Sometimes things should serve their purpose: an umbrella protects against rain, and a coffee machine produces coffee. Of course, you could equip both objects with an app and make them “smart” and more expensive for young, dynamic people, but honestly: anyone with a bit of life experience knows that this is often a senseless illusion. This brings us to the Ampino 20 Dolifet (from 790 euros) from Abacus: The small integrated amplifier that can also be used as a power amplifier. Then nothing. No app, no kisses, no fuss. On the front: two rotary controls – power and volume. Click, let’s go; there’s no mistake here.
I admit: I like puristic things limited to their core function. My toothbrush doesn’t need an app, and I don’t need a data octopus smartwatch to monitor my sleep. If I don’t remember how I slept or felt, please have someone put me to sleep or commit me. When I bought a new AV receiver a few years ago, it came with a disturbing manual thicker than an old-fashioned phone book. The Abacus Ampino 20 Dolifet is only eight small A5 pages long: you bought it, you can do it with it, and this is how it works. Complete.
That’s why there are only two rotary knobs on the front of the small, 2 × 25-watt amplifier: one is used to switch the amp on and off, the other to adjust the volume. A blue LED light signals that the amp is ready for use. There is no source selection; after all, the Ampino 20 Dolifet only has a single high-level input in the form of a cinch pair, which allows the connection of a source or a preamplifier. In this way, a puristic stereo system can be set up. Abacus describes the box as a “mini stereo power amplifier” or as a “stereo linear amplifier,” whereby managing director Hanno Sonder answered my question as to why only one high-level input is available answers: “With the Ampino, there was no room for more, either mechanically or electronically. Plus, it’s still a power amp with full volume control as a bonus, not an integrated amp.” The silver version is priced at €790. The recently available black, otherwise identical version costs 840 euros since, according to Sonder, almost all parts have to be anodized again after processing.
Nothing for braggarts – reinforcement with understatement
However, if you want to show off, you are wrong with both colors: With its sober, puristic look, the small Abacus Ampino 20 Dolifet relies more on understatement than thick trousers. Other people are welcome to build SUV-heavy power amplifiers for the price of a condominium. If things go badly, visitors will ask Ampino owners if they made the Lütten themselves, but hey: the connoisseur is silent and grins inwardly (more on the sound later). The workmanship is generally okay; everything leaves a solid and useful impression. Only the cooling fins on the back make it a little more difficult to connect, especially stubborn speaker cables with angled bananas, but with some fiddling, making contact works here too.
The optional companion: Abacus Prepino 20
A suitable precursor from Abacus, the Prepino 20, offers significantly more docking options and costs 790 or 840 euros. Abacus sent them along for testing, but the main focus of this review will be on the Ampino 20 Dolifet. Incidentally, the 20 in the name refers to the year of publication (2020), so the predecessor, the Ampino 15 Dolifet, appeared five years earlier. If you want, you can have the Ampino 20 and Prepino 20 sent home together as a test package for a fee of 40 euros. Abacus relies on direct sales via its website, but the products can also be heard at a few selected specialist dealers.
The Dolifet technique of the Abacus Ampino
The power amplifier, which is just 25.0 × 21.2 × 5.3 cm (W x D x H), weighs only around two kilograms and can easily be carried with one hand. According to the manufacturer, it is suitable for small bookshelf speakers and floor-standing speakers. Incidentally, “Dolifet” is an abbreviation for “Drain Output Load Independent Field Effect Transistor” technology. “The Dolifet principle, which is also used in the Ampino, uses the drain output of the MOSFETs,” Sonder explains the technology when I asked, “in the same way as the collector of the bipolar transistors in earlier Abacus circuits. This means that the output and the load are not included in the control path of the transistor, and the amplifier is, therefore, independent of the load. Tubes and transistors should sound like. Abacus speaks of an “almost infinitely large attenuation” and an “extremely high efficiency” of this amplifier technology.
Compared to the 15-series predecessor, the Abacus Ampino 20 Dolifet now has “real” speaker cable connections on the back; previously, buyers had to be content with unattractive clamp connections. “We then bowed to the pressure of the frequent inquiries and equipped the Ampino with the ‘right’ pole terminals,” explains Hanno Sonder. “However, the entire circuit board had to be extensively redesigned for this.” In addition, the ventilation slots were moved to the side and upwards. The price has also changed due to the general price rise: the silver Abacus Ampino 15 Dolifet cost 590 euros, and the successor is now 200 euros more.
