Lavardin IS Reference review

With its no-frills appearance and spec, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the IS Reference for a budget amp. But up and running, it fires out a distinct Tested at £2408.00

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

The IS Reference is one of the most musically compelling amplifiers we’ve ever heard at this price level. It’s not flashy, but it is brilliant


  • +

    A sonic superstar with nuanced dynamics, crisp timing and impressive detail

  • +

    class-leading fluidity

  • +

    easy to use


  • -

    Nothing to shout about physically

  • -

    no remote control

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.

Rarely will you see such a plain-looking product on our print edition's Temptations pages as the Lavardin IS Reference integrated amplifier.

The kit featured in this section of the magazine is usually highly priced and massively engineered, with luxury cosmetics the norm, which is why the puritanical Lavardin sticks out even more.

Take a closer look at the spec list and things don't get any flashier. It's a simple line-level design (a MM phono module is a £383 option) with just a single tape loop. Headphone output? Remote control? No, and no.

Completing the unspectacular news is a power output of just 30 Watts per channel: not enough to impress at a 10th of the money.

But, as the star rating would suggest, there's plenty more going on here than the bare figures.

Impressively expressive
Provided you haven't got particularly insensitive speakers or a room the size of a barn, this slimline Lavardin will deliver more than reasonable volume levels. And within its (surprisingly wide) limits this is an amazingly surefooted and articulate amplifier.

It's insightful, not just in its ability to dig up lots of detail, but also in the manner with which it ties together all the musical strands to make the resultant whole make sense.

If you want a telepathic link into what the recording artist wants you to feel, the IS Reference gets closer than any rival we've heard.

Lavardin makes a great deal about what it calls ‘Memory Distortion'. This is the idea that electron flow across silicon – used in transistors – leaves a residual path, and that this is the cause of the hardness of solid state, as compared to valve amplifiers. Lavardin has come up with some circuitry that the company claims gets around this issue.

At this point we must mention that no other manufacturer we've ever met even acknowledges the effect, let alone thinks it's a problem that needs to be solved.

Marketing hype? It could well be, except the IS Reference is amazingly fluid in its delivery, making almost all rival amplifiers sound mechanical in comparison.

An amazingly clear sound
The Lavardin is full-bodied and rich, without ever sounding overcooked in the bass or rounding-off treble. On the subject of treble, it shimmers and sparkles in a manner we've rarely heard, without any hint of excess harshness or spikiness.

Such a formidable array of talents means the Lavardin is at home with all types of music. It charges along with Springsteen and sooths with Sinatra. Whatever you listen to, this little amplifier will lap it all up and deliver the sound in a wonderfully natural, convincing manner.

Judged purely on sound, the Lavardin is an outstanding bargain. Yes, the IS Reference is painfully feature-free, and it looks less glamorous than most budget amplifiers we've reviewed. But, give it a fair listen in a suitably talented system and we think you'll be hooked.

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What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

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