Sound does tend to vary noticeably between operating modes and the amp’s ability to ‘tune to taste’ merely adds to what is already an attractively melodic and well-balanced sound.
Quite bulky and heavy
Rhythm isn't as strong as we'd like
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Based in Leicester, Icon is a small valve-amp specialist with quite a variety of models in its line-up, including headphone and phono units.
This new model is moderately bulky and quite weighty, thanks to the transformers which are well specified for the rated 60W maximum output.
Four operation modes
There's the familar handful of KT88 valves, but they're preceded by some less common types, larger and older in origin than the ubiquitous ECC8x series (and international equivalents) that grace most valve amps these days. Many valve diehards swear by these and it's evidently thanks to their advocacy that they are back in production.
Ayon manages to offer two modes of operation, but Icon trumps this with four. Not only is the output switchable between triode and ultralinear connection, but the gain is adjustable via a switch at the rear, giving high gain for 'integrated' and low gain for 'power' mode.
Because Icon has implemented this by adjusting the overall circuit feedback, it is reasonable to expect a noticeable difference in sound between the modes, after adjusting for the gain difference with the volume control. There is also a standby switch, which keeps the valves warm but cuts the high-voltage supply to the output, prolonging valve life.
Construction is based entirely on hard-wiring, with the exception of the remote control receiver board. Despite this, assembly is as neat as most PCB-based amps, each piece of wire and component laid out to millimetric precision. Signal wiring uses screened, PTFE insulated cable.
In the expectation that this model will most often be used in triode mode with gain set to 'integrated', that's how we presented it to our listening panel. Previous experimentation had in any case suggested that it was generally most mellifluous in that setting, though the ultralinear mode can deliver slightly more kick at the expense of subtlety.
But it certainly seemed to go down well as a triode amplifier. It has a distinctly large sound - in scope and scale, bearing in mind that overall output level was matched to the other amps to high precision. This served Michael Jackson and his team well, making the most of both sound effects and backing in Thriller.
Our other test tracks were enjoyed for overall effect, though again it seemed that detail and its cousin, precise imaging, were a little behind the best. But it's worth noting that the degree of musical connection did vary, with our most 'rhythm-conscious' listener less satisfied than his more melodically inclined colleagues.
Rhythm is OK, but we would tend to agree that it doesn't quite drive the music along in the way it sometimes can and, if that aspect of music is absolutely critical to you, may not be your perfect amplifier.
Still, there is a very nice tonal balance in evidence, perhaps a touch generous with the bass (but nothing alarming) and high treble that's very sweet in a classic 'valve' sort of way. This makes for a very inviting sound across a broad range of music and we found long listening sessions enjoyable, particularly late-night ones at modest volume settings.
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