Italy's Pathos is doing for metal what their neighbours at Sonus Faber have been doing for wood. Each amp they produce boasts some new layout unseen elsewhere, they marry wooden trim with the shiniest of chrome, they're redefining ergonomic sensibility. They're so Italian that it hurts. As the pics show, the Logos' main design fillip is a pair of heat sinks which read 'Pathos', which is about as nifty a way of disguising the necessary ankle shredders as any I've ever seen.
Looks may not be everything, but you can sympathise with distributor Nick Green, who was raving about an unusual visual effect he noted at the recent hi-fi show at Heathrow: the chrome-caged valves on the Logos are positioned in a 'cove' formed by the angled, mirror-finish sheets which intersect behind them. Look at the valves at eye level, and they seem to go on into infinity, reflected into the hundreds.
Such is the concern for every visible part of the Logos that the visual thrills never end. There are contrasting metal finishes of chrome and matte, polished and cast, grey and black. No detail is too small to enhance: the venting in the top plate consists of seven circular holes, each filled with fine wire mesh. There's the slim rosewood remote control, with a mere four buttons for source select, level up/down, and mute. The company fitted a chunky rosewood block to surround and protect the massive volume control.
Even the volume control is novel. It doesn't rotate: you just flick it left or right for up or down because it's a digital, 100-step volume control system, 100 percent resistive thanks to an integrated network of high precision, laser-trimmed resistors chosen because they guarantee perfect inter-channel balance. So you never see it move, and the arc through which it can be flicked is small. Lo and behold, there's a red numerical display, shades of Kojak's digital wristwatch, to tell you the level from 0-99. To the left of the knob is a Pathos logo; to the right, an on-off press button and another button which scrolls through its inputs. Simple, elegant, minimalist yet in no way self-abnegating.
This piece of sculpture measures 430x400x172mm (WDH) including any protruding bits. It's a line-level integrated amplifier rated at a seriously useful 110W/ch into 8 ohms, doubling into four. As the literature states, 'The electric network has been laid-out in a feedback-free. "natural" way according to the fundamental principles of the Pathos philosophy.' The pre-amplification stage is all-valve, fully-balanced, and operating in pure Class A mode, fed by a dedicated, stabilised power supply. Its large, complementary pair MOSFET output stage is true dual-mono and equipped with oversized transformers and power supplies, so current should never be an issue, regardless of load.
Just as the volume control is a bit 'trick', so, too, is its only other control. The input selector operates through 'high-tech miniaturised relays', originally developed for very high frequency telecommunication applications. All very slick and very quiet. Operating this is a joy, especially as the remote provides its own tactile thrills. Solid rosewood - you gotta admit it beats the hell out of injection-moulded plastics.
No clutter upsets the back panel, either. Inputs 1 and 2 are fully balanced, through XLRs. Above them are phono sockets for five line inputs, plus a tape output. In the lower left-hand corner is an IEC mains input; the speaker terminals - stout, multi-way posts - flank the inputs. That's all there is, bar the user-replaceable AC fuse.
Pathos doesn't believe in revealing too much, so specs are limited to the aforementioned power output figures and frequency response of 2Hz-200kz �0.5dB, an input impedance of 100k Ohm, total harmonic distortion of <0.05 percent and an S/N ratio >90dB. Unlike the bigger, dearer and heavier Pathos models, this unit doesn't employ INPOL technology; instead, its circuitry is derived from the more, er, classic Classic One. Reticent with specs or not, I kinda figured that nothing in my arsenal bar perhaps Apogee Scintillas would cause any problems. As it turned out, the Logos loved the Wilson WATT Puppy System 6, but it positively adored the Sonus Faber Guarneri. Could it have anything to do with the two companies breath the same oxygen?Read more about the Pathos Logos on Page 2.
It was one of those blissful moments that makes a reviewer's life so easy, one of the natural if not blatantly obvious pairings I wrote about a few months back. Slotted in between the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 3D CD player and the Guarneris, with lots of vinyl via SME Series V on the SME 10 deck, the Transfiguration feeding the Musical Fidelity X-LP. There was an overall warmth which belied the system's hybrid nature, and I simply didn't expect it. After all, I was coming off of a run of all valve pairings - McIntosh and Audio Research - and it's rare when a hybrid manages to fool inveterate tube crazies. At least, it has been since the Radford TT100....
