Roksan Attessa Streaming Amplifier Review
- Detailed, refined and engaging sound
- Comprehensive specification
- Well made and well designed
- Some care required with speaker pairing
- Doesn't necessarily 'feel' like a Roksan
- Strong competition
Introduction - What is the Roksan Attessa Streaming Amplifier?
The Roksan Attessa is an integrated amplifier that combines a selection of analogue and digital inputs together with on board streaming (meaning that, like a few ‘integrated amps’ we’ve seen in recent times, this could just as easily be seen as an all in one system). We’ll cover the specification, the bells, the whistles and the quirks over the course of the review but the Attessa (if, like me, you are looking at that name and wondering where you’ve seen it before it, minus the second ‘s’, was the name of Nissan’s four wheel drive system that featured in the R32,33 and 34 Skyline. You’re welcome) is a significant release for Roksan and the industry.
First of all, this is the first major release from the company since it was purchased by Monitor Audio five years ago. Before that, Roksan was a small but reasonably successful company that built a selection of amps, CD players and turntables, the latter being perhaps what the company is best known for. Like a few companies, the move away from physical media (in particular digital physical media) caught Roksan on the hop somewhat. The costs and complexity of going into streaming ‘cold’ are considerable and the solution that has been reached for the Attessa is something that could not have been done without the scale (and overall clout) of Monitor Audio.
That solution is notable because what has been chosen in the Attessa is to make use of the BluOS interface that was developed by Lenbrook; the parent company of NAD and Bluesound, and it represents the first time I’ve encountered it in use outside those products (although it is not the first time that it’s been done). As such, we have to establish if the Attessa is any good and how those decisions reflect on the performance. Let’s get cracking.
Specification and Design
There are two versions of the Attessa amplifier; one that is sold without the streaming module and the version here that is. The core amplifier section is the same in both units and this is a class AB design that delivers 80 watts into 8 ohms and 130 into four. This is conventional enough in itself but it does mean that, from the outset the Roksan has an immediate point of differentiation between itself and NAD designs with BluOS on board which tend to go with Class D modules that the company has invested in heavily over the last few years.
The connectivity is largely in keeping with what you might expect of an amplifier being designed and built for this present day. Two RCA inputs are fitted, one with the ability to sense if a signal is present and one that doesn’t. Compared to the rows of RCA connections that amps used to sport, it might feel a little limited but it reflects the nature of the systems we’re now building. Neither of those inputs would need to be taken up by a phono stage either because there’s a moving magnet one built in. This is both in keeping with Roksan design practise dating back to year dot and of more than academic interest given the range also includes an Attessa turntable.
These analogue connections are backed up by a quartet of digital inputs; two optical and two coaxial. These have a sample rate handling of 192kHz for the coaxial connections and 96kHz for the optical. They are backed up by a Bluetooth input with aptX and AAC handling and there’s AirPlay2 to round things off. Decoding is via an unspecified Texas Instruments/Burr Brown DAC. When you take into account these connections on top of the analogue inputs, the Attessa feels entirely comprehensive. Everything is available as an output to a set of speaker terminals, an RCA pre out and a 3.5mm headphone socket on the front panel.
The main event though is that BluOS module which, in a fair few cases will mean that Attessas don’t have anything connected to them at all. The specifications are in keeping with other BluOS devices that we’ve tested over the years; that is to say they’re incredibly comprehensive, offering a wealth of real world functionality rather the concentrating on dizzying PCM sample rates or DSD support (as with other BluOS devices, the Attessa can identify and convert DSD but can’t play it natively although it will play MQA natively). This means that you have streaming service support that most rivals can only dream of (Apple Music is really the only notable absentee) and a control app and overall user experience that - being blunt for a moment - Roksan could not have got anywhere near on its own.
It’s also important to stress that the manner that this module integrates with the rest of the amplifier is completely seamless. The Attessa is as cohesive to use as anything else that uses BluOS. Volume is controlled within the app and it’s slick, stable and completely intuitive to use. I’ll flag the same qualifications I always do about some aspects of its operation; I don’t personally like the queue and the size cap for album art needs to be bigger but this is one of the very few control experiences that comes close to Roon. On the subject of Roon, Roksan has confirmed that the Attessa will be Roon certified in due course, giving another option there too.
