Audiophiles love beautiful, original, and, unfortunately, very expensive electronic devices. Turntables made with incredible precision, powerful tube amplifiers, huge loudspeakers, thick cables - we associate all this with a sophisticated, engaging sound, but there is no doubt that above a certain level all this fun begins to smell of madness. This is perfectly evident at exhibitions, where one can taste the sound of stereo systems worth millions of dollars. Some visitors get the impression of participating in a sick experiment. The degree of complexity of such extreme systems, as well as their dimensions and prices, have a repulsive effect on music lovers. Besides, let's be honest, when visiting a showroom with such equipment, didn't you ever think to yourself that at such prices you'd better start looking elsewhere? Didn't you come to the conclusion that even if you got such a set for free, you wouldn't have anywhere to put it? Some companies have recognized this problem, but their solution is most often to put the dream of owning a decent stereo completely out of your head. Don't have lots of cash to spend on your hi-fi? Then get some small network speakers or a soundbar and sod off. And that's not exactly the point, is it?
Let's assume we have a pair of good, reasonably priced speakers. We're happy with them, their sound suits us, and their size and appearance fit our listening room. What to power them with? A network amplifier? Hmm, it will probably be big and unnecessarily complicated, and the sound quality is so-so. An integrated amplifier and streamer? That's an interesting option, but two components will be more expensive. Or maybe we can find some clever all-in-one system? In that case, let's consider what we need. Such a device should offer reasonable output power, at least in the region of 25-50 watts per channel, have LAN and Wi-Fi, allow us to stream music from popular services, and have one or two digital inputs so that we can connect our system to a TV, at least one analog input so that we can, immediately or in the future, place a turntable next to it, plus a subwoofer output or Bluetooth for occasional music from a phone or laptop would also be welcome. We can find some such devices on the market - Yamaha WXA-50, Bluesound Powernode, Pro-Ject Maia S2, Audiolab 6000A Play, or Sonos Amp. At the end of the day, this is not some space technology.
But let's try to look for something that doesn't take the desire for the best possible sound out of the equation. Let's demand both functionality and great sound quality, not just one of the two. We recently discussed this topic in the editorial office and concluded that such equipment, in addition to Bluetooth connectivity and Spotify Connect support, should be compatible with TIDAL Connect, possibly Qobuz or Roon, and allow for listening to lossless files, preferably through a proprietary app, rather than external systems like Play-Fi or Chromecast. The reason is trivially simple - Spotify has long announced that it will make available the ability to stream music in higher quality, but nothing revolutionary has been happening in this regard for a long time either. Audiophiles using Spotify are still waiting, waiting, and waiting. TIDAL beats Spotify in terms of sound quality, but the Connect option appeared in it relatively recently and is not yet widespread. Fortunately, someone has already noticed this problem and decided to act. The result is a device you probably haven't heard of yet - Octavio AMP.
Design and functionality
I bet you didn't know not only the amplifier, but also the Octavio brand itself. No wonder, as it is very young, and AMP is only its second product, next to a tiny streaming player called Stream. The story of the French company is as interesting as the philosophy of its founders. The idea was born in two student apartments in Lille. Octavio's founders, David and Victor, owned vintage audio systems whose sound they greatly appreciated, but which were not compatible with new formats, digital sources, or streaming services. So they both faced the same problem - how to preserve the quality of their hi-fi while taking advantage of the latest innovations? The idea of parting with their existing system was inconceivable to them. The gentlemen concluded that it would be far better to improve the equipment they had, making it more modern, rather than throwing every single component into the trash. After many months of designing and testing, they created a device that made their dream come true. The AMP went into production thanks to a crowdfunding campaign.
To be honest, when I first saw the photos and parameters of that amplifier, I couldn't believe it has been built by a group of young people, and not a big corporation with a huge technical and financial background. We have repeatedly pointed out that for some manufacturers - especially those that have long specialized in the production of classic analog amplifiers - keeping up with reality and opening up to streaming is a great problem. More often than not, they have no experience in these matters, so they are left with either buying a ready-made one and wrapping it in a nice case, or embarking on the arduous process of designing their own streamer from scratch, which is basically impossible, because they neither have the specialists for it, nor even the resources for such investments. Even the larger players often do not undertake the development of their own mobile app, because it is a huge expense, and after the successful launch of such an app, it is necessary to constantly update it afterwards. Meanwhile, a couple of young engineers from France have created a streamer, then an amplifier, which has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and AirPlay 2, several essential analog and digital jacks, supports Spotify Connect, TIDAL Connect and Apple Music, reads FLAC, OGG, ALAC, WMA, APE, MP3 files, supports signals up to 24 bit/192 kHz, puts out 35 watts per channel at 8 Ω, plus still offers proprietary Sound Filter technology, and is operated via the company's app called Virtuose. The whole thing is enclosed in a sleek, minimalist-style case measuring 4 x 20 x 20 cm, with beautiful metal buttons and a large knob. Oh, and one more thing - the Octavio AMP is manufactured in France.
