AUDIO RESEARCH Reference 80S

MJ02.09.2021

Power amplifiers

Audio Research is an amplifier legend. The brand had been expected to get a boost when it was acquired by Fine Sounds Group (now transformed into McIntosh Group), however, the lift off did not happen. Recently the brand has been bought out by the original owners and most of parts and assembly has been brought back to Audio Research’s house. So we have the opportunity to re-live the legend again, without speculative financial interests, and the Reference 80s stereo power amplifier is a sweet spot in the range.

Funkce a forma

82%
Ergonomie
85%
Zvuk
95%
Zpracování

I must admit I have never been a fan of Audio Research’s design – their electronics always looked like a lab equipment to me. That has changed with the new additions that sport fresh and modern looks while paying a tribute to what was characteristic for the brand. By far the most attractive feature can be seen in what Audio Research calls Ghost Meters; big VU meters etched onto see-through acrylic plate that dominates the Reference 80S’s fascia. The amplifier employs 6H30 double-triodes and KT150 output tubes and offers switching between Ultralinear and Triode modes to deliver 70 watts continuous watts per channel in the former and 33 watts in the latter mode, in a fully balanced differential design.

Audio Research users will enjoy an auto-bias circuit that adjusts for both voltage swings and tube age, output tube monitoring with an hour-meter so you know how many hours are on the tubes, a set of 16, 8 and 4ohm speaker taps, and a silently running fan that is built into the bottom plate and provides air-conditioning for the amplifier.

Before listening the Reference 80S’s output is muted for almost 2 minutes for the amplifier waits until tubes are not stabilized and biased.

Nízké frekvence

Váha
91
Výbušnost
87
Artikulace
89

After 10 minutes into the listening it is clear that the Reference 80S knows how to create an illusion of scale, mass, and weight. The songs like Another Brick in The Wall are presented with powerful and rich bass that makes a good fundament for the Audio Research’s honest midrange. Be it Waters’ bass guitar or Rab’s acoustic double bass in Barvy vsecky of Zuzana Navarova, I had always the impression of solid weight of sound that helped stretch the soundstage laterally and into the depth. The attack is slightly softer and therefore the bass is not that punchy as I am used to hear with the best high-end amplifiers, yet it is ‘tuneful’ and ‘melodic’ and ‘enveloping’. The Audio Research Reference 80S can fill the room with sound and because of this heavy-on-bottom balance it will also be demanding towards the acoustics of the room. I listened to the amplifier with full-range speakers and the rather large room was pressurized to its limit.

Čistota rozlišení

Detail
87
Vzduch
85
Transparentnost
85

The muscular bass dictates the final sound of Saint-Saens’s violin virtuouso piece Danse Macabre (Eiji Oue, Minnesota Orchestra, Reference Recordings): the orchestra has the power and slam and warmth, which is a great canvas for the solo instrument. The bass textures are drafted by the Audio Research rather than fully accomplished so there is not a lot of difference between recordings as far as the bottom end is concerned – call it a signature. Still, the Reference 80S provides extra tools to change this and I will be back to it two paragraphs lower.

Tonální věrnost

Témbr
84
Dynamika
89
Časování
89

I cannot but praise the Audio Research’s top end that is fine and sophisticated. Since last few years the high-end amplifiers has been voiced for effect; who would not like hard-hitting bass and sparkling treble? Yet such the sound can be fatiguing (and often it is). The Reference 80S’s top end is silky, resolved, and decent. No listening fatigue, no cut-off ears, just pleasure and fun.

In my review of Simaudio Moon 860A v2 power amplifier and mentioned chanson francaise diva Hana Hegerova and her Čerešne song. The voice of Hana was warmer and velvetier through the Audio Research , a bit more human for my ears, although the sound was slightly less transparent and less controlled. The 860A v2 was more resolved too, and the 80S sounded more homogenous, but once again, the listening was rewarding and entertaining.

Prostorovost

Trojrozměrnost
91
Šířka scény
91
Hloubka scény
91

So, let’s be back to the bass quality. The Reference 80S has the aforementioned multiple speaker taps on its rear panel. To decide about to which taps connect the speakers is not a straightforward exercise; although the speakers state their impedance in a specification sheet the impedance usually varies with frequency, often significantly. Through the Audio Research’s 4-ohm taps I heard what I described two paragraphs earlier; when I connected the speakers on the Reference 80S’s 8-ohm taps the bottom hand underwent a major facelift. In that moment the massive Angel from Massive Attack (Mezzanine) tightened in the bass and got more resonant at the same time, without losing the depth and fatness of the bottom end. I could not be satisfied more with what I was hearing, however, there was also a proverbial trade-off: the presence region got accented and some recording became too forward sounding. What is the learning? Make sure that your existing speakers will work with the Reference 80S to your satisfaction before the buy. Or, vice versa, if you own the Reference 80S, be patient to choose the right speakers.

The Reference 80S also reacts to which power cable is used with it. There is a slight complication though as the amplifier uses IEC C19 standard. I tried to swap the Acrolinku 8N-PC8100 to Shunyata Research’s new Sigma XC v2 and the sound changed; it was another major improvement with no trade-off this time.

In Audio Research they know how to build great amplifiers and the Reference 80S is the proof. It runs hot because of the tubes, and have limited power handling that does not allow for playing too loud; other than that it is a competent piece of high end gear. Should you need more power there is the Reference 160S model that doubles the power of the 80S. Still, I know quite a number of audiophiles that like to listen at low volumes – those may find the Audio Research Reference 80S the ultimate power amplifier.

Cena v době recenze:450 000,- Kč

Doporučení prodejci

HI-FI studio TYKON, Ostrava, tel. +420 723 449 894

Připojené komponenty

  • Sources: EMM Labs Meitner MA3 DAC/network streamer/preamplifier
  • Amplifiers: Audio Research Reference 80S
  • Interconnects and speaker cables: Shunyata Research Sigma v2
  • Loudspeakers: Estelon X Diamond
  • Power conditioning: Shunyata Research Everest 8000, Shunyata Research Alpha NR, Omega XC v2, Sigma XC v2, Acrolink Mexcel 8N-PC8100

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