atelier 13 audio
To "clone" the "master" is risky business.
But what happens when the so-called Clone surpasses the Master ?
The 25iRX is what happens ! ... and it is a Real Jewel
Integrated Class A Amplifier
H 130 x L 190 x D 170 mm
Aluminium 6061 / Wood Base
Construction and Design
Design : Hong Kong, Manufacturing : Taiwan
117 V AC
Power Output- Class A
2 x 30 W / 8 Ω
2 x 60 W / 4 Ω
3 RCA Line Inputs
Impedance : 100 kΩ
ULN FPGA 2311 Circuit
With our Passion for music and high fidelity we build EVERYTHING by HAND
... as did the first audiophile
So, what are reviewers saying ?
HIGH FIDELITY / EU Edition
Wojciech Pacula - 1 February, 2021
Whatever we say, we will start and finish with the statement that the 25iRX looks like a million dollars – a small, expensive and carefully crafted piece of jewelry. It is still a minimalistic design, i.e. an integrated amp without any additions, e.g. a DAC, Bluetooth connectivity, a phono stage, or even a headphone output (even though the last of these might come in handy).
The front panel only features a knob and a white two-digit LED display. This is the volume control knob and we change the active input by pressing it. The display shows both the volume level on a relative scale from 0 to 70, as well as the selected input; when you press the “mute” button on the remote control, two horizontal lines start flashing on the display.
The shape of the tested amp still has a square outline, but a wooden frame has been attached to the bottom of the metal chassis consisting of aluminum panels. The ring around the volume control knob is a corresponding element.
I am talking about the wood ring, as a wooden platform has been integrated with the chassis. Not only does this look very nice (very organic, I would say), but also allows the user to control vibrations and damp them in a desired way.
Adding a wooden element to the chassis is a very effective way of “taming” sound, sometimes also warming it up, but without losing resolution. A similar conclusion was reached earlier by other Japanese companies, such as PHASEMATION |PL|, SPEC and SoulNote, which equip their devices with thick wooden base plates – SPEC together with wooden feet and SOULNOTE in the form of a separate platform.
The wood used in the CLONES audio amp has the form of a frame cut out in the middle, so as not to stop the flow of air cooling the active elements inside. The method of decoupling the whole amp has also been very cleverly thought out, as the amp stands on three feet with rubber rings (two feet at the front), manufactured by the Japanese company TAOC. Cones founder, Funjoe, also talked about much better connectors – both RCA sockets and speaker binding posts look very decent indeed.
As Funjoe wrote me, the chassis is his “secret weapon”, which would confirm the observations of other constructors for whom the audio circuit is only part of a larger whole – and not the most important one. Each element – he continues – matters, just like its size. Even screws made of 304 stainless steel were specially selected for the design, just like PCB sizes, the arrangement of elements, etc. Different thicknesses have been tested for individual elements and the ones that were chosen were the best for the audio circuit.
Circuit & Layout
The inside of the device was divided into two parts using a thick aluminium panel. On one of the sides, at the front of the amp, there is a large toroidal transformer, while a PSU and the audio circuit are placed on the other one. The input is selected in airtight relays and then transmitted to an integrated resistor ladder PGA2311 – this element has gain equal to 1.
The elements where all the gain is achieved are the LM3886 integrated circuits attached to the aluminum plate that I was talking about – in this way, the whole aluminum chassis performs the function of a radiator. The audio circuit is extremely short.
CLONES Audio amps are handmade, even including the soldering of SMD elements in the circuit – the company has been using them since it developed the AP2 preamp. Funjoe says that he loves SMD elements, as they may make the signal path much shorter.
We also get a remote control with the amp. It is small and only features a few buttons, which makes it easy to use. It allows the user to change the volume level, input, as well as “mute” the output.
The Listening Session - the way we listened
The CLONES audio 25iRX amp was tested using the HIGH FIDELITY reference system. It stood on its own feet on the upper shelf of the Finite Elemente Master Reference Pagode Edition rack. Signal was sent to the Harbeth M40.1 speakers using the NOS Western Electric WE16GA cables with Eagle Cables BFA connectors made of gold-plated beryllium copper.
Signal from the CD-35 HF Edition SACD player was transmitted using the Crystal Cable Absolute Dream interconnects. The power cable was the Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version. I connected artificial ground (NORDOST QKORE6) to one of the available RCA inputs of the amp.
One of the features of both previous versions of the ‘25R’ amp was their amazing ability to bring out emotions hidden in music on demand, without any preparations and tricks. It was done using beautiful colors and great dynamics. The agility and liveliness of sound was in stark contrast to the small size and limited power of these devices. However, the 25i and 25iR were both able to start and stop woofers equally quickly – it was “in their blood”, thanks to excellent current capability.
