Norma Audio

Wonderful Amplifier Creations for the "Love of Music" from Italy
NORMA AUDIO’s target is to utilise Technique, Science & Art to create products that reflect NORMA “musical reproduction”.

NORMA AUDIO is based in Cremona, Italy… a place where music has always played an important role, being the home of Monteverdi, Ponchielli, Stradivari, Amati and many other artists. Inspired by this rich musical history, designer Enrico Rossi has been creating sophisticated audio amplifiers for more than 20 years, merging technical skill and musical sensitivity in the same way in which the best musical instruments are made. Listening to a NORMA AUDIO product can convey this experience better than words. Digital sources and solid state amplifiers that deliver extraordinary musicality and a total lack of listening fatigue.

Every once in a while, a company is ‘discovered’ that makes such wonderful sounding audio equipment, that we find ourselves asking ‘why didn’t we know about this brand before?’. NORMA AUDIO Electronics is one of those brands, steeped in heritage, slowly gaining popularity outside Italy as enthusiasts spread the word. Audition… and be prepared to fall in love.

NORMA AUDIO’s target is to utilise Technique, Science & Art to create products that reflect NORMA “musical reproduction”. This concept is the synthesis of elements as: neutrality, lack of artificiality, respect for the dynamics and timbre of the original execution. In other words, a Minimalist approach; the intention is therefore to manipulate the audio signal as less as possible, confiding that the original music already contains all the Beauty that will bring Emotion in the listening experience. The musical message will not be Reinterpreted, adding something More pleasant, but will instead receive the maximum respect. All the technical choices, from the most advanced to the ones that are apparently against the trend, derive from this precise Vision, and are not random.

The origins of the NORMA brand go back to 1987. The first device to be launched in the market was the NS 123 amplifier. In 1991 NORMA was bought by OPAL ELECTRONICS. This started a seven-year research and development work, which produced a completely new range of products. The basic concept was concerning the role of an Electronic in the audio reproduction chain. It has, in our opinion, a greater importance than people are usually let to believe.
The renewed range of NORMA products was introduced at Milan’s TOP AUDIO in 1997.
Since then, the products had been constantly updated without upsetting the original philosophy. The products in fact remained in catalogue for a long time, also to preserve the investments made by clients.
After a few years the IPA integrated amplifiers series was introduced, and only lately the REVO series was added, easily recognizable for the original and refined design. Of this gamma, the last product in arrive is the REVO CDPlayer.

All Products

Reviews

Videos

All Products

DACs

NA 05 DC REVDAC1
NZ$ 6,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
The new REVO DAC-1 represents one of the highest worldwide expressions in the construction of digital-to-analog conversion devices. It uses technical solutions without compromises, thus creating...
- 5 digital inputs, USB, 2 x SPDIF RCA, SPDIF OPTICAL, AES-EBU. - USB input and SPDIF full...
The problem with audio is proof. Or rather its absence. One can't prove superior...
DACs

CD / SACD / Blu-ray & Multi-Format Players

NA 06 CD REVCDP1
NZ$ 7,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
NORMA's mission   has always been to preserve, in reproduction, all the qualities of the signal of origin, with the lowest contamination that the state of the art technology can...
- TEAC CD Player Mechanics, with 5 seconds read buffer of - Two PCM 24 Bit Digital to Analogue...
The problem with audio is proof. Or rather its absence. One can't prove superior...
NA 07 CD REVDS1
NZ$ 8,750.01 ea (incl. GST)
NORMA is pleased to present the new REVO DS1 Digital Source. It is an extremely interesting product, both for its outstanding technical content and for its noticeable versatility, obviously...
TEAC CD Player Mechanics, with 5 seconds read buffer of- Switching between CD player and DAC modes...
The problem with audio is proof. Or rather its absence. One can't prove superior...

All-in-One amplifiers

NA 10 IA IPA1
NZ$ 5,500.00 ea (incl. GST)
Norma Audio's HS-IPA1 is a high end modular hifi amplifier based around their higher end REVO integrated amplifiers. There are 3 options which can be added at the time of purchase:1) High-End DAC...
REVIEW: Recently I seem to have had a lot of contact with Italian audio components and the latest...
All-in-One amplifiers
NA 11 IA HSPH
NZ$ 750.00 ea (incl. GST)
All-in-One amplifiers
NA 12 IA HSHP
NZ$ 750.00 ea (incl. GST)
All-in-One amplifiers
NA 13 IA HSDAC1
NZ$ 1,500.00 ea (incl. GST)
All-in-One amplifiers

Integrated amplifiers

NA 20 IA REV70
NZ$ 7,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
"The longer I spend with this Norma amplifier the more I appreciate just how multi-talented and easy to live with it is..... the dark acoustic is vast and deep with rimshots reverberating off into...
- Extreme low noise and high speed schematic topology.- Wide band ( >1 MHz ).-  High...
Italian renaissance If this integrated amplifier is anything to go by, Chris Ward reckons we can...
Integrated amplifiers
NA 20 IA REV70B
NZ$ 7,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
"The longer I spend with this Norma amplifier the more I appreciate just how multi-talented and easy to live with it is..... the dark acoustic is vast and deep with rimshots reverberating off into...
- Extreme low noise and high speed schematic topology.- Wide band ( >1 MHz ).- High current MOS-...
Italian renaissance If this integrated amplifier is anything to go by, Chris Ward reckons we can...
Integrated amplifiers
NA 21 IA REV70PH
NZ$ 750.00 ea (incl. GST)
Integrated amplifiers
NA 22 IA REV70DA
NZ$ 1,250.00 ea (incl. GST)
Integrated amplifiers
NA 25 IA REV140
NZ$ 11,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
The Norma Revo IPA-140 integrated amplifier represents a definitive choice for amplification. Its high power (140W/8Ohm) and the ability to drive the most demanding speakers, make it an...
- Extreme low noise, high speed schematic topology and wide band  ( >2 MHz ). - High...
REVIEW: There are a lot of audio products at all prices out there. Some of them, let’s be honest,...
Integrated amplifiers
NA 25 IA REV140B
NZ$ 11,995.01 ea (incl. GST)
The Norma Revo IPA-140 integrated amplifier represents a definitive choice for amplification. Its high power (140W/8Ohm) and the ability to drive the most demanding speakers, make it an...
- Extreme low noise, high speed schematic topology and wide band  ( >2 MHz ).- High current...
REVIEW: There are a lot of audio products at all prices out there. Some of them, let’s be honest,...
Integrated amplifiers
NA 26 IA REV140P
NZ$ 995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Integrated amplifiers
NA 27 IA REV140D
NZ$ 1,250.00 ea (incl. GST)
Integrated amplifiers

Preamplifiers & Line-stages

NA 30 PA SC2
NZ$ 11,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
In the REVO SC-2 preamplifier, a pure and elegant style combines with the most refined technology.
- Extreme low noise, high speed schematic topology and wide band ( >2 MHz ).- High filtering...
REVIEW: In conversation with him, it quickly became clear
NA 31 PA SC2PH
NZ$ 995.00 ea (incl. GST)
NA 33 PA SC2DC
NZ$ 3,995.00 ea (incl. GST)

Power amplifiers (Stereo & Mono)

NA 40 AS PA150
NZ$ 11,750.00 ea (incl. GST)
The features of the REVO PA-150 make it an extremely versatile amplifier. The high power (150W / 8Ohm), the ability to drive even the most difficult speakers and sound characteristics...
- Extreme low noise, high speed schematic topology and wide band (> 2 MHz). - Separate power...
The problem with audio is proof. Or rather its absence. One can't prove superior...
NA 42 AM PA160
NZ$ 29,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
The features of the REVO PA-160MR make it a unique amplifier in the world panorama. ALL the power supplies are electronically stabilised The stabilised power supply stages have a speed...
- Extreme low noise, high speed schematic topology and wide band (> 2 MHz). - Separate power...
The problem with audio is proof. Or rather its absence. One can't prove superior...

Reviews

The Revo IPA-70B is a class act. It represents an understanding of musical refinement over dry hi-fi specifications.
Chris Ward

CONCLUSION: The Revo IPA-70B is a class act. It represents an understanding of musical refinement over dry hi-fi specifications. Where some higher end amps can tend towards harsh resolution and raw power, it instead focuses on greater insight and stronger expression. There is a shade more contrast, a hint more sweet detail and a tad more colour, all adding up to a great deal more presence and enjoyment from one’s music. The longer I spend with this Norma amplifier the more I appreciate just how multi-talented and easy to live with it is. I was not aware of the company before I started this review, but I will certainly be paying far closer attention to it from now on.

OUR VERDICT:  5-STARS
LIKE: Highly communicative with sweet treble, design and build.
DISLIKE: Understated styling; USB-only DAC (so?)
WE SAY: An effortlessly musical and truly engaging integrated

Italian renaissance If this integrated amplifier is anything to go by, Chris Ward reckons we can expect to hear a lot more from Norma Audio

Cremona in Northern Italy has an illustrious musical pedigree. Home to Monteverdi and Ponchielli, it is perhaps most famous for the manufacture of the world’s greatest stringed instruments by the likes of Stradivari, Rugeri and Amati. So, Norma Audio is hoping to emulate engineers that have fostered some of the greatest sounds ever made. 

Founded in 1987 the current audio business is part of Opal Electronics, which designs and builds advanced electronics measurement instruments, so it should be well placed to expertly calibrate its products. 

The Revo IPA-70B is Norma’s entry-level integrated amplifier claiming 2x 70W into 8ohm power output. This modest headline figure is overshadowed by other rather more remarkable specifications. Norma says the Revo IPA-70B is able to deliver more than 1MHz of bandwidth, up to 100A of current and 1,000W peak power handling capability. This suggests not only some serious over engineering, but also a very dynamic performance indeed. 

Unboxing the Revo IPA-70B reveals a rather polite and unremarkable looking amplifier. Notably slim and sporting a gently tapering top plate that hides integrated cooling fins on the right-hand side, it is the very definition of understated. Available in silver or anodised black, the build quality feels bombproof. Connectivity includes four line-level RCA inputs, one AV RCA in and an optional DAC module with a single USB input, although coaxial and optical inputs are notably absent. Alternatively, a modular phono stage can be specified. A single button is used to cycle through inputs and the central volume knob can be turned manually or remotely controlled with course or fine adjustment via the comprehensive yet chic all-metal handset.

Sound quality 

I connect up a Shanling CD-T100 HDCD player and Cadence Arca speaker using Chord Company’s Epic Analogue interconnect and Black Rhodium’s Foxtrot loudspeaker cable (HFC 412), and warm everything through ahead of critical listening. 

Playing Flash by Cigarettes After Sex on CD is insightful. The dark acoustic is vast and deep with rimshots reverberating off into infinity as a sonorous keyboard glows warmly against the inky blackness. The depth of the soundstage is notable, seeming to confirm very sensitive signal handling that can preserve the most subtle of musical nuances. Treble is extended and sweet, somehow feeling entirely grainless yet never sounding like it might be smoothing over detail. Already the amplifier confirms it’s a class act as every musical detail is laid out with effortless authority. Bass is full and wholesome while preserving a languid liquidity. Some might prefer their bass tighter and faster with more punch, but this performance sounds like a real instrument played by a real person complete with extra intonation and deeper expression than I’m used to. Greg Gonzalez’s vocals appear centre stage, dripping with emotive detail. Sensitive inflections in his voice are communicated superbly. The amp has an amazing ability to resolve tiny textural detail in three dimensions without sounding fatiguing. 

Swapping to an HDCD rendition of Rain Rain Rain by Roxy Music, the opening keyboards are big, fulsome and brassy, perfectly capturing the early eighties synthesised sounds. Allan Schwartzberg’s drumming is almost holographic as every beat and stroke bristles with lilting, syncopated detail that places his kit perfectly in the mix. Yet again the Revo IPA-70B seems to excel at painting a more spacious and human rendition than I’m used to. There is a naturalness and flow that feels addictive, balancing explicit detail with silky smoothness while delivering the essential drive and momentum of the track. The wonderfully burbling bassline is supple, weaving in and out with total agility, yet pressing into my listening room with real presence. Ferry’s voice is sublime; gravelly and textured yet sultry and warm. His vocal commands it’s own space in the soundscape, creating a real sense of a performance, more than simply high-fidelity playback of a recording. This amp clearly has a talent for vocals and other complex acoustic instruments. There is a kind of projection to performers where you can perceive more realistic air around them. It’s akin to when distant church bells sound more distinct and resonant on a damp day when the moisture in the air conveys more clarity and atmosphere. Tracks feel more spatial, human and ultimately musical as the amp digs a little deeper into the expressive qualities of the music. All the detail and accuracy is there, but it’s sweet, fluid and feels almost alive. I connect my Macbook Pro and swap to the DAC input via a Chord Company C-USB interconnect.

Playing Beim Schlafengehen from Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss sung by Jessye Norman accompanied by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the opening strings growl and grow with wonderfully dark menace, full of vibrant texture and melancholic yearning. Norman’s soprano voice gently rises up gaining strength and shape until fully formed high above the lush orchestra. Again, the Revo IPA-70B seems to perform the impossible trick of communicating precise vocal phrasing and rich detail around dense and complex instrumentation, yet also giving the performers space and room to flow and breathe. As with the Roxy Music track, there’s plenty of detail, ensuring that the big picture and emotional expression is never compromised. Norman’s voice has immense power on certain phrases and this is precisely where I can tell that provision of extremely generous current delivery and potent peak power ensures the three-dimensional picture doesn’t flatten or harden up. Spinning The Wheel by SOHN on CD is really telling. Given the Norma’s clear prowess with acoustic material and vocals I had wondered if some electronica might trip it up. The track starts simple enough with the Revo IPA-70B portraying the sumptuous blend of pure voices beautifully. In comes the deep bass and it hardly breaks a sweat. The more I listen, the more I enjoy its bass handling. The deepest registers have lots of suppleness. Die-hard drum and bass fans may look for greater control, but I personally relish the extra life and expression that this amplifier brings to the essential deep underpinnings of music. Fast, pulsing beats, razor-edged samples and crisp keyboards add layer upon layer of intricate digital complexity until the track is bristling with crystalline textures. Not only can the Norma handle electronica, it positively gives it more light, shade, shape and expression. The track sounds spry and impressive through most amps, but here it gains some extra soul. 

Conclusion 

The Revo IPA-70B is a class act. It represents an understanding of musical refinement over dry hi-fi specifications. Where some higher end amps can tend towards harsh resolution and raw power, it instead focuses on greater insight and stronger expression. There is a shade more contrast, a hint more sweet detail and a tad more colour, all adding up to a great deal more presence and enjoyment from one’s music. The longer I spend with this Norma amplifier the more I appreciate just how multi-talented and easy to live with it is. I was not aware of the company before I started this review, but I will certainly be paying far closer attention to it from now on.

Q&A 
CW: The design pays a lot of attention to power supplies, current delivery and extended bandwidth. Why is this important? 
ER: Music, like all life, is energy and information. With limited energy, only limited results are achieved. Current, power, bandwidth, capacity and power are different points of view of a single larger concept. 

CW: Tell us more about your approach to circuit design, components and relay switching? 
ER: Everything that is in the signal path is crucial. The beauty and emotion we want to reproduce is so subtle (but clearly perceptible) that nothing should be allowed to contaminate it. The quality we seek is very ‘shy’, and it must be looked after with love. 

CW: Sometimes highly musical amps measure poorly and amps that measure well can sound weaker. What are your thoughts? 
ER: Measurements (at least the most common ones) are not related to what our brain decodes as a sensation of listening. There is the danger that self-referential technicians will only be guided by numbers. However, I’ve never heard products with terrible technical measurements sound natural – both musical and the technical are essential. The first guides us where we want to go and the second is how we get there. 

CW: Tell us more about the importance of reproducing the human voice in your designs? 
ER: Just listen to a live opera singer. In their voice there is everything: speed, bandwidth, refinement, power and emotion. Imagine one big orchestra playing forte, you can easily recognise the voice but you cannot recognise each instrument. Our auditory system is very sensitive to the vocals. We recognise a known voice among dozens at the same time. I have never heard a system, with correct voice reproduction sound bad with other types of music. If you reproduce the voice well, everything else will be automatically reproduced well, too.

This is an amplifier that I could see people using with loudspeakers costing £20k (NZ$25,000/pr) or more without it showing itself up.
Alan Sircom

SUMMARY: I’ll end where I began. Norma deserves to be better known. There are no bargains in audio, but this is an amplifier that can go up against amps costing NZ$20,000 - NZ$30,000+ despite costing the right side of NZ$12,000 in its all-up top-spec guise. The hi-fi market can be fickle, but the IPA-140 has some real staying power. I think for many, to try it will be to love it.

