A do-it-all amp with the mark of a spe­cial­ist

FOR Big, en­joy­able sound; in­sight; re­fine­ment; fea­tures AGAINST Some ec­cen­tric­i­ties in use; no coax­ial or op­ti­cal ins

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - First Tests -

It’s a tes­ta­ment to the qual­ity of Rok­san’s Blak in­te­grated am­pli­fier that our big­gest is­sue with it is the de­lib­er­ately mis­spelled name. Come on! Blak… re­ally? Other than that, it’s a su­perbly rounded prod­uct that’s well made, sen­si­bly fea­tured and ca­pa­ble of a very fine sound.

Well equipped – and flex­i­ble

Rok­san has de­cided against the min­i­mal­ist ap­proach with this de­sign. If you want just a pre­mium line-level ana­logue in­te­grated, we would point you to­wards the com­pany’s still-ex­cel­lent Caspian M2 (£2000) pro­vided its 85W per chan­nel out­put is up to driv­ing your speak­ers to the lev­els re­quired.

But, if you need a fully equipped unit that can con­nect to your com­puter, smart­phone, turntable and head­phones, the Blak makes a mighty strong case for it­self. Par­tic­u­larly when you con­sider its im­pres­sive mus­cu­lar­ity, rated as it is at 150W per chan­nel into an eight-ohm load that rises to 230W as im­ped­ance halves.

This is a hefty am­pli­fier all-round, weigh­ing in at 14kg. It runs a lit­tle warm too, so make sure there’s enough space around it to en­sure good ven­ti­la­tion. The Blak feels well built; it’s solid, nicely fin­ished and a plea­sure to use. There’s a bit of a Fisher-price-toy look to the un­duly large dis­play, though at least you can read it from a dis­tance even in bright sun­light.

There are a few odd­i­ties that need to be ac­com­mo­dated, though. The main power switch is hid­den on the left-side lower edge, while plug­ging a pair of head­phones in – there’s a 6.3mm out­put on the front panel – won’t switch the sound away from the speak­ers un­less you se­lect the head­phone out­put through another switch be­hind the front panel. And the vol­ume level works in steps of two rather than one. Odd.

Get past these ec­cen­tric­i­ties and you’ll find the Blak ac­com­mo­dat­ing of both part­ner­ing equip­ment and mu­si­cal gen­res.

There’s plenty of con­nec­tiv­ity. Tra­di­tion­al­ists will be kept happy with bal­anced XLRS, three sin­gle-ended line-level in­puts and a mov­ing-mag­net phono stage. Those into dig­i­tal get a USB Type B that will cope with 24-bit/192khz PCM as well as DSD mu­sic files.

Un­like most sim­i­larly priced ri­vals, the Blak has em­braced aptx Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity too, so lis­ten­ing to mu­sic from phones, tablets and com­put­ers is easy. Out­puts are lim­ited to the head­phone socket on the front panel and a sin­gle set of high-qual­ity WBT speaker ter­mi­nals.

It takes a few days be­fore the Blak in­te­grated re­ally comes on song, but even from the first few min­utes of lis­ten­ing the signs are good. Our ini­tial im­pres­sion of an en­thu­si­as­tic, big-boned pre­sen­ta­tion re­mains un­changed through­out the test.

Off the planet

We start off with Holst’s Mars and are greeted by a large-scale sound that’s packed with au­thor­ity and power. The piece is pep­pered with dense, tex­tured low fre­quen­cies and the Blak re­sponds with glee, de­liv­er­ing them – along with the mu­sic's wide-rang­ing dy­nam­ics – with all the punch and power they de­serve.

There’s a lovely sense of ease in ev­i­dence here too, even when the mu­sic be­comes de­mand­ing and vol­ume lev­els rise. There’s lit­tle sense of the am­pli­fier hold­ing back, as crescen­dos come through with con­fi­dence

“This am­pli­fier ren­ders a lovely sound­stage, paint­ing in­stru­ments with a steady brush and po­si­tion­ing them with skill on an ex­pan­sive can­vas”

and plenty of im­pact. The Rok­san stays com­posed through­out.

This am­pli­fier ren­ders a lovely sound­stage, paint­ing in­stru­ments with a steady brush and po­si­tion­ing them with skill on an ex­pan­sive can­vas. It’s a sta­ble pre­sen­ta­tion too, with the in­stru­ments stay­ing locked in place as com­plex­ity rises. We switch to Nina Si­mone’s Ain’t Got No,

I Got Life and it charges along packed with en­ergy and drive. Si­mone’s char­ac­ter­ful vo­cals are de­liv­ered with verve, yet there’s enough in the way of nu­ance and tex­ture to keep purists sat­is­fied. At the top-end there’s plenty of bite, but it's tem­pered with re­fine­ment to stop things get­ting ag­gres­sive.

We try out the mov­ing-mag­net phonos­tage and are pleased with what we hear. It’s a lively sound­ing cir­cuit, re­flect­ing the in­sight and trans­parency through the line in­puts. Noise lev­els are low, and un­less you have a pre­mium deck (£1500-plus), we can’t see a rea­son to use any­thing else.

We’re equally pos­i­tive about the on-board DAC. It’s a good mod­ule, of­fer­ing roughly the per­for­mance level of a good sub-£400 stand­alone unit. Re­gard­less of whether we play Nick Cave’s moody Push

The Sky Away or Kanye West’s fren­zied Yeezus, the DAC takes it all in its stride, de­liv­er­ing a de­tailed and en­ter­tain­ing sound. It’s a shame the com­pany hasn’t seen fit to of­fer coax­ial or op­ti­cal in­puts.

A wide range of sources

The Blue­tooth per­for­mance isn’t so pleas­ing, sound­ing thin­ner and no­tably less ex­pres­sive, but that’s as much the re­sult of the trans­mis­sion method as it is the Rok­san. The im­por­tant thing is that the am­pli­fier is open to a wide range of sources and con­nects swiftly.

We also try out the head­phone out­put. And we’re im­pressed. Usu­ally head­phone cir­cuits are box-tick­ing ex­er­cises for most man­u­fac­tur­ers, but this one isn’t. It sounds punchy and de­tailed, de­liv­er­ing a sim­i­lar char­ac­ter of sound to that we hear through the speaker out­puts.

The Blak am­pli­fier is su­perbly judged. It has a pow­er­ful and en­er­getic sound with enough in the way of in­sight, sub­tlety and re­fine­ment to keep us happy. It's also well equipped and ca­pa­ble of sound­ing right at home in a wide range of sys­tems. Rec­om­mended? You bet.

Take a pre­mi­umqual­ity amp, add a wide range of com­pat­i­bil­ity and you have a win­ning for­mula

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.