Abacus Ampino 20 Dolifet: sound test & comparisons
I’ll admit that I was initially a bit skeptical about connecting a €790 amp to my €13,400 floorstanding speakers ( Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 3 ). Incidentally, the McIntosh MCD 301 CD player, connected via a cinch cable (Goldkabel Executive), acts as the player. Does the small box have enough power to elicit tones from the two Sonus Faber tones installed next to the Audio Note AX-One(2,500 euros per pair, test report coming soon) that can be used for this hearing test? During the test, I understood in a split second why the predecessor of the Abacus Ampino 20 Dolifet was. The assumption that you must open the volume control wide to achieve room volume is so wrong that I’m almost ashamed of the thought afterward. Even with a tiny turn of the level control, the Abacus starts like a FDPler fleeing from a green one.
I would not have thought that so few inexpensive watts could sound spectacular with a floorstanding loudspeaker that is almost 20 times more expensive. From the first note, the Ampino is an extremely dynamic, forward-thrusting, in-your-face amplifier that doesn’t hesitate for long. It reveals gross dynamic capabilities that go beyond its price range. The first CD I put in is Electric Sun, the new album by future pop institution VNV Nation. Ronan Harris makes you forget the two weaker previous albums and returns to its old strength. Best example: “Run,” an extremely moving, opulent number that, after an atmospheric, very calm middle section, builds up in front of the listener like a larger-than-life cinema screen and demands a lot from both amplifiers and speakers. The Abacus Ampino 20 Dolifet makes the dynamic leap effortlessly – and it’s loud!
The operating instructions recommend turning the Abacus Ampino 20 Dolifet on its own without the Prepino preamplifier to a maximum of noon and ” not to the right stop,” according to the underlined warning. I’m sticking with it even though the device has an overload protection circuit (LSP) and will shut down in an emergency. But it doesn’t matter because it can also be so deafeningly loud.
Nice and agile in the basement – the bass
The bass remains on the clean and defined side even at higher levels, which I would not have expected in this form. However, the small amplifier does not descend ultra-wide into the bass cellar; significantly more expensive and larger devices such as the NAD M33 streaming integrated amplifier (now 6,800 euros) or even the Krell K-300i (from 12,700 euros) offer audibly more depth. So stay with the Abacus Ampino at the VNV nation-Album, the deepest punches in the pit of the stomach at 35 Hertz on the track. The other amps cost at least eight times as much and aim at a different target group. In other words: the bass of the Abacus Ampino 20 Dolifet always stays on the crisp, gnarly, dry side, as underlined by “Sunset Burial” by avant-garde US rockers Spotlights (new album: Alchemy For The Dead ). It is a pleasure to follow the pumping, agile bass at the beginning of the piece, no detail remains hidden here, and the tempo of the presentation is fascinating.
Fresh breeze: fine dynamics and treble
Regarding fine dynamics, the small amp from northern Germany is more sporty than easy-going and delivers more than the price tag suggests – although it’s always a matter of taste whether you like it more fluid or jagged. Take Vestige & Vigil, the recently released debut album by The Bellwether Syndicate. Gothic rock veteran William Faith (including Christian Death, Mephisto Walz, and Shadow Project) and his wife work here, illuminating all dark sound angles from moderate dream pop to rough dark rock. In the atmospheric, rather delicately breathed “Golden Age”, the Ampino 20 Dolifet works out the finest level jumps finely and selectively. This is especially noticeable with the gentle vocal lines of Faith and his wife, to which he doesn’t add any sharpness.
The overall sound of the Abacus Ampino 20 Dolifet leans slightly towards the bright, fast, responsive side – a matter of taste, the amp is less suitable for friends of comfortably warm sound baths. This reminds me of the AVM Inspiration CS 2.3 all-in-one device(meanwhile 5,790 euros), which plays a little fresher in the highs and has a lighter sound overall. Although the Abacus does not deliver as much resolution as the much more expensive AVM, it still does a very good job with the price range. Only in combination with significantly more expensive, very high-resolution loudspeakers, which in practice are rarely combined with the Ampino, could you notice its limits if you listen closely. On the other hand, with speakers that are reasonably combined in a price class, it will not be noticeable that the small power amplifier, for example, at the delicate beginning of the tool song “Eulogy”, does not reproduce the smallest percussion details quite as precisely and audibly as much more expensive amplifiers.
The Ampino 20 presents the highs with a certain freshness, which explains its slightly bright timbre to a certain extent. Please do not confuse fresh with offensive or overemphasized, but rather in the sense of being fully there, controlled, and clean and not overshooting the mark. With the hard rock anthem “Surrender” from the current Godsmack album Lighting Up The Sky, I feel well-informed regarding quality but not overwhelmed. Blindfolded, I would have guessed a more expensive amp; only during longer listening sessions with rock music that was recorded very harshly (good example: “Rise To The Bait” by the Swedish gothic rockers Then Comes Silence) can it become a bit too much of a good thing in the long run. But that’s true of most amps unless they play on the dark, warm side.