REVIEW: There are a lot of audio products at all prices out there. Some of them, let’s be honest, don’t deserve their place in the audiophile pantheon but hold on by some minor miracle. At the other extreme, there are excellent products that should receive far better recognition that they get. Norma is distinctly in the latter camp; this Italian manufacturer builds them right, as evidenced by the Revo IPA-140 integrated amplifier.

Norma designer Enrico Rossi is based in Cremona and the city’s significant connection with music and musical instrument design has clearly rubbed off. He believes the reproduction of the human voice – especially the human voice in song – is so difficult that it is a window on the quality of a system, and as a result the voice is used extensively in listening tests on Norma products. This ethos could result in something ethereal and meaningless, were it not for Opal – Norma’s parent company – and its thorough grounding in test equipment. This gave Rossi the opportunity to develop the Norma project over a six-year period in the 1990s, prior to launching the first products.

The company’s Revo IPA-140 is a modern-day result of this painstaking design brief. It’s a 140W per channel, fully dual mono integrated amplifier, using a sextet of MOSFETs on each side, giving the amplifier a potential burst power of 1.5kW. And it really is truly dual mono – if you go for the specified phono stage option, it comes as two boards, one for each channel. Aside from the plug and the optional USB digital input (it’s hard to split a single USB connector into two and still have it work), the amp is essentially two monoblocks sharing a common front panel, sitting in a non-magnetic, solid aluminium chassis. Norma has gone with a high-bandwidth design (>2MHz) and has built it to last with elements like sealed and very long-lasting gold/palladium relays for source switching.

It’s a fairly minimalist looking amplifier with only chromed volume knob and a set of LEDs highlighting which source is used as the only concessions toward frivolity.

The result of this powerfully built design is an amplifier of rare refinement and subtlety. Yes, it can do power and brute force with the best of them, but it’s more grown up than that. It’s not by accident the company bringing this amplifier into the UK is the same one that distributes ELAC loudspeakers and Vertere cables. ELAC are great loudspeakers, but they do not suffer amplifier fools gladly and anything sounding the least bit hard or brash or edgy will be exposed for all its ‘glory’. Prospective ELAC owners and dealers need to have an off-the-peg amplifier solution for their needs… and this is it. But that’s only scratching the surface.

The other common partner in Europe is Avalon loudspeakers, and these loudspeakers demand a slightly different set of criteria – a sense of the mailed fist in the velvet glove, of well-rounded effortless and yet controlled power. It also needs to be fast; perhaps not quite DarTZeel fast or Constellation fast, but neither should it be ponderous. Fortunately the IPA 140 acquits itself well on all accounts.

Harking back to that voice-first ethos, I stuck on a couple of vocal works, through a Naim UnitiServe into a Wadia 121 DAC. Jessye Norman (seemed appropriate, given how close ‘Norman’ is to the company name) singing Richard Strauss’ four last songs (Philips) with her dramatic soprano voice cutting through the air, and – by way of stark contrast – Laura Marling’s neo-Joni Mitchell tones on Once I Was an Eagle. In both cases, it was surprising how articulate and ‘there’ the voice was, centre stage and surprisingly dynamic. OK, you expect powerful dynamics from Jessye Norman (she’s a walking pair of lungs and vocal chords), but what’s surprising is just how that effortless dynamics works with Laura Marling’s voice, making it more real and making her sound at once fragile and confident. I’ve heard other amplifiers do this vocal projection as well as the Norma, but few can do anything near as well as this – with the same balance of performance – for the money.

That balance can perhaps be best summed up in three words, ‘grace, space and pace’. That’s a rare combination in today’s world though, and the result is one of those designs that pushes the envelope and challenges the accredited masters of the art, many of which come with price tags that would make a 18th Century Maharaja blush.

The combination of these two main differentiators (refinement and speed) give the IPA-140 a rare talent; a kind of old-fashioned, brand-new sound. That sounds like a contradiction until you hear it. The stark, etched top-end that undermines many good amplifiers is held at bay; not all amplifiers sound that way, but the tendency now is to overcompensate and make an amp that wafts and drifts its way through music. The Revo IPA-140 manages to walk the line between the two, with a sound quality that’s every bit as exciting and engaging as you’d want, but with the sort of naturalistic presentation we all crave. As a result, this amp goes with far more than just the aforementioned Avalon and ELAC loudspeaker designs.

How this manifests in music is fairly easy to spot; you end up listening ‘through’ the recording more. Not in an analytical way, more in a ‘that was really good, let’s play another!’ The Jessye Norman album led to Delius (I don’t quite know how) and then to Britten, which strangely led to the Hilliard Ensemble, which led to early music and so on. Meanwhile, Laura Marling led (naturally) to Joni Mitchell, which led to James Taylor, Donnie Hathaway and then all points soulful, then rocky tinged with some deep dub reggae for no particular reason. In other words, the amp is exciting, fast and honest enough to make you stalk your music collection for more fun tracks. That comes through a combination of quicksilver speed when needed, effortless dynamic range and a natural tonality; all the things any solid-state amplifier is supposed to be able to do, but few genuinely achieve.

‘Grace’ has come to imply something aloof and elegant but in a distant way. That is not the IPA-140’s interpretation of the word. It’s more timeless, Audrey Hepburn grace than some haughty ice-maiden grace. This is exceptionally transparent. Nevertheless, this is not going to be the everyman amplifier. There are those who want an amplifier that enlivens or even brightens the sound, and those who equate ‘accuracy’ with cold, laboratory conditions and those who think rhythm should be laid on with a trowel. It gives excellent rhythm when needed, in fact, it just doesn’t seem to draw everything into 4/4 time.

Instead that grace gives this amplifier a confidence and a poise that not only makes it very alluring, but to improve upon that that refinement without trade-off takes a lot of care, and a lot of cash. If you like what the Revo IPA-140 does and want more of the same, you’ll need to spend insurrection-funding doses of money to get there. If that summons up images of ‘punching above its weight’… the so be it. This is an amplifier that I could see people using with loudspeakers costing £20k (NZ$25,000/pr) or more without it showing itself up. Which is how it always used to be. The optional USB arrived mid-way through the listening session, and it’s a corker too. It is an ideal match for the amp, exceptionally clean, detailed and BS-free.

There is one caveat, of sorts. The XLR input is there almost for vestigial means. Norma doesn’t strongly recommend the ‘balanced’ pathway and it is best left alone. And, while it’s not really a criticism of the design, it’s extremely well built on a multi-layer PCB design with the case acting as almost a monocoque, The downside – from an engineer’s position – is any potential upgrades require more than just the usual ‘undo a few grub screws’ disassembly; it’s more ‘you have an egg-cup filled with Torx bolts, just to gain internal access’ kind of build. The more I think of it, that’s not much of a downside, because it shows just how seriously Norma takes the phrase ‘well-built’. 

I’ll end where I began. Norma deserves to be better known. There are no bargains in audio, but this is an amplifier that can go up against amps costinNZ$20,000 - NZ$30,000+ despite costing the right side of NZ$12,000 in its all-up top-spec guise. The hi-fi market can be fickle, but the IPA-140 has some real staying power. I think for many, to try it will be to love it.

The IPA-140 was incredibly quiet and transparent, revealing wealths of fine detail, we were so startled by the background sounds of birds & bees, which sounded spookily realistic....a wide, deep soundstage, with a reverberant echo & natural sounding decay
Uday Reddy

CONCLUSION: What’s not to like about Norma Audio’s Revo IPA-140?, if I were buying, I’d opt for the metal remote. But, really -- gorgeous Italian design coupled with solid engineering and world-class sound? An internal DAC option to boot? If I were in the market for a one-box integrated-DAC, here is where I’d start. Don’t need the DAC? No matter. Buy the Revo IPA-140 without DAC.You won’t regret it.

REVIEW: In the late 1970s and early ’80s, when I was a teenager, integrated amps and stereo receivers were the jack-of-all-trades components. Both had multiple inputs, receivers had tuners, and virtually all had moving-coil and moving-magnet phono stages as standard equipment. While some integrated amps still come with phono stages, they’re usually added-cost options, and for the most part they’re disappearing. Increasing, however, is the availability of built-in DACs for streaming music files from a USB-tethered server. As music servers become more popular, expect this option to be more commonly available on integrated amps. For those looking for a one-box integrated-DAC, this kind of feature will be quite attractive. To my knowledge, Bryston Ltd. fired the first shot with their B100 SST (now replaced by the B135 SST2); now, other companies are rushing to fill the void.

To that list add Norma Audio, of Cremona, Italy, a city noted for its famous composers and makers of outstanding stringed instruments. While new to me, Norma has been in business since 1987, and is known for producing high-quality amplification and digital products. Norma was bought by Opal Electronics in 1991; after a seven-year interval for R&D, the company was relaunched in 1997, with the Revo line added a few years later.

Design

Norma Audio’s design brief for the Revo IPA-140 integrated-DAC ($8600 USD) is reflected in the philosophy of its chief designer and engineer, Enrico Rossi, whose love of song led him on the difficult quest to perfect the reproduction of the human voice. To Rossi’s way of thinking, the perception of sonic quality depends on being able to perceive specific sonic traits that are affected by the absence of distortion and grain. To achieve this, Rossi believes, there must be a lack of playback artifice, which can be achieved by minimizing degradation of the audio signal through the circuit.

Rossi believes that simpler circuits are not necessarily better than more complex circuits; the circuits he designs for Norma Audio components are very elaborate, and their bandwidth must greatly exceed the audioband in order to improve the circuits’ overall speed and to instantaneously supply sufficient current.

To that end, the IPA-140 has a low-noise, high-speed output topology comprising high-current MOSFETs. A solid-state, dual-mono design claimed to output 140Wpc into 8 ohms or 280Wpc into 4 ohms, with a frequency response of 0.1Hz-2MHz and a slew rate of 175, the IPA-140 compares favorably with considerably more expensive amps from Soulution or darTZeel.

Norma Revo IPA-140

There must be a law that decrees that everything made in Italy must at least look beautiful, and the Revo IPA-140 doesn’t disappoint. The pictures on Norma’s website don’t do justice to it -- to be truly appreciated, the IPA-140 must be seen in person. With a thick faceplate and a case that sleekly tapers to the rear, the IPA-140 looks like nothing else on the market. The Revo measures 17”W x 5”H x 17”D and weighs, despite its slim lines, a hefty 55 pounds.

Machined into the center of the front panel is a sculpted concave well, at its center a volume-control knob of highly polished chrome. If you’re fastidious enough that fingerprints on your smartphone drive you nuts, use the supplied remote control -- or gloves.

To either side of the volume control is a smaller well, the one on the left for the IR receiver, the one on the right for rousing the IPA-140 out of standby and selecting one of the six inputs, each represented by a blue LED, in a row to the button’s right. The top panel has 12 ventilation slots in two columns of six each. Toward the Revo’s rear, its smoothly tapered sides are lined with heatsinks.

Arrayed across the upper half of the rear panel, four pairs of single-ended inputs flank the sole, centrally located balanced input and the USB input (the USB option costs $1000). Just below these are the IEC socket and master power switch, flanked by shrouded five-way binding posts of high-quality plastic.

Accompanying the Revo is Norma’s standard plastic remote control, capable of operating the IPA-140 and other components in the Norma product line. I’m no snob when it comes to plastic remotes, and this one was light and particularly well shaped, with scalloped sides that comfortably fit my palm. However, its volume-control buttons are indistinct in feel -- I almost always overshot the volume I wanted, and got more “Turn that down!”s from the wife than with any other component I’ve ever had. An optional metal remote is available, with volume buttons that look to be much better; I’d recommend paying the extra money for that reason alone.

At two years for parts and labor, the warranty seems stingy -- but the IPA-140 is built like a tank, and Jim Ricketts of TMH Audio, Norma Audio’s US distributor, assured me that Norma has a US-based authorized technician available to perform any required service with total support from the factory, and that Norma’s components are anyway extremely reliable.

Setup

The IPA-140 was a breeze to install. After unboxing it and plunking it down on my stand, I plugged it in with the supplied Neutral Cable Fascino power cord. While Jim Ricketts had recommended that I use input 4 -- it has the shortest signal path -- I used input 5, as that’s the Revo’s only balanced input. After linking everything together, I powered up the IPA-140 and, using the standby button, selected input 5. When listening via the Revo’s internal DAC, I replaced my Cardas Clear USB cable and used the supplied Neutral Cable Passion USB cable, again using the standby button to select the USB input. Throughout the entire review period, the IPA-140 worked like a charm. Despite extended listening sessions, often at high volume levels, the IPA-140 never got more than warm to the touch.

Sound

Directly connected to my Meitner MA-1 DAC ($7000), the Revo IPA-140 proved amenable to whatever music I fed it. It played at high SPLs for long periods with ease, liquidity, and no sense of strain. Some amps clearly favor acoustic over amplified music. Not so the IPA-140 -- it was an all-rounder for all genres, but seemed to particularly relish amplified music. I listened to a lot of rock’n’roll and jazz fusion during its stay in my system. Crisp and articulate, with punchy bass and clean highs, the IPA-140’s sound was muscular, but with a delicate touch. In a previous review I’d mentioned the band Tia Carrera, an instrumental rock power trio/jam band, which had been getting plenty of rotation at my place. Well, add to that the Hedvig Mollestad Trio, fronted by the Norwegian guitarist and rounded out with a drummer and a double bassist. Sounding much like an instrumental hybrid of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and a jazz-fusion guitar trio, this band truly rocks. I’ve had both of Mollestad’s albums in near constant play since discovering her earlier this year. In “Gun and the E-Kid,” from her Shoot! (16-bit/44.1kHz AIFF, Rune Grammofon), Mollestad’s crunchy rhythm and sinewy leads, coupled with the stomping rhythm section, sounded positively primeval through the IPA-140. But despite the heaviness of the track, there was no muddling of the sound, and the abrupt changes in direction were expertly relayed.

Norma Revo IPA-140

The IPA-140 was incredibly quiet and transparent, revealing wealths of fine detail. My friend Preet, a huge Beatles fan, recently brought over his DVD-Audio edition of Love to rip to my server. Afterward, while listening to “Because” (24/96 AIFF, Apple), we burst out laughing because we were so startled by the background sounds of birds and bees, which sounded spookily realistic. This track also highlighted the IPA-140’s ability to throw a wide, deep soundstage, with a reverberant echo and natural-sounding decay.

The IPA-140’s transparency and soundstaging ability were also a great match for acoustic music, especially jazz, focusing on the primary players while still letting the supporting players shine. Although his Blue Note Records debut was released in 2008, another recent discovery for me is the very talented young jazz pianist Aaron Parks, whom I first heard in a documentary spotlighting up-and-coming jazz musicians unafraid of pushing the music in new directions. In “Travelers,” from Invisible Cinema (16/44.1 AIFF, Blue Note), it’s easy to get carried away by Parks’s incredible technique and finesse, but the beauty of the IPA-140 is that background instruments were not pushed aside, but unobtrusively enhanced. The intricacy of Eric Harland’s drum fills and the interplay of his snare and hi-hat were highlighted in a way that complemented Parks’s playing rather than competing for my attention.

Norma Revo IPA-140

After listening extensively with the MA-1 serving as the DAC, I disconnected the Meitner, plugged the USB cable directly into the IPA-140, and selected the Revo’s USB input. Once I’d confirmed that the Revo’s DAC was recognized in Audio Midi on my Mac Mini, I began to play the same tracks again to assess the Revo DAC’s sound. Not too shabby, I thought. Though not in any way equal to the sound quality of the MA-1, it was nonetheless quite credible. The treble was crisp and clear, with no edge, and the soundstaging was again excellent, if perhaps a bit more constricted than the MA-1’s. The one obvious difference was that bass was less taut and somewhat indistinct, though hardly in a manner that would be offensive. If I were interested in a one-box integrated-DAC, this would probably not be a deal breaker. Likely, my purchasing decision would depend on whatever tradeoffs competing products had.

