Pathos Twin Tower Amps Reviewed

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During the worst - no, make that 'during the most obsessive' period of my love affair with Italy*, a pompous British wag railed at me that its entire industry suffered from a lack of imagination and a fetish for retro. He argued that, gorgeous styling aside, the Italians contributed nothing whatsoever to our passion and that I was guilty of glorifying a 'packaging job'.

Suffice to say, he was a manufacturer of boring two-way loudspeakers.

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Despite citing Unison Research's single-ended triode amps, GRAAF's success in making OTL amplifiers which work in the real world, Sonus Faber's patented crossover in the Extrema and its prescient sub/sat system of over a decade ago, myriad novel A.R.T. accessories and cables, Audio Analogue's severely under-priced electronics and more, he was unmoved. So I stopped arguing. And now that the dispute is long-forgotten by my detractor, I find proof-positive that the Italians do innovate.

Why it took so long for me to get around to reviewing a Pathos** product is down to distribution. However much free marketeers wish to crow about about 'borderless' Europe, few of you really want to import products on your own, sacrificing all local support. Now that Pathos is handled here by Italy's virtual British-based embassy - UKD - I need wait in torment no longer. Did I say torment? Sure did: the Pathos goodies are among the sexiest, sleekest, most beautifully-assembled gems I've seen this decade; admiring them at shows for the past few years but having to decline the offer of a review has been torture indeed.

On the surface, the Pathos Twin Towers could be described as a tube/solid-state hybrid, and our friend above could argue, 'So what's new in that?' But Pathos developed a topology to make it behave quite unlike most of the hybrids I've heard. With rare exceptions like the Radford TT100 (solid-state front-end but tube output), most hybrids use tube drivers to add a frisson of valve-like warmth. It's worked so well that companies like Luxman have been tempted to use it in near-mass-market applications. And while some have come remarkably close to that ideal of 'tube sound with solid-state convenience/size/cost/cool running', most have sounded like what they are: mongrels. No, I don't mean that in the pejorative canine sense, because there isn't one; any true dog-lover will tell you that mutts are far more intelligent, friendly and loyal than prissy pure-breeds. What I mean is that a keen listener can identify the DNA strands.

Pathos' INPOL circuitry is the latest in a history of audio cross-pollination, but this one has earned a world-wide patent, and it seems designed to confront purist prejudices. (See box.) MOSFETs or not, its demeanor is that of a tube amplifier, however minuscule its glass complement of two small tubes. As Italians understand the worth of visual impact, Pathos wisely positioned them at the front of the chassis in their own cages, serving as crafty sirens to distract anally-retentive valve purists. Behind the valves are four massive capacitors flanked by enormous black heatsinks, followed by the mains and output transformers, all superbly finished and resting on top of a chromed top plate. The Twin Towers' edges are solid rosewood and the unit sports gilded details.

Around back, a row of beautifully appointed, gilded sockets accepts four line sources plus tape out (a phono stage is in the planning), alongside an earthing tag, hefty multi-way binding posts, two user-changeable fuses and an IEC mains input. Beneath? Massive cones at each corner. All straightforward, but ask your dealer to unload the thing. Packed in a reassuring solid wooden crate, the Twin Towers is not something to be installed on one's own. Its overall dimensions are a manageable 482x450x300mm (WDH), but they hide a backbreaking 32kg weight. It's all that solid metalwork...

A curved front plate contains but two rotary control; recessed below it are an on/off toggle switch and a red power-on LED indicator. At the right are the input selector and the rotary volume control, sited on either side of a small display. Here's where the palms grow moist and where even rivals are driven to utter an involuntary 'Cool!!!': the Twin Towers comes with the slickest volume-only remote I've ever seen, a wand made from rosewood and gold-plated metal, bearing only up and down buttons in the form of tiny gold dots. The window in-between provides a numerical read-out of the level setting in bright red.

It's here that I must bring up the price tag because the model I'm describing is the top of three versions of the Twin Towers. But, as the price difference between the non-remote, 24-step entry model, the same-plus-remote and this, the remote control-with-64-step-resistor volume control, is only £325, or 10 percent of the £3250 total, the lesser models are not being imported. (The phono stage will sell for the UK equivalent of 900.) And you'd have to be some kind of masochist to skip the better volume control and the remote level setting just for the cost of two nights in a civilised hotel. The volume control is made in-house by Pathos using 1 percent metal layer precision resistors, driven by a bank of vacuum-packed reed relays with thorium contacts. Note that all internal connections are made with the company's silver wiring.

Given that we're talking about proper stepped controls, the act of level setting has its own by-product: audible clicking which at first seems out of place with such a refined device. But you soon use it as some form of confirmation should 1dB steps seem to small to your ears; conversely, you might feels that it's so delicious on its own that you find yourself running up and down the volume scale just to hear those clicks, reminiscent of the finest mechanical cameras running on long exposures. Yummy...

Read more about the Twin Towers on Page 2.

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