First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!

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Audiovista

"This little Serbian half-pint is the best sounding sub-$500 integrated that I've ever heard. Man this thing is good!!"

Thank you Sean for being brave to make the above statement! R.E.S.P.E.C.T.  :notworthy:

I am very happy that what I hear got confirmation in this review. Spark's sonic signature reminds me a lot of model i84 (Vista Audio's EL84 tube amplifier, now discontinued), with just slightly better dynamics and bass control, due to tiny bit more power (Spark's 20W vs. i84's 15W).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GERhpHTYXOE



Zero

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #1 on: 24 Feb 2016, 01:21 am »
Hey Boris,

I had a great time with the Spark.  Thanks for giving me the opportunity to take it for a spin.   :thumb:

I'm not sure whether people will believe this or not, but I truly do abhor using the word 'best' when it comes to describing high-fidelity esoterica.  Unfortunately, your Spark put me in something of a conundrum.  On one hand, that little black brick truly is the best sounding $350 integrated that I've come across. On the flip side, I know these kind of assessments tend to be circumstantial and subjective. 

So in light of that, I just uploaded a video that's designed to give my assessment some much needed context.  Hopefully you don't mind me laying down the link on your thread. Here it is!: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woAbnBN06iE

Zero

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #2 on: 24 Feb 2016, 01:57 am »




Just for giggles, I thought I'd share a pic of an organic, free-range Spark. :) 

Wind Chaser

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #3 on: 24 Feb 2016, 05:32 am »
How does this sound different from the upgraded Ampino?

Zero

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #4 on: 24 Feb 2016, 12:19 pm »
Wind Chaser, 

Good question.  Since I'm having to rely on memory, my assessment may not be 100% on the mark. That said, here's what I recall:

The Dayens upgraded Ampino  @   $672 USD

Overall, the upgraded Ampino features a more versatile performance envelope.  It's larger power supply gives its presentation more weight and drive.  This beefier power supply also results in stronger bass that will sound more consistent across a wide array of loudspeakers. The midrange is more colored sounding than the Sparks - erring slightly further into the warm and thick side of the tonal spectrum.  Otherwise, the top-end and imaging sounds more or less similar.

The Vista Audio Spark   @  $350 USD

The Spark by contrast, features a more balanced and neutral sounding midrange.  The integration between the major frequency brands strikes me as a touch superior, and the noise floor on the Spark is notably lower.  No, it won't have the muscular presence of the upgraded Ampino (or even the regular Ampino for that matter), but I nonetheless feel like the Spark makes an excellent showing for itself at nearly half the cost. 

GentleBender

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #5 on: 24 Feb 2016, 01:47 pm »
Zero,

I've been enjoying your videos for the last week or two. Keep em coming. :thumb:

Zero

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #6 on: 24 Feb 2016, 03:46 pm »
Thanks!

Wind Chaser

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #7 on: 24 Feb 2016, 05:53 pm »
Thanks, Sean. About 5 years ago I had an upgraded Ampino, to my ears it was really quite a remarkable little amp. One thing it seemed to do better than any amp I have ever heard or owned was its uncanny ability to unravel complex arrangements. What I mean is it was easy to make a distinction between between the individual leading edges of the various instruments being played to the point where you could really hear the rhythm of what each musician is doing as if he were the only one playing. Is that what Naim folks call PRAT? In any case, I'd like to have  that experience again, so I think I'm game to try some Naim.

But as an entry point, the Spark looks like a very good intro for those who' would like to taste real hi-fi.
« Last Edit: 24 Feb 2016, 10:16 pm by Wind Chaser »

Audiovista

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #8 on: 24 Feb 2016, 09:45 pm »
Thanks for the follow up video Sean! It has been fun watching your video personality mature in front of a camera. Keep up the great work!

