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ideal innovations

Elite 80+ amplifier

as reviewed by Francisco Duran

 

 

 

 

FRANCISCO DURAN'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
DALI Euphonia MS4.

ELECTRONICS
Antique Sound Labs MG-SPM25DT monoblocks, Canary CA-301Mk-II amplifier, and Reference Line Preeminence lA passive and Canary CA-601Mk-II preamplifiers.

SOURCES
NAD T531 and Antique Electronic Supply CD-1 (temporary) CD players, and a Taddeo Digital Antidote Two.

CABLES
Either JPS Superconductor+ and FX interconnects and a double run of JPS Ultraconductor speaker cables, or Analysis Plus interconnects and Oval 12 speaker cables, and Monarchy and various DIY AC cords.

ACCESSORIES
Balanced Power Technologies BPT 4SE, Brick Wall Series Mode Surge Suppressor, Audio Prisim Quiet Lines and Noise Sniffer, Vibrapods, Black Diamond Racing Boards and cones, Final Labs Daruma-3II Isolation Bearings, various ferrite rings, Target rack, Yamaha KX-380 cassette deck, custom made wooden cable lifters by Mr. Clark senior, and all the NOS tubes I can afford!

 

Talk about timing. The Ideal Innovations Elite 80+ tube amplifier reached my home literally at the beginning of the economic crisis. But what is so special about that? Well you see the Elite 80+ is affordable, very affordable in fact. OK, so it is affordable, but there is more to it than that of course. The Elite 80+ is also very well built, and is also feature laden. And the Elite 80+ is made in Canada. That's right, Canada. I didn't stutter. This little amplifier came my way via Jeff Brown of Affordable Audio. Jeff contacted Dave Clark and asked Dave if anybody in our staff would be interested in doing a review of this amplifier. I was elected primarily due to my newly acquired and very efficient Tonian Labs speakers. That was fair enough for me. After all I have been known to be a lover of the electron tube. My interest was also piqued by the facts stated above. A well-built, feature laden, and affordable tube amplifier made in Canada? I had to check this out for myself.

Ideal Innovations hail from Ingersol, Ontario, Canada. In their "About Us" page I found that they have a combined time of over 75 years of experience in the tube amp building business. This experience has led Ideal to hone their design choices to proven circuit designs. Ideal uses Altec Lansing, JBL, Electro-Voice, and their in house speaker designs to perform listening tests on their amplifiers. God I wish I could sit in on some of their listening tests! Mr. Syd Beaumont is responsible for bringing first to Jeff Brown and then to us the Elite 80+ amplifier for our listening pleasure.

Upon initially unpacking and setting up the Elite 80+ it is easy to pass it off as just another neat looking amp from a small company. But don't let first impressions fool you. This amplifier is a very well built and finished unit that can compete on parts and build quality alone with some of the best stereo components in the world. A bold statement you say? Let's take a closer look. Just take a cruise through the Ideal Innovations website to see what is so special about their amps. Ideal uses cold rolled steel in the construction of the chassis. Spot welding where necessary, cooling vents on the bottom of the chassis, powder coating for the finish. They use flame proof resistors (IE metal film and ceramic). There is no biasing required and the tube sockets are made of ceramic. The many safety features that are included are UA/CSA rated and approved. Ideal Innovations say that due to the parts and materials used, a fifty year life span can be expected from their electronics. The Elite 80+ came wired for eight ohms but it can be configured for four and sixteen ohms. And that is just the start. Syd Beaumont of Ideal Innovations related to me in an email that any one of their units can be built with just about any options desired by the customer. Remember I said they were feature laden. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the Oak hardwood front panel looks real nice and tops off this compact little package with a touch of old world craftsmanship.

I listened to the Elite 80+ in several ways. First with my new Marantz PM15S1G integrated amplifier used as a preamp for the three tube amps. I then compared my Margules U280SC amplifier and Antique Sound Labs MG25DT mono block amps (both tube amps) to it with just the Marantz SACD CD player hooked straight into them. Since my two tube amps both have volume controls, it was convenient to do so. I will say that the ergonomics of the Elite 80+ were a little awkward. With the RCA, power cord receptacle, and speaker connections all on the top plate of the amp, I had interconnects running a bit too close for comfort to the power cord and running straight down into the chassis. The volume controls were also more than a bit uncomfortably close to the 12AX7 tubes. I can imagine this configuration being done in the interest of a short signal path. But I bet more than a few potential owners would opt for a less ergonomically challenged set up. There was another issue with the volume controls, but it turned out to be an issue with me. With the CD player running straight into the Elite 80+, I started getting hum past the 3:00 o'clock setting. No problem, though, just turn it down a bit and problem solved. Actually this is taken up in the well written instruction manual which I should have read before attempting to set up this amp. There was plenty of volume adjustment available with my set up compensating for any discrepancies. The hum was not caused by any kind of interaction between cables though. When the Elite 80+ was combined with the Marantz PM15S1G used as a preamp, I ran its volume full tilt with no problems.

