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Integrated amplifier

CLONES audio

Price (in Poland): 1979 USD (+VAT)

Contact: Funjoe



Images: Wojciech Pacuła | CLONES audio
Translation: Ewa Muszczynko

No 201

February 1, 2021

CLONES audio is a company that was set up exactly on 12.12.12 (December 12th 2012). It was founded by FUNJOE (aka Mat) and is based in Hong Kong. However, the 25iRX integrated amplifier that we are testing marks a new era in its history, as it is its first product created in Taiwan, where the company is slowly moving its premises.

UNJOE IS A MAN WHO, BY SETTING UP AN AUDIO COMPANY and devoting all his time to it, literally went for broke. He had had a well-paid designer’s job before, but it was not satisfactory. The date he chose to establish the company (12.12.12) was no coincidence – it was five days before his son was born. As Funjoe told me in 2013, when I was preparing a test of the 25i integrated amplifier, he “wanted to show his son that dreams come true – you only need to be persistent and work hard”.

Anyway, not only the date when the company was set up, but also its whole concept, originated in Funjoe’s family. CLONES audio products (I will keep to the spelling used by the manufacturer) are connected with DIY (Do-It-Yourself) audio. The design that was finally called the 25i resulted from a request from the constructor’s father, who wanted to have a simple, but a wonderfully-sounding audio system. And he was an audiophile who had given his hobby up for a few years:

One day, my dad came to listen to my 47labs system. He said it sounded great, but at the same time it was small, which also mattered to him. He wanted to have something similar at his place. Something small and delicate, producing wonderful sound. So, I built my own gainclone for him. However, I put a lot of effort and work into the chassis structure, to make the sound even better, and to keep the design small and minimalistic.

After some time, my dad finally got it and said it would be great if I could share it with others. So, I decided to make a few units for sale. I assemble each of them personally, as it is the only way to maintain the sound quality that I am interested in. I would like to sell it to others at a low price, so that they could take their first step in the audio world in the right direction.

A few simple words with… FUNJOE, HIGH FIDELITY № 115, November 2013, read HERE, date of access: 29.12.2020

| 25iRX

THE 25iRX AMPLIFIER IS THE THIRD PRODUCT from the series, after the already mentioned 25i and the 25iR model presented in 2016 (more: HF | April 2016 ⸜ № 144). From the beginning, their form referred to the legend of the audio world, the Japanese 47LABS company and, more specifically, to the Gaincard amplifier. Funjoe’s amp had the form of a simple solid with a nearly square outline and was an absolutely minimalistic device. An important thing is that its current section was based on the LM3875 power integrated circuit.

| LM3875

The LM3875 WAS AN INTEGRATED POWER AMPLIFIER manufactured by the Texas Instruments (formerly National Semiconductor) company since June 1999. Constant output power was 56 W at 8 Ω and up to 100 W at the peak. It is also worth noticing good signal-to-noise ratio (-95 dB). The circuit became very popular among DIY audio enthusiasts, starting a long series of different amps. After some time, it ceased to be produced and was replaced with the LM3886 and LM4780 models.

Although an amp built on these modules is extremely simple, one needs more to achieve results similar to 47labs or CLONES audio: high-quality power supply and passive components, as well as a very good chassis. It is hard to explain, as differences between a basic and a sophisticated circuit measured during tests are small, but when it comes to sound, these are two different worlds. The circuit has not been produced for years and now its new version – the LM3886 – is being used.

THE LOOK OF CLONES audio AMPLIFIERS keeps on changing from one model to another and the workmanship is more and more refined. So, I would treat this device as a musical instrument whose basic model was developed many years ago by a luthier, but is still being improved, perhaps until the end of its life.

The differences between the 25i and 25iR models consisted in replacing a rotary potentiometer with the PGA2311 integrated circuit, adding a volume display and a separate power supply section for the microcontroller (MCU) and PGA2311, as well as redesigning the arrangement of components inside the chassis. As Funjoe told me when I was testing the 25iR model, this last stage was most important for sound tuning and it was twice as expensive as in the case of the previous model at that time. With the shift from the 25iR to the 25iRX, production costs increased even further.