Roksan has combined the BluOS module with a bespoke control interface. In place of a conventional volume pot is a rotary encoder that is both haptic; it responds to different amounts of input with different rates of volume increase and decrease, and multi functional; it doubles as an input selector when you push and twist it. I confess I read this section of the press release with a degree of alarm. Something like this sounds relatively simple but it’s a great deal more complex than you might at first imagine and I have distinct memories of an older Roksan product; the Oxygene which looked (looks in fact) fabulous but used a touch interface that would have doubled as a bank safe. My concerns were groundless. It works like a charm and, crucially, it works so well that using it becomes second nature after about three minutes.
It is part of a wider set of aesthetic and design decisions that have grown on me in the time I’ve been using the Attessa. The Roksan looks clean and modern (with a caveat that I’ll come to shortly). Shrinking the control interface down the main central dial and three buttons for play/pause and track skip, gives the front panel a minimalism that has been achieved without hamstringing the use of the amp day to day. There’re no external aerials which helps this effect too.
And it’s beautifully made as well. The Attessa isn’t made out sheets of metal that could deflect small arms fire. Instead, it concentrates on taking ‘normal’ sections of casework and bolting them together really (really) well. Roksan equipment has always been well made but the level of finish on show here is a step forward again. I like the orange LEDs too; they’re clear and easy to read without being overly bright. The supplied remote handset isn’t especially lovely but it works well enough and reflects that the likelihood of you using it over the app is reduced a little.
So what’s the caveat I mentioned earlier? This is a personal observation and I don’t want to frame it as a negative but, if you delivered an Attessa to me with all the branding removed, I don’t necessarily know if I’d automatically recognise it as a Roksan product. Part of this is down to Roksan having less of a cohesive design ethos over the years; the Caspian, Kandy, Oxygene and Blak ranges are not especially similar to one another but, aside from the cut in lower corners which are in keeping with the Caspian, there’s nothing here that screams ‘Roksan’ at me. The reason why this is an aside rather than an out and out criticism is because, if you asked me if I would accept a more compromised control interface and design to make it ‘more Roksan’, I’d obviously say no, so I understand and respect the design decisions taken.
Roksan equipment has always been well made but the level of finish on show here is a step forward again
How was the Attessa Streaming Amp tested?
The Roksan has been used on a Quadraspire QAVX equipment rack, taking a mains feed from an IsoTek Evo 3 Aquarius mains conditioner. It has mainly been used on wired internet but wireless was tested for stability. The bulk of testing has been via the BluOS module but AirPlay has been tested via a 2021 iPad Pro 11 inch and Bluetooth via an Oppo Find X2 Neo phone. An Attessa turntable arrived at the same time but, in order to get a better understanding of the phono stage, it was tested with the resident combination of AVID Ingenium Twin, SME M2-9 and Vertere Sabre moving magnet cartridge. Speakers used have been the Fyne Audio F500 SP and (for reasons I will elaborate on) the Acoustic Energy AE1 Classic. Material used has been FLAC and AIFF, Qobuz, Tidal and vinyl.
More: Audio Formats
The quick and dirty summary of what Roksan has achieved with the Attessa is that they have replicated that slick and cohesive user experience that the design and aesthetics achieve. The styling of Roksan equipment might have varied considerably but the sonic balance has been admirably consistent. This was always less overtly ‘pacey’ than Naim or Cyrus but it knew its way around a time signature and there has always been an admirable composure and musicality to how the company’s equipment presented itself.
The Attessa keeps these fundamental qualities. Listening to the sensational Calm Down, the magnificent opener on W.H Lung’s Vanities, the strutting confidence of the piece is perfectly captured. Once that splendid synth line gets going, the Roksan gets into a head nodding flow that isn’t forced or overblown but is instead extremely well judged. Something that cropped up in the review of the Bluesound Node which also uses a TI DAC is that the decoding of the Attessa complements the amp section extremely effectively because it has a level of timing and drive of its own that balances well in combination.
