Integrated Amplifier of the Year
joint winner: Jeff Rowland Continuum 2
The Continuum 2 manages to combine Jeff Rowland’s legendary build quality with high performance and very green power credentials. This £8,000 400W per channel integrated amp manages to deliver the goods without turning into some kind of heating element thanks to a set of well-executed Class D amplifier modules. Jeff Rowland was one of the first true audiophile brands to embrace Class D, and those extra years of expertise in working the technology have resulted in outstanding sound quality, with a wonderful sense of ‘holographic’ enveloping soundstages, and a very transparent overall performance. Of course, no discussion of Jeff Rowland is complete without talking about the scalloped aluminium front panel, the rich black side and top plates, and professionally finished rear panel block. This is not only for decoration, as the non-resonant properties of the case are a factor in the Continuum 2’s excellent performance. (Reviewed in Issue 120).
Joint winner: Hegel H160
Hegel’s £2,350 H160 integrated amplifier is a complete one-stop high-end audio shop. With its built in high performance DAC, there are many who use the 150W amp with a laptop and a pair of loudspeakers and that is their entire system. While it might not bristle with balance controls, tone controls, or even many analogue inputs, the secret to Hegel’s fine performance is the amp’s seeming inability to know its place in very fine audio company. It’s the kind of amplifier that is just as happy driving exceptionally ‘difficult’ high-end loudspeakers as it is powering up a pair of mid-priced loudspeakers you might expect to be used with an amplifier in this price. We continue to use the H160 in our reference system, as it’s capable of surprising performance with what some feel might be ‘amp-crushing’ loads, thanks to exceptional grip over a loudspeaker’s bass drivers. (Reviewed in Issue 119).