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A-8000 Mk II integrated
as reviewed by Francisco Duran
Clichés often contain much truth. One that seems to fit the Qinpu A-8000 Mk II to a "T" is the one that goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words," but looks can be deceiving. After looking at the picture, the words that spring to mind include "tubes" and "Italian," but tubes are nowhere to be found in this design, nor is it built in the Mediterranean. The Chinese-made A-8000 Mk II is a high-bias-current design with a power output of 100 watts into 8 ohms and 150 watts into 4 ohms. Its signal-to-noise ratio is >100dB, THD is 0.05 percent, and its damping factor is over 100. (It is interesting to note that the damping factor of my Nuforce 8.5 monoblock amplifiers are 4000. Different design, different sound.) The manual is very thorough, with informative and clear diagrams. Along with the usual information is an engineer’s diary that describes the amp’s design and the procedures that brought it to Mk II status.
This amp is a model of simplicity. Like the Jasmine Piano tube amp, the Qinpu A-8000 MK II is a very basic two-channel integrated stereo amplifier with stunning looks. With just four inputs, a volume control, and a source selector, the A-8000 Mk II is a simple but effective device for listening to music. I especially liked the user-friendly speaker binding posts and the cool blue LED on the front panel. Installing speaker cables is a snap. The plastic grips on the five-way posts require only finger tightening to get a good grip on bare wire, spades, or banana plugs. There’s no need for wrenches. I really appreciated those binding posts.
My system is not set up for an integrated amp, but I made accommodations. Fortunately, I had some meter-and-a-half Analysis Plus cables that reached to the floor, where I had placed the amp (on my usual Black Diamond Racing platforms). The interconnects from my CD player to the amp remained from my usual setup. Although I played the A-8000 Mk II for more than 100 hours to ensure break-in, it sounded pretty good from the get-go. I immediately noticed how much gain this amp had. Its 150 watts were more than enough to drive the big Dalis. My need to crank volume levels to 11 went away (although, every once in a while, us geezers like to live on the wild side and crank it up).
The Qinpu ably delivered gobs of distortion-free gain. After break-in, the musical surprises just kept coming. This amp is very taut and focused, but its greatest strength is its coherence, from the top to the bottom of the frequency range. The way it presents timbre and tonal color is notable. Two CDs on the Telarc label showed how well the Qinpu handled this area of performance: Alan Hovhaness Mysterious Mountain and The Symphonic Music of Howard Hanson. From the more frantic pieces on the Hansen disc, like the "Maypole Dance,s" to the more deliberate "Summer Seascape," the Qinpu held the music together in a natural manner. Hovhaness' Storm on Wildcat Mountain sounded even more dynamic—bold, yet very taut and together. Both recordings sounded more spacious and open than they do with my Margules tube amp, which closes in the soundstage a little on both sides, especially in triode mode. The soundstage of the Qinpu is clean, with no fuzziness around performers, yet the music does not sound etched. I heard a very good balance of detail, spaciousness, and timing. On Don Byron’s Bug Music CD, with its many horns, no instrument sounded closed in. On the contrary, performers were treated to a generous share of air and space. The panoply of horn players was placed on a clear stage with plenty of elbow room, each instrument sounding separate but equal.
The little Qinpu hit the mark both tonally and texturally. It gave little away in instrumental tone to other, considerably more expensive solid-state amps. Tube amps seem to have a monopoly on tonality and harmonics, but the Qinpu A-8000MkII doesn't disappoint in this respect. Switching to the Qinpu from either of my tube amps resulted in very little tube withdrawal. Although the Qinpu is missing that last bit of tube richness and fullness, it has very good dimensionality and creates a decent amount of air around performers. It doesn't smooth over anything, either. It showed all the slight distortions in Steely Dan's Can't Buy a Thrill, including the slight breakup of the guitar at the beginning of track four, and the slightly distorted vocals on track three. The sound never became harsh, and even when I played music very loud, it handled dynamic peaks effortlessly. The Qinpu held my speakers with a solid grip.
On the first track of The Pat Metheny Group’s Here to Stay CD, Metheny's guitar notes sounded clean, clear, and round. The music was not a bit smeared. Every note rang true, and at the same time, the music was fast, dynamic, and robust. Detail was also very good. On Lyle Mays’ self-titled solo effort, the spacey arrangements flowed effortlessly, and I could easily hear small details in the mix. The guitars and pedal steel on the Notting Hillbillies’ CD sounded excellent. There was a smoothness to the music that made for a very inviting and involving listen.
Partly out of curiosity and partly out of cruelty, I took out the Qinpu and substituted my trusty old Monarchy SM-70 and Reference Line Passive preamp. Could my sweet, hot-running little class-A 25-watt wonder outclass this new amp? It did and it didn't. The Monarchy sounded noticeably cleaner and sweeter. The Qinpu is not grainy, but the Monarchy outclassed it in this area, so much so that it squelched the idea I had entertained about buying the Qinpu. Could the Qinpu's smoothness be an impediment to clarity? No. The Qinpu out-muscled the Monarchy in its handling of dynamic swings and in overall bass performance. It was smoothness, coherency, and dynamics versus clarity, sweetness, and see-through transparency. It was the convenience of an integrated amp versus the inconvenience of separates. I like my separates because it enables me to experiment with four amps, and to play with tubes in two of them. It’s a gearhead’s paradise, if you will. The Monarchy SM-70, run in mono, is a fully balanced, dual differential amp, and it is inexpensive to boot, yet the Qinpu's styling is a far cry from the Monarchy’s thick little black box.
There are many combinations of separates at or (more often) above the price of the Qinpu, but the Qinpu can compete with them, sonically, ergonomically, and in looks. There also some integrated amps that are stiff competition. While I have not heard them all, the Qinpu more than held its own against the amps I had on hand. The sonic strengths of this amp—plus the fact that it is fun to listen to, easy to use, has very good build quality, and is affordable—means it is well worth a serious audition. Francisco Duran
Qinpu A-8000 Mk II integrated amplifier