Compared solely on the basis of its performance as an integrated amplifier, the Norma Revo IPA-140 was fully competitive with my Jeff Rowland Design Group Concentra ($5600 when available). While the Concentra sounded slightly warmer and the IPA-140 ever so slightly drier, the differences weren’t big enough to be decisive. Dynamically, the Norma was obviously much better, with noticeably better transient response and ease. While the Norma’s bass through its internal DAC suffered somewhat in comparison to the Meitner MA-1, when freed of its DAC the Revo IPA-140’s bass was noticeably tauter and more fully fleshed out than the Concentra’s. But to put all of this in perspective: I was comparing the Norma’s $1000 DAC option to a standalone DAC that costs seven times as much.

Conclusion

What’s not to like about Norma Audio’s Revo IPA-140?, if I were buying, I’d opt for the metal remote. But, really -- gorgeous Italian design coupled with solid engineering and world-class sound? An internal DAC option to boot? If I were in the market for a one-box integrated-DAC, here is where I’d start. Don’t need the DAC? No matter. Buy the Revo IPA-140 without DAC.You won’t regret it.

. . . Uday Reddy

Norma Audio IPA-140 is by far the best integrated amplifier I've heard in my time as a reviewer! It is fully at par with the reference set in the listening room, which usually puts far more expensive amplifiers to the wall.
Mikkel Gige

CONCLUSION: Norma Audio IPA-140 is by far the best integrated amplifier I've heard in my time as a reviewer! It is fully at par with the reference set in the listening room, which usually puts far more expensive amplifiers to the wall. And so does IPA-140! In particular, the preamplifier part impresses particularly as it is also on par with the reference in the listening room. Usually this is the weak point of integrated amplifiers. And at the same time, it is just as beautifully constructed both exterior and interior. I almost want to call the Norma Audio hi-fi industry's answer to Pagani Automobili. Nothing is left to the case, and even the underside of the cabinet has the same high finish as the top plate. I don't remember having looked at any product before. That's why Norma Audio IPA-140 is named "Editors Choice" for its completely uncompromising design and sound. This is a feast for both eyes and ears.

REVIEW: Norma Audio is based in the city of Cremona, in the middle of northern Italy, which has also been home to many instrument builders and classical composers over the centuries. The location is random, but that's not the dedication to the music. And in the time before Norma Audio, the people behind, spent many years researching, to come to a conclusion on what, the correct and correct sound is. It has not become a final result, but rather an overview of how electronics affect the result. It is not a series of absolutes, but rather a guide to how to achieve the best result.

Well, I dare already reveal that this is really delicious, no matter what angle it is considered (or heard) from. It is so Italian that even the best Haut Couture houses could not have done better. The design is 100% completed both exterior and interior. The cabinet is a textbook and tour de force in how, nothing is left to chance. It provides a harmony and discretion that does not disturb one's field of vision, leaving all concentration to the hearing and the music.

The front, top and bottom are made of delicious solid, forged aluminum that is milled in its final shape. The front is several centimeters thick, and sneaks backwards both at the top and bottom, and meets in a perfect transition with the rest of the scoop. At the same time, the 5 mm thick sheets for the top and bottom are rounded on the sides, so that they narrow to the back. Likewise, the trailing edge is rounded, thus concealing both cooling profiles and plugs in a very elegant way. Pininfarina couldn't have done better if it had been a Ferrari… this is the epitome of Italian design when it is in the very best class… even the bottom of the cabinet is beautiful!

And inside it is no trace different, the design is deliberate, and I can draw parallels to brands like both Gryphon with their mirrored layout, and Spectral Audio with their appearance inside. One thing is that the layout of the IPA-140 is simple and definitely contains only what it needs. But one senses the conscious design here as well. The power supply consists of two 400VA ring core transformers stored under a casing at the front of the cabinet. It has two features, partly shielding, but it also looks nice. But if you remove the scoop, it still looks pretty! And even if you don't see it, the wires from the transformers are also nicely wrapped.

However, removing the scoop over the transformers also opens up the internal layout of the IPA-140. For a floor below the sound circuits, there is an arsenal of 72,000µf charging lights, which fill the rest of the bottom of the cabinet. They are ferrari red, and just to emphasize this, Norma Audio has obviously chosen to use red diodes, which amplify the effect of the red interior when it should be. Not something you see in everyday use, but you know it! It is simply so accomplished here. Nothing is left to chance!

Another detail is the printed circuit boards ... they are 2 mm thick and made of fiberglass! This is definitely the best solution, but also an expensive solution. And this is just what you see in very expensive amplifiers. As is the component quality of the very best drawer, and it is possible to extend IPA-140 with modules for both vinyl and digital playback in the same uncompromising design layout. The supplied amplifier had USB and RIAA module inserted.

It all tops off with a large, delicious - and chrome-plated volume knob that could have sat inside a Pagani sports car. There is nothing - nothing! - postponing the export of this amplifier. It's the most beautiful I've ever seen, at almost any price!

listening impressions

Norma Audio IPA-140 has a gentle nature, and plays at least as beautiful as it looks. The sound is classic Italian: straightforward and natural sound, with a musical touch. Not hot, not woolly, just musical. And in that way, it leans on the sound of both CD player, record player, preamplifier and speakers in the listening room. Only the mono steps have a more direct / "German" sound.

The bass is both precise and tight, but also round and nuanced, and with many facets. All the details from a bass string pass through, and a large drum stands out clearly and accurately with its 3-in-1 sound, where you hear the beats, the fur and the air moving. And at the other end is met by a treble rendering, which is just there, and does not do its being. It is expansive and airy, and the pelvis is sharply cut the sound image, without any "tst" noise.


"... even the bottom of the cabinet is beautiful!"

During Norma Audio's research on finding the context for the right sound, particular attention was paid to human voices. The argument is that if they sound right, then the other thing usually also notices. And it can be heard with the IPA-140, for both bass and treble are perfectly noticeable.

But so does the midrange area! There's so much hole through here, and voices sound almost too natural ... even if it's not possible. But you don't expect that from hi-fi equipment. There is a fantastic presence and people appear very clearly positioned, almost cut into the soundscape, with plenty of air around them, so the 3D feel is top notch. And of course it also affects the positions of instruments and choirs, which are at the same level. Everything just sounds right here and nothing is wrong, and we are on the same level as the reference amplifier set in the listening room!

But there are differences, though neither better nor inferior, it's just different. And it is especially on the soundscape that has moved further back than I am used to. For a start, the sound picture may therefore be narrower, but this is not the case at all. The focus is just different here, because everything is still placed right in the soundscape, just further back. I can already reveal that it is the preamplifier part that is the one responsible, but that does not change that this is the best preamplifier part I have ever experienced in an integrated amplifier! It is possible to change some of the inputs to both fixed input and variable output, and this was of course tested. But in addition, the technical aspects of the music via IPA-140 are at full height with the reference amplifier set.

The included Riaa modules are also really good, but they can't really compare with the separate Vincent Riaa. The sound is just right, and completely similar to what the rest of the amplifier gives off. But there is not quite the same focus, and then the sound image is moved forward towards the listener again ?! The locations are not quite as accurate and the sound picture "smudges" a bit.

The USB module should have a slap on the shoulder first. Well, it does not install itself, but with the included CD-ROM, the USB module installs itself and also activates itself immediately, and again when a USB cable is connected to the computer. I almost can't get my arms down ... that's how it should be !!! Almost 100% plug and play.

In terms of sound, the experience is very similar to the Riaa modules, and sonically it is really good, and completely similar to the sound of the McIntosh MCD-500, with super presence on the voices, and with no hint of harshness or the like, which is actually better than the Audiophilleo 2. But on the The technical aspects are the same as with the Riaa modules. The sound is moved closer and is also "smeared" a bit compared to CD sound.

The IPA-140 is an unbalanced design, but there are still a few XLR connectors on the back, because some markets "require" this. The signal is converted via a small circuit inside the other side. In terms of sound, the difference is not big. But again, the soundscape is moved closer and the sound gets a bit artificial.

And then, as mentioned, IPA-140 can be configured on some of the inputs for variable output or fixed input, as well as configured with Riaa module. This means that there are some jumpers in the signal path, and therefore only the unbalanced input 4 has direct contact with the amplifier. This is the input of the primary signal source.

IPA-140 was also tested as a pure power stage with direct input, and it was here that it was revealed that the preamplifier part is really good, but also responsible for the "Italian" sound, and that the sound image is moved further back. But it also emphasizes that this is the best preamp part I have ever experienced in an integrated amplifier, as well as being fully at par with the reference in the listening room.

But it also made it clear that the power stage is really good, albeit more direct in its sound, and in fact Vincent gives the mono stages nervous twists. There is even a slight tendency for some details to appear a little bit clearer with direct input to the power part of IPA-140. Norma Audio is one of very few manufacturers that gives detailed specifications about their amplifiers, and this gives a picture of some very powerful power steps capable of delivering some oats and keeping the speakers in check.


"... red diodes which enhance the effect of the red interior ..."

conclusion

Norma Audio IPA-140 is by far the best integrated amplifier I've heard in my time as a reviewer! It is fully at par with the reference set in the listening room, which usually puts far more expensive amplifiers to the wall. And so does IPA-140! In particular, the preamplifier part impresses particularly as it is also on par with the reference in the listening room. Usually this is the weak point of integrated amplifiers.

And at the same time, it is just as beautifully constructed both exterior and interior. I almost want to call the Norma Audio hi-fi industry's answer to Pagani Automobili. Nothing is left to the case, and even the underside of the cabinet has the same high finish as the top plate. I don't remember having looked at any product before.

That's why conclusion

Norma Audio IPA-140 is by far the best integrated amplifier I've heard in my time as a reviewer! It is fully at par with the reference set in the listening room, which usually puts far more expensive amplifiers to the wall. And so does IPA-140! In particular, the preamplifier part impresses particularly as it is also on par with the reference in the listening room. Usually this is the weak point of integrated amplifiers.

And at the same time, it is just as beautifully constructed both exterior and interior. I almost want to call the Norma Audio hi-fi industry's answer to Pagani Automobili. Nothing is left to the case, and even the underside of the cabinet has the same high finish as the top plate. I don't remember having looked at any product before.

That's why Norma Audio IPA-140 is named "Editors Choice" for its completely uncompromising design and sound. This is a feast for both eyes and ears.

This is a great example of the fact that techniques bringing the listener closer to the music. Hence, a deserved RED Fingerprint Award.
Wojciech Pacuta

SUMMARY: It is a well-made, extremely pleasant to listen amplifier in which good engineering meets with attention to detail. In addition, it is a very functional amplifier that can "grow" with our needs. I could not resist its raw simplicity of expression - I like such audio.

REVIEW: NORMA is a brand belonging to OPAL ELECTRONICS, which designs and builds electronic devices. The products of this Italian company based in Cremona are supposed to be a combination of solid engineering and passion for music - the company's motto praises the synthesis of technology and love for music ("Technology and Love for Music").


According to company materials, Norma Audio Electronics aims to achieve a riproduzione musicale, ie musical reproduction. It's to be based on neutrality, lack of artefacts, as well as taking care of the high dynamics and tone of the original musical event. The way to do this is a minimalistic approach, that is, the smallest possible manipulations of the original signal, for example due to a short signal path, because the original music already brings BEAUTY, which evokes EMOTIONS in the listeners.

The basis of this Italian company's lineup are devices from the Revo series. These are beautifully made, multi-functional products with a characteristic Italian style, or its modern version. With the introduction of the HS-DA1 digital-to-analog converter some time ago, however, another door has been opened. The device was designed is such a way, that the user could in the future add a module adjusting the output voltage level (HS-DA1 Var), and then go to the full preamplifier with the headphone working in class A (HS-DA1 Pre) .

It was hardly an innovative approach because, after all, it had been known for years - see Accuphase - but it's been a step in the right direction. The thing is that there is no longer one "audio system" model. Currently, there are as many systems as many are there owners and more and more often one hears talk about "custom" systems, build to meet particular customer's needs. After all, not everybody uses headphones, some prefer vinyl, others digital recordings, and some want to have it all.

HS-IPA1 DAC1/HEAD

HS-IPA1 extends this series by adding an amplifier - a modular amplifier. At its core there is the classic "integrated", which can be upgraded with a phono preamplifier, a digital-to-analogue converter,) and a headphone output. For this test we received the version with "DAC" and headphone output. It is obvious that neither the DAC nor the headphone amplifier are as good as the separate HS-DA1 Pre. The idea is that the amplifier itself is an "open system" and it evolves with the user. And if these additions over time prove to be insufficient, you can always add an external converter, right?

The HS series devices are different from classic full-size audio components. Their front panel has a width of 215 mm, which is half the classic dimension of 430 mm; The HS in the name should be read as "Half Size". Their front is stylistically pure, as a modern product should be, and on the other hand it appeals to the primal ("reptilian") part of our audiophile brain - indications and information from the menu are given not on the fancy OLED display, and on alphanumeric LED modules and small LED diodes. The fact that this is a practical choice - LEDs are less noisy - is one thing, but I'm sure it's also an emotional one, because it's very retro. Enrico Rossi, the owner of the company that rarely introduces new products, has been working on this amplifier for a long time and I do not believe he left anything to chance.

HS-IPA1 delivers a really high output - 75 W at 8 Ω, but more important is that at 4 Ω it doubles it. Which means that it will have a good control over the speakers, even those with a difficult impedance curve. It will also provide music with high dynamics and speed. The amplifier section features MOSFET (Metal-Oxide Semiconductor Field-Effect Transistor) transistors in push-pull configuration.

The device features four RCA line inputs, one of which can be set in the menu as an (non-adjustable) output to use, for example with an external headphone amplifier or – that's my guess - for recording. The DAC1 module adds five digital inputs, including USB, two RCAs and two optical TOSLinks. USB accepts PCM signal up to 24 bits and 192 kHz, as well as DSD64 (DoP) signal. This is a world premiere of this amplifier which is why there is no information about it on the manufacturer's website yet. That's also why I do not know parameters of the other digital inputs.


The amplifier was tested in the "High Fidelity" reference system, replacing the Ayon Audio Spheris III preamplifier and the Soulution 710 power amplifier to which it was compared. I used three different sources with it. The main player was the Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition SACD player, and additionally also Lumïn T1 as a file transport and the TechDAS Air Force III turntable with two Schröder CB arms and Miyajima Labs Madake and Suzaku Red Sparrow cartridges.

I used the full cabling of Acoustic Revive from the Triple-C series: an analog interconnect, a digital cable, a speaker cable and a power cable. Because I did not have any space on the Finite Elemente rack anymore, I set up a separate space for Norma. I used the stand for Sonus faber speakers with Acoustic Revive RST-38H anti-vibration platform plaed on top of it. On top of the amplifier I placed the Verictum X-Block & langen passive EMI/RFI filter and Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010w discs. I used headphones HiFiMAN HE-1000 v2 and Sennheiser HD800 to evaluate the headphone output.

In terms of tone, we are in Tuscany in full summer, and in terms of dynamics at Cape Horn during storms. This is a unique combination. The depth of the sound is, for this money, outstanding. There is also a dense low midrange and a nice, well-differentiated bottom. But before I'll get back to it, I would like to say few words about spacing. It is a derivative of tonal choices. The foreground is close to us and actually even bit closer than usually. Even if it was set by the sound engineer a bit further, the sound intensity will create an impression of it being closer to us. Reverbs, acoustics, etc. are great and you can hear that this is an extremely resolving device. However, they do not build a large "bubble" of space, but rather support the volume of sound in the center, ahead of us on the axis.

I started my listening session with the soundtrack from the Blade Runner on the Audio Fidelity SACD release. The presentation had a momentum and it was just big, spacious, deep. It was clear that the unified soundstage is presented here, without cutting out the individual sound sources, without clearly differentiating the sound layers, in what it resembled what is characteristic of SACD discs in general, not only for this particular one (Cds sounded similar). It was smooth, fluid, free presentation without "barriers", i.e. without a “strain” indicating some limitations, with a slight rounding on the edges. There are some limitations obviously, but they are placed behind the event and not in front of us.

It's all about the high emotional temperature of all recordings. It is an amplifier that tries to infect us with its enthusiasm and heart for music. For this purpose, it enlarges the phantom images on the axis and brings them closer. It is very pleasant, but not completely neutral approach. With the Vega CDs I've mentioned, with minimalist recordings from Opus 3, with pop and rock records, with electronics – with each of them I listened with a smile on my face. But we should realize that in terms of imaging, construction of the sound stage, etc., Norma averages the presentation. Listen then to something else, like one of the recorded by means of a pair of Brüel & Kjær microphones, Denon album from the "Mastersonic | One-Point Recording" series and the piano will be placed close to us, almost at our fingertips. And in fact it is shown from a distance, with a lot of reflected sounds, i.e. reverbs.


