Exposure XV integrated
This article, written by Malcolm Steward, formed part of a multi-component review that appeared in High Fidelity magazine (UK) 1990.
In one of my recent To The Point columns I bemoaned the lack of truly exciting products in the affordable sector of the market. A brief lapse of memory caused me to omit one such that deserved to be mentioned: the £600 Exposure XV. This amp helps redefine the performance levels that can be attained by integrated amplifiers.
The XV is a development and refinement of Exposure’s first integrated design, the Exposure X. The new amplifier offers the same in terms of power – 35 Watts per channel – but does away with some of the older amp’s foibles, like the thump that attended its switch on. It also benefits from cosmetic and detail changes which I regard as worthwhile improvements: for example, the new rotary input selector switch. And… it sounds better!
The XV comes housed in a sturdy, matt black aluminium case which measures 430mm wide, 78mm high, and 330mm front to back. Exposure are one of those manufacturers who do not feel that steel cases and the best sound quality go hand in hand, despite the economical attractions of their use.
To those familiar with British minimalist amplifier design the XV looks par for the course. To those brought up on Japanese amps the obvious question will be where is my money going? There’s certainly not much indication given from the outside. The front panel carries only one rocker switch with inbuilt neon indicator that serves for power on/off, and three rotary controls. From left to right these are record selector, listen selector, and volume.
Five inputs are catered for: phono, CD, tuner, tape and aux. A sixth position on the listen selector provides a convenient mute facility next to the phono input – useful when cueing records. Purchasers must specify the phono cartridge they wish to use with the amplifier at the time of purchase, as only one disc option is provided – moving magnet or moving coil. This can be altered at a later date if desired. The conversion, which involves changing a small printed circuit board, is best left to the dealer or the manufacturer as there is some soldering to be done.¶ Neither is there much to view at the rear end of this amplifier: six pairs of phono sockets (inputs and tape out), with gold plating on the phono pair, and one pair of 4mm loudspeaker sockets. With the latter the use of 4mm `banana’ plugs is obligatory. Between the left and right disc input sockets sits a small screw which acts as a grounding point for turntables. Exposure pointed this out to me but said they would be most surprised if I found the need to use it. Surprisingly, they were right! This was the only amp in the test which required none of the turntables used to be earthed. With all the rest, leaving off the earth wires resulted in the pick up of RFI (Radio Frequency Interference).
So, where does the buyer’s money go? Certainly not on much that’s visible from an external examination. What it buys is, in my opinion, far more important if you’re looking for high quality sound. The amp is fed by a large toroidal transformer with a separate winding for its preamplifier stage. This latter section also benefits from its own regulation and smoothing circuits. And many of the components used in the XV are custom devices manufactured for Exposure to their own stringent specifications. Such measures are the norm with costly pre/power amplifiers but are not normally found in integrated designs.
Using Exposure’s own loudspeaker cable – which the company strongly recommends – the XV proved a musically rewarding partner; and one whose performance was hard to criticise justifiably. The Mary Black tracks were presented with animation and a genuine sense of `being there’. Her voice and all the backing instrumentation had a presence that was tangible, the piano, in particular, having convincing weight and note shape. There was colour and contrast to the music, which was relayed with effortless ease. The subtle clues which turn hi-fi sound into a musical event were handled with true authority. The sense of interplay and coordination between the musicians was the best I heard from this group of amps. The XV sounded cohesive, alive and conveyed the emotional content of this music like no other. If one measures the capability of an amplifier by its ability to raise the hairs on one’s arms then the Exposure XV gets a `fully erect’ rating!
On Clive Gregson and Christine Collister’s evocative Blue Suede Shoes the Exposure continued to delight. It imparted the best sense of impetus and drive to the song’s insistent rhythm and once more imbued the contributions of the vocalists and instrumentalists with the spark and energy found in live performance. It would be of little benefit to get bogged down in describing its portrayal of specific aspects of this music: where it scored was in focussing my attention solely on the song and its performance by the artists to the total exclusion of mere mechanical details. Yes the bass was tight and tuneful, the drums had impact, guitars had neatly defined leading edges, and vocals were articulate and open. But I’ve heard plenty of amplifiers of which that could be said but they still failed to involve me in the music in a remotely similar fashion.
The Panufnik concerto showed that the XV was equally at home with the classical genre. The music came to life with startling vivacity, its melodic and harmonic progression presented with crystalline resolution. Smietana’s playing was rendered as finely detailed and expressive as one could wish, and together with its presentation of the orchestra the XV painted a vivid and brilliant picture of Panufnik’s composition.
The Exposure eschewed all attempts at artifice and simply grasped the challenge of making music communicate with and involve the listener. In this respect it left all in its wake.