It doesn’t really matter how you configure the Norma Revo IPA-140 though; what you get regardless is an extremely consistent, elegant-sounding and communicative amplifier. There must be something in the water in Cremona (where Norma comes from) because the magic of those wonderful Cremonese violins made by the likes of Amati and the Stradavari family rubs off here. The amplifier is like a highly enjoyable music lesson; playing the melody, harmony, tone and form of music extremely well and teasing out the playing and the composition with ease. In particular, though, the Revo IPA-140 is especially good at understanding the texture of both the music and the musicians playing on record. While elements like counterpoint are easy to follow when you are listening to a Bach invention, they are not so easy to find in prog-rock, even when listening to the pop-pomp of ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ by Yes [Fragile, Atlantic]. Often, the complex layering of organ, Mellotron, synth and piano (all played by Rick Wakeman) blur. Here the synth still dominates, but its place in the musical whole does not overpower.
I generally find you use a series of recordings as test discs, even if none of them cause the product to trip up, usually some are better than others and it’s rare to find a device that copes equally well with the dynamics of an orchestra wigging out to Mahler or Wagner, the delicate interplay of a string quartet or a jazz combo, the pounding rhythm of rock or dance music, the subtle layers of detail needed to process a female vocal or solo piano, and the spatial soundstaging qualities of well-recorded choral or live folk. The Revo IPA-140 gets closer than many at achieving that balance. If you laid these elements out on a radar chart, you’d get almost a perfect circle, with just a slight uptick in soundstage presentation, and half a point away in the ‘pounding rhythm’ part. But even at its weakest aspect, the Revo IPA-140 is still very strong, and it’s only the likes of ‘Change the Formality’ by Infected Mushroom [Vicious Delicious, BNE] that highlight the mild limitation to the sort of high-speed leading edges that end with speeding tickets and broken drive units from all those square-waves played at ear-splitting levels. But even if you are not quite grown up enough to leave techno out of your listening pleasures, the Revo IPA-140 has much to offer. But when you play something more open and live sounding, like ‘Satin Doll’ by The Three [Inner City] – which is audiophile dinner jazz at its worst but shows up the spatial qualities and coherence of a system with ease – you are met with a holographic and easy to love sound.
A great thing about the Revo IPA-140 is it is not so powerful as to need a safe-cracker’s touch at the volume control, yet beefy enough to shake the drivers of bigger fish in the loudspeaker sea. I used a selection of loudspeakers from the regular Wilson Audio Duette 2 and Audiovector R1 Arreté fixtures to upcoming superstars like the Børresen Audio B01 Silver Supreme Edition. At least one of these should be outside the comfort zone of an amplifier like the Revo IPA-140, and yet it achieved the same effortless, entertaining and enticing performance throughout.
There’s not a lot to dislike here. I guess if you are into bragging rights, then the absence of DSD and MQA might rankle, and the name ‘Norma’ is more about ‘indie’ cred than mainstream brownie points. Also, if you are into box-swapping and like to change your amplifier with every season, the long-stay enjoyment of the Revo IPA-140 might not make it your first choice. At 25kg, it’s also heavier than you might expect given its size and those of us with the scar tissue from bad lifting moments know how that can pan out. Finally, I guess not changing the product’s appearance means if you buy on the second-hand market, you might not know precisely which iteration of Revo IPA-140 you are buying. Then again, it’s an amplifier, not a wine… it doesn’t have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ years, it doesn’t need ‘laying down’ or ‘drinking up’ so if you get a good amplifier irrespective of when it was made, but as these amps are extraordinarily well built, you might be unable to differentiate an amp from 10 years ago with one from today. If that sounds like not much of a criticism, you are absolutely right… I’m struggling to find fault here.