However, this is a part of the choices made by Mr. Enrico Rossi, there is no such thing as a "perfect product". The more so because the tested Norma amplifier is not a particularly expensive device. In this case, the key thing we need to remember is that these choices were made by a man who knew what high-end sounded like and what was the music played at home, who understood the specificity of "mechanical reproduction". That is: something new, independent of the original event, which is to recall those emotions, and not that "sound". That's what Norma does excellent.

The designer coped with the bass issue in a similar way. It was the Achilles' heel of most amplifiers utilizing MOSFET transistors in the output - their sound was too warm and bass too soft. Here, too, it is warm and soft, there is no doubt about it. However, it is perfectly coordinated with the lower midrange, it never occurs as something separate, does not try to attract listener's attention. The tonal balance is set low, it's not a “thin” sounding device - on the contrary, it's a rich, dense sounding one.

This "compatibility" was achieved without pushing the lowest bass to its limits, without trying to pretend that everything can be done at an equally high level. The lowest octave is therefore gently withdrawn and sounds in the background of the upper part. I will offer a beer, however, to anyone who can realize that within first minutes of listening to this amplifier (without knowing about it up front). The whole presentation is so complete that without a direct comparison with a bigger and more expensive amplifier, one won't even notice that. Both Jarre's electronics and the low-pitched Starboy and Kendrick Lamar recordings were played with the momentum and the punch they deserve.

DAC1

The digital-to-analogue converter, an optional card that can be added to the Norma amplifier, has a tonal balance set slightly higher than the amplifier itself. It also delivers an open sound with good dynamics and nice timbre. It's about showing details in a pleasant way, conveying recording's ambiance, keeping everything under control. It is a very likeable presentation. Interestingly, the sound stage is wide, and the foreground is not as close to us as when using an external CD or file player. For example, the sound of Lumïn T1 was much warmer and more velvety. In turn, DAC in Norma was faster and more open. It's a nice DAC, with no ambition for super-resolution or differentiation. It offers a smooth, open, very pleasant performance that will work with any type of music and any source.

HEAD

I would treat the headphone output as a supplementary element of the amplifier. If you often use headphones and this is an important way listening to the music for you, then you should know that the "Head" option will not replace a dedicated external headphone amplifier. However, if it is something extra for you, even with good headphones you will get a satisfying sound. Its tonal balance is set higher than when playing with loudspeakers, so a selection of proper headphones will be important. I would start with those with a warmer than usual sound. The resolution is OK, but - as I say - it is about expanding the amplifier's functionality rather than suggesting that we get "two in one" device.

Podsumowanie

The Norma amplifier is a modern device. My point is that its sound suggests that its designers really gave a thought to limitattions of individual solutions and - more importantly – offered a concrete proposal on what to do about it. Because we get a warm and dense sound that is dynamic and open and resolving. Which means that the qualities of MOSFET transistors are well utilized but without their drawbacks, such as limited resolution and slowing down the sound. And the only thing that could not be solved, i.e. well-defined lowest bass, was bypassed by the skilful shaping of its timbre. and downsides attached to them can be used in a much more creative way, thus bringing the listener closer to the music. Hence, a deserved RED Fingerprint Award.


The HS-IPA1 amplifier is part of the HS series and is referred to as a "modular amp". At its core there is a classic integrated amplifier that delivers 75 W to 8 Ω load and 150 W to 4 Ω. Doubling the power while halving the load impedance suggests a highly efficient power supply. The device has different proportions than those commonly used - it is narrow and deep. The housing is made of aluminum - a chassis is made of bent sheets, and the front of a brushed lobe. This amplifier features aluminum feet with a felt bottom.

Front | The front of the device is in fact a row of large, visible from a considerable distance (hurray!) LED displays with a blue filter. These allow user to read volume level, the selected input, and after installing the extension cards also the parameters of the digital signal (DAC) or gain (phono preamplifier). The display also serves to visualize the commands we issue in the menu. One can use the buttons on the front panel to navigate through it. Same buttons allow us to adjust volume, and the small ones, just below the display, activate the appropriate options - headphones, DAC and phono preamplifier.

Rear | 
The rear of the device in the version we received for the test is fully filled. You can see the division into individual sections. At the top, there is a digital part, next to an analog one, and loudspeaker outputs underneath. All sockets feature gold-plated contacts. There are five digital inputs: two RCAs, two TOSLinks and one USB. There are four line input and two of them can reconfigured for other use: input No. 2, after installing phono module changes into a phono input, and input No. 4 can be turned into fix signal linear output using proper option in a menu.

In the tested version, the headphone output was already "on board", hence the presence of headphone output – unfortunately placed on the back panel. This is not a convenient solution, unless the headphones are permanently attached. That is a viable option due to the configuration of the device - when playing through the loudspeakers, the headphones are inactive and are only switched on after pressing the "Head" button on the front panel. Then the loudspeaker terminals are disconnected.

Inside
Due to its unusual design, the device has a rigid, vibration-resistant structure. Additionally, it is reinforced inside with the screen separating the power supply transformer from the electronic circuits and a large heat sink. The electronic circuit is assembled on one printed circuit board, and the power supply on the other - in truth the power supply looks most magnificent. It starts with the aforementioned 300W toroidal transformer that features three secondary windings, separate for each section of the amp. The signal filtering is supported by many capacitors by the Italian company Itelcond.

The electronic system is primarily about a short signal path and proper care for the temperature control of the active elements. The signal goes first to the relays that allow user to select active input. The next stage is attenuation – Norma decided to use a Malachite Alps potentiometer with a motor. Its axis is coupled with a small encoder that sends a signal to the display on the front panel. It shows the gain in 1 dB steps.

The signal prepared in this way goes to the preamplifier section. It was built on small board enclosed in black plastic cans (do you remember HDMI Marantz modules?). The last step are the control and output transistors. The former were bolted to the current ones to even their temperature and reduce distortion. At the output there are two complementary pairs of MOSFET-type transistors per channel. The amplifier is protected against overdriving, overheating and DC voltage at the output.


Modules
The amplifier is called "modular" because it can be equipped with three optional modules. In the tested version it was a digital-to-analogue converter and headphone output. The DAC and preamplifier modules are screwed to the main PCB via metal pads and the headphone output to the rear panel. The DAC section is placed on two PCBs, and the headphone output on just one, really tiny. The Xilinx circuit operates in the USB input. D/A processing is done by the Burr-Brown DSD1794 chip. Next to it you can see two nice word clocks separate for 44.1 and 48 kHz (and their multiplications). The analog section of the DAC sits on a separate board. The signal is buffered and amplified in integrated circuits. Next to them you can see many high quality passive elements - this note applies to the whole amplifier - good job!

Remote
The amplifier is supplied with the RC-43 Alu remote control. It's a nice, solid system remote, working with all other Norma devices. For this reason, you need to familiarize yourself with it, because some buttons are contextual – there is an impressive manual for this remote you should read.

Summary
It is a well-made, extremely pleasant to listen amplifier in which good engineering meets with attention to detail. In addition, it is a very functional amplifier that can "grow" with our needs. I could not resist its raw simplicity of expression - I like such audio.

MORMA'S ENRICO TALKS ABOUT HIS UNIQUE DESIGN PHILOSOPHY

The problem with audio is proof. Or rather its absence. One can't prove superior sound. Try. Play someone a system you've spent ten years comparing and meticulously refining. You're convinced of its quality. But if that person doesn't like it, nothing will convince them. There's no proof that your system is better than theirs. This drives engineers batty. If they design the fastest race car, get the best driver and have just a bit of luck, they win the race. Posting the best time proves that their car was fastest. Zero ambiguity. But hifi is full of it. Ambiguity. And the other stuff.

Naturally marketeers don't capitulate so easily. They exploit our human desire for proof and certainty with snazzy figures. With hifi amps that used to be power. More was better. Eventually that got ridiculous. Who really believed they needed 2 kilowatts? Then the game became a bit subtler. Now it was about total harmonic distortion or IMD. The more zeros behind the decimal point the better. Once that game was up—people soon realized they couldn't hear the difference between 0.0001% and 0.000075% THD—marketeers aimed for the still empty space in front of the decimal point. Hello sampling rates. At press time we already had three D/A converters—Antelope Audio Zodiac Platinum, Gryphon Kalliope, exasound e20—which could do DSD 256 at 11.28MHz. No such software exists. Yet. No matter. It's basic psychology. Higher numbers win.

Jim Ricketts of TMH Audio applies this type of proof again to the pre-decimal space but now amplifiers. He focuses on their slew rate and bandwidth. His comparison table lists Soulution's 710 and 720 models and the darTZeel CTH-8550. At 100kHz the first Swiss amp gets clobbered by the second Swiss which offers 1MHz. That one gets hammered by the Norma with 2MHz.

It also annihilates the darTZeel's 88V/μs slew rate with 175V/μs. Soulution's isn't available. Norma for office! What does slew rate sound like? It's all very suggestive, no explanations required. Like that 2MHz is just an octave over 1MHz. Or that human hearing cuts off at 20kHz. Two bands below. Why would you want such excessive bandwidth? Never mind. The biggest numbers win. Welcome to hifi marketing 101. Flip a page in Jim's book and you get to the equally Italian Alef brand. That weighs in with 6MHz bandwidth. "Think Soulution but executed at a much higher level!" That's how he puts it with a capitalized emphasis. Naturally Alef didn't make it on his Norma comparison chart as this might steal sales from himself. Plus Alef's 180μs slew rates—just five more than Norma—could raise uncomfortable questions when this type of math finally hits its limits. Are we dazzled yet?

Enrico believes there is proof. But you need educated ears. 

It took seven years and a concentrated R&D project started in 1991 to quantify how hifi gear compromises signal purity. Enrico's company Provision began manufacturing Norma gear in 1997 but had already built measurement equipment to have him well familiar with the necessary tools: Living and being headquartered in Cremona influenced me. Our city is steeped in music and musical instruments. Think Monteverdi, Ponchielli, Giuseppe Verdi, the master violins of Stradivarius, Amati and Guarneri. They left a great legacy to our school of violin making and the university's music faculty. I fondly remember student competitions to insure the few free subscriptions our school provided for concerts at the Teatro Ponchielli. The human voice and song are one of my greatest passions. Listened to attentively, the correct reproduction of the human voice is one of the most difficult tasks. If the recording quality allows, the micro/macro dynamics of a beautiful voice are incredible as are the richness of detail, expressive nuances and delivery refinement. And unlike other musical instruments the human voice is known to all. This enables immediate comparison. It's why I often use the human voice in the development of Provision gear.

Beyond material aspects it's important to understand a product's design philosophy. Over the years folks hearing Norma products asked what our secret was. As direct expressions of our perception and thinking, we though them simple and devoid of secrets. But over time we concluded that as often happens, what's really important isn't obvious to outsiders. What's the secret to the Stradivarius sound? After exploring all possible combinations of wood, ageing and lacquer, we still don't know. Perhaps the real secret was the designer's sensitivity, taste and love which intuitively or strategically guided very specific choices. In the absence of such intense desire, none of the available materials and processes would have ended up being shaped as they were.

Playback electronics influence the sound even more than what's generally believed. Here we distinguish between sonic appearance and quality. Elements of appearance ease our perception. Its parameters include tonal balance, soundstage articulation and certain dynamic aspects as long as deviations remain tolerable rather than become irreparable compromise. Sonic appearance is what strikes and impresses a listener at first. Aside from creating something like an imprint, it then loses importance little by little. With ongoing listening more important parameters reveal themselves mostly related to the actual structure of the sound we perceive. This no longer is about basic ingredients but how they were treated and combined. With fruit it'd be the degree of ripeness and flavour. With a person it'd be character and intelligence, not height, weight, race and gender.

This gets us to quality which also gives pleasure but is neither short-term nor a coincident mechanism that connects with an emotional memory of a previously pleasurable experience. Sound quality is a kind of long-term love that arises with a more intimate discovery of sophisticated features. Perception of sonic appearance is instinctive. Perception of quality is learnt and depends on being able to perceive specific traits, then assign values to them. Here we deal with the absence of distortion and grain, with the quality of speed, micro/macro dynamics, spatial relationships within the soundstage. More so than any other parameter, the one we're particularly concerned with is lack of playback artifice. We accept that whenever an audio signal passes a circuit, it exits degraded compared to how it entered. The very best audio gear can hope for is to commit the least possible degradation. Without an ability to capture and assign values to specific quality aspects, there can be no deeply fulfilling design work. Consider a wine novice. The best initial impression might come from a glass of fresh sparkling lambrusco. Only with deepened exposure and refinement of the palate does the true universe of wine open up. One cannot truly love that which one doesn't know.

The art of sound reproduction is no exception. It relies on a more profound understanding of the underlying mechanisms. Here one arrives at a more fundamental level than superficial instinctual sonic beauty. The easiest way is to alter the sound to make it more pleasant yet one cannot fix something faulty by adding another fault. Two faults don't make one right. The interpretative approach is also limited and not universal. Soft focus works well in a wedding photo but gets annoying in a landscape. Altering one parameter to improve it invariably affects other parameters in unpredictable ways. More is lost than gained. Subjective gains in appearance can thus mean a loss of quality.

The elements of audio electronics which influence sound span circuit type/topology, parts quality, mechanical engineering, power supply and more all of it interdependent. It's imperative to have the broadest possible understanding to properly gauge how particular choices interact. To design a winning Formula 1 car everything must be perfectly integrated and of the highest quality, from the engine to the chassis, suspension, tires, driver, pit team and more. During our 7-year R&D project we attempted to investigate the totality of factors influencing hifi sound and how they interrelate. Starting with circuit topology, we saw that minimalism itself guarantees no good overall performance. Returning to the F1 car, a single-cylinder engine won't lead to victory. Our Norma circuits are thus very elaborate. Another important aspect is dynamic delivery. Whilst it's often considered sufficient to have bandwidth that only slightly exceeds the audible spectrum of 20Hz-20kHz, in our opinion bandwidth must be far greater. This relates directly to overall circuit speed and its ability to supply instantaneous current.

Returning to the automotive industry, one might calculate a certain drag coefficient and the power required to maintain it at 130km/hr, say 25KW. Based on the audio bandwidth example, one might conclude that a 40KW motor is sufficient to guarantee a good driving experience. Now imagine a car with a 200KW engine driving at the same 130km/h. It will respond better to acceleration and give us more pleasure and performance. Compared to the speed changes of driving, the scope of music's dynamic gradations has a crest factor of 1:100 which is a power scale of 1:10.000. From that follows that bandwidth, speed and current can never be too high. To be fair, frequent solutions to bandwidth increases come at the cost of sonic naturalness. At Norma we have worked very hard to combine these seemingly irreconcilable aspects.

Just as the best F1 car won't perform without high-octane gasoline so the best circuits rely on adequate power. For this reason all our power supplies are extremely refined and account for power-grid isolation, DC, very low residual noise and very low output impedance all the way up into the ultrasonic range. Continuing our F1 parallel experience teaches us how important materials and parts are. How often have we seen an F1 car at the edge of the runway with its engine smoking? Some sophisticated tech solutions cannot be implemented without the proper parts. Certain parts are vital to realise certain circuit topologies whilst signal-path components can have a very marked influence on the sound. Unfortunately the best parts are nearly always difficult to source and very expensive. One example are seemingly trivial resistors. In certain strategic locations our resistors are about 1.000 x more expensive than already excellent 1% metal-film parts. The same is true for semiconductor batches of 1000 where each is measured, graded, selected and matched for each unit's left and right channel. Our mechanics are carefully engineered and free from ferromagnetic elements except for the power transformers.

With our SC-2 preamplifier the external power supply contains a first stage of stabilisation followed by further voltage filtration in the main unit by means of independent l/r-channel circuits. The volume control which so often is a bottle neck is a programmable analog digital attenuation scheme which optimises attenuation accuracy, channel balance and resolution with minimal signal impact. Steps are 0.5dB from 0 to -127.5dB with ±0.01dB accuracy. The switches are electromechanical relays to overcome limitations of solid-state switches, CMOS DACs, solid-state potentiometers and such. In addition all our preamps operate either active or passive. In passive mode the signal is tapped right behind the volume control and sent directly to the outputs to bypass the active gain stage. This can be triggered by remote.

