The Shape Of Things To Come…

Are new amps from Neodio and Wattson Audio showing the way?

By Roy Gregory

Recent months have seen the announcement or introduction of two interesting new amplifiers. Just before Munich, Neodio introduced their HQA power amp, a power-only derivation of their excellent TMA integrated amplifier. Meanwhile, at the show itself, Wattson Audio, the small Swiss electronics company (principally producing streaming interfaces, and recently acquired by CH Precision) announced their first amplifier, to be available in Q4 of this year. Whilst any new amplifiers, or other new product, has a certain news factor – or at least novelty – there are definite parallels here that suggest if not a shift in attitude then the possibility of a change in approach.

While the Neodio is a substantial box built to conventional dimensions, the Wattson is compact and milled from solid. While the Neodio is resolutely black, strikingly decorated with the company’s signature copper band, the Wattson has a ‘shoe-box’ chassis with an asymmetrical side and a finish that suggests an attempt to be ‘pale but interesting’. Visually at least, suggesting a common path might seem unlikely, but dig a little deeper and certain similarities start to emerge.

Both amplifiers offer balanced and single-ended inputs.

Both amplifiers rely on single output pairs for modest but capable power delivery (80 W/ch for the Neodio, 60 W/ch for the Wattson).

Both amplifiers pay attention to power supply quality and regulation.

Both amplifiers fit firmly into the affordable price bracket – at least by the standards of today’s high-end.

The Neodio weighs in at an impressive €4,600, while the Wattson costs more, at €6,500, but also offers greater sophistication, with switchable operational topology allowing various stereo and mono modes. But what really binds these two amps together is an earnest attempt to deliver high-quality sound at an approachable price, something that on first listen, both succeed in achieving. But if the Wattson Audio Madison Amp LE (to give it its full if slightly clumsy title) takes a topological leaf out of the CH Precision playbook, in terms of its switchable operational modes, it also invites owners to follow the CH Precision upgrade path and herein lies what is the real significance of these amplifiers. Whilst the Wattson’s inclusion of a mono mode promises a conventional upgrade path, both amplifiers are simply crying out to be used for bi-amped operation. Rather than delivering more power, it’s an upgrade path that offers more amplifiers – and significantly greater potential benefits…

Horrible Histories: Botched Bi-amping

 Bi-amping has a long, patchy and often far from distinguished history. From the once popular notion of using some monster solid-state amp to drive the bass and a ‘sweeter’ tube amp for the mid-band, through the still common practice of adding a separate (hopefully identical) power amp to run alongside an existing integrated, bi-amping has long been seen as a way of solving system issues or offering a cost-effective upgrade path. But neither approach (at least in my experience) actually delivers on, or exploits the full potential of a bi-amplified system. Whereas both routes major on making more of the amp you already have, the true beauty of bi-amping lies in offering an alternative solution to the speaker/amp interface conundrum: And to understand that, we need to start at the speaker rather than the amp.