I got bitten by an Acoustic Invader

Michael Larkin

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I got bitten by an Acoustic Invader

AIP 1 small.GIF


A few months back, I watched this video on YouTube:



I’m quite partial to the iiWi (is it worth it?) channel, presented by Srboljub (Shr-bowl-yoob), a Serbian who speaks excellent English. I’d already bought my DAC from Richer Sounds based on one of his reviews, and was very tempted by his description of the price/performance benefits of the Acoustic Invader preamp (AIP). In the end, I couldn’t resist taking a bit of a risk and ordering it direct from Acoustic Invader (Acoustic Invader). Another nice Serbian chap, Goran, who also speaks English, runs the company.

After a number of weeks, I received the preamp, with a silver faceplate as requested. Inside the box was a very nice hinged, foam-lined wooden case enclosing the preamp and its remote. No power lead, but I have plenty enough of those. It cost me £1170 plus a couple of hundred or so for import and taxes.

The Principal elements of my main system presently comprise:

AIP (substitutes for my 6000A, which was employed in preamp mode)​
XTZ Edge A2-300 150w/ch class D ICE power amp​
Earmen Tradutto DAC​
Quad S2 speakers​
REL T0 mk II sub (high-level connection)​

My music source consists mainly of selected FLAC files ripped from CDs.

The AIP’s remote is generic, but works well to control input selection, volume, standby/wake-up, and mute. It’s powered by two pre-installed CR2032 coin-type batteries. The AIP itself is a class A balanced design consuming only 65W, presumably because it’s a pre- rather than integrated or power amp. Goran says that in use the heatsink gets hot, but the case always feels cool to me. He also says it has a warm-up time of around 10-15 minutes after being woken up from standby, but I find it perhaps takes a little longer to come fully on song. Although one could leave the amp always on, Goran doesn’t recommend it. My class AB 6000A also takes a while to warm up when woken, so it’s no big deal anyway.

Luckily, my XTZ power amp has a gain control. It had been set at max for the 6000A, but needed adjusting appreciably lower for the AIP. As Shrboljub had warned me, it sounds less than ideal for a few hours after first-time switch on, but once warmed up and kept subsequently in standby when off, it’s fine. Unfortunately, my XTZ only has RCA input, so I can’t use it with XLR balanced cables. Goran says, and Srboljub agrees, it sounds better with XLR, but I haven’t been able to verify that. I will, however, be able to use a Pentaconn to XLR connector for my DAC (when I can get my hands on one).

AIP 2 small.gif


The AIP seems well built and weighs 6.6 Kg -- it’s around the size of my 6000A, but has three (rather sturdy looking) feet rather than four. The volume control knob is motorised and can be operated from the remote. Incidentally, Goran says that if I ever decide to buy his Fulcrum amp (£5300!) and return the AIP, he’ll offer a discount for the AIP’s full current price.

So much for the nuts and bolts -- now, how do I think the the AIP + XTZ combo sounds after a couple of weeks' audition? Well, the bare 6000A sounds fine, and imho the XTZ adds a little more weight and authority. But the AIP + XTZ is a different animal. I think it has better balance across the frequencies and better timing/rhythm, coherence and dynamics. It’s markedly fuller and richer, and to me, produces more emotional involvement, which I suspect increases as I continue to run it in after the 10 hours put on the clock before dispatch.

I particularly like internal dialogue in music, as occurs in most genres -- acapella, blues, country, Baroque, etc. It thrills me when instrumental or vocal threads appear and start to playfully interact with what’s already going on. The 6000A + XTZ combo is quite spacious, with voices/instruments emerging from a certain degree of blackness, but I find the AIP + XTZ’s voice and instrumental sounds to be appreciably more engaging. A harmonica or pedal steel guitar riff, or maybe a harmonising voice, double bass line, or oboe passage, may appear from nowhere, and thereafter, be easily followed, yet remain cohesively integrated into the whole.

I find the AIP + XTZ to be detailed, but never clinical, with a lushness that the 6000A + XTZ simply doesn’t possess -- the latter has clarity, but sounds thin by comparison. Metaphorically, the 6000A’s sound stage is like a segment of the night sky, with each musical thread a distinct, sparkling star. OTOH, With the AIP combo, while there seems, at first blush, to be less space between those “stars”, I think it’s actually at least as spacious. I’d say it’s more a case of the space being filled out with richer textures, without threads getting in any way indistinct or at all muddled.

