Similarly, the Integrated had a wonderfully delicate and grain-free treble but wasn’t the last word in extension and top-end air. The treble was utterly liquid and refined; there was none of the hash that makes vocal sibilance annoying; cymbals had a delicacy that emphasized the rich lower harmonics rather that top-end sizzle; and saxophone lacked the thinness of tone color that is all too common in solid-state amplifiers. The Integrated is an amplifier that communicates through creating a relaxed, easy-going, and intimate experience rather than bombarding the listener with hyped detail. Some listeners may find the Integrated a bit too polite in the treble. As always, matching an amplifier to the loudspeaker for the greatest musical synergy is vital.
Partway through the review process Absolare sent to me a new set of tubes from a cache that it had just discovered. Oddly, these 1965-vintage NOS tubes were shipped to me from Australia. As good as the Integrated sounded initially, the new tubes were significantly superior in nearly every regard. The palpability in the mids increased; the soundstage was more dimensional, and the music had a greater sense of life. The new tubes had less midbass bloom, which made the presentation a little leaner, but the low bass extended deeper and with better definition.
Living with the Absolare Integrated fosters a very different relationship between listener and hi-fi system. It’s an entirely different aesthetic from the feature-laden component with a brightly lit alphanumeric display, sharp-edged metal casework, and sound that values treble detail at the expense of rich musicality. Instead, I found something tremendously compelling about the utter simplicity of the Integrated’s operation, the way it looks like a piece of art rather than a product of industrial engineering, and the warm and fatigue-free listening it offers up. The Integrated’s sound is not just tube-like, but SET-like in its lush midrange liquidity and voluptuous warmth. But unlike any SET—even Absolare’s own powerful and robust Passion 845—the Integrated will drive a wider range of loudspeakers and deliver deeper and more controlled bass.
Some tube-transistor hybrid amplifiers are a mix of compromises and trade-offs, with the designer attempting to minimize each technology’s shortcomings while maximizing its strengths. I see the Absolare Integrated not as a product of compromise, but rather of distillation. The company has found a way to bring the magic of its all-tube Passion components to a product that is not only more affordable, but also more flexible because of its ability to drive a wider range of loudspeakers. Give the Integrated a listen; I suspect that many of you will be captured by its many charms, just as I was.
Specs & Pricing
Absolare Integrated Amplifier
Type: Tube/solid-state hybrid stereo integrated amplifier
Output power: 150Wpc into 8 ohms, 200Wpc into 4 ohms
Inputs: Unbalanced RCA jacks (x4) or balanced XLR jacks (x4), user specified
Tube complement: One each 12AU7
Input impedance: 100k ohms
Attenuator: 48-step resistor network
Dimensions: 15" x 7.9" x 26.4"
Weight: 70.4 lbs.
Price: $26,500 (balanced); $24,750 (unbalanced)
Echole Limited Edition Cables, Interconnects, AC Power Cords
Interconnect: $19,500 3' pair XLR
Speaker cable: $23,500 6' pair
Power cord: $16,000, 6'
ABSOLARE USA LLC
40 Pemberton Road
Nashua, NH 03063