It was four years ago that the notion that all electronics, or at least, all amplifiers sound pretty similar was given a major jolt by a component. Not that I’ve ever thought this, but as products improved, they did start to sound more similar, if, indeed, they were more accurate reproducers of the signal fed into them. But the component that made me sit up and listen once again was the YBA Integre, a 50-wpc integrated amplifier of utter simplicity, made almost completely (that is, most of the internal components are created in-house) by Yves Bernard Andre of France. As I said in the first paragraph of my review then, “Heard after most of the other separates reviewed in this issue, it stood out for its absolute purity and clarity of sound.”
At the recent Vancouver audio show, I gazed into a new generation of Integre, this time with dual power transformers, in fact, a dual mono version of the amplifier. Most of the rest of the interior is identical, the input and record switching on the input circuit board at rear with long shafts to the front panel knobs, and a single high-quality volume pot at right front panel. Two pairs of output terminals are provided, linked internally by a large coil, the more direct a set of gold-plated 5-way posts covered by removable soft plastic sleeves, those at the other end of the coil (which is an inductor to decrease bass damping factor to 400, and give a slightly looser, fuller more tube-like sound) are recessed banana plugs. It may also be that the recessed set is more suitable for the upper frequencies in bi-wiring, with a slightly higher impedance, while the 5-way posts provide a direct feed from the output devices.
Getting back to the front panel, it is still “an unusually beautiful outside finish, the lustrous grey, thick machined aluminum faceplate elegantly lettered in white.” The casing behind is glossy black paint. The power switch, a tiny toggle, is still quirkily hidden just behind and under the front panel at left. It’s just one of those things, like the instrument cluster in a Citroen, to remind you that this product is French. I think most users will leave the amplifier on all the time, anyway.
The newest iteration of the Intege may have one more transformer, but it offers one less phono stage as reviewed here, with moving coil step-up available as an outboard option. The on-board phono section is an additional $200. In addition to Phono/Aux, the input complement is Tuner, CD, Video, Aux, and Tape, with similar record select and record outs. There are no preamplifier outs, the signal path uninterrupted from switching to speaker output, and it can be seen that signal paths are kept to a minimum internally on the single circuit board, the ultimate destination 4 bipolar output devices per channel.
In listening it was no real surprise to find the dual mono Integre at least as sonically transparent as its predecessor, but quite obviously more dynamic. I simply didn’t expect to hear such impressive bass power and weight after a few days with the Lightstar and Sunfire amps. No, it wouldn’t play as loud, but, then, neither would most of the speakers; we didn’t quite have the opportunity to blow the doors off that the really big amps like. But the Integre happily drove both 11se/3 and Sound Lab Dynastat speakers, individually, or both at once, the latter on the less damped outputs. Our power meter approached 200 watts before the amplifier started to clip audibly, indicating that it does have more thwack than the earlier version.
And it still had that sweet transparency that allowed the soundstage to bloom around and between the speakers, not to mention behind. Like the Bryston 3B ST, this amplifier, though less potent, recreates (rather than romanticizes) the music in the room. After hearing such effortless clarity, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to listen to tubes. Call me an accuracy freak. Isn’t that what high fidelity is all about? Oh well, if you can’t have things sound right, maybe it’s better to have them sound nice. And if you do want to prettify and soften the sound just a little, well, that’s exactly the effect heard from the second output set, which also made bass a bit fuller (this will, of course, vary with the bass loading of a speaker, ported enclosures more affected, perhaps adversely, than sealed cabinets). But, as the measurements show (the same chart that shows the response of the Lightstar and Sunfire), it had little effect on frequency response, with just a tiny bit of extreme top end rolloff. This amplifier is very spectrally accurate as well.
I can’t imagine anyone looking for a simple system centre of true high end quality not being knocked out by this integrated amplifier. With the YBA Integre DT, you get both purity and transparency, with an option of euphony (the inductors can also easily be bypassed internally for bi-wiring if desired) at a price that I think, under the circumstances, is quite reasonable. You might well pay substantially more for comparable separates.
Related Reviews:Bryston B-60 Integrated Amplifier
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