All these factors have contributed to the fact that the amp, whose original version was finished already a year and a half ago and which was to become an important part of the 8th anniversary of the CLONES Audio company, has only been recently presented. However, this is a story to be told by the constructor himself.


| A few simple words with…

Owner, constructor

WELL, I’M BACK! It has taken us a long time to settle everything in Taiwan and we have finally done it! It is not easy to get production to work well here, due to cultural differences between Hong Kong and Taiwan. I am still trying to get used to it.

The 25iRX is the best amp I have ever made and some kind of a summary of all my years of experience. Actually, the design and the product itself were finished about two years ago. The chassis and everything else were ready to go. However, due to increasing overpopulation and the soaring costs of living in Hong Kong, I decided to move to Taiwan.

That is why I decided to redo everything about the chassis in Taiwan, to obtain the best sound possible. The difference between the previous and the new version mainly consists in, though is not limited to, the quality of metal used for the chassis and finish. As you know, industrial production is virtually impossible in Hong Kong, so I used to outsource the production of chassis for the former models to China. However, there was always the problem of the quality of workmanship…

The new amp is entirely manufactured in Taiwan. Most of the components have been made of imported 6061 aluminum using CNC machining and really finely finished. Next, I added wooden elements, such as the base plate and knob decoration. They help us tune sound and make the device look more attractive. The RCA sockets, binding posts, AC sockets and even screws are made in Taiwan. I can only add that they are very costly.


WHATEVER WE SAY, WE WILL START and finish with the statement that the 25iRX looks like a million dollars – a small, expensive and carefully crafted piece of jewelry. It is still a minimalistic design, i.e. an integrated amp without any additions, e.g. a DAC, Bluetooth connectivity, a phono stage, or even a headphone output (even though the last of these might come in handy).

The front panel only features a knob and a white two-digit LED display. This is the volume control knob and we change the active input by pressing it. The display shows both the volume level on a relative scale from 0 to 70, as well as the selected input; when you press the “mute” button on the remote control, two horizontal lines start flashing on the display.

The solid of the tested amp still has a square outline, but a wooden frame has been attached to the bottom of the metal chassis consisting of aluminum panels. The ring around the volume control knob is a corresponding element. It is definitely not my doing, but it would be nice if it came out that Funjoe made the choice using an idea that I had, placing the previous versions of the amp on a stand made of exotic hickory wood, made for me by Ken Ishiguro, the owner of the Acoustic Revive company.

I am talking about it, as the wooden platform has been integrated with the chassis of the tested amp. Not only does it look very nice (very organic, I would say), but also allows the user control vibrations and damp them in a desired way. Funjoe’s company made the first such design for the Power Station II Deluxe power amp and the HOST II music server.

Adding a wooden element to the chassis is a very effective way of “taming” sound, sometimes also warming it up, but without losing resolution. A similar conclusion was reached earlier by other Japanese companies, such as PHASEMATION |PL|, SPEC and SoulNote, which equip their devices with thick wooden base plates – SPEC together with wooden feet and SOULNOTE in the form of a separate platform.

The wood used in the CLONES audio amp has the form of a frame cut out in the middle, so as not to stop the flow of air cooling the active elements inside. The method of decoupling the whole amp has also been very cleverly thought out, as the amp is standing on three feet with rubber rings (two feet at the front), manufactured by the Japanese company TAOC. Funjoe also talked about much better connectors – both RCA sockets and speaker binding posts look very decent, indeed.

As Funjoe wrote me, the chassis is his “secret weapon”, which would confirm the observations of other constructors for whom the audio circuit is only part of a larger whole – and not the most important one. Each element – he continues – matters, just like its size. Even screws made of 304 stainless steel were specially selected for the design, just like PCB sizes, the arrangement of elements, etc. Different thicknesses have been tested for individual elements and the ones that were chosen were the best for the audio circuit.

