Simon Audio Group i5 Integrated amplifier

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Abar200.jpgAs a professional musician, I am constantly analyzing sounds. Music is everywhere and in everything. Where are the sounds coming from and who or what is making them? It is such an integral part of my existence. Being an musician/audiophile (that sounds so strange to say, but I must admit it to myself, I am hooked) this sensibility to sound has proven to be an advantage. I am now listening to recorded music in a new way with the same intensity that I would listen to my fellow bandmates while performing live on stage. Not really judging the content of what I am hearing but what sounds are being produced. The fun part enters when I have the opportunity to sit in front of some amazing equipment and listen to some of my favorite recordings and getting transported to whatever venue the music is recorded in, whether live or in the studio. For me, the goal of any piece of audio equipment is to produce music accurately without being obvious. The equipment must not get in the way. We always hear about how “the speakers just disappear” but I also want the gear to disappear. The listener is sitting there alone with the music being reproduced without any artifacts. This brings us to the subject of my review: the new Simon Audio Group i5 integrated amplifier.

Gtt 2018a.gifBeing a neighbor and friend of Stereo Times’ publisher Clement Perry does have its advantages. The greatest being that I have access to one of the best audio systems on the East Coast. If I ever want to hear what an amazing system should sound like I only need to walk a few blocks and I am sitting in the sweet spot that a few of his friends like to call “Audio Mecca”. Once there I can pick CP’s brain about what I am or am not experiencing. In this way I have been able to “skip the line” as far as knowledge and understanding of how audio should sound and what to listen for. As this hobby has integrated itself into my life, second to raising a family, travel, practicing the bass and just trying to survive in this crazy world, it only stands to reason that I was super excited to be asked to contribute my thoughts on new and exciting audio equipment!
 

Some of you might be familiar with Simon Lee from his previous foray into the audiophile business with his company April Music from South Korea. Reviewed here in Stereo Times by neighbor Greg Voth…..is the April Music Aura Note V2. It was from this review that I was first introduced to Mr. Lee’s fine products. I immediately wanted to hear the Aura Note myself so I bought one. I have been listening to the April Music Aura Note as my main source for the past 2 years. I absolutely love the sound. All Class D amplification – and as far as this neophyte’s concerned – all music. It was only logical as the next phase in my audiophile adventure that I should review Mr. Simon Lee’s latest addition in this, his all-analog Simon Audio Group i5 integrated amplifier.

According to the amp’s designer Simon Lee, “The preliminary model name was SIA-R (Simon Integrated Amp – Remote) but instead was launched under the name “model i5” (integrated series 5). The Series 5 is a half-sized amp for small homes and desktops.” Now you may be thinking half-sized? Amplifiers designed for desktops and smart homes? Let me just state that you should not be least bit concerned about getting a “half-sized” sound. 

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Origin250.jpgThe i5 integrated supports 3 analog inputs (one balanced XLR and 2 unbalanced RCA). It comes with a hefty metal remote which controls volume, mute, dimmer as well as all the functions of the matching CD player. Power is turned on from the back of the unit and the inputs are controlled via a rotary knob on the front of the amp. A green LED digital display on the front of the unit showing input and volume can also be dimmed via the remote. 

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AcousticRevive250.jpgSimon Lee stated that his new amp design is also paired with the CD5 CD player (red book only) and new M7 bookshelf speakers. I only had the integrated amp to review but if the quality of the i5 integrated is any indication I would have zero reservations regarding his CD player and matching monitors. The info Simon Lee provided me with shows the i5 integrated uses exclusive discreet components for optimal performance, a DC coupled signal path using ELNA SILMIC2 and a low noise transistor front-end circuit in the power amplifier section. For the preamplifier section, the volume control is done in a pure analog domain using a digitally controlled attenuator (however, it is a full Class A using FET and a separate DC power supply from the power amplifier). For the amplifier section, the main circuit is designed to preserve and maintain the cleanest and purest form of sound reproduction. Class A/B output with a single ended push pull output circuit. The power supply uses a custom made toroidal supply providing very low output impedance. Rated at 50 Watts into 8 Ohms this little integrated really packs a punch with the highly efficient Tekton Electron loudspeakers.

