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
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