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Reviewer: Jan Petter Egidius
Source: Muse Electronics Model 10 CD/DVD player
Preamplifier: Manley Labs Shrimp
Power amplifier: Muse Electronics Model 200
Loudspeakers: Peak-Consult In Cognito monitor
Cables: Argento Serenity speaker and signal, Stereovox digital cable [on loan]
Power cords: Wireworld, Harmonic Technology, Jorma Design
Component support: Finite-Elemente Pagode Signature
Sundry accessories: Finite-Elemente Cerapucs under all electronics and under the rack, Duende Criatura tube rings, Dedicated Audio Cable Towers [on review]
AC: 2 dedicated lines
Room: Dedicated listening room, 6 meters long x 4,5 meters wide
Review component retail: Model 35W 1,200 Euros, PowerBank Model 40K 300 Euros, sold Denmark-direct

Have a Danish (or two, three or even four)
The heading is related to my initial experiences with the Innowatt integrated amplifier from Denmark. You
see, I first got the W35 together with the K40 PowerBank. Then Innowatt sent even two more boxes. But more on that later.

Innowatt is a Danish manufacturer of a rather small, no make that very small class D integrated amplifier called the W35. The technology is based on Apogee's patented Direct Digital Amplification technology (see the manufacturer's website if you want to read more about the technology). The integrated measures 26 x 26 x 5.5cm and weights in at only 2.2 kg. Not your typical heavyweight high-end amp. As the name suggests, it has a moderate power output of 35 watts into an 8-ohm load. It has 3 digital coaxial outputs and arrives in a very nice chassis made of extruded aluminium. The connectors are of good quality and manufactured by Neutrik. The same cannot be said about the 2 front panel knobs that look like controls on el cheapo radios - but maybe I am picky. The light weight of the unit is due to its external switch-mode power supply.

This integrated amplifier includes a built-in DAC that converts all digital inputs to analog. Innowatt also make a CD transport -- the Model 44 T -- that forms a complete electronic miniature system with the W35 – just add speakers. What this meant of course was that my Muse Model Ten CDP was "reduced" to transport duties only. The idea behind this approach could make for an interesting discussion of its own but I won't start it in this review. My Muse Model Ten incorporates a very sophisticated DAC and is, in my opinion, a very good-sounding one-box CD/DVD-A player. My recommendation is that people thinking about buying the Innowatt integrated use it with a transport of good quality or with an integrated CD player with perhaps just a modest integral DAC but a good transport section. It makes little sense to purchase a superior CDP with an expensive converter and analogue output stage when the Innowatt accepts digital inputs exclusively.

Where the Innowatt rules is with a very high WAF factor - at no extra cost! Of course you won't ever impress your friends or fellow 'philes with the size and might of your acquisition but they might be in for a surprise when they listen to it - in the right system I might add.

The philosophy behind Innowatt is to make affordable, upgradeable high-end equipment that takes up very little space (they clearly managed that!) and can easily fit in an ordinary home without forcing one to redecorate the living room. The company sells factory-direct with a 30-day money-back guarantee. The integrated does not come with a remote control.

Starting up
The Model W35 was delivered with the PowerBank Model 40K. This is an upgrade module to add more power. The reason for this upgrade? My Peak-Consult In Cognito monitors need power to get going and I wanted to give the products from Innowatt a fair shot. On paper, the Model W35 appeared underendowed for my speakers and designed to be used with higher sensitivity speakers whose impedance doesn't dip much below 8 ohms.

The Model 40K is of the same size as the amplifier but delivers 40,000uF of storage capacitance. It is powered up by the standard supply that comes with the Model W35. The suggested warm-up/break-in period is a mere 1 to 2 hours. Connecting the units was straight-forward even for a non-technical guy like me. Before any serious listening commenced, I ran the units for 3 days by using them in a second (non high-end) system in the house.

I placed the units on top of one another on one of the shelves in my Finite-Elemente Pagode Signature rack. Apart from the power supply, the units never exuded any operational warmth - almost scary. It means you can place them wherever you want without having to consider ventilation. Practical indeed.

The sound - first impressions
I used to own a Bel Canto eVo2 power amplifier (a very good amp in my opinion) and what I remember from its sound repeated itself here not with the same power and dynamics but very much the same general sonic signature. Think very transparent, airy, liquid and basically neutral. Many people seem to think that Class D amplifiers have a tube sound. According to my experiences with tube amplifiers, I do not agree. Yes, they are pleasant to listen to for the most part but cannot be compared to a tube amp. The signature of a good tube amp is one with greater bloom, warmth and a chestier midrange.

The soundstage with the Innowatt was somewhat narrower than I am used to with my Manley/Muse combination. Everything occurred more in front of the stage rather than within the wider and deeper soundstage I normally hear when the recording allows for it.