 

The i5 integrated has a rotary volume knob, with a nice and dimmable green digital display showing a total of 64 volume steps (00-63). For most recordings I found myself listening comfortably between 45-50 via my Tekton Electron loudspeakers. There were a few occasions where an audio recording was mastered very low and therefore required me to turn up to 60+ to get enough gain. Again, my Electrons are rated at nearly 95 dB efficient so unless your speakers are really low efficient then the 50 Watts should not pose a problem. I would however state that you would not want to use this amp as part of a larger system attempting to fill a giant listening space. My room is only 9’ x 14’ and I am getting room filling sound without a problem and not really having to push the amplifier. It never sounded to me that the amp was straining at all either. Again according to Mr. Lee musicality is the main focus of his design, not playing loud. There is a certain effortlessness that comes with this new i5 integrated that allows the listener to really sink back into the chair and just listen, with no fatigue. Low end was wonderful, definitely not lacking. In fact, at times I found myself trying to control some of that low end by adjusting my speakers a bit. Eventually I did find the sweet spot and the bass was never an issue again. This was another revelation to me; just how important speaker placement is in the room. If they are not set up properly and your room is not “tuned” there is no speaker or amplifier that can make it sound good. I am a big proponent of tuning your room and finding that sweet spot above all else. Once you have that dialed in your able to hear all the subtleties in the music provided the amp can deliver and handle them.

Now at only 50 watts this little amp is not going to move walls but it will fill your room with clean, quiet, low noise music. Instruments sound rich and alive, the space between the notes become farther apart as the backgrounds get darker. What I am hearing is real music. I am able to forget that I am listening to a 50 eatt integrated amp but rather that it is 1961, and I’m at the Village Vanguard and am watching the Bill Evans Trio live! 

 

Listening tests..

 

Present Tense by Radiohead from A Moon Shaped Pool

 

radiohead.jpgThis track is from Radiohead’s latest album “A Moon Shaped Pool.” I have been a fan of Radiohead since they hit the scene with Ok Computer in 1997. Their use of acoustic and electronic instruments really intrigue me along with their songwriting. This track, Present Tense is one of my favorites from this new album. It provides almost a bossa nova type groove produced by what sounds like brushes on the snare drum. This is a particularly dense track, but the i5 integrated holds its own. Separating the instruments and providing their own space. The various guitar tracks all maintain their placement in the mix, the bass drum in the center is clear and Thom Yorke’s vocals are clear and vivid. The chorus and strings in the middle of the track stand out and they are panned from left to right. If the equipment being used is not functioning properly this track can become a bit overwhelming and the backgrounds can get smeared together without much independence from each other. This amp really provides the listener with a close sample of what the producer intended.

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I’m Getting Sentimental Over You by Thelonious Monk from Live at the It Club

Monk Live at It Club.jpgI chose this track in order to demonstrates the i5’s ability to place the listener in the club. I really enjoy this CD. Amazing playing by the ensemble and Monk is on fire. I always love hearing Monk play on standards. You really can hear what a creative genius he was. He makes songs that he didn’t compose sound like he did compose them. In this recording you can reallyhear the space. It feels as though you are sitting right there in the club. Larry Gales’ bass is incredible. I can feel and hear every note he plays. Check out his solo after Monk. Once again every instrument has their place in the recording. It is very easy to visualize what I am hearing. Almost like sitting at the front table. You can hear the audience yelling, talking, the phones ringing. Ben Riley! Charlie Rouse! Enough said.