Back to sound, timbre is almost exclusively a function of the speaker/room interaction. In our opinion alleged electronic influences on timbre are side effects of limited bandwidth or a typical transistor issue of graininess which suggests excess treble. Bass is very dependent on a power amp's power supply. In our products we aim for absolute frequency linearity across the widest possible bandwidth without narrow-band colorations which would alter the ratio of frequencies. Transparency is an absence of blur and haze. This makes statements like 'this sound is too transparent' idiotic. Just like vision can never be too sharp so sound can never be too transparent. What people really mean by excess transparency is that they hear issues being unmasked elsewhere. Real transparency as we understand it isn't a function of treble emphasis but must start at 0Hz. With Norma electronics, shortcoming elsewhere in the system will be exposed.

Dynamics, speed and modulation are three facets of dynamic behavior which must track the continuously variable music signal whilst applying gain. Here the power amp's job is hardest because besides amplifying voltage, it must also deliver current to the speaker and absorb kicked-back electromotive forces. Failures on those counts change the wave form to become distortion. Success relies on bandwidth, speed and ultra-fast delivery of very high currents. Under dynamic conditions our Norma electronics behave like a fine 12-cylinder engine: powerful, flexible, responsive, fast, perfectly torque balanced and capable of also running at very low RPM to reproduce both minuscule changes and large voltage swings.

Soundstaging is primarily a function of a precisely symmetrical speaker setup to exploit the arrival-time difference between let and right ear for a virtual recreation of what the microphones captured. Apart from extreme channel imbalances, electronics are more or less excused from responsibilities in soundstaging. Which gets me to the first watt, a concept virtually unknown in Italy at the time. I was introduced to it at an Athens show with our Greek importer who showed our electronics and low-power tubes plus a classic American dynamic speaker and a well-known high-efficiency variant. When we arrived the latter were set up with the valve gear. As a gesture of welcome the importer offered to switch to our Norma electronics with the American dynamic speakers. Being curious we asked to hear the highly efficient speakers on our gear which the importer was reluctant to do expecting detrimental results for both his products. But he did anyway and as a result that combination played for the duration of the show offering one of the best sounds we've heard. This first-watt phenomenon is a classic Achilles heel for transistor electronics which during very small power demands exhibit parasitic phenomena like inherent background noise, grain, crossover distortion and such. After this experience we examined the subject at length and conducted numerous comparisons to insure excellent performance on this count. Our Norma amplifiers are thus equally suitable for very high-efficiency and very low-impedance challenging loads.

Grain is related to the physical mechanism whereby current flows through a semiconductor. This gives rise to a separation of the conduction current into discrete charges. To simplify, consider closing down a running water tap until a very thin stream of water stops running continuously but transforms into individual drops. Something similar happens to the electrical charges in semiconductors. This includes a component of parasitic noise generated by a similar process. It translates into an audible but hard-to-define quality which is perhaps best described as the discomfort of a pinching shoe. It explains listener fatigue or feedback of the sound being too accurate. The truth is the opposite. The sound is too coarse in both texture and background noise. Here Norma electronics are truly extraordinary by offering a fineness of grain almost unique.

Artificiality is the least technical aspect but for us the by far most important. We've always pursued the creation of audio electronics which sound the least artificial. If we created two parallel events—one live, one playback—beyond matching all parameters as ideally as possible, what would most differentiate them is this artifice. Its reduction or lack is what generates ongoing listening pleasure over long sessions and many years. It's perhaps for this reason that once people have heard Norma gear, it's very difficult to listen to anything else.

The Norma Audio REVO IPA-140 has earned a place in the list of my absolute favorite amps, a device that definitely deserves a much higher level of awareness.
Jörg Dames

SUMMARY: When listening to a test, pair it with neutral to slightly warm, bass-strong speakers.

The Norma Audio REVO IPA-140 Audio is characterized by ...

  • an exemplary "fine-pixel" gait, as it were very precise and silky gait.
  • tonal neutrality.
  • an excellent middle range: voices sound transparent, balanced, colored.
  • an exceptionally airy, finely dynamic, transparent tweeter bar of any artificial hardness / sharpening. A real icing on the cake for sound connoisseurs.
  • best location sharpness and - also promoted by a special sound (color) purity - plasticity.
  • good rough dynamics.
  • a precise, but not exactly powerful bass range - at the very bottom, the Italians "buzzes" a little less than some other transistor amplifiers in its performance class.
  • a really excellent build quality and a variety of connection options, DAC and Phono are optional. Unfortunately, the source selection on the device is a bit cumbersome with the help of a single button, by means of which you have to "click through".

REVIEW: Norma - well, a “typically Italian” probably doesn't come to mind when you read or hear this brand name. Rather the scrawny shopping list of the last weekend shopping or the smelly special offers at the cheese counter. But stop! Noun is not always omen. Because if one of the devices from Norma Audio from the Italian town of Cremona cannot be said to be, then - at least according to my previous experience - there is something profane or mainstream about them.

The Norma HS-DA4, tested six months ago and resembling any cliché of Italian design and resembling a laboratory measuring device, set almost standards in terms of timbres and unassuming naturalness in terms of its D / A converter qualities. And the Norma Revo IPA-140 integrated amplifier, which is currently on the verge of feeling good, does go through as an eye-pleasing design piece, but nonetheless also has tonal characteristics that I have of transistor amplifiers - especially in this price range - so far not in this one Goodness heard.

But let's do it - let's not go too far at this point, but rather grab the Norma Revo IPA-140 in order to inspect it physically and technically.

First of all: The Italian is - although a matt instead of a glossy volume control would come much better - is really a fancy, I think! The trapezoidal shape and the rounded edge of the extremely accurately processed aluminum housing on the back and on the sides make a difference. And even the cooling fins become design elements in combination with the protruding housing cover / base. Why hide them for cosmetic reasons and make the heat dissipation unnecessarily inefficient and component-wearing? The Revo IPA-140, which is kept in class-AB, only gets a little more than lukewarm in operation - 50w Idle power consumption is then considered to be comparatively frugal for such an amplifier car.


The front of the Norma Revo IPA 140 looks nice and tidy - the source is selected using a single button, which is a little cumbersome to "click through"

Because backwards the IPA-140 gets to the point: 2x 140 watts / 8ohms should be enough to animate the diaphragms of less efficient speaers to more jerky twitches. And that is also controlled: The damping factor is consistently in low-oxygen high regions, at 1 kHz around 8 ohms, a value of 650 is declared! And the specified peak current of 150 amps per channel is already a decent electron pound. This is made possible not least by the two 440 VA toroidial transformers, which have a total screening capacity o 144,000 μFflanked and fire the Norma REVO IPA-140, which is kept in double mono, channel-separated. Yes, the Italian is exceptionally elegant on the outside, but beyond his appearance, which at first glance appears distinctive, is nevertheless a - Scusa! - real power sow…


The REVO IPA 140 offers four RCA high-level inputs (optional: three plus phono for an additional 220 euros) and an XLR input. A DAC card with USB input is also optionally available (580 euros)

On the output side, the Norma REVO IPA 140 holds a total of six pairs of selected Modfets as working bees: According to Norma chief developer Enrico Rossi, Mosfets can achieve a finer, less "grainy" sound image. In addition, parallel operation is not a problem, due to meticulous selection, additional resistances on the source-side circuit strings of the Mosfets can be dispensed with, and the driver stages can generally be designed more efficiently.


 

The Revo IPA-140 uses three pairs of Mosfets per channel as output transistors

If you take a look at the specs of the Norma Revo IPA 140, the bandwidth declared there catches your eye - the Italians can fidget with up to 2 MHz! To avoid misunderstandings: This is not about the pure transmission width, which would be more than 100 times oversized for signals from CDs, records, etc., as well as our hearing, but among other things, that an amplifier - if required - very fast or steep-sided can also react to the finest signal changes. For the accurate functioning of negative feedbac loops it’s also helpful. However, the distortion-minimizing effect of such a concept is offset, among other things, by the risk of increasing problems with RF interference. Enrico Rossi often attests that broadband amplifiers have a "grainy and dry sound". Therefore, "they worked hard on this aspect in order to achieve a natural and not technically effective sound reproduction".

So let's take Signore Rossi at his word and finally balance the REVO IPA-140 in the rack ...


 The multi-level circuit board interior goes through as above-average "substantial" and has a very high quality

"Harmonize the sands of time, recognize the sign, qualify the winds of change, justify the mind ..." are the introductory, evocative words in the sung "Vocopolis" of the English neo-classical combo In the Nursery (album: Praxis) , A very atmospheric track that at first only from

In the Nurseryexpansive synth surfaces, deep as well as sedate bass figures and especially the voice of Mrs. Dolores Marguerite C. Captured in terms of recording quality, the many S- but also F-sounds of the first stanza are nevertheless regularly heard quite clearly. If not, it can be assumed that a hi-fi component tends to round off in the high range or to poor resolution. And if the whole thing drifts into too hissy, annoying, you can conclude that the high tone is overemphasized or too dirty / hard.

Well, let's just start this sound description with a superlative: Because the way the Norma Audio REVO IPA-140 Audio handles such types of tasks is one of the best things that I've been able to get into the rack regardless of price range! Exceptionally neatly exposed and pronounced, such critical sounds about the Italian seem so delicate and airy-loose that I am pretty much off my socks due to the balancing act of precision / resolution and elegance / musicality.

Of course, this character trait does not stop at the representation of sibilants, but generally benefits - logo - high-frequency events: strings, such as heard on Rachel's album Handwriting (tip for friends of acoustic, experimental, but still catchy music), also have an effect smooth and airy like rich and distinctive textured. The transparency, audibility and fine dynamics of hi-hat / cymbals (various rock albums) deserve top marks as well as the absence of artificial hardness or silveriness.

But it also gets the tonally very balanced mids - clear, never independent of the well-being of the highs anyway - whether ethereal female voices like Dolores Marguerite C or - quasi marking the other tonal end - dark, grumpy male voices like in “Sorrows “From The National (Album: High Violet). Or - in between - the somewhat throaty, as nutty, striking as peculiarly soothing vocals in "Perfect Design" by the nationalthe French electrician Résistance (album: 8). Or the distorted, nervous industrial vocals in Skinny Puppy's "Wornin`" (album: Weapon). I can only hold on:

On the one hand, there is a perfect balance between warmth and openness as well as excellent speech intelligibility - even subtle subtleties in the voice textures are precisely exposed. On the other hand, I have never been served the mid-high by any amplifier (with the exception of those who "trick" and round off or darken something above) more smoothly, less hardness, less stress. And I really mean that across all price ranges. That's a little 

resistancebow - okay, we don't want to look too submissive - worth at least a respectful folding in of the earlobes.

Yes, the Norma Audio REVO IPA-140 plays as a boring compulsory exercise in the mid / high range, righteously neutral and resolves as a freestyle really unbelievably "fine-pixel" and artifact-free - my high-precision, more than double cost preamp / power amplifier combination from radio MTX and Audionet AMPdoes not lack details either, but presents them more coarse, edgier, as refined with less final finishing touches. The fact that the Italian is at the same time very fast or finely dynamic can then almost be seen as something that is necessary or logical for his subtlety. And if the term "fine" appears in this paragraph for the fifth time, it is only an expression of the fact that it inevitably becomes one of the main keywords when dealing with the Norma Audio REVO IPA-140 in terms of sound intensively ...

The space of our test subject is also at a high level and does not have to hide itself from my amplifier combination reinforced with monos - which should be an advantage in terms of channel separation per se. The opposite is almost the case. While both solutions do an absolutely flawless high-end job in terms of location accuracy, the display of the Norma Audio REVO IPA-140 seems almost even more vivid: the described, exceptionally high sound (color) purity and fine pixelation makes it an even more differentiated, clearly defined one Image suggests the physique of individual instruments and voices.

In this context, another special feature of our test subject is worth mentioning: The Norma Audio REVO IPA-140 illusions a stage design that spontaneously somehow “feels” wider than I am used to from other devices. For example, while my radio / Audionet station wagon is building a stage that comes closer to the listener, especially in the center, and slopes slightly towards the side of the speakers (exaggerated like a triangle tip), the stage of the Italian steps in Center not quite as far forward, but maintains this distance across the entire width. Well, a bit strange to describe and obviously also a matter of taste: while I'm in this

russian circlesFor example, after a few A / B comparisons, colleague Michael Bruß preferred my Italian suit as a little more offensive and turning on.

In terms of depth and bass pressure, however, the tide turns again, and I am almost glad that the Italian would otherwise completely overturn my price / performance ideas of amplifiers. Yes, downstairs I also have my former Fonel Emotion, for example- which, however, cannot keep up with the Norma when it comes to the fine silky resolution and the sound purity - even more powerful in memory: This becomes clear, for example, with the "1777" (album: Memorial) by the Canadian post-rock / metal formation Russian Circles : The song is recruited from heavy-weight hymnic guitar sound, sometimes powerfully deep bass surfaces as well as clear and stoically pointed tom and bass drum envelopes. And especially in the latter case, it is striking that our test subject already reaches a decent depth, but some other amplifier boasters with three-digit output power dig further south: The Italian does not tickle the last bit of mass or deep blackness from bass events. Apart from the mass aspect,

 

Last but not least, I also switched on the integrated DAC (optionally available for 580 euros) or attached it via USB to my laptop reinforced with JRiver. Sure, the described sound character is basically preserved compared to my external converter Electrocompaniet ECD2 the level of high-frequency resolution is nevertheless noticeably reduced - good to hear, for example, in the Rida pool in Ataxia's "Dust" (album: Automatic Writing), which is captured in a fine, airy manner, and which appears somewhat blunt and coarser thanks to the integrated DAC. In addition, the spatiality appears somewhat undifferentiated and the sound image loses its color strength slightly. In view of the 580 euros required, the price / performance ratio is basically still okay, but I would personally prefer more valuable DAC solutions in combination with such an officially high-end sounding amplifier. At least if "digital" is one of the preferred hearing aids - but to be sprinkled from time to time by computer or streamer, the DAC card is sufficient.

Let's put it briefly and succinctly: With regard to the often critical balance between precision and fine dynamics on the one hand and suppleness, freedom from hardness and faithfulness to timbres on the other hand, the Norma Audio REVO IPA-140 Audio is one of the best, which - regardless of the price range - got into the rack so far in terms of reinforcement. Point. In terms of space and plasticity, the Norma Audio REVO IPA-140 actually leaves nothing to be desired.

The Norma Audio REVO IPA-140 is first and foremost a “fine one”, but when it comes to the less delicate tasks, it has no fear of getting your fingers dirty , very low frequencies a little more reserved - the Italian is not a deep bass pump. "Thank God", I almost think so, because as a hi-fi writer with a healthy footing, an uninterrupted round of merits would otherwise be almost too much of a good thing - especially in this ambitious, but by no means ultimate price range. But no matter: Either way, the Norma Audio REVO IPA-140 has earned a place in the list of my absolute favorite amps, a device that definitely deserves a much higher level of awareness.

When listening to a test, pair it with neutral to slightly warm, bass-strong speakers.

The Norma Audio REVO IPA-140 Audio is characterized by ...

  • an exemplary "fine-pixel" gait, as it were very precise and silky gait.
  • tonal neutrality.
  • an excellent middle range: voices sound transparent, balanced, colored.
  • an exceptionally airy, finely dynamic, transparent tweeter bar of any artificial hardness / sharpening. A real icing on the cake for sound connoisseurs.
  • best location sharpness and - also promoted by a special sound (color) purity - plasticity.
  • good rough dynamics.
  • a precise, but not exactly powerful bass range - at the very bottom, the Italians "buzzes" a little less than some other transistor amplifiers in its performance class.
  • a really excellent build quality and a variety of connection options, DAC and Phono are optional. Unfortunately, the source selection on the device is a bit cumbersome with the help of a single button, by means of which you have to "click through".
f it’s a choice between sounding as good as the NORMA REVO DS-1 or playing a numbers game with no guarantee of a sound as good as the DS-1, I’m going with the DS-1.
Alan Sircom

SUMMARY:It would be wrong to think of the DS-1 as just a CD player, because of that transport mechanism front and centre. It’s actually more of a digital hub with a CD transport built in. The rear panel is the giveaway here; it bristles with digital connections
One of the great things about the NORMA REVO DS-1 is that it’s extremely adaptable, thanks to the adjustable filter. This helps it make a better ‘fit’ into a far wider range of systems than most media players. You can specify ‘slow’ or ‘sharp’ filter (as well as spec any form of upsampling). This has more depth than simple system matching, because in a multi-source digital world, not all services are created equal; a well-manicured local collection of high-resolution files and accurately ripped CDs generally sounds a lot better than a haphazard collection of music files curated on an internet ‘music discovery’ service. The NORMA REVO DS-1 allows the listener some opportunity to make the Deezers and Spotifys of this world sound more like audiophile sources, without sacrificing our existing material.

