The IS is the entry-level integrated amplifier in Lavardin’s range. Its modest (for a transistor amp) 45W per channel output, four inputs and minimalist styling, means it lacks a certain something, on paper. The dainty, folded aluminium casework and simple anodised front plate are smart and functional, rather than eyecatching. It costs near as dammit £2,000 and doesn’t even get a blue LED. It would be easy to overlook, or dismiss as overpriced. Which would be rather silly, as the Lavardin IS is also, in my opinion, something of a high-end bargain.From the moment it starts working, there is something very right about the way the Lavardin goes about its business. In fact, some minor reservations aside, I’d almost characterise it as a lack of wrongness. Many amplifiers in this price bracket play to particular strengths, which often as not offset other areas of performance that fail to keep pace. Thus, you end up choosing your amp to suit your personal priorities. The Lavardin is quite unusual in that it has an all round competence which is, in my experience, rarely seen at the price. We’ve discussed Lavardin’s ‘memory distortion’ concept in these pages before, and I don’t intend to revisit it here, but whatever it is, it unquestionably makes Lavardin amplifiers a bit special.
The IS has an uncommon degree of clarity, agility and deftness, an ability to follow a line of music, no matter how fast, or complex. This means it can turn its hand to most things, rather well, and it seems made for jazz or complex modern music. Joanna Macgregor’s rendering of a Nancarrow player-piano piece is offered with all the minute variations in rhythm and metrein their proper place, so the way the parts ebb and flow with respect to each other is, if not necessarily a doddle to follow, then certainly presented in a lucid and insightful way. You can quite easily tell that the timing mismatches are deliberate, not simply flaws in the performance.
It’s not perfect. Being French, I suppose, the manufacturer likes to find subtle and amusing ways to confound the user, and Lavardin has chosen to eschew any form of channel labelling on the rear panel. So you have to hope it has followed the usual conventions in positioning the speaker terminals. As it’s not followed the usual convention for the inputs, this is something of a leap of faith. There are no L/R labels at all, and the manual is resolutely silent on the subject. So it’s not clear whether they’ve declined to follow the, obviously bourgeois, convention of putting the right channel input under the left, or elected to ignore the input convention of using red for right and black for left. When first hooked-up, mine sounded odd. A left/right channel check revealed that I’d got the speaker connections transposed; or perhaps it was the inputs I’d swapped. Who, apart from an existentialist philosopher, can really say? Either way, a quick furkle around the speaker cable binding posts and a minute later all was well. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight I could have just hooked up one channel at a time, but where’s the fun in that?