It’s the difference between a rather precise line drawing and a painting that’s just as precise, but filled with pigmented vibrancy. I’m studiously avoiding the word “coloured”, because the sound isn't, to my ears at least, artificially massaged -- it sounds natural. The AIP combo fleshes out tones I didn’t hear with the 6000A combo: I think of it as recovering information that had always been there in potential.

I don’t have to struggle to pay attention. The music the AIP combo delivers seems to me to effortlessly happen. Imagery can be quite startling even when I’ve heard the same track many times before -- perhaps related to its greater dynamism. I can appreciate fresh dimensions in music, and sometimes it will be as if I’m hearing a track for the first time. Now and then I find myself listening to something I've often skipped; but for whatever reason, it sounds more arresting, and I wonder why I’ve skipped it before. One could say that the AIP has, effectively, made my collection of most favoured tracks larger.

Presentation may range from brash and bouncy, as in Frankie goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”, all the way to very delicate as in Evelyn Glennie’s “Valse brilliante” on xylophone, which I find indeed brilliant. Every lightening fast -- and often ever so tiny -- percussive event here and there within the sound stage deliciously titillates my eardrums. An acapella arrangement by Pentatonix (“Daft Punk”) mesmerises as voices rapidly interweave and interact (especially between 2:20 and around 3:10). The AIP takes all kinds of presentation in its stride. The last thing I’d ever call it is boring.

Finally, impacts can be clearly discerned, be they subtle (a cymbal being lightly brushed, fingers sliding over guitar strings, an occasional intake of breath), or heavy as one might like. The AIP’s tight Bass can slap me hard in the chest (Chris Jones’ “No sanctuary here”), or be a bit more sneaky (Bela Fleck’s “Flight of the cosmic hippo”).

It’s been a bit of an education. I’m very impressed, and the AIP has taught me as much about the 6000A and the compromises made by its designer as it has about itself. At its price, the 6000A is very good and has served me well, but seems to rather concentrate on (slightly exaggerated?) image precision, separation and clarity. This is perhaps at the expense of other musical elements I’ve only now realised were missing, such as a rich fullness and better overall rhythm and timing.

Doubtless, the AIP has its own compromises, but right now it’s hands down the best-sounding amp I’ve ever owned, and at a price that would probably be significantly higher from a bigger company like Hegel, Naim or Mcintosh. Bravo, Goran! I Hope my reflections will in some small way help raise awareness of your company outside Serbia. I for one think it deserves that.
 
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Wow, very thorough and informative review! So strange that you received no comments/replies on this post. I've seen that guy's Youtube channel and I agree that his content is very good. I suppose one reason you have no reaction is that people here have no experience at all with the brand and products you're talking about but I am surprised there is total silence.
 
Wow, very thorough and informative review! So strange that you received no comments/replies on this post. I've seen that guy's Youtube channel and I agree that his content is very good. I suppose one reason you have no reaction is that people here have no experience at all with the brand and products you're talking about but I am surprised there is total silence.
Thanks. I had wondered, due to the lack of comments, whether somehow I'd transgressed an unwritten rule of some sort! :)

Most of the components of my lounge system (recently upgraded to include brand new Dali Menuet SE speakers bought at £300 less than current normal price) aren't that exotic. I now use the Audiolab 6000A, together with the Quad S2s, in a second, nearfield system in my study, and there it's a big upgrade from what I had before. The amp and DAC (a topping E30 I had lying around, better imo than the internal DAC) reside on a shelf above the one acting as my desktop, in an Ikea IVAR shelving system. The Quads are off to either side in adjacent linked IVAR units. So nothing has been wasted.

Actually, imo the Audiolab acquits itself even better than it did before in the lounge -- of course, in the nearfield situation, room influence on sound is significantly ameliorated. I still admire it even though it's not quite as good as the main system in the lounge, which, let's face it, accounts for only a relatively small percentage of my total listening time throughout the day.
 
I had the Audiolab 6000A for a bit and I must admit I didn't like this amp at all. I found the sound cold and analytical. But then again I didn't like the Rotel a11 Tribute either and both of these are considered gems at around the £500 to £600 mark. It was only when I tried the Denon that I found my sound and thought phew... at least I don't have to spend over £1000 to get the sound I want.
 
