Looking at the current developments in the hi-fi sector, you will certainly discover opposing tendencies. There is, for example, a “smart direction” in which devices are becoming increasingly compact, lighter, and even more versatile. And a “material direction” in which the matter is approached with a particularly uncompromising use of materials and often puristically in terms of equipment to achieve the highest tonal perfection. The 52 kilograms of the new top integrated amplifier ABsolute from Audio Analogue (20,900 euros) serve only one purpose: So let’s be particularly excited about the experiences in the listening room.
There is something special about the “AB” in the ABsolute: the amplifier can be operated both in the high-sounding but very power-intensive Class A mode and in the more efficient Class AB mode. In Class A mode, the integrated amplifier delivers up to 2 x 50 watts into 8 ohms – if it runs in Class AB mode, it is up to 2 x 150 watts, triple the power. The Audio Analogue ABsolute is extremely current-stable because, at 2 ohms, it can push four times as much to the terminals: 2 x 200 watts (A) or 2 x 600 watts (AB).
In class A operation and when a lot of power is required in class AB, an amplifier requires a lot of power and, therefore, an extremely powerful power supply unit as well as massive heat sinks, which dissipate the resulting, not inconsiderable, waste heat from the output transistors. This explains, among other things, the considerable weight and the impressive dimensions of the Audio Analogue ABsolute. Don’t be fooled by the images; you can mistake the device for normal width and just a little bit taller. At 48 centimeters, the amp is around 5 centimeters wider than conventional hi-fi devices. And with a height of 26.5 centimeters, it no longer fits on the level of a standard hi-fi rack. Whereby it needs air upwards anyway due to its considerable heat development.
In terms of concept, the Audio Analogue ABsolute is a downright puristic integrated amplifier, apart from the possibility of changing the operating modes. It offers two balanced XLR interfaces and three unbalanced cinch inputs, which you can switch through not only with the remote control but also directly on the device after you have pressed the central push/turn control on the front for three seconds. The volume is adjusted by turning this control. LEDs indicate the active input to the left of the button and the volume by an LED chain to the right.
The volume control on the RR version of the ABsolute that we tested is not done directly using a potentiometer but via a microprocessor-controlled resistor network. The resistors are switched via relays, so you can hear a quiet click concert inside the amplifier when you change the volume. Audio Analogue has ensured that the switching operations cannot be heard through the loudspeakers – this is far from the case with all similar solutions.
Last but not least, there is a button on the front above and below the volume control to select the operating mode: Class A at the top and Class AB at the bottom. That’s it for the front panel controls. On the back are the obligatory power switch and the equally indispensable loudspeaker connections in a very official form.
The included remote control, which you will most likely use to operate the Audio Analogue ABsolute, is well made. It is made of aluminum, and all functions can be controlled with its seven buttons. This also includes waking up the amp from standby in A or AB mode.
As simple as the equipment of the ABsolute is, as impressive is what Analogue Audio has realized inside these amplifiers. The entire circuit design is symmetrical and strictly channel-separated, including a dedicated mains transformer for each channel, specially developed for the ABsolute. Only the highest quality components are used, such as resistors that meet military specifications to minimize thermal distortion. In addition, the complete mechanical construction is “uncompromising,” which can be seen in the complex heat sinks milled from the solid, which could pass as works of art per see.
Some time ago, with the Musical Fidelity AMS35i, I fell for an amplifier that followed a very similar philosophy, even if it “only” managed 35 Class A watts, didn’t know any alternative Class AB operation, and used a conventional Poti for volume control worked. And the thing sounded fantastic. Unfortunately, the case cracked now and then when the amp got warm – the Audio Analogue Absolute is as quiet as a mouse in this matter.
After listening to Class A for a long time, I wanted more power reserves, less heat development, and lower power consumption, which led to a pre/power amp combination currently in the form of an SPL Elector preamp and a Bryston 4B3 power amp. And honestly, given the current energy discussion, I’m even looking at Class D monos. And now THAT.
Audio Analogue Absolute: Sound Test & Comparisons
The Audio Analogue ABsolute rocks my low-power Class D plans in seconds. Because it seems to convert every gram of its considerable mass into pure euphony. Had I somehow expected in advance that the sound description of the Audio Analogue AAdac for this test could be up to date again, the whole thing – after the bolide has reached operating temperature, which is the case quite quickly thanks to Class A operation – requires a very own description.
