Integrated amplifiers get a raw deal from many audiophiles. They trigger subconscious associations with those dreaded budget systems we see on the shelves of large-volume retailers who tout their nefarious "feature sets" and "lifestyle" aesthetics as substitutes for good sound. Some audiophiles even sniff at more upmarket models from the likes of NAD, Naim, Rotel, and a host of other manufacturers that have attempted to offer a glimpse of the sound of more exclusive separates, or even a semblance of a brand's hallowed house sound, for what is a "reasonable" price in our neck of the woods. However, many manufacturers have also attempted to distill all the hair-shirt austerity of high-end separates into formidable components that have been engineered with high quality of sound as the overriding goal. Think ASR and their very expensive and almost universally praised Emitter series of integrateds -- or the no-holds-barred performance of something like the Audiomat Recital, which will set you back $15,000. Companies like Lyngdorf and TacT have added to the utility of their integrateds by adding DAC modules, and powerful DSP engines with sophisticated room-correction software. Yes, integrated amps do still represent an entry point for many budget-minded audiophiles in search of good sound, but the upmarket integrated is becoming more and more common, with many models that could represent a good exit point as well.
Pathos Acoustics has been around for a while now. Based in Italy, Pathos produces a full range of products, from the stratospherically priced Adrenalin monoblocks and Synapse preamp to the "entry level" Classic One integrated (now in its Mk.3 iteration), a phono stage, and some decidedly sexy-looking disc spinners. I was impressed with the sound of the gorgeous Classic One Mk.2, especially at its very reasonable price. But I was blown away by the astonishing transparency, immediacy, and musicality of the ravishingly beautiful and upmarket Pathos Twin Towers integrated amplifier. Delivering all of its 35W in pure class-A, this beauty can take your breath away, and the kids can roast marshmallows over it while enjoying their favorite music.
The Logos integrated ($4795 USD) sits right between the Classic One and the Twin Towers in the Pathos hierarchy, and shares their sexy looks while being bigger and more powerful than either. And although we tell our children that looks aren't everything, placing the Logos on my equipment rack immediately made everything else there look dour and utilitarian -- sentiments echoed by my wife, who poked her head in to take a look and exclaimed "That's more like it!" Then she eyeballed me as if I'd been holding out on her: "Why does that other stuff have to be so ugly?"
"Because it isn't Italian?" I offered feebly. She remains unconvinced.
The Pathos Logos
Pathos makes four models of integrated amplifier, each a hybrid of tubed and solid-state circuitry. The Logos, specified to output 110Wpc into 8 ohms or 220Wpc into 4 ohms, is the most powerful by a significant margin. In similar attempts to reap the benefits of both types of devices, many audiophiles create a hybrid amplification system with separates -- mating, say, a tubed preamp with a solid-state power amp (as the Logos does in its single chassis), or a solid-state front end and tubed amps. Proponents of this approach point out that the harmonic presentation of tubes preserves the richness and nuances of the music, while the more muscular current delivery of solid-state devices can power a wider range of speakers and provide better punch and more explosive dynamics. The more cynical claim that such an approach stops short of realizing the full benefits of either technology.
The Logos wears its two Sovtek 6922 tubes loud and proud. Socketed in a solid block of padauk wood nestled in a mirror-walled wedge of space cut out of the faceplate, they look awesome in a dark listening room, where the reflective surfaces present to the eye a virtual army of tubes. More than just aesthetically pleasing, these double triodes form the heart of an entirely tube-based, fully balanced, pure class-A preamplifier. Below the tubes, front and center in the padauk block, is the Cyclopean eye of the volume control, the outside chrome ring of which is spring-loaded and can be flicked from side to side to increase and decrease volume. A small LED display at the center of the eye counts off the volume in 100 steps, indicates the number of the input selected, and shows when the Logos is muted. Pathos claims that the volume control is "100% resistive" and is made up of an integrated network of high-precision, laser-trimmed resistors that "guarantee perfect interchannel balance." This is a very good thing -- the Logos has no balance control (or any kind of tone controls, or a polarity switch; sound quality trumps features). Input selection is controlled by miniaturized relays originally developed for use in high-frequency telecommunications. The user can switch inputs via a small button above the power switch on the faceplate or with the remote control, each change of status accompanied by a substantial click from those relays.
