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IKARUS INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER
reviewed by Ernie Fisher THE INNER EAR REPORT CANADA
It seems that most upscale manufacturers are building an integrated amplifier nowadays. As one can see in this issue, the industry - not TIER - is bombarding North America's audio consumers with functional straight forward preamp/amp combinations which are designed unsegregated, as one unit. Reminds one of the old days of audio when amps and tuners were sold separately, perhaps for other reasons than the ones which come to mind in the current market. In the old days, the integrated amplifier was successfully sold to consumers who wanted a little more flexibility with an eye on the upgrading to more power, without upgrading the tuner. What was true then, may still be used as a guide to buy an audio system currently. For example, if you are a casual radio listener, tuners may be of little importance to you and a small, low-priced unit will do the job. If you happen to be an FM enthusiast, your priorities change significantly and you'll wish to blow quite a few bucks on the tuner, although you may wish to acquire an uncomplicated amplifier. In the nineties market with all of the stereo video equipment on the market, an integrated amplifier to be used with an upscale video system, is the answer to your prayers. Additionally, if you have a high-end audio system that, by virtue of its quality established a criterion, you couldn't possibly live with multi-chip receivers or amplifiers of poor quality. And then there is the convenience and simplicity of operation. The nineties integrated amplifier offers a lot more quality, contributing sound for the audiophile, previously available only with separates. The Ikarus under review here is one such design. A little background information for those of you, not familiar with MAS. The initials stand for Metaxas Audio Systems. Kostas Metaxas, head of MAS, has designed some of the current high-end audio industry's components. He's been at it for over ten years, although MAS products have been available in North America for on about one year. TIER has reviewed one of the power amps, the Iraklis (Vol 4, #3) and one preamplifier, the Charisma (Vol. 4, #4). These components, new to us then, have since become known to audiophiles across the land. We understand that many more products are in the planning stages and considering the many famous Greek mythological figures, the next few years will be busy ones for MAS, eh? Let's get to the meat.
The Ikarus is a small, sleek looking unit, boasting an antimagnetic stainless steel outside casing. An elegant anodised black front faceplate is offset by its controls, which are machined out of a solid block of aluminium. These beautiful knobs represent the controls for (from left to right) the volume, the balance, the muting, the tape monitor and the input selector. All in all, the Iraklis presents an appearance of uncluttered refinement. It literally spells out "touch me, feel me", and that's what we did, to see if its appearance matches the sonic performance, the sound.
This amplifier sounds as good as it looks. It's got that tonal elegance, better described as urbane musically. Provided that the back-up components are of good quality, listener can expect lush, well reproduced sounds closely akin to vacuum tubes. This tube-like character prevails from the bass frequencies right up into the upper midrange area. Do not, repeat, DO NOT presume that tubes sound veiled or ill defined in these areas. Rather, the Ikarus has the seductive musicality, usually associated with tube separates. We mean it's very nice and very revealing. The highs are a bit more solid-state-like. They aren't quite as silky smooth as with tubes, although they aren't offensively hard or overly bright - just a touch coarser. Considering the restricted power output, (40 watts per channel) the MAS manages a thoroughly convincing bass. Richly potent, bass resolution suffer only in the lowest regions, and only when one compares its performance with more expensive separate components. The midrange offers clear, yet smoothly executed detail. The unit's presentation of a sound-stage is astounding. All dimensions are faithfully reproduced with the appropriate focal impact. There is enough air around instruments and voices to beguile even seasoned listeners. As with all electronics, there are faults. We auditioned the Ikarus with Ethera Vitae loudspeakers. These speakers are not very efficient, but they could be driven to about an 88 dB sound pressure level and that is it. Full stop. We had the gain up to the MAS' maximum position, but we could' t extract one more dB. To its credit, the Ikarus never distorted. However, if one would desire higher volume levels, the use of a more efficient pair of loudspeakers is recommended. We tried them with a pair of Cambers and drove them to about 98 dB, loud enough to disturb the neighbours. This phenomenon relates to the way the unit had been designed. Rather than offer more gain with added distortion, Metaxas chose to limit the amplifier's passive preamp stage, thereby assuring superb performance. At low volume levels, the unit stays within its class A operating range, which is to say that an advanced degree of musical sophistication is available to listeners who prefer lower volume levels. Similar to the Acurus in design principle, the preamp stage of the Ikarus has practically no buffer stages (there is a small, almost distortion-free circuit). Unfortunately, we cannot present a more in-depth technical description at this time. We know that the Ikarus is basically an Iraklis power amp with a small preamp section. The unit offers high-level inputs only, although an optional phono stage for MM and MC cartridges is available. Other than that, and worthwhile mentioning here, is that the Ikarus is equipped with excellent quality parts, right to the gold-plated RCA's. A 2 amp fast blow fuse protects the amp from short-circuited terminal abuse. A 2 amp slow blow main fuse protects the output stages.
Synopsis & Commentary:
Nice to see another fine product from this rather strange Australian-Greek company. We get a chuckle out of MAS's use of Greek mythological figures, hence the smart-ass reference at the beginning of this report. We can't help but ask what prompted Metaxas to name an amplifier IKARUS. Mythology tells us that he is the one who attempted to fly, by using bird feathers fastened into the wings with wax. When he came too close to the sun, the wax melted and Ikarus crashed to his death. We certainly hope that this won't happen with the amplifier; you know - flying high and all that. Well, in an honesty, this amplifier should fly - as the marketing people say, It's good, it's very good. It isn't cheap and it isn't for everyone. It does however, offer musicality, workmanship and sonic sophistication equated to its price.