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Integrated amplifier


Clones Audio

Manufacturer: CLONES production
Price: 629 USD (+VAT)


Country of origin: Hong Kong

A man is a creature that measures everything by its own yard-stick. Anything that he can't comprehend is too big/fast/deep and he doesn't even bother to try to imagine that. We are simply wired this way by evolution. When it comes to audio we are also wired in certain way that makes us assume that a bigger product is also a better one. And sure there is some solid ground for that believe that comes from experience. The bigger driver the better bass extension, the more air in the room can be moved by it. The bigger power supply (and thus whole device), the better performance in terms of dynamics shifts and bass.
But on the other hand people from outside our audiophile's world surely see our toys as TOO big. That is also not an objective evaluation but simply our toys are much bigger than anything they are used to, which are usually some mini, or even micro stereo systems, designed to work with iPods/iPads as sources of sound. From their point of view everything that is bigger than standard shoe box is ridiculously over-sized. We, after listening to some top-high-end systems, know that in highend size matters and there is no way around it – bigger is better. It will change if we are ready to accept some limitations. For example if we don't particularly care about bass extension, and what matters most is midrange than we could chose products of Japanese 47labs and be happy with the sound till the end of our life. Assuming, of course, that we can afford these products. If we can't there are some other options like building our own system, or buy one from one of many former DIY aficionados who decided to commercialize their activity. One of such companies is CLONES audio from Hong Kong – a company founded and owned by Mr Funjoe.

A short story of…
Funjoe | Clones Audio | właściciel

CLONES audio is a one man project. Producing the affordable staff can be easy to enjoy, but it is the music that is my true goal. My current range includes amplifiers which were inspired by 47labs Gaincard, so I might say these are gain clone products. I was a true fan of the 47labs products. I used to have the 47treasure 0247 and 0347, also got their Lens speakers too. I liked the concept very much. One day my father came to listen to my 47labs system. He was an audiophile himself and he played a blues guitar too. After listening to my system he wanted the same setup for himself. But he thought that the 47labs products were quite expensive. I was thinking about buying a 2nd hand Gaincard for him but I found out it was difficult to come by one in a good price, at least in Hong Kong. So I did the second thing that came to my mind – I build a system myself as a birthday present for my father. I knew that there were many people building their own gain clones but not many of them really managed to get the soul of it. Many of them tried to build their gain clones using audiophile proved parts. I tried that too but I didn't think it was better. Then I tried to do it in a simple way. After the trials full of errors and successes I finally arrived at my own version of the gain clone. I decided for a new layout and a tiny case to make the signal path simpler, more direct. Finally I was ready with a gift for my father, and since I was happy with my achievement I felt that it would be good to share that with others. So I decided to make a small batch for sale. I make each unit by hand to ensure its best performance. I would like to sell it with an affordable price to give more people an opportunity to take the first step in their journey into audio world. Also having my own production was my dream and I really wanted to show my son that dreams might become true… CLONES audio was announced at 12/12/12 (Dec 12 2012) and my son was born 5 days later…. To have more time to focus on the development and managing CLONES I quit my day time job (I was a Graphic Designer) and invested all my time to CLONES business last July.

47labs name came up at the very beginning of this text because Mr Funjoe is a great fan of this brand. And when it came to building an amplifier for his father he chose a project that was available in many versions in the Internet, a DIY version of Gaincard amp (you can find more information in a „” text from January 2013, see HERE). When you take a look at a very solid chassis of his product made of aluminum plates it will be quite obvious that Mr Funjoe really cares about aesthetics That's a difference between DIY guys and professional manufacturers, even very small ones. To be honest not all the professionals can match CLONES audio products in terms of quality of make and finish of their products.
The name of 25i amplifier already suggest an output power of this device – it's 25W per channel and also a type of an amp, as „i” stands for ‘integrated’. This is quite a small device of a size of Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold D/A converter (see HERE). That means that 25i is in fact bigger than original Gaincard – its height grew bigger. The design is similar though – whole circuit is build on two small boards that are soldered directly to an amplifier circuit LM3875, that in fact is a heart of both devices – original from Japan, and the one that is under review.

