When I think of hi-fi, I don’t necessarily think of an inexpensive power amplifier. In the same way, when I think of hi-fi, I don’t usually think of My Bloody Valentine’s classic album, Loveless. Sure, it’s no Diana Krall, considering it was allegedly recorded in nineteen different studios, but the new vinyl pressing of Loveless sounded crisp, clear, and gorgeous through the A-150. It handled the very first huge pulsing scream of the group’s effects on the opening track “Only Shallow” with finesse. Despite the notoriously obfuscated percussion, the drums actually sounded like drums instead of distant patter. The drummer only plays live on two tracks, and one of those two tracks, “Touched,” was a great example of what the A-150 could do. The percusssion sounded tight and focused, with crisp attacks and deep, satisfying booms. The vocals overall in Loveless are more melody than actual human language, and that tone came through naturally and clearly. For the most part, Loveless experiments with studio sound and takes it to extremes, but this amp was up to the task of satisfying reproduction, even when battling a myriad of densely woven effects.
For a different example, on “Wasted Acres” from Grizzly Bear’s album Painted Ruins, there’s a hammering percussive noise in the background, an almost steel-on-steel sound, expansive and full of really satisfying reverb. My Cambridge Audio CXA80 did a lovely job of providing a neutral, full reproduction of this clang, but I’d argue it sounded even better with the A-150. There was a nice warmth and detail as the music picked up; yet, throughout, that percussive ring stayed clear and grounded. In contrast to Loveless, Grizzly Bear records feature close, coherent vocals that are even and persuasive. Ed Droste’s warbling voice is one of the best parts of this album—and of Grizzly Bear as a whole—and a worthwhile amplifier really has to nail his tone. I was more than happy with the A-150 in this regard; Droste’s voice retained its soft balance despite the rest of the music threatening to drown it out.
Returning to My Bloody Valentine for a second, the shoe-gaze genre as a whole feels like a good analogy for this amp. Shoe-gaze is heavy and powerful and melodic and lovely, which is both confusing and pleasing at the same time. That’s how I felt about the A-150. The amp wasn’t supposed to sound great, given its price. (That’s the common audiophile wisdom, at any rate.) And maybe it was imperfect, but it seemed to embrace those imperfection, from the design to the sound, just like shoe-gaze embraces chaotic guitar effects and feedback loops that others might consider too difficult on the surface.
The A-150 had a heavy low end, and the treble didn’t quite sparkle, but the midrange stayed pleasant and sleek, and when you put it all together, it was a really good sound. It wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it anyway. Loveless has both plenty of specificity and plenty of obfuscation, an odd little paradox, but a fantastic one. At $299, the A-150 is also an odd little paradox. You’d think it would be all heft and no subtlety, but that’s wrong. The A-150 may be budget gear or entry-level, but it doesn’t sound that way.
I’m tired of the cliché about entry-level equipment that keeps getting posted on forums. If anyone points out a flaw in budget gear, someone inevitably says, “You get what you pay for.” Which basically means, cheap gear sounds cheap. Yet the A-150 doesn’t sound cheap, and you definitely get more than you pay for. I’d gladly recommend the Emotiva A-150 power amplifier to anyone looking for great sound and decent build-quality at a normal price.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Class AB power amplifier
Output power: 75W into 8 ohms, 150W into 4 ohms
Inputs: Unbalanced RCA
Output impedance: Not provided
Dimensions: 17" x 3 1/8" x 13 1/2"
Weight: 15.5 lbs.
135 Southeast Parkway Dr.
Franklin, TN 37064