Don't worry: I haven't suddenly acquired a taste for high-sensitivity speakers. It's just that I couldn't resist having a stab at a third Loth X product. Although its profile is odd-ball - a Singapore-based company making freaky amps and speakers - the brand has a reputation for making uncommonly good sounds; I was blown away by the flagship system I heard at high-end show last year.
As for the amp I was privileged to try - the JI300 - well, that's the stuff of which dreams are made, and I need a new car more than I do a single-ended triode amp hewn from solid. But the little BS-1 speaker was a knock-out, and I just couldn't say "no" to a slightly bigger sibling at only £750 per pair. Besides, I needed something with which to review low-power gear such as the Croft Cameleon, the Antique Sound Labs Wave AV8 and AudioValve's headphone amp.
At 96db/1W, the Ion Amaze was an obvious choice. (Who comes up with these daft names? I thought Frank Herbert was dead.) Enhancing its easy driveability is a sane load of 8 ohms. Like other Loth X products, it uses a driver made in-house, a full-range crossoverless tri-axial full-range design measuring 6in across, including the chassis; effectively, it's a 4.5-5in diameter speaker. (I erroneously dubbed it a two-way in my review of the Croft Cameleon.) Its paper cones are treated with a special proprietary coating which was initially so toxic that it almost cost the designer his teeth. Aaah, the price of audiophile bliss!
Fitted to a slim-line and compact enclosure - 7 7/8x12x15 3/4in (WDH) - the driver resides above a front-firing slot. As it turns out, the Ion Amaze is not a horn, as Loth X fans would suspect, but a hybrid like its kid sister: part-horn, part-transmission line. This explains the unfeasibly satisfying amounts of bass; Eminent Audio estimates its frequency response as 50-22kHz, and it sounds refreshingly robust for what would be a bookshelf speaker if it wasn't quite so deep. I ended up using it on Foundations, which brought them up to the right height: I found they sound best with the listener's ears just slightly below the level of the tweeters.
As the Ion Amazes had been with me for some time, I had a chance to try them with a vast range of amplifiers beyond the aforementioned low-power packages. In addition to the stunning McIntosh C2200/MC2102 pre/power combination, I also had a stab at them with assorted amplifiers from Pathos, Musical Fidelity, and Audio Analogue, all yielding much more power than the speakers demand. But it's bad news for ye of the 8W/ch persuasion: whatever the 96dB/1w rating tells you, the Ion Amaze loves power.
Not so weird when you consider that the same applies to Wilson's WATT Puppy System 6, another speaker which is easy to drive, yet which only starts to sing when the amplifier driving it has power in reserve which it may never (or rarely) be called upon to deliver. While the Croft Chameleon was an intrinsically ideal match, every time I hooked them up to something with 100W or more per channel, they displayed dynamic capabilities and bass control missing with smaller amps.
This is not what either Loth X nor Eminent Audio want you to hear, because - clearly - this amp was designed for sale to customers shy of wattage. But don't take my word for it: if you arrange a demo, ask the retailer to hook up any decent monster amp of the triple-digit persuasion. Note that I don't mean more expensive, just more powerful. I'm talking strictly about a by-product of more wattage, not necessarily of a better-sounding amplifier. Suffice it to say, overall sound quality wasn't a power-related issue. Bass control, speed and dynamic contrasts are.
Whatever you use, the constants include a punchy forwardness which characterises horns, accompanied by a rich upper-bass to lower-treble region characteristic of transmission line speakers; I was actually reminded of an old favourite, the stunning and collectible IMF Super Compact. Added to this is a wonderful sense of scale, the Ion Amaze sounding gigantic with orchestral works, in particular some Bernard Hermann soundtracks and that of Glory, suggesting that five of these would make a helluva surround sound system for not a whole lot of money. The shape of the soundstage was ultra-wide - a Good Thing - but with only medium front-to-back depth. As a bonus to garage door fans, though, it also offers surprisingly convincing height.
Downsides? At this price, what's there gives no reason to grumble, but I have to say that the Ion Amaze shows a slight lack of finesse and refinement. Regardless of the amplifier or source, the Ion Amaze has a slightly thick sound, tending to coarseness if it suspects that the amp is working hard - hence the benefits of more power. Whether or not you'd find this debilitating depends on your musical diet. Dense, layered works suffered little; lean, a capella material, small acoustic ensembles and spoken word discs will reveal a lack of polish.
But, as with the BS1, if you're hot for horns and haven't the space, Loth X does it again. What it lacks in grace it makes up for with excitement. So here's another one for all of you who covet a Morgan +8 over an Audi TT, Cat Slater over Gwyneth Paltrow. In other words: rock on.