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Onix A65 integrated amp

11.02.2012..
..

United Kingdom boasts a great tradition in manufacturing integrated amplifiers at affordable prices and excellent performances, although many can be collocated in a range where the competition is cutthroat.

Among them, I can mention NAD, Sugden, Audio Note, Arcam, Musical Fidelity, Naim, Creek, Cambridge, Cyrus, Roksan, Meridian and Myriad. They fight harder than in a wrestling tournament even if without pretence and at a very high level. An English integrated amp never betrays and the chance of listen to it is an amazing experience ever.

From a reportage dedicated to the Bristol Sound&Vision Show comes out that the national market is quite static although compensated, according to manufacturers, by an export-orientated trend that relies on the weakness of the pound sterling. For this reason, the owners of the Brit brands are still confident and committed in designing.

Onix belongs to the big family of the British production and intends to play its cards in a smart way and aware of its capabilities. Its story is peculiar, a sort of modern parable of the prodigal son. It was founded in 1979 by Tony Brady who decided to turn his amateur activity that he used to practice in a Brighton lab, into an entrepreneurial production of audio amplifiers. The brand asserts itself in the eighties, during the boom of the home hi-fi, with a surprising series of electronics: from the first OA20 to the powerful OA801 amp. It stands out for the painstaking work in the Soap power supply circuits and, mostly, for the extraordinariness of the sound. In 1993, the elderly Brady sells out his creature to Rogers’ owner Michel O’Brian, who innovates the production by introducing the Black Glass line enriched with the CD33 and by starting the realization of the Rocket loudspeakers. The consequence is an increasing in sales all around Europe and North America.

The blunder of the sirens with the slanting eyes, hidden under the guise of the Taiwanese Proton, brings on one hand to an enlargement of the production in Asia and, on the other hand, to an impoverishment of the creative and distributive activity in the Old Country, with the risk of a progressive decay. Luckily, in 2008, the two native engineers Thompson and Chambers, with the purpose of glamorizing a filmy pedigree, decide to re-establish a high standing production. There is only one way, though: going back to the bowler, the umbrella and the five o’clock tea. The opportunity takes shape when the Chinese Shanling purchases the Onix brand and, whilst realizing the products in Asia, it confirms the design in England with no conditioning at all.

Certainly, as an old Austrian moustached funny chap would say, the pure breed does not exist anymore, but these are the current times. I am not down prejudicially with Chinese people but I have an upsetting interior trauma. A couple of years ago, I bought a Yaqin amplifier. During a listening test, it literally exploded in my room. It has been a miracle that I am still here telling the story. I saved my record collection albeit with some blacken pieces. For ethical duty, I can however testify the value of many Asiatic electronics, Shanling on top of them, which have affirmed in Italy for the uniqueness of the price/quality ratio.

The Onix A65 integrated amplifier – the protagonist of this review – belongs to the Classic line production. It is the empiric proof of the enormous progress of the brand in respect to the past radio amateur metallic boxes. First of all there is an aesthetic improvement. The line is very elegant. The front panel in shiny Black Glass, finished with gold buttons and signs, is classy and you are moved to stroke its smooth surfaces as happens in the commercials of some jewels and cars.

The bold dimensions of the cabinet give the idea of a certain solidity and structural compactness. The operational and connection equipment offers the clue of recovered English-oriented planning which is peculiar for sobriety, essentiality and efficiency. As already mentioned, on the front panel there are the power button, the volume knob that moves a Blue Velvet Alps motorized potentiometer, and the input selector with a blue led that lights up when one of the inputs is selected.