Female vocals -- say Patricia Barber on her brilliant Verse [Blue Note/ Premonition] -- had natural tone but lacked weight. Patricia Barber, on all her CDs, is recorded such that you think she may spit and jump on you any second (not a bad thought - the jumping, not the spitting). This forwardness is a little too much for my taste sometimes. With the Innowatt, Barber was more laid back. I didn't get the same live feeling nor the fear of getting wet. Arnopol's upright bass sounded good but not fat enough. However, the cymbals had that airy feel to them. The same happened with Fairy Tales [Odin Records] by Radka Toneff. This Norwegian classic is famous for its good piano sound and the voice of Mrs. Toneff. The piano lacked some weight but otherwise sounded rather natural to me. Her voice too was reproduced well but I have heard better in other systems.

Another example: Ray Brown's acoustic bass on the DVD-A Soular Energy [Hi-Rez Music] lacked gravitas and the dynamic punch I think of as essential when listening to music in general. I am used to a very lifelike and powerful midrange, which the two little boxes from Denmark didn't quite manage on my admittedly challenging speakers. The sound on this great DVD-A was very analytical and somewhat cold, not what it should be.

After playing more music, it was clear that what seemed missing was a function of insufficient power. The sound was rather good overall (though a tad bright and forward) and I mentioned the airy and detailed treble earlier. Still, the bottom octaves and a natural, dynamic midrange weren't fully fleshed out. I therefore stopped the review process, contacted Innowatt and confronted them with the problem. Their suggestion? I should try the W35 and the K40 with two of the switch-mode power supplies instead of one. The two new power supplies were pre-matched at the factory and the original went back in the box. From now on, the Model 40K will be equipped with two power-supply inputs so you can upgrade the system if the demand for more power arises. Clever people, these Danes.

So, there you have the one, two, three or four Danishes of my header.

The last chapter with four little boxes
What happened to the sound after installing two power supplies? Not much except that when playing at higher levels, I think that the music flowed easier and the soundstage retained a more natural size without collapsing as earlier when I played at higher than moderate levels. I will now give you additional musical examples without tiring you with too many. You see, the same thing happened on almost every CD I tried. But bear in mind that we are talking about components costing approximately $2,000.

One quibble - the fan inside one of the power supplies started up once. According to Innowatt, that should never happen under normal operating conditions. I think this was my fault because I placed the two units too close to each other. I never experienced anything of the sort after rearranging the components. The power supplies thus need ca. 5cm of clearance between them.

The music
First I tried a favorite, Tord Gustavsen Trio's Changing Places [ECM]. This is one of my best recordings. Everything is spot-on with this album both from a musical and technical perspective. The acoustic bass is very well defined with just the right amount of weight, the piano sounds very natural and the drums played by the creative Jarle Vespestad are brilliant, from the bass drum to the cymbals. The sound is crisp and clear and you can "see" the studio and where the players are located within it. This also happened to some extent with the Innowatt although the sound was brighter than normal. The bass lacked grunt and the soundstage suffered lateral compression compared to what I usually get. The drums sounded good with very delicate brushwork on the snare but the bass drum was too light in the loafers and thus lacked a little bit of energy and dynamic impact.

Moving on to another great CD, Holly Cole's Temptation [Metro Blue], this is a performance with lots of what I would call "inner life". There are so many small details and enjoyable moments that I can revisit this CD often without ever tiring of it. Hence it's a great reference. Holly's colorful voice sounded good with the Innowatt, not as chesty as normal but good indeed. I did not miss any details and enjoyed what the Innowatt did. Yes, here too the sound was on the leaner side and I could hear that the amp was pushed to its limits when I cranked up the volume but on moderate levels, the sound was pleasant and natural.

Another old favorite is Siri's Svale Band [Sonor Records] from Norway. This is a highly commendable CD if you can find it, with a fantastic reproduction of acoustic bass, vocals and percussion. On the Innowatt, the sound was thinner than normal and I missed the warmth I usually get here. The sound was too analytical and lacking the fundamental dynamics in the lower midrange and bass. The soundstage was somewhat narrower again as it was with almost every recording, but the sound was open, detailed and airy. Siri's voice sounded natural and I could feel her breathing but she sounded less - er, sexy than normal (sorry). No, I do not have a fetish for heavily breathing women but the amp made her voice a little less lifelike.

I heard this CD at the end of a long listening session and experienced a little listener fatigue. This never happens with my reference system and can be explained by the fact that the Innowatt is voiced a tad too bright for my taste. Plus, I pushed the little amp maybe a little bit too hard because the sound with the In Cognito had a tendency to collapse when the going got a little rough. Remember, we are talking a mere 35 watts as compared to the 200 watts I normally enjoy.

Last year I bought a CD called New Dawn [Naim Audio] with the great guitarist Dominic Miller (of Sting fame) and Neil Stacey. Recordings of acoustic guitar don't get much better than this. Through the Innowatt, the sound was transparent and open with good clarity. Again, I missed some of the wooden body of the guitar and the associated warmth that normally comes with a good recording of acoustic guitar.

