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Norma HS-IPA1 integrated amplifier

Norma HS-IPA1 integrated amplifier

At the time of writing (in late March 2020), coronavirus was wreaking havoc across the world, but in Italy the situation was more extreme than aver­age, which must have made the production of audio electronics particularly difficult. And yet, brands like Norma from Cremona (near the epicentre of the worst part of the Italian outbreak) have continued to make good audio electronics. Cremona is of course the home of great violin makers Guarneri, Stradivarius and others, a city that has been steeped in musical culture for centuries. The Italians have long been keen makers of audio equipment as well, much more so than their Mediterranean neighbours in fact. Norma was founded in 1997 with a mission to “utilize technique to create products that reflect what Norma means with “musical reproduction.” They go on to state that “The musical message will not be reinterpreted, adding something more pleasant, but will instead receive the maximum respect.” Which is good to hear but not always easy to achieve.

, Norma HS-IPA1 integrated amplifier

I reviewed Norma’s Revo IPA-70B integrated in Issue 180 and got an unusually good result with it, but that is a more expensive model with various module options that when combined bring its feature count close to that offered by the HS-IPA. This is a smaller box with more bits in it or so it would seem, the HS-IPA is a 75 Watt per channel integrated amplifier that is specified to double its output into a halving of load and has two line inputs, an onboard DAC, phono stage and dedicated headphone amplifier, which explains the 12kg mass of a box that’s not even five inches high. These are not off the shelf items either, the phono stage is good for both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges and has variable loading and gain. The DAC offers five inputs including USB and is DSD ready, and the headphone stage is a class A type with variable output sensitivity to suit different impedance loads.

Changing the settings for the phono stage and headphone amp requires you to remove ten bolts that hold the casing on in order to get to the dip switches inside but hopefully this is not something end users will have to do very often. I changed the settings of the phono stage choosing 100 Ohms from four options and noting that you can add a value of your own choice with the right resistors. Gain ranges from 34dB to 52dB and again includes a spare slot for a custom value. That is more range than you get with some dedicated phono stages. I was concerned that 52dB might be a little low for the 350μV output of a Rega Aphelion MC cartridge but coupled with the fairly high gain of the amplifier as a whole it is easily sufficient.


The control ergonomics of the HS-IPA are a little idiosyncratic to be frank, regardless of whether you use the rather nice remote or the front panel selecting an input requires the up/down buttons be used to find it followed by a confirm button to actually select it. You get used to this but it will confuse first time users. This is not really helped by the arcane nature of the remote that has analogue and digital input buttons that are used to scroll through either set of inputs. The buttons on the amp itself are disguised by being black against the black of the screen but legends indicate their whereabouts sufficiently and pretty well all functions are accessible from the handset. The volume display does not change with every tap of the level button but jumps when you have gone up or down a few dB, below -51 the display doesn’t change at all.

The DAC’s specs are not particularly of the moment, maximum bit and sample rates of 24/192 is hardly cutting edge but it’s adequate for all but the most extreme audiophile releases and suggests that the chipset was chosen on the basis of sound quality rather than specmanship. It’s good for DSD but doesn’t suggest that any multiple of the base DSD64 sample rate will be accepted. The headphone amp promises high current and high voltage alongside the ability to drive dynamic and orthodynamic headphones with impedances between 16 and 600 Ohms, which is a usefully wide range.

While they are a little on the revealing side the Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3 are the most sensitive speakers I have to hand so listening commenced with them hooked up to the Norma’s outputs via Townshend Fractal F1 speaker cable. I started with the USB output of an Auralic Aries G1 streamer connected to the relevant digital input and enjoyed Stephen Malkmus’ latest release [Traditional Techniques, Matador] courtesy of a Qobuz stream. This sounded good and open with the vocal placed front and centre surrounded by vibrant guitar strings that had real shine to them, the way new strings do. The amp proved itself sensitive to the timing improvement achieved when switching from Roon to AURALiC’s Lightning server software on the streamer, and resolved the drums on Malkmus’ ‘Shadowbanned’ really nicely. The Norma does voices really well regardless of signal quality, I only have an MP3 of the Cinematic Orchestra’s ‘Wait Now’ [Ninja Tune] but it sounded superb through this combination of DAC and amplifier.