Recordings used for this test (a selection)

  • Coleman Hawkins, The Hawk Flies High, Riverside/Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2030, SACD/CD (1957/2006).
  • Depeche Mode, Should Be Higher, Columbia Records 758322, SP CD (2013).
  • Diorama, Child Of Entertainment, Accession Records, A 119, SP CD (2010).
  • Dire Straits, Dire Straits, Vertigo/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UICY-40008, Platinum SHM-CD (1978/2013).
  • Judy Garland, The Very Best of Judy Garland. The Capitol Recordings, Capitol/EMI 3792202, 3 x CD (1955-1965/2007).
  • Nat “King” Cole, Welcome to the Club, Columbia/Audio Fidelity AFZ 153, SACD/CD (1959/2013).
  • Niemen, Katharsis, Polskie Nagrania Muza/Polskie Radio PRCD 339, „Niemen od początku, nr 9”, CD (1976/2003).
  • Tangerine Dream, Electronic Meditation, Cherry Red Records/Belle, 121941, SHM-CD + CD (1970/2012).
  • The Beatles, The Beatles [The White Album], Apple/EMI Music Japan TOCP-51119-20, “EMI 100”, 2 x CD (1968/2000).
Japanese versions of CDs and SACD are available at

The audio world is really about truly passionate people, those who love music, build large collections of best/various versions of the music they love, and those who search for a system that would allow them to enjoy the music in the best possible, the most „accurate” way. Some say these are two sides of a coin, but the truth is that at least sometimes these two sides come together and usually the result is quite special – stars shine brighter, grass is greener and so on. How can you recognize such a dedicated, driven guy who's a music lover and an audiophile at the same time? Have a look at his/hers music collection. Today it's not about how many records and/or CDs they have as we live in a brave new world where significance of computer audio grows every day, so you might want to check their files collection too. If you find there a lot of the best available issues of these people's favorite recordings this might be a good indication. Obviously they will have couple of different editions of the same recordings, as they search for the best one, and they will ensure you that their search for the best one is still not finished, because other aficionados in their search for perfect sound come up with new technologies, solutions that allow to improve technical quality of many recordings even further.
How do you recognize a passionate audio equipment designer/manufacturer? By the sound of his creations.

25i, regardless of how small it is, how short its name is, how inexpensive it seems, it delivers a sound of a quality that many other much better known audio manufacturers would be impressed with. Many of them, while chasing high output power, impressive functionality and/or versatility, lose something on the way. It might be a palpability of the sound, a so called „flow”, which stands for liquidity and naturalness, or sometimes they lack proper dynamics. It is quite some paradox that the bigger output power many amplifiers in up to, say, 10.000 PLN price range offer, the flatter, smaller their sound seems. Not all of them, of course, but you have to look really hard to find some that can offer these qualities that 25i has to offer.
This amplifier offers impressively large sound which is very natural too. There is a bit of warmth is the upper midrange and treble which makes most recordings sound „listener-friendly”. It doesn't mean that you can't hear if there is something wrong with particular recording – you can, but Clones Audio seems to „chose” to focus on the good sides of such recording. Considering the price of this device the way it differentiates recordings is simply amazing, although it involves some compromises When, for example, a vocal is compressed, when it was taken with a microphone from a very, very close proximity, that 25i delivers a bit hardened upper midrange, but everything below that range also sounds nice, which is not the case with other, larger amplifiers, whose designers tried to be more accurate. But with the reviewed amp vocals are always large and rich.

But it doesn't mean that all sound the same. Judy Garland from The Capitol Recordings 1955-1965 box, who was recorded in a not so close way, with some reverb was presented in exactly this way, Her voice wasn't enlarged by amp, it didn't make her voice sound smoother or more intimate than it really was. On the other hand it did „enhance” sound of electronic instruments on both Tangerine Dream's Electronic Meditation and Niemen's Katharsis. There is a lot of very rich energy in a lower midrange, and quite powerful upper bass in both of them and 25i „spotted” that and „enhanced” it even further. A result was a very energetic, dense presentation. On one hand it seems rather warm, and „rounded”, but on the other dynamics was great, and a differentiation of tonality and spacing was nothing short of impressive.
Other example – voices and instruments on The White Album by the Beatles and Coleman Hawking's The Hawk Flies High are recorded close, are very rich, not compressed at all, then they are shown with large volume, close to listener, and they occupy quite a large part of space between speakers.
Mr Funjoe's amplifier creates a world that is better than reality. But it doesn't exaggerate, it doesn't sweet it up too much, and if it does it rather uses honey than sugar. What's the difference? Both are used to make something sweeter, but honey serves your health unlike sugar, and it makes thing sweeter in a more subtle way.

