Art Audio is a British company, but is known mostly in the USA. In addition on the company web page ART Audio UK LTD you will only find a photo of its founder. The current web page can be found at the UK distributor - Signature Audio Systems and at the US distributor. This is strange, but this is what happens with small, based on the charisma of one person, companies. And this is maybe what makes them interesting…
As it turns out Quintet was presented for the first time in 1988, twenty years ago. This means that we deal with an aged design. Because when something is good then there is no need to change it. Of course small corrections and improvements were done in the meantime, hence the Mk II status of the tested unit, but the heart remained unchanged. Quintet is an amplifier that looks absolutely common, there is input on an ECC83 tube, there is a output tubes driver on ECC82 and the power section working in push-pull in class A on power pentodes EL34. The device is available in two flavors – with the power section working in pentode mode with 2x25W and a triode mode with 2x15W. We have tested the latter version. Besides the lower output power it has also lower feedback. The device is quite Spartan – no descriptions or markings at the knobs, tubes or connectors. Only the black chassis and chromed knobs. And the name plate, decoration on the transformers and the glowing tubes.
Quintet is in one of the simplest versions – that is what I could get at that time. Now I received the Concerto – in a version with five inputs, with an option to bypass volume control to work as a pure power amplifier. Art Audio is a manufacture – this allows for a large spectrum of options. When I asked at TRI about the remote control option – I heard “we are thinking about it for the future”. In Art Audio each model can be customized. The quintet can be: - with a chromed chassis; - have three RCA inputs; - have remote control; - be in a monoblock version; - it can even be balanced.
Before the test the distributor of Art Audio, Mr. Piotr Bednarski from the company Hi-End Studio (they distribute also Art Loudspeakers including the tested Stiletto 6) questioned me about the system I own and the system Quintet will work with. I believe the questioning went well, as the Quintet arrived and there were no more questions. As it turned out the reason for this were cases, when the amplifier did not sound as it should, meaning not as expected by the manufacturers and distributors. As one of the bad combinations they recalled the Meridian G07 as the source the tested amplifier and ProAc loudspeakers (I don’t know which model). The sound was to be flat and dry. Meaning it was completely the opposite of what it should be. And this is related to the construction of the Art. In fact this is a power amplifier with a potentiometer, or better said a power amplifier with a passive preamplifier. This is how it looks from the technical point of view, regardless of how we place the amplifier looking at the handling. Because from that point of view the Quintet is an integrated amplifier. Even if we do not have the possibility to change the input, this does not matter, because ‘integration’ of an amplifier does not mean that we have the opportunity to change inputs, regulate timbre, etc, but combining the power and the preamplifiers into one. And a preamplifier is a potentiometer and active elements – amplifying and buffering ones – but those are not mandatory. That is the reason, that when we have an amplifier with a knob that allows us change the volume from zero to a certain value then it is an integrated amplifier. Quintet is a special case, as the preamplifier is passive. And this makes it have the same problems as all ‘passives’ have. The most important is the matching of the impedances of the source combined with the position of the potentiometer, as the latter means a different load for the source and a different input to the power amp in every setting. There is always a ‘golden middle’ and the accompanying devices have to be chosen to work as close as possible to it.
There is also another possibility – connecting the Quintet to an active preamplifier. Putting the volume to maximum electrically eliminates the potentiometer from the sound path leaving its job to the preamplifier. And this is how I did this at home, using my Leben RS-28CX. This allowed me to compare the sound of the Art with an external amplifier and its internal passive stage. But… I had another ace in my sleeve – my CD player Lektor Prime Ancient Audio has a built in preamplifier (a kind of a variable output, but capable of producing a higher voltage than the standard 2V rms). So I could try another variant – put the volume up at the amplifier and control the volume from the player. So there were many options and many comparisons. Despite the effort I think that it was worth it. What was the result? The quintet sounded best without an external preamplifier, meaning no Leben in the sound path, and the Lektor set to ‘86’ what corresponds to 2V. That was the case in my system. Although with the Leben the sound was bigger, the vocals closer, but the resolution got lost somewhere and the midrange was too heavy. Also the speed got out someway. It was similar when I tried to control the volume from the Lektro. And the latter meant that it is good if the voltage level from the player is high, what led me to the conclusion that I also came to independently evaluating the timbre of the player: one of the players you must listen to with the Art is the CD-1 Ayon, that is characterized by a 5V line output. Without a trace of doubt the sound had then the required resolution, best when using the passive stage, as well as weight, size and maturity just like using an external preamplifier. But if the usage of an external preamplifier is needed then I would rather turn to – I apologize to all purists, but I am a pragmatic and not a believer – solid state devices, like the splendid LINN Majik Kontrol, that I tested for “Audio” some time ago, as a part of a complete system. Summarizing – the best sound for me was when I used a high level player and the passive stage in the Quintet, so just like I connected the devices freshly taking the amplifier out of the box. And this is the setting I used for the rest of the tests.
