Back in 2008 I wrote very favorably about a CD player and integrated amplifier from Exposure’s 3010S Series. These components fell into the highly competitive mid-$2000 price range, which is reachable by most non-one-percenters and marks a price point from which you generally need to make a big leap to get significantly better performance. Both 3010S designs delivered a very engaging sound that I described as “beautifully balancing detail with warmth, rhythmic precision with lyricism, and delicacy with power.”
The 3010S Series, one from the top of Exposure’s 4-Series lineup, has since received a bit of an upgrade—hence the “2” designation—and my experience with the 3010S2 mono power amplifier ($3195 the pair) only strengthens my conviction that Exposure is building some of the highest-value gear on the market.
Exposure states that the 3010S2 is based on the company’s top-end MCX Series monoblock, which delivers a beefy 300Wpc. One thing I’ve learned about Exposure’s British-designed, partially Malaysian-made, but assembled-in-England products is that they present about as minimalist a visual vibe as I’ve seen. By comparison these things make NAD components look ornate. Each 3010S monoblock is available in either a silver or black aluminum chassis whose face panel sports nothing more than an on/off button, the company logo, and an LED power-indicator light. The rear panel holds sockets for the power cable, a single RCA-input, and two sets of banana-only speaker connectors, which can either be used to bi-wire or bi-amp (though there is no switch to toggle between pairs A and B). Not that a workhorse amplifier really needs anything more than this, especially when the excellence of its sound argues for Exposure’s put-the-money-on-the-inside approach.
And what’s inside is exactly what one expects from a quality design: “A large custom-made toroidal transformer and smoothing capacitors for the power supply, all bipolar transistor design using carefully selected parts, DC-coupled throughout, electronic noninvasive overload protection with thermal tripping, and bi-wire speaker outputs using high-quality shrouded sockets.”
It seems to me, and I said as much in my earlier Exposure review, that founder John Farlowe, along with head designer Tony Brady and his crew, is highly attuned to the sound of live music. Be it the British rock artists Farlowe once worked with— David Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Who—or acoustic ensembles, the Exposure sound seems notably true to whatever it replicates.
Speaking of The Who, Live At Leeds [Classic/Track] revealed what I take to be Exposure’s conservative 100Wpc rating. It’s no secret that Magnepans can be power piggies, yet the 3010S2s never seemed to break a sweat. Even when I let my enthusiasm for the lengthy “My Generation” suite push the volume to my highest comfort level, the amps remained coolly composed as Townshend and Co. shredded their gear, as well as the crowd’s eardrums. But more than simply remaining composed, the 3010S2s didn’t seem to change character; it remained coherent while mayhem reigned. There was an impressively appropriate fatness to the overall presentation that delivered Townshend’s thick, crunching power chords, Entwistle’s chugging and churning electric bass, and Moon’s brilliantly manic drumming with excellent tonality, texture, and clarity of line. The dynamic swings, too—fairly wide here for rock—were fast and punchy, and the record’s ambience was quite large and room-enveloping.
But this Exposure design is about more than muscle; it’s got heart and brains, too. From favorites such as Sinatra’s Only The Lonely [Mobile Fidelity] to Milstein’s playing of the Bach Sonatas for Solo Violin [DG], the most intricate vocal and instrumental phrasings were presented with that sense of “rightness” that’s easy to mention yet difficult to describe. For example, listening to MoFi’s outstanding mono reissue of Only The Lonely I was struck once again by Sinatra’s poetry and inherent musical intelligence. The way he wove his voice in and out of the musical accompaniment, while still retaining the focus of each song, or how he could leave one feeling emotionally spent with the merest turn of phrase, as he does at the conclusion of “What’s New”: I haven’t changed, I still love you so. There’s no schmaltz or overstatement, but we feel and believe his pain.
Tonal balance is very good, veering slightly to the warmer side of the spectrum. Not a bad thing certainly, but the 3010S2 does shave a hair of bloom off Sinatra’s voice, Milstein’s Strad, or highly ambient orchestral works—I’m thinking of moments like the cymbal-crash in Ansermet’s recording of Petrouchka. As I am also in the midst of evaluating ARC’s VS 160 tube-driven integrated amp, it was evident that, while nowhere near as powerful as the Exposure, the VS 160 has the bloom thing down pretty darn well.
But the tired old tubes v. transistors debate isn’t the point here. What is the point is that this quality of musical delivery, excellence of overall balance, and ability to draw us into and hold us with the music is what for me differentiates the finest components from the rest of the pack. In that regard Exposure’s 3010S2 mono amps not only rank among the best of class, they also do so while delivering outstanding value. Give ’em a listen.
SPECS & PRICING
Power output: 100Wpc into 8 ohms
Inputs: One RCA
Outputs: Two pairs of banana-plug receptacles
Dimensions: 17.3" x 4.5" x 11.8"
Weight: 26.45 lbs. each
Bluebird Music Limited
4500 Witmer Industrial Estates
Niagra Falls, New York
TW-Acustic Raven One turntable; Tri-Planar Ultimate VII arm; Benz Gullwing and Transfiguration Phoenix moving-coil cartridges; Sutherland 20/20 and Simaudio Moon 310LP phonostages; Cary Audio Classic CD 303T SACD player and SLP 05 linestage preamplifier; Magnepan 1.7 loudspeakers, Tara Labs Zero interconnects, Omega speaker cables, The One power cords, and BP-10 Power Screen; Finite Elemente Spider equipment racks