You can easily tell the difference listening to the music with 25i in your system. This amp offers rather warm sound. But it does it in a way that doesn't just make us accept it, it makes us like it. I think that this is a way of presenting music that designers of NAD's models like: 3020, 302, 312 and so one wanted to achieve, but they never actually did. Their devices on the other hand were more versatile, less prone to clipping, capable of driving many more different speakers, also in large environments. These are all advantages of NAD equipment, and I have to admit that this is one of the most successful manufacturers when it comes to designing inexpensive devices offering decent sound quality. Let's be honest – it is easier for small companies that don't have large laboratories, don't have to run big marketing plans, big sales network and so on, and run direct sales, so don't have to share profits with distributors, dealers and so on. To be clear – there is nothing wrong about it – that's how it works. There have to be „majors”, as there would be no audio market without them at all, or it would be a very, very small one. For many customers things like warranty, service,carried out preferably close to home are very important. On the other hand if you're OK with some „limitations” that come with products bought directly from manufacturers who often reside thousands of kilometers from you than usually spending the same amount of money you will get a better sounding product from them, and not from one of major manufacturers. Audio devices like Clones won't change audio world's hierarchy and won't cause bankruptcy of any major manufacturer. The few people who will decide to buy this products will be rewarded with an amazing sounding device that has its designer's personal touch all over it, and with a very nice feeling of having something unique.


Telling you about the sound of 25i was as pleasant as listening to it. I consider myself a passionate of both, music and audio equipment and when I get to listen to sound like this one I know that it was created by somebody who's also passionate about both.

His amplifier offers a large, rich, amazingly smooth sound across the whole band. Most likely it will not be the best partner for large speakers with powerful bass presentation. I mean you'd have to get used to not so perfect definition of a mid-bass when listening to recording with some emphasis on this part of range. The tracks of German group Diary of Dreams from Panik Manifesto, that plays a music described as dark wave, or electronic post-gothic, sounded quite nice, with clear midrange, but bass notes were sustained bit longer than expected basing on performance of other amplifiers from this price range. You can get used to it but I'd rather suggested using 25i with smaller speakers than my Harbeth M40.1. I found this amp from Hong Kong so interesting, that I already planned another listening session for it, but this time in a more „suitable” system, that might turn out to be a true „wet dream” of a music and audio equipment passionate. I did something like that (also with a small amplifier) some time ago, and you can read about it HERE. 25i will perform best in a small to mid-sized room. Not that its output power is so small but it sounds better if you don't push it to its limits. Then it presents a fabulous depth of a soundstage and it's something I haven't heard so far from any other device from this price range. Not even in mono recordings. It does not offer such a powerful attack, and such a big dynamics headroom as above mentioned Lym Audio LYM 1.0T Phono amplifier, but it's obvious that at this price level you can't have it all. It's a beautiful device and I mean both, from „inside”, because of how it „thinks” about music, and outside, especially when supported by some nice accessories.

The 25i amplifier and Elijah Audio Katoen interconnects both receive a RED Fingerprint award.

Since it received also a „6moons” magazine award, we have decided to award it also with common HighFidelity and Sixmoons award called BLUE Fingerprint. It is the second award of this kind ever granted.

I mentioned accessories before. 25i will do without them just fine, but there is more potential in it, that might be discovered if you use proper accessories. I used a few for this review, mostly well known to me plus Elijah Audio interconnects. I don't know whether this was a coincident or not, but 25i and hickory wood board that Mr Ken Ishiguro sent me together with his RR-777 created a very nice duet. Dimensions of this board matched perfectly 25i so I had no choice but to put this amp on it. 25I sports thee metal spikes, that are not very sharp so they're unlikely to scratch surface you put amp on, but it also means that don't offer any „grip” which means amp will move on every occasion. I didn't like that so I used brass spike receptables Acoustic Revive SPU4, and rubber insulators, CP-4, under these.

On top of the amplifier I placed two quartz insulators RIQ-5010. You might not believe that it works (although I suggest you try them first and judge later) but all these accessories made the amp positioning more stable, and gave it an extra look. I used Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version power cable. Test was conducted as an A/B comparison with A and B known. I used 2 min long music samples and whole pieces and albums. 25I drove during this test my own mighty Harbeth M40.1 speakers.

Elijah Audio | Katoen Interconnects

Hello Wojciech,

I am writing to ask if you may be interested in reviewing my new Katoen Interconnects. I am based in Adelaide, South Australia and started in reverse, as it were – starting with USB cables , now offering IC’s. My USB cables have been awarded and well reviewed and I believe the Katoens will receive similar positive comments.

