There are some audio brands that arguably get more coverage than they deserve. There are others that deserve more coverage than they get. Norma is in the second group. It consistently turns in an excellent performance at sensible prices, is loved by almost anyone who hears any product in the line, and both the Norma name and products like the Revo IPA-140 integrated amplifier deserve greater recognition.
I can understand why the company flies below the radar, too. Norma has that charming, but ultimately self-defeating habit of hiding its light under a bushel. And the Revo IPA-140 is a perfect example of just why this is the case. The Revo IPA-140 is substantially changed from the model that shares the same name, chassis, 140W power output, very wide bandwidth amplifier design, number of inputs of the model Hi-Fi+ tested in Issue 104. Other companies would have bleated on about these revisions, possibly rebranding this as a new model, calling it the ‘Mk IIxe’ or ‘Special Edition’ or ‘GTi version’ in the process. Other companies would have maybe changed the front panel or gone with some other cosmetic change to herald the developments under the skin. Norma doesn’t do that because the company and its head honcho Enrico Rossi despise the notion of obsolescence, planned or otherwise. Meaning that if you bought a Revo IPA-140 five years ago, your product isn’t valueless… and you still get a really good sounding amplifier, even if newer Revo IPA-140s sound even better.
The Revo IPA-140 is very much a dual mono pre-power design, split along the centreline. The upper section is essentially a preamplifier, on its own isolating sled. Below is a MOSFET-based power amplifier, once again spread across two power amplifier stages. The main transformers are to the front of the amplifier, and that chrome centre dial and blue LED channel indicator make for a minimalist, but elegant, appearance.
There is an optional phono stage, which takes up one of the four RCA line inputs on the back panel. This is a very flexible MM/MC stage, although the flexibility does involve some on-PCB fiddling with DIP switches (if your cartridge’s loading is well outside the norm, you might even need some additional dealer-fit firepower). A DAC with lone USB input is also available; this uses an AKM4391 DAC chip and supports digital audio to 24-bit/192kHz PCM precision. DSD and MQA are both MIA. However, Norma also rolls its own analogue filter and output stage of the DAC to bring it into musical alignment with the other parts of the design. Unlike the phono stage, this DAC sits central to the rear panel and doesn’t take up one of the inputs. As both are modules that sit atop the main preamp circuit, theoretically they could be retrofitted… but I suspect most will opt for their choices at the point of purchase.
It doesn’t really matter how you configure the Norma Revo IPA-140 though; what you get regardless is an extremely consistent, elegant-sounding and communicative amplifier. There must be something in the water in Cremona (where Norma comes from) because the magic of those wonderful Cremonese violins made by the likes of Amati and the Stradavari family rubs off here. The amplifier is like a highly enjoyable music lesson; playing the melody, harmony, tone and form of music extremely well and teasing out the playing and the composition with ease. In particular, though, the Revo IPA-140 is especially good at understanding the texture of both the music and the musicians playing on record. While elements like counterpoint are easy to follow when you are listening to a Bach invention, they are not so easy to find in prog-rock, even when listening to the pop-pomp of ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ by Yes [Fragile, Atlantic]. Often, the complex layering of organ, Mellotron, synth and piano (all played by Rick Wakeman) blur. Here the synth still dominates, but its place in the musical whole does not overpower.
I generally find you use a series of recordings as test discs, even if none of them cause the product to trip up, usually some are better than others and it’s rare to find a device that copes equally well with the dynamics of an orchestra wigging out to Mahler or Wagner, the delicate interplay of a string quartet or a jazz combo, the pounding rhythm of rock or dance music, the subtle layers of detail needed to process a female vocal or solo piano, and the spatial soundstaging qualities of well-recorded choral or live folk. The Revo IPA-140 gets closer than many at achieving that balance. If you laid these elements out on a radar chart, you’d get almost a perfect circle, with just a slight uptick in soundstage presentation, and half a point away in the ‘pounding rhythm’ part. But even at its weakest aspect, the Revo IPA-140 is still very strong, and it’s only the likes of ‘Change the Formality’ by Infected Mushroom [Vicious Delicious, BNE] that highlight the mild limitation to the sort of high-speed leading edges that end with speeding tickets and broken drive units from all those square-waves played at ear-splitting levels. But even if you are not quite grown up enough to leave techno out of your listening pleasures, the Revo IPA-140 has much to offer. But when you play something more open and live sounding, like ‘Satin Doll’ by The Three [Inner City] – which is audiophile dinner jazz at its worst but shows up the spatial qualities and coherence of a system with ease – you are met with a holographic and easy to love sound.
