A life lesson that we all learn: Looks can be deceiving. It’s also an axiom that applies to the high end—it’s what’s inside that counts. An amp like the Exposure 3010S2D is a case in point. Visually its nondescript design conveys classic component minimalism and purpose. British reserve, if you will. Only a purist volume control, input selector knob, and power switch occupy the forthright aluminum front panel, which eschews the dozens of flashy pushbuttons and infotainment-style LED displays common to many designs. Operationally it cuts to the chase by getting right down to the critical business at hand—high-performance amplification in the form of a clean, direct circuit design, a robust power supply with plenty of headroom, and rigid construction to thwart EMI as well as acoustic and airborne resonances.
These qualities weren’t born overnight. Exposure was founded in 1974 by John Farlowe, whose early passion for recorded music led to building guitar and PA amps and later working in recording studios rubbing elbows with the likes of David Bowie and Pink Floyd. Since the company’s inception, expert engineering combined with a philosophy geared to “real hi-fi at real-world prices” has been its stock-in-trade. All current Exposure products are designed by Brighton-based chief designer Tony Brady (see his Back Page interview, Issue 265), and final assembly still takes place in the United Kingdom.
The 3010S2D represents the fourth generation of Exposure’s top-tier integrated. It outputs 110Wpc of solid-state power. Like its predecessor it comes equipped with six line-level inputs, but now also includes an AV input for integration with a multi-channel system. A preamp output permits the addition of a separate power amp for system bi-amping. There are dual sets of speaker terminals (banana only). A remote control is included as well.
Internally, Exposure uses high-quality capacitors in the signal path, and has carefully mapped its circuit topology to keep signal and power-supply paths short. Cascode circuitry is used for improved power-supply immunity. The 3010S2D preamp stage now sports a new circuit board with all discrete components (rather than op-amps), while the power amp boasts a fast bipolar transistor output stage (four bipolar devices per rail) and the new power supply adds extra stages of regulation. The volume control is a fine Alps potentiometer.
Owners can also select from a pair of options: an mm or mc phonostage, or a plug-in DAC board. My review unit came equipped with the latter. The board is capable of up to 192/24-bit PCM and DSD64, and comes with two inputs: USB and BNC, with auto-switching between them. For my Apple TV I ran a SPDIF into the BNC via a superbly crafted Cardas Audio adapter. Using my MacBook via Pure Music/iTunes, I linked to the 3010S2D with the excellent Audience USB interconnect. Setup was a snap and performance was even snappier with very good transparency, smooth quick transients, and solid dynamics. A world-class DAC on the order of a Berkeley or a dCS? Well, maybe that’s a stretch, but considering the price segment that this package competes in, adding the $595 DAC option is a virtual no-brainer.
Generally my sonic impressions begin to gel when listening to solo instruments—vocals, piano, cello, guitar—and then I move on to smaller ensembles and ultimately the “big guns.” This protocol permits me to isolate certain criteria first: the ambient silence in and around the instrument, image integrity, decay patterns, harmonic sustain, and so forth, without the soundfield being clouded by the complexities of added instrumentation. However, like many of you, my other impulse is to grab all the symphonic heavy-hitters in my record collection and throw the whole sonic kitchen sink at the product. It was difficult to hold back with the Exposure—right out of the box, its clarity, tonal authority, and timbral authenticity immediately captured my attention.
The sonic lynchpin of the 3010S2D’s performance was the stability and musical foundation it reproduced. From the opening salvos of Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” to the angelic vocal of Alison Krauss’ “You’re Just a Country Boy,” the amp established a stable soundspace in which each image was positioned with sure-footed specificity. There was a superb combination of poise, densely textured midband detail, and dynam-ically authoritative overall energy. Plus the Exposure’s very low noise floor led to an appreciation of the ambient riches that reside between musical passages. Images, such as Russ Kunkel’s signature tom-tom fill during Carole King’s “Home Again” from Tapestry, stood out as they suggested genuine weight and dimensionality rather than appearing as flat cardboard cutouts.