Quad Vena: Old Meets New in an Attractive Amplifier Solution

Gramophone, November 2015 | Go to article overview

Quad Vena: Old Meets New in an Attractive Amplifier Solution


For many readers of a certain age, and those of us with a penchant for a taste of hi-fi's past, Quad is the classic British hi-fi name. It's hardly surprising, given that 2016 will mark 80 years since Peter Walker started the company in London as SP Fidelity Sound Systems, quickly changing the name to The Acoustical Manufacturing Co Ltd. Since then it has undergone a couple of changes of ownership, and a shift of manufacturing from Huntingdon (where it moved when it was bombed out of London in 1941) to the huge production plant of current owner IAG, in China.

I've confessed to a hankering for an old Quad pre/power amplifier, perhaps even with the partnering FM radio tuner, in these pages before--but having looked at more 33/303s and 44/405s than I care to remember, I'm yet to find exactly the set to get me reaching for the cash. And as for finding a pair of its first electrostatic speaker, the ESL57, in anything like original condition for sensible money, I fear I may be several decades too late.

I could, however, consider some of the modern Quad products, which include the re-created QII series, based on the original amplifier of the same name introduced in 1953, and the Elite models derived from the radical (for Quad) 77 Series of 1994--I still remember attending the 77 launch event, and the tour of the factory, where we marvelled at the amount of handmade craftsmanship behind these hi-tech products.

And Quad keeps developing: on the stocks is the new Artera series, designed to bring Quad into the high resolution audio age: the Artera Play is a combined player/control unit complete with DSD capability, and a matching Artera Stereo power amplifier will also be available.

And then there's Vena. Launched last year, this is a compact integrated amplifier with styling clearly designed as a modern twist on the classic Quad look, notably that maintained in the current QC Twenty Four preamplifier and Quad II Classic Integrated. You can even buy the amplifier wrapped in a selection of wooden sleeves, making use of the extensive cabinetry plant at IAG Central, of which more in a moment.

However, what's not so classic about Vena is its input provision: as well as the usual analogue inputs, of which there are two, it also has both coaxial and two optical digital inputs, plus two USB inputs--one to enable a computer to be connected, the other for iPods, iPhones and iPads. On top of which it also has aptX Bluetooth for wireless connection of suitable devices for audio playback we're quite a long way from those classic Quad valve amplifiers!

As standard, the Vena comes in Lancaster Grey metal casework, selling for 600 [pounds sterling], while versions sleeved in piano gloss black or white, or the sapele mahogany of the review sample, attract a 100 [pounds sterling] premium. Incidentally the sleeve finishes match those of the company's new S series loudspeakers, which start at 600 [pounds sterling] for the S1 standmount/ bookshelf model.

The 'standard' metal-cased version of the Vena comes with a Bluetooth antenna to screw into a rear-panel terminal, simply because the aluminium casework shields the internal Bluetooth receiver; on the 'sleeved' versions no external antenna is required.

The fascia design has definite echoes of those Quads of old, with its single volume control situated to the right, beside a line of buttons to select inputs, each with its own LED indicator built-in. It's a pleasingly simple layout, backed up with an equally uncluttered remote handset, with buttons for input selection, volume, muting and power on/standby. Small the remote may be, but it's well-finished in metal to match the front-panel of the amplifier.

The USB input can accept files at up to 24-bit/192kHz, which are handled by the widely-used Cirrus Logic CS4398 24-bit DAC, also found in the company's flagship Platinum CD player, while the onboard amplification uses conventional Class AB topology rather than the increasingly popular Class D, Quad explaining the choice was made because this design allows 'richer musicality than similarly priced Class D amplifiers can muster'. …

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