In the areas of rhythmic drive and sheer force the Hautonga can comfortably advance to or very near the head of the class. Stokowski’s scintillating Liszt and Enesco rhapsodies on his Rhapsodies album (vinyl, Classic Records reissue) offer staggeringly powerful reproduction of a full nineteenth-century symphony orchestra, recorded with extraordinary dynamic wallop and stunning definition, especially in the lower registers—the Hautonga’s bass is truly prodigious. And the way the Hautonga reproduces Stokowski’s inflection of the rhythms will have your toes tapping to a fare thee well. Rock music doesn’t figure much in my listening and headbanging never, but I had a great time with the likes of classic Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, and Simon alone. “Paint it Black” the Plinius dispatched with spine-tingling verve and vigor, and it unraveled the thick textures of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with welcome clarity yet without sacrificing timing or pulling it apart.
I mentioned at the outset that the Hautonga brooks no quarter with tubes. By this I mean, first, that the Hautonga generates absolutely no bogus warmth. It will reproduce warmth if it’s in the recording—as the Walter Brahms demonstrated—but it will not add any of its own, which means that if you’re one of those audiophiles who likes a little extra warmth or romance, a careful listening is recommended, and equally careful componentmatching. Second, to draw upon Harry Pearson’s continuingly useful metaphor, the Plinius is unquestionably on the Yang side of the Yin/Yang continuum, i.e., the light, clear, and “masculine” as opposed to the dark, warm, and “feminine.” It’s not edgy, hard, or cold, but there is something ever so slightly cool and subtly forward about the reproduction that results in a presentation notable for its crispness, clarity, and brilliance, in addition to the strength and power I’ve already observed. For example, the Bernstein Appalachian Spring is brighter with the Plinius in the system than with some of my reference electronics. The same is true of Doris Day on Hooray for Hollywood (vinyl and CD): Day’s voice sparkles, all lightness and clarity, though, again, with the Hautonga it is also subtly brighter and her sibilants are a little accentuated, not offensively so, but noticeable in critical listening.
Although this characteristic of the Hautonga is by no means consistently in evidence, I heard it enough throughout the evaluation period to be convinced that it is real. Nor do I think this residual brightness, if it is that, is necessarily a tonal aberration; the effect, rather, is of moving somewhat closer to the performers, which will always make them sound a little brighter. In all of this, of course, the Hautonga is very much in line with contemporary tastes for an upfront, immediate, and incisive presentation. And I may be overly sensitive to it because most of my current reference units are either dead neutral or go a bit in the opposite direction.
What about the phonostage? Well, from a certain point of view, the specs cited earlier tell the story: no provisions for loading apart from a constant 47k ohms, which, as noted, will not properly load any low-output moving coil I know, including my Ortofon Windfeld. For much of the listening, I used it through the magnificent Zesto Andros phonostage about which I waxed ardently in TAS 222. In some respects, because the Zesto is a tube unit canted in the Yin direction, which slightly softens and warms the overall sound, I found this combination yielded some of the most pleasurable hours in all the listening sessions.
But surely it’s not fair to compare a phono preamp costing about eighty percent the price of the entire Hautonga to its built-in phonostage. Perhaps not, but before you cry, “Foul,” let me point out that it was by no means humiliated in the comparison. There’s a certain sacrifice in sheer presence and dynamic range, the noise is higher (though not all that much), Day’s voice has slightly less body and more top end, with sibilants more pronounced and a little more nasality. But I’m not talking gross effects here. Going to back to Stokowski’s Rhapsodies, I found the strings brighter than they should be, but also the same strength, power, and rhythmic alertness. The tonal anomalies, in other words, are textbook frequency-response aberrations that result from not loading a moving coil, which is perhaps another way of saying a moving magnet would likely yield more consistent results (but I didn’t have one on hand).
But I must stress that, once I got the evaluations out of the way and began listening just for pleasure, I found the phonostage perfectly acceptable and perfectly enjoyable and I didn’t think much about the reproduction as such. Running a low-output mc straight in requires the volume control be fairly well advanced, but it’s an indication of how really low in noise the Hautonga’s circuitry is that this didn’t seem to matter. And keep in mind that my observations obtain only as regards low-output moving coils: They might vanish with a moving-magnet pickup (indeed, some them might vanish with a different moving coil).
It’s obvious that the Hautonga joins the ever-expanding list of high-quality integrated amplifiers that warrant serious attention by anyone contemplating separates but attracted by the ease of setup and the convenience. If its particular collection of features, styling, price, and performance characteristics appeals to you, put it on your short list. It does most things right, nothing wrong, and its ability to grip, control, and reproduce music with extraordinary power and clarity is impressive by any standard.
Specs & Pricing
Power output: 200Wpc, 20Hz—20kHz at 0.05% THD
Number and type of inputs: One phono (mc or mm selectable), four single-ended inputs, one single-ended/balanced input (selectable), theater-bypass, preamplifier output, trigger in/out.
Phono input impedance: 47k ohms
Gain: Line, 40dB; phono low, 60dB; phono high, 66dB
Dimensions: 17.75" x 4.75" x 15.75"
Weight: 30 lbs.