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Review: Accustic Arts POWER I – Audiophile integrated stereo amplifier

Review: Accustic Arts POWER I - a modern classic where the delicate audiophile has no choice but to surrender to the balanced sound proposal. 

Review: Accustic Arts POWER I : What makes a fountain, loudspeakers, or amplifier sound warm or cold? Is it something scientifically measurable or on the contrary a merely subjective question? If it were so easy to give an explanation and if only one answer could fit, the Hi-End industry would have it very easy when conceiving and manufacturing each of the elements of the audio chain. Everything would be simpler but hopelessly monochrome and boring. 

The objective is the same: the reproduction of the musical passage with the maximum possible precision for greater enjoyment and connection with the artistic work.  Then each company, be it a large multinational or a small family business, tries to give it its personal touch.

Based in Lauffen am Neckar, a small city located 50 kilometers north of Stuttgart, the Accustic Arts firm also has its own recipe when it comes to designing and building purely Hi-End electronics, not in vain its name comes from the pairing of the words Accurate (precise) Acoustic (acoustic) and Arts (arts) something like “The correct art of sound.”

Their statement of intent is posted on their website, as we read: “Accustic Arts’ high-end range is expected to sound natural and detailed, it should not sweeten the music, but it should allow the emotion to shine through. Warmth is a desirable result in the sound pattern, but will not be tolerated as an artificial spectacle. “

Then the warmth in the sound is something desirable but as long as you get it naturally without corrupting the original signal. “No added sugar.” – so that we understand each other. Now, will the integrated amplifier and the cheapest model in the German catalog comply with this premise or will it remain at the gates of what its reference electronics offer?

POWER I is the only integrated amplifier from Accustic Arts and has been in production practically since the genesis of the German brand. 

The dealer was kind enough to lend us their MK-4 version for this review.  The engineers have not had it easy since on the one hand they had to respect the maxim of “if something works, don’t touch it” but on the other hand they have made an effort to improve it without compromising its essence or its sound signature.

Accustic Arts POWER I Specs

Electronics are painstakingly double-boxed with gummy foam corner strips. When we access its interior, the first thing that catches our attention is a quality certificate. The phases of pre-assembly, final assembly, functional test and final inspection of the machine and its packaging are signed in hand by those in charge of the same. A pouch containing a replacement fuse is attached to the top corner of the certificate. One more detail of the care with which this electronics is presented and delivered in whose certificate we can read “Handmade in Germany.” 

A courtesy mains cable, a remote control, a user manual and a portfolio folder are also delivered with the presentation of the rest of the electronics of the German firm.

All without baroque excesses but nowhere near for racanery, cheapness or mediocrity of any kind. Serious hi-end of the highest quality where detail is pampered and nothing is neglected or left to improvisation.  Immediately I will comment on the impressions produced by the stamp of this integrated amplifier but first I will give some relevant data of the specifications of this  mk-4 version of the Accustic Arts Power I, as follows, according to the manufacturer’s website:

  • 12 selected bipolar output transistors of the highest quality.
  • Premium 500VA encapsulated toroidal core transformer for high output reserves.
  • Separate windings for the preamp and power amp sections.
  • Premium switchable integrated headphone amplifier.
  • Capacitors with a supply capacity of more than 54,000 µF.
  • High damping factor for high power reserves.
  • The built-in protection circuit turns off the climbs when cuts, high frequency oscillations, too high temperature or too high DC offset occur.
  • Constant low operating temperature thanks to generously sized heat sink.
  • 2 x balanced high-level inputs (XLR).
  • 3 x unbalanced high-level inputs (RCA / Chinch), can be configured as high-level input or “surround-bypass.”
  • 1 x unbalanced pre-out (RCA / Cinch), configurable as record output or pre-amplifier output.
  • Independent level adjustment for each input.
  • Premium Gold Plated Speaker Terminals.
  • Premium quality long-term stable relays.
  • High precision microprocessor controlled volume control.
  • High grade encapsulated volume potentiometer.
  • All-metal housing for optimal shielding.
  • Brushed aluminum front panel.
  • Chrome-plated solid brass push / turn knobs
  • ACCUSTIC ARTS® RC II remote control

When you grasp the chassis, you can see the solidity of the electronics. We note that we are facing a true tank made to last generations. The aluminum used in the housing, its front, the legs and the chrome pots and  even the detail of the chrome metal plug-cap of the headphone input; everything feels resistant, generous and exquisitely manufactured, but the machine not only stays there, because if its aesthetics captivates the eye, its touch confirms that we are dealing with a truly Hi-end product. Yes, yes, we are facing an entry-level integrated amplifier but where other brands offer a decaffeinated, emasculated and less-than-popular version of their statement products, here the Germans have gone the other way and this Power I integrated amplifier is the base on the that its catalog germinates and develops.

