ENGSTRÖM’s minimalist, high-performance and high-end valve amplifiers have some surprisingly human names; the ERIC and LARS power amplifiers, the MONICA preamp, and these are now joined by the ARNE integrated amp. With the exception of the Lars (the company’s first product, named after the chief engineer and co-founder of the company), the range is named after Swedish musicians that have particular resonance for Lars and Timo Engström. The new ARNE is named after Arne ‘Dompan’ Domnérus (1824-2008), a jazz musician best known in audiophile circles for playing alto sax in the 1977 Proprius Records classic Jazz At The Pawnshop.
This choice of name is deliberate, as ENGSTRÖM feel the ARNE is designed with a ‘jazz band mentality’; it’s a collaborative project between Lars and Timo, JC Morrison (highly respected amp designer/trapeze artist most recently connected with the Silbertone amp project), and Kevin Scott of Living Voice in the UK. ARNE is a 30W per channel, 300B-based integrated design that is the purest expression of ENGSTRÖM’s minimalist approach. That mean ‘no tone controls’ and the absence of a balance control, but does include a remote, four line inputs (two balanced, two single-ended… and strangely six clicks on the input selector).
Minimalism extends across the ARNE amplifier, but in particular the industrial design. The white or black angled front and top plates contrast with the light or dark grey side panels. All covers on ENGSTRÖM products look like a part of the design brief and not an ugly afterthought. The elegant lines do mean the volume control is very shallow, and the sloping front panel makes gripping that knob harder than usual… no sniggering at the back!
The ARNE runs hot, but perhaps not in the way you would expect from a valve amplifier. Once the ARNE has been on for half-an-hour or so, the heat generated by the amp is substantial and much of that heat is coming from the chassis, not the output tubes. The amount of heat is akin to that from the noted half-amp, half-griddle integrated classic, the Musical Fidelity A1. I used the ARNE without the glasswork to maximise ventilation.
We received an early sample, supplied with a quartet of JJ 300B output valves. These were not a good idea, and created a sound that was grainy, grey and dynamically lacklustre. Fortunately, ENGSTRÖM listened to the users of those early samples – who all did a lot of tube-rolling – and many came to the conclusion that Emission Labs, Living Voice and KR Audio valves work exceptionally well with the ARNE. Henceforth the amplifier will be supplied with the end-user’s choice of 300B-Zr, KR, or Emission Labs valves. The good news being that the price remains the same. I could have rewritten the copy to remove all mention of the JJs but on reflection I decided to leave it as is, for no other reason than it serves to really underline just how critical tube choice is to both the sound of this amplifier and matching it to your speakers. It also shows that the company responds to user feedback.