|Magnum Audio IA 170 Integrated Amplifier|
|Home Theater Power Amplifiers Integrated Amplifiers|
|Written by Brian Kahn|
|Thursday, 01 March 2001|
The IA 170 served as my introduction to Magnum Audio as a high-end audio manufacturer. Magnum Audio is a British electronics company that is building a strong following on the east side of the pond and is expanding its reach within the U.S. The IA 170 is an integrated amp that retails for $750 here in the United States without a phono section, and $850 with phono included. For $750, the listener gets a one-chassis amplifier and preamp with 70 watts per channel into eight ohms and 110 watts per channel into four ohms, six single-ended inputs, one tape loop, a headphone output, mute and mono switches and bi-wireable speaker terminals. One of the unit’s inputs, labeled "monitor," is connected directly to the amplifying circuits for a purer signal path. The front of the IA 170, with the exception of its nameplate (which appears to be easily removable), is an attractive polished steel. While rare for an integrated amplifier at this price point, the unit is likely to elicit a strong pride of ownership due to its solid build quality and pleasing look.
The IA 170’s interior is fairly simple and straightforward. I would be surprised if the unit did not provide many years of reliable service. There is a single toroidal power transformer and four output devices. The parts appear to be of better than average quality, although they are not extremely expensive name brands.
I utilized the IA 170 in my reference music system, which at this time is comprised of RBH Sound MC-6T speakers, a Yamaha TX-950 tuner and a Pioneer Elite PDR-19RW digital front end, connected with Audio Analysis cabling.
The source I used for the majority of my critical listening was a Pioneer Elite PDR-19RW CD player, which I connected through the monitor input on the IA 170. I tried connecting the CD player to the other inputs and found only the slightest of differences, with the advantage going to the monitor input.
Upon first listen, the IA 170 did not impress me. I found the sound to be dark and muddy. This changed significantly upon burning in and physically warming up the unit. This, once again, demonstrates the importance of breaking in and warming up a product before beginning any critical listening sessions.
The IA 170 never fully overcame my first impressions of it. Throughout my listening experience, the sound of the unit remained recessed and rolled off on the upper end. I never found the unit to be bright or forward. These characteristics also contributed to a very smooth, full sound. During my time with the IA 170, an audio enthusiast friend commented that the sound was reminiscent of tubes, especially in the mid-bass, which was very full and smooth at the cost of some detail.
Most components have some sort of sonic aberrations, and they usually vary by frequency. To the IA 170’s credit, the unit’s sonic signature is consistent throughout its useable frequency range, allowing for a cohesive, rather than disjointed, sonic image. The IA 170 easily provides a comfortable listening environment that is not overwhelming.
Robbie Robertson’s eponymously titled album (Mobile Fidelity) spent a lot of time in my CD player during the IA 170’s stay in my system. The first track, "Fallen Angel," provided a good demonstration of the IA 170’s overall performance. The soundstage was very wide and went back a good distance. The entire soundstage was somewhat distant, placing the listener near the back of the auditorium rather than closer to the musicians. St. Germain’s album Tourist (Blue Note) provides a good mix of wind and percussion instruments. The IA 170 gives a solid presentation of the drums. Despite the lack of detail and transparency of my Bow Technologies Wazoo ($3500), I was easily able to discern the steel drums on the track "So Flute."
While listening to Crystal Method’s album Vegas (City of Angels), and in particular the track "Busy Child," I noted the speed of the attack on sharp transients to be a bit slow. This slowness was not particularly pronounced or bothersome, but it was definitely detectable on albums with fast and hard transients such as this electronic masterpiece. To its credit, the IA 170 reproduced the demanding bass track of "Busy Child" with convincing solidity. In addition to the aforementioned albums, I ran through a variety of jazz, rock and pop music with consistent results.
No matter what type of music was played, the soundstage remained wide and deep, the sound full-bodied, the bass solid and extended and the highs slightly rolled off. There was no graininess or edginess until the volume was pushed to the limit. Throughout my listening, the unit remained remarkably well composed and balanced, with the entire frequency range evenly pushed slightly to the dark side and the entire soundstage pulled back from the listener. As observed earlier, the sonic colorations present in this unit equally affect the sound as a whole, maintaining cohesiveness, rather than affecting different ranges in different ways.
The IA 170’s shortcomings are fairly limited in scope and fully described above. The only sonic shortcomings are the recessed soundstage and the overall balance being on the dark side. While the downsides are limited, they are noticeable and should be considered before purchase.
The IA 170 is a competent unit that would be a great addition to a system that needed some rough edges smoothed out or some overly bright highs tamed. The unit suffers a bit when pushed hard and should not be used with speakers that have demanding impedance curves.
This is not the unit for those who seek absolute neutrality and transparency. However, when properly placed, the IA 170 is more than sufficient to serve as the centerpiece of a well-balanced system. At $750 (or even compared to units selling for twice that amount), the sound quality of the IA 170 is remarkably cohesive and devoid of graininess common in solid state components in this price range.