Cremona in Northern Italy has an illustrious musical pedigree. Home to Monteverdi and Ponchielli, it is perhaps most famous for the manufacture of the world’s greatest stringed instruments by the likes of Stradivari, Rugeri and Amati. So, Norma Audio is hoping to emulate engineers that have fostered some of the greatest sounds ever made.
Founded in 1987 the current audio business is part of Opal Electronics, which designs and builds advanced electronics measurement instruments, so it should be well placed to expertly calibrate its products.
The Revo IPA-70B is Norma’s entry-level integrated amplifier claiming 2x 70W into 8ohm power output. This modest headline figure is overshadowed by other rather more remarkable specifications. Norma says the Revo IPA-70B is able to deliver more than 1MHz of bandwidth, up to 100A of current and 1,000W peak power handling capability. This suggests not only some serious over engineering, but also a very dynamic performance indeed.
Unboxing the Revo IPA-70B reveals a rather polite and unremarkable looking amplifier. Notably slim and sporting a gently tapering top plate that hides integrated cooling fins on the right-hand side, it is the very definition of understated. Available in silver or anodised black, the build quality feels bombproof. Connectivity includes four line-level RCA inputs, one AV RCA in and an optional DAC module with a single USB input, although coaxial and optical inputs are notably absent. Alternatively, a modular phono stage can be specified.
A single button is used to cycle through inputs and the central volume knob can be turned manually or remotely controlled with course or fine adjustment via the comprehensive yet chic all-metal handset. .
I connect up a Shanling CD-T100 HDCD player and Cadence Arca speaker using Chord Company’s Epic Analogue interconnect and Black Rhodium’s Foxtrot loudspeaker cable (HFC 412), and warm everything through ahead of critical listening.
Playing Flash by Cigarettes After Sex on CD is insightful. The dark acoustic is vast and deep with rimshots reverberating off into infinity as a sonorous keyboard glows warmly against the inky blackness. The depth of the soundstage is notable, seeming to confirm very sensitive signal handling that can preserve the most subtle of musical nuances. Treble is extended and sweet, somehow feeling entirely grainless yet never sounding like it might be smoothing over detail. Already the amplifier confirms it’s a class act as every musical detail is laid out with effortless authority. Bass is full and wholesome while preserving a languid liquidity. Some might prefer their bass tighter and faster with more punch, but this performance sounds like a real instrument played by a real person complete with extra intonation and deeper expression than I’m used to. Greg Gonzalez’s vocals appear centre stage, dripping with emotive detail. Sensitive inflections in his voice are communicated superbly. The amp has an amazing ability to resolve tiny textural detail in three dimensions without sounding fatiguing.
Swapping to an HDCD rendition of Rain Rain Rain by Roxy Music, the opening keyboards are big, fulsome and brassy, perfectly capturing the early eighties synthesised sounds. Allan Schwartzberg’s drumming is almost holographic as every beat and stroke bristles with lilting, syncopated detail that places his kit perfectly in the mix. Yet again the Revo IPA-70B seems to excel at painting a more spacious and human rendition than I’m used to. There is a naturalness and flow that feels addictive, balancing explicit detail with silky smoothness while delivering the essential drive and momentum of the track. The wonderfully burbling bassline is supple, weaving in and out with total agility, yet pressing into my listening room with real presence. Ferry’s voice is sublime; gravelly and textured yet sultry and warm. His vocal commands it’s own space in the soundscape, creating a real sense of a performance, more than simply high-fidelity playback of a recording. This amp clearly has a talent for vocals and other complex acoustic instruments. There is a kind of projection to performers where you can perceive more realistic air around them. It’s akin to when distant church bells sound more distinct and resonant on a damp day when the moisture in the air conveys more clarity and atmosphere. Tracks feel more spatial, human and ultimately musical as the amp digs a little deeper into the expressive qualities of the music. All the detail and accuracy is there, but it’s sweet, fluid and feels almost alive.
I connect my Macbook Pro and swap to the DAC input via a Chord Company C-USB interconnect (HFC 427). Playing Beim Schlafengehen from Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss sung by Jessye Norman accompanied by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the opening strings growl and grow with wonderfully dark menace, full of vibrant texture and melancholic yearning. Norman’s soprano voice gently rises up gaining strength and shape until fully formed high above the lush orchestra. Again, the Revo IPA-70B seems to perform the impossible trick of communicating precise vocal phrasing and rich detail around dense and complex instrumentation, yet also giving the performers space and room to flow and breathe. As with the Roxy Music track, there’s plenty of detail, ensuring that the big picture and emotional expression is never compromised. Norman’s voice has immense power on certain phrases and this is precisely where I can tell that provision of extremely generous current delivery and potent peak power ensures the three-dimensional picture doesn’t flatten or harden up.Spinning The Wheel by SOHN on CD is really telling. Given the Norma’s clear prowess with acoustic material and vocals I had wondered if some electronica might trip it up. The track starts simple enough with the Revo IPA-70B portraying the sumptuous blend of pure voices beautifully. In comes the deep bass and it hardly breaks a sweat. The more I listen, the more I enjoy its bass handling. The deepest registers have lots of suppleness. Die-hard drum and bass fans may look for greater control, but I personally relish the extra life and expression that this amplifier brings to the essential deep underpinnings of music. Fast, pulsing beats, razor-edged samples and crisp keyboards add layer upon layer of intricate digital complexity until the track is bristling with crystalline textures. Not only can the Norma handle electronica, it positively gives it more light, shade, shape and expression. The track sounds spry and impressive through most amps, but here it gains some extra soul.
The Revo IPA-70B is a class act. It represents an understanding of musical refinement over dry hi-fi specifications. Where some higher end amps can tend towards harsh resolution and raw power, it instead focuses on greater insight and stronger expression. There is a shade more contrast, a hint more sweet detail and a tad more colour, all adding up to a great deal more presence and enjoyment from one’s music. The longer I spend with this Norma amplifier the more I appreciate just how multi-talented and easy to live with it is. I was not aware of the company before I started this review, but I will certainly be paying far closer attention to it from now on. CW
Product: Norma Audio Revo IPA-70B
Type: Integrated amplifer
Dimensions: (WxHxD) 430 x 75 x 350mm
● Quoted power output: 2x 70W (8ohm)
● 24-bit/192kHz-capable DAC
● Inputs: 4x stereo RCAs; 1x stereo RCA (AV); 1x USB port
● Optional MM/MC phono stage