The best audio equipment always has its say. It grabs hold of you and shows you new musical directions, persuades you with performance and suggestion and serves up rewards throughout those journeys. It should change your mind about the music you listen to. If you are into high-quality streaming and its limitless library you will absolutely find yourself strolling avenues new and re-living music that you had completely forgotten about. Along the way you will discover gems and experience emotions from the fun to the profound.
The best audio equipment is unequivocal in its impact and the finest components that have passed through my hands over the years have all left their mark on me by setting new standards throughout many hours of musical involvement but, curiously enough, I often associate each of them with just a single piece of music that has lived on within me. These experiences are powerful and remain as ethereal benchmarks in my audio history. I should add that these don’t have to be through stellar recordings either, just music that really moved me. Because, if an audio system doesn’t do that, then what use is it?
All of which leads me to describe my time with the Constellation Audio Inspiration Integrated 1.0 amplifier, because inspiration is a rare enough commodity these days so when it appears I say you must seize it. After the very first hour’s listening with this device, I surfaced, full of the musical journey with a single thought, “This is one hell of an amplifier.” And that’s the story really, but what followed was weeks of lengthy listening sessions that included just about every mood and fancy, comprising journeys to every corner of the musical world. This is the meat of the review, but you are probably looking for a more practical description, so here goes.
The Constellation story is an interesting tale where, under the auspices of presumably well-heeled founders, a team of hugely respected and experienced audio individuals were assembled and asked to design a large range of high-end audio equipment. It has a certain fairy-tale feel about it already, doesn’t it? Perhaps the term “no compromise” was used. I imagine it was, because propping up the four ranges in the Inspiration Series is the cheapest product to emerge from the collaboration, the Inspiration Integrated 1.0, a component that has surely benefitted enormously from the sort of trickle-down advantages that often, but not always, might conceivably bring a component within financial reach. I guess this approach, with these designers, seemed like a dream team on paper but the proof is in the listening, because as many things can go wrong as right in these situations. But, given the experience and the sheer knowledge and understanding that these gents bring to the products, I was hoping that it would bring a real sense of musical intensity to my home system. Actually, it went much further than that.
The Inspiration Integrated 1.0 amplifier’s matt aluminium design is beautifully clean and sharp to behold, and that sense of minimalist efficiency is carried through its ergonomics. The overlapping side holes look great and provide essential cooling for the unit, which does run mildly warm. The twin rotary knob section, which looks rather like an old fashioned in-car audio unit jutting from the body of the case, provides access to the menu through the cunning set of buttons located beneath its protruding bottom edge and a touch-screen display. Here you can select inputs and do all you might want to, including adjusting the very nice display which is as cool as the rest of the design. The right-hand rotary knob controls the volume while the left concerns itself with balance, supported by a clear and easy graphic. Once you get used to using it, you’ll find it as intuitive as you’d hoped, aided by each input retaining a memory of the last level setting. There is also a minimal but excellent aluminium remote.
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