A great thing about the Revo IPA-140 is it is not so powerful as to need a safe-cracker’s touch at the volume control, yet beefy enough to shake the drivers of bigger fish in the loudspeaker sea. I used a selection of loudspeakers from the regular Wilson Audio Duette 2 and Audiovector R1 Arreté fixtures to upcoming superstars like the Børresen Audio B01 Silver Supreme Edition. At least one of these should be outside the comfort zone of an amplifier like the Revo IPA-140, and yet it achieved the same effortless, entertaining and enticing performance throughout.
There’s not a lot to dislike here. I guess if you are into bragging rights, then the absence of DSD and MQA might rankle, and the name ‘Norma’ is more about ‘indie’ cred than mainstream brownie points. Also, if you are into box-swapping and like to change your amplifier with every season, the long-stay enjoyment of the Revo IPA-140 might not make it your first choice. At 25kg, it’s also heavier than you might expect given its size and those of us with the scar tissue from bad lifting moments know how that can pan out. Finally, I guess not changing the product’s appearance means if you buy on the second-hand market, you might not know precisely which iteration of Revo IPA-140 you are buying. Then again, it’s an amplifier, not a wine… it doesn’t have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ years, it doesn’t need ‘laying down’ or ‘drinking up’ so if you get a good amplifier irrespective of when it was made, but as these amps are extraordinarily well built, you might be unable to differentiate an amp from 10 years ago with one from today. If that sounds like not much of a criticism, you are absolutely right… I’m struggling to find fault here.
A shortcoming in the previous iterations of the Revo IPA-140 still holds, but not to the same extent. Although the amplifier features a balanced input, the Norma integrated is best used in single-ended operation. The balanced input should no longer be considered ‘vestigial’ or something to be avoided at all costs, and the Revo IPA-140 now deals with XLR as a reasonable analogue audio pathway, but if you can go single-ended, do so. XLR offers no advantages over single-ended with the Revo IPA-140.
The audio industry is broadly divided into two main camps; ‘change for change’s sake’ companies that revise every product in their line-ups on a regular basis, and ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ brands who keep their products developmentally frozen for years. Norma is one of the rare exceptions, that keeps making ever better products, but doesn’t shout about it. Looking back on our review from 90 issues ago, Norma didn’t reinvent the wheel here and the sound of the Revo IPA-140 is tonally unchanged, but it builds on its strengths and strips back on its few vices still further. In other words, it’s every bit as damn good as it ever was; “if it ain’t broke, make it better!” This integrated amplifier is one of the audio world’s best-kept secrets.
- Inputs: 4 RCA, 1 XLR Balanced, optional Phono, 1 USB DAC optional
- Input impedance: 47Kohm (not selected input) / 10 Kohm (selected input)
- Input Configuration: Phono MM/MC, Line, Direct AV, Balanced
- Output Signal: Passive Pre Out, Active Pre Out, Tape out, Subwoofer out
- Output Impedance (Pre-Out): 200 ohm
- Output Power: 1 Binding Post pairs, accept 4mm banana plugs and fork
- Frequency Response: 0 Hz–1.8 MHz (-3dB, non filtered)
- Output Power: 140 W RMS / 8 Ohm–280 W RMS / 4 Ohm (each channel)
- Gain: 34 dB
- Configuration: Dual Mono
- Power devices: MosFet, 3 pairs for each channel
- Output current available: 36 A continuous, 150 A peak (per channel)
- Ability to filter: 72.000µF, 12 electrical capacitor for each channel
- Electric transformers: 2 toroidal special audio use, 400 VA per channel
- Supply: 230 V AC / 50 Hz, (100V AC or 115 VAC / 50–60Hz in some country)
- Dimensions (H×W×D): 110 × 430 × 365 mm, (excluding feet, knob and rear jacks)
- Weight: 25 Kg
- Price: from £5,695
Manufacturer: Norma Audio
UK Distributor: Hi-Fidelity UK
Tel: +44(0)7787 056723