The Logos's solid-state output stage is true dual-mono and outfitted with oversized transformers and power supplies to "deliver high current into even demanding loads." Given the Logos's almost 60 pounds, I suspect that these claims are not made lightly. I also suspect that the Logos's output stage is biased to operate in class-A through at least the first 10W or so, given the amount of heat coming off the substantial heatsinks along the side panels. Even the top panel has several cutouts to dissipate heat -- the Logos should be given plenty of room to breathe. Pathos has placed the power switch on the faceplate to make it easy to turn off after every listening session, which I did; after startup, it didn't take long at all to come on song.
Around back are five RCA inputs and two balanced inputs -- sensible numbers, given the many source components users may want to hook up in today's increasingly integrated (no pun intended) A/V listening rooms. Additionally, the first of the two balanced inputs has been attenuated by 6dB in order to accept higher-output sources, such as some CD players, whose signals might otherwise overload a standard input. And thank you, Pathos, for leaving a reasonable amount of space between RCA jacks, to make it easy to use my Harmonic Technology Magic interconnects and their somewhat bulky RCA plugs -- I hate it when manufacturers cram everything together, or hide it all in a bloody recess. Also on the rear panel are the requisite speaker binding posts, a tape output, and a preamp output to permit the use of a subwoofer. The manual includes a diagram that pictures speaker cables sans terminations, spades or otherwise, and they aren't kidding. I reverted to stinging profanities until I finally managed to wrangle one spade arm into the tiny opening in the completely plastic-entombed binding post. I guess I should thank the European safety mavens that I managed this without otherwise electrocuting myself, but I'm not going to.
The remote control is a simple, slender wooden affair with separate buttons for volume up/down, input selection, and mute. I listen to a lot of LPs, and really appreciated being able to mute the output from my listening chair at side ends and while changing records. The remote worked from every conceivable angle, and easily let me dial in precise volume adjustments without hassle.
The Pathos Logos was simple to operate, and gave me no trouble during its time here. For those of you who associate beautiful Italian design with high-strung devices that bits fall off of, be assured that the Logos isn't one of them.
I let the Logos burn in for about 100 hours before settling in for some more critical listening, and though it sounded pretty nice from the get-go, those 100 or so hours loosened up the top end and the ever-crucial midrange. By "loosened up" I mean that the sound became altogether more airy and expansive, and imbued with a nice, tube-like bloom that very convincingly captured the harmonic envelopes of instruments. Tube aficionados like me love the airiness with which tubes can often surround instruments in the upper treble -- a pocket of air around instruments that more accurately captures an abundance of harmonic details. The Logos delivered this in spades, with the added benefit of not shelving-down the ultimate extension, as some all-tube devices can. The midrange, too, was beautifully fleshed out, with really rich textures and plenty of space between performers. Consistent with Pathos's design goals, the Logos's class-A tubed preamp stage really delivered the goods here -- the overall sound of the Logos was tilted more toward the lush, romantic tube side than a more traditional solid-state sound.
Consistent with the Logos's tube DNA was its ability to accurately convey subtle shifts in microdynamics that brought a consistent level of reality to recordings of jazz and small-scale classical works. The sound of Miles Davis's trumpet throughout Kind of Blue (LP, Columbia/Classic CS 8163-200G) was fantastic, all the small nuances of his playing laid bare. Paul Chambers' bass, which can sound murky and indistinct through some gear, was clear and present, his agile fingerwork easy to follow and appreciate, while Jimmy Cobb's cymbals sounded absolutely luscious, and I could really feel the subtlety and intricacy of his brushwork. Likewise in the Quartetto Italiano's sensitive rendering of Beethoven's String Quartets Nos. 1 and 3, Op.18 (LP, Philips 6500181): the players' techniques were amply demonstrated, and their emotive power and expressiveness shone through. Even well-rendered digital recordings, such as the Quatour Mosaïques' beautiful playing of Haydn's Op.20 string quartets (CD, Astrée E8802), had the magic -- a delicacy in which the sounds of the instruments seemed to float into my listening room. Such delicacy and nuance from a relatively powerful amplifier flat-out surprised me.