I had the Audiolab 6000A for a bit and I must admit I didn't like this amp at all. I found the sound cold and analytical. But then again I didn't like the Rotel a11 Tribute either and both of these are considered gems at around the £500 to £600 mark. It was only when I tried the Denon that I found my sound and thought phew... at least I don't have to spend over £1000 to get the sound I want.
Good to hear you found the amp you like at a price you can afford. We're all different, and if you like the Denon-type sound (never heard it myself, so can't comment), all power to your elbow.

IMO, the thing that makes the biggest single difference to sound in a system is the speakers. Had I started my main system in the study, and gone from a bog-standard setup with Edifier 1280T powered speakers there to the Audiolab plus Quads, I might never have bothered assembling my current lounge system. It sounds better, but is, after all, three times the price. Also, I spend most of my time in the study -- something I didn't factor in from the start. Perhaps I should have, but hey-ho, it's too late now.

The only reason I haven't swapped the two systems around is that the Menuets sound, to my ears, not as good as the Quads do in the study -- the reverse is the case in the lounge. This might change were I to get speakers other than the Menuets, but to be frank, I've called an end to major changes for the moment and am satisfied enough with what I've got.
 
Good to hear you found the amp you like at a price you can afford. We're all different, and if you like the Denon-type sound (never heard it myself, so can't comment), all power to your elbow.

IMO, the thing that makes the biggest single difference to sound in a system is the speakers. Had I started my main system in the study, and gone from a bog-standard setup with Edifier 1280T powered speakers there to the Audiolab plus Quads, I might never have bothered assembling my current lounge system. It sounds better, but is, after all, three times the price. Also, I spend most of my time in the study -- something I didn't factor in from the start. Perhaps I should have, but hey-ho, it's too late now.

The only reason I haven't swapped the two systems around is that the Menuets sound, to my ears, not as good as the Quads do in the study -- the reverse is the case in the lounge. This might change were I to get speakers other than the Menuets, but to be frank, I've called an end to major changes for the moment and am satisfied enough with what I've got.
I know that the Quad s2 are very highly regarded speakers. I was considering them at one point but had my doubts about the AMT tweeter and integration with the rest of the frequency range. Do you find this can be a problem with these speakers?
 
I know that the Quad s2 are very highly regarded speakers. I was considering them at one point but had my doubts about the AMT tweeter and integration with the rest of the frequency range. Do you find this can be a problem with these speakers?
Not that I have noticed. The integration appears seamless to me. I'd say that like the 6000A, they're a good product at a fair price -- though If I were shopping for something today, I'd also give the Polk R200's an audition at around the same price -- some reviewers seem to prefer them.
 
I got bitten by an Acoustic Invader

View attachment 1674376

A few months back, I watched this video on YouTube:



I’m quite partial to the iiWi (is it worth it?) channel, presented by Srboljub (Shr-bowl-yoob), a Serbian who speaks excellent English. I’d already bought my DAC from Richer Sounds based on one of his reviews, and was very tempted by his description of the price/performance benefits of the Acoustic Invader preamp (AIP). In the end, I couldn’t resist taking a bit of a risk and ordering it direct from Acoustic Invader (Acoustic Invader). Another nice Serbian chap, Goran, who also speaks English, runs the company.

After a number of weeks, I received the preamp, with a silver faceplate as requested. Inside the box was a very nice hinged, foam-lined wooden case enclosing the preamp and its remote. No power lead, but I have plenty enough of those. It cost me £1170 plus a couple of hundred or so for import and taxes.

The Principal elements of my main system presently comprise:

AIP (substitutes for my 6000A, which was employed in preamp mode)​
XTZ Edge A2-300 150w/ch class D ICE power amp​
Earmen Tradutto DAC​
Quad S2 speakers​
REL T0 mk II sub (high-level connection)​

My music source consists mainly of selected FLAC files ripped from CDs.

The AIP’s remote is generic, but works well to control input selection, volume, standby/wake-up, and mute. It’s powered by two pre-installed CR2032 coin-type batteries. The AIP itself is a class A balanced design consuming only 65W, presumably because it’s a pre- rather than integrated or power amp. Goran says that in use the heatsink gets hot, but the case always feels cool to me. He also says it has a warm-up time of around 10-15 minutes after being woken up from standby, but I find it perhaps takes a little longer to come fully on song. Although one could leave the amp always on, Goran doesn’t recommend it. My class AB 6000A also takes a while to warm up when woken, so it’s no big deal anyway.

