Audio who? It was a new one on us too, but it turns out the firm is ten years old and based in Toulouse, France - which explains the odd 'Aéro' spelling.

Its range isn't vast, with just three amplifiers and three CD players, this being the cheapest amp. All the amps use valves, though this one is basically a solid-state design with a valve added.

In fact, this amp is rather like a potted history of audio amplifying technologies, as its output stage consists of a modern, high-performance power integrated circuit (actually, two in parallel to increase drive capability) using MOSFETs to handle the high current.

The preamp stages are also based on integrated circuits, including the venerable 5534, one of the first ICs to offer high performance for audio and still a favourite with many.

Inputs are switched by integrated circuits and the volume control is yet another IC, from Wolfson Microelectronics. Just about the only kind of amplifying device we couldn't see under the lid was a basic discrete transistor!

The valve type chosen is the 6021, a miniature double triode (one, i.e. two amplifying elements, per channel) with wire ends rather than pins, enabling it to be soldered in place. Yes, that's going to be a tricky replacement job - but it's likely to last you many years.

Elsewhere, the construction and components are what you'd expect, with good-quality passive components all round, a big toroidal mains transformer, generous heat sinks and so on. Operation is fine, the electronic volume control responding fairly swiftly in half-dB steps, while the display shows the current setting.

Balance adjustment is also possible. There are only four inputs: one balanced and three unbalanced.

We'd love to welcome this newcomer with open arms, but our panel of expert listeners would appear to advise against it. They mostly quite liked it, true, but as one of them pointed out, at this sort of price, an amp should sound really exciting, not just quite nice.

On the credit side, detail was generally good, particularly in dense music, though paradoxically it seemed less so in simpler passages. The sound also seemed all of a piece and instruments in an ensemble were nicely integrated.

In the negative column, all the listeners (with respect to at least one of the tracks) complained of a 'flat' sound, lacking both stereo depth and insight. It seems the kind of fine detail that determines those parameters is less well served than the more immediately obvious timbral details, which, on the whole, this amp reveals well. The word 'veiling' comes to mind - the sound's all there, but it's hard to hear into it.

Tonally, the bass was the only area that came in for criticism, as it seemed a little light. The treble seemed slightly soft on occasion, but that was almost certainly a matter of detail, not tonality. And as hinted above, stereo imaging was frustrating - moderately broad, but lacking depth-wise and not as precise as some.

One interesting observation arose after the listening panel had left: this amp does like to be thrashed hard. Intrigued by the discovery that its detail is better the more there is to find, we tried some big-scale rock and opera tracks and turned the volume way up, with impressive results. That's a strong plus point, but we still maintain that for £1,600, an amp should do better than so-so at lower outputs.