His endeavor is to offer the best integrated amplifier that 7,000 euros can afford a serious audiophile and that this machine is the quintessence and lays the foundations of his understanding of High Fidelity.

On the very thick aluminum front we can see on the left a beautiful chrome pot that acts as an input selector, on the right another identical pot acts as a volume control. Both potentiometers also have a push function so that they can be used when navigating the menu, which is presented with an elegant and discreet blue light display. A little lower between the volume pot and the screen we find the 1/4 headphone jack which has a chrome-plated aluminum cap that prevents dust and possible interference from entering, as well as being beautiful to match the pots and the legs of the amplifier. The front protrudes a centimeter on each side of the sides as if it were tabs to screw to a rack.

The top cover is the most daring element of the integrated one as it is machined as a low relief  of the typological symbol of the brand’s double AA  and  its “Accustic Arts” logo forming a circular seal. The typological symbol is partially pierced as a ventilation grille through which  some capacitors appear  illuminated by red LEDs that light up when we take the machine out of stand-by mode. The upper cover is screwed with four silver screws on each side that contrast with the black cover and match the rest of the chrome of the amplification.

The aluminum sides and the lid also protrude one centimeter from the rear panel and are technically and aesthetically compliant again. Aesthetically they allow the thickness of the aluminum panels to shine through as well as taking away the appearance of a simple parallelepiped or shoebox. The fact that the top cover and the side grips of the integrated amplifier protrude with respect to the rear panel ensures that the connections are somewhat more protected against shocks.

Thus, on the rear panel of this mk-4 version of the Power I we find from left to right:

  • One DC-Remote output: to be able to switch on   synchronously or an additional power stage or a subwoofer when switching on the Power I. 
  • Just below the IEC power socket and an on / off button that must be used if we are going to be manipulating the amplifier or if we are going to be without using it for a long time.
  • More to the right a PRE-Out / REC-Out output.
  • Then three RCA single-ended inputs.
  • At the far right we have two Balanced XLR inputs.
  • Just below these the connection terminals of the speaker cables.
  • As an extra we have the possibility of incorporating the integrated into a multi-channel surround system and even from the menu we can apply a variable pass filter so that only the subwoofer of the installation is responsible for amplifying the bass.

Details

The remote control is made entirely of aluminum and allows it to be used with Accustic Arts fountains and transports. Beautiful, precise, practical and solid.

The electronics dissipate the temperature with such efficiency that at no time have I felt any heat when touching the lid even with the volume high for hours.

The potentiometer is of the infinite type, so it is a good detail to appreciate that when the input is changed or the electronics are turned on by default the integrated leaves the volume at 10. Just enough so that we perceive that it is running but not so high for that we take a fright or even worse our drivers end up suffering the consequences.

The only thing left then is to feed the machine with a good handful of discs and see how its advertised 2 x 260 watts at 4 ohms /   2 x 170 watts at 8 ohms and its 54,000 picofarads of current delivery perform.

Accustic Arts POWER I  Sound

Ambient – Ambient Ethno-tribal – Byron Metcalf, Dashmesh Khalsa & Steve Roach (CD)

I begin critical listening with an album that has been 10 years old since its release and that I turn to when I want to feel enveloped by the music and charge the spirit of positive energy. 

This album syncretizes  ambient electronic music like few others with Australian aboriginal instruments and other percussion instruments used in shamanic and tribal rituals on the African, Asian and American continents. 

The omnipresence of the didgeridoo whose low notes fill the room is accompanied by  frame drums, dejambes, doumbeks, udu, clay pots, kick drums, hapi drums among other instruments to which the master of synthesizers and sound sculptor Steve Roach adds suckers. pad, analog reverbs, and other effects in the final mix.