The connectors on the back panel are of good level. Among the seven pairs of RCA inputs, you can notice a bypass, not described in the bare user manual, that I suppose being a link for an external preamplifier. The four loudspeakers binding posts are solid and well locking. They accept the bare wire as well as banana and spade connectors. The IEC socket has a mains filter and, on the front panel, there is also an input for the headphones. The remote control is in solid aluminium and can handle all the functions of every product of the Classic series. Inside everything looks simple and tidy with selected components. The circuit is dual-mono with one 300 W toroidal Piltron transformer. Hence, a well dimensioned supply that employs eight MUR 8100 Ultra Fast Recovery rectifier diodes and Nichicon Line Gold filter capacitors. Noticeable are also the low tolerance resistors, the Wima capacitors and the Nichicon Gold Tune filter capacitors (10.000 mF each). The power stage makes use of Sanken 2SC2837/2SA1186 transistors mounted on two well dimensioned heat sinks.

At this point of the analysis is interesting to verify if, together with the Brit manufacture, this integrated amp can be one of the standard-bearers of the British Sound. The declared power of 66 W per channel has made possible the match with heterogeneous loudspeakers: Gamut Phi7, JPW monitor and Pioneer AS-305A made in 1967 (four-way speakers, with Alnico bass driver) with a restored elegant vintage cabinet and a rebuilt crossover. As analogue source, I have utilized my EMT938 turntable with EMT929 tonearm and TSD15 SFL cartridge and, as digital source, the California Audio Labs Aria MKIII. Moreover the following cables: Harmonic Technology, Synergistic Research, MIT and Straight Wire. Even with a decent synergy, I have soon excluded the Gamut speakers. Since they need more current to be on top, they would be an impediment to a correct and balanced evaluation of the Onix.

I have started the listening test with the CD 1.0 by Fiamma Fumana, Omnium Recordings, 1999: an Italian trio that bridges between tradition and modernity with an explosive mix of folk and samplings. The record revises rice weeders’ old songs, antiphonal songs, lullabies, ballads, dances, inserting acoustic instruments like the violin, the bouzouki, the wilean-pipes, the tin whistle and the guitar, with keyboards, programming and sampler. The whole made precious by the great voice of Silvia Orlandi, known as Fiamma, and pervaded by an energy that can be measured in joules.

The Onix needs about thirty minute to run steadily. The CD flows away leaving a sense of freshness like a mint ice lolly on August 15. It reminds an old Archies’ tune singing Sugar, ah, honey, honey!. Considering the assonance I would have call it Honey instead of Onix. Its emission is soft, pleasant, sweet, and quite sugary. I hope there is not a wasp’s nest nearby! After a couple of minutes of warm-up, the outcome is outstanding and that rarely happens with the most part of hi-fi gears.

I spin another CD, Herbie Goins & the Nightimers, N° 1 in your heart: a recording collection realised between 1965 and 1968, reissued in 2008, at the mythic EMI Parlophone Studios of Abbey Road, where the legendary Herbie performs some soul and R&B standards. He reaches here an emotional top never expressed by any Brit group performing a music with American roots. The recording is fantastic, thanks to the technical and professional support that only Emi and few others labels could provide at that time. The Onix seems to smell the home perfume and starts to eat up groovy music: I can imagine Otis Redding’s reincarnation hidden behind the speakers. The bass line is killing, sure, solid, up-tempo. The guitar is drier than a Martini cocktail and Mr. Goins’ singing is powerful and true. This budget integrated amp has succeeded in isolating and highlighting the three basic elements of R&B and soul: the pressing beating of the rhythmic, the sound wave of the horns and the warm and powerful voice. An experience so exciting that I did not realize that my legs were trying to imitate clumsily James Brown’s side crawling steps! Unfortunately, I am not able to do the splits.

I have to compose myself and become serious, better classical. I run the Sonata in D Major K239 composed by W.A. Mozart in 1776, performed by the Berliner Philarmoniker directed by Herbert Von Karajan in 1966, and inserted in a CD Deutsche Grammophon, Meisterwercke series. Everything plays extremely clean. You can catch the typical baroque structure, where the solo string quartet dominates the strings and tympani orchestra. You can clearly get the genius tendency (he was in his twenties) committed in the instrument refining. In the starting March the beaten peels stand out against the strings pizzicato. In the Minuet and Rondo the protagonists are the violins in an alternation of solos and releases. It is amazing how I can easily get the slightest inflections of the percussions, the string phrasings and the double bass lines, hidden under the orchestral pianos.

