Later I moved onto selections from Harry Connick Jr., and the Manhattan Jazz Quintet. These are both good, well-engineered recordings but nothing out of the ordinary—basic 16-bit/44kHz compact discs, rather than high-resolution files or LPs. But I am familiar with them, what they do and don’t do. The player was the dCS Puccini, cabling was Audience Au 24SX. The speakers were my own, a well-broken-in pair of ATC SCM20SL compacts, which at 84dB sensitivity wouldn’t have suggested being a great match for the Phaethon. However, my familiarity with these speakers, my own sense of their capabilities only magnified my initial listening impressions of the Phaethon. The amp was clearly extracting more music from a loudspeaker that I thought I knew like the back of my hand. During the lively exchange between acoustic bass and the Branford Marsalis saxophone heard on the Connick track, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” I heard a placement specificity and depth that beckoned me into the recording studio. Similarly, the MJQ’s version of “Autumn Leaves” was no less exacting, with Lew Soloff’s trumpet solo presenting dynamic peaks with enough explosive pop to make me dive for the volume control.
The Phaethon seemed to have a special place reserved in its circuitry for vocals. Reaching beneath the actual notes, it resolved the sense of the artist’s flesh and body—the anchor that supports a singer’s performance. This was ever-present for opera voices from Renee Fleming’s honeyed soprano to a bass-baritone such as Bryn Terfel, who can shake rafters with his chesty overtones. But even on a pop/rock recording such as Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” there stood Stevie Nicks, her vocal effortless with the elasticity of her youth, the smoky rasp in her voice just beginning to tickle the edges of notes [Mobile Fidelity-012]. There was also a spatial clarity in the atmosphere around a singer’s voice, like Connick’s aforementioned “Berkeley Square” performance reproduced as if he were a hologram in physical space. I could imagine him, with feet firmly planted, head leaning into the microphone.
As I listened to Jen Chapin’s cover of “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” from ReVisions [Chesky] I mused at the responsiveness of the Phaethon to impart the texture and tonality of acoustic bass, and the throaty, burbling gravel voice of a baritone sax. This level of transparency went well beyond the general pitch of a note. It encompassed the transient strike across the string—the tonal punch, and the decaying resonances.
As I’ve often observed, the more natural and acoustic-based a recording is, the more a great amp is allowed to flex its muscles and fully strut its stuff—at least in the harmonic, timbral, and textural senses. Combine these capabilities with LP analog playback, and the Phaethon is arguably at its most persuasive. A prime example is Impex Records’ recent and flat-out remarkable reissue of Legrand Jazz [IMP 6028]. Overflowing with an all-star cast of jazz players, this LP illustrated the extent of the Phaethon’s resolution and its facility to dive deep into the timbral and textural complexities of brass and wind. During the romping “Rosetta,” Herbie Mann’s soaring flute and Ben Webster’s growling tenor suddenly materialized in my room lit by micro-dynamic and tiny transient accents. The impression was that of a three-dimensional portrait of each player immersed in the venue’s ambient environment. Even in the diminished reality of my smaller listening space, where scale is attenuated, the truth of the performance was as clear as the bell on Miles Davis’ trumpet.
Having reviewed some pretty fair integrated amps over the years I should add that the Phaethon most nearly shares a sonic kinship with the Vitus Audio SIA-25 and to a slightly lesser extent, the Pass Labs INT-250 and MBL Corona C51. If memory serves, the Vitus matched the low-level resolving power and full-bloom tonal character of the Phaethon but lagged very slightly in areas of dynamic slam, bass timbre, and stage dimensionality. While the Ypsilon doesn’t quite have the arm-twisting, subterranean low- frequency reserves and steely grip of the mighty Pass it does edge the Pass with a heightened element of timbral naturalism that coddles the ear in its authenticity. It has some of the darker, more sensuous qualities that make the MBL so dreamy but dispenses a soothing sweetness and air in the treble that the Corona can’t quite match. This particularly addictive treble quality was ingrained in the Phaethon—that and its wideband tonal color are certainly owed at least in part to its tube preamp stage.
But what about the price? Fair enough. Yes, it’s dearly expensive—prohibitively so for most. If it were a product that came up short of a state-of-the-art nomination then I’d have a large bone to pick with this amp. But the Phaethon is more than worthy. Frankly it looks and sounds like money. And if I had the dough I’d have no problem dropping it on a Phaethon. In my years of reviewing, it’s rare to have had such a profound reaction to an integrated amplifier. Ypsilon has created a component that enables a musical connection that’s both intellectually and emotionally rewarding. At the Olympian heights where the Phaethon resides, only a handful of amps challenge it but overall, and in my experience, there are none better.
Specs & Pricing
Power output: 110Wpc into 8 ohms; 160Wpc into 4 ohms
Frequency response: 11Hz–75kHz (-3 dB)
Inputs: Three RCA, one XLR
Dimensions: 15.8" x 16.7" x 7.3"
Weight: 77 lbs.