This way cool French amp is a genuine hi-fi bargain

June 18, 2024
10 mins read
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Summary

Advance Paris A10 Classic Hybrid Integrated Amplifier

Our very own ANDY BAKER gets some luxury time with a French amp that’s wowing the hi-fi world for its smart feature set and nice price.

$3499

Advance Paris is a new name to me, but this French company has been going for almost 30 years. Beginning life in 1995 as Advance Acoustic, they released a line of speakers, followed in 2004 with a well-received amplifier before the name change in 2005. Today, Advance Paris has an impressive lineup of audio products, from streamers and CD players to amplifiers, speakers, and cables. The company landed in NZ late last year through well-respected hi-fi agent PQ Imports and its A10 Classic is causing quite the buzz, especially in online audio circles.

I was deep into my time with the Java Double Shot power amplifier (see review) when PQ Imports delivered a demo unit of the Advance Paris A10. As usual, I had avoided reading existing reviews of the A10 and, as I currently have many things on the boil, I had not even made the time to visit the Advance Paris website for a quick perusal. This meant it was effectively going to be a blind date – which happens to be how I met my wife – so I did not know quite what to expect but was looking forward to meeting her. I mean it.

Removing the A10 Classic from its packaging, I was presented with a rather plain looking black box. Standing quite tall at 175mm, it has a folded metal outer case and what at first appeared to be a plain acrylic front panel in black with a smaller-than-usual silver volume knob located bottom centre. Taking a look at the back panel proved far more inspiring as the A10 has an impressive array of inputs. It has five line inputs plus inputs for the on-board moving magnet phono stage which has adjustable capacitance settings (100p, 200p and 300p) and one set of XLR balanced inputs. The A10 also has a built-in DAC, evident by the inclusion of three optical, one coaxial and USB-A and USB-B inputs and, becoming increasingly common is the inclusion of HDMI ARC and HDMI Audio inputs for connecting to TV (ARC) or other HDMI source (Audio). We also get a slot for plugging in an optional APT-X Bluetooth receiver. Additionally, we get Amp-In for using the A10 as a power amp, Record Out, Pre-Out for connecting to a power amplifier, and two Sub-Outs for connecting up to two subwoofers. You will also notice a High Bias switch – this is for activating Class A bias for the first few watts of the power stage. There are four pairs of speaker binding posts separated into Zones A and B if you want to have two pairs of speakers, one in a different room perhaps and, lastly, the main power switch and IEC power input.

According to Advance Paris, the A10 Classic outputs 130 watts per channel into 8 Ohms or 190wpc into 4 Ohms. The A10 is a Class AB push-pull amplifier with an ECC81 tube pre-amp stage – so a hybrid, but a thoroughly modern one thanks to all those inputs along with the microprocessor which controls all of its functions.

There is one thing I have left until last because it came as a total surprise to me. As mentioned, I did little to no research on Advance Paris or the A10, so I was unprepared for what happened when I plugged everything in and turned the unit on for the first time. That plain black acrylic front panel I mentioned? Maybe if I had taken a closer initial look, I might have noticed, but upon pressing the standby on/off button located front bottom left, I was presented (after the 30-second initialisation period) with not only the two glowing tubes visible through a viewing window above that small volume knob, but on either side were two large VU meters – real ones, not digital. These are illuminated with blue LED lighting (yes, all over the internet you will read comments making the obvious comparison to McIntosh amps) which can be dimmed but not turned off. Along with the glow of the tubes, it all makes for a very bright and showy viewing experience – I prefer naturally lit VU meters à la Technics, but I can certainly see the appeal of the A10’s lighting. Located bottom right is a small display window for showing menu options, tone, and balance controls (we also get a loudness switch, useful for low-level listening), input selection and, when in USB mode, sample rates. This was all visible and completely readable from my listening position approximately three meters away. Incidentally, Advance Paris includes a very nice fully functional remote control with the A10.

Overall, not a bad first impression – but how does it sound?

