Some review components announce themselves upon arrival and the Clones Audio 25iRX Integrated Amplifier did so with resounding clarity.
The 25iRX’s amplification stage relies on a single Texas Instruments LM3886 op-amp per channel for 30 Watts of output power into 8 Ohms, double that into 4 Ohms. This approach, the simpler the better, was pioneered by Junji Kimura of 47 Labs and his Gaincard Amplifier, which employed just 9 parts per channel, and acted as the inspiration for 25iRX making it a Gainclone. The preamplifier section of the 25iRX is based on the company’s own three-stage AP2 Preamplifier.
The 25iRX offers three line level RCA inputs and a pair of 5-way binding posts. The rear panel also plays home to the unit’s power switch and IEC inlet which completes the ins and outs for this simple is as simple does integrated amplifier.
The 25iRX’s black aluminum chassis measures a near cubic 190mm(W) X 170mm(D) X 130mm (H) which sits on a nice slab of wood. There’s a matching wood inlay around the volume control knob which also acts as input selector when depressed. An LED volume indictor and the company logo complete 25iRX ’s simple front face. An included remote performs input selection and volume control.
The Clones Audio 25iRX Integrated Amplifier got to play with the DeVore Fidelity O/93, Golden Ear BRX, and DALI Oberon 3 speakers while the totaldac d1-tube DAC/Streamer and Weiss DC501 served up the converted bits.
Some review components announce themselves upon arrival and the Clones 25iRX did so with resounding clarity. That bears repeating because this initial impression remained the focal point for the duration of the review period. Regardless of the speaker employed, music through 25iRX Integrated Amplifier-powered system was crystal clear, offering a seemingly unobstructed view into the musical proceedings. This quality, coupled with a nice firm grip throughout music’s lows, highs, and in betweens, made for some purely pleasurable listening.
I could nearly wrap this review up right here by adding “Highly Recommended” or some such superlative to further convey the fact that I really like the Clones Audio 25iRX Integrated Amplifier. It doesn’t look like your typical hifi component, being nearly square and all, and its looks are not superficial. With an asking price coming in under $2k, I’d suggest that most potential 25iRX customers will be pretty much ready to take the step right here and now. For those seeking more, read on.
Phoebe Bridgers Punisher is shaping up to be my favorite album from last year which means I find myself using it in every review, admittedly more than once per review, with a real sense of excitement to see what each new system reveals. The Clones Audio 25iRX paired with the DALI Oberon 3 presented a crystal clear view into the finer details of Bridger’s breathy vocals while also portraying the rest of the band laid out in a believable and speaker-defying sense of real space. With this combination, I was drawn into the music and away from other thoughts which is really the entire point of hifi.
Every so often I come across what strikes me as serendipitous synergy — when an amplification component mates so nicely with a pair of speakers that the resulting performance of the pairing appears to be much greater than the parts. This was the case with the Clones 25iRX when mated with the two-way DALI Oberon 3 stand-mount speakers ($899/pair). I could, and did, listen to this couple play music together for days on end because they offered a superb balance of music’s elements with an emphasis on sweet resolution. By this I mean to suggest that while focusing on resolution might suggest cold or sterile, this wasn’t the case with the 25iRX as music retained a convincing sense of tone color and texture.
While there are a million competing possible combinations for an integrated amplifier/speaker system to choose from, the DALI / Clones comb strikes as being rather special all things considered. And by “all things,” I’m talking about price, performance, and looks. I’ll even go a step further and recommend the Bluesound Node 2i ($549) as a streaming solution to complete this simple system.
The Clones Audio 25iRX Integrated Amplifier also mated very nicely with the more robust Golden Ear BRX speakers ($1598/pair) which add a pair of 6.5” planar infrasonic radiators on either side of the BRX’s cabinet for a two-way plus two stand-mount approach. This pairing offered more perceived body and weight, not surprisingly, as compared to the DALI Oberon 3 yet the Clones 25iRX’s special sweet resolute sauce remained in the sonic fore. Phoebe Bridgers felt more fleshed out and the backing band had a fuller and more impactful voice, while they all performed within a larger sound image as compared to the DALI pairing.
The DeVore Fidelity O/93 are an easy speaker to drive and an easy speaker to love, so you could get the impression that they’re also an easy going partner. While I find this to be the case in a general sense, they can sound wonderful with all manner of amplification regardless of topology, they are also fuller range revealing. You can think of this aspect of the O/93’s performance as acting like a giant magnifying glass into the associated amplifier’s complete voice. The Clones Audio 25iRX Integrated Amplifier / O/93 pairing revealed that the Clones special sauce wasn’t as thick as it sounded with the stand-mount pairings.
While Janos Starker’s cello on Starker Plays Kodaly offered a nice emphasis Starker’s speed and dexterity, his cello sounded thinner than I’m accustomed to, as if its timbral weight was ratcheted up a few notches in the frequency spectrum. Or to put it another way, the cello came across as sounding less full bodied and rich as I’m used to when listening to these same speakers with other amplifiers. The same held for Martha Argerich’s piano on her timelessly stunning Bach interpretations where the overall weight and tonal density was diminished as compared to other amplifier pairings through the DeVore’s.
That being said, anyone who takes the time to look down the list of recently reviewed amplifiers will find that the least expensive in the lot is the Hegel H95 integrated amplifier/DAC (see review) and the rest quickly go up in price from there. The Hegel H95 comes in at $2000 (on the nose) so it makes for a fair comparison to the $2495 Clones Audio.
In order to compare apples to apples, I also used the Bluesound Node 2i as streamer and DAC, feeding the Hegel via the Node’s analog outputs, as I did with the Clones Audio. With the Hegel, Argerich’s piano had more body and weight, as did Starker’s cello, which translates into a richer listening experience. There’s a sense that music is more physically embodied in-room through the Hegel, which can lead to a more musically engaging experience. Switching back to the Clones 25iRX / DeVore combination revealed that the Clones amp edged out the Hegel in terms of perceived resolution, clarity, and speed so there may be some listeners out there who would be drawn into these aspects of music reproduction and not feel slighted when it comes to body, texture, and weight.
In other words, there’s plenty of pleasure to be found in the Clones / DeVore pairing. It’s more than important to keep in mind that comparative listening is not the same as listening to music for pleasure. While the former is focused on aspects of reproduction and relative performance, the latter is concerned with music’s ability to engulf us in its moods, meanings, and timeless beauty.
People Love Stories
The thing about stories is they are neither right or wrong. Like music, their purpose lies in the experience so if you find yourself skipping ahead in search of the answer, you’re missing the point.
The Clones Audio 25iRX Integrated Amplifier’s origins in simplicity may appeal to some, in and of itself. Others may look at the 25iRX and see an object they’d like to share their home with. Others still may take these attributes and balance them against the Clones Audio’s way with music for a more complete picture. There is no right or wrong here as the end of this search is just the beginning.
What I can tell is the Clones Audio 25iRX Integrated Amplifier tells a story that’s well worth listening to.
Clones Audio 25iRX Integrated Amplifier
Price: $2495 .00