Product: Pathos Classic One - 50 + 50 watt hybrid integrated amp
Manufacturer: Pathos - Italy
Approx price: 1.500 - 1900 $/Euro
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Reviewed: February, 2001
Pathos is an Italian Company which specializes in hybrid (tube + solid state) amplifiers and, generally, unorthodox HiFi components. Their motto is Pathos, the unorthodox approach. There's always something weird in their designs, the looks - first of all - and the circuits.
In this over-crowded HiFi world, you need to design and make "out of the bunch" stuff if you want the market notices you. There's no doubt the Pathos electronics have everything they need to catch your attention: weird looks, state of the art finish and craftsmanship and circuits that put them into a league of their own.
Pathos makes integrated amps (the Twin Towers and the Classic One under test), preamp and power amps, phono stages and a DAC.
The Classic One I'm about to tell you has NOTHING that recalls the idea of classic, it is unique.
It doesn't take much to convince yourself this is NOT a classic integrated amplifier. At first glance, it looks like a vintage tube amp, but a careful inspection reveals its inner secrets. Let's start from the "outside".
My first question, in front of the Classic One, has been: Did Federico Fellini(1) design HiFi amplifiers?". Yes, because of the gorgeous match of chrome, wood, signal red, gold and shiny black plexiglas, the Pathos Classic One seems to come out of one of the old Il Maestro's masterpiece movies. Shocking, in a word. Something like Mr. Fellini meets Silicon Valley :-)
There's no doubt this amps gets all the attention it deserves. What about the chromed power supply transformer and its 4 gold plated screws? Doesn't it look like a part of a Harley-Davidson engine? Wait, wait, there's more! Those BIG signal-red towers are....capacitors! Yes, made by Italcond in...Italy, these giants are 22,000 uF each, not bad for a 50 watts integrated amplifier, uh.
A metallic, still chromed, cage hides the output devices, which are of the solid state kind. Then you have tubes (Sovtek 6922 - ECC 8625), used in the preamp section and protected by small chromed grids. Everything sits atop a shiny black plexiglas plate.
Clearly not satisfied by the weird looks, the designer decided to add a hardwood front plate, where to host the gold plated volume and input selector knobs.
There are no marks to indicate the position of the knobs, so it is really hard, before you get used to, to find the right input or set the volume level to the usual position.
The explaination is simple: the designer didn't want to kill the clean aspect of the front plate. Call him radical, uh?
Now more gold, please. Look at the loudspeakers binding posts, then, or at the inputs in the rear. Everything is of high-quality and gold plated. More chrome, now, thanks. Hey, the WHOLE cabinet is chromed and polished like a mirror! Watch out for fingerprints!
To turn the Classic One on you have to press an old fashioned switch in the left. A red led glows to indicate the amp is ready to play. A small hole hides the IR sensor of the remote.
Now have a look at the rear: there's another transparent plexiglas plate that hides the markings of the inputs. Very sano, there's no possibility to scratch the writings when plugging/unplugging RCA connectors.
You have 3 classic line inputs + 1 balanced XLR + 1 tape loop. There's NO phono input.
And now let's dig into technical details. The Pathos Classic One is a hybrid integrated amplifier with a tube-equipped preamp stage and a solid state power stage. This delivers 50 watts (RMS) on a 8 Ohm load and 95 watts (RMS) on 4 ohm. Not enough? Well you can bridge the output stage to transform the Classic One into a 130 watt monoblock.
The output devices work in a hi-bias A/AB class which, roughly translated :-), means they work in class A for the first watts. Actually, the amp gets pretty hot. The internal wiring makes use of pure silver cables (call it "care for details"!!!) while the mains cord is of the detachable kind.
Then you have a remote control. No, not an usual remote, as you can guess. It is a block of hardwood with two tiny gold buttons. No markings, nothing else. It is just a volume control, no possibility to select inputs. Minimalist...and cool.
The Pathos Classic One is narrow and deep, think of a traditional 19" cabinet where the "face" plate is the narrow side.
The quality of the finish is something HARD to find even in competitors costing 2 or 3 times as much.
This Italian beauty has been tested for a couple of months with two different systems and 3 different pairs of speakers (2 floorstanders and a bookshelf)
(1) Federico Fellini, one of the most famous Italian movie directors. Among his masterpieces "La Dolce Vita", "Le notti di Kabiria", "8 e mezzo" and many others.
Hybrid amplifiers are every audiophile's secret dream. Following an old HiFi tale they should have both the pluses of the solid state gear and the pluses of tubes. Is it really so? Or is it the other way around (the minuses of solid state and tubes, put together into a terribly sounding unit)? :-)
Well, it may be and it mainly depends on the ability of the designer. He should know how to use tubes and how to use transistors. And, last but not least, he should be able to mix the two together, seamlessly. Not an easy task. Pathos designers have a long established tradition in designing good sounding hybrid amps and this Classic One (their baby) confirms their fame.
First of all, the "mix" between tubes and transistors is really seamless. There's no way you can guess you're listening to a hybrid amplifier as it has nothing of the classic plushy-mushy old tubey vintage sound.
The Classic One takes just the best from the two tubes, that is, their ability to extract and analyze any tiny detail of the signal that passes through them. It has that kind of fluid sound that makes you forget the sometimes grainy sound of cheap solid state amps. Just imagine a liquid flowing from the source right to your ears.
The general mood is on the bright side, open in the highs with a bass range which appears solid and "controlled". The Classic One has offered this kind of performance with any speaker I've hooked up, hence I'm pretty sure it is something hidden inside its DNA code.