The Setup

I connected my 6 Ohm Reference 3A speakers (Bowers and Wilkins 704s were also used, for variety) to the A10 Classic along with my sources. These include a Raspberry Pi streamer using RopieeeXL for Roon/Tidal and Spotify, an old Arcam CD73 I use as a CD transport and my vinyl setup consisting of a Wand 14/4 Turntable with EV power supply and Wand EQ and EAR 834P phonostages. I have a Wand Master 12” tonearm fitted with a Hana EH MC cartridge and, completely isolated from the turntable, coming in from rear left, I have my Analog Instruments Apparition 12 tonearm fitted with an EMT TSD15n low output moving coil. I run the Hana through the EAR tube phono amp and the EMT through the MC section of the EQ, occasionally swapping things around for variety. The Raspberry Pi runs via USB into a Topping D10S DAC/USB-SPDIF convertor then out via coaxial into my Electrocompaniet ECD 2 DAC. I alternated between outputting the D10S into the A10s coaxial input and USB straight from the RPi to the A10s USB input, using my ECD 2 for comparisons. As mentioned, I had the Java Double Shot on hand for comparisons, along with my old Unison Research integrated which is also a tube hybrid, using ECC82s in its pre-amp stage.

The Listening Test

Playing through tracks from my spclnch Music collection via Roon, the A10 gave good clarity and decent detail levels to this spacey electronic/dub music. It had a boisterous manner with sound, really pushing it out towards the listener and I perceived a slight emphasis on the upper midrange and upwards. This meant cymbals and percussion and certain incidental effects came across crisp and illuminated which is a most welcome attribute for listening to electronic music, though not necessarily all other genres. The majority of the midrange was clean and clear, and the bottom end had good power and punch though there was the odd occasion where I wanted a bit more. This was where the tone controls came in and by bumping the bass up a notch or two, I got more of the impact I was looking for. In terms of overall performance, the A10 did not give the level of depth, image separation, sense of space or all-out detail and refinement that the Java offered yet it was a most enjoyable listen.

The sharp blasts of trumpet on Dizzy Gillespie’s vinyl version of Dizzy Gillespie’s Big 4 (1975, Pablo Records) which the Java deftly delivered with spiky enthusiasm, were a little too sharp coming from the A10 and this time I had to adjust the treble down a touch. Here the bass seemed about right, and image quality and timbre were good. Again, the A10 had quite a fast and enthusiastic quality in its delivery of music, perhaps foregoing certain elements of refinement and subtlety in favour of drive, energy, and fun – whereas the Java was comparatively more relaxed, wide open and revealing. Do not get me wrong, Advance Paris has delivered an audiophile-quality amplifier, and of course you could buy three A10s for the price of one JAVA, which has very different technology under the lid.

Playing several “audiophile quality” recordings such as Boubacar Traore’s Mbalimaou (2014, Lusafrica Records), Christian Jormin’s Sol Salutis (2010, Footprint Records) and Vincent Belanger and Anne Bisson’s Conversations (Camilio Records, 2016 25th Anniversary Edition) I found the A10 performed very well. Again, what it lacked in the subtlest of detail retrieval, spaciousness, and image isolation, it made up for in sheer enthusiasm. But detail levels and timbre were good, with the plucking and strumming of guitar and kora strings, bass and drum tones, vocal presence, and the effortless delivery of the music as a whole making for an enjoyable listen. For the odd track here and there, I found myself adjusting the treble to some degree just to reduce a bit of vocal or instrument sharpness, and this was something I did not mind doing – after all, part of the appeal of being an audiophile is the ability to tweak and manage the sound to taste.

The CD version of PrimusFrizzle Fry (1990, Caroline Records) sounds a touch squashed dynamically with quite a sharp treble. The Unison Research and Java amps make it easier to listen to, with the Java performing best, allowing you to hear past the negatives while bringing the good more-or-less to the fore. Playing this through the A10, however, I only lasted a few bars before having to shut it off. I could have spent time with the tone controls, but it sounded compressed, shouty and dynamically flat, thus my immediate response was “Next!”

One thing I will say is that vocal clarity with the A10 was exceptional – its forward presentation in that regard reminded me a little of the Sennheiser HD600 headphones. Listening to Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool (2016, XL Records) on vinyl, Thom Yorke’s voice appeared particularly well illuminated, standing clear from the mix in a very pleasing manner. Some of the musical elements did get a bit intense in the upper registers, especially the orchestral stuff, but overall, the A10 fared pretty well.

Comparisons

How does the Advance Paris compare to my Unison Research integrated? I found the older Italian amp to have a more robust and fleshed-out sound (not that the A10 sounds thin by any means), more thump and precision in the bass and slightly better image separation and definition. The soundstage seemed more immersive and subtler details popped a little more noticeably than they did through the younger French amp. But these were not huge differences and the A10 has that welcome element of fun and liveliness. It just plays music, and it is enjoyable, and you can adjust the sound more or less to your taste. It also has a much more impressive contemporary feature set than the Unison.

