Sometimes when the world shouts too loudly, I immerse myself in other sounds: in music. I escape the cacophony by diving into my stash of vinyl records (not literally, although that’s a fun image) and reveling in the soundwaves they release. The soundwaves liberated from those physical grooves, combined with impressions stored deep in my hippocampus, never fail to soothe, energize, fascinate, excite.
Reviewing new analog equipment allows me to explore this sonic corporeality and gives me a chance to hear my cherished vinyl discs anew, with a different focus. Sound patterns and song lines are reanimated.
A well-made tube amplifier represents, to me, the pinnacle of sound reproductionincluding certain hybrid designs. I have yet to hear a solid state amplifier reproduce the natural tone, realistic timbre, liquidity, physicality, and pure embodiment of recorded musicians that a fine tube amplifier achieves.
Tube amplifiers that have enchanted me over the years include the magnificent E.A.T. E-Glo I integrated amplifier, the tightly focused Luxman SQ-N150 integrated amplifier, the harmonically adept Zesto Leto Ultra II preamplifier, the neuron-altering Komuro 845, the atmospheric Audio Note Ongaku, and of course my Shindo Laboratory Allegro dual-body preamplifier and Shindo Haut-Brion power amplifier.
But what about hybrid ampsamplifiers that include both tubes and solid state devices? How do they stack up against solid state amps? Against pure tube amps? My answer: It depends.
So when I was asked to review the Italian-made Pathos InPoL Remix MkII integrated amplifier ($5395), which uses both tubes and transistors in an innovative circuit, I dove in ears first.
On the outside
Manufactured in Vicenza and perhaps inspired by the city’s architecture, Pathos amplifiers are visually arresting, with bold lines and a solid stance. The Remix is a fine example, with its contrasting colors, sleek anodized-aluminum volume control knob, and stout, curvaceous, powder-coated heatsinks of extruded aluminum, shaped cleverly to spell out the company name. The amplifier’s bold, industrial exterior exhibits pride in its materials: The top panel is of varnished iron, the bottom plate, cabinet, and internal plates of powder-coated iron. The twin, top-mounted tube rings are aluminum, and the tube fins are stainless steel. All the metal parts are connected with a thermal compound to ensure thermal continuity, Pathos says.
“Pathos Acoustics was founded in 1994 by three Italian pioneers, Gaetano Zanini, Gianni Borinato and Paolo Andriolo, in … Vicenza, a sophisticated city in northern Italy famous for its great monuments designed by architect Andrea Palladio,” the Pathos website says. “The tradition of making something outstanding has continued since the days of Palladio.”
The Remix may be small, but, standing on four stubby aluminum feet and weighing 34.2lb, it’s heavier than it looks. On a narrow, recessed panel below a large, matte black fascia, a control panel bears a small silver on/off button; hold it down for standby. To the right are an IR sensor; a red LED, which confirms standby mode; and a three-digit display showing volume level, selected input, brightness, and phase settings. Another small silver button engages analog or digital inputs. There’s also a ¼” headphone jack, which turns off the speaker taps when headphones are plugged in. Above, the big main panel is an expanse of colorblack, red, or whiteand features just a big volume wheel. Dual ElectroHarmonix E88CC tubes stand sentry atop. A lovely, laser-engraved remote parallels the front panel functions.
The Remix’s all-business back end consists of speaker terminals, four well-spaced RCA input jacks, one set of XLR (balanced) inputs, a pair of pre-out jacks on RCA, an IEC receptacle, and two pairs of pre-out jacks, one RCA, one XLR. The robust, Taiwan-made RCA jacks are gold-plated. USB, S/PDIF, and TosLink inputs for the optional HiDac Mk2 D/A converter (not included in the review sample), which adds $675 to the price, round out the back-panel features.
On the inside
The Remix uses transformers from KK Omori Seisakusho from Japan and Costruzioni Elettromeccaniche Taddei from Italy. The power supply is a switching supply: a Mean Well 150W. “The capacitors we choose are high-quality,” said Damiano Zanini, Pathos’s director of research and development, in an email. “Some of them are by Nichicon or Wima, others are by Lelon, a high-quality Chinese brand. Capacitors are all [rated to perform at] 105°C.” Internal wiring is shielded cable by Tasker, an Italian company.
Pathos employs a proprietary, patented designInPoL, for Inseguitore Pompa Lineare, or Linear Pump Followerin several of its amplifiers, including the Remix; other Pathos InPoL models include the Heritage, InPower, and Adrenalin (footnote 1). InPoL is Pathos’s technology for providing ample current to a loudspeaker without global negative feedback but with “limited” distortion and an acceptable damping factor. It’s a particular solid state, class-A output-stage topology that uses N-channel transistorsspecifically, IRFP240 MOSFETs by Vishayand mimics the incoming voltage 1:1 so that, Pathos says, it does not change the signal’s harmonic content. “To put it a little more technically, it is a MOSFET running in pure class-A that’s used in a follower configuration”following those Electro-Harmonix ECC88 tubes, which have already bumped up the voltage”with a ‘passthrough’ voltage gain of 1, and a high current gain.” That quote is from a document shared with Stereophile by Upscale Distribution, the US Pathos distributor.
Footnote 1: Apparently discontinued but still available.