The inside of the device was divided into two parts using a thick aluminium panel. On one of the sides, at the front of the amp, there is a large toroidal transformer, while a PSU and the audio circuit are placed on the other one. The input is selected in airtight relays and then transmitted to an integrated resistor ladder PGA2311 – this element has gain equal to 1. The elements where all the gain is achieved are the LM3886 integrated circuits attached to the aluminum plate that I was talking about – in this way, the whole aluminum chassis performs the function of a radiator. The audio circuit is extremely short.

CLONES Audio amps are handmade, even including the soldering of SMD elements in the circuit – the company has been using them since it developed the AP2 preamp. Funjoe says that he loves SMD elements, as they may make the signal path much shorter.

We also get a remote control with the amp. It is small and only features a few buttons, which makes it easy to use. It allows the user to change the volume level, input, as well as “mute” the output.


THE WAY WE LISTENED The CLONES audio 25iRX amp was tested using the HIGH FIDELITY reference system. It stood on its own feet on the upper shelf of the Finite Elemente Master Reference Pagode Edition rack. Signal was sent to the Harbeth M40.1 speakers using the NOS Western Electric WE16GA cables with Eagle Cables BFA connectors made of gold-plated beryllium copper.

Signal from the CD-35 HF Edition SACD player was transmitted using the Crystal Cable Absolute Dream interconnects. The power cable was the Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version. I connected artificial ground (NORDOST QKORE6) to one of the available RCA inputs of the amp.

Albums used in the test | a selection

⸜ CAROLE KING, Tapestry, Ode Records/Epic/Sony Music Labels SICP-10120, “We Got Rock! Series”, 7” SACD/CD (1971/2017)
⸜ DIRE STRAITS, Brothers in Arms, Vertigo/Mobile Fidelity Labs UDSACD 2099, „Original Master Recording, Special Limited Edition | No. 1808”, SACD/CD (1985/2013)
⸜ JEAN-MICHEL JARRE, Magnetic Fields, Dreyfus Disques/Epic EPC 488138 2, CD (1981/1997)
⸜ JOACHIM MENCEL, Brooklyn Eye, Origin Records 82806, Master CD-R (2020);
⸜ MILES DAVIS , Live-Evil, Sony Records Int'l SICJ 10012~3, 7-inch nimi LP, 2 x SACD/CD (1971/2020)
⸜ PIOTR WYLEŻOŁ, Human Things, Polskie Nagrania | Warner Music Polska 9029570037, „Polish Jazz vol. 79”, Master CD-R (2018)
⸜ SANTANA, Santana, Columbia/Sony Records Int'l ‎SICP-10134, 7-inch mini LP, SACD/CD (1968/2020)
⸜ TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO, Blues for Tee, Three Blind Mice/JVC TBM XR 0041, XRCD2 (1975/2000)


ONE OF THE FEATURES OF BOTH PREVIOUS versions of the ‘25R’ amp was their amazing ability to bring out emotions hidden in music on demand, without any preparations and tricks. It was done using beautiful colors and great dynamics. The agility and liveliness of sound was in stark contrast to the small size and limited power of these devices. However, the 25i and 25iR were both able to start and stop woofers equally quickly – it was “in their blood”, thanks to excellent current capability.

It is still the same. Even though the output power of the 25iRX is only 30W/8 Ω, it doubles at 4 Ω and this is how only the most powerful amps behave. However, it is not a device that would “overexpose” recordings. Its selectivity is not something we would pay attention to, as it focuses on fluidity and density (I understand ‘selectivity’ as the ability to show two sounds closely placed to each other on a stage and scale; selectivity can be too high, leading to unnatural exposure of details).

So, while listening to Master CD-Rs with JOACHIM MENCEL’s and PIOTR WYLEŻOŁ’s recordings, burnt for me at the studio of their mastering specialist, Mr Mateusz Sołtysik, I heard very good focus, fluidity, as well as a lot of details, though not fully extracted, but merged into the whole musical message. It is one of the features of these albums – they were mixed and mastered in the Pro Tools environment, i.e. “in-the-box”. It makes it possible to maintain signal resolution, as we do not move from the digital to the analog domain (to the mixing console) and back to the digital one, but extinguishes “liveliness” a bit.