 

Flamenco Sketches by Miles Davis from Kind of Blue

 

kindofblue1.jpgMost everyone knows of Kind of Blue, an audiophile favorite. I thought I knew this recording too until I heard it on a “real” system. This was the original track that got me hooked on this hobby. I had never heard Paul Chambers before like I did that first time. Now, I like to use this track as a litmus test for how a system sounds. Can you tell that I like the bass? Well, I am a bass player, call me biased. Can you hear the double stops and glissandos that PC plays? I can with this i5 integrated. I can hear the giant room of Columbia Studios. Jimmy Cobb’s brushes in the beginning of the take really stand out. During John Coltrane’s Jimmy Cobb switches to the cymbals. I am thinking how warm this track is sounding. One caveat is that I did have to turn the amp up to about 50 to really get it singing. Perhaps this is one album that was remastered on the low side. Be that as it may, it still didn’t sound forced or that I was pushing it too hard.
 

In general most current pop and rock recordings are mastered hotter than older jazz recordings. I find myself always adjusting per track. This is a good thing. It really demonstrates the amp’s ability to play dynamics and also points to the fact that this amp is so musical. The louds are loud and the softs are soft…and every variation in between.

 

In conclusion if you are looking for a well made, great looking integrated amp that will not break the bank then I would recommend giving Simon Audio Group’s i5 integrated amplifier a listen. Pairing it with modestly efficient loudspeakers and it will keep a smile on your face. As a desktop/bedroom system this amp will give you hours of non-fatiguing listening with musicality that rivals more expensive designs. Happy Listening!
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John Hébert

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Gregvoth.jpgI borrowed the Simon Audio Group i5 Integrated Amplifier from John Herbert for a few days while he was performing out of town. Admittedly, I uttered an harrumph or two for choosing to install it upstairs – due to the loss of a few months of Perfect Path Total Contact treated speaker connections. Once playing, my first reaction was mild shock at how well the i5 integrated handled lower frequencies when powering my Tekton Double Impacts, followed by thoughts on how musical this integrated presented, well, everything.

For warm up and casual listening, the i5 volume set in nicely at 38 out of its 63 selectable positions with these 98.82 db sensitive towers. That’s an impressive feat considering the size of our space and the size of these loudspeakers. Even when listening louder, I never passed 46.  The Simon performed surprisingly well in our large space.

The title track from Anouar Brahem’s 2009 release, “The Astounding Eyes of Rita” (ECM), was sensual, with considerable warm and snappy transient response in both extremes. There was a delicacy in the high frequencies, quick but with no brittle leading edge. Beautiful!

eclipse.jpg“Eclipse” the title track from Joey Alexander’s fourth and latest release shows how telepathic musicians can be when playing and locked in to one another – and it’s damn hard to believe Joey just turned 15 years of age! He plays with an awareness and confidence that defies his young age. These remarkable trio of musicians were so in touch with each other that they must breathe at the exact same time! The piano image was very solid and grounded, the bass work was forceful and supportive and the percussion was percolated and playful. The entire piece was wonderfully chatty and unpredictable and unexpectedly fun. The Simon integrated i5 did a great job revealing the dynamics and detail in this piece – it breathed with a naturalness and warmth as the music pumped through it, yielding rock solid imaging on a soundstage of good size for songs so intimately recorded. Well done.

endless.jpgKurt Elling’s track Endless Lawns from this year’s release “The Questions” (Okeh Records 2018) presents the whole of the message here with a solidity and sure-footedness. The horn here is blissfully sweet and Kurt’s vocal is peaceful and yearning, authoritative, well-controlled and honest, compelling this listener to yield time for contemplate the questions intimated.

The Wrap

The Simon i5 got out of the way of the music and delivered a musicality and forthrightness that competes with many higher-priced components, with a well-grounded earthiness and a warmth I didn’t expect. I’ll venture to say that this integrated is a near perfect match for Tekton Double Impacts and other speakers of similar sensitivity.

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Specifications:
Integrated amp,
Rated power: 50W per channel stereo,
Pure analog Class A/AB,
Remote,
Inputs 1 XLR, 2 RCA inputs, 1 pre-out,
Price US$2,500
 
Contact: 
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