Not being a fan of classical music, I did not use this music as a reference. The closest I got to Bach was the fabulous Jacques Loussier Trio's Plays Bach. The sound on this Telarc CD (like everything from Telarc) is very good and uses a heavy bass drum on many of the cuts. This bass drum became a little bit muddy with the Innowatt while the piano and upright bass sounded not very far from what I normally hear when I kept to moderate levels. For those of you who have not heard The Loussier Trio, better run to the nearest computer and order this magnificent CD.

The verdict
It's pretty clear that my combination of the Innowatt and statement-level In Cognito monitors wasn't a match made in heaven. This is no indictment of the Danish integrated but points at a lack of proper drive and power into a demanding load for which this amplifier clearly isn't made. The result is dynamic compression especially in the bass, a lack of upper bass/lower midrange heft and a resultant upshift of tonality. People buying the Innowatt will very likely not use speakers like the In Cognito at 8 or 9 times the cost of the amplifier. And they shouldn't, either.

The Innowatt could be a good match for speakers with a 90dB+ sensibility and stable 8-ohm impedance. Then mate it to a small or medium-sized room with a pair of speakers leaning towards the warmer side of neutral, equipped with a soft dome tweeter of good quality. Careful system matching is a must if the goal is to create a low to medium-powered hi-performance system. I am careful to use the term high-end here because I don't know yet if the Innowatt is capable of high-end sound. But there is a chance in the right setup. And that is high praise for a product not costing much more than a decent pair of speaker cables.

It is impossible to find a HiFi product that does everything right and is perfect for everybody. The Innowatt has its strengths when it comes to details and a natural if not very dynamic midrange when used within the limits of its power band. The treble is quite airy and doesn't lack for details. You get a decent sense of air around the instruments. The bass was firm but too lightweight in my system and for my tastes. The amplifier can sound a little bit bright and edgy when pushed and I can assure you that it isn't my speakers that are to blame for this.

Ideally, the Innowatt W35 really should be revisited by someone with the appropriate speaker load. Needless to say, the 30-day money-back guarantee makes home-based evaluations a no-brainer and risk-free proposition. If you can, consider the K40 an integral necessity and order it together with the W35. All in all, an interesting and clever integrated amplifier that fulfils LifeStyle considerations to a "T" and, in the right context, would probably also cash in on true High-End aspirations.
Hi Srajan,
Well, no doubt that the equipment used for the test was a mismatch for our amplifier. We're not surprised since the reviewer states in his own presentation that his speaker is "not an easy load but my 200-watt Muse handles them just fine" - but we're certainly surprised that the reviewer didn't at least bring in an second set of speakers, knowing well ahead it was a 35 watt amplifier which was being the subject for reviewing.

Besides, supplementing another digital source might also have added something to the general picture because a normal CD player is a combination of the character of the drive and the design of the converter. We claim that not many people have heard their CD drive through the digital output, which actually might have a different sonically signature compared to the CD players common analogue output.

A reference HiFi setup is normally fine-tuned over months, maybe years. The system has the synergy where 1+1=3. What is the chance of adding a new unknown device to the system and have the same synergy? Maybe less than 1 %.

In our opinion it is very rare that you can throw a test object into a random set up -- properly matching is the keyword in all set ups -- and we believe that our amp has greater potential than the review illustrates. Yet we agree that the amp is a mismatch with heavy loads, but with average/normal loads ... Well, who knows?

Best regards
Jesper Sommer

Publisher's postscript: Jan's speakers (published as 7-ohm 89dB) don't immediately suggest a poor match with the Innowatt amplifier. Still, the results clearly point at a lack of raw power and grunt. One reason Jan became the reviewer of choice for this assignment? His residency is in Norway. Innowatt is based in Denmark and the European proximity proved attractive. As is our custom in circumstances like these, we've offered Innowatt a second opinion. Once this particular review loaner returns from its current stint with Norway's audio print magazine, it will be forwarded to the US. I'll personally make sure that the next reviewer will have speakers more than happy with 35 watts of power. Generally speaking, our reviewer bios are intended as due diligence opportunities to minimize mismatches a priori. Alas, what looks copasetic on paper doesn't always work out like a charm in practice. The present report is an excellent reminder that the amplifier/speaker interface is critical enough to mandate personal experience rather than reliance on published specs alone. As Ole Dahl Pedersen of Innowatt adds, the Danish print magazine High Fidelity (No. 5, 2002) measured the Peak Consult Incognito speaker as less than 85dB, with a minimum impedance of 5 ohm. Less than 85dB and 35 watts definitely is an unhappy marriage. Conversely, one Innowatt customer uses Martin Logan Ascents with an impedance of 1.2 ohm at 20kHz and 3.2ohm at 85Hz but a sensitivity of 88dB. This suggests that the amplifier doesn't mind low impedances. Incidentally, take 2 will occur by way of John Potis and his high-efficiency Horning Hybrid Perikles speakers. Their impedance supposedly doesn't drop below 6 ohms but their rear-firing 10" woofer will certainly test the bass performance of the W35 so stay tuned.
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