There was a lack of ultimate slam and drive in large-scale classical works and many harder rock and pop recordings. Holst's The Planets, with Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (CD, Decca 417 553-2), has always been a favorite of mine, but through the Logos it lacked the bracing impact and drama I've come to expect. Mars, in particular, lacked the menacing growl and tension that I've heard with other similarly powerful amps. Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra's sonic blockbuster of works by Copland (HDCD, Reference RR-93), especially Fanfare for the Common Man, never really opened up to rattle my ceiling joists, though the softer and more lyrical passages in Appalachian Spring: Suite were just beautiful. I think this came down to a slight rounding of transients that took away from the snap and pace that some other, purely solid-state devices I've heard can produce. The bass response was generous -- the Logos had no problem getting a firm hold on my speakers and driving them to very loud levels -- but grew slightly plummy as it went down low, seeming to slow the pace of some music that would benefit from a tighter, more agile foundation.
When it came to soundstaging and imaging, the Logos was once again in its element. Its soundstage was broad and deep, if not as cavernous as that thrown by my reference Cary SLI-80 integrated in triode mode (though the Cary can manage only about 40Wpc), and with a very nice plenitude of ambient cues that gave a convincing sense of space. Images were dense, fully fleshed out, and located precisely within the soundscape. I really enjoyed tracking some jazzers as they moved their instruments left, right, up, and down while building their solos. Detail was abundant, and with really good recordings bordered on excellent. Transparency to the source was also very good, if not quite up to the reference levels of the Logos's more expensive stablemate, the Twin Towers. And while the Logos didn't have the TT's immediacy and crystalline transparency, instead favoring a warmer, more mid-hall, and slightly laid-back perspective, it could drive a much broader range of speakers while always delivering a very coherent and musical sound. In short, I found myself listening more and analyzing less.
There are similarities in the sound of the Pathos Logos and that of my Cary SLI-80 in Ultralinear mode, in which the latter manages to produce about 80Wpc. Both definitely fell on the warm side of neutral, but the Cary is more rolled off in the treble, slightly riper in the bottom octaves, and gets a bit ragged at the frequency extremes when asked to push more difficult speaker loads, especially at higher volumes. The Pathos had much of the Cary's harmonic richness if not all of its sheer presence, offered better frequency extension high and low, and could drive a much broader range of speakers without protest. And the Logos doesn't require any fussing with bias adjustments. It's strictly plug'n'play.
I think Pathos Acoustics has largely achieved their goal with the Logos integrated amplifier. Its class-A tubed preamp stage seems fully in command, sounding largely responsible for its rich, musical, emotive, fun sound. Don't get me wrong -- the solid-state section sounds as if it's pulling its weight in terms of providing the muscle -- but I think it does that job without lending much of a sonic signature to the proceedings, which is as it should be.
We audiophiles get used to phrases like reference quality and one of a select few and top of the heap, and you may have noticed that I haven't used such descriptors in this review. Am I damning the Pathos Logos with faint praise? Definitely not. The Logos is a very good integrated amplifier that has been engineered with care to a high standard of sound quality. I enjoyed it immensely, its innately musical soul never failed to please, and it looks better than an audio component has any right to. I think when the Logos has been shipped home and the Cary goes back into the system, just like Ricky Ricardo, I'm gonna have some 'splainin' to do.
. . . Graham Abbott
- Analog source -- Nottingham Spacedeck turntable with Heavy Kit, Wave Mechanic and Space tonearm, Ortofon Jubilee MC cartridge, Holfi Battria SE phono stage
- Digital source -- Cary 303/200 CD player/processor
- Integrated amplifier -- Cary SLI-80
- Speakers -- Red Rose Rosebud 2
- Power cables and conditioners -- Shunyata Research Guardian power conditioner, Harmonic Technology Fantasy AC cords, Yamamura Churchill Series 5000 AC cord (phono stage only)
- Speaker cables and interconnects -- Harmonic Technology Magic interconnects, Kimber Kable Hero interconnects, PS Audio Extreme Reference speaker cables
- Accessories -- 70-pound custom speaker stands, Stillpoints and Risers isolation, Final Labs ball-bearing isolators, Quantum Resonant Technology power conditioner, Lovan Equipment rack (foam filled)
Pathos Acoustics Logos Integrated Amplifier
Price: $4795 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
Pathos Acoustics SRL
Grumolo delle abbadesse
Phone: +39 0444-264732
Fax: +39 0444-381275
North American distributors:
Audio Plus Services
156 Lawrence Paquette Industrial Drive
Champlain, NY 12919
Phone: (800) 663-9352
313 rue MarionLe Guardeur, Québec J5Z 4W8
Phone: (866) 271-5689
Fax: (866) 656-0686