Luckily, my XTZ power amp has a gain control. It had been set at max for the 6000A, but needed adjusting appreciably lower for the AIP. As Shrboljub had warned me, it sounds less than ideal for a few hours after first-time switch on, but once warmed up and kept subsequently in standby when off, it’s fine. Unfortunately, my XTZ only has RCA input, so I can’t use it with XLR balanced cables. Goran says, and Srboljub agrees, it sounds better with XLR, but I haven’t been able to verify that. I will, however, be able to use a Pentaconn to XLR connector for my DAC (when I can get my hands on one).

View attachment 1674377

The AIP seems well built and weighs 6.6 Kg -- it’s around the size of my 6000A, but has three (rather sturdy looking) feet rather than four. The volume control knob is motorised and can be operated from the remote. Incidentally, Goran says that if I ever decide to buy his Fulcrum amp (£5300!) and return the AIP, he’ll offer a discount for the AIP’s full current price.

So much for the nuts and bolts -- now, how do I think the the AIP + XTZ combo sounds after a couple of weeks' audition? Well, the bare 6000A sounds fine, and imho the XTZ adds a little more weight and authority. But the AIP + XTZ is a different animal. I think it has better balance across the frequencies and better timing/rhythm, coherence and dynamics. It’s markedly fuller and richer, and to me, produces more emotional involvement, which I suspect increases as I continue to run it in after the 10 hours put on the clock before dispatch.

I particularly like internal dialogue in music, as occurs in most genres -- acapella, blues, country, Baroque, etc. It thrills me when instrumental or vocal threads appear and start to playfully interact with what’s already going on. The 6000A + XTZ combo is quite spacious, with voices/instruments emerging from a certain degree of blackness, but I find the AIP + XTZ’s voice and instrumental sounds to be appreciably more engaging. A harmonica or pedal steel guitar riff, or maybe a harmonising voice, double bass line, or oboe passage, may appear from nowhere, and thereafter, be easily followed, yet remain cohesively integrated into the whole.

I find the AIP + XTZ to be detailed, but never clinical, with a lushness that the 6000A + XTZ simply doesn’t possess -- the latter has clarity, but sounds thin by comparison. Metaphorically, the 6000A’s sound stage is like a segment of the night sky, with each musical thread a distinct, sparkling star. OTOH, With the AIP combo, while there seems, at first blush, to be less space between those “stars”, I think it’s actually at least as spacious. I’d say it’s more a case of the space being filled out with richer textures, without threads getting in any way indistinct or at all muddled.

It’s the difference between a rather precise line drawing and a painting that’s just as precise, but filled with pigmented vibrancy. I’m studiously avoiding the word “coloured”, because the sound isn't, to my ears at least, artificially massaged -- it sounds natural. The AIP combo fleshes out tones I didn’t hear with the 6000A combo: I think of it as recovering information that had always been there in potential.

I don’t have to struggle to pay attention. The music the AIP combo delivers seems to me to effortlessly happen. Imagery can be quite startling even when I’ve heard the same track many times before -- perhaps related to its greater dynamism. I can appreciate fresh dimensions in music, and sometimes it will be as if I’m hearing a track for the first time. Now and then I find myself listening to something I've often skipped; but for whatever reason, it sounds more arresting, and I wonder why I’ve skipped it before. One could say that the AIP has, effectively, made my collection of most favoured tracks larger.

Presentation may range from brash and bouncy, as in Frankie goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”, all the way to very delicate as in Evelyn Glennie’s “Valse brilliante” on xylophone, which I find indeed brilliant. Every lightening fast -- and often ever so tiny -- percussive event here and there within the sound stage deliciously titillates my eardrums. An acapella arrangement by Pentatonix (“Daft Punk”) mesmerises as voices rapidly interweave and interact (especially between 2:20 and around 3:10). The AIP takes all kinds of presentation in its stride. The last thing I’d ever call it is boring.

Finally, impacts can be clearly discerned, be they subtle (a cymbal being lightly brushed, fingers sliding over guitar strings, an occasional intake of breath), or heavy as one might like. The AIP’s tight Bass can slap me hard in the chest (Chris Jones’ “No sanctuary here”), or be a bit more sneaky (Bela Fleck’s “Flight of the cosmic hippo”).

It’s been a bit of an education. I’m very impressed, and the AIP has taught me as much about the 6000A and the compromises made by its designer as it has about itself. At its price, the 6000A is very good and has served me well, but seems to rather concentrate on (slightly exaggerated?) image precision, separation and clarity. This is perhaps at the expense of other musical elements I’ve only now realised were missing, such as a rich fullness and better overall rhythm and timing.

