Product: AudioSophia I 50jm - solid state integrated amplifier
Manufacturer: AudioSophia - Italy
Approx. price.: 2080 € (YMMV)
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Reviewed: April, 2005
AudioSophia is a new Italian HiFi Company located in Padova. Despite being a "new kid on the block" their catalogue is already rich and interesting: two integrated amplifiers, a no-compromise phono preamp, three loudspeakers (2 floorstanding and a bookshelf) plus a pletora of cables.
The I-50jm under test is a solid state 50 watts/channel amplifier and is their "base" model. Its bigger brother, the I-50j, is a more refined design. Apparently similar, the latter costs twice as much. The main differences are hidden "under cover": the I-50j is entirely built by hand and totally air-wired with proprietary wires (a mix of silver and platinum).
The I-50jm under test is built on a standard PCB layout instead. Even the power supply sections are quite different: the model under test uses 4 x 10,000 uF caps while its bigger brother sports a massive 100,000 uF filtering capacity.
These are the main claimed tech specs:
This I-50jm is extremely fascinating, even when still inside its box. Please understand me, after having to deal with oversized and overweight HiFi components, this small amplifier is a real relief. Easy to handle, lightweight and user-friendly: my first "contact" with the I-50jm has been 100% positive. Out of the box, this electronic beauty is more and more fascinating: small (30x32x7 cm!!!), luxurious and finished like an Italian jewel the I-50jm is - without doubt - one of the HiFi components with the highest WAF I've ever come across. Trust me, pics don't tell the truth. Even those who don't like the polished aluminium style can't help but appreciate this work of art.
A glowing blue led lights up when the unit is powered on, via a big rotating knob, sized as the input selector. Just 3 line inputs is all you get. A sophisticated external phono preamp is available if required. A big user-friendly knob adjusts volume...and that's all.
Everything is made out of solid thick (1.5 cm!) excellently polished aluminium. On the rear panel you find the usual RCA connectors and speakers binding posts. Also available is a standard IEC mains socket so to make mains cables upgrades easy. No "el cheapo" rubber feet have been used. Again, four, massive, aluminium feet (with a rubber core) complete the sexy package.
Having a look at the inside you can't avoid to notice the extremely clean and simple layout. The power supply section is entirely separated from the power and preamp stages, even via a thick aluminium (again!) panel. The toroidal transformer is a Made in Italy Teca component, caps are from Elna, the volume pot is a blue ALPS unit while the output stage makes use of J162 and K1058 mosfets.
The preamp section is entirely passive and the input selector has been installed as close as possible to the RCA inputs, so to minimize signal path. Summarizing, every detail makes one think this amplifier has been designed with great care and maniacal attention.
Have I already written I like this amp? No? So let me put this straight: this is a really amazing product, designed and finished like the best things in the market, easy to use, classy and wife-friendly :-)
That said, let's discover how does it sound.
The AudioSophia I-50JM has been tested for several months and compared, besides my usual reference amps, with two Italian integrated amps in the same price league: the Monrio MC 207 and the STAT Audio S201 (soon a listening test on TNT-Audio). As "unconventional" reference I've also used the "notorius" Sonic Impact T-Amp, a diminutive amplifier that can cause harassment to many mid-class integrateds.
Does form follow function or is it viceversa? The fact is this amplifier sounds exactly like it looks: precious, elegant, agile. Even at a first "glance" one immediately notices this amp is capable of a classy sound: harmonically rich, precise and tonally correct.
Its tonal balance is, indeed, on the neutral side, with a quick and tight bass range. First octave extension is very good though it may appear a bit "lightweight". Electric bass and drums sound fast and controlled, with lively attacks and decays. Perhaps some of the "full body" effect is missing but the overall performance is extremely enjoyable and emotionally involving.
After the first month of tests I received an e-mail from AudioSophia asking how was it going :-) I just replied with: "Guys, I'm having fun!" and this is one of the best things one can say about any HiFi component. The "YAWN-factor", as I call it, was surely very close to zero. Any reviewer may become bored with listening tests: they are difficult, annoying and mentally fatiguing (sooo many comparisons, tracks, parameters etc.). But, when the I-50jm was in place, my mind was relaxed and focused on Music alone. Need I say more.
The mid and the high range appear to be clean and crystal clear. There's no much space left to euphony though. This does not mean the amp sounds "cold" or "dry". Instead, a kind of underlying sweetness pervades the whole audio spectrum. For make things clearer, let's compare it to a natural competitor, the Monrio MC207 integrated amplifier. The high range of the Monrio is more pronounced and evident, as is the bass range. On the other hand, it may sound harsher and slower, when compared to the I-50jm. The Audiosophia amp sounds more agile yet somehow lighter. There's no trace of harshness, no excessive sibilants, no loss of control. Despite being quite analytical, it never becomes hyper-detailed. On background voices, for example, one may desire even more introspection and detail retrieval.