, Norma HS-IPA1 integrated amplifier

With the Rega P10/Aphelion record player hooked up to the phono stage the result was strong on vitality and reverb with a slightly mid forward character that brings out tonal shading really nicely. Nathan Salsburg’s acoustic guitar playing [Third, No Quarter] sounded very natural with plenty of depth and shape. I used the Norma in my second system for a while too, partnering it with Rega RX3 speakers and a P8 turntable with Apheta 3 MC and playing the sometimes frantic post techno of Floating Points [Crush, Ninja Tune] to intense high speed effect. With a nimble source and speakers like these there is no sense of overhang with this amp, it has more than enough power on tap to deliver the goods with as much impact as they require and not blur the transients in the process. The Norma also images well, delivering excellent stage depth and instrument shape from Sarathay Korwar’s live album My East is your West [Gearbox], giving a great sense of the church interior in which it was recorded and revealing plenty of power in the percussion. You get a high energy soundstage and things get better as the energy level of the music rises, especially for the electrifying tabla solo.

With another speaker, the Russell K Red 120 floorstander which has a brighter balance than average, timing is very strong indeed especially when the Grateful Dead get going as they were want to do in their heyday. With an Innuos Zenith SE server connected directly to the USB input Patricia Barber’s ‘Nardin’ [Café Blue, Premonition] the piano is a little forward but the power of the drums and bass was very engaging, the amp controlling the low frequencies with little apparent effort. Switching to a coax input from another streamer, the dCS Network Bridge, brought a plushness to the balance that compensated nicely for the speakers. The combo delivering loads of reverb around Barber’s voice and allowing it to project really well. Now the piano seemed to be at a more natural level relative to the voice but retained its power and attack, it also sat in the room more effectively, the bass resolution giving a strong sense of the body of the instrument. Going over to a more recent release from blues singer Fiona Boyes [Professin’ The Blues, Reference Recordings] the kick of the bass drum and the space around her growling vocal made for a powerful experience with a real sense of the singer being in the room. The amp also made a good job of placing the manipulated sounds on Felix Laband’s Dark Days Exit [Compost] the fabulous ‘Whistling in Tongues’ making this very clear cut.


It helped the timing to move to the same thing on vinyl of course, making this aspect of the production compulsively engaging and reminding me of just how good the Russell Ks are when it comes to subtleties of tempo when the amplifier is up to the job.

, Norma HS-IPA1 integrated amplifier

The Norma HS-IPA combines more functions than most in its compact frame, I don’t think that there are many alternatives that offer the same now that the majority concentrate on digital features. And not many of them have the sort of power that this does. In this light it’s ergonomic foibles can be forgiven, they are essentially a matter of familiarity really and that comes pretty quickly. Partnered with the right speaker this is a very capable and entertaining amplifier especially for those with a decent turntable and cartridge.


  • Type: Solid-state, 2-channel integrated amplifier with built-in DAC, phono stage, and headphone amplifier
  • Analogue inputs: One MM/MC phono input (via RCA jacks), two single-ended line-level inputs (via RCA jacks)
  • Digital inputs: Four S/PDIF (two coaxial, two optical), one USB port
  • Analogue outputs: One single-ended line-level (via RCA jacks)
  • Supported sample rates: 16-bit, 24-bit — 32kHz–192kHz
  • Input impedance: Not specified
  • Output impedance (preamp): N/A
  • Headphone Loads: 16–600 Ohms
  • Power Output: 75Wpc @ 8 Ohms, 150Wpc @ 4 Ohms
  • Bandwidth: Not specified
  • Distortion: Not specified
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: Not specified
  • Dimensions (H×W×D):
    135 × 212 × 364mm
  • Weight: 12kg
  • Price: £3,650

Manufacturer: Opal Electronics

URL: normaudio.com

Distributor: Hi-Fidelity Ltd

URL: hifidelityuk.co.uk

Tel: +44(0)7787 056723



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