The tested amp showed this nicely, but did not contribute anything to slow it down further. It was very good, coherent and dense sound, but without the openness known from the jazz recordings from the 1950s, made by Rob DuNann or Rudy Van Gelder. However, the CLONES audio amp may sound really open, but does it in its own way, like when I played TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO Blues for Tee album, recorded during a concert at the Misty club in Tokyo.

The then young pianist (the album was originally released in 1975 when Yamamoto was 27) played the piano placed on a small stage, around which tables and places to sit were arranged; the instrument was recorded using two Neumann U-87 microphones. So, on this album one can hear both the instruments and the audience well, the latter reacting to the performance very emotionally, untypically for the Japanese.

One of the features of Three Blind Mice recordings (the abovementioned album was released with the catalogue number TBM41) is their incredible selectivity, but not by itself – accompanied by equally good resolution. This very relationship, i.e. the balance between openness and saturation, was shown by Funjoe’ amp at once, without thinking, with a smooth transition from the warmer and more closed sound of the previous albums.

The first two albums were digitally recorded, mixed and mastered, while Blues for Tee was recorded in the analog domain onto a 4-track Ampex tape recorder and analog-mixed onto a stereophonic Philips tape recorder working at the speed of 76 cm/s. I listened to its digital XRCD2 analog-remastered version.

I am writing about the techniques used in such detail, as the amp from Hong Kong, even though it sounds smooth and warm (yes, it does sound warm), shows such things flawlessly. In a similar way, it also demonstrated that Carole King’s album Tapestry that I listened to right afterwards is yet different – darker, less selective and “coarser”. Let me add that the version I have is SACD 7-inch.

| Our albums

⸜ CAROLE KING Tapestry

7-inch mini LP | SACD/CD (1971/2017)

CAROL JOAN KLEIN, using the stage name CAROLE KING, is an American singer, lyricist and composer, active on stage since 1958. She is one of the most successful music authors in the US who has created 118 hits that have been included in the Billboard Hot 100 and 64 hits featured on UK charts. As a performer, she was successful in the 1970s, when she released a series of albums on which she accompanied herself on the piano.

Tapestry is the second album in her career, released in December 1971. It became really popular, remaining No. 1 on the „Billboard” magazine chart for 15 weeks and staying on other various charts for 6 years! The material was recorded for Ode Records owned by Lou Adler in cooperation with JAMES TAYLOR who simultaneously recorded his own album entitled Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon . A similar group of musicians took part in recording both albums, e.g. Danny Kortchmar and JONI MITCHELL.

The album was recorded at Studio B, A&M Recording Studios in January 1971. It was produced by Adler and the material was recorded by HANK CICALO. Tapestry has been released many times and the Mobile Fidelity record label presented its SACD version in 2013. The one I would like to recommend to you is from the year 2018, though the material for it had been prepared much earlier, i.e. in 1999.

It is a hybrid SACD with stereophonic and multi-track (5.1) material with a beautiful 7-inch mini LP cover. The new remix from analog “master” tapes was made by VIC ANESINI at Sony Music Studios, while the master was prepared by STEVE HALL at Future Disc Systems. Let me ad that the cover photo was taken by A&M’s photographer Jim McCrary at Carole King’s home in Laurel Canyon. The photo shows her cat Telemachus. The graphic design of this version included the covers of singles that were released in Japan.

THE THING IS THAT THE 25iRX AMP, on the one hand, shows differences between albums very well, brings out their individual sound and reaches emotions recorded on them. On the other hand, however, it has its own vision of what it should look like. So, it is rather warm sound without a hint of cold and even in the case of recordings that may sometimes sound bright, the amp enforces its vision. We know this is different from the sound of saturated recordings, but it is not as clear as with the amps that are more open in terms of tone color. However, it is not about the sound being closed, either. As I said while talking about the Three Blind Mice album, the amp is able to show sonorous, strong and dynamic piano strike.

It is also very dynamic sound. Be it small jazz, rock, or electronic music – all the albums that I listened to were played with strength and energy. However, it was not energy by itself, for itself. The CLONES audio amp builds the musical message as if it was scaffolding that everything is based on. It is the core which supports the remaining elements, but one that keeps everything together, without allowing the parts to fall apart.