The second track entitled “Dream Tracker” begins with a cushion of synthesizers followed by a huge ceremonial frame drum that sets the beat like a kick drum. It’s a hype that can test the limitations of our room. It sounds fruitful and vigorous. Something inflated in their ASDR line just as this type of drum with a tight skin head should sound. 

The rest of the percussion is gradually gaining complexity and the Accustic Arts POWER I demonstrates just that: absolute power when it comes to powering and controlling the loudspeakers but without neglecting refinement. Thus, when the clay pots enter the musical passage, adding brilliance and filigree, the integrated one is able to respect its delicate and specific timbre without being swallowed up by Metcalf’s massive percussion wall.

Accustic Arts POWER I

The next track entitled “From the inside” begins with the vessels and a synthesizer mattress that is later complemented by a masterfully played didgeridoo that is capable of filling the room with a thick and muscular sound of its bass and simultaneously recreating us with the fine line and the rapid transients of its upper middle zone.

The entire album is reproduced with full warmth and musicality without this meaning that the integrated neglects resolution or detail. The electronics are equipped with a good bank of capacitors and are capable of amplifying the signal with an authority and efficiency like very few machines are on the market. Feeling it a lot I have no choice but to fall into the common place and admit that they are “real watts” but that is how I perceive it. 

Jazz – Miles Davis Sextet – Someday My Prince Will Come (33 RPM Analogue Productions Reissue)

We went to the analog format with a magnificent reissue of the Miles Davis Sextet album “Someday My Prince Will Come” by  the American label Analogue Productions where we can find the great trumpeter in his facet of warm seducer with ballads and versions of pop standards in tune very bluesy and friendly as is the case with the title track, and whose original version appears in the Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Although we also find on the album three cuts signed by Davis himself.

Accustic Arts POWER I

“Someday My Prince Will Come” is a perfect mix of 60% jazz 40% pop that makes it very enjoyable and timeless.  The delicacy of the drums finds its place without blurring and Miles’s muted trumpet sounds without harshness. When John Coltrane’s tenor sax solo enters the scene one cannot help but gape at its virtuosity. This was the era of jazz in which mega-bands were formed with musicians of the highest artistic quality and mastery of the instrument, whether they were leading the group or occupying a position as side-man or backing musician. 

In the second cut of face B we find this jewel composed by Miles entitled Teo and which invites me to turn the potentiometer a few degrees more to the right. The piano on the left.  The drums to the right of the scene. Miles and Coltrane passing the baton with individual solos to frame  for their artistic value. Both artists position themselves exactly on stage without the volume pressing them against each other until the coherence of the presentation is broken.

There are no exotic instruments here with only a remote chance of having heard them live. Drums, double bass, piano, saxophone and trumpet sound as the canons of timbral and acoustics command. 

The integrated one does not reach an extreme quasi-pornographic definition, but it does not need to be done because what it delivers it does without grain, without fatigue and it does it in a sweet way without there being an iota of added sugar. A device that sounds warm because of its design and quality workmanship and not because tricks or sauces have been used  in the topology to mask deficiencies and make a bad pill something more swallowable on the palate. 

Classical – Coral – Nidaros Domkor – Nidaros (2l Noway – SACD)

From the quintessential Scandinavian audiophile label 2L Records I have a small handful of physical SACDs and a few DSD-128 downloads. Although I am not a fan of classical music, my audiophile part has led me to appreciate the technical quality of these recordings where the engineer and alma mater of the Morten Lindberg label puts his intelligence, sensitivity and determination, not only to respect and enhance the quality of artists and performers and their musical works, but to give us the opportunity to listen to the magic that lives in cathedrals, churches and other rooms where he records. Because every good audiophile knows that the room is an equal or more important actant than the rest of the factors in the recording and subsequent reproduction of a musical work.

Accustic Arts POWER I

Mr. Lindberg has held the cruel record of being the sound engineer with the most nominations (19) without getting a single Grammy until in this year 2020 he has managed to escape the curse by achieving his first golden gramophone in the category “best recording with sound enveloping. ” for the album Lux. 

Although Nidaros is another disc recorded in multichannel, its stereo listening does not disappoint. Of course, as it is a recording where the dynamic range has been respected and pampered, it is convenient to turn up the integrated volume to enjoy both the subtlest passages and the  crescendos  of the Nidaros Cathedral choir and organ. 

