That Was Then… Audio Research CA50 review

Audio Research was founded back in 1970. It didn’t take long for the fledgling high-end brand to build a reputation for well engineered, good sounding valve electronics.

Yet it wasn’t until 1997 that it released an integrated amplifier. The CA50’s arrival caused something of a fuss at the time, with long-term Audio Research fans wondering if the purist company had lost its way – many enthusiasts continue to think one-box amps are all about packaging over performance.

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They needn’t have worried. The CA50 turned out to be a peach, despite a £3500 price tag that pitched it beyond most premium rivals. Apart from a slight delay on initial switch-on – caused by the control software waiting for the valves to stabilise – this integrated was as fuss-free to use as any transistor alternative.

It had plenty of line-level inputs, 45 watts per channel thanks to the 6550 output valves, and a remote control – a rare treat, especially for a valve-based product.

We really liked the sound. Audio Research products have never subscribed to the warm-and-rich valve stereotype, and the CA50 was no different.

It was insightful, dynamic and neutral. Aside from a slightly overripe low bass – only noticeable with big speakers– it was beautifully balanced, and capable of playing all types of music with skill.

We fell for it big time, just as we have with the company’s latest integrated offering, the GSi75. This amplifier clearly shares the CA50’s fuss-free DNA but pushes both performance and price upwards by a significant degree.

Yet the two are alike far more than they differ, both delivering class-leading performances from just a single chassis. If anything, the GSi75’s built-in phono stage, headphone socket, DAC and higher power output make it even more useful.

If you think integrated designs are just about convenience, listen to one of these. It will put you right.

MORE: Audio Research GSi75 review

Kob began his career at What Hi-Fi?, starting in the dusty stockroom before rising up the ranks to join the editorial and production team as the Buyer’s Guide editor. Experienced in both magazine and online publishing, he now runs the TV & audio section at Trusted Reviews where he keeps a beady eye on all the latest comings and goings in the hi-fi and home cinema market.