One of the many fun aspects of being a staff reviewer at HomeTheaterReview.com is that I receive many emails from readers informing me of some of their "finds" regarding new pieces of gear that have caught their fancy because of their stellar performance. Some of these emails made reference to a new and relatively inexpensive amplifier called the Audreal PA-20, retailing for $1,995. The Audreal PA-20 amplifier is sold by the manufacturer so that the price of the PA-20 reflects an Internet-direct price instead of having to add the cost of an importer/retailer fee.
Upon opening the heavy-duty carton containing the Audreal PA-20, my first thought was that maybe the wrong amplifier had been sent to me. It was hard to believe that an amplifier retailing for less then $2,000 could have such exquisite case work. The front plate is a half of an inch thick, and there's a pair of massive sculptured heatsinks. The review sample weighed 48.5 pounds, and its dimensions were 17.9 inches wide, 10 inches deep, and 4.9 inches high. The front plate has a centered main power button, flanked by two large, blue-backlit, retro-looking power meters. The back of the amplifier has a centered IEC input, a toggle switch for choosing XLR or single-ended inputs, and a pair of very high-quality speaker posts that can accept either banana plugs or spades. The Audreal PA-20 amplifier's first 20 watts into eight ohms is pure Class A, hence the need for the massive heatsinks. After the first 20 watts of pure Class A, the PA-20 offers 6 dB of Class A/B watts up to 120 watts. During the entire review process, I was never able to clip the Audreal PA-20 amplifier, even though the system it was in was auditioned with played at very high levels.
As soon as I started to listen to the PA-20, it became apparent that its performance was going to match its well-built construction and physical appearance. My first musical selection was the jazz classic The Sidewinder (Blue Note) by Lee Morgan. The Audreal PA-20's tone and timbres are what you would expect from a Class A design. Lee Morgan's trumpet was silky and smooth and had just the right "bite" that a brass horn can deliver. Billy Higgins' cymbals had excellent extension and air, with very clear decays. This also showed how quiet the PA-20 was because the level of transparency allowed the micro-details to be heard easily.
My next selection was the cut "Sledgehammer" from Peter Gabriel's album So (Griffin) to test two areas of performance. First, the type of macro-dynamics the Audreal PA-20 amplifier had, along with its ability to produce low-end extension. Secondly, what type of soundstage and width/height/depth the Audreal PA-20 was capable of manufacturing. Regardless of the volume, this selection gave me all the gut-pounding bass with tautness and accuracy, making this music come alive. The soundstage was very deep and wide with very good layering, considering this was a studio recording.
My final selection was Billie Holiday's classic "Body and Soul" from her album Body and Soul (Verve). If a Class A amplifier is working its magic, the midrange of music should contain warmth in its timbres and air around the individual performers. The Audreal PA-20 had these qualities, which allowed the emotion and meaning of Billie Holiday's rendition of this powerful song to be easily experienced.
Competition and Comparison
In the price range of the Audreal PA-20, two amplifiers that would be its true competitors are the Rotel RB-1582 retailing for $1,650 and the NAD C 275 BEE retailing for $1,400. Both of these amplifiers are well-built and offer good, solid performance; however, they fall quite short of the Audreal PA-20's performance in virtually every sonic parameter. The level of transparency, the accuracy of timbres, overall dynamics, and purity of tone are at a much higher level in the Audreal PA-20 compared with these two other amplifiers.
The Audreal PA-20 amplifier is a very natural, musical-sounding solid-state amplifier. Considering its build quality, performance, and price, I believe it's one of the greatest bargains on the market today. One would have to spend at least another two to three thousand dollars to purchase a better-sounding solid-state amplifier than the Audreal PA-20. I highly recommend this very reasonably priced amplifier to audition for its great ability to deliver a natural and musical perspective on all genres of music.
Check out the gallery below for other gear from Tailored Technology . . .