Doubtless, the AIP has its own compromises, but right now it’s hands down the best-sounding amp I’ve ever owned, and at a price that would probably be significantly higher from a bigger company like Hegel, Naim or Mcintosh. Bravo, Goran! I Hope my reflections will in some small way help raise awareness of your company outside Serbia. I for one think it deserves that.

Thanks for posting this. I am all for exploring HiFi options that are outside the usual "run of the mill", and it appears you found a combination of items that really suits your taste by being quite open minded. Good for you! I ended up doing something similar after trying a few big-name brands and eventually settled with refurbished vintage system from the late 80s. It was professionally upgraded and refurbished, and, frankly, sounds better to me than anything I have tried before. HiFi really is an idiosyncratic affair, isn't it? :)

What interests me most about your post is your speaker choice, the Quad S-2s. I had these, and the S-4s for a while, and found them very forward and bright. Ultimately, I decided to stick with my smoother, more neutral Q Acoustics Concepts. Your review doesn't seem to indicate any issues with brightness when using these speakers with your equipment...after reading your review, I am strongly considering getting another pair and seeing how they are with my new system, as the midrange and imaging on the S-2s was out of this world.

All the best,
FH
 
Yup, I agree. Hi-fi is definitely an idiosyncratic pastime. You'll often find some pieces of kit that are usually raved over denigrated by someone else -- sometimes the very same person. Witness Tharbamar, the YouTube reviewer, who used to rave over the Quad S2's, but later dropped them like a brick and stopped recommending them in favour of the Polk R200s. Like I said earlier, if buying today, I'd try to get an audition of both.

I've never noticed any undue brightness or forwardness with the S2s, in fact have always found them mellow and, if anything, just a touch recessed. And, like you say, I find their midrange and imagery to be outstanding -- not quite in the same league as the Dali Menuets, but not that far off.

But there are so many factors, and they might sound that way if the synergy isn't right, I suppose. I know that Jay's Iyagi on YouTube found them to be sibilant, which has always mystified me because I've never heard any such thing. Not saying he's mistaken, only that whatever he hears in his setup/listening room must be different from what I hear in mine. Could be age-influenced I suppose: I'm in my 70's and can't hear much above 9-10 Khz. But still, younger people than I have agreed with my assessment of them -- so it's a bit of a conundrum.

I'm listening to them as I write this, and genuinely enjoying them. I can easily (and often have) listened practically a whole day to them without fatigue. But whether or not you should give them another try, I wouldn't like to say. Besides being an idiosyncratic hobby, it's also a quite expensive one and easy to get carried away! :)
 
Yup, I agree. Hi-fi is definitely an idiosyncratic pastime. You'll often find some pieces of kit that are usually raved over denigrated by someone else -- sometimes the very same person. Witness Tharbamar, the YouTube reviewer, who used to rave over the Quad S2's, but later dropped them like a brick and stopped recommending them in favour of the Polk R200s. Like I said earlier, if buying today, I'd try to get an audition of both.

I've never noticed any undue brightness or forwardness with the S2s, in fact have always found them mellow and, if anything, just a touch recessed. And, like you say, I find their midrange and imagery to be outstanding -- not quite in the same league as the Dali Menuets, but not that far off.

But there are so many factors, and they might sound that way if the synergy isn't right, I suppose. I know that Jay's Iyagi on YouTube found them to be sibilant, which has always mystified me because I've never heard any such thing. Not saying he's mistaken, only that whatever he hears in his setup/listening room must be different from what I hear in mine. Could be age-influenced I suppose: I'm in my 70's and can't hear much above 9-10 Khz. But still, younger people than I have agreed with my assessment of them -- so it's a bit of a conundrum.

I'm listening to them as I write this, and genuinely enjoying them. I can easily (and often have) listened practically a whole day to them without fatigue. But whether or not you should give them another try, I wouldn't like to say. Besides being an idiosyncratic hobby, it's also a quite expensive one and easy to get carried away! :)
Interesting. I didn't find the S-2s sibilant, but they did highlight actual sibilants on the recording in detailed relief, which, amongst other things, made poor recordings challenging to listen to. I just found the treble was too much. Independent testing of the S-2 shows clearly that the treble is bumped up, basically a plateau. If you cannot hear much over 9-10kHz, then you'll probably not be hearing this part too much, or it might sound really good. if you can hear everything up to, say 15kHz, this might be a little bright. But ... I am wondering how they would pair with my Quad system. It has filters that gently roll of the treble and a tilt control to increase the warmth or brightness. Maybe Quad make some of their speakers bright so that you can tailor the sound to your liking using their amps, depending on your hearing range, choice of recordings, room, etc. I think I may have to give this a try...
 
