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REVIEW: Pathos Classic One Integrated Amplifier (Tube) Review by Laz at Audio Asylum

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I began my search for a new amplifier after recently upgrading my speakers to a pair of ProAc’s excellent Response 1SCs. The clarity and openness of these mini-monitors revealed the shortcomings of my previous amp, a Cyrus III / PSX-R power supply combo. I’d heard that the 1SCs were particularly happy when paired with tube gear, and so this is the route I decided explore – initially.

The tube gear I listened to (pre/power and integrated units from Sonic Frontiers, Cary and Conrad Johnson) exhibited all the traits that I expected: crystalline clarity, wondrously lush midrange and a sense of romance that I had never heard with solid state gear. However, the usual complaints were also there – rolled off frequency extremes, lackadaisical rhythm and a loss of bass definition and slam.

It seemed like I’d been caught right in the middle of the old tube vs. solid state debate, and I’d have to decide which was the lesser of two evils (or, to put it more positively, the greater of two goods).

Then I heard about the Pathos Acoustics Classic One.

The Classic One is a hybrid integrated amplifier, employing a tubed preamp stage and a solid state power amp. Both stages have their own, dedicated power supplies and the whole shebang is housed in a rather compact chassis (quite a big consideration, considering the cramped living conditions here in Hong Kong).

Visually, the Classic One is stunning. The main body of the unit is chrome, with an understated black acrylic cover. The two ECC8625 tubes used in the preamp section sit right up front, followed by two red capacitors and then the power supply and power sections of the amp. Two pairs of 5-way binding posts sit at the rear of the amp’s upper housing. The back features RCA plugs for 4 unbalanced inputs, as well as a sockets for one pair of XLR balanced inputs.

The front fascia sports a beautiful walnut embellishment, which also surrounds the volume and input selector knobs. Neither the volume nor input knob features any markings, save for a dot on the knob itself to give an indication of its current position. The walnut theme continues onto the remote, which is probably the classiest I’ve ever seen. Simple and elegant, the remote is a nicely weighted walnut affair with two brass buttons that control volume. Input selection must be done on the amp itself, however, as I only use one source (my CD player), this feature was never missed.

Output is 50wpc.

Now onto the sound.

The sound of the Classic One is, at the risk of sounding biased (which I am), everything I was looking for in an amp. It does all the things a good amp is supposed to do, but most importantly, it does it all extremely musically. Forget toe tapping! I often find myself sitting in my listening chair with my head bobbing, my body swaying to the rhythm and a huge grin plastered across my face!

Starting from the bottom, the bass is fast, articulate deep. As far as I can tell, this is attributable to the solid state power section of the amp. Compared to my old Cyrus, the Classic One goes at least an octave deeper, while at the same time bringing new levels of control and slam. I was truly shocked to hear such deep, defined bass coming out of my mini-monitors.

It was easy to pick out the three distinct acoustic basses on “Splanky” from Christian McBride’s album, “Getting’ To It”. The Classic One presented each bass with a slightly different, woody tonality – reflecting the sound quality of each instrument. “The Sinister Minister” from the self-titled Bela Fleck and the Flecktones album, is a showcase of electric bass and the Pathos came through again with a superbly musical rendition.

The midrange reflects the use of tubed electronics in the preamp section: clarity, openness and warmth. Vocals and acoustic instruments are presented particularly well. I’ve played the violin for twenty-odd years, and the Pathos does a great job of presenting the sweet tonality of solo violin – a sound that is all too often tinny and bright on lesser equipment.

Male vocals are fabulous, from the deep, smooth and rich voice of Eric Bibb on his album “Me To You”, to the gravely texture of Mark Knopfler’s vocals on Dire Straits’ “Love Over Gold”. Female vocals also shine. From the opening notes of Margo Timmons’ a cappella solo on the Cowboy Junkies’ “Trinity Sessions”, her voice sent shivers up and down my spine.

Treble is, in a word, smoooooth. Much of the glare or hardening that I heard with the Cyrus on extreme high frequencies is gone. In its place is a natural, effortless presentation with a good sense of air and presence.

Imaging is quite good, and it is easy to pick out individual instruments in the Classic One’s broad and deep soundstage. Layering is quite impressive, with vocalists placed just behind the plane of the speakers, and the band usually a few feet behind. Laterally, the soundstage extends well beyond my speakers – and with good recordings, some 3-4 feet beyond the side walls of my listening room!

This may sound trite, but I really had to search for the downsides of this amp. One, it doesn’t come with a power cord, so you’ll have to spring a few extra bucks for an IEC cord. Second, distribution (at least in Hong Kong) is somewhat limited. In terms of sound, I could go for a deeper soundstage, but I have the nagging feeling that there’s more potential in the Classic One that’s being held back by my other components.

Is the Pathos Classic One the perfect amp? No, it’s probably not. But it’s definitely in the running. Given a retail price of about US$1,300 here in Hong Kong, it’s tough to beat.

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Topic - REVIEW: Pathos Classic One Integrated Amplifier (Tube) Review by Laz at Audio Asylum - Laz 03:36:37 08/23/99 ( 2)