The result of this powerfully built design is an amplifier of rare refinement and subtlety. Yes, it can do power and brute force with the best of them, but it’s more grown up than that. It’s not by accident the company bringing this amplifier into the UK is the same one that distributes ELAC loudspeakers and Vertere cables. ELAC are great loudspeakers, but they do not suffer amplifier fools gladly and anything sounding the least bit hard or brash or edgy will be exposed for all its ‘glory’. Prospective ELAC owners and dealers need to have an off-the-peg amplifier solution for their needs… and this is it. But that’s only scratching the surface.
The other common partner in Europe is Avalon loudspeakers, and these loudspeakers demand a slightly different set of criteria – a sense of the mailed fist in the velvet glove, of well-rounded effortless and yet controlled power. It also needs to be fast; perhaps not quite DarTZeel fast or Constellation fast, but neither should it be ponderous. Fortunately the IPA 140 acquits itself well on all accounts.
Harking back to that voice-first ethos, I stuck on a couple of vocal works, through a Naim UnitiServe into a Wadia 121 DAC. Jessye Norman (seemed appropriate, given how close ‘Norman’ is to the company name) singing Richard Strauss’ four last songs (Philips) with her dramatic soprano voice cutting through the air, and – by way of stark contrast – Laura Marling’s neo-Joni Mitchell tones on Once I Was an Eagle. In both cases, it was surprising how articulate and ‘there’ the voice was, centre stage and surprisingly dynamic. OK, you expect powerful dynamics from Jessye Norman (she’s a walking pair of lungs and vocal chords), but what’s surprising is just how that effortless dynamics works with Laura Marling’s voice, making it more real and making her sound at once fragile and confident. I’ve heard other amplifiers do this vocal projection as well as the Norma, but few can do anything near as well as this – with the same balance of performance – for the money.
That balance can perhaps be best summed up in three words, ‘grace, space and pace’. That’s a rare combination in today’s world though, and the result is one of those designs that pushes the envelope and challenges the accredited masters of the art, many of which come with price tags that would make a 18th Century Maharaja blush.
The combination of these two main differentiators (refinement and speed) give the IPA-140 a rare talent; a kind of old-fashioned, brand-new sound. That sounds like a contradiction until you hear it. The stark, etched top-end that undermines many good amplifiers is held at bay; not all amplifiers sound that way, but the tendency now is to overcompensate and make an amp that wafts and drifts its way through music. The Revo IPA-140 manages to walk the line between the two, with a sound quality that’s every bit as exciting and engaging as you’d want, but with the sort of naturalistic presentation we all crave. As a result, this amp goes with far more than just the aforementioned Avalon and ELAC loudspeaker designs.