Interesting. I didn't find the S-2s sibilant, but they did highlight actual sibilants on the recording in detailed relief, which, amongst other things, made poor recordings challenging to listen to. I just found the treble was too much. Independent testing of the S-2 shows clearly that the treble is bumped up, basically a plateau. If you cannot hear much over 9-10kHz, then you'll probably not be hearing this part too much, or it might sound really good. if you can hear everything up to, say 15kHz, this might be a little bright. But ... I am wondering how they would pair with my Quad system. It has filters that gently roll of the treble and a tilt control to increase the warmth or brightness. Maybe Quad make some of their speakers bright so that you can tailor the sound to your liking using their amps, depending on your hearing range, choice of recordings, room, etc. I think I may have to give this a try...

Alright then. Should you in fact give them another try at some point in the future, please do post to this thread and let us know what you find. I for one would be all ears to hear what might transpire! :)
 
Interesting to read that you had considered swaping your systems around but decided to leave them where they are as I have also considered this. I should proceed as I suspect our bedroom will be considerably better than the lounge for hosting but SWMBO will probably not thank me for it. Thanks for the write up as it is good to read others thoughts.
 
I got bitten by an Acoustic Invader

View attachment 1674376

A few months back, I watched this video on YouTube:



I’m quite partial to the iiWi (is it worth it?) channel, presented by Srboljub (Shr-bowl-yoob), a Serbian who speaks excellent English. I’d already bought my DAC from Richer Sounds based on one of his reviews, and was very tempted by his description of the price/performance benefits of the Acoustic Invader preamp (AIP). In the end, I couldn’t resist taking a bit of a risk and ordering it direct from Acoustic Invader (Acoustic Invader). Another nice Serbian chap, Goran, who also speaks English, runs the company.

After a number of weeks, I received the preamp, with a silver faceplate as requested. Inside the box was a very nice hinged, foam-lined wooden case enclosing the preamp and its remote. No power lead, but I have plenty enough of those. It cost me £1170 plus a couple of hundred or so for import and taxes.

The Principal elements of my main system presently comprise:

AIP (substitutes for my 6000A, which was employed in preamp mode)​
XTZ Edge A2-300 150w/ch class D ICE power amp​
Earmen Tradutto DAC​
Quad S2 speakers​
REL T0 mk II sub (high-level connection)​

My music source consists mainly of selected FLAC files ripped from CDs.

The AIP’s remote is generic, but works well to control input selection, volume, standby/wake-up, and mute. It’s powered by two pre-installed CR2032 coin-type batteries. The AIP itself is a class A balanced design consuming only 65W, presumably because it’s a pre- rather than integrated or power amp. Goran says that in use the heatsink gets hot, but the case always feels cool to me. He also says it has a warm-up time of around 10-15 minutes after being woken up from standby, but I find it perhaps takes a little longer to come fully on song. Although one could leave the amp always on, Goran doesn’t recommend it. My class AB 6000A also takes a while to warm up when woken, so it’s no big deal anyway.

Luckily, my XTZ power amp has a gain control. It had been set at max for the 6000A, but needed adjusting appreciably lower for the AIP. As Shrboljub had warned me, it sounds less than ideal for a few hours after first-time switch on, but once warmed up and kept subsequently in standby when off, it’s fine. Unfortunately, my XTZ only has RCA input, so I can’t use it with XLR balanced cables. Goran says, and Srboljub agrees, it sounds better with XLR, but I haven’t been able to verify that. I will, however, be able to use a Pentaconn to XLR connector for my DAC (when I can get my hands on one).

View attachment 1674377

The AIP seems well built and weighs 6.6 Kg -- it’s around the size of my 6000A, but has three (rather sturdy looking) feet rather than four. The volume control knob is motorised and can be operated from the remote. Incidentally, Goran says that if I ever decide to buy his Fulcrum amp (£5300!) and return the AIP, he’ll offer a discount for the AIP’s full current price.