For example, the cymbals are naturally metallic and splashy, with a rich harmonic content. You can distinctly hear the harmonics as they propagate after the cymbal has been hit. Poorly designed amplifiers just let you hear the sound of the cymbal as a one-key note (ever heard cheap car stereo tweeters?).
The mid range is rich in details and harmonic content, slightly bright and never cloudly or shut-in. Voices are clear, detailed and with a very good sense of being there.
The bass range reminds me the one of some old-fashioned British amp: controlled, even when it shouldn't be :-)
Let me explain this: in real life, the instruments that generate bass notes do not have that TIGHT feeling. Think of a pipe organ or a double bass: there's nothing "tight" and "controlled"...just sheer energy coming at you like a train at full speed. Your body vibrates and the note remains "in the air" for a while, and it dies after a long decay.
Not so with the Classic One: it wants to keep everything under control and while this is good most of the times with the lowest bass notes you feel something is lacking.
Energy, perhaps, proper decay for sure. Again, don't get me wrong: it is something you can experience with loudspeakers which are capable to produce REAL deep bass notes.
With dry and bright loudspeakers, this "controlled" and "open" behaviour of the Italian amplifier may result excessive and mostly unwelcomed. Avoid this kind of partnership and you'll be home, dry and safe.
While the Classic One exploits its tubes to get analiticity and inner detail, its solid state heart pumps current into your speakers. Fast when needed, this amp can follow the "tempo" of any musical program with Swiss precision while the dynamic gaps are filled with rigour.
This means the power supply has been cleverly designed and the 44,000 uF into the PSU make sure you won't ever run out of steam. Actually, this amp can sound pretty loud, even with low efficiency speakers and its driving prowess makes it an almost universal multi-purpose all-terrain amplifier.
Plus, if the membranes of your woofers have the bad habit to NOT brake after the musical input has gone....the Pathos is the amp for you. It will control the woofers better than an Italian cycling team coach does with his athletes. Are your speakers tired to play Music? Hook up the Classic One and smile :-)
In the microdynamics department the Italian amp makes wonders, thanks to its ability to extract, analyze and deliver any teeny-weeny musical variation.
The stage is proportionally correct though there's a slight tendence to sound a bit "forward". One may need some extra depth. Or, better, one is tempted to take the stage and move it completely behind the speakers.
Anyway, analiticity pays its dividends here and the Classic One is able to create several clearly defined virtual planes and put every detail into the right focus.
Any singer and/or instrument is precisely placed into the 3D stage, no "motion blur" or evanescent contours here.
To get 100% performance, let the amp on for 20 minutes at least. The tubes in the preamp stage need to reach the proper operating temperature. There's no need to leave the amp permanently on, as this will decrease tubes' life dramatically. This is what the Manufacturer says, so I'd suggest to follow his advice.
4 metallic feet allow decent air circulation below the cabinet and the "open" costruction helps keeping the amp to stay cool. Anyway, it is so beautiful I'm sure you will place it atop of the HiFi rack, so overheating won't ever be a problem :-)
The mains cable should be upgraded as soon as possible. No need to buy expensive power cords, even some good DIY design will get the job done (see our DIY Department for details).
I've not tried to use different tubes but it could be worth experimenting, especially with good NOS stuff.
Craftsmanship and finish: the Pathos Classic One is the most shocking and beautiful amp I've come across, bar none. The quality of the finish and of the craftsmanship is outstandingly world-class, a treat for any serious competitor.
It is so weird looking that either you love or hate it. Casual non-audiophile visitors of my listening room fell in love with it immediately. Anyway, it has a killer look so, perhaps, some relevant second-other may find it obstrusive into your living room. After all, there's no way to hide it: gold, chrome, wood and plexiglas form a mix that can be troublesome in a "classic" living room.
Anyway, this is of relative importance. We are here to detect any possible fault of the design. And it does have some :-)
For example, the loudspeakers binding posts are too visible, prominent and not insulated (remember they're NOT in the rear...) and hence you won't be able to hide your speaker cables, which are, normally, as ugly as they can be. Even worse, being so easy to reach, any metallic object could easily touch the posts, causing a short-circuit your amp (or speakers) may not appreciate much.
The chromed metallic grid that covers the output stage is an irresistible invitation for kids who will try to throw anything into it. Yes, this is true for any vented cabinet...but the metallic cage of the Pathos seems exactly a magic box where to hide any kind of toy. Not safe, for kids, first of all.
I have already remarked there's no way to understand in which position the input selector or the volume knob are, because the designer wanted to keep the front plate as clean as possible. BUT!!!! There's an ugly hole placed in the left (the IR sensor) which destroys the beautiful and almost perfect simmetry of the Classic One.
The remote control works pretty well but it lacks the input selector.
Sonics. If you are an old-style tubey sound lover you may not like the fresh, rythmic and bright sound the Classic One delivers. This kind of rigour, with certain partners, may sound excessive, too much of a good thing. In my opinion, it is a plus...but it is mostly a matter of personal taste.
Anyway, more oomph in the lower bass would have been welcomed and sometimes I'd trade the "control" in the bass for some extra slam and decay.
Right out of the box I thought: "If it sounds as it looks, this is an irresistible bargain!!!". If you have the possibility to see this amp "in real life" (pictures don't tell the whole truth), don't wait.
The Pathos Classic One has to be seen, first of all. Then listen to it, its sound is analitycal & musical, precise & fluid and it is built like anything else in its price range and above. A serious and dangerous competitor for any integrated amp between 1,500 and 2,500 $.
If you're looking for a warm and soft kind of sound, you may want to look elsewhere but if you're in the market for the kind of sound I've tried to describe on this test, go out and listen to it, you won't regret it.
Now available a review of the New Classic One (2004)
Copyright © 2001 Lucio Cadeddu - www.tnt-audio.com