There’s a dearth of good mid-priced stereo amplifiers on the market right now. Between the budget superstar Onkyo A-9010 and our reigning Product of the Year, the Rega Brio, there’s little to recommend apart from Cambridge’s CXA60.
Enter the Edwards Audio IA1 Mk2 – an unassuming but promising contender at £400.
We reviewed the first iteration of this stereo amplifier back in 2013, where it didn’t exactly tickle our sonic senses (we also called it ‘pricey’ back then), so can the Mark Two version do better?
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This Edwards Audio amplifier isn’t the most stylish or modern design, but the half-width chassis is solidly built – this is a hefty piece of kit that feels reassuring. It’s also easy to set up, and the red LED-backlit front panel is uncluttered and button-free.
The one major snag is that the IA1 Mk2 still doesn’t come with a remote control, so you’ll have to change the volume manually. There’s no way of muting the amp from the unit alone, either.
The Edwards Audio IA1-R model has the remote, but you’ll have to pay £150 extra for it.
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The two dials on the front panel (one for selecting input, one for volume) both turn smoothly, although we’d have liked to be able to make subtler adjustments to the volume control.
Inside, there’s a new Class AB amplifier circuit outputting 50W per channel. This Mk2 update has remained an all-analogue affair: there are three line level RCA inputs and a 3.5mm auxiliary jack for your sources, and it comes with the option of adding a moving-magnet phono stage. A single pair of outputs for recording is provided, as is the option for adding a pre-out.
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We’d suggest running the Edwards amp in overnight before some serious listening, but we find that the amp’s performance improves the more we listen to it. A week into testing, and the amp’s easy-going, upbeat character endears itself to us even more.
We stream a variety of artists – Hole, Public Enemy, Tom Waits, Death Cab For Cutie, Fleetwood Mac – and the IA1 Mk2 delivers a clear, nicely detailed and punchy sound with every style thrown at it. It may not be the most transparent performer, but we like how solid the amp sounds.
There’s a great deal of heft to each note and this, while not sounding overly smooth, makes it a pleasant and satisfying listen.
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Stevie Nicks’s fluid vocals on Songbird are crystal clear and sound natural. The amp’s presentation is spacious enough to let her voice soar.
Busier tracks, such as Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes, clog up the space a touch, but the amp manages to keep every instrument in line. That iconic throbbing riff is deep, chunky and prominent, but stops just short of sounding too thick or overpowering the rest of the frequencies.
One of our criticisms of the original 2013 version was a brash edge to the sound – this is nowhere to be found on the new IA1 Mk2.
Crashing cymbals, shrieking guitar solos and Kate Bush’s wispy singing don’t make you wince even as you crank up the volume. The amp is capable of going loud, too.
Where the Edwards amp falters is when it comes to outright drive and subtlety.
More expensive rivals such as the Cambridge CXA60 and Rega Brio are better at revealing the grungy textures of Hole’s Gutless, Eminem’s spitting rage in The Way I Am, and the subtle build up of dynamics in Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain.
They unearth far more detail and a more urgent sense of rhythm than the Edwards Audio’s steady pace can.
But the IA1 Mk2 is no slouch. There’s enough muscle and momentum as we listen to – and enjoy – the entirety of Live Through This and It Takes a Nation Of Millions to Hold Us Back.
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It may not win any awards for precise timing, nor for blatantly communicating the different spaces and attitudes as you change genres, but it bounds through songs in such a genial manner that we find it an easy listen in the long run.
This is an amplifier that doesn’t attempt to reach beyond its means: it’s a mid-priced stereo amplifier, and acts (and sounds) like it. Give it appropriate partnering kit – such as the Monitor Audio Bronze 2s or the Dynaudio Emit M10s – and its strengths will shine.
Swapping our reference ATC SCM50 speakers (not natural partners for the amp by any stretch of the imagination) for the Bronze 2s gives the IA1 Mk2 amp a more forward presentation, and a welcome nudge in the rhythm department.
In terms of its performance, it may not trouble the likes of the Rega Brio, but if your hi-fi budget doesn’t stretch that far, you could do worse than give the IA1 Mk2 an audition.
The Edwards Audio amp fills that mid-priced gap in the market nicely. It may not be the most revealing or dynamically challenging amp (and it doesn’t come with a remote), but its solid, energetic presentation and affable sound is enjoyable and easy to live with. Give it a whirl.
See all our Edwards Audio reviews