From standing on the stage
Let’s start with the topic of space. Because the Audio Analogue ABsolute succeeds in something that many other amplifiers have a hard time doing right from the start: it builds up a clear, absolutely relaxed spatial illusion. In this aspect, in particular, my hearing is reluctant to engage in bad illusions. I usually have to get used to one component a little first. With the Audio Analogue ABsolute, however, the three-dimensionality snaps in immediately, and, despite the intention to only hear briefly whether the amp works after transport and installation, I sit spellbound in front of my loudspeakers. That’s insanely plastic. And I don’t have to strain or concentrate on hearing how big the recording space is or where the musical actors are.
I have to listen to a wide variety of recordings, I can hardly get enough of this impressive three-dimensionality. Of course, it depends on the recording. For example, Y’Akoto appears almost larger than life between the speakers on their album Babyblues, and I’m sure that’s how it’s supposed to be. On the other hand, Eva Cassidy (Live at Blues Alley) keeps a little distance from their audience – or the sound engineer makes them appear a little more distant. She sits life-size three to five meters away from me with the guitar on her lap and sings; her accompanying musicians are spread around her a bit behind her. I enjoy letting my secret passion for film and musical music run free. Such recordings are often very expensive to produce in terms of spatiality. Against the current debates about environmental protection, the song “Air” from the musical classic Hair comes to mind. Tidal offers me a remastered version of the “Original Soundtrack Recording.” And I’m so mesmerized in the middle of what’s happening on stage that I have to listen through the whole thing from “Aquarius” to “Let the Sunshine In”.
Wow, two long paragraphs about the fantastic spatiality of the Audio Analogue ABsolute – I have to hurry. However, when it comes to imaging a room, there is a wealth of detailed information that is often not overtly perceived and which the ear interprets as spatial information on an unconscious level. And here the Italian car is on top. And not only here.
To Flatter or Not to Flatter: Tonality & Resolution
Let’s move on to the next discipline, the overall tonality. Regarding tonality, the Audio Analogue ABsolute differs from its stablemate, the AAdac. Because the ABsolute does not sound warm or subtly sounded in this direction. In contrast to the aforementioned Musical Fidelity AMS35i with its less controlled bass, it sounds neutral. Nevertheless, the ABsolute integrated amplifier has its way of flattering the ear. And for my hearing, it does that primarily through a fantastic resolution.
This brings us to the next point. The Audio Analogue ABsolute understands like only a few amplifiers to present an immense wealth of detail, combined with an extremely clean, fine dynamic differentiation ability, homogeneous, enjoyable, and as if from a single mold. A power amp like an SPL Performer s1200, for example, also resolves very well and has remarkable fine dynamic talents. However, she likes to put these virtues in the foreground due to her emphasis on attack. The SPL always seems a bit like it’s about to jump.
In terms of detail reproduction and fine dynamics, the Audio Analogue ABsolute is even clearer, more precise, and more subtle – and that comes across as incredibly confident and natural with the Italian. He doesn’t sound any more boring that way; on the contrary. Tensions are even more impressive than the SPL, which is impressive. With the Audio Analogue ABsolute, the saddest piece of music I know, “Tears for Esbjörn” in the recording by Iiro Rantala and Michael Wollny on the Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic album, feels even more profound, the piano attacks seem even more complex and multi-layered than with the SPL. Everything sounds richer. I almost want to say something pathetic; it glitters less and shines more. This kind of performance captivates me.
What’s up with the bass?
So, now quickly wiped the tear from the corner of my eye and onward. What’s up with the bass? Compared to my Bryston 4B³, known for its excellent bass performance, the Audio Analogue ABsolute initially seems more reserved. Please do not confuse this with weak bass. But similar to the SPL with its resolution and dynamic talents, the Bryston seems to like to show off its prime discipline. And in a similar way to the SPL, the mighty Italian tops the Bryston by simply acting a little more confidently.
Deep tones don’t come out louder or harder, but more complete, more expressive – I can’t think of a better word than to describe the whole thing as “real.” This is particularly useful with acoustic instruments. Take the great kettledrums in Le Sacre du Printemps, which Stravinsky uses to great effect at various points. Even if the Bryston seems to play the percussion a little louder, the ABsolute makes it seem like it has more assertiveness, as it seems even more tangible, more plastic, and, in a very special way, even more concrete. But also electronic music, like the quite experimental album Pouti by Silicon Soul, sounds more complex and multi-layered over the Italian Class A hum. The Audio Analogue ABsolute elicits more facets from the synthetic, deep bass orgies that Kenneth L. Schafer Jr. conjures up here and the crazy phase gimmicks and other effects with which electronic music was experimenting.