Cut five entitled “Praise be to the lord” plays with a part written for four voices as a joyous fanfare and another part with four other voices serving as a rhythmic backdrop. The built-in amplifier achieves such a credible black background that the polyphonic notes don’t cover each other in an undesirable cacophonous paste. This same black background is what allows you to enjoy the superb natural reverb of the cathedral without sounding pastichera. 

With the volume set to 50 the decibels from the listening point fluctuate from 80 dB to 93.5 dB at the highest peak. The integrated one maintains composure and tonal coherence. It achieves that the choir has a credible size and position even with the conditions of my room, but the best of all is that it achieves that a musical genre of which I am not a very fervent and cultivated consumer that we say, has me enthralled when not excited.

Accustic Arts POWER I  

The same happens with the following cut, which is one of several improvisations for the cathedral organ that serve as an interlude between piece and choral piece. With the volume set at 60, the sound pressure generated by the bass reaches up to 90 dB and despite filling the entire room and feeling that the music caresses my clothes, I can only be amazed when I see how well the integrated kills the bass notes and stockings on the decays. This allows me to enjoy something similar to a cathedral organ in a 22.5 meter room with a respectable volume and sound pressure without the music becoming a wall of opaque sound without any articulation. It is true that the room has a lot of absorbent material but we must not take away its great part of the merit of this amplifier as sweet as it is feisty.

Pop Rock – INXS – Kick (LP 33,33 RPM Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab reissue)

The Australian band INXS owes its name to a contraction of the words “In Excess” since a sextet was considered too big a group by the standards of pop bands. 

The hit “New Sensation” sounds and it retains all its original claw and freshness. Hutchence’s voice surfs the waters of pop and rock. It sounds gritty. He sings with his guts rather than his plexus but with  a touch of funk that adds magnetism and sex appeal. The lead guitar riff has a very funky rhythm that is answered with another very rock riff. The first makes you move your feet, the second clenches your fists. The Accustic Arts POWER I maintains the type giving a sparkling and rock sound, but without neglecting the microdynamics or the fine line. The short but fundamental saxophone solo, the synthesizers, everything completes a song that provokes a carousel of positive emotions in me and makes me believe that any day is Saturday.

Accustic Arts POWER I

But INXS and their singer could also tear you apart and sew your heart and all in the same song. The sensual bombshell that was its singer also used slow to frame. 

“Never tear us apart” is a blues-style ballad, originally composed to be played on the piano, but with great judgment the great producer Chris Thomas suggested changing the piano for some synthesizers. 

Both songs masterfully play with the dramatic pauses. In the first they provide dynamism, in this they pursue a passionate effect. It is in these pauses where the integrated one impresses, because it draws very carefully the beating of the drumsticks on the drums and the reverb of the kick drum that achieves a shocking effect. The choruses on the right sound backward and discreet as they were intended. The song definitely digs its nails into you when after one of those dramatic pauses, almost at the end of the ballad, the saxophonist Kirk Pengilly has another short but heartbreaking only that like poisoned candy ends up breaking what you still have left of your heart.

This is what a band with “excess” staff has that you can afford to have even a saxophonist with glasses to drop those huge pearls and that it continues to sound like pop rock of the highest quality.

Accustic Arts POWER I

Accustic Arts POWER I  Conclusion

“WYSIWYG” is an acronym in English originally used in computing and which means “What You See Is What You Get” translated into Spanish “What you see is what you get.” Well, this Accustic Arts Power I mk-4 integrated amplifier follows that philosophy. Electronics make their sound match their physical appearance: a beautiful sound but without artificial sweeteners, it delivers a solid bass without resulting in a claustrophobic sound for the rest of the frequencies. Electronics are made to last decade after decade but the best thing is that its sound invites you to turn it on and enjoy it during large sessions without any fatigue. It does not neglect the middle zone  or the high frequencies, since it is capable of transmitting a lot of information   although always subject to musicality. 

All this makes this Accustic Arts POWER I mk-4 amplifier a modern classic where the delicate audiophile has no choice but to surrender to the balanced sound proposal achieved by this German integrated. A machine that not only amplifies the electrical signal with great fidelity but  has also managed to amplify the emotions of this fan who signs this. I can’t imagine a better added value.

But…

It is difficult to put a single but to a machine of this caliber but to mention something in this section of the review the input configuration menu is not very intuitive to handle, although going to the user manual it is finished. It is true that it is not something that -except inveterate potters- is going to configure every day.

 

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