Nice in the middle
Regarding the mids, nobody will use the word “a matter of taste” because the Abacus Ampino 20 Dolifet is extremely neutral in this area. No sweet paste, but not stone sober or even bloodless. An example: With the melancholic “Pariah” by Steven Wilson (from the 2017 album To The Bone ), Wilson’s singing and guest singer Ninet Tayeb emerge perfectly from the sound. The tiny one reproduces them so transparently and with high resolution. Voices are not lacking in emotionality; they always come across as natural and from a gut feeling – as long as you don’t want the singing to be served “extra warm” – just right.
Off to the front – the stage depiction
Let’s move on to stage performance. But what does it mean to walk when the little guy jumps in your face so lively: The stage expands pretty far forward, and the action begins at the level of the speaker baseline, so it doesn’t expand backward. Only the width of the stage should be a bit more expansive for my taste. Due to the stage stretching far forward, there is a lot of depth in the sound, some instruments appear a bit further in front, and others can be located further back. The individual actors are easy to localize, resulting in a three-dimensional tangibility of the instruments and voices involved, which makes me more than satisfied, given the price range.
Combination with the Prepino 20 precursor
But how does the Ampino 20 interact with the Prepino preamp, which Abacus sent as an encore for this test report? From a purely visual point of view, the two go together perfectly, and with their size, they also have enough space on smaller desks, for example. I wouldn’t put them on top of each other because of the cooling slots. And anyway, not for sound reasons. The Abacus Prepino 20 has five line inputs (only cinch, no XLR), one phono MM, noble all-metal remote control, headphone output, an LED display, and an ALPS motor potentiometer. In this way, a larger stereo system with different sources can be established, and the control works conveniently thanks to the remote control and display.
In terms of sound, the two North Germans fit together perfectly, as was to be expected. Nothing changes in the basic orientation; in combination with the Prepino 20, the Abacus Ampino 20 Dolifet nevertheless experiences a small improvement in some areas. In this way, the overall sound is a touch livelier, the stage expands horizontally, and the instruments seem to float in the room more tangibly.
Small but fine – sounds trite, but it applies here. Size/appearance and sound performance have rarely been so far apart as in the Abacus Ampino 20 Dolifet case. The Nordenhamer box accelerates as quickly as a Formula 1 car at the start. It gets even large, expensive floor-standing speakers like my Sonus Faber Olympica Nova 3 up to speed from a standing start. But even small, rather low-efficiency compact speakers such as the Audio Note AX-One breathe an amazing amount of life and temperament into the tiny amplifier – despite only 2 x 25 watts in theory. The Abacus Prepino 20 preamp adds a touch of airiness to the already lively sound and, above all, increases the stage width.
The Abacus Ampino Dolifet 20 is not an amplifier or a power amp for serious listeners who like it round, warm, and slightly dark. On the contrary: he plays directly, powerfully, and spiritedly, and overall on the fresh side of tonally neutral. The mids are balanced; the bass is well-trained, agile, and defined, while the highs are slightly brighter. Anyone who likes this orientation will be happy about the excellent price-performance ratio, which knocks me off. No question: cult status confirmed.
Characteristics Abacus Ampino 20 Dolifet :
- An extremely bouncing, direct sound characterizes the Ampino. Its coarse dynamic capabilities go far beyond its price range, and it is also very well-positioned in fine dynamics.
- Overall, the amplifier reveals a rather fresh, fast sound that is more suitable for people who enjoy sports than for phlegmatic people.
- The depth of very clean, defined, dry bass is somewhat limited compared to larger, more powerful amplifiers.
- Neutral mids that don’t hide anything but don’t add anything. Great voice reproduction and resolution.
- Slightly fresher, more concise, high-resolution highs that sound clean and can only be annoying with music already shrill with the appropriate loudspeakers.
- The stage doesn’t expand too much in width, but it does go far and involve forward.
- The three-dimensional tangibility and separation of the instruments can be increased by adding the Prepino 20 preamp, especially the stage width gains.
- Model: Abacus Ampino 20 Dolifet
- Concept: adjustable output stage or puristic integrated amplifier with a high-level input
- Price: 790 euros (black version: 840 euros)
- Colors: silver, black
- Inputs: 1 x RCA
- Output power: 2 x 25 watts
- Dimensions & Weight: 25.0 × 21.2 × 5.3 cm (W x D x H), 2 kg
- Guarantee: 3 years