These amplifiers may be all black on the outside, but on the inside, they are green, as in ecologically and environmentally friendly. They are small and lightweight – just 7 pounds each, which makes them friendly to your listening room and to you since they are easy to move around and to install in any convenient location. There are no heat sinks or vents so they can even be placed on their sides. They run cool and pass along to your speakers most of the electricity that they draw from the power grid, which gives them a small environmental “footprint”. But that is just what B&O’s ICEpower technology provides.
Ric Schultz applies his many years of experience in modifying a wide range of components to the stock B&O amplifier modules to create a product that blows previous price/performance ratios completely out of the water. The EVS 500M amplifiers are not the best amplifiers on Planet Earth, nor does Mr. Schultz advertise that they are. He does claim that “(t)hese amps will redefine value in high powered amps”. I completely agree.
Priced at $2,000 per pair direct from Electronic Visionary Systems, the 550 Watts per channel (with over 1.1 kW into 4 Ohms) amplifiers were auditioned in a system consisting of the superb Response Audio Bella Extreme 100 (100 watt tube) mono power amplifiers, Placette Passive Line Stage and ModWright SWLP 9.0SE preamplifiers, EAR 88PB and Conrad Johnson Premier 15 Series 2 phono preamps, Kuzma Stabi Reference and SOTA Cosmos IV turntables with Tri-Planar VII and Origin Live Conqueror tonearms, and at the head of the chain, Zyx UNIverse, Benz Ebony LP and Koetsu Jade Platinum moving-coil phono cartridges. Interconnects were mostly PS Audio Resolution Transcendent used with Audience Au24 speaker cables. Power conditioning included my DIY Hydra and the new PS Audio Power Plant Premier. Loudspeakers included Gallo Reference 3.1, Spendor S5e and Dynaudio Audience 60. There were a couple of CDs too, but with these phono cartridges, would you spin the little silver disks? Me, neither.
If you have been keeping up on the technology, you may have some ideas about what you will hear from ICEpower amplifiers.
Forget all that.
Ric has worked his magic on these amplifiers and the upper midrange coolness or dryness that has been reported for ICEpower-based amplifiers is gone, gone, gone. This was a surprise to me as I was fully expecting “just another” ICEpower-y sound. In its place was a well integrated and consistent sound from the lowest bass to the mid-treble. Throughout this range, the sound is powerful and dynamic with a wide and reasonably deep soundstage. There is not the electron microscope-level of resolution offered up so handily by the Bella Extreme 100 which consistently reaches into the very fabric of each and every note. But neither is there the slightest trace of any added forwardness, grain, glare, humps, bumps, or bloat.
One feature that deserves mention is the binding posts. Ric takes the speaker wire coming from the internal amplifier board and solders it in a loop, which is then positioned over the binding post. When you install your speaker cable, the spade directly contacts the loop of wire. The effect is that there is no sonic contribution from the binding post at all. The binding post only serves as a clamp to hold the speaker wire in place. The best binding post is no binding post at all, and this configuration comes closest to that goal. Very innovative!
After hearing a few ICEpower-equipped amplifiers, I find that they all share a characteristic in the upper treble, and the EVS amps are no exception. As the frequencies increase above the mid-treble, resolution decreases. The extreme highs sound a bit soft or less precise compared to lower frequencies. This makes the amplifier sound very smooth and completely grain-free. I attribute this to the low-pass filters that are necessary to remove digital switching noise. This character makes this technology easier to match to more forward or brighter sounding sources, cables, speakers, and rooms. It will also work very well in a neutral, high resolution system. But if “soft and mellow” describes the rest of your system in its upper frequencies, then ICEpower may very well put you to sleep. Too much of a good thing.
The sound of orchestral bells is excellent, with good attack and a long, clear decay. Cymbals can sound like white noise at times instead of the clear but very complex sound of ringing metal. The saxophone can be heard occasionally to go over the edge into a distorted harshness in the low treble. This effect is actually a lack of fine resolution and not added distortion and is common in some lower cost gear. Trombone and trumpet sound excellent: big, bold and brassy without added artifacts.
At the other end of the range, the bass is very powerful and dynamic. There is some lack of resolution in the entire bass range which can make it somewhat of a challenge for the listener to hear the vibration of individual strings or to follow a complex bass line, but the bass is reasonably articulate and not wooly or soft. This seems strange given that the leading edge of bass notes is very well delineated. Overall, the 500M bass offers excellent performance at this price. The midrange is more complete and offers fully developed vocals. Complex vocal arrangements are noteworthy as having exceptional clarity with excellent separation of the different voices in a mix. It is easy to tell if there are a number of different singers, or if the arrangement is a studio concoction of over dubs of the same voice. This is probably the most significant strength of this amplifier, and other ICEpower amps, too. The amplifier seems to reduce the confusion of complex music to keep it uncluttered and understandable. In this important regard, it elevates the quality of less expensive speakers to make them sound even more competent.
Soundstaging is generally very precise, especially towards the front of the stage. In this region there is a very exact placement of performers with an outstandingly precise depth perception. Towards the rear of the stage, things are not as specific. However, the illusion of depth is very good and doesn’t seem to detract from the enjoyment of music which has been recorded in a large acoustic space.
I expected that 500 Watts of power would obviate any sensation of compression or limiting or increased distortion at very high listening levels. The EVS amps easily met these expectations. Although I did not have the similarly powerful Cary 500MB amplifiers on hand for a comparison, I recall that the Cary’s also offered seemingly limitless power. In this regard, the EVS amplifier is comparable to the $7,000 Carys.
Most reviews, including many of those appearing here on 10 Audio, describe how wonderful something sounds while minimizing the warts. I decided in this review to make it very clear to you how this amplifier compares to one of the best amplifiers on the market. The reason for this approach is simple: you buy a product based on its positive attributes, but you replace it due to its faults. The EVS 500M is a good sounding amplifier in absolute terms, and a leader in its price range. If you are shopping for a powerful amplifier under $5000, I suggest considering the 500M for your purchase.
It is hard to say with any certainty if the EVS 500M amplifier is the best amp in its price category, or if it beats others which cost $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 or more. I can tell you that it is the best sounding amplifier I can recall for under $4,000, and where is misses even higher priced offerings it does so by what it leaves out of the music, not – repeat NOT – by anything it adds on its own. Every fault is one of omission, and this is a statement that I would not imagine making for any other amplifier anywhere near this price. The $10,000 Conrad Johnson Premier 350SA actively commits more sins than the EVS amplifiers do. The EVS 500M amplifiers offer a compelling value proposition: as you build your dream system, you could start with these amplifiers and only upgrade them after the rest of the system is ready for that final step to complete the journey.
Overall Rating: 8.5 LPs
Manufacturer’s Web Site: Electronic Visionary Systems