The stark musical architecture of the title track on Gillian Welch’s album, Time (The Revelator) (Acony ACNY-0103) brooks no disturbance or distortion. The clean, simple immediacy of the recording should be as arresting as it is involving, David Rawlings poised, incisive guitar rapier quick and agile. The Konus amp does nothing to diminish the sheer presence and incisive quality of this recording, revelling in the virtues of its musical and emotional directness – qualities that so mirror the amplifier’s own nature. It’s an object lesson in doing the important things well and it’s a performance built on an incredibly low noise floor. You hear it in the sense of space and the incidental noises that precede the opening notes of the Gillian Welch track; you hear it in the amp’s ability to live (and thrive) in the exacting company of the Vimberg Mino; but most of all you hear it in the sheer clarity with which notes start and stop, their explicit placement and the space between them. Location is explicit, even if dimensionality is ultimately limited by the system bandwidth. It’s suggests an absence of noise that stretches beyond the realms of signal to noise ratio and into the more purely mechanical. The solid, purposeful feel that you get handling the Integrale 2000 carries over into its sonic and musical presentation – and that makes for a remarkably rewarding and enjoyable performance, a performance that extends well beyond the product’s modest price.
So far, the descriptions I’ve used are confined to digital disc replay, from the CH Precision D1.5 or the more price-appropriate CEC TL2N paired with the Konus Digitale 2000 DAC. Switch to record replay and things start to get really interesting. The natural sense of presence musical flow that come from a decent analogue source square perfectly with the Konus amp’s straightforward, uncluttered, communicative presentation, the whole easily exceeding the sum of the parts. That’s a story that’s going to have to wait for the next instalment of this little saga, as I don’t want to steal the Vinyle 3000’s considerable thunder – even if it has thunder to spare! Instead, I want to concentrate on just how confidently the Integrale 2000 deals with the signals its fed – and just how effectively it responds to the quality and character of that signal. Just as it effortlessly unravelled both the differences between and issues around playing the Smetana discs, the substance, energy and attack of a well-recorded record are embraced with gusto. That sense of organisation and temporal accuracy work to extract the maximum music from any disc, but the better the disc, the more music the Konus amp delivers.
Cutting to the core…
In many ways this little amplifier embodies everything that’s good and attractive about the budget esoteric concept. If you want wide bandwidth, wide dynamic range and realistic levels – you’re going to have to throw money and material at the problem. They’re called big systems for a reason! But if you are more interested in the music’s message and core values? More importantly, if you are budget or space limited but you want as much of the music as possible? Scaling down will inevitably cost you in terms of dimensional and harmonic development, but done properly it brings its own advantages. KISS is an over-used acronym, if only because in these days of extraordinarily powerful technology, there’s an almost overwhelming tendency to over-complicate. In this instance, keeping it simple is as simple as eliminating every facility that isn’t absolutely essential to the job in hand. Yes, the Integrale offers two inputs, but if you are really interested in music, you will want to access both digital and analogue sources, so that ‘extravagance’ gets a pass. Extend the thinking to loudspeakers and you are looking at models with enough bandwidth to be musically convincing (or at least, satisfying), not enough to get themselves into trouble. You are looking for simple, low-order, low-loss crossovers and a benign impedance characteristic. In fact, you’re looking for a speaker almost exactly like the Living Voice R25A! As I said, the diminutive Konus amp did an astonishing job of driving the expensive, demanding and revealing Vimberg Mino. But that is due in no small part to the Mino’s own uncluttered clarity and sense of purpose. A Wilson Sabrina? Not so much… Instead, to maximise the musical fun-factor, pair the Integrale 2000 with a speaker that shares its values – and get ready for lift off. The R25A was spectacularly successful, but the two-way, stand-mounted Raidho TD-1.2 was equally engaging, while the idea of pairing this amp with Stenheim’s Alumine 2 is, frankly, delicious. Either way, extending the amp’s minimalist simplicity to the speakers is going to generate a result that squares the qualities of those individual components.