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A lovely Phase ... sounds good too

A hopelessly smitten AVTARAN SINGH waxes lyrical over yet another amplifier, even as we query, er, querulously: What ever happened to the Deepavali goodies?

WHAT do we have this week, then? An amplifier that's as elegant to look at just as it is a joy to listen to. No guesses where my stand is on this month's review!

The amp carries the name of the designer himself, John Shearne, and follows the highly successful high-end pre-power Phase 1 that was launched around 1990. Shearne, who has been in the hi-fi business for some time, felt that amplifiers generally differed in real situations compared to what the specifications suggested. This sonic difference led him to do his own research, which resulted in the Phase 1.

Having established himself in the higher echelons of hi-fi, it was only a matter of time before Shearne focused his attention on designing an integrated amp. And thus, the Phase 2 was born, designed along the lines of the Phase 1, with the exterior almost identical to the pre-amp section of the earlier model. The Phase 2 is one great looker, but more on that later.

Features

THE Phase 2 is a minirealist design that's rated at 50 watts per channel and has five line-level inputs, including one marked CDV -- a sign of the times, I guess. Vinyl lovers, don't despair, because a phono input is optional . . . at a small premium, of course.

Controls are via four large, cylindrical chrome knobs that stick out from the front fascia -- the power switch, volume control, input selector and record selector. No balance or tone controls here -- as I said, this is a minimalist design.

The rear panel is neatly arranged and connections for speaker leads are via banana plugs. Provisions have also been made for the amp to be used as a pre-amp; it can be partnered with the Phase 3 power amplifier, one of those upgrades that can be done subtly and without burning your pants off.

We now come to the appearance of the Phase 2 -- elegant, slim and pleasing to the eye, it's fnished in gloss black with the fascia in a blue-on-black, marble-like pattern. In tandem with a blue LED power switch indicator and chrome knobs, the Phase 2 is quite a looker, especially if the room lights are focussed on the amp to to show it off. Certainly a component to be placed high on a rack for all to appreciate.

Sound

ANCILLARIES used with the Phase 2 included the Pioneer PD-203, Yamaha CDX 480 and Sony 203ES CD players; Naim Audio 32.5/Hi-Cap and 110 pre-power amplifiers; Albarry PP1 amp; and Heybrook HB2, Orpheus Metaphor Mk III and Spectrum Audio 108cd speakers. Interconnects were of van den Hul and Audio Specs while speaker links were Naim NAC A4 and Straightwire Flex 4.

It was sheer bliss, listening to this amp. The warmth of the sound had me completely wrapped up to keep out the "coldness" of lesser systems! Not only did the Phase 2 sound open, it was also highly musical. My evenings over the past few weeks were all spent listening to it amplify music.

Delivery was somewhat laidback, with the sort of space and depth that's so inviting, it's difficult to fault. A wide soundstage and good deal of transparency allowed the music to envelope the listening area ever so effortlessly.

In terms of power, the Phase 2 performed without any sign of exertion, driving all the partnered speakers with ease. It delivered the goods at all listening levels, with such warmth that one could almost cuddle up to it! This amp's almost akin to a valve model but certainly without the lack of speed that is the bane of some valve amps. The Phase 2 also proved to be equally at home with classical or rock material.

What about the bass? Deep and ample, but not overpowering. Bass can be a thorny issue with different perceptions of "deep" and what have you. To me, be it quality or quantity, the Phase 2's bass gets the thumbs up.

The sound was well-balanced and the highs were not hard on the ears and rather crisp. Clarity was the name of the game.

Here, some elaboration is needed. Clarity from the Phase 2 is one of detail, coupled with a highly musical nature. If clinical clarity is what you are looking for, than it must be noted that the Phase 2 is not such an amp. It isn't 100 percent neutral, due to its full and slightly rounded nature, thus taking out the sharp edge of "accurately" balanced sound.

But then again, this is nit-picking since the Phase 2's very sonic character makes it such a wonderful amp to listen to. It is not only comparable to some pre-power combinations but can actually take on some of them. This certainly is among the better integrated amplifiers I have chanced upon over the years.

Conclusion

THEe Phase 2 has the ability to weave a tapestry of sound all around the listening area, leaving little doubt of its sonic abilities; one can get really all wrapped up in its presentation.

Although a bit on the pricey side, this amp has sonic character that is difficult to ignore. And a fine finish to boot. What else can I say? Go audition it (even if just to look at that blue power indicator!).

Recommended.
Model: John Shearne Phase 2 integrated amplifier

Price:RM3,400
Power output: 50 watts per channel
Inputs: 5
Review sample courtesy of OCTAVE ELECTRONICS SDN BHD (Tel: 03-793-7939), 81 Jalan 1/12, 46000 Petaling Jaya

Category: Group D

Verdict
For: Musical; warm; loads of power; transparent; good depth; lovely to look at; great blue LED! Check out those knobs ...
Against: Nothing much except a little colouration, if you really want to nit pick!

Rating
Sound: * * * * *
Value-for-money: * * * * *

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