Italian electronics manufacturer Pathos isn't one for traditional design. And few other brands combine such outlandish aesthetics and exceptional build with the kind of sound that purists will love.
Based on our experiences with its kit, Pathos has routinely managed that difficult trick.
However, when we heard about the InpolRemix, we were more than a little concerned.
Even by the Pathos's standards this little amp is a touch left-field. "Little" is the right word, too. This chunky integrated unit is about the size of half a breezeblock. It costs almost four grand as standard, and is ready to accept an optional digital-to-analogue module for around another £550.
So far, so relatively ordinary; Cyrus has been doing similar things at far lower prices for years.
However, factor in a hybrid circuit that mates valves in the preamp section with a transistor power amplifier section all working in Class A mode – and an output so modest (10W per channel) that we had to triple-check before we believed it – and you have something rather unusual.
No huge volume here
The limitations are easy enough to hear. There's a lack of outright scale to the Pathos's presentation and an inability to deliver really deep bass notes and large-scale dynamic shifts with the kind of slam we would hope for at this price level.
Use relatively inefficient speakers, say those below 87dB/w/m, and the Pathos will struggle to fill a larger room convincingly.
We admit that none of this sounds particularly promising – but the InpolRemix's stripped down feature count (just two line-level inputs) and paltry output is less than half the story.
Connect this amplifier to a decent, sympathetically chosen pair of speakers – we got good results from PMC's OB1i Signatures, Dynaudio's Focus 160 standmounters and a pair of ultra efficient Audio Note Type J (claimed 93dB/W/m) – and it really shines.
The InpolRemix's insight and organisation are breathtaking, especially when combined with Pathos's usual sweet but still convincing tonal balance.
Gets all the basics right
It doesn't produce the kind of sound that grabs your attention straight away; it's more the kind of presentation that just sounds right, without blowing any socks off.
Over a very short period of time the amplifier just ceases to draw attention to itself: the spotlight is invariably drawn to other parts of the system or the recording.
The Pathos manages this because it gets all the basics right. By "basics", we mean aspects such as timing – where the relationship between various musical strands is maintained regardless of what else is going on.
Essentially, it's the main difference between a decent band and a great band – everyone plays exactly in time.
You can add immaculate handling of dynamics, particularly of the low-level variety – the kind that communicate the nuances of Adele's voice on Someone Like You – and the ability to organise without sounding overly controlled.
Happy with all types of music
Put it all altogether and you have an amplifier that's as happy rocking out to Nirvana's Nevermind as it is playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.
Whatever the type of recording, the InpolRemix deliver bags of insight without ever sounding overly analytical.
Its sound flows in the manner of the better valve designs we've heard, and yet has an agility and tautness to its presentation that most of those more than capable rivals can't match.
Hybrid designs promise a lot on paper, but in our experience most deliver the worst excesses of valves and transistors rather than the best.
The InpolRemix is something of an exception to that. It's sweet and forgiving of source and recording quality when it needs to be, without sacrificing any of the precision that the recording requires.
Provided you take care with system matching and listen at low to medium levels this is a breathtaking performer. And if the funky appearance appeals, then jump straight in.