline.
This track also utilised a regular and consistent ride cymbal throughout. The detail from this instrument – all too easily masked – was tracked without much effort at all and the detail from it was plentiful and informative. At no time did the ride cymbal ever disappear behind the dominant vocal and backing harmonies.
Later, in the second part of this song, featuring high energy lead guitar and punchy bass, I was happy to hear the balanced output put the brakes on the synth solo which can sound bright via some amplifiers. The IOTAVXnever allowed that to happen.
I then turned to Nancy Sinatra and the CD version of It’s Such a Pretty World Today from Country, My Way (Reprise).
I did note a slight – just a slight – coolness in the general presentation of this disc but this could only be discerned through close comparative tests but you may simply interpret that as a form of precision because that was a secondary benefit of the cool approach. Especially around the vocal presentation. Simplifying and stripping extraneous since information to deliver the heart of the music to the ear.
Instrumental separation was excellent here as each instrument was easily detectable and the soundstage was generally broad and spacious.
Separating an integrated amplifier into a pre-amp and power amplifier is generally seen as a ‘good thing’ but relatively high prices often preclude their adoption. The IOTAVX PA3 gives you the chance to enter a more advanced hi-fi configuration at a low, low price. In return, this power amplifier will provided a relatively neutral output and will never let you down in sonic terms. A value for money package backed by excellent sound quality – what more do you want?
IOTAVX ELECTRONICS PA3 POWER AMPLIFIER
Tel: 01642 232188
GOOD: balanced presentation, good bass, small footprint, price
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