Call it 'chutzpah', that Yiddish form of cheek which has no equal. Naming your product 'Einstein' -- as with the naming of Southall's superb Indian dinery, Mahur's Brilliant Restaurant -- is a show of supreme confidence. The name, after all, implies 'genius'. And how charming of a German company to name a product after a Jewish notable. You've just gotta smile.
But this is not the cutesy use of names, no ephemeral labels like Soundburgers or Ninja Turtles. There's nothing at all corny or funky or trendy about the Einstein integrated amplifier. Name aside, it's deadly serious. It has to be, because the market is growing crowded with integrated amplifiers selling for four figures; in this case, it's #1350 inc VAT.
I'm at a loss to explain why big bucks integrated amplifiers are making such a strong comeback. The late, lamented Lentek, periodic offerings from Marantz and a few others always struck me as peculiarly British (despite their origins); our market is just about the only one which doesn't assume that the halves must separate above a specific price point. So the 1990s could be witnessing the growth of a new downsizing sector, one which prefers to have its pre-amps and power amps in one box. The Copland, Michaelson Audio's Odysseus and now a hefty solid-stater. Is it simply the NAD generation upgrading and not wanting to locate another mains outlet?
Whatever the rationale, the Einstein is designed without compromise. My first exposure to it was a couple of years ago at the Berlin Show, when the company launched the brand with a step-by-step display of -- get this -- how it manufactures the face plate. Frivolous? Not at all. They showed how a 25mm thick slab of aluminium was shaved and shaped into a gorgeous curved panel, finished in luxurious gloss black. Okay, so maybe it wasn't your usual audiophile chatter, but it made a lasting impression.
The final product oozes quality, with styling that rivals Primare, Gryphon and B&O for sheer domestic friendliness. All that breaks the sweep of the curve are an on/off button with red LED and two large rotary controls for volume and source select. The Einstein legend is etched in white. Behind this is a stainless steel case, the aesthetics of which I find dubious.
I know, I know: German hi-fi buyers love shiny metal. (You haven't lived until you've seen your favourite UK-made drab -amp facelifted with chrome plating...) But the company says that the stainless steel case serves another function: it's supposed to eliminate high frequency interference by acting as a 'Faraday collector'. They forgot one other detail: it's also a fingerprint collector.
The case forms a hood over the socketry on the back panel, which is a pain in the kiester if you're the sort who likes to reach over the amplifier when making connections. This won't affect you if you're double-jointed. Not that you have too far to reach: overall dimensions are only 133x430x335mm (HWD). Facilities include m-m and m-c phono inputs with adjustable capacitance and loading, a specially configured CD input, a normal line input labelled 'tuner' and two tape inputs/outputs. A switch selects between m-m and m-c. The speaker terminals are in the middle, near the heat sink and packed tightly together. Beware: the congestion means that it's easy for stray strands of cable to make contact with the chassis, so use banana plugs. (The Einstein comes with four, er, novel plugs but any will do.)Read more about the Einstein on Page 2.