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XTZ A2-300 Power Amplifier Review

Meet the small box with heavyweight sound

by Ed Selley
SRP: £429.00

What is the XTZ Edge A2-300?

The XTZ Edge A2-300 is a compact stereo power amp. At first glance, this might seem a bit specialised for the sort of space that modern Hi-Fi is shaping up to be. After all, we’ve just handed our Product of the Year gong to the NAD M10, a device that can do everything short of make coffee and ease lower back pain. I myself have written about how audio is conglomerating and that source equipment is changing as a result. Where does something as niche as a stereo power amp fit into this calculation?

Well, it’s true that I wrote that equipment is generally taking on a broader spread of roles because it is. Within this trend though is a need for a subset of very specialist devices that can be used to unlock extra features in these multifunction devices. Case in point, add an SOtM SMS-200 Neo to an amp with a USB input and you have a self-contained all-in-one and a bit system. The XTZ is less specialised than a tiny parasite streamer but it has some similarities as to how it might be used and we’ll try and cover off what those might be over the course of the review.

XTZ EDGE A2-300
Of course, as well as trying to cover what it might be used for, we’ll have to consider the more prosaic consideration of whether it sounds any good. XTZ has traditionally built some very clever and capable products at competitive prices over the years but they’ve tended to be speakers rather than electronics. Does this little black box shape up? Read on to find out.

Specification and Design

The XTZ is a stereo power amplifier. It has two channels of amplification and is dependent on the presence of a device with a volume control being connected to it in order to have any control over levels. The first point of note is that the A2-300 is fairly small. It’s 20cm wide, a whisker under 30cm deep and just 6cm high. It is designed in such a way that two of them can sit side by side in a proper mounted rack. In the ‘good old days’ this would have meant that the amount of power available from an enclosure this size would be limited. Short of having it double up as a hotplate, the most you could have extracted from something this size would have been 40 to 50 watts.

 If you have a DAC with a volume control, you can attach the XTZ and create a complete, digital fronted system

This being the present, the figures are rather different. The XTZ is in fact home to a pretty much complete and unmolested B&O Icepower module. It’s one of the smaller models that are available but the figures it generates are still eyebrow raising. XTZ claims 150 watts into eight ohms with both channels driven which neatly doubles to 300 watts into four. Both of these numbers are given at a slightly toppy 1% THD (that is to say, a figure which is likely to be audible even to someone who isn’t specifically listening for it) but it does suggest that, in normal non-redlined use, this little box shouldn’t struggle with any remotely price comparative speakers. There is a Mono function that doesn’t increase power but means that both channels will output the left hand signal, ensuring a pair of A2-300s could be used for bi-amping.

XTZ EDGE A2-300
The connectivity to access the amp is entirely conventional. Given that the relatively small rear panel precludes fitting both XLR and RCA connections, XTZ has taken the - probably wise - decision to go with RCA. This input is equipped with small trim control that can be used to set the output of the amp so it won’t clip within the normal operating parameters of the device it is connected to. Neither is this purely academic value. As XTZ doesn’t make a matching preamp, the breadth of volume gain ranges that it will partner with is going to be considerable.

Special mention has to be made of the speaker terminals. They are ‘WBT Pattern’ (that is to say, I couldn’t tell you if they’re actually made by WBT) and have copper cores encased in sturdy jackets to prevent oxidisation. They’re a rather lovely thing to encounter on a product at the price. Connectivity is finished off by an IEC mains socket and switches for Mono operation and for starting when the amp detects an input. This seems to work pretty well in use and makes for a more energy efficient setup.

  ...it does suggest that, in normal non-redlined use, this little box shouldn’t struggle with any remotely price comparative speakers

All of this comes wrapped in metal chassis that is unreasonably well made for the asking price. The A2-300 is made entirely from metal and, as well as feeling very solid, the attention to detail is deeply appealing as well. The pattern in the venting down the side of the casework is probably superfluous but it gives the XTZ some character above being a little black box. Other details like the excellent quality feet and the small but easy to see status light on the front panel all add to the feeling that the XTZ ‘should’ cost more than it does.

XTZ EDGE A2-300
Of course, you might have reached this far into the review and still be idly wondering what you might do with such a thing. The answer is, ‘quite a bit.’ Ultimately, the XTZ needs a preamp to function but in 2019, the number of things that can be described as ‘preamps’ isn’t that high. The number of things that behave as preamps (a detailed but necessary distinction) is very high indeed. Let’s start with the obvious one. If you have a DAC with a volume control, you can attach the XTZ and create a complete, digital fronted system.

The other significant possibility is to use the XTZ as the device that gives some AV receivers the ability to run their full complement of height channels. Many models we’ve looked at over the last 2-3 years are able to process more channels than they have on board and have pre-outs to allow for these other channels to be supported - and some of the better thought out designs have allowances so that the external amps drive the front two channels, shifting the internal ones for effects duties.

These are the more normal options but a more intriguing possibility is presented by some of the 2019 TVs. In his tireless attempts to recreate the scene with ‘The Architect’ from The Matrix Reloaded in his own front room, Phil Hinton has noted that models from Panasonic and LG, in particular, can be set to have preouts. This allows for the possibility of connecting the XTZ and a suitable pair of speakers directly to your TV for a soundbar crushing but still wholly discrete enhanced sound option.

 The other significant possibility is to use the XTZ as the device that gives some AV receivers the ability to run their full complement of height channels

XTZ EDGE A2-300

How was the Network tested?

