The French audio brand Atoll began building electronics in the late 1990s, which was a tough time to carve out a niche in the audio marketplace. Simply surviving the last decade and a half means Atoll is officially On To Something, and this is evidenced by its integrated IN200.
In fairness, one of the big feathers in Atoll’s cap was not an issue when the brand began in 1997, but it is worth stating today. The company designs in France, and builds in France. It out-sources its circuit-board build like many small electronics companies, but chooses to use technology specialists within its own country, rather than half a world away. Whether this is worthy of praise is perhaps a moot point, but such is the change within the electronics industry in general and the audio industry in particular, that this mode of construction is rare enough today to be worthy of note.
Atoll’s IN200 is an attractive if understated 120W per channel dual mono amplifier with a nice curve in its 8mm thick aluminium fascia. To keep the lines clean, however, it uses buttons in place of knobs and dials, which form the ergonomic brief of other integrated amps in the Atoll line. However, the IN200’s control surfaces (shared with the IN400 flagship) are well laid out with volume and balance buttons laid out in a logical diamond configuration. It’s tempting to throw in the ‘Gallic flair’ cliché here; the combination of its curves, ovals, and graphics gives the Atoll line a common, almost Art Nouveau look.
Apart from the volume and balance button diamond, the IN200 has a row of buttons for each input. There are five line-only inputs – a phono stage can be added to one line input at a small premium – and a sixth marked ‘by-pass’. This allows you to use the power amp side of the IN200 only, which is useful in shared stereo/multichannel systems, or if you are upgrading to a pre/power system in stages. The IN200 also sports a fixed line input and output for a tape recorder (should you still own one) on the rear panel, and a solid ¼” headphone socket on the front.
The display in the central oval window shows input and volume level, the latter avoiding the rather obtusely technical decibel scale and instead going for the more intuitive ‘bigger is louder’ numbering system. There are no options to name inputs nor adjust the gain of each – features that might not enhance sound quality, but improve ease of use. The display has two settings, on or off, accessible from the multifunction remote. This handset can operate any piece of Atoll electronics, and is great if you have an all-Atoll system, but there are a lot of extra functions on the remote that do nothing if you only use the amplifier.
Under the lid lies evidence of the IN200’s claim for dual-mono construction in the form of two mains transformers and a set of heatsinks on either side of the chassis. This explains how a fairly normal sized amplifier gets to specify an output of 120 Wpc at eight Ohms that almost doubles to 200 watts into four Ohms. Two pairs of MOSFETs per channel should be up to delivering a decent amount of current when backed up by that kind of power supply.
Listening kicked off with a new to me album, Hubert Laws’ Afro-Classic, a top piece of early seventies flute-based soul-jazz on the essential CTI label. It’s not the greatest of recordings in truth, but the Atoll managed to extract a lot of depth from the various acoustic instruments and present them in a spacious soundstage. The fact that the flute itself sounded a little crude can be blamed on the recording, because this amp is remarkably clean and relaxed in its delivery. More up-to-date recordings confirm this, revealing the IN200’s wide bandwidth, strong dynamics, and vibrant instruments and voices. Like any decent piece of audio equipment, the Atoll amplifier reflects what it’s given and has the grip to deliver it in a clear and largely unmannered style. I love the way it gives both the depth and shape of the bass line on Betty Davis’ ‘Nasty Gal’ from the This is It! compilation [Vampisoul], all the while delivering the raunched out vocals in salacious style. You really can’t beat funk when it’s this, well, nasty.
Modern recordings do, however, have lower noise floors, and this is something the Atoll is adept at revealing. Besides power, this is the key to the IN200’s success; it is an impressively quiet amplifier for the price. Many amps can carry you away with good timing and some low-end punch, but it takes a good one to open up recordings and show you what’s going on deep in the mix. This is where the nuances are hidden – the reverb tails and the harmonics that combine with the fundamentals to give a fuller picture of the recording. The mute trumpet work on Henry Threadgill’s excellent ‘Bermuda Blues’ from You Know The Number [BMG] is presented in such complete and real form that it’s more interesting than usual. To an extent this is because the Atoll favours this part of the spectrum; the midrange is where it excels, and for that matter where we hear the most, so there’s some sense in doing it well. The bass is taut and strong, better than average in terms of depth and tone, but not as fast as the best in class. This means that timing could be more spritely, but that’s difficult to achieve in the context of good bass extension and low noise. At this price, and above for that matter, there is a choice to be made about what matters most to you.
It’s worth noting that these results were achieved with the redoubtable PMC fact.8 loudspeakers, which are rather more revealing than you’d normally partner with an amp of this price, albeit not difficult to drive. I also tried the Atoll with the Egglestonworks Nico standmounts reviewed this month, and the combination produced plenty of scale, a clear open midrange, and deep if not very well defined bass. Voice was particularly strong. More appropriate in price terms is ATC’s SCM11 standmount (£1,200). This sealed box design is quite demanding of amplifiers but the Atoll remained unperturbed, delivering the sumptuous sheen of Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters [Verve], particularly the title track sung by Corinne Bailey Rae, who does the song many favours with a totally different rendition to the original.
Switching to the considerably less expensive Rega Brio-R, I was surprised to hear an apparent increase in dynamics. This could be because the smaller amp produces a cruder version of events, or possibly a reflection of its slightly forward nature, but it sounded rather more lively as a result. Extended listening showed that the little Rega is ultimately no match for the IN200, the French amp’s sophistication and relatively relaxed delivery making for a rather more comprehensive picture of musical events, meaning listening is a more pleasurable if less intense experience. Putting on ‘The Expert’ by Yello [Touch, Universal] results in a lovely low end grumble in the bass and a massive soundstage, with as much width as the room can contain, and genuine rhythmic precision. As an industry, we owe that band big time; for example, few musicians have made so many recordings that can turn a modest system into a giant slayer in quite the same way as ‘The Race’.
Small Faces recordings are considerably less refined. In fact, they’re at the other end of the scale, but they have an energy and inventiveness that makes them essential listening. The Atoll reflects both the crudeness of their creation and the genius behind the likes of The Autumn Stone [Immediate], their unfinished swansong album. It’s a dense arrangement of competing instruments that this amplifier has no difficulty presenting in a coherent and inviting fashion. It’s a good sign when you put on something new and a little bit different, and the system lets you hear what the musicians were aiming for. The Atoll’s low noise and subtle character combine to do this very effectively.
Having reviewed two Atoll products in recent times, I have been impressed with their no-nonsense build quality and overall sound quality. There aren’t many brands that manufacture in Europe and are able to offer this sort of value, but it’s the sort of thing you have to do in order to compete in the world market today. The IN200 is an understated and revealing amplifier, and with its combination of finesse and power on offer, the competition had better get busy.
Atoll IN200 integrated amplifier
- inputs: 5x single-ended stereo RCA
- Power Output: 120 watts/channel (8Ω), 200 watts/channel (4Ω)
- Frequency Response: 5Hz-100kHz
- S/N ratio: 100 dB
- THD+N: 0.05% @ 1kHz
- Input impedance: 220Ω
- Power supply: 660 VA
- Total capacity: 62,000µF
- Sensitivity: 100 mV
- Rise time: 2.5µs
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 440x90x280mm
- Weight: 13kg
- Finishes: Black or silver
- Price: £1,495
Manufacturer: Atoll Electronique
Distributor: HDH ELECTRONICS LTD
Tel: +44(0)208 4297504
Read Next From ReviewSee all
AVM Ovation CS 8.3 Black Edition integrated system
High end audio is at something of a crossroads today. […]
- Jason Kennedy
- Sep 2023