The built-in phono stage is very good. It is quite a bit better than the Unison Research amp’s onboard version which I never really warmed to, finding it a little dull. The A10’s phono section is punchy and rhythmic with good all-round body – a bit forward in the treble but worthy of your record collection nonetheless. The Wand EQ and EAR phono stages had more body, noticeably better dynamics and detail and bigger presentations but we are talking spending a considerable amount more money. I think if your turntable and cartridge is getting up past, say $1.5k, you might start to consider a phono stage upgrade in order to get the best out of your setup. However, I think the A10 did a decent job with my Wand Turntable rig; it makes for a good starting point, especially for those who can only upgrade incrementally.

I do not believe you will want to race out and buy a new outboard DAC either, because the A10’s onboard digital section is also very good. It is not thin or bright sounding, just nicely balanced and enjoyable. Those of you who believe all DACs sound the same will be set for life, and those of us with itchy ears will eventually want to upgrade – but for many of us audiophiles, that’s a given with any audio product, isn’t it?

I was extremely impressed with the A10’s headphone amp section. I used three pairs of headphones: Audeze LCD2 Classic planar magnetic, Sennheiser HD600 and Grado SR60. The SR60s are the original version which I have modified slightly, replacing the awful on-ear foam pads with the larger, more over-ear G-cushion cups. I have also removed the awful Grado fixed cable and added 3.5mm inputs to each earcup, allowing me to use nicer aftermarket headphone cables (not that this affects the sound in any way). These are all quite different headphones in terms of sound signature. The LCD2 Classics have a dark tone, with excellent bottom end and a decently wide soundstage. The audiophile headphone go-to HD600s are more midrange and treble-focused with a more narrow and intimate soundstage. While the SR60s are known for their sharp treble, their bass response is better than most people are prepared to give them credit for. (If you wish to waste hours, days, or months of your life, head to Reddit and join the headphone arguments.) The A10 allowed me to hear and enjoy exactly the individual sound signature of each headphone. It seemed nice and neutral, not adding, or taking away anything, letting the headphones speak for themselves. While this was great for the Audeze and Sennheiser, the Grados suffered in that I could hear them in their bright, spiky glory and it proved too much for my ears – again, a little tone control might have helped here. I usually listen to the Grados with a Woo Audio OTL tube amp which makes them sound lovely but the A10 was simply not having it.

Summation

Advance Paris has given us a modern amplifier packed with future-proof features. With the addition of VU meters and tubes in the pre-amp stage, it gives a little nod to the past. It is nicely made, though not exactly luxuriously so. For me, the look of the amp is not to my taste, and I would have at least liked to completely turn off the VU meters. I know people are orally frothing over this aspect of the A10 but for me they are just too bright, even at the lowest setting, and I find the blue a tad – dare I say – kitschy. (I realise I am going to get significant hate for expressing that opinion.) And my OCD unfortunately demands a larger volume knob on that substantial front panel. Sound-wise, other amps will give you more refinement, image resolution and detailing, et cetera, but usually at greater cost. I am in two minds about that upper midrange/treble being slightly emphasised because it is not that it is necessarily bad, it is just a bit outside of my preference – in fact, I can imagine most people going “sounds normal to me” with a shrug. But minor gripes aside (and they are my gripes; they will not necessarily be yours) this is an enjoyable, enthusiastic amplifier that will win many fans. And what I have not until now emphasised is the fact that all of this comes in at the surprisingly affordable price of $NZ3.5K. Anyone looking for an amp in this price range would be hard-pressed to find another that compared both in terms of the feature set or the sonic goodness. For me that makes the sound quality particularly good for the money indeed.

As blind dates go, I enjoyed this one very much and I look forward to seeing what else this company has to offer.

www.pqimports.co.nz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having begun collecting music and attending concerts from the age of 10, Mr Baker became a full-blown audiophile in his mid-twenties. He loves discovering new music and despite an undying love for vinyl, enjoys all formats. He divides his spare time between raising his kids, laughing at his cat and writing about hi-fi. When he grows up, he wants to be a rock star.

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Advance Paris - Designed with French flair. Amplifiers, Streamers, CD players and more www.pqimports.co.nz
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