The usual audiophile parameters (looks and weight) may suggest this amp is unable to deliver good power and impressive dynamics. Don't judge the book by the cover!!! This integrated amplifier has very good "electrical" virtues, even when partnered with hard to drive loudspeakers. Actually, the specs claim it can drive without troubles loads as low as 2 Ohm! Despite its size and weight, it can sound loud, fast, dynamic and punchy. I feel the best adjective that should be used to describe its dynamic performance is "rythmic". Its sound respects the correct musical timing and pace while retains control even at very high listening levels.
Moreover, with highly dynamic demanding musical genres, the I-50jm invites to turn that volume higher and higher. Be it rock, trip-hop, symphonic or electronic, this amp is able to sound lively and sparky. When required it can rock or caress, depending on your mood and on musical program.
Rigour and precision certainly help in building a realistic 3D image and this amplifier is no exception to this rule.
It can reproduce a wide and solid three-dimensional soundstage, with good depth and richness of details. Soloists and singers are placed with great precision inside the soundstage, with no trace of "blurring" or "waving".
Excessive stereophonic left to right effects aren't so spectacular hence some "made to impress" recording may appear more natural than it actually is :-)
No surprise, this behaviour is exactly coherent with the character of this amplifier: always correct and controlled, it does nothing to "impress" the listener. More Music and less Hifi, I'd say.
Besides the usual advice on break-in and warm-up there's not much to say. I've noticed the amplifier is quite mains-cable dependent. Its rigour and precision can unveil even tiny differences between mains cables. I've not had the possibility to try AudioSophia mains cables (one of theirs looks terribly close to our TNT-TTS...) but I've had good results with a massive oversized
TNT Merlino and with the Eichmann mains cable.
I've had no problems of speakers matching, this amplifier has always been able to drive everything with ease. The AudioSophia team claims one should use their loudspeakers in order to get the best out of this unit but I've had good luck (and lots of fun) with Merlin and Thiel as well :-)
The whole cabinet acts as a heat radiator hence, even under severe use, this amp runs pretty cool. Consider there are no air grids! The thick feet allow good air circulation even beneath the unit. This means installation isn't a concern, especially if you consider the amp is 100% dust-proof (being hermetically sealed).
Manufacturing and finish. Cool and nicely finished, the I-50jm has something which is completely out of "tune": the speakers binding posts! Though being of good quality (even if not CE-compliant) they are placed too close one to the other and offer no firm grip to the fingers. If you use forks or bare wire...you'll be in trouble, man. Consider there's room left for my 3-years old daughter's fingers only! OK, it is true that once fitted, the speaker cables will stay in place for a long time. No serious audiophile will swap speaker cables as a reviewer does. Anyway, this aspect may need some extra care by the designer. Thumbs down for that.
The (very nice) RCA females are conveniently spaced, instead.
In a 2000 € integrated amplifier a remote control should be mandatory. I'm not a fan of remotes but the average audiophile may lack the presence of a remote-controlled volume and input selector.
The owner's manual, perhaps a preliminary version, is extremely simple and "cheap": 4 A4 xerox-copy sheets of paper hold together with a steel nail. Hopefully the AudioSophia team will release a more appropriate version.
The unit comes with a 3 years full warranty. You will find more infos on the nice AudioSophia website (available even in English).
Any audiophile with more than 3 sources or with a tape deck/CD recorder will be in trouble: just 3 line inputs and no tape output.
Two words about the 2000 € price tag. Perhaps, if you are used to put in relation price with power output you'll find this amplifier rather expensive. On the other hand, if you take into proper account the quality of the components and of the manufacturing plus the fact it is entirely designed and made in Italy (not somewhere in China) with many "proprietary" features you may find its price tag more than adequate. Furthermore, if you consider the way it sounds, many competitors may be seriously harassed.
Sound. I've done nothing to hide that I liked this amp very much. It is fun to listen, generally correct, fast and dynamic. In my personal "wish list" there's a beefier bass range and a slightly better introspection, especially on voices. Euphonic and warm sound lovers may find it excessively rigorous.
This is my first listening test of an amplifier after I reviewed the T-Amp. Many of you may desire to know how this amp performs against the small giant-killer. Anyway, don't expect every future review will contain such a section, that would be ridiculous. I should devote a separate section for any comparison I make during my tests. For example, any integrated amplifier gets compared with the NAD 3120, the Naim Nait 1 etc. that is, against what I consider some of the best sounding integrated amplifiers ever made.
Anyway, here are my findings: the AudioSophia I-50jm has more "weight" and body than the T-Amp and, of course, has much better dynamic properties (eaaasy, that's 50 watts against 6 :-)). That said, the T-Amp takes its revenge in terms of introspection and voices reproduction. It sounds slightly harder ...but it is still damn embarassing :-)
Of course, the comparison is unfair, considering the different price tag, features and target.
This is not a good situation for our HiFi niche-market. Especially here in Europe, the introduction of the Euro has dramatically reduced average audiophiles' "purchase power". Moreover, many extremely inexpensive products are available for direct sale from China. For these reasons, it is a nice surprise to know that new, brave Companies hit the market with serious products and clear goals in mind.
Let me say it is not so usual to find such high standards of industrial design and sound in a "newbie" like this I-50jm. Hats off!
Copyright © 2005 Lucio Cadeddu - www.tnt-audio.com