YBA Passion IA350A Integrated Amplifier Review
Jay Garrett talks about the passion of this high-end Gallic delight…
Passion IA350A Integrated Amplifier
Slotting between YBA's top-flight Signature series and the upper mid-market Genesis family, the French brand's Passion line could well be the sweet spot that many audiophiles are looking for. The range consists of a half-dozen components, including the CD430 CD player and PH150 phono preamp, as well as a CD transport (CDT450), and separate pre and power amplifiers. However, today I am focusing on the £4,500 IA350A integrated amplifier.
Sat on three feet, the aesthetics of the Passion components share much with its upper-tier Signature stablemates. You get the quirky-yet-pleasing oval display windows that glow a warm tube-like amber-rose when powered up, and the two-tone aluminium finish casework. YBA's founder and lead designer, Yves-Bernard André, loves toggle switches and large, chunky dials. Here, the said dials operate source selection on the left-hand side and volume on the right.
The build quality of the YBA IA350 is pretty much faultless, which puts paid to the general cries of, “ah yes, but it's made in China!” True, YBA products are designed in France and built by Shanling but – as befits a company founded by someone who cut their teeth at companies such as Goldmund and Audax – quality control is exacting. André literally signs the Signature range products before they head off to their new owners – so the overall impression given by this integrated amplifier's presence is one of tasteful quality and style.
The IA350A is a dual-mono design that utilises a pair of 320VA UI core transformers to feed linear power supplies for each channel. The result is an output rated at 115W into 8 ohms, or 160W into 4. The product features two sets of unbalanced RCA line inputs and one balanced XLR. The RCA ins are labelled CD and Video, with the Video connection reconfigurable to bypass the volume control. There's no phono input, but YBA does offer a selection including the battery-operated Genesis PH1 or the Passion PH150, for instance.
Unlike many price rivals, there are no streaming smarts here – even though there's an Ethernet socket, or so it would seem. However, look closer, and you realise that it's an RJ45 port for I2S, perfect for hooking up the Passion CD transport, for example. That said, you do get a raft of alternative digital options including USB-A, USB-B, coaxial in and out, and an AES/EBU input. You can turn off the digital section via a rear panel switch allowing the unit to go full analogue when the mood takes you – a rare and interesting feature. As usual, if you want to use your laptop or PC with the USB-B port, Windows users must do the driver download dance, whereas Mac owners get to plug and play.
The digital inputs get sent to the well respected Crystal Semiconductors DAC that decodes up to 192kHz/24-bit PCM; this isn't exactly cutting edge stuff anymore but is still ample for most. On the output side of things, the IA350A offers one set of loudspeaker terminals that accept spades, bananas, and bare-wire. There is also a pair of unbalanced analogue outputs so you can either use the unit as a preamplifier or use these ports to drive a subwoofer or two. Overall then, this is a versatile product and is generally very nice to use, my only niggle being that you are not able to rename the inputs.
Having been my houseguest for a while, there has been a range of sources connected to the YBA IA350A. For this review, the integrated joined its Passion brethren – the CD430 (via the CD-tagged input) and the PH150 (XLR) paired with my trusty VPI Prime vinyl spinner. I even cheekily streamed some Roon tunes via a Chord Hugo 2, utilising the RCA input marked Video.
This is one of those amplifiers that seduces you without you really being aware of what's going on. You know it's there because of the command the YBA shows over the music being played. Yet its touch seems so subtle because it remains faithful to what the artists and engineers signed off during some hazy moment at 3am in a studio somewhere…
This integrated might not be shouty then, but that doesn't mean it's not confident. It has incredible grip and authority, being able to go surprisingly loud without ever losing its composure or letting loose the speakers attached. However, this volume is easily controlled, and you can effortlessly select your perfect output level thanks to the smooth dial and eighty indicated steps, or via the hefty remote hewn from a block of aluminium.
Starting off with my laptop-loaded music using the USB port, and it was Tori Amos being placed perfectly between my speakers and sounding truly lifelike as she sang the heartfelt break-up song Blood Roses. The accompanying harpsichord sprang from the background as fast and as jagged as Tori's words. This is not usually how I serve my music, but the YBA amp was doing a great job. However, turn to the analogue side of the Passion and switch off the digital side and, to me, this is where the IA350A really begins to shine.
Playing the same track using the CD player plugged into the analogue section with the digital side put to sleep, and it was as though the midband had stepped forward. The top-end also seemed to shine more, albeit remaining soft around the edges, making the whole acoustic picture more vivid. Thanks to a quieter background and snappier midrange, the track was even more 'there' with Tori's breaths gaining extra presence. This added top-end titillation brought with it not only better definition but also left the silences in blacker relief.
The Passion taps its epaulettes and announces its rank above the Genesis IA3A as it delivers Grime's So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth, the opening track of her Miss Anthropocene album, here on LP. The music is presented with a fantastic amount of front-to-back depth that's more akin to Naim's Nait XS3 – not only with its sense of space and timing but also with the slightly soft touch on the treble. Still, I would argue that the YBA has a little more top-end presence and overall gusto.
The oft-maligned Heathen by David Bowie showed that the Passion integrated is no slouch when it needs to push out the beats on tracks such as I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spacecraft. The amplifier's surefooted grip had the drivers of my Marten Duke 2 speakers dancing. The rich low end was solid but never boomy. However, it was Slow Burn, where the YBA demonstrated its versatility. This moody yet bouncy piece sports a bass and sax combo that lends it a slight nineteen sixties vibe. The IA3A presented everything with punch and power, but without being aggressive and fatiguing. It was also a joy to hear Pete Townshend's (yeah, that Pete Townshend) unmistakable guitar noodling take its rightful place clearly in the mix, yet never dominating those sublime vocals.
Separation of detail is impressive, with tracks displaying clear space in terms of depth as well as width and solidity. Sending VAST's debut album via Roon through a Chord Hugo 2 and 2go combo into the amp's Video input, was an immersive experience. This was especially a case in point with Visual Audio Sensory Theatre, and its alchemy of late-nineties ambient and industrial music as samples of Benedictine monks and 18-piece orchestras are mixed with synths and distorted guitars. VAST is actually the project of one talented man, Jon Crosby. Touched, the second track from the album opens with his vocals and an acoustic guitar before the chanting samples join in backed by a grand piano. The YBA amp delivered a great sense of scale when the kit drum and overdriven guitars joined in.
Overall, in sonic terms this is more of a smoothie than a headbanger; some might find its gentle handling of the upper-frequency bands a little soft, but this also makes loudspeaker matching less of a chore – so could even end up being a plus. For example, if you're a fan of the Naim sound but looking for something with a bit more presence, this could well fit the bill.
YBA's IA350A integrated amplifier is an extremely capable product – even at its not inconsiderable selling price. There's a part of me that rather enjoys the brand's apparent exclusivity – as it's a name for those in the know, as it were – but another part questions why it's still one of hi-fi's best kept secrets. With its superlative build quality, finish, aesthetics and ergonomics, this amplifier is a real class act. Then there's its seriously good sound quality and of course its undeniable flexibility you get from its various inputs. Ultimately, if you're on the lookout for a serious one-box amplifier solution, then do audition this if you possibly can.
For more information, check out YBA.
StereoNET UK’s Editor, bass player, and resident rock star! Jay’s passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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