THE A-A6 has had to scrap for its five stars every time we've reviewed it.
Most equipment that attracts the number of criticisms that we've levelled at the Pioneer ends up with
a four-star verdict and, occasionally, we've fretted that perhaps the A-A6 wasn't worthy of the full five.
Lined up in a Group Test for the first time, though, we're relieved to find that we were right all along - this is a five-star amplifier, but it's not without shortcomings.
So those shortcomings first...
Build and perceived value, for instance. The Pioneer looks good, interesting even, but it's imperfectly finished and harbours a few sharp-ish edges. The remote control is a flimsy joke, more appropriate for a product at a fifth of the price.
The Pioneer's specification isn't very distinguished either: a phono stage is always welcome, but every other amp here can better the A-A6's single tape loop and provision for driving only a single pair of loudspeakers.
However, the Pioneer strikes home where it really counts, in the sound quality department.
Delivering The Smiths' Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others, the A-A6 sounds clean, detailed and unflappable. The top end occasionally glints dangerously, but even cursory speaker-matching can prevent treble histrionics, and it's a crisp and com-municative affair otherwise.
Easier to forgive after a listen
The midrange is spacious, articulate and involving, and what the Pioneer lacks in outright bass weight is more than compensated for by its speed, agility and focus. Stereo imaging is solid and believable, and the A-A6 generates prodigious drive and supple dynamism. The stormy passages of Beethoven's 'Pastoral' Symphony No.6 will have you reaching for your umbrella in sympathy.
We reckon it's an amplifier that would be happiest attached to a pair of disproportionately expensive loudspeakers.
That's not to say that the A-A6 is perfect, and some will want more low-end authority – but in terms of simple musicality and realism, the Pioneer's well worth its five stars.