REVIEW: The REVO DS-1 by NORMA is very much a ‘now’ product. It’s the link between the world of spinning discs and the world of computer audio. We’ve long considered computer audio to be an extra shelf on your system; the DS-1 puts it on the same shelf as your CD player.

It would be wrong to think of the DS-1 as just a CD player, because of that transport mechanism front and centre. It’s actually more of a digital hub with a CD transport built in. The rear panel is the giveaway here; it bristles with digital connections (USB, Toslink, two S/PDIF, and even an AES/EBU connector) but only one of the S/PDIF connections is marked ‘out’. All the rest are inputs direct to the DAC board at the rear of the DS-11.

It’s hard to think of NORMA products without thinking of the ethos underpinning NORMA products, and the DS-1 is an intrinsic part of that product design brief. The idea is that the engineering must be excellent (because, let’s face it, the people who build NORMA products are the same people who build test gear), but that is merely the starting point in the process that involved structured listening tests focused on timbre, colouration, transparency, dynamics, soundstaging, grain, and freedom from artificiality. Frequently, too, this is predicated on tests using the human voice, as we are adept at hearing limitations in voice reproduction. It’s this additional design criteria (which, in fairness, is a process common to many brands, but perhaps not in so structured a manner) that helped create the REVO DS-1.

The great thing about this is if you pop the top on the DS-1, you aren’t met with the typical box of air found in some surprisingly high-end products. In fact, you are greeted by three separate PCBs; one for power supply, one for digital conversion, and the largest one as a dual mono output stage. There’s also a toroidal transformer and a smaller daughter board on the DAC board for USB. This last features the popular XLINX chipset for asynchronous USB connection to 24/192. The DAC section itself uses two 24-bit Burr Brown PCM1704 chips, with separate high-grade clock oscillators for multiples of 44.1kHz and 48kHz sampling rates.

Moving back to the CD mechanism, it’s a TEAC unit (although not a VRDS design) with a five second buffer. This means it’s not the quickest of units to work when you press play, but does mean the error correction is at least notionally better than standard unbuffered CD replay. We are in an interesting time with digital disc; as we hear rumours of older discs decaying and even new discs sporting errors, this buffering system is a good idea.

The all-discrete component output stage is – as is common to NORMA products – a wide-bandwidth design: although even a 24/192 track hits the Nyquist-Shannon brick wall at 96kHz, the amplifiers are capable of a frequency response into the 2MHz range. This is to prevent any high-frequency cut-offs working their way down into the audio band, but requires solid engineering to prevent the DS-1 making those ‘papada, papada’ noises when mobile phones periodically poll their nearest cell. Fortunately, as discussed earlier, NORMA is all over the ‘solid engineering’ bit, and the cabinet is as well made as it is elegant. It’s a sandwich design, similar in some respects to Edge’s G-Series amplifiers. The big difference between them is the NORMA makes this sandwich construction look elegant, while Edge… makes it look like an Edge G-Series amplifier.

The output stage also comes with XLR terminals alongside the single-ended RCA sockets. However, you are strongly advised to use the RCA sockets; XLR is best considered vestigial, a sort of pseudo-balanced connection that shouldn’t be used unless your preamp is balanced only.

The Italian player exudes cool, sophisticated charm all over, except for the remote handset. It’s out of place here; an oddly shaped plastic curvy thing that looks as if it came from a £30 supermarket DVD player. Worse, it has function buttons that come with cryptic descriptions like ‘F1’. There is a nicer-looking and optional system remote coming.

One of the great things about the NORMA REVO DS-1 is that it’s extremely adaptable, thanks to the adjustable filter. This helps it make a better ‘fit’ into a far wider range of systems than most media players. The difficulty for a reviewer is that makes it hard to pin down in sound quality terms. You can specify ‘slow’ or ‘sharp’ filter (as well as spec any form of upsampling). This has more depth than simple system matching, because in a multi-source digital world, not all services are created equal; a well-manicured local collection of high-resolution files and accurately ripped CDs generally sounds a lot better than a haphazard collection of music files curated on an internet ‘music discovery’ service. The NORMA REVO DS-1 allows the listener some opportunity to make the Deezers and Spotifys of this world sound more like audiophile sources, without sacrificing our existing material.   

Put simply, ‘slow’ is more of a full-bodied sound; rich and legato, and describing the elegance of the music rather than its raw intensity. On the other hand ‘sharp’ puts emphasis on transient performance and gives the sound a little more pep in its step. There’s a tendency at this point for people to ask “yes, but which one is better?” This is wrong. It’s not about ‘better’; it’s about what best suits you, your musical tastes, and – perhaps most importantly –what best suits your system.

 It’s also easy to get the filter and upsampling options wrong and think the DS-1 a Jack of all Trades, and that the ‘slow’ setting means ‘soggy’ and the ‘sharp’ setting means ‘aggressive’. In fact, the DS-1 does have a common character. It has a rich, refined midrange that gives instruments a sense of harmonic finesse, and builds up and down from there. It doesn’t tame – I played Janis Joplin’s Pearl album [Columbia] both through CD and USB and it gives her raucous energy full throat (which is saying something; her vocal chords were fully weaponised by then) – it just gives body and structure, and that holds throughout.

An important consideration of this ‘shape-shifting’ quality of the DS-1 is not just best ‘fit’ in a system, but how it helps bring out the best in good recordings. But even this ultimately comes back to personal taste. So, the archetypal old-school audiophile, with their collection of 1950s jazz and classical music will gravitate toward the imagery and unforced dynamics of ‘slow’, and those who like audio to replay Infected Mushroom recordings are likely to go for ‘sharp’.

Filter settings, aside, the upsampling options also work not only to highlight good recordings, but also help the less good ones bring out their best. Not everything recorded in the 1960s is fabulous, and the Bloomfield/Kooper/Stills Super Session [Columbia CD] can sound edgy and brash at times. But, by increasing the upsampling, the DS-1 made it possible to listen ‘through’ the harshness, making listening a more satisfying experience in the process.

I am aware that I have devoted more time discussing the filter and upsampling than the sound of the DS-1. But a good digital source should be a discreet and ideal match for the amplifier, and the DS-1 is just that. Those filter and upsampling options just make the DS-1 a match for more amplifiers.

There’s an interesting test that inevitably comes out of this: comparing the sound of ‘live’ CD with the same CD ripped, stored and played through a computer. The best system on the planet isn’t going to shine if it’s one-sided, but fortunately the DS-1 is equally adept at disc and disk. There should be no marked shift in tonality, detailing, dynamics, or overall image size between a well-ripped and a well-played disc, and that holds here. It’s ‘similarity’ rather than ‘identicality’, and I marginally preferred the sound of the CD transport in most cases (the exception being Martha Argerich playing some Chopin preludes on DG, where the ripped version sounded slightly more solid and authoritative by comparison). But, even in the most marked differences, they were at best subtle. Of course, when faced with a really good recording – Lyle Lovett’s Joshua Judges Ruth [MCA] for example – it manages to shine both in an audiophile manner and by presenting the music as a highly enjoyable album in its own right.

Digital is dividing into several niche markets at this time, and NORMA is taking an admirably pragmatic line with the DS-1. If you want to play your CDs, fine. If you decide to rip them to a computer and you want to play them that way, that’s fine too. If you want to play 24/192 files downloaded from the internet, that’s fine as well. OK, SACD and DSD replay are beyond the DS-1, but if it’s a choice between sounding as good as the NORMA REVO DS-1 or playing a numbers game with no guarantee of a sound as good as the DS-1, I’m going with the DS-1.

Norma HS-IPA 1 ticks all those boxes of course. However, it is actually more than a sum of its parts and should be on the short list for audition of any music lover who wants a great sounding device that punches far above its price-point.
Chris Kelly
SUMMARY: It is always tricky to review amplifiers. I guess if I got one that sounded ‘wrong’ it would make itself very obvious. However that has yet to happen. So what do I expect from an amplifier? Clean sound, sufficient power to drive my loudspeakers, even handedness across all frequencies, sufficient inputs, reliability, are just the first things that spring to mind. Well, this Norma HS-IPA 1 ticks all those boxes of course. However, I think it is actually more than a sum of its parts and should be on the short list for audition of any music lover who wants a great sounding device that punches far above its price-point.
Pair it with your preferred sources and loudspeakers and I think it will be the last amplifier you will need - it really is that good.
REVIEW: Recently I seem to have had a lot of contact with Italian audio components and the latest to grace my equipment rack is the Norma HS-IPA1. Packed into its diminutive case work there is a solid state amplifier, a phono stage, a headphone amplifier and a DAC, which is really quite remarkable. Norma is based in Cremona, a city steeped in musical history and this device most certainly carries that heritage into the 21st century with pride and panache.

The engineering skill of Enrico Rossi the designer and chief engineer at Norma is deep and impressive. For instance the phono stage on this amp can be set up by accessing dip switches that adjust cartridge load inside the case, a facility rarely found on integrated amplifiers. The circuitry inside the HS-IPA 1 is amazingly well laid out. There is no cabling used - everything is routed through the various printed circuit boards, and the very chunky mains transformer is mounted on its side behind the alpha-numeric front panel. A nice touch is the provision of a spare set of fuses should the owner manage to blow the installed ones.

The connectors are all high quality and gold plated. There are four pairs of analogue RCA inputs, one pair of which connects to the optional phono stage, as well as USB, Toslink and S/PDIF for the optional DAC. The headphone socket is also on the rear panel - the matching amplifier is another optional extra. The Norma remote control is a chunky aluminium lump with a large array of buttons to cover every function. The buttons are a little small but it works perfectly well.

The power output rating of the main amplifier is 75 watts into 8 Ohms, doubling to 150s into 4 Ohms. In use, this pocket rocket has more than enough power to drive most loudspeakers to ear splitting levels. At comfortable domestic listening levels it has ample head room and delivers 24A continuous current and can peak at 100A.

With the case back on the unit slid into a spare space on my Quadraspire rack and all the necessary connections were made. At power up the front display shows a count down as the HS-IPA 1 goes through its self check procedures. Selecting the appropriate input via the remote control, I used the phono stage to warm things up. My usual Harbeth Super

HL5+ 40th Anniversary loudspeakers were attached using Tellurium Q Ultra Black II cable. The first record on the LP12 was ‘Woyaya’ by Osibisa, which I bought when it was released in 1971 and still play regularly. Wow! Stone cold, out of the box, this thing sounded great. Full bodied and even handed right across the frequency range, with full tuneful bass and sparkling high frequencies. The sheer exuberance of this fusion of West African, West Indian and rock music simply leapt from the loudspeakers. I played a lot of records through the Norma and really liked how it sounded. Reverting to my
standalone phono stage (which retails for more than half the purchase price of the Norma) I heard a bit more detail but that is the least I would expect, the Norma stage is clearly no slouch.

Sound quality

In the week that the Norma was here I failed to find anything which it did not do exceptionally well. I played CDs from my Yamaha CD-S3000 through the DAC and was deeply impressed with the musicality and ‘rightness’ of the sound. Rock, jazz, classical and spoken word all sounded excellent. I plugged the optical cable from my television in and dialogue was crisp and comprehensible. This is an extremely well sorted digital section.

During the course of the review I was able to use three different pairs of loudspeakers with the HS-IPA 1. In addition to the Harbeths mentioned above I also listened to my smaller Harbeth P3ESRs, which do like an amplifier with plenty of drive to get them really working well. The Norma proved to be a brilliant match. I also had a pair of Swedish Marten Duke 2 standmounts here for review (to appear in The Ear very soon!) and the Norma really got them singing beautifully. Here we had loudspeakers retailing at just under £7,000 )NZ$14,00/pr) working perfectly with a device that sells for just over half that but it was far from a mis-match.

It is always tricky to review amplifiers. I guess if I got one that sounded ‘wrong’ it would make itself very obvious. However that has yet to happen. So what do I expect from an amplifier? Clean sound, sufficient power to drive my loudspeakers, even handedness across all frequencies, sufficient inputs, reliability, are just the first things that spring to mind. Well, this Norma HS-IPA 1 ticks all those boxes of course. However, I think it is actually more than a sum of its parts and should be on the short list for audition of any music lover who wants a great sounding device that punches far above its price-point.

Pair it with your preferred sources and loudspeakers and I think it will be the last amplifier you will need - it really is that good.
......... Chris Kelly
Norma Audio Revo SC-2 and Revo PA 160 MR are an amplifier combination for adult listeners,
Michael Bruß

Profile of Norma Audio Revo SC-2 and Revo PA 160 MR:

  • Both amplifiers are stylishly designed and bomb-proof. The understated elegance exudes seriousness and lasting value.
  • The pre-stage SC-2 offers more than sufficient connection options and comes with a solid full metal remote control.
  • Operating the menus of the SC-2 is not self-explanatory and can be a little frustrating at the beginning - the manual should not be missing at the beginning. But you get used to it.
  • Both devices are characterized by dynamically free and unrestrained playback. Roughly, there may be competition in the price range, but when it comes to fine dynamics, no one can fool the Normas so quickly.
  • Despite all transparency and detail resolution, the tonal tendency of both devices is always pleasantly natural and not cool at all - the sound foundation is made of wood, not steel.
  • The bass area is controlled and powerful at the same time (mainly thanks to the monos), the mids blend seamlessly and smoothly (the preamp has it particularly good) and the minimally subtle high tone of the monos is sparkling clean.
  • The spatial representation is characterized by an unimagined plasticity and individuality of individual musicians and instruments on the virtual stage, in my opinion also a result of any absence of noise from the power amplifiers. A real strength!
  • The normas do not in any way stamp the music preserve on an arrangement of the space that was not immortalized on it: if the room is deep, the normas present it in this way and do not limit it in any way - if it is rather flat or a voice is very directly microphoneed that clear in milliseconds.
  • The unusual cleanliness of the sound image never appears sterile, but in the truest sense of the word always relaxing and beneficial. The freedom from subconsciously disturbing artifacts in the sound image allows long, even loud listening. Symptoms of fatigue do not occur at all or only much later than usual.
  • The monoblocks are always sovereign and deliver enough power when needed.
  • The DAC module is one of the best I have heard in the converter area.

REVIEW: In conversation with him, it quickly became clear to me that he was first and foremost an incredibly passionate music lover, especially classical music, who could not miss the opportunity to attend a philharmonic concert in Munich even in the stressful environment of the fair. A few words later on this topic.

Norma Audio Revo SC 2 and Revo PA 160 M

At a pleasantly reserved and elegantly designed booth, Norma Audio Electronics exhibited its entire portfolio and a few prototypes - and I noticed in the approximately 30 minutes that I spent on the booth that (in my opinion) an above-average number of female visitors stopped by briefly and looked at the devices, touched them, and even took brochures with them - including an employee of the French high-end streaming service Quobuz, with whom I briefly talked about this. Yes, that is all very appealing, because it is simple and not too big, pleasant to the touch, with nice proportions and gently curved lines. Only pricing, that's always the problem with “such devices”. Well, the good woman was not entirely wrong, even if the Norma Audio Electronics range certainly doesn't have to hide in comparison. The Italians start at 2,200 euros with the D / A converter HS-DA1, and the end of the flagpole has been reached at 14,000 euros for a pair of the Revo PA 160 MR mono power amplifiers (the surcharge for black housings is included) additional 600 euros).

Although the company Norma Audio Electronics, which has been building amplifiers since 1991, is still quite young on the German market (since 2014 Audioplan has been selling the Italians' products in the land of the Teutons), we at Fairaudio have had the opportunity twice to buy the Cremona devices to test. Jörg Dames (if I remember correctly, with pleasure) took care of the HS-DA1 Pre , a D / A converter with integrated preamplifier from the HS series, as well as the larger of the two integrated amplifiers from Norma Audio, the Revo IPA -140 .

Norma Audio Revo SC 2 and Revo PA 160 M

This is now about the trio of Norma Audio Revo SC-2 preamplifiers and the Monos Revo PA 160 MR mentioned above, with which I have been listening at home for over half a year. And for haptic and optical reasons, I'm pretty happy with it: The housing of the Norma audio devices from the Revo series consists of almost two millimeters thick, non-magnetic aluminum plates, and the front is a good one centimeter thick Commitment. The floor and ceiling panels taper a little from front to back in a gentle curve, and the beige lettering on the black housing appears unobtrusive and elegant. All devices can still be moved easily by an average strong person. There are no sharp edges, but there are the protruding floor and cover plates.