I have been making various cables for myself for approx. 8 years , Elijah Audio started 18 months ago when a fellow Jplay forum member asked me to make him a USB cable after I had posted about using my own homemade USB cables. Those first few cables were built using Generic hook up wire, then I got hold of some Audience Cryo wire and could immediately hear a large improvement in the Sound Quality
The first cable I made commercially available was the ISOLATE Cu ( USB cable without the 5V, just DATA and GND) in very short 10cm lengths.
Next came the ISOLAATE BL – my Dual conduit cable with separate Data and Battery leads
Then the BPM, originally conceived to use with a USB Flashdrive holding your favorite music – only after building a couple did I realize the BPM could also be used to power the Hiface 1 ( and now also Hiface 2 and the new Hiface DAC etc) And lastly, the Quad Braid USB cable, for those whose particular setup’s are not compatible with either the ISOLATE or ISOLAATE BL. I have been using Peter Belt products in my own setup for about 5 years and heard very positive , if unexplainable benefits to the Sound Quality in my listening room – particularly a much more relaxed, natural sound – when I started building Elijah cables , I decided that I would use some of Peter’s products and techniques when constructing the cables My cables are DIY based, and all are designed using trial and error and continuous listening tests – no measurements – just “how does this variation sound compared with the last version”.
As I use no shielding in my cables, I keep the available lengths as short as possible and believe that this is a good rule of thumb for all cables – as short as possible and no shorter. I chose to use Eichmann Bullet plugs for the Katoen IC’s , as having used them before in my personal cables , I liked their sound and minimal design ( perhaps a bit of Patriotism as well, being an Aussie company) I plan to introduce Katoen style Speaker cable in the near future and trial some new ideas I have for improvements for my USB cables – experimenting with some different shielding methods, twist geometries, etc.
I make no claims, outrageous or otherwise about my cables – preferring to let their performance do the talking – I do however believe they are well built, fairly priced alternatives that do offer a unique sound quality – which is why I offer a 60 day Satisfaction Guarantee return policy on all my cables .

Usage of natural materials for audio cables has a long tradition and, if I remember correctly, was introduced by some Japanese companies. Later many other, usually small companies adopted this solution for their products. A Swedish company Entreq is a nice example of such manufacturer. Using natural materials is not easy, is time-consuming and often can be done only manually which is too much of a challenge for major players on cable market.
But such products offer a certain set of sonic features and it is easy to tell the difference between them and any other cables. Their sound is very smooth, rich, even dense. I can't say that Katoen cables are perfect – far from it. With a bit of luck for the same kind of money one could buy other cables that could offer a better resolution and a better balanced sound across the band. But most likely they will offer also brighter, harsher and surely not so rich sound. These Australian interconnects offered such a dense, rich, natural sound that some imbalance was absolutely acceptable and couldn't take the pleasure of listening to the music away. I truly loved these cables paired with Clones Audio 25i – that was an excellent match.
Downsides – sure, some like a slightly rolled off upper midrange, which makes sound darker. But that makes upper treble seem stronger. There is also slight emphasis on upper bass but that makes it sound more dynamic, with more drama. Bass drum and electronic instruments from Niemen's Katharsis, and Diary of Dreams' Panik Manifesto sounded really great with a lot of power and energy. These are very nice cables with their own sonic characteristic that might be perfect for those who seek smooth and natural sound..

Price: 220 USD/1 m


Most of DIY devices look bad, or very bad. The reason is very simple – designing and making a solid, nice-looking casing costs a lot, and that's usually too much for guys who build their own audio equipment. The 25i amplifier, although it originated from DIY environment was build in a similar way as Gaincart 47labs, and it looks equally nice. The casing is made of nicely fitting aluminum plates. There are two small knobs on the front panel – one for volume control, other for input selector (there are three of them). Srajan wrote in his text that he would have appreciated if a pre-out for a subwoofer was also available. It is understandable that it is not there – signal goes directly from an input to potentiometer, so in order to have a pre-out an active signal buffering circuit would have to be added. I, on the other hand, would appreciate a fixed output for a headphone amplifier, but it is not there so the same reason. A small green LED informs you whether the device is on. At the back there are two pairs of gold-plated speaker binding, similar to what you will find in most amp in this price range. The RCA sockets, model CMC-816U, are of much better quality. These are made by an American company CMC (Charming Music Conductor). There is an on/off switch next to the IEC socket. No standby mode. Amp sports three aluminum spikes without matching discs.

The electronic circuit bases on two LM3875. Signal path is extremely short because small PCB are soldered directly to LM3875. The latter are bolted to thick, aluminum plate, that divides inside space of the casing into two parts. One houses electronics, the other houses power supply with quite large toroidal transformer. A switch and a pot, both Alps, are fixed at the back of electronics chamber. There are long bolts going from knobs on front panel to them. Nice job.


Output power: 25 W+25 W (8 Ω)
Input impedance: 22 kΩ (RCA, 3 linear inputs)
Gain: 30 dB
S/N ratio: <95 dB (min.)
Dimensions:170 (w) x 100 (h) x 170 (d) mm
Weight: 4,2 kg
Warranty: 5 years

The review first appeared in English in, in November/December 2013 (see HERE)