Finally, there is stereophony. What Funjoe does with LM3886 circuits is unique. Apparently, he understands, likes and knows how to use them in order to achieve the desired result. However, even he cannot “break” the basic rules of technology which are audible in imaging. It is an amp which neither presents broad sound planes, nor builds a very deep sound stage. It is not bad – well, it is even very good – but this is not the amp’s forte.

The musical message is focused, while the most important elements are the foreground and what is situated on the listening axis. The elements located there are the most saturated and have the biggest volume. Anyway, sound volume with this amp is exceptional, simply big. That means sound has momentum, mass and substance. Its deep and low bass emphasizes this – it is warm and not especially selective, but excellently connected with the rest of the bandwidth – it never exists by itself, in separation. The amp excellently differentiated the double bass from Yamamoto’s album, JARRE’S electronic music and the bass guitar from Carole King’s album.

| Conclusions

My plan was to test the CLONES audio amp solely using 7-inch mini LP albums. The packaging of such an album placed on the amp would cover it entirely, even with a little margin outside the chassis. There are quite many such albums, so I would have a choice. However, Funjoe’s amp led me through this journey along its own paths.

Well, it is a very interesting device, indeed. It is incredibly musical – but also energetic, warm – but sonorous, delicate – but showing big sound volume. Even though the 25iRX sounds in its own way, it differentiates between recordings really well and allows us to enjoy them. We will not get all the details included in an album and selectivity will only be good. However, it is not a mistake, but an idea for the whole thing.

The tested device is excellently well-made, small and embodies the rule: “less is more”. It is ideologically closest to Buddhist Zen and the Japanese love for emptiness – amor vacui, while in terms of sound it is closest to the ideal of a small and excellently designed tube amp. It is really something!

Technical specifications

Output power:  up to 30 W / 8 Ω
Input impedance: 100 kΩ
Gain: 30 dB
Dimensions (W x H x D): 190 x 170 x 130 mm
Weight: 6 kg
Warranty: 2 years


Reference system 2020

1) Loudspeakers: HARBETH M40.1 |REVIEW|
2) Line preamplifier: AYON AUDIO Spheris III Linestage |REVIEW|
3) Super Audio CD Player: AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF Edition No. 01/50 |REVIEW|
4) Stands (loudspeakers): ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom) |ABOUT|
5) Power amplifier: SOULUTION 710
6) Loudspeaker filter: SPEC REAL-SOUND PROCESSOR RSP-AZ9EX (prototype) |REVIEW|
7) Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|


Analog interconnect SACD Player - Line preamplifier: SILTECH Triple Crown (1 m) |ABOUT|
Analog interconnect Line preamplifier - Power amplifier: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RCA-1.0 Absolute-FM (1 m) |REVIEW|
Speaker cable: SILTECH Triple Crown (2.5 m) |ABOUT|

AC Power

Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - SACD Player: SILTECH Triple Crown
Power (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Line preamplifier - ACOUSTIC REVIVE
Power Reference Triple-C (2 m) |REVIEW|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Power amplifier - ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Power Receptacle - Mains Power Distribution Block: ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power Receptacle: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE |REVIEW|
Anti-vibration platform under Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE: Asura QUALITY RECOVERY SYSTEM Level 1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RPC-1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RAS-14 Triple-C |REVIEW|
Passive filter EMI/RFI: VERICTUM Block |REVIEW|


Speaker stands: ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom)
Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|
Anti-vibration platforms: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RAF-48H |ARTICLE|

  • HARMONIX TU-666M "BeauTone" MILLION MAESTRO 20th Anniversary Edition |REVIEW|


Phono preamplifier: Phono cartridges: Tonearm (12"): Reed 3P |REVIEW|

Clamp: PATHE WINGS Titanium PW-Ti 770 | Limited Edition

Record mats:


Headphone amplifier: AYON AUDIO HA-3 |REVIEW|

Headphones: Headphone Cables: Forza AudioWorks NOIR HYBRID HPC