Of course, the most beautiful haptics are of no use if a pre-stage is not sufficiently equipped with inputs. The Norma Audio SC-2 owner should not run out of options too quickly in this regard, because on the back there are, in addition to a pair of balanced and unbalanced outputs, four RCA  inputs and two balanced XLR inputs.

Norma Audio Revo SC 2 - connection panel
Norma Audio Revo SC-2: the connector panel

Everything sits bombproof and also allows the attachment of thick plugs. Our test sample of the Norma Revo SC-2 also includes the optional DAC module (1,990 euros surcharge), which offers four digital inputs: USB, coax, XLR and optical. A coaxial output for digital signals is also available. The DAC accepts PCM signals of various formats with up to 192kHz and 24 bits , buffers the signal and subjects it to the strict regime of its internal clock - this is how you want to minimize jitter .

The circuit layout of the Norma devices is kept unbalanced throughout - Enrico Rossi even explicitly points out that the use of the XLR connections can potentially impair the sound, since an additional (balancing) stage must be inserted in the signal path. He explains why Rossi does not strive for the widespread symmetrical switching in this class, especially for the power amplifier: If the amplifiers were built symmetrically, this would have far-reaching consequences, in particular for the basic topology of the power amplifiers - and ultimately for the sound as well. “In principle, it is similar to bridging two amplifiers: It does bring more power, but is not always good for quality. If an unbalanced amplifier only sees the signal earth as a reference, a bridged amp sees another one, namely the amplifier inverting the signal. And the loudspeaker that is connected then also works, ”says Rossi. This makes the power amplifier susceptible to harmful oscillations, which in turn could only be prevented by strictly limiting the bandwidth. As a result, however, the sonic advantages of a very high bandwidth, as Norma Audio strives for with its amplifiers, were lost.

The range of preamplifiers and power amplifiers reaches an insane 2 megahertz (!) - a multiple of human perception (As is known, that runs from 20 to a maximum of 20,000 Hz). Now, of course, the question arises, why you need it, and Enrico Rossi has an answer - of course. First of all, the speed of the circuit (which goes with the high bandwidth) also means an increase in the speed of the signal transmission - transients in particular should benefit from this. "And imagine a 4K television screen from a distance of three meters: Even with normal SD resolution, you see no pixels, the eye can no longer do that - and yet the image becomes more and more sharp with increasing resolution," says Rossi , The same applies to audio signals.

View into the Norma Audio Revo PA 160 MR
View into the Norma Audio Revo PA 160 MR

A problem for such broadband reproducing amplifiers is the different peripherals that they can encounter in practice. Cables and (in the case of the power amplifier) ​​loudspeakers form their own vibration system with the amplifier, in which such a broadband concept can result in certain imponderables. In order to avoid this as far as possible from the outset, Norma Audio limits the incoming audio signal to 300 kHz - mind you, the amplifiers still work internally with up to 2 MHz and process the signals with the appropriate "speed buffer". According to Enrico Rossi, this issue is not about the bandwidth of the music signal itself as the most important factor for the sound, but rather about the ability of the amplifier to

In order to clarify the scope of another technical peculiarity of the Norma monos, I have to go back a little. When I recently read the test of a monster power amplifier from Germany for just under 40,000 euros, I had to grin broadly: it was logical that this 130-kilo run on wheels the size of three stacked boxes of beer was a very special feature, especially in this one Price range, with it, namely a fully regulated power supply. Ha! The Norma Audio Revo PA 160 MR, which is just over a third as expensive, also has that to offer. In principle, Enrico Rossi has split a Norma Audio PA 150 stereo power amplifier for each channel and converted and implemented a complete amplifier train for the purpose of power supply stabilization.

The two toroidal transformers of the Norma Audio Revo PA 160 MR
The two toroidal transformers of the Norma Audio Revo PA 160 MR

The effort for such a circuit, in particular in view of the enormous broadband nature of the actual amplifier train, is indeed enormous. The regulation of the power supply has to be even faster than the amplifier itself - in analogy to motorsport, you can imagine it like this: Even the best and most powerful motor in Formula 1 (i.e. our amplifier circuit) cannot deliver 100% power, if the petrol pump (regulating the power supply) is too slow to supply it with fuel. So a lot of effort, but on the other hand, according to Norma Audio, the effects of this measure should not be overestimated and measured very clearly. Mr. Rossi has provided us with measurements to illustrate the influence of the regulated power supply.

In short, such a regulated power supply is intended to prevent the useful signal and the output signal of the power supply from being subject to mutual interference.

illustration 1
illustration 1

Figure 1 shows the measurement of the signal of a commercially available amplifier without control, which is tapped directly behind the power supply. The harmonic multiples of the power supply signal (here with a green hash) caused by the mains frequency and the signal from the audio output (which should of course not be the case) lead to intermodulation in the upper bass and fundamental tone range and thus to it , according to the Norma measurement Impurities and noise. The measurement of the regulated power supply of the Revo PA 160 MR Monos carried out by Norma Audio can be seen in Figure 2:

Figure 2
Figure 2

The only thing you can see here is the intrinsic noise of the measuring device, says Enrico Rossi. Incidentally, both measurements were carried out with a load of 100w in an eight-ohm load and with a 125 Hz sinusoidal signal.

For the free and effortless playback, however, another circumstance should also be decisive, namely the extremely low output impedance of the power supply of only 2 milliohms at 20 kHz - between 10 and 100 milliohms are normal. The low impedance allows the amplifier stage to draw the required energy without an obstacle (there is virtually no resistance). And that is a hell of a lot: Since the PA 160 MR does not have an overload protection circuit except for the fuse used, according to Norma Audio theoretically a current delivery capacity of 200 amperes in 1 ohm could be achieved by bridging the fuse But then you should let it go!

As already mentioned, Mr. Rossi is an enthusiastic listener of classical music and a passionate concert goer, and more than once he has emphasized to me how essential it is for a developer to know what real music sounds like live. The biggest mistake that can be made is to develop devices purely on the basis of theory and metrological perfection. "We are lucky enough to live in Cremona, where we can experience concerts and music of all kinds in a wide range at almost any point in time, and we make intensive use of these opportunities." You can hear that on his equipment.

Norma Audio Revo SC-2

As the? Well, a short anecdote. You have to know: I like classical music, but I rarely get to hear it - moreover I find that classical music via hi-fi chains rarely sounds really good and natural and rousing and real, so I leave it more often than I would like is whole with it. Be that as it may, for the first time in many years, I got carried away to attend a big symphony concert in September 2015. The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra made guest appearances in the Berlin Philharmonic and performed parts of a work by John Adams, the Variations Op. 43b by Arnold Schönberg and the 3rd symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven. I sat well in the first tier of the second balcony, right in the middle, and the Berlin Philharmonic is known for its excellent acoustics. Therefore I was quite perplexed at first (at the beginning Schönberg was on the program) when I perceived the orchestra's sound in the quieter passages as dull and not very differentiated. What I lacked at first was brilliance, the transparent differentiation that I always get served on a silver platter in so many high-end chains - what was going on? The first crescendo and subsequent sforzato brought clarification to this: Aha, when it gets loud, there are suddenly more heights and a certain natural hardness, sharpness and even angularity - but only then. I got the same impression in the following "Absolute Jest" by John Adams, and also in Beethoven's third. when I perceived the sound of the orchestra in the quieter passages as dull and not very differentiated. What I lacked at first was brilliance, the transparent differentiation that I always get served on a silver platter in so many high-end chains - what was going on? The first crescendo and subsequent sforzato brought clarification to this: Aha, when it gets loud, there are suddenly more heights and a certain natural hardness, sharpness and even angularity - but only then. I got the same impression in the following "Absolute Jest" by John Adams, and also in Beethoven's third. when I perceived the sound of the orchestra in the quieter passages as dull and not very differentiated. What I lacked at first was brilliance, the transparent differentiation that I always get served on a silver platter in so many high-end chains - what was going on? The first crescendo and subsequent sforzato brought clarification in this regard: Aha, when it gets loud, there are suddenly more heights and a certain natural hardness, sharpness and even angularity - but only then. I got the same impression in the following "Absolute Jest" by John Adams, and also in Beethoven's third. that I always get served on a silver platter in so many high-end chains - what was going on? The first crescendo and subsequent sforzato brought clarification to this: Aha, when it gets loud, there are suddenly more heights and a certain natural hardness, sharpness and even angularity - but only then. I got the same impression in the following "Absolute Jest" by John Adams, and also in Beethoven's third. that I always get served on a silver platter in so many high-end chains - what was going on? The first crescendo and subsequent sforzato brought clarification to this: Aha, when it gets loud, there are suddenly more heights and a certain natural hardness, sharpness and even angularity - but only then. I got the same impression in the following "Absolute Jest" by John Adams, and also in Beethoven's third.

Realism galore!

John AdamsBack in the living room I decided to buy John Adam's work ( listen to Amazon ) in the recording with the SFSO in 192 kHz / 24 bit and compare it in real time. And lo and behold: I experience the concert a second time with the Norma audio amplifiers on the Lansche speaers, with exactly the same effect of a rather homogeneous basic coloring of the orchestra body in quiet and medium-loud passages, but also with a tutti seamless dynamics, changing colors and tonality, which can almost have a cutting effect if necessary. The relaxed, uninhibited power delivery and unpretentious, precise ability to differentiate are hardly inferior to the original sound. When I told Enrico Rossi about it on our Skype chat, his grin couldn't have been wider: yes, that's exactly what he was after - no artificial, applied brilliance and false transparency at all costs, but about free development of the timbres , about indulging in tone, the force of the thundering tutti and the fragile delicacy of soft, gentle tone vibrations.

Yello's Pocket Universe But I want to get into the more concrete sound description with completely different music material, quasi the counterpoint sound ideal to the classical sound body and its innumerable organic subtleties. Yello's Pocket Universe ( listen to Amazon ) streams its technoid path from NAS via the Auralic Aries Bridge and is received by the DAC module of the Norma Audio SC-2 with CD resolution. This is not about timbres or a soulful connection of musicians having acoustic sex with each other - no, with this recording the extent and precision of the bass foundation as well as the speed of the mid / high frequency reproduction can be explored, very profane. And even if the AVM MA 3.2 monos are not one, namely weak and without control, the Norma PA 160 MR amplifiers in the "Magnetic" track prove even more clearly that good bass control and physically perceptible pressure are not mutually exclusive, but rather on the contrary, must go hand in hand to bring out the subtleties of the deep frequency expansion. I can say that this quality is mainly due to the monos,

Norma Audio Revo SC-2

The pre-stage, on the other hand, is largely responsible for the relaxed and downright sensual subtlety of the analog synthesizer and the ape-fast reproduction of the electronic transients in the mid-range in "Pan Blue" - and boy, here the post goes off, also grossly dynamic. Listen again to "Stimela" by Hugh Masekela (album: Hope, listen on Amazon ) - the ever-increasing dynamism with its deafening finale and the unleashed drums, the suddenly shrieking voice of the South African singer and trumpeter, all this will make the adrenaline rush oneHugh MasekelaBring everyday listener body properly into shape. Guaranteed. Second contribution in terms of "Make it louder!", My new favorite track: "Tsunami" from DVBBS & Bourgeous - hardly any other techno bass rolls out of the maltreated drivers, hardly any other mid-tone synthesizer staccato beats the steel wedge so aggressively between the eyes, again and again - just great! Okay, when it comes to relentlessly rough dynamics, the Italians do not quite reach the maximum of what is feasible for over 20,000 euros, but they can easily conjure up a grin on the listener's face. The really interesting thing is that the slight frequency change of the techno bass always remains clear in the middle of the inferno; I have never noticed that in other device environments - only here when I first contacted the Normas.

Crass and also so unheard of before: The reproduction of the sheet metal work in Leila's "Daisies, Cats and Spacemen" from the album Blood, Looms and Blooms ( listen to on Amazon ), which is copiously rattling, leads me to the allegory to illustrate the almost paradoxical situation to try Bhut-Jolokia chili pepper that is friendly to the mouth Not that the Norma station wagon would gloss over something, but it manages to get a degreeLeilaTo create differentiation and presence that clearly shows the tonal deficits of the sample, but does not allow them to dominate - rather, the sample is integrated as a non-disturbing appearance due to the incredibly clean tonal separation from the context of the rest of the music. Incidentally, I also have the Leila album mentioned on vinyl, which makes me a direct cross-comparison between DAC vs. Analog inputs moved. Of course, completely different factors play an important role in the sound characteristics, but there is an astonishingly similar representation when playing back both media. Tonally there is in no way a warmer sound image that is often expected from the record, and neither resolution nor spatial representation differ significantly.

Norma Audio Revo PS 160 MR

These skills for "integrating differentiation", for meticulous analysis without merciless implementation, go hand in hand with a fundamentally non-glaring bright or cool tonal coordination. The Normas' rather velvety, colorful and pleasantly mild tonality is congenially balanced by the extremely filigree, nimble and clean representation of impulses and a silky and fine-grained resolution across the entire spectrum, but especially in the high range. Under no circumstances should oneMcLaren Test Tracks Vol. 1hardness-free, minimally granular and somewhat subtle in the top layers of the normas and the absence of artificial-looking luminosity, for example in the drum cymbals of Bill Morrisey's "You'll never get to Heaven" (album: McLaren Test Tracks Vol. 1) with tonal "warmth “Confuse: The bass range always moves on a neutral path and does not thicken, never pushes more than it should. This is a blessing especially for tracks that are oversupplied in this area, such as Massive Attacks "Angel". Here the Normas virtuously unravel the processes in the deep bass, which are more complex than most other amps want to make you believe.

If I remember correctly, the large (and expensive) class-A amplifiers from Nelson Pass offer a comparable tonal characteristic and texture - but if my previous listening experience in various amplifier / speaker combinations is not difficult to deceive me, even these dream amplifiers will remain a bit more angular and coarse-grained on top. Any question about “more brightness” in the normas is nipped in the bud anyway by the weightless, never underexposed representation of three-dimensionally differentiated sound images - this combination does not need an extra shot in the presence area to create acoustic three-dimensionality.

The connections of the optional DAC module of the Norma Audio Revo SC-2 are on the left
The connections of the optional DAC module of the
Norma Audio Revo SC-2 are on the left

That corporeality increases with the appropriate material into the almost uncanny. Talk Talks "Such a Shame" is now not necessarily a sound milestone in music production and basically has no natural depth of space - and yet the Normas allow every little sound gimmick not just to appear along the way, but their very own , occupies a clearly defined space on the small sound stage. Without setting spotlights, just like that.

Most of the components I have heard tend to build the room generally behind the speakers or (less often) slightly in front of it. Not so with the Norma combo: Obviously, the Italians only care where the corresponding sound source was placed in the reality of the recording situation - this is how Talk Talks Mark Hollis, including the instruments, is materialized almost exactly on the loudspeaker level as if pulled on a cord 

Magnificats "Parsons, White & Byrd: Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang""Lamentation a5" on Magnificats Parsons, White & Byrd: Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang ( listen on Amazon) extends into the depth of the room - but does not get lost there. The border of the recording room remains quite clearly audible, the choir acts neatly in it. It is different with “Symphonie Fantastique - IV Marche au supplice” in the recording of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra: As if you were armed with acoustic binoculars, you can see how the sound space plays out razor-sharp somewhere far behind the suddenly transparent panorama screen. Jacintha delivers the absolute opposite in terms of placement with "Danny Boy": pure goose bumps when the fantastic voice becomes a body and stands a few steps in front of me in the listening room.

The exterior design of the Norma audio devices projects its characteristics to a certain extent onto the tonal values: elegant and subtle, solid but not bulky, with a silky finish and simply beautiful in an almost inconspicuous way. Enrico Rossi has realized his ideas of natural sound here one-to-one.

I see the Revo PA 160 MR mono amplifier in particular as grandiose power amplifiers for classic and jazz fans, for whom a natural and never stressful sound is important even with the highest demands on speed and transparency, force and dynamics - one with all available control and resolution You have to find relaxed music-making power amps in this price range. That really thick kilowatt power amplifiers may have an even firmer grip in the absolute frequency cellar - for free. The tonal tendency is not emaciated at all, but pleasantly balanced and completely hardness-free, subtle in the high range, but never documented.

