Inside, these amps are beautifully constructed. The mains transformer is a sophisticated quasi-C core design which like the one in the RADIA is physically decoupled from the chassis, but unlike the relative simplicity of the arrangements in the stereo amp, here the transformer is both fully suspended and enclosed in its own separate housing to completely isolate mechanical noise and vibration. Metalbodied, bi-polar output devices are close coupled to massive internal heatsinks, in turn arranged to mechanically damp the transistors and cool them via the efficient natural convection currents created by the chassis’ chimney vents. With 80000 microF of reservoir capacitance provided by a bank of highspeed, slit-foil capacitors, the amplifiers’ agility and dynamic response is further enhanced by ultra-short signal paths.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Hovland product without the signature blue illumination and the STRATOS doesn’t disappoint, the curved fascia edge lit by a wash of light. However, like all the other Hovland designs the light show can be switched off, leaving only the central blue line that acts as both standby and full power indicator. A switch on the back allows the user to select “low” or “high” standby modes, the latter running the audio circuits at idle but with the signal and speaker relays open, significantly shortening the time the amp takes to reach full performance. Also like the other designs, the STRATOS sound noticeably better in “stealth” mode with their illumination switched off. The results (the removal of a haze that in turn creates greater transparency and delicacy, and more effective phrasing) are so obvious that I wonder that anyone would actually use the amps “fully lit” – although it’s easy enough to switch on the lights if you are not listening and just like their look. In line with their functional elegance, the review pair were delivered in a simple brushed aluminium finish, although black is also available with matching black chrome trim. And while we’re on the subject of appearance let’s be clear about one thing: proportionally speaking, this is the most satisfying Hovland yet – and that’s saying something!