Hoping for some good news in 2017? Then look no further, as Exposure Electronics launches its exciting new ‘XM’ series of hi-fi components. Responding directly to the unstoppable resurgence of vinyl amid a digital age, the series offers a smart solution for those who seek great performance across multiple media but don’t want the size or cost of their system to spiral out of control.
Kicking off the series, the XM5 integrated amplifier includes both a phonostage and a DAC – yet in an astonishingly compact half-width size.
The ‘good old days of vinyl’ made new: putting the ‘integrated’ back into amps
There can be no doubt that the vinyl revival is alive and kicking. 2016 saw reports of turntable sales outstripping those of other home audio products, vinyl sales exceeding YouTube revenue for artists and more money being spent on vinyl albums than digital downloads in the run-up to Christmas.
So are we back to ‘the good old days’ of vinyl? Not quite. “Back when vinyl records were the standard, all integrated amps and most preamplifiers had an on-board phonostage, since the majority of people were using a turntable,” explains Tony Brady, Exposure’s chief designer. “But with the arrival of CDs in the 1990s, phonostages were largely dropped from amplifier design.”
Why? Cost. The signal generated by a phono cartridge is tiny when compared to that of any other medium (whether CD, tape, DAC, radio tuner, etc) and hence requires a highly sensitive additional amplification stage. It also needs to be equalised to take account of the RIAA equalization used in vinyl records. All of which made the phonostage one of the most costly parts of an amp – so the minute most people stopped needing them, manufacturers dropped them and the phonostage became a separate component aimed at only the most committed of vinyl enthusiasts.
“Which means that vinyl-lovers now have to invest in, and make room for, a whole lot of kit,” adds Brady. But not any more, since the brand new Exposure XM5 is an integrated amplifier that brings ‘the good old days of vinyl’ bang up-to-date. With its integrated phonostage and on-board DAC, it is designed for both analogue and digital replay and for both audio and multimedia enjoyment. All the amplifier you need in one box.
Sleek, slender and full of substance
Half a box, actually, since the XM series is the first of Exposure’s ranges to cleverly pack a full complement of high quality features into a narrow half-width design.
“Not every music lover or audio enthusiast wants, or has the space or budget for, a massive hi-fi system with multiple bulky components,” says Brady. “But at the same time, quality of sound is once again becoming important to an increasing number of people. Many music lovers want to enjoy better performance but they still want convenience and value for money.” ‘Real world’ hi-fi at ‘real world’ prices, in other words – which is something Exposure has always been particularly strong on.
So what the XM series loses in bulk, it makes up for in detail. While most smaller hi-fi components (and indeed a good many large ones) fall back on switch-mode power supplies – which are far from audiophile grade and pollute the mains supply with noise – the XM5 features a linear power supply with a large 200VA custom-made toroidal power transformer. Only high quality resistors and capacitors are used in the signal path, while Toshiba bipolar output transistors are carefully chosen for their superior dynamic performance.
For the audiophile who wants that little bit more, Exposure’s new XM3 phonostage adds a further level of performance along with greater flexibility. Its rear panel offers separate MM and MC inputs as well as adjustable loading and gain switches. And, like the XM5, it also sports a convenient half-width size.
In short, in the XM series Exposure have somehow managed to offer their most extensive set of features yet, but in their smallest-ever component size and without compromising musical performance. Now that’s what we call ‘less is more’.