It is still the same. Even though the output power of the 25iRX is only 30W/8 Ω, it doubles at 4 Ω and this is how only the most powerful amps behave. However, it is not a device that would “overexpose” recordings. Its selectivity is not something we would pay attention to, as it focuses on fluidity and density (I understand ‘selectivity’ as the ability to show two sounds closely placed to each other on a stage and scale; selectivity can be too high, leading to unnatural exposure of details).
So, while listening to Master CD-Rs with JOACHIM MENCEL’s and PIOTR WYLEŻOŁ’s recordings, burnt for me at the studio of their mastering specialist, Mr Mateusz Sołtysik, I heard very good focus, fluidity, as well as a lot of details, though not fully extracted, but merged into the whole musical message. It is one of the features of these albums – they were mixed and mastered in the Pro Tools environment, i.e. “in-the-box”. It makes it possible to maintain signal resolution, as we do not move from the digital to the analog domain (to the mixing console) and back to the digital one, but extinguishes “liveliness” a bit.
The tested amp showed this nicely, but did not contribute anything to slow it down further. It was very good, coherent and dense sound, but without the openness known from the jazz recordings from the 1950s, made by Rob DuNann or Rudy Van Gelder. However, the CLONES audio amp may sound really open, but does it in its own way, like when I played TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO Blues for Tee album, recorded during a concert at the Misty club in Tokyo.
The then young pianist (the album was originally released in 1975 when Yamamoto was 27) played the piano placed on a small stage, around which tables and places to sit were arranged; the instrument was recorded using two Neumann U-87 microphones. So, on this album one can hear both the instruments and the audience well, the latter reacting to the performance very emotionally, untypically for the Japanese.
One of the features of Three Blind Mice recordings (the abovementioned album was released with the catalogue number TBM41) is their incredible selectivity, but not by itself – accompanied by equally good resolution. This very relationship, i.e. the balance between openness and saturation, was shown by Funjoe’ amp at once, without thinking, with a smooth transition from the warmer and more closed sound of the previous albums.
The first two albums were digitally recorded, mixed and mastered, while Blues for Tee was recorded in the analog domain onto a 4-track Ampex tape recorder and analog-mixed onto a stereophonic Philips tape recorder working at the speed of 76 cm/s. I listened to its digital XRCD2 analog-remastered version.
I am writing about the techniques used in such detail, as the amp from Hong Kong, even though it sounds smooth and warm (yes, it does sound warm), shows such things flawlessly. In a similar way, it also demonstrated that Carole King’s album Tapestry that I listened to right afterwards is yet different – darker, less selective and “coarser”. Let me add that the version I have is SACD 7-inch.
It is also very dynamic sound. Be it small jazz, rock, or electronic music – all the albums that I listened to were played with strength and energy. However, it was not energy by itself, for itself. The CLONES audio amp builds the musical message as if it was scaffolding that everything is based on. It is the core which supports the remaining elements, but one that keeps everything together, without allowing the parts to fall apart.
Finally, there is stereophony. What Funjoe does with LM3886 circuits is unique. Apparently, he understands, likes and knows how to use them in order to achieve the desired result. However, even he cannot “break” the basic rules of technology which are audible in imaging. It is an amp which neither presents broad sound planes, nor builds a very deep sound stage. It is not bad – well, it is even very good – but this is not the amp’s forte.
The musical message is focused, while the most important elements are the foreground and what is situated on the listening axis. The elements located there are the most saturated and have the biggest volume. Anyway, sound volume with this amp is exceptional, simply big. That means sound has momentum, mass and substance. Its deep and low bass emphasizes this – it is warm and not especially selective, but excellently connected with the rest of the bandwidth – it never exists by itself, in separation. The amp excellently differentiated the double bass from Yamamoto’s album, JARRE’S electronic music and the bass guitar from Carole King’s album.
My plan was to test the CLONES audio amp solely using 7-inch mini LP albums. The packaging of such an album placed on the amp would cover it entirely, even with a little margin outside the chassis. There are quite many such albums, so I would have a choice. However, Funjoe’s amp led me through this journey along its own paths.
Well, it is a very interesting device, indeed. It is incredibly musical – but also energetic, warm – but sonorous, delicate – but showing big sound volume. Even though the 25iRX sounds in its own way, it differentiates between recordings really well and allows us to enjoy them. We will not get all the details included in an album and selectivity will only be good. However, it is not a mistake, but an idea for the whole thing.
The tested device is excellently well-made, small and embodies the rule: “less is more”. It is ideologically closest to Buddhist Zen and the Japanese love for emptiness – amor vacui, while in terms of sound it is closest to the ideal of a small and excellently designed tube amp. It is really something! ■