Audio Research I/50 Integrated Amplifier Page 2

Confession time: so enchanting, so sublime, so irresistible is the I/50 that I actually spent one session of 15 hours with it, unable to stop pulling out disc after disc. Few components do this to me, and that is not a criticism of the rest. It's just that when something like this comes along, I want to enjoy it as much as I can before the manufacturer or importer retrieves it.

Into the balanced input was fed the Marantz CD12/DA12 KI – which for me remains the best-sounding CD player ever. Fittingly, I took out a contemporary CD which tells me more about a component than anything else: Lou Rawls' At Last [Blue Note CDP 7 91937 2] from 1989. What happened, though, was not the siren call of the sound, as lifelike as I have ever heard Dianne Reeves' and Lou's voices on the title track, but the space.

Long ago, thanks to the mentorship of Dave Wilson and Infinity's Arnie Nudell, I became a disciple of soundstage. Both had (individually) explained to me that, with stereo recordings, if the soundstage is right, the rest should be, as it is dependent on subtle, convincing aural clues.


Three single-ended line ins on RCAs (one pass through) and a balanced set on XLRs are joined by 8 and 4ohm speaker taps on gold-plated 4mm binding posts. Note spaces that will accommodate the phono [left] and DAC [right] modules

Into The Deep
Now I have no idea how many hours I've spent in front of my Sashsa DAWs (or LS3/5As, more of which below), but never have I heard so successfully the magical disappearing trick that all speakers should aspire to in an ideal world. The stage extended beyond the speakers' edges, wall to wall, while the front-to-back depth was the deepest I have ever experienced in my room. What's more, this three-dimensionality was maintained far off-axis, the vocalists not shifting a millimetre. And, oh, those voices! Every gravelly nuance of Rawls' peerless basso profundo, in the Barry White league, exposed the I/50's openness and transparency. When Reeves' crystal-clear yet powerful pipes chimed in, the sensation caused goosebumps.

High Mass
How on earth could this be happening with a CD I once left on 'repeat' for six hours? Throughout the album, too, David 'Fathead' Newman's sax solos possessed realistic punch and body, and – having lived with my son's sax practising all those years ago – I knew what that instrument's impact should be. As limited as the I/50 might be power-wise in absolute terms, mated to the right speakers it punches above its weight.

With the I/50's diminutive 420x350mm (wxd) footprint not far off that of an equally stylish modern turntable like Pro-Ject's X1 [HFN Aug '19], it's ideal for flat-dwellers. Out came Keb' Mo's Peace …Back By Popular Demand [Okeh/Epic EK92687], along with Falcon Acoustics LS3/5As [HFN Dec '18], Tannoy Autograph Minis, and JBL 4312Ms. OK, ARC CEO Dave Gordon told me that £25k-plus Wilsons were used during the I/50's gestation, but a £5200 amplifier will not be purchased by someone owning speakers at five to ten times its cost.


ARC's new remote handles input, volume and LexieTube brightness, and has provision for the forthcoming digital and phono modules

Listening to 'The Times They Are A-Changin'', the piano revealed that the I/50 can convey delicacy like a 300B-equipped 5W SET amp, while the bass and percussion on 'People Got To Be Free' convinced me that this amp does mass and extension even through small monitors. I had just relinquished the Wilson Lōkē subwoofer [HFN Sep '22], and my sessions with the three mini-speakers followed the Sasha DAWs with their cavernous bass. Yet there was something so true about the sound that any absence of the lowest registers from these wee systems failed to diminish the sense of satisfaction I was enjoying.

I haven't been this affected by a new product in some time – maybe my first experience of DS Audio cartridges, or TechDAS Air Force turntables. If I had the money and the space, I'd be placing an order for an I/50 right now. It is nothing short of miraculous. The only downside? Choosing the colour.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Nothing had prepared me for what might be just another fine, mid-priced, 6550-powered all-tube integrated. ARC's I/50, though, is so categorically musical, competent and complete

that I'm tempted to believe it signifies the 'second coming' of Audio Research, following a change of owners and the passing of its first half-century. This astounding amplifier heralds a golden age. Yes, it's that good.

Audio Research Corp
Minnesota, USA
Supplied by: Absolute Sounds Ltd
0208 971 3909