Neodio Origine A2 Evo amplifier

I listened to the Origine amplifier in a range of different systems, paired with both vinyl and optical disc sources (the former supplied by either the Grand Prix Audio/Kuzma and the CH Precision P1/X1 or the VPI Classic 4/JMW and the seriously surprising Konus 3000 phono-stage: the latter consisting of either the CH Precision D1.5/X1 pairing or the CEC TL-2N/Wadax Pre 1 Ultimate combination). In every case and irrespective of the speakers used, the Neodio amplifier stuck consistently to form: rather like the feature list, it seems easier to describe what it doesn’t have/do than what it does. The invisible amp, the amplifier that just gets out of the way, the amp you don’t hear: it’s all a bit of a cliché, but sometimes clichés ring true.

The issue of ‘absence’ is an interesting one, and one that tends to emerge most readily in comparison to other products. This isn’t a case of ABA and which one’s best? It’s more a case of tying down the shifting musical perspective as you exchange a range of products. As usual, differences are easy to hear. It’s their actual musical significance that is harder to define and actually, not just more important but the only thing that really matters. What emergers when you listen to the A2 Evo – or rather, when you stop listening to it – is how fluid and unobstructed it is. Its ability to interleave musical phrases, track rhythmic shifts and bring a sense of direction to musical proceedings is as uncanny as it is unforced. Listening to the opening of the Second Movement of Smatana’s Má Vlast(Kubelik and the Boston S.O on DGG) when comparing different disc formats of this popular performance, I was astonished by just how readily the A2 Evo separated the temporal coherence of the different discs, from CD to SHM-CD, SHM-SACD to MQA encoded UHQCD. The popping, bubbling woodwinds, overlaying more and more phrases, one on top of the other, punctuated by pizzicato string interjections, produce a complex, highly coloured and vividly energetic soundscape – one that challenges the temporal integrity of system and software alike. Only the UHQCD UCCG 40085) managed to maintain the easy separation and forward momentum up to and beyond the sweeping string entry. The other discs collapsed into an undignified sonic heap, sooner or later, while those amplifiers that carried the line through rarely managed to do so with the clarity and panache that the performance warrants. But what is really remarkable about the Neodio’s presentation is the absence of audible effort it involves. It simply seems to let the music and the people playing it do the work.

The second aspect of its presentation that stands out starkly against all but the best of the more expensive competition, is the natural sense of dimensionality and perspective it brings to the soundstage – a soundstage that is not only fully developed but absolutely rock stable. This is not about “walk in” or “reach out and touch” imaging. This is about just how convincing and downright normal the aural view appears. Play the final track on the Jackson Browne/David Lindley live album Love Is Strange(INR5111-0) and the six acoustic guitars of the band plus guests are spread across the stage, each location and tonality distinct, each contribution discrete yet the whole working to generate that special chemistry and interplay that captures the event and makes this disc special. It’s a perfect example of musical and spatial coherence binding the individual strands that are also sonically separate, treading a fine line between blurring the distinctions and pulling the song apart: Likewise, the applause and audience feedback, which spreads from the back wall and then reaches forward – just as the mics would hear it on stage. The sheer familiarity of the acoustic event actively draws you into the live experience.

Space – the final frontier?

This combination of locational and temporal coherence, dimensionality and stability – qualities that I more readily associate with bigger and far more expensive systems – has the uncanny knack of revealing and unravelling the sort of musical nuance that breathes life into the performance – while keeping the amp and its activities well below the radar. So you hear the distinct acoustics of the different recording venues, the shifts in relative position as the performers move from one stage to another. When Luz Casal sings ‘These Days’ in English, her slightly stilted phrasing and articulation offer a whole different, somehow more personal and more fragile view of the familiar lyrics. The incidental noises and backtracks woven into the texture of albums as diverse as Aimee Mann’s Lost In Space(MFSL UDSACD 2021) and Vampire Weekend’s Father Of The Bride(Columbia 19075930141) click into place, adding to the music and the feel of the tracks – just as they’re supposed to. Listening to Father…on vinyl, the wealth of tiny, incidental details, their immediacy and presence really makes the album pop, stepping away from the system and the speakers, drawing you into the music. It’s the perfect example of not what you hear, but what that does to the music. It’s the perfect example of the absence of intrusion allowing the music and production to come together.