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Dipstick

Audiozen Alchemy Reference Hybrid Integrated Amplifier

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Super Wammer

Audiozen Alchemy Reference Hybrid Integrated Amplifier.

Available from – Elite Audio

Price at time of review - £2570

 First Impressions.

First up, a little bit of background information about this Italian made amplifier; it’s a two-box affair but not in the way you’d normally expect, instead of being split into pre-  and power amp units it comes as an integrated (with the pre and power section split both physically and electrically) in one unit and the other is a power supply. The power supply is by far the heftiest and outweighs the integrated section by near 2 to 1. The units side by side are a little larger than a standard 430mm hi-fi unit and I was, just, comfortable fitting them on the top shelf of my rack.

Maybe I should go back a little first to the moment it arrived, it came in a sturdy wooden crate and was beautifully packed for an item at any price, for the money this amplifier sells for I’d say the packaging was exemplary. Each unit was surrounded by shock absorbing foam which also covered the inner faces of the crate, the remote is a functional unit with a decent range.      

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The power supply has an IEC socket and two captive umbilical cords for separate DC supplies to the preamp and power amp sections in the main box. Inside the integrated amp box the pre-amp has a pair of E88CC valves that are kept ready for use when the amplifier is in standby mode, as to the power amp section it looks to be a chip amp configuration of some description attached to a large heatsink. As many “experts” believe valves have the biggest impact when placed in the pre-amp section this bodes well for the design when we get to the listening part of this review. The casework is good, it looks very similar to the Hifi2000 Galaxy range, nice and solid without being overly fancy.

I started listening using my Bastanis Wildhorn which in hindsight was probably not the best choice at 100db sensitivity and an amp with 90 Watts per channel, at this point I had limited volume control so decided I’d try a less sensitive set of speakers. In came the Club-27 Kurt speakers, a very similar design to the Bastanis but with a 10” wideband driver and 1” compression tweeter. At 94db sensitivity these horn loaded, bottom firing speakers are a better match for the Audiozen and gave me much more control over listening levels. Hopefully my choice of speaker will give you a clue that I’m a valve amp kind of guy that had steered clear of most things solid state for a good while.

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How does it sound?

I decided to start off with a selection of my old favourite tracks, one’s that I know inside out and have heard on a few different setups, these include “Sympathy for the Devil” (Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet) that has different percussion instruments coming from far left and right at the start, Micks voice then comes in slightly off centre followed by piano and electric guitar front and centre. It’s easy to forget how much I like this song sometimes as I’ve heard the percussion instruments sound a bit metallic, lacking in body or thin sounding sometimes, that’s certainly not the case with this amp and within moments I found it difficult to concentrate on listening to the amp as my foot was tapping madly to the beat and I found myself playing air guitar alongside Keith! I managed to drag my focus back, foot still tapping, to hear the echo on Micks voice in the latter chorus repeats, as good and possibly better handled than I’d heard before in my setup, that counts as a good start to the session in my books, I let the LP play through side one before moving on to something else and found my foot tapping along to the beat most of the time. Another favourite on this side is “Dear doctor” a plaintiff cry for help from a jilted groom, it makes me feel sorry for the redneck copping it from his unfaithful bride to be, the amp brought across the emotion, and humour I hear in this song whilst staying the right side of strident when the harmonica wails above the strumming of the acoustic guitars.

During the initial listening session I worked my way through Ella Fitzgerald (Lady is a Tramp, Foggy Night in London Town), The Clash, Led Zeppelin and Nina Simone along with a few others. Was I trying to catch the amp out, not consciously as I quickly forgot about reviewing and was simply enjoying many old favourites. From this point on I left the amp in standby mode, put simply this keeps the valves warm and makes the amp sound better from the minute you start listening, this is great when family commitments sometimes cut listening sessions short, it often feels like a valve amp has just got into its stride when a certain 6 year olds bedtime routine stops a listening session, that’s less of a problem with the Audiozen Alchemy as it’s on full song after 10 minutes use from standby.

It seems to have plenty of power in reserve even when faced with something a bit more tricky, to test this I decided to plug some early Linn Sara Isobariks that I have hanging around, these are 4 Ohm speakers that I think drop a bit below that on the tweeter and are probably mid 80's db in sensitivity, I wasn’t sure how the Audiozen would deal with lower impedance speakers as it has plenty of Watts but that's not always the full story, I shouldn’t have worried as it grabbed them by the cojones and made them sound pretty damn good (for Linn speakers anyway).

Whatever I listened to the amp simply got on with the job of playing music, beats were delivered with foot tapping enthusiasm and bass was controlled and textured underpinning every type of music, the soundstage was wide and tall, it didn’t try to over emphasise any particular point of the musical spectrum and I was finding it difficult to find anything negative to say. The only thing I can point to is an occasional increase in sibilance and a very low level buzz that came from the power supply when the unit went from standby to supplying power (I spoke to the distributor who said it had been silent when tried in his own setup and could maybe be down to rough handling by the courier), it sounded like a transformer hum, something many of us have heard when high power toroidal transformers are used and it had no impact on my enjoyment as it was only audible with no volume being used and your ear a foot or so away from the power supply box.

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Conclusion.

So it comes well packed, is a neat, well made piece of kit that doesn’t suffer from style over substance, it locks on to a beat and made my foot tap almost continuously whatever genre I tried. It refused to over emphasise any part of the music to the detriment of the others and had the tube sweetness in the midrange that I, and my speakers, like. My only criticism of it is that it has too much power, or gain for my setup, I’d happily replace my current valve amplifier with it in the summer. The rest of the year I like the heat, looks and the extra bit of midrange magic my current amplifier gives, without a doubt it is bested by the Audiozen Alchemy at the frequency extremes and the lack of heat and exposed valves makes it a much better bet with kids around. At all times during the review period it simply got out of the way and made me want to explore my music collection by giving a hint of valve midrange magic along side the bass solidity of a solid state amp, what more can you ask of a component than it encouraging you to listen to more music (and constantly tap your foot whilst singing along at full belt)?

Product Specification.

Power – 90 Watts into 8 Ohm, 170 Watts into 4 Ohms.

SN Ratio – 98db

Inputs – 4 (unbalanced)

Total weight – 11.8kg (amp 4.5kg, psu 7.3kg)

My setup.

Speakers – Bastanis Wildhorn, Club-27 Kurt, Linn Sara isobaric.

Turntable – Sony PS-6750 with AT OC9 cartridge and DIY Salas phono stage.

Digital – Pioneer stable platter CD into DIY DDDac1794.

Edited by Dipstick
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