So much for the nuts and bolts -- now, how do I think the the AIP + XTZ combo sounds after a couple of weeks' audition? Well, the bare 6000A sounds fine, and imho the XTZ adds a little more weight and authority. But the AIP + XTZ is a different animal. I think it has better balance across the frequencies and better timing/rhythm, coherence and dynamics. It’s markedly fuller and richer, and to me, produces more emotional involvement, which I suspect increases as I continue to run it in after the 10 hours put on the clock before dispatch.

I particularly like internal dialogue in music, as occurs in most genres -- acapella, blues, country, Baroque, etc. It thrills me when instrumental or vocal threads appear and start to playfully interact with what’s already going on. The 6000A + XTZ combo is quite spacious, with voices/instruments emerging from a certain degree of blackness, but I find the AIP + XTZ’s voice and instrumental sounds to be appreciably more engaging. A harmonica or pedal steel guitar riff, or maybe a harmonising voice, double bass line, or oboe passage, may appear from nowhere, and thereafter, be easily followed, yet remain cohesively integrated into the whole.

I find the AIP + XTZ to be detailed, but never clinical, with a lushness that the 6000A + XTZ simply doesn’t possess -- the latter has clarity, but sounds thin by comparison. Metaphorically, the 6000A’s sound stage is like a segment of the night sky, with each musical thread a distinct, sparkling star. OTOH, With the AIP combo, while there seems, at first blush, to be less space between those “stars”, I think it’s actually at least as spacious. I’d say it’s more a case of the space being filled out with richer textures, without threads getting in any way indistinct or at all muddled.

It’s the difference between a rather precise line drawing and a painting that’s just as precise, but filled with pigmented vibrancy. I’m studiously avoiding the word “coloured”, because the sound isn't, to my ears at least, artificially massaged -- it sounds natural. The AIP combo fleshes out tones I didn’t hear with the 6000A combo: I think of it as recovering information that had always been there in potential.

I don’t have to struggle to pay attention. The music the AIP combo delivers seems to me to effortlessly happen. Imagery can be quite startling even when I’ve heard the same track many times before -- perhaps related to its greater dynamism. I can appreciate fresh dimensions in music, and sometimes it will be as if I’m hearing a track for the first time. Now and then I find myself listening to something I've often skipped; but for whatever reason, it sounds more arresting, and I wonder why I’ve skipped it before. One could say that the AIP has, effectively, made my collection of most favoured tracks larger.

Presentation may range from brash and bouncy, as in Frankie goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”, all the way to very delicate as in Evelyn Glennie’s “Valse brilliante” on xylophone, which I find indeed brilliant. Every lightening fast -- and often ever so tiny -- percussive event here and there within the sound stage deliciously titillates my eardrums. An acapella arrangement by Pentatonix (“Daft Punk”) mesmerises as voices rapidly interweave and interact (especially between 2:20 and around 3:10). The AIP takes all kinds of presentation in its stride. The last thing I’d ever call it is boring.

Finally, impacts can be clearly discerned, be they subtle (a cymbal being lightly brushed, fingers sliding over guitar strings, an occasional intake of breath), or heavy as one might like. The AIP’s tight Bass can slap me hard in the chest (Chris Jones’ “No sanctuary here”), or be a bit more sneaky (Bela Fleck’s “Flight of the cosmic hippo”).

It’s been a bit of an education. I’m very impressed, and the AIP has taught me as much about the 6000A and the compromises made by its designer as it has about itself. At its price, the 6000A is very good and has served me well, but seems to rather concentrate on (slightly exaggerated?) image precision, separation and clarity. This is perhaps at the expense of other musical elements I’ve only now realised were missing, such as a rich fullness and better overall rhythm and timing.

Doubtless, the AIP has its own compromises, but right now it’s hands down the best-sounding amp I’ve ever owned, and at a price that would probably be significantly higher from a bigger company like Hegel, Naim or Mcintosh. Bravo, Goran! I Hope my reflections will in some small way help raise awareness of your company outside Serbia. I for one think it deserves that.

I came across your post after I read the the iiwi Acoustic Invader review and subsequently searched for other reviews of the amps. You have submitted a much more in-depth and articulate review than I normally encounter on these forums which I found interesting and informative.
I presently have March Audio P421 mono block Purifi 1ET400A - class D amps (imported from Australia) paired with a passive pre from Music First Audio. The rest of my system: Martin Logan ESL-X speakers; Chord TT2/Chord M-Scaler; Auralic Aries G1.1 streamer.
The above gives a wonderfully transparent sound but lacks a bit of emotional involvement (to borrow your term). I have been looking for a balanced pre to give a more enjoyable and satisfying listening experience.
Your power amp is also class D so perhaps a close comparison to what I have.
Do you know if Acoustic Invader offer a home trial period? How easy was the process.
Many thanks.
 