The XTZ has seen the bulk of its testing done with preamp DACs. It all cases, it has been used with the Spendor A1 standmount speaker and connected to an IsoTek Evo3 Sigmas mains conditioner. It has been tried with both a Chord Electronics Mojo and then the rather more spendy option of a Hugo TT2 and Mscaler combination to get a handle on absolute performance. Both devices were connected to an SOtM SMS-200 Neo running as a Roon endpoint and an LG 55B7 OLED via optical - unfortunately, the B7 isn’t equipped to run a preout. Material use has included FLAC, AIFF, ALAC and some DSD, Qobuz and Deezer on demand and broadcast TV and film. 

More: Audio format nomenclatures explained

Sound Quality

Buried in the wider specification of the A2-300 is an arresting number. XTZ claims this amplifier has a damping factor of over 1,500. This is calculated by the ratio of the load impedance (loudspeaker plus wire resistance) to the amplifier internal output impedance. What that rather impenetrable sentence means is that the damping factor relates to the notional ability of the amp to control the drivers of the speaker that’s connected to it. I confess I haven’t noted the damping factor on everything I’ve tested but I’m pretty certain that this is one of the highest numbers I can recall encountering.

 Nevertheless, there is a leanness to the way that the XTZ performs that will require at least a little care to be applied as to what you partner it with

XTZ EDGE A2-300
So what does this mean? The key word that crops up in the notes is ‘immediate.’ The diminutive Spendor is never going to be a speaker that you’d describe as ‘slow’ but one of the reasons I use them for testing is because they’ll tell you exactly what the components further up the chain are doing. And in this case, what the XTZ is doing is exerting truly phenomenal control over this little speaker. And what this translates to is sheer speed - something I’ve always found appealing from any product.

Give it something like the superbly gritty Foundation by Nocturnal Sunshine and this translates to an experience that is continuously able to bring you into the performance at an emotional level. This is a subjective area - for me, this perceived speed and lightness of touch is arguably more important to my enjoyment of the music than tonality or soundstage. There really isn’t much you can do in timing terms to upset the XTZ. It’s no less useful with film and TV material too because ‘LFE events’ happen - and no less importantly, stop - with exceptional speed.

  ...this translates to an experience that is continuously able to bring you into the performance at an emotional level

There does seem to be a trade-off to this though. I have tried to argue over the years that the topology of an amplifier does not dictate how it sounds. The class D NAD M10 is fuller and warmer than the resolutely class A/B Naim Uniti Atom for example. Nevertheless, there is a leanness to the way that the XTZ performs that will require at least a little care to be applied as to what you partner it with. Fed by the Chord DACs which are entirely matter of fact in what they supply, neither removing body from the recording nor adding it, the XTZ can at times feel very fractionally lacking in body. This manifests itself with material where there should be a hefty midrange swell like Trouble in Paradise performed live by UNKLE and the Heritage Orchestra, it isn’t really there. It never tips over to being thin but right at the point where the orchestra strikes up en masse, you don’t really feel it like you should.

XTZ EDGE A2-300
Of course, this is something that can be corrected by partnering equipment. Switching from the Chord Mojo to the rather more spectacular combination of TT2 and Mscaler, this combination’s ability to render information and the space it is in brings the XTZ along for the ride. It is unlikely though that many people will elect to partner a €400 amplifier with a £7,000 digital front end but there are digital sources available for more terrestrial prices that would likely partner the XTZ nicely. It might be fair to say that the A2-300 is not a magic bullet that makes everything better though.

It is a tonally believable one though. Again, with the Spendor there to help appraise the absolute nature of what is coming out of the terminals, the news is good. Keeping with live music and moving onto the spellbinding Live in London by Regina Spektor, both her wonderfully distinctive vocal turn and the piano sound very convincing indeed. It’s easy to forget that - coming off the back of some rather expensive integrated amps - that the XTZ costs €400 and when you do centre this thought in your head, it’s hard to argue with the nature of what it can do with a little care paid to the partnering equipment.

Not that you need to pay much attention to the sensitivity of the speakers though. That 150 watt output into eight ohms feels entirely believable and it means that there really isn’t going to be much at a remotely similar price that the XTZ won’t drive to a reference level or beyond. This has interesting implications for multichannel use as six channels of XTZ A2-300s would be €1,200 and I cannot think of too many multichannel power amps at that sort of price that could deliver as much raw power as three of these could and those that can will generally take up more space than these will. If you are looking to export some amplifier work from your AV Receiver - particularly if it offers some EQ ability to tweak what the XTZ is up to, this is a very good way to start looking.

  ‘LFE events’ happen - and no less importantly, stop - with exceptional speed

XTZ EDGE A2-300

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Extremely powerful for a compact amp
  • Fast and involving sound
  • Really well made

Cons

  • Can sound a little lean
  • No XLR input

XTZ A2-300 Power Amplifier Review

The XTZ A2-300 is never going to be something that everybody needs but the decision to build it makes rather more sense once you realise just how many things are out there waiting to be connected to it. Judged by the absolute standard of some of the equipment that has passed through recently, the A2-300 isn’t perfect. It needs to partnered with at least one eye on keeping a little warmth and body to the presentation but any of these criticisms need to be balanced against the fact that this is a beautifully made little amp that will drive the bolts out of most speakers under £1,000 and it costs €400. Whether it’s the means of boosting your multichannel, part of a leftfield soundbar alternative or a piece of Hi-Fi equipment, this little amp has much to offer and as such earns our enthusiastic Recommendation.

MORE: Further power amplifier reviews here

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Connectivity

.
.
8

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
9

Overall

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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