Engström ARNE Tube Amplifier Page 2

Up and running in PM's listening room, with the windows open (we were in a heatwave, after all), the amp was fed from the usual Melco/dCS Vivaldi One APEX front end, driving the big Bowers & Wilkins 801 D4 speakers [HFN Nov '21]. Now this proved not as daft an idea as it might at first seem, for the ARNE showed itself more than capable of not just driving these ~90dB sensitivity speakers, but doing so convincingly with a wide range of music.

The evening before listening I'd attended a live jazz gig with a quintet fronted by trumpet and sax, and the immediate impression the ARNE gave was of the same kind of live presence and immediacy, plus that sense of listening to real music. There's nothing artificial or 'show your working' going on here, and neither is there any impression of the stereotypical valve amp traits of the music being warmed over or glossed, nor any slightly noisy background to limit dynamics. Instead, the ARNE just delivers the music, purely and convincingly – at least within its limits.

You'll find those limits soon enough if your enthusiasm gets the best of you and the volume levels are pushed hard, though – all else being equal, you'll clearly get higher SPLs from a higher sensitivity speaker. Yet within that 'envelope' there's a musical flow that's hard not to enjoy, whether with the deep, lush washes of electronic sound on Klaus Schulze's final album, Deus Arrakis [SPV Recordings SPV 246152, 44.1kHz/24-bit], or the crisply recorded instruments of guitarist Rob Luft's 2017 Riser set [Edition Records EDN1095], the title track segueing from a contemplative opening to a choppier, more rhythmic groove.

Forget The Clichés
This isn't an amp to throw its cleverness at you, but while maintaining that organic flow it also reveals high levels of detail and tight drive – forget all those clichés about slow, muzzy valve amps. Even with a familiar, very commercial track, such as Sheryl Crow's 'All I Wanna Do', from the soundtrack of the Sheryl documentary, [A&M/Universal/Valory; 00602445584369], the ARNE amp combines that good-time, slightly rough, driving mix with fine insight into Crow's vocal and the layers of instrumentation behind her.

This is a presentation also well-suited to orchestral music, as evidenced by the weighty, rich reading of Brahms's 3rd Symphony by the Budapest Festival Orchestra under Ivan Fischer [Channel Classics CCS SA 43821]. The scale of the final movement is revealed well, with power in reserve for the dynamic swings, even though at higher playback levels some hardening can set in, especially on the brass, where 'blare' overtakes detail. Again, speaker sensitivity plays a role here.


The rear of the ARNE in its matt white livery – two line inputs on RCAs and another two balanced ins on XLRs. Unswitched speaker outputs use WBT terminals and are fed from 5ohm transformer taps (a good compromise for 4-8ohm loads)

Yes, for all that power – at least by 300B standards – it just about holds things together with Gov't Mule's magnificent take on Pink Floyd's 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' [Dark Side Of The Mule, Provogue PRD 7446 2]. There's a big, full sound and bags of live atmosphere, but there's always that feeling the amp might be teetering on the edge as the track builds up to full power. And don't even try it with a speaker under ~95dB sensitivity with one of my 'sorts the men from the boys' tracks: Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 'Welcome To The Pleasuredome' – all 13+ minutes of it – from the Rage Hard – The Sonic Collection compilation [ZTT ZTT177SACD, DSD64].

Scandi Magic
I'm not a great believer in choosing hi-fi to suit certain kinds of music, but – as the name of the ARNE suggests – this is an amp best-suited to lovingly recorded small-ensemble music, with which it will really shine. If you want unburstable power to shake your room with almost any loudspeaker, you can get that, and a superb sound, with the likes of the Michi X3 [HFN Apr '21].

But that rather misses the point of Engström's ARNE. Play a beautiful recording like Elton John's 'Border Song', from his second, self-titled album [Mercury download; 96kHz/24-bit] and the track, now more than 50 years old, sounds nothing short of magnificent. And that's this unusual integrated working its considerable magic.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Our sound quality score avoids the fact that this isn't an amplifier for everyone, whether by dint of its size, its heat, its price, limited output or demand on speaker sensitivity. But when it's good, it's not just good, but simply wonderful, and for lovers of small-ensemble acoustic-instrument recordings there's a purity and ease of music-making here that's hard not to adore. Could this be a truly practical triode-tube amp?

Supplied by: Boyer Audio Ltd, UK
0330 223 3769