With the CDP running straight into any one of these amps, they sounded like a tiger with the Tonian Labs speakers. The Tonian Labs TL-D1s have a sensitivity of 95Db. The music sounded tactile, fast, solid, gutsy, and just plain old fuel injected. The down side was that the differences in performance were laid bare in this fashion. I liked the Elite 80+ from the get go, it sounded fast and clean with little coloration. The tonal balance is very good and one of the amp's strengths is its coherence. This little tube amp did not slow down my lightning fast Tonian Labs speakers one bit. Transients and dynamics were handled very well as witnessed on an old favorite the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over. Henley's tom toms were full yet focused and Timothy B. Schmit's bass was expressive. The Elite 80+ also showed that it could reproduce a solid and grounded soundstage. It reproduced pretty much what was on the recording without exaggeration.

Neither did the music's tone suffer through the Elite 80+. On Joshua Bell's Voice of the Violin, The natural tone of his violin was in full bloom. Tracks such as 1 and 9, Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise" and Orff's "In Trutina" (in the balance) showcased the natural timbre of Bell's violin from its edge to its sweetness. And on track 5, Dvorak's "Song to the Moon" just carried me away. Forget reviewing! On this CD and also on The Very Best of Anne Sophie Mutter the little Elite 80+ handled orchestra swells and slight dynamic shadings quite well. I kept coming back to Orff's "In Trutina" because that seems to be what this amplifier is all about, balance.

It was back to some rock and reggae with some Eagles, Derek Trucks, and Black Uhru. While overall deep bass was reproduced well, bass leaned more to the smoother, safer, and fuller sound than it did to the tight and dry. Again its pacing never slowed. Could the bass use a little more impact and solidity? Yes. Even though in real life bass sometimes sounds more full and plumy than tight. I have gone on record in the past stating that I feel many times solid state amps reproduce bass too tight and dry and unrealistic. Many times in one design or another all you get is either tight or loose or full. An amp that can reproduce bass in all manner of textures and colors is a talented (and usually costly) amp indeed. Again the Elite 80+ delivered bass in an evenhanded way yet never dismissing tone or texture of bass notes.

When I listened to the Elite 80+ and my other two tube amps hooked up to my Marantz PM15S1G integrated amplifier used as a preamp, I had the pleasure of a remote control. But the music lost some of its tactile feel. In this manner the overall sound with any of these amps was that it had a smoother top end and sounded slightly rounded in a solid state way. There was slightly less impact on dynamics. The overall sound was nice but safe if you will. But it was with my Marantz SA15S1G CD player hooked straight in to these amps that the differences in their character were more apparent. In comparing the Margules and Antique Sound Labs mono blocks the Elite 80+ lost some ground in a few areas but yet its strengths were evident. It sounded a bit flatter in the soundstage. The top end, while still extended lost some air and spaciousness. This trait was most noticeable on cymbals and snare drums, those culprits of the high end truth. The Margules and ASL monos with their wider and deeper stage, one could more easily hear into recordings. Instruments were more separated and a little more full bodied and extended in the treble. The Margules also had a tighter more solid grip on dynamics with little or no smearing. There was a better ease of presentation that easily separated instruments. This was evident on track ten, "New York Minute", on the Hell Freezes Over CD where the synthesizer and strings combine. The Elite 80+ slightly blended the synthesizer and strings together on this track. The Margules also easily outshone my Antique Sound Labs in the bass department.

OK, mean Frank, mean old Frank. What the hell are you doing comparing a $600 amp to amps costing multiples of its own price? I compared these amps not to pick on the Elite 80+ but to show that it more than held its own to the $3500 Margules and the $1000 plus highly modified Antique Sound Labs units. Many times in comparisons like these one walks away from the page thinking the least expensive unit fared the worst. But that really is not the case here. The Elite 80+ strengths were its balanced and coherent sound which quickly side stepped any musical short comings by quickly leading one into the music. It is also a very clean sounding amplifier. There are no unwanted buzzes, hums or colorations distracting one from the music. This trait can be traced to its exceptional build quality. It is solid sounding and solidly built. It has fine pace and can be outfitted with any thing the buyer can think of. It kept pulling this jaded old tube lover out of analytical mode and into the music. Besides if you want more extension and transparency in a tube amp you are going to have to shell out more ching a ling than $600. But just looking at the Ideal Innovations web site, one can easily see that Mr. Syd Beaumont and company have bigger guns in their tube arsenal at their disposal. Highly recommended for the new tube lover or the long time lover of tube amp music! Francisco Duran

Elite 80+ amplifier
Retail: $599 base price

Audio Innovations
web address: www.idealinnovations.biz

 

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