Fine thing: the treble
The same can be said about the other side of the frequency spectrum, the treble. It looks incredibly finely resolved, clean, and airy. But it’s a completely different airiness than some tube amps celebrate. A Manley Stingray II, for example, gives a real boost in the treble. In addition to tonal accentuation, it enriches the high frequencies with a pleasant tube distortion. Our current guest doesn’t need anything like that. The treble connects linearly to the rest of the frequency spectrum and impresses with a fascinating resolution. Last but not least, this results in clean and by no means overly powerful tones. So you can distinguish similar or identical instruments more clearly than with the Manley. I like to refer to the “Pico Pico” from the album La Danza en mi Corazon by Omar Torrez with Orpheus. Only excellent amplifiers can keep the two guitars playing with and against each other apart. With the Audio Analogue ABsolute, this is completely self-evident.
Class A or Class B?
Finally, I’ll deal with the energy-saving Class AB operation of the Audio Analogue ABsolute. It is unnecessary to go through all the disciplines here again because in AB operation, the high, effortless precision and tonality remain at the same high level. But there are differences, albeit a little harder to pin down. So I always increase the volume more in AB mode than in Class A mode. I can’t make out exactly why. A second phenomenon is that the sweet spot becomes smaller. The ABsolute also plays out its fascinating three-dimensional representation of space in AB mode, but I have to sit much more precisely in the middle between the loudspeakers.
I’ll try to explain another difference with an example. Consider two chocolates made using the same ingredients. One is stirred until a homogeneous mass is obtained, poured into a mold, and allowed to cool; the other is stirred for much longer. If you put the two chocolates in your mouth and chew them immediately, you will hardly notice any difference in taste. But suppose you let the chocolate melt slowly in your mouth. In that case, you will find that the chocolate that has been stirred longer melts more finely, spreads more elegantly on the tongue, and brings out its taste differently, somehow smoother, than the chocolate that has been stirred longer. The taste experience of the long-stirred chocolate is more intense despite the same ingredients.
The effect is not serious. One of the other bad recordings even wins in the not-so-fine AB mode. The AB mode, which can perhaps be described as somewhat more coarse-grained, lets recordings that offer little fine dynamics sound a little crisper because the existing dynamic jumps are not reproduced very finely and are thus subtly accentuated. But to enjoy your favorite pieces in a concentrated manner and with hunger, you should treat yourself to the Class A mode.
Physically, the Audio Analogue ABsolute packs a punch with its dimensions and weight. Physical appearances aside, it’s a music machine that likes to turn every pound, every kilowatt-hour into absolute euphony. Tonally neutral, it spoils the ears with an incomparable combination of involving spatiality, the highest resolution, great dynamics with musicality, the joy of playing, and absolute suitability for long-term listening. Only a few amplifiers on the market combine high-end virtues at this level. And the Audio Analogue Absolute is the first amp I’m tempted by in its class. The Italian warmed not only my listening room but also my heart.
The Audio Analogue ABsolute is characterized by:
- A very engaging stage setting. The integrated amplifier, which feels the right size, places both the recording room and the musical actors in the room in a tangible way. The whole thing looks exceptionally plastic and realistic.
- A bass range that doesn’t play itself tonally in the foreground and still draws attention to itself by reproducing deep tones in an extremely catchy and clear way. He seems to be able to control the loudspeakers excellently, but it doesn’t sound like hard control down below, but simply coherently free of affectation.
- Mids that can hardly be topped in terms of detail resolution and dynamic gradations. Here, too, the Audio Analogue ABsolute does no less or more than “everything is right” – nevertheless, it always manages to put the euphony in the foreground.
- Highs that are neutral, high-resolution, and clear to match the other frequency ranges. In contrast to some euphonic amps, the upper registers owe their airiness not to distortion but to genuine, neutral reproduction quality.
- The most subtle fine dynamic gradations on the one hand and superior coarse dynamic abilities on the other.
- An impressive, massive physique, posh workmanship, and a successful design.
- Model: Audio Analogue ABSolute
- Concept: Transistor integrated amplifier, switchable Class A or Class AB operation
- Price: from 20,900 euros, tested RR version with a microprocessor-controlled resistor network and relay for volume control: 24,100 euros
- Dimensions (H x W x D) and weight: 270x 483 x 420mm (445 including connections), 52 kg
- Inputs: 3 x high level unbalanced (Cinch), 2 x high level symmetrical (XLR)
- Outputs: Stereo speaker terminal
- Power: Class-A: 2 x 50 watts into 8 ohms and 2 x 100 watts into 4 ohms; Class AB: 2 x 150 watts into 8 ohms and 2 x 300 watts into 4 ohms
- No-load power consumption: 170 watts – Class AB | 410 watts – Class A | 1 watt in standby
- Colors: silver or black
- Other: remote control, high-quality power cord
- Guarantee: 5 years