Where the Attessa is especially capable is that it never loses an impressive level of civility and refinement. Even running hard, this is a smooth and unflappable sounding amp that offers excellent tonal richness and realism. Voices and instruments consistently sound as they should and the Roksan is also reasonably forgiving of less than perfect recordings too. Nothing in your collection should be off limits to you via the Attessa, which is how things should be.
So far, all listening had been conducted via the Fyne Audio F500SP. It put in a fine showing in its own review, it is priced at about the same point as the Roksan and the two brands have considerable dealer overlap. The combination isn’t perfect though. The Fyne is impressively sensitive which means that the Roksan doesn’t have to work terribly hard to drive them. This is fine as far as it goes but, while the Attessa has a completely linear volume ramp thanks to that clever encoder, the performance definitely benefits from being a little further up the volume range, which, with the F500SP is rather loud. There’s also the slightest sense that while the performance is rhythmic and engaging, both parties might have more to give separately.
This is where the test with the AE1s came in. I limit use of these in reviews because they are a thirty year old design and have some (considerable) flaws of their own. Bolting them to the Roksan though was immediately invigorating. The increase in the overall feeling of energy and engagement is considerable and, because the AE1 is rather less sensitive, it allows the Attessa to be used further up its volume ramp with commensurate boosts to the performance. To reiterate, I stand by every word of the Fyne Audio review but this is a demonstration of the importance of system synergy. As to why it might be, I suspect it comes down to the Monitor Audio connection. The sonic profile of the company has changed over the years but it still produces lively and energetic speakers and it is both logical and advantageous for the Attessa to work well with its house stablemates and I suspect that the combination is a very good one.
The good news is that the basic sonic balance of the Attessa is mirrored across the rest of the connections as well. The phono stage is quiet, has a healthy amount of gain and, while I’d describe it as a little softer and warmer than the BluOS module, it’s still got the bite and attack to make a decent stab at Little Barie and Malcolm Catto’s Quatermass Seven, capturing the heft and weight of the period instruments and mastering. It’s clearly not an afterthought and it makes for a capable and involving listen. Testing with Bluetooth and AirPlay also shows the Attessa to lose none of the basic qualities it demonstrates with the BluOS module too. I did find making a first pair with my phone to be quite tricky but having done so, it consistently reconnected and worked reliably.
Across all this, the Attessa does a better job of bottling the Roksan ethos than the appearance alone might do. It’s an amplifier that trades a ‘look at me’ showiness for the ability to keep engaging you for hours and it never seeks to be focus of attention, simply the vehicle for the music you’ve chosen. I suspect that, when demonstrated against more ebullient rivals, a few people will find themselves more immediately smitten with those devices (although, again, speaker choice is going to matter here) but the people that give the Roksan a little time are going to appreciate that long term listenability.
It’s an amplifier that trades a ‘look at me’ showiness for the ability to keep engaging you for hours and it never seeks to be focus of attention, simply the vehicle for the music you’ve chosen
Roksan Attessa Streaming Amplifier Review
Summing up the Attessa is a little tricky because part of me wants to try and tie in the performance to the significance of the device itself; the first clean sheet design from ‘new Roksan’ and a genuinely important new arrival. The thing is though, because this is an important new product, it isn’t that sort of device. This is not a shock and awe amplifier. It forgoes truly notable areas of ‘character’ (because one person’s ‘character’ is another’s flaw) and concentrates on delivering a contemporary spec in a way that has people who might (re ‘will’) not be invested in the Roksan brand history wanting to buy it.
And in this regard, the Attessa works brilliantly. What Roksan needed is an amp that delivers excellent performance in a way that is flexible and user friendly and the Attessa delivers this with a single well crafted, multi function knob on. So long as a moment’s care is taken in speaker choice, this is an extremely capable and consistently engaging amplifier that should win many new converts for the brand and it comes enthusiastically Recommended.
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