I came across your post after I read the the iiwi Acoustic Invader review and subsequently searched for other reviews of the amps. You have submitted a much more in-depth and articulate review than I normally encounter on these forums which I found interesting and informative.
I presently have March Audio P421 mono block Purifi 1ET400A - class D amps (imported from Australia) paired with a passive pre from Music First Audio. The rest of my system: Martin Logan ESL-X speakers; Chord TT2/Chord M-Scaler; Auralic Aries G1.1 streamer.
The above gives a wonderfully transparent sound but lacks a bit of emotional involvement (to borrow your term). I have been looking for a balanced pre to give a more enjoyable and satisfying listening experience.
Your power amp is also class D so perhaps a close comparison to what I have.
Do you know if Acoustic Invader offer a home trial period? How easy was the process.
Many thanks.
As far as I know, Acoustic Invader doesn't offer a home trial period, but I didn't ask, so you never know -- but I somehow doubt it. Goran, the English-speaking guy who runs the company and makes the gear in Serbia is delightful to deal with and made the process as easy as possible, including working out the cheapest way to get it to me.

He's a straight dealer, so you need have no worries about that, but he might not have it in stock and you might have to wait a few weeks before he can get one to you. He also makes an appreciably more expensive preamp that Srboljub at iWii reviews has now got but not yet reviewed. He has hinted that, while it's better, maybe there's not a night and day difference. Could be the standard model offers the best price/preformance ratio. At any rate, at c.£5000, the more expensive preamp is well beyond the price I'm prepared to pay.

All that said, Your gear appears pretty high-end to me (your DAC alone costs about as much as my entire main system!), and I'm surprised you feel you need more emotional involvement. Would getting the A.I. preamp solve that issue? I have no idea, and can't claim to be experienced enough to comment.

All I can say is that once I got the preamp, it certainly raised the quality of my system, but I was emotionally involved even before I got it. It rather improved that aspect, as well as things like detail, soundstage and imagery. I think I soon realised I needed better speakers to take things even further, because I sensed I wasn't getting the best the preamp was capable of. So I got a pair of Dali Menuet SEs on the recommendation of The British Audiophile (check out his review) and they released yet more latent potential. Now things are even better -- the system, to my ears at least, has become appreciably richer and more engaging.

But it's all relative: for all I know, were I to listen to your more expensive system, it might turn out to be more involving for me than mine currently is. Maybe you are more of a perfectionist than I am, who can say. Being careful with my pennies, I'd be tempted to investigate my system synergy before spending £1400 on a preamp that might not in the end do the trick. However, bearing in mind the total cost of your system, it might not be, relatively speaking, that much of an outlay for you. I have read that passive preamps can be marvellous in some setups, not so much in others, so maybe you're right to suspect it could be the culprit.

What is it that makes for better emotional involvement? More than anything, from my (admittedly limited) experience, for given amplification, it's the speakers and speaker cables, followed closely by the source, in my case a DAC. But everything you have seems on paper so good -- I've checked some of the items and individually they're highly praised, so I can only think it's down to a mismatch somewhere, or maybe some unfavourable characteristic of your listening room. Whatever, if you do get the preamp, I'd be all ears to hear your opinion of the difference it might make. Hopefully, it would make all the difference in the world for you. Good luck! :)
 
Hi Michael,
many thanks indeed for taking the time to write such a carefully considered and helpful reply - much appreciated.
I think I may hold off from buying the Acoustic Invader pre just yet - I have a really accommodating local hi-fi dealer who buys in high end kit all the time so I'll wait to see if I can eventually get a good balanced valve/tube pre on home trial.
Your comment regarding room involvement is something that I have considered as my listening room is quite echoey and is in need of some acoustic absorption treatment.
I've added mains conditioning, good outboard linear psu's for the speakers, dac and m-scaler, invested in good mains cables, interconnects, speaker cables, isolation, etc, but our hobby is one of pursuing the law of diminishing returns (and diminishing bank balance!)
Thanks again. You are a diamond geezer.
 

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