And now for something completely different…

Indeed, running with the CH Precision D1.5/X1 player, far from being overawed, the amp just seemed to step up another level. It revelled in the pacey interplay of Giant Steps(the UHQCD version) the tumble of notes never breaking stride or getting confused. Its natural sense of weight and musical proportion was easily up to the task of differentiating the variation in spectral balance and dimensionality between the SHM SACD (UCGG-9509) and later MQA UHQCD (UCCG-40085) of the Kubelik/BSO Ma Vlast, adding further fuel to the debate regarding disc comparisons between MQA and other disc formats. Certainly on this listening and with this speaker/amp set up, the MQA disc delivered a far more convincing impression of the familiar, warm, expansive acoustic at Symphony Hall, a more impressively sweeping performance of this romantic masterpiece – but the Integrale left no doubt that there ARE significant differences in overall balance and that those differences will affect judgements of relative musical merit.

Getting real…

The ability to punch well above its weight, especially when surrounded by expensive ancillaries, has always been a budget esoteric goal. But that’s not really the raison d’êtrefor a product like the Integrale 2000. An amp like this is supposed to deliver a slice of high-end performance without spending high-end money – or more accurately, to sit at the heart of a system that does that. So, with that in mind I started to de-scope the surrounding components, starting by swapping out the Vimberg Minos for a pair of Living Voice Auditorium R25As, compact floorstanders that tip the scales at £5,100 (inc. tax) and a far more likely partner for the KA amplifier.

While the R25As might lack the bottom-end extension of the Vimbergs, they do offer a 4dB advantage in terms of efficiency, as well as a significantly easier load. The Konus amp certainly didn’t struggle with the Minos, but with the Living Voice in place, the system took on an even greater and more engaging musical enthusiasm. Despite the lack of really deep bass from the speakers, lateral separation, depth and the sense of acoustic space were impressive. Playing the recent Jordi Savall/Le Concert Des Nations Beethoven Sixth(AliaVox AVSA 9946) the small but densely parked orchestra were beautifully separated and spaced, the sound stepping well away from the speakers, while the fourth movement Stormwas full of presence and menace, the impressive dynamic impact delivered right on cue. The sound can’t match the weight, extension and dimensionality of those really big systems (with their equally big price tags), but where it doesn’t fall short is in terms of musical impact and purpose, attitude and expressive range.