All mentioned tries were not in the beginning but after a short ‘burn in’. And this had two extremely interesting points. It was so, that Art was unpacked in the evening. And because I watch the Battlestar Galactica in the evening for the third time (three seasons, now finishing), because new episodes of season four appeared recently, I hooked up the Quintet to the variable output of the Arcama Solo Movie 5.1, I use for the ‘cinema’. And although the sound of the DIVX (I keep Battlestar... in that format) is not very enchanting, still I watched the last episode of the third season with great pleasure. I had no feeling that the sound is not saturated enough, or that the treble is too bright. I was to listen to the Quintet the next day. Because I first made some photos of the Ayon 300B (test in this issue) I put on the disc of Mel Tormé Gene Norman Presents Mel Tormé at The Crescendo (Bethlehem/JVC, VICJ-61461, K2 HD CD). This is an old recording from 1957, registered live in the Crescendo club in Hollywood and was beautifully remastered by JVC in the first series of the K2 HD discs. I mean, now I know that this is a beautifully prepared disc. I did not listen to it for some time, because at some point, I believe before I bought the Leben, it seemed boring and a bit ‘thin’. And here – surprise. The recording is monophonic, but it was fantastically heard at every point in the room. When I sat in the middle between the loudspeakers I could hear that this is mono, but everywhere else not anymore. I think, that this was because the British amplifier sounds with a very ‘melodious’, fluent sound. I mean, that it can be listened to with interest and pleasure. In some sense, at least partially, it is about the splendid lead of the midrange, a bit to the front of the rest of the sound spectrum, but some of it must also be attributed to the coherence of it all, and a very good, especially taking into account that this is EL34, resolution.
Because truly, the Art plays mostly with the midrange. This is not unambiguous, but after some time its perception is set mostly by what happens in the midrange. This frequency range is especially well treated, with well chosen proportions between the resolution, timbre and speed. This is a completely different level of sounding than from the Flame Synthesis or the Tube53 from CEC, that I tested for “Audio”. This is really exceptional what could have been achieved here. This is why the sound is so natural, despite of the fact that we will discover in time, that the treble is only good, clearly less resolving and less accurate in terms of timbre than the Ayon 300B or the Leben CX-300, not fully controlled bass, etc. This is the case, that everything has been bet on one card and it won. The recordings from the disc The Köln Concert Keitha Jaretta (ECM, UCCE-9011, gold-CD) sounded great, and those are very demanding, and a few moments later, the incredibly tasteful recordings from Stockfisch – Eugene Rufollo In a Different Light (Stockfisch, SFR 357.4044.2, SACD/CD). Both discs have saturated sound, what only did good for the Art, not putting those two tendencies on top of each other, but complementing them. There is a small imbalance in the middle, underlining of the midrange somewhere between 800Hz-1kHz, what could been heard on reference recordings, like on the subsequent novelty The Bassface Swing Trio Tribute to Cole Porter (Stockfisch, SFR 357.4056.2, SACD/CD), where the voice of Barbara Bürkle was a bit risen in that place and by this a bit nasal. To be clear, I just add, that I did not notice that on less precise recordings. Maybe Chris Connor from the disc ...Sings Lullabies of Birdland (Bethlehem/JVC, VICJ-61452, K2 HD, CD) had a bit larger dimensions, but I am not 100% sure.
Anyway, it was not coincidence that I mentioned the Ayon. If we look at the price lists, we have to think very hard. For not much more money than we have to pay for the Art we can get a beautiful, made in Italy, amplifier with uncommon SET tubes, remote control, a few inputs, etc. From this point of view this is a killer. But the comparison is not that straight forward. I know, I agree that the appearance of the device and the manufacturing quality are important factors. Paying so much money we want a luxury product. On the other hand, the Ayon is picky when it comes to the accompanying devices, and it sounds best surrounded by the Ayon CD player and speakers. And if not then surrounded by expensive and carefully chosen elements. Art is different – it is universal, in terms of surrounding equipment and music. It has also the ability to communicate with our emotions above the layer of ‘mechanics’ of reproduction. There is no doubt, that the Ayon reproduces more information. But is it music? Maybe yes, maybe no, depending on what we understand by this. With the quintet we have no doubt that it plays with its whole heart, maybe without audiophile excesses, but nothing comes for free.
Thinking about devices that I can recommend to this amplifier I came to three sets – every one of them being splendid and quite inexpensive. First one would be comprised of the Ayon CD1, Quintet and the loudspeakers Harpia Acoustics Amstaff or Marcus. The player will stand for saturation and the loudspeakers for speed. The second set would be the Lektor V Ancient Audio and the Stiletto 6 Art Loudspeakers. The third set would be composed of the Stilettos and the G08 Meridian CD player. I think this will be beautiful.
The amplifier Quintet from Art Audio can be described as an integrated amplifier because it has a volume control. This is based on a potentiometer with a nice chromed knob in the middle of the front panel. There is no other switch or knob present, as we have only one input (so source selector is not necessary) and the mechanical power switch was placed on the back, near the power socket. So we cannot say that the Art has an especially ergonomic setup. It looks quite ascetic, and besides the volume knob, name plate and elements on the transformers the whole is black. The device is based on ECC83 tubes in the input, ECC82 working in the output control stage and EL34 in the power stage. The ECC82 come from the Slovak JJ and the ECC83 are the fantastic Sovtek in the special LPS version, where LPS means that we deal with a large plate here. Such tubes, made mostly as replacements for guitar amplifiers, are to imitate the sound of octal tubes, like the 6SN7 with large plates. The output tubes are Art Audio branded, but come from China. Looking at the back we see the mentioned power socket and switch, two RCA input sockets, for the left and right channel, placed on the outer ends of the back plate, and loudspeaker terminals – with outputs for 4 and 8 Ohm.
After unscrewing the bottom plate we notice, that most part of the interior is taken by a big PCB. The montage is hybrid – we have point-point and PCB traces, many wires run through the amplifier. The power supply is based on a self-made transformer and four nice looking capacitors. Another step of filtration is based on capacitors near the tubes. It looks like we have separate windings for the heaters for each channel, and for the output and input tubes. The signal goes from the RCA sockets to the Alps potentiometer and then by means of the same kind of wire to the input tubes (the cable being Evolution XOC OFC). The coupling between the stages is made using polypropylene capacitors, among others from Philips. The montage is quite unconstrained, as we have many cables, connectors, etc. Attention is drawn by the ground wiring, a consistently made star topology, led by thick wires coming together at the power socket.
PŁYTY PROSTO Z JAPONII
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