How this manifests in music is fairly easy to spot; you end up listening ‘through’ the recording more. Not in an analytical way, more in a ‘that was really good, let’s play another!’ The Jessye Norman album led to Delius (I don’t quite know how) and then to Britten, which strangely led to the Hilliard Ensemble, which led to early music and so on. Meanwhile, Laura Marling led (naturally) to Joni Mitchell, which led to James Taylor, Donnie Hathaway and then all points soulful, then rocky tinged with some deep dub reggae for no particular reason. In other words, the amp is exciting, fast and honest enough to make you stalk your music collection for more fun tracks. That comes through a combination of quicksilver speed when needed, effortless dynamic range and a natural tonality; all the things any solid-state amplifier is supposed to be able to do, but few genuinely achieve.
‘Grace’ has come to imply something aloof and elegant but in a distant way. That is not the IPA-140’s interpretation of the word. It’s more timeless, Audrey Hepburn grace than some haughty ice-maiden grace. This is exceptionally transparent. Nevertheless, this is not going to be the everyman amplifier. There are those who want an amplifier that enlivens or even brightens the sound, and those who equate ‘accuracy’ with cold, laboratory conditions and those who think rhythm should be laid on with a trowel. It gives excellent rhythm when needed, in fact, it just doesn’t seem to draw everything into 4/4 time.
Instead that grace gives this amplifier a confidence and a poise that not only makes it very alluring, but to improve upon that that refinement without trade-off takes a lot of care, and a lot of cash. If you like what the Revo IPA-140 does and want more of the same, you’ll need to spend insurrection-funding doses of money to get there. If that summons up images of ‘punching above its weight’… the so be it. This is an amplifier that I could see people using with loudspeakers costing £20k or more without it showing itself up. Which is how it always used to be. The optional USB arrived mid-way through the listening session, and it’s a corker too. It is an ideal match for the amp, exceptionally clean, detailed and BS-free.
There is one caveat, of sorts. The XLR input is there almost for vestigial means. Norma doesn’t strongly recommend the ‘balanced’ pathway and it is best left alone. And, while it’s not really a criticism of the design, it’s extremely well built on a multi-layer PCB design with the case acting as almost a monocoque, The downside – from an engineer’s position – is any potential upgrades require more than just the usual ‘undo a few grub screws’ disassembly; it’s more ‘you have an egg-cup filled with Torx bolts, just to gain internal access’ kind of build. The more I think of it, that’s not much of a downside, because it shows just how seriously Norma takes the phrase ‘well-built’.
I’ll end where I began. Norma deserves to be better known. There are no bargains in audio, but this is an amplifier that can go up against amps costing £12,000-£16,000 despite costing the right side of £5,500 in its all-up top-spec guise. The hi-fi market can be fickle, but the IPA-140 has some real staying power. I think for many, to try it will be to love it.
Inputs: 4 RCA, 1 XLR Balanced, optional Phono, 1 USB DAC optional
Input impedance: 47Kohm (not selected input) / 10 Kohm (selected input)
Input Configuration: Phono MM/MC, Line, Direct AV, Balanced
Output Signal: Passive Pre Out , Active Pre Out, Tape out, Subwoofer out
Output Impedance: 200 ohm
Frequency Response: 0 Hz – 1.8 MHz (-3dB, non filtered)
Output Power: 140 W RMS / 8 Ohm – 280 W RMS / 4 Ohm (each channel)
Gain: 34 dB
Configuration: Dual Mono
Power devices: MOSFET, three pairs for each channel
Output current available: 36 A continuous, 150 A peak (per channel)
Dimensions (HxWxD): 11x43x36.5cm
Weight: 25 Kg
Price: £4,495, optional phono stage £295, 24bit, 192kHZ USB DAC, £455
Manufactured by Norma Audio
Distributed by Hi-Fi Network
Tel: +44 (0)1285 643088