That’s the thing about the U-150 Unity from Aavik. It sounds like the U-300. I mean really like the U-300. As in, if you read the review of the U-300, what applies there applies here. The amplifier is quiet, the phono stage excellent, the DAC is lively and entertaining, and the amplifier itself is precise and even-handed. It’s the perfect amplifier to resolve differences in component and cable (not surprising that, given it’s owned by the same people who make Ansuz cables). This poses a problem for a reviewer, in terms of potentially repeating oneself, but at least I find myself agreeing with me.
That all being said, in very close comparison, there are slight differences in performance. Where the U-300 is ‘lively’, the U-150 can tip over into ‘excitable exuberance’. That’s probably the big difference in sonic terms. It’s also paradoxically at once a little more and a little less warm than the big guy; by this, I mean it can sometimes sound slightly too warm with some recordings, but is overall less warm and rich sounding than the U-300. Otherwise, it’s that same unforced, rhythmic, boppy, detailed sound of the Aavik U-300, but for a lot less money. And, when it comes to these differences, we are seriously gilding the lily, here. For the most part, and for practically everyone, the U-150 is sonically almost identical to the U-300.
This, of course, presumes that the reader will have already read a review of the Aavik U-300, and there is no guarantee of that at all. So what do ‘they’ sound like. In a way, it tows the line between two pre/power amplfier combos also tested in this issue – the D’Agostino Progressions (p24) and the Sugden Sapphires (p43). Forget about the pricing for a moment and just think on the tone. One is sumptuous, the other dynamic. One accents the midrange, the other commands the bottom end. One is all about dynamic energy, the other a sense of flow. The Aavik U-150 sits squarely in the middle!
If anything, the Aavik U-150 falls into the inviting sounding presentation, although that makes it sound like its a bad thing. Actually, it just makes music sound like it’s the kind of thing you’d want to listen to, rather than analyse. It’s dynamic and exciting, accurate, and yet not bland or sparce. It’s just a damn good amplifier, and a perfect ambassador for Class D.
What the Aavik U-150 does so well (as the U-300 does so well) is deliver a consistent and integrated performance. Some amplifiers are a great DAC with a mediocre amp attached, or a fine line-stage with an afterthought of a phono section. The Aavik platform is none of those things. It is an exciting performer regardless of whether you are using the line stages, the DAC or the phono. And, also like the U-300, the Aavik platform really ties the music together well. Music flows well with Aavik, and the sound easily moves from theme to theme and from beat to beat.
What was a limitation on the U-300 remains a limitation here too. Only, in the context of an amplifier that costs €10,000 these problems are even less well founded than on an amplifier that costs €25,000. The need for a balance control remains, and the dynamic range of the amplifier is good, but not outstanding. This becomes less of an issue with a €10,000 amp because it’s less likely to be partnered with the kind of loudspeakers than highight such dynamic foreshortening. Toe-to-toe, the dynamic range of the U-150 is probably a little more constrained compared to the U-300. The U-150 doesn’t have the same giant killing properties, but possibly it’s not meant to have such properties. This will not be used with loudspeakers of such full-range and dynamic performance that they can fell trees at 20 paces. The U-300, on the other hand, might just end up in such a system. It doesn’t have any more muscle or definition, but maybe it just can bench-press slightly more pounds when it’s needed to.
I return to the big question again. Will the U-150 cannibalise sales of the U-300. The more time I spend with the notion, the more I think it might. Yes, if you are looking at the two from the position of a gazillionaire with a pair of giant loudspeakers, then the U-300 does have a little something extra in tow. But the thing is, I struggle to find that little something extra in day-to-day listening. The U-300 remains a great amplifier, but the U-150 is almost the same amplifier for a lot less money. That makes the U-150 an excellent addition to the audiophile roster of great products.