Wind Chaser - it's been good 12 months since I spent time alone with Ampino... you are reminding me that I should go for a refresh :)

Wind Chaser

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #9 on: 24 Feb 2016, 10:26 pm »
It is indeed a terrific little amp. I replaced mine with a 300b; the tubes alone cost double the price the Ampino, and to be honest the sonic gains were negligible. :?  But at least it looked very pretty. :lol:  :wtf:

Audiovista

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #10 on: 25 Feb 2016, 01:32 pm »
It is indeed a terrific little amp. I replaced mine with a 300b; the tubes alone cost double the price the Ampino, and to be honest the sonic gains were negligible. :?  But at least it looked very pretty. :lol:  :wtf:

:)

Personally, I'd trade 300B for 2A3 anytime, even at loss of 55% of available power at the output.  :dunno:

Wind Chaser

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #11 on: 25 Feb 2016, 06:22 pm »
Any chance you will make a bigger spark with more power? You could call it Lightening / Voltaic / Vigor / Punch / Bolt etc.

Out of curiosity, what does the Spark look like under the hood?

Zero

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #12 on: 25 Feb 2016, 09:13 pm »
I was going to include a 'nude' shot of the Spark in my review, but I ran outta time.  That and, well, I was also feeling a bit lazy.   :green: :lol:

Let us know if you ever try some Naim gear.  I've cycled through nearly a dozen of their components through the years.  It's real good stuff.  Nit Picks aside, the only thing you should know is that Naims more affordable lines have a distinct sound.  On the upside, it's a pretty darned engaging sound.  On the downside, it'll make your entire music library sound as though it was recorded from the same studio.

That's how the game goes in this hobby. Ya give. Ya take. 

Audiovista

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #13 on: 25 Feb 2016, 10:19 pm »
Any chance you will make a bigger spark with more power? You could call it Lightening / Voltaic / Vigor / Punch / Bolt etc.

Oh man, where were you when I was struggling with a name?  :idea:

It seems that my work with solid-state electronics leads me to another phono stage and high-risk experiments with "zero-distortion" amplification (high-risk in a sense that I will not get it to meet the aggressive specs or, if I do, that it will not sound good, or that it will not be manufacturable at reasonable costs). But there is a lot of fun to be had  8)

In parallel, I will make a product or two with vacuum tubes.  One is almost ready :D

Out of curiosity, what does the Spark look like under the hood?

I was going to include a 'nude' shot of the Spark in my review, but I ran outta time.  That and, well, I was also feeling a bit lazy.   :green: :lol:

Sean, I'll save you the trouble of dealing with metric Allen screws - here is a picture from the assembly line. Most massive parts are toroidal transformer capable of running an amplifier with twice the power of Spark, and good-sized heatsink to keep things cool... 8)



bacobits1

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #14 on: 25 Feb 2016, 11:45 pm »
Make the Spark switchable to mono?
Never mind. :scratch:

Wind Chaser

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #15 on: 25 Feb 2016, 11:55 pm »
Jeez, that looks pretty nice and tidy.  :thumb:

My new speakers are rated around 89 db and my comfort zone is in the mid to upper 80's. So in theory a Spark could be enough, but on occasion I like to open it up loud - for a short listen.

I look forward to reading more impressions from others.

bacobits1

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #16 on: 25 Feb 2016, 11:58 pm »
I have one coming in. My speakers are 91db at 4 ohms.
We'll see how well it kicks. I'll report back

Boris has been quiet fo too long. Looking at that phono too.

JLM

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Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #17 on: 26 Feb 2016, 12:23 am »

My new speakers are rated around 89 db and my comfort zone is in the mid to upper 80's. So in theory a Spark could be enough, but on occasion I like to open it up loud - for a short listen.


Careful, I had a 7 wpc driving 91 dB/w/m speakers with similar taste listening near-field in a 8ft x 13ft x 21ft room.  It was enough, but moving up to 40 wpc turned my speakers from polite dinner guests into NFL linebackers in tuxedos.  Bottom line, the amp should provide a commanding grip on the speakers.  OTOH that relatively big power supply should help.

G Georgopoulos

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Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #18 on: 26 Feb 2016, 02:28 am »
That's a chip amp, am I right?

bacobits1

Re: First review of Spark is in - and I couldn’t be happier!!
« Reply #19 on: 26 Feb 2016, 02:31 am »
Definitely no!