What the Pathos does, and which is reminiscent of the TT (formerly the Twin Towers), is produce a satiny sheen, a smoothness of so little grain that one can only be reminded of those hoary old analogies likening the lack of texture or granulation to the effect of cleaning a lens. What's so pleasant about this trait being the domineering sonic fingerprint is that this of-a-whole consistency defies the mix of technologies which are valves and MOSFETs. I realise that it's not the same level of incongruity as one would find when, say, bi-amping with a tube amp above and solid-state below, but the lack of texture I'm trying to identify is something I associate almost exclusively with valves. Rare solid state exceptions include the Halcros and precious little else.
Allied to this is an effortless which I suppose should have been expected. A real 110W (or double that with the lower impedance) is nothing to sneeze at, and the Pathos is capable of going loud enough to anger the neighbours. It is, conversely, no animal, and it lacked the almost brutal sense of power imparted by the Audio Analogue Maestro at the same price, or the dearer Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista 300. I did, however, break with tradition and whack up the Pathos to a point beyond where I feel comfortable, even with something as intrinsically kick-ass as the new, remastered Who best-of and the title track of the new Jimi Hendrix collection, Voodoo Child. No amount of Keith Moon's nor Mitch Mitchell's drumming could catch out the Pathos, which exhibited control, extension and - best of all for jazzers - convincing recovery and decay. Indeed, the bass was so blindingly authentic that I even listened to a Rob Wasserman CD...
At the risk of boring all of you to tears, I must confess that, however stellar the performance at the frequency extremes, this amp could have been made for monitoring vocalists, especially distaff. Quite chillingly, this amplifier extracts more of that elusive sonic characteristic - emotion - with a grace which I found baffling. Regular readers also know that I'm sceptical about bollocks such as PRAT (pace, rhythm and timing), so the notion that this amplifier made Juice Newton's anguish somehow greater when singing 'Break It To Me Gently' is both worrying and confounding. Attributing this to an amplifier is almost perverse, but my ears think otherwise.
If the chill factor - that tingling up and down the spine when you swear that the sound is real - is a reliable indicator, then the Logos scores repeatedly and consistently. It wasn't just the hurt factor in female voices. There seemed to be more palpable power in gospel recordings, including some vintage Pilgrim Travellers and Swan Silvertones where the sound quality was of the worn-out-on-a-jukebox variety, and Johnnie Taylor's scream on 'Who's Making Love?' exhibited even greater exuberance. Uncanny, but repeatable.
More traditionally verifiable was the soundstage, in the Pathos' case a vast open arena, of merely better-than-average image height but creating an extremely wide and deep lateral plane. Naturally, the Guarneri excels at this, too, but I even noticed it with Anthony Gallo's minuscule Due and the Loth X Ion Amaze. All in all, the Pathos sounds big both in terms of space and in the way it handles dynamic extremes. I just won't rock the rafters when faced with a hungrier-than-usual speaker such as the Guarneri.
Working of its best required suing the Pathos in balanced mode. I know that there are engineer-types out there who swear blind that balanced operation is meaningless with cable runs as short as those found in domestic audio, but there was no escaping the perception of quieter silences between tracks and behind instruments, of a reduction in treble edge, and a perceived increase in the speed of transient recovery. The was, simply put, less smearing of all sorts, the balanced path seeming more precise. (And, yes, I had the same make and model of interconnect for both - Transparent Ultra - plus a digital meter to set levels.)
With my current fave demo track to hand, 'Down To The River To Pray' off of the soundtrack CD to O, Brother Where Art Thou?, I was able kick back and wallow in sound splayed out in front of me, in a massive arc. It's all-embracing, devoid of any inconsistencies or gaps which would diminish the ability to convince. The sound is slinky, sexy. You'll quickly hear why Sven Goran Eriksson went back to his Italian innamorata. (Sorry, Ulrika...) Above all, it appears to do this effortlessly, despite being almost a 'compact' compared to some of the integrateds I've played with this past year.
Which brings us to its place in the KK Super Integrated Amp Bake-Off. While I'm still hooked on the McIntosh 6900 for cost-no-object, and consider the Unison Research Unico at the other end to be one of the World's True Bargains, the Pathos has upset the applecart. If you heard it even in the most elevated company without being told the price, you'd think it one of the top three. When I tell you that it retails for 2495, then you have to accept that the goal posts have moved in favour of affordability. No question: the Pathos Logos does for the 2000- 3000 sector what the Unico does below 1000.
I'll take that a stage further: If you're considering an integrated amp up to 4000, listen to the Logos after everything else. Then spend the 1500 you saved on a decent wristwatch worthy of a Logos owner.