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Power 1 integrated
as reviewed by Larry Cox
The Accustic Arts Power 1 integrated amplifier is worthy of attention, even if that attention reveals a detail or two worthy of criticism. The Power 1 may not be an amplifier for the ages, but its performance is very special. Before I get to the details, let me describe the amplifier. At 48 pounds, it is fairly heavy, and though it is only a couple of inches wider than the standard 17-inch component, it takes up some real estate,. I had to place its front feet only partially on my rack to make room for the connections on the back of the amp. As is typical with German products, the fit and finish are quite good. When I opened the amp, I found a tidy layout, with excellent workmanship. It looked like something out of Architectural Digest.
The faceplace sports two knobs, one on each side of the Accustic Arts logo, which is smack dab in the middle. The left knob selects from four sources, source one being balanced only. The right knob is for volume, which can also be controlled by a heavy aluminum remote control. The Power 1 puts out 130 watts into 8 ohms and 190 into 4. The power rating seems conservative. There are two sets of preamp outputs, one XLR, one RCA. An additional Accustic Arts Power 1 can be used to biamp using the balanced outputs, and the RCA outputs can be diverted to feed a powered subwoofer or a sub amp. The amplifier was relatively cool in operation compared to my tubed E.A.R. monoblocks and the ATC SIA 150 amplifier, but in my cramped rack it got a wee bit warm when left on all the time. The unit had no operational hiccups, no on-off thumps or the like.
I was the second reviewer to have this piece, so it was already broken in. Right out of the box, the Power 1 sounded good, though not great. My first impression was that the amp was very refined, very resolving yet retaining a delicate sweetness from the midrange up. This became a lasting impression. Unlike many German audio products, the Power 1 sounded emotionally engaging and sweet rather than harsh and distant. The tubeophilic and solid-state-phobic Francisco Duran liked it much better than the sweet and robust ATC SIA 150, which he also liked.
The sound was open from the bottom to the top. I felt that I could relax into the sound of this amplifier. There was no hint of spittiness or glare, yet plenty of detail and transparency. The Power 1 showed the ATC SIA 150 to be bunching up the bass from the lower 30s to about 80Hz. The German amp delivered more open-sounding bass that sounded more precise in its starts and stops, without adding any extraneous thumps. The ATC, by comparison, was like a less-than-precise pianist who hits extra notes, blurring correct timbre. While the ATC sounded good, the Power 1 was better, as you'd expect with a fifty percent increase in price. The ATC's top end wasn't as open, extended, or detailed.
The Power 1 provided a very high level of resolution in the midrange without trampling the vocal beauty of Mary Black, The Story, Fiona Apple, or Maria Callas, or on male vocals like those of Mark Knopfler or Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole. In this, the Power 1 was nearly unique among the solid state amps I've heard. The Chord 1200B was perhaps a bit cleaner, but a bit of glycerine enveloped its sound. Instead, the Power 1 simultaneously provided the delicacy of a feather and the precision of a laser. The Power 1 produced a velvety, but very precise, 3-D, rendering of vocal nuance, tonality, and warmth. Vocals were presented with precision and emotion—a rare accomplishment, especially for a solid state amplifier.
While others have commented on the Power 1's way with treble, I found its midrange to be even more startlingly excellent. At low to moderately loud levels, everything pretty much sounded great, to the point that I was beginning to wonder if my decision to purchase the ATC SIA 150 was a mistake. That said, I found the domain of the Power 1 to be more for refined music like Gene Harris' All-Star Tribute to Count Basie, the quieter pieces of Lyle Lovett, and large-scale classical music like Grieg's Piano Concerto, but not sustained, loud pieces. When faced with Led Zeppelin's Greatest Hits at high volume, the Power 1 came up a bit short compared to the ATC, with its 150 watts. When the volume increased, the ATC seemed to grow with the music in an organic way. The Power 1 seemed to decide that the potato was just too hot. It lost the scale of the music, and started to distort.
To understand this comparison, it will be helpful to keep a few things in perspective. First my reference speakers are only 85dB efficient. Second, they are in a 5200-cubic-foot room. Third, the ATC amplifier has a built-in circuit that keeps it from clipping. And finally, Led Zeppelin must be played loudly or it isn't Led Zeppelin. I'm talkin' about music you feel as much as hear, with bass that pushes you around. At those levels, the SIA 150 was a champ, and showed the Power 1 to be a finesse player rather than a hammer—er, amplifier.
I've been talking about the ATC in comparison to the Power 1 because they are closer competitors with respect to price, but you may want to know how the Power 1 stacks up to much more expensive separates. My E.A.R 864 preamp is currently $3495. My E.A.R 509 Mk IIs are about fifteen years old, but the current 25th anniversary editions retail for $11,000, so perhaps this was not a fair comparison, but there was more body with my tube gear. Bass was not quite as fast or precise with the E.A.R. amplification, but it had more complex timbre. In the midrange, my reference equipment had liquidity without added glycerine, and was “wetter” without losing nuance or emotionality. The top end was not quite as filigreed as the Power 1's, but was quite detailed, especially with my recently installed NOS tubes. Despite the fact that the Power 1 was slightly better in some respects, I preferred the sound of my amplification. There was a bit more weight to the midrange, and although I never experienced this when I listened to the Power 1 by itself, the German amp sounded a bit more sandpapery in direct comparison.
There was still the niggling fact that the Power 1 fell short when playing loud music on inefficient speakers in a large room, but it was unreasonable to expect the Power 1 to be as good as an amplifier designed for the task. Looked at in context, the fact that I could find a shortcoming to the Power 1 doesn't mean all that much. The Power 1 is a stellar performer, but it couldn't be Dolly Parton and Olga Korbut at the same time. No amp can.
It will cost $6200 to acquire an Accustic Arts Power I integrated amplifier. You'll get an excellent performer that has a superb way with timbre and detail, plus more than sufficient bottom end grunt for most room and speaker combinations, not to mention more than a dollop of emotional engagement. Given the Power 1's performance, its price is very reasonable. Highly recommended. Larry Cox