Norma Audio Revo PA 160 MR

The pre-stage Revo SC-2 converts tonally on minimally "stricter" paths and transports its own character a little less. The silky, fluid style of play is the most typical. The DAC option of the Revo SC-2 is outstanding: With its physically tangible spatiality and fluid mobility, the converter module shows that modern digital electronics do not have to be inferior to analogue equipment when it comes to musical satisfaction.

Norma Audio Revo SC 2

As far as speaker compatibility is concerned, I don't see any serious restrictions for the PA 160 MR, as long as the efficiency is not based on the Dynaudio Consequence or similar calibers or the tonal orientation is very warm. The Norma combo proves to be an extensively equipped (or equipable) trio for music lovers who just like to switch off and dive into the recording and want to get lost in it. Classic and jazz fans in particular should have a lot of fun with it - a statement that is in no way intended to limit suitability for other musical styles, but rather indicates the special talent of Italians in this area. Norma Audio Revo SC-2 and Revo PA 160 MR are an amplifier combination for adult listeners,

Norma's system is a living proof that when designer succeeds in this respect result are astounding.
Wojciech Pacuta

Summary: The often recalled by audiophiles axiom about amplifier being just a piece of wire with some gain is not realistic, it's confusing at best. There is no such thing and there never will be; the best designers try to keep the lowest possible distortion level, but only when it doesn't hurt presentation. What is always worth pursuing is the highest possible resolution. Norma's system is a living proof that when designer succeeds in this respect result are astounding. There is no coloration of any sort in the sound which allows recordings to sound as they are intended to. It's a particularly rich, multi-layer presentation providing us insight into a complex musical structure. Impressive dynamics, transparency and clarity further improve this already astonishing picture.
Don't expect nice, warm vocals, or mid-bass that you can feel in your gut, or the subsonic bass. What you get is highly focused, top level performance. I've got a feeling that some music fans will have to grow up to fully appreciate it.

Review: Within 18 months after my review of integrated amplifier IPA-70B by Italian manufacturer Norma, nothing really changed for them – they still make extremely solid and good looking products that give me something more when I look at them – some sort of a comfort. I mean that after unpacking these two devices I didn't spend any time thinking about what was the designer's idea behind this products, why he made them the way he did. I just took them out of boxes, installed them in my system and focused on music.


On the outside SC-2 preamplifier and PA-150 stereo power amplifier from Revo line look a lot like other Norma products. Their enclosures are made of thick aluminum plates. Top and bottom panels are not square – their back edge is not as wide as the front one and side edges are nicely rounded, which reminds me of cabinets of Sonus faber loudspeakers. The enclosure its self, apart from top and bottom panels is square with black side walls being partially occupied by large radiators. The rest of the enclosure is silver with brushed aluminum finish. Black version is also available upon order.

REVO SC-2

RC-2 is a stereo linestage. Optional modules might be ordered with it (or later) and installed inside. These are D/A Converter and phonostage modules. Manufacturer when describing this device pointed out its few particular features. You might remember some other manufacturers who spent a lot of time, effort and money to develop an element, that some might consider insignificant? – AAVA used by Accuphase, special, Japanese, custom made potentiometers used by Octave for their Jubilee preamplifier, a hybrid, analogue-digital attenuator used by German company Linnenberg (test in the same issue of HF), digital volume control used by dCS and many others – all of them developed with a single goal in mind - attenuators, elements adjusting volume should be as transparent (meaning adding nothing of their own to the sound) as only possible.

Norma decided to develop their own version of a solution known for years – a digitally controlled, analogue resistors ladder. It's called P.D.A.A. (Programmable Digital Analogue Attenuation). In general it's nothing new – we know it from many product, but usually it takes form of a chip that integrates digital control, resistor ladder and active output buffer. It's an inexpensive solution that works pretty well in many applications. But if you expect more than of-the-shelf solution has to offer you need to go a different way. Norma decided to create its own discrete version featuring precise resistors switchable by relays controlled by a microprocessor. This attenuation allows to adjust volume in a wide range of 127,5 dB in 0,5 dB steps.

This is not the only special feature of SC-2. It offers a unique possibility of choosing between active and passive mode. There are fans of both solutions – with this preamplifier they don't have to choose – each user might decide which mode to use. To make it even easier remote sports a single button allowing switching between these modes, plus to make comparison credible one can use a proper setting that compensated gain difference. Nominal difference is of 17,5 dB (gain of active mode) but I found out that 20 dB setting was closer to a true difference. Another feature, not that common although offered by, for example, Accuphase, are optional modules that might be installed inside the device.

One of them is DAC1-REVO (8690 PLN), a D/A Converter. It features 5 digital inputs including: USB 2.0, 2 x RCA (S/PDIF), AES/EBU and an optical TOSLINK. All of them accept PCM signal up to 24 bits and192 kHz. This DAC is not compatible with DSD as its designers decided to use a high quality, though older generation DAC chips that can't process DSD signal. Any signal is upsampled in DAC first and then converted to analogue. Upsampling frequency is user-selectable. It can be also completely turned off. Optional phonostage module, PH3-REVO (1690 PLN), is quite elaborate. These are two small, separate PCBs, one for each channel. It features impedance and gain adjustments. It works with low and high level MC cartridges, but also with MM ones.

A particularly rare option offered by Norma is a module for a multi-channel analogue system. It allows SC-2 user to connect even 3 power amplifiers and create a high-end multi-channel system either for multi-channel (SACD) music playback or for home cinema. Last but not least – there is also an optional, metal, very nice looking REVO RC-43ALU (1690 PLN) remote. With device manufacturer delivers a standard, plastic one. All information are displayed on a large display. It features two lines for displaying information and while adjusting volume or selecting an input a relevant information is shown using both lines. In this way everyone will see the information even from across the room. Finally! Somebody thought of that!

REVO PA-150

The power amplifier is, as always, much 'simpler', much easier to operate. Front panel features only the on/off switch, and the rear one offers no surprises. Norma delivers up to 150 W per channel into 8Ω loading, and 280 W at 4 Ω. It uses 3 separate power supplies – for a gain, driver and output sections. One of the parameters that Norma treats very seriously is a frequency range – in PA-150's case it is extremely wide reaching 2 MHz. This allows to improve rise time factor significantly. Such manufacturers as Soulution and Yon Audio follow similar path. The device is controlled by a microprocessor that monitors its operation and manages safety circuits. During regular operation this circuits goes into standby mode to limit its influence on sound.

Both products look great, are user-friendly and offer better functionality than many competitors.

Before I start with description of Norma's performance let me tell you shortly about my impressions of their operation. Why? Because it's a PRODUCT, and not only an amplifier, how we feel about its operation is almost as important as its performance – that how I perceive audio products. These Italian products belong to the same league as those coming from dCS, Accuphase, Soulution, Devialet – just to name a few very different brands but sharing a similar, exemplary I might add, ethics about what they do. These manufacturers treat their customers seriously and they treat relations with them as a long term “investment”.

Make and finish of Norma products are fantastic. They offer unique functionality – I don't know if it was planned or not, but together with other above mentioned brands, they set standard for the whole industry, a standard others should be judged by. These are also trustworthy products – you look at them and see a reliable product. It is not just about its build, although it is an important factor, but about something else that one notices while listening to the music, when connecting cables, when configuring the system. Results of such changes are reliable and the same each time. I was sure each time what changed in particular configuration. Switching from active to passive mode, using internal or external DAC, and when using internal then with upsampling on or off, with particular master clock setting – each such change introduced some concrete results worth considering. I never felt like I was faced with “the only one” outcome, I was always given a choice.

OK, no lets get back to the sound. Finding out sonic signature of product with so many functional variables is not easy as it requires much more comparisons than usually, also cross-comparisons. And yet it did not take me too long to find out optimal settings. I will present them at the end of this text, as these worked best for me which doesn't mean they will work in every situation as they are not the only “right” ones. They depend on situation, system, room, personal preferences and so on.

This Italian pre+power combo delivers remarkably resolving sound. It does not happen to often but in this case I dare to say that because it was as clear to me as when I reviewed dCS Rossini. Music sound fresh, open with abundance of information about instruments, space and dynamics. The first impression, especially if one moves from some warm, probably tube system, to this one might be confusing. At first Norma might seem to offer bit too “light” sound, without proper foundation, maybe even too bright. But that will be a shock coming from huge difference between this system and previous one and not the real sonic character of Italian devices.

One of key features here is transparency. Norma takes the signal and without making it brighter or harsher it reduces it to very basic elements and then puts them back together in the space between speakers with “accompanying comments”. Differences between pressings, recording techniques and so on are shown in a particularly clear way. But it is a different way than the one used by other devices of equally high performance. Italian amplifier differentiates sound by presenting tiny changes in sound pitch and dynamics, and not that distinctly those those in tonality. These two elements are simply remarkable and it's hard to find any decent competition in this area. Sound is really focused, especially in lower part of the range which allows user to pump up the volume without facing any usual problems, or play at very low level – that's up to the listener.


Italian system achieves that by delivering lower midrange that is a little bit more dry than bass and range above 800Hz which creates this impression of remarkable transparency. This also a reason why Sinatra's silky vocal won't be rendered within our hand's grasp. This presentation reminded me of live concert where one always sees and hears the performing band from some distance, some perspective. And while each musician/instrument have distinct contours and body, the key element of the presentation is how they all work together to create 'bigger picture'. Particular sounds are very clear, and their localization very precise not just in front of us but, if needed, also around us, like on Tame Impala album (listen to the track called Nangs). But since information about space relations is also delivered one perceives this presentation as precise and tonally neutral (meaning – with no coloration).

Choices

The sound of Italian setup is most of all remarkable resolving. And resolving sound means also natural. The above mentioned Sinatra is not pushed towards listener but rather clearly rendered few meters from listening position. And he sounds amazing with his peculiar voice timbre even if one listens to old recordings from 1930ties and 1940ties.
On the other hand a jazz trio or quartet are rendered bit closer to listener, proving that they were recorded using microphones placed close to instruments. And yet one can hear instruments breathing, surrounded by air, placed in a large space. The ambiance is also nicely differentiated – it might me meditative like on Miles' Bitches Brew, or very intimate like in Bill Evans Trio's Moon Beams.

What I'm trying to tell you is very simple: Norma presents things the way they are. Some accents in presentation must be shifted, like a not so distinctly articulated midrange, or a shorter, more focused bass, but after all – that's just an electronic device, not music itself, it is its mechanical reproduction and not direct live experience. Such a remarkable transparency, sensitivity to slightest changes of dynamics, timbre, instruments placement on stage – also in mono recordings! – allows user to be creative when building a system around these devices. But trust me – the high quality will accompanying components be the better Norma will perform.

First of all, in my opinion, having a system with internal DAC one doesn't need another, external one. Think about a high quality CD transport or music server. Norma's DAC module offers already high quality and another benefit of using it is lack of interconnects between source and preamplifier. I'd suggest: Reimyo CDT-777 and something like Encore, or if you need more decibels on of JBL's speakers from Monitor line. And there are also Harbeth speakers – they love high power and highly resolving amps like Norma's. Each of these choices will constitute a fantastic system offering amazing performance.

Go to DAC settings, turn upsampling off, use transport's master clock, „slow” filter, and that should result in its best performance. Try also using Direct Down sampling, even if without upsampler it delivers higher level of aliasing distortion – just do something against common sense. And – if you do use internal DAC – choose preamplifier's active mode. Although I'm not perfectly sure about the latter. For the first time passive preamplifier offer a competitive performance to an active one. Dynamics might suffer just a bit, which is to be expected, but at the same time phantom images gain more body and the accent is now placed bit lower still in upper midrange, which is a good thing too. Using this option I enjoyed jazz most. Passive mode results in a bit denser and more liquid presentation while active one improves dynamics and make music more 'present' in the room which suits rock and electronic music most. When comparing these two modes remember that there is around 20 dB gains difference between them that needs to be adjusted.

Summary

The often recalled by audiophiles axiom about amplifier being just a piece of wire with some gain is not realistic, it's confusing at best. There is no such thing and there never will be; the best designers try to keep the lowest possible distortion level, but only when it doesn't hurt presentation. What is always worth pursuing is the highest possible resolution. Norma's system is a living proof that when designer succeeds in this respect result are astounding. There is no coloration of any sort in the sound which allows recordings to sound as they are intended to. It's a particularly rich, multi-layer presentation providing us insight into a complex musical structure. Impressive dynamics, transparency and clarity further improve this already astonishing picture.


Don't expect nice, warm vocals, or mid-bass that you can feel in your gut, or the subsonic bass. What you get is highly focused, top level performance. I've got a feeling that some music fans will have to grow up to fully appreciate it.


The main features of both devices were already discussed so I won't repeat myself.

REVO SC-2

Front

I haven't mentioned preamplifier's operation yet. It's operated with a combination of push buttons and a blue, two-line display. The latter delivers information on selected input and volume level, and when in 'menu' mode it presents more options. Because the display is controlled by a microprocessor featuring a well designed software, user has access to many functions of the device. User can rename inputs, set a timer that shuts display of after some time, choose a volume control mode („quiet” and „loud” – relays are switched in a different way depending on the choice one makes), set start volume level the device is switched on with, input sensitivity, AV mode and some others. Most of them are really useful, other might come handy one day so are a valuable addition. Volume control is performed using two push buttons – there is no large knob featured in Norma's integrated amplifiers.

Rear

Rear panel reveals an ambitious approach of Norma's designer. Inputs and outputs are grouped separately for left and right channel. A separate group includes digital inputs – that's optional DAC module. There are six analogue inputs with two of them being balanced (XLR) ones, and the rest unbalanced (RCA). Input no. 1 might be replaced with phono input. If this module is installed but not used I would recommended inserting RCA plugs into this input as it decreases noise level significantly.

There are two outputs – 1 x RCA and 1 x XLR. At the side there is also a RS232 port reserved for future use. DAC module features 5 inputs with one of them – RCA – that could be configured as an output. Menu allows user to adjust many parameters such as: upsampling setting, digital filter setting, or master clock setting. Manufacturer used only high quality connectors – also RCA ones. That happens extremely rarely regardless of price level.

Interior

It's a dual-mono, modular design. There are separate sections for right and left channel, power supply, and the digital section sits at the side. Power supply is heavily shielded with aluminum screen. It is based on a large toroidal transformer. PCB above it hold three large rectifier bridges. Obviously left and right channel and most likely also digital section have separate power supplies. There are many smoothing capacitors here.

The preamplifier section is quite elaborate, although volume control section is closed inside solid, aluminum box/shield. Two separate modules are, I presume, gain stages. I couldn't see what elements were used here. But I did see that XLR output are buffered with Burr Brown INA134PA chips. Phono modules, one for each channel, need to be plugged into proper sockets on the main board. Phonostage is based on Burr Brown OPA604 chips, but these are replaceable.

The whole digital section looks like it was taken out of an advanced D/A Converter. Which reminded me some other devices I saw before, namely made by YBA. It consists of an advanced, dual-mono power supply, DAC and output stage.

From receiver signal goes to SRC 4392 upsampler, that might be turned off, or upsampling frequency can be changed by user. Then comes digital filter DIF1706, again with user selectable settings. DAC feature two pieces of high end NOS chip: Burr Brown PCM1704 or to be exact its selected version: ‘K’. Next two it there are two high quality master clocks for 44,1 and 48 kHz frequencies.
Than there are two black cubes most likely hiding I/U converter and gain stage.

This is incredibly well build device, period.

REVO PA-150

Power amplifier's external design is, understandably, much simpler, it also features much less functions. Front panel hold only an on/off switch, rear – XLR and RCA inputs with a tiny selector between them, and two pairs of speakers binding posts. All connectors reek of high quality. The way they are arranged suggest already that this is a dual-mono amplifier.


Same as in preamplifier also here driver and gain stage are encapsulated inside aluminum boxes. These are transistors and high quality passive elements. Two large toroidal transformers are also heavily shielded. These transformers were designed to work in audio device. Each of them delivers 400 W.
Input, driver and current sections feature separate power supplies with the former two being highly regulated. Gain stage circuit sits on one PCB. Below there is another PCB with power supply featuring no less than 12 large capacitors per channel, with total capacity of over 70 000 μF. Output stage features four complementary pairs of MOSFET transistors per channel working in push-pull configuration.

Videos

Alessandro Lulli, Norma Audio - Audio Video Show 2017

Rosso fiorentino and Norma Audio, Axpona 2019

1.0 NORMA AUDIO

2.0 NORMA AUDIO

3.0 NORMA AUDIO

4.0 ORMA AUDIO

5.0 NORMA AUDIO

6.0 NORMA AUDIO

7.0 NORMA AUDIO