At the time of writing (in late March 2020), coronavirus was wreaking havoc across the world, but in Italy the situation was more extreme than average, which must have made the production of audio electronics particularly difficult. And yet, brands like Norma from Cremona (near the epicentre of the worst part of the Italian outbreak) have continued to make good audio electronics. Cremona is of course the home of great violin makers Guarneri, Stradivarius and others, a city that has been steeped in musical culture for centuries. The Italians have long been keen makers of audio equipment as well, much more so than their Mediterranean neighbours in fact. Norma was founded in 1997 with a mission to “utilize technique to create products that reflect what Norma means with “musical reproduction.” They go on to state that “The musical message will not be reinterpreted, adding something more pleasant, but will instead receive the maximum respect.” Which is good to hear but not always easy to achieve.
I reviewed Norma’s Revo IPA-70B integrated in Issue 180 and got an unusually good result with it, but that is a more expensive model with various module options that when combined bring its feature count close to that offered by the HS-IPA. This is a smaller box with more bits in it or so it would seem, the HS-IPA is a 75 Watt per channel integrated amplifier that is specified to double its output into a halving of load and has two line inputs, an onboard DAC, phono stage and dedicated headphone amplifier, which explains the 12kg mass of a box that’s not even five inches high. These are not off the shelf items either, the phono stage is good for both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges and has variable loading and gain. The DAC offers five inputs including USB and is DSD ready, and the headphone stage is a class A type with variable output sensitivity to suit different impedance loads.
Changing the settings for the phono stage and headphone amp requires you to remove ten bolts that hold the casing on in order to get to the dip switches inside but hopefully this is not something end users will have to do very often. I changed the settings of the phono stage choosing 100 Ohms from four options and noting that you can add a value of your own choice with the right resistors. Gain ranges from 34dB to 52dB and again includes a spare slot for a custom value. That is more range than you get with some dedicated phono stages. I was concerned that 52dB might be a little low for the 350μV output of a Rega Aphelion MC cartridge but coupled with the fairly high gain of the amplifier as a whole it is easily sufficient.