The Onix shows a good transient articulation and gives a strong feeling of ease and simplicity. It seems amusing itself and I recall the sneer of Tom Hulce masterfully performing Mozart in Forman’s Amadeus.

It is time to test its majesty the analogue. I blow the trumpets with Antonin Dvorak, Quator en Fa Majeur op. 96 - Americain, and Quator a Cordes a RE Mineur, performed by the Provence Quartet, a Pierre Verany Editions LP dated 1982. The strings are light, airy, tuneful, and harmonious with an appreciable naturalness that exalts the great reputation of this former label for its recordings. There is a small emblematic anecdote about this vinyl. I have listened to it sometimes with religious concentration, sometimes making other things in the meanwhile, and sometimes I was in another room. In all these cases, I have had moments of exaggerated pleasure, catching many details even if moving away or turning back or standing beside the system, as the Japanese use to do. Hopeless. The music follows you everywhere injecting an extraordinary agreeableness for this category of amplifier.

The test ends with Jim Ringer, Tramps & Hawkers, Philo Records, LP, 1977. A milestone in my musical education and one of the first references for a teenager that wanted to learn playing the guitar. The old good Jim sings his suffered borderline stories with an experienced intensity, assisted by a fantastic group of musicians, among them Saul Brody, Jay Ungar, Peter Ecklund and Mary McCaslin. His low voice shakes your bones carrying you emotionally away when he starts ’Cause I’m bad news ev’rywhere I go, always gettin’ in trouble and leaving little girls that hate to see me go. The instruments are crystal clear, well defined and set in spaces, dynamic and decent at the same time but, above all, real.

I have appreciated a lot the Onix A65. I do not mean that it has no faults, just to be clear! It shows, somehow or other, the imperfections and gaps that are typical of its referential homologous. Nonetheless, it exhibits them with amazing grace, with charm and personality, like an Englishman at the bus stop. It proves being pragmatic too, without deceptive sound tinsels. It offers certainties and guarantees, it gives you pure pleasure. And in the current times that is not a poor think, is it?

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce you… The British Sound!

 

SCHEME SUMMARY

top score ✳✳✳✳✳ ReMusic Sparks

Tone colour✳✳✳✳ | Original indeed. Sometimes it reminds a tube amplifier with some power, and a higher control on the low range.

Dynamics✳✳✳✳ | No lack of energy. No exhaustion and partitioning in whatever situation.

Detail ✳✳✳✳ | Most probably is the listener who misses some particulars. After all, it claims low noise emissions.

Clearness ✳✳✳✳ | Same as detail.

Image ✳✳✳ | Three-dimensionality is more than adequate. Soundstage has some limits in width and depth.

Rise time ✳✳✳ | It needs much more work to do.

Manufacture ✳✳✳✳ | Impact appearance. A virtue together with solidity.

Price/quality ratio ✳✳✳✳ | Praiseworthy.

 

 

Official technical specifications:

Output power: 2 x 66W RMS (8 Ohm) - 2 x 125W RMS (4Ohm)

Frequency response: 10Hz - 30kHz (-0,5dB)

Input sensibility: 205mV/47Kohm

Signal/noise ratio: > 91dB (A weighted)

Channel separation: > 70dB, THD: 0,003% (3W/8ohm)

Dimensions: (W x D x H): 430 x 401 x 109 mm

Weight: 10,5 kg

Power consumption: 300W

Power supply: 220V-240V AC

Official Italian dealer: to Pacetech website

Official current price in Italy: 1,100.00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Giuseppe "MinGius" Trotto's system

by Giuseppe Trotto
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