To give you the full picture, it's worth going to the manufacturer's official website and doing a little digging. I was very impressed by Octavio's approach to three issues - employees, environmental protection, and working with domestic companies to ensure the highest quality and repeatability of the equipment offered to customers. The French believe that the ability of the whole team to work in a friendly space influences the approach to well-being at work and a person who feels comfortable in his environment is a happy employee who does his job well and maybe comes up with an interesting idea, too.
Case number two - a study cited by the French designers shows that 90% of damaged audio players are not repaired, and 79% of them could be brought back to life. What's more, according to them, 45% of equipment is replaced not because of a defect, but because of a lack of new features. The French decided to combat this by creating hardware-based on relatively popular components that will probably still be available for a long time to come, and which can be replaced if they fail. In case of inactivity, the Octavio AMP automatically switches to sleep mode to save as much energy as possible. The most polluting parts have been replaced with more environmentally friendly components, and the device itself consumes an average of 2 watts during normal use, almost 50 times less than a modern TV. It doesn't stop there, as on French territory Octavio appliances are delivered to customers in reusable outer packaging. Such a carton can be taken to the post office or placed next to a street mailbox to be returned to the sender so that it can be used to make another amplifier reach the next customer safely.
And finally, issue number three - production. Whenever possible, Octavio tries to use French sub-suppliers and makers of parts, such as the chassis, for example. Packaging, too, is French, and the company's website has an entire map showing the locations from which all the kit components we buy come. Another site also offers an entire description and photos of the manufacturing process. The transparency of the Octavio team is truly admirable and exemplary.
So let's move on to the object of our test. The Octavio AMP is a device that on the one hand is extremely simple, but on the other hand is richly equipped, functional, and thoroughly modern. If you have passive speaker systems and would like to transform them into something along the lines of networked speakers such as the Sonos One or Yamaha MusicCast 20, the French amplifier will accomplish this task without taking up too much space and requiring virtually no additional investment - well, except perhaps for speaker cables. You get the device in an elegant cardboard box, in which you will also find a sizable power supply and Wi-Fi antenna. As for accessories, that's pretty much it. There's no denying that the device is really nice, but I was most surprised by the build quality of the case. I thought it was plastic, but the whole thing, including the sides and cover, is aluminum. The Octavio AMP is a piece of equipment designed and manufactured with unusual precision and attention to detail for this price range. From the outside you can't see any screws, as there are only four - the unit opens from underneath, but first, you have to get rid of the square rubber feet. The electronic circuit is tiny, but we won't get much of a look here, as it was mounted with the board up, and after removing more screws, we found that something else was holding the board in place. Maybe it was the glue, or maybe the tightly fitted sockets and connectors. Either way, it's a decent job, and that it's such electronics in miniaturized form - well, that was known from the very beginning.
The 24-V power supply is really big and comes in the form of a plastic can into which you plug a standard cable terminated with a three-pin IEC plug. Throwing this module out in the open was probably intended to isolate sensitive audio circuits from the noise-sowing transformer, but as it turns out, not only. The designers figured that although 35 watts per channel into 8 ohm and 65 watts per channel into 4 ohm is enough power to drive most speakers available on the market, there will always be users for whom this is a bit too little. In such a situation, it will be possible to replace the power supply with a larger one, resulting in a doubling of the output power. So far I don't see such a more powerful power supply on Octavio's website, but you can check this option when buying the AMP itself. The surcharge for the larger, 32-V power supply is exactly €50. In the accessories tab, I found four nice cables at rather ridiculous prices, from 9 to 20 euros. Perhaps that's why they weren't included in the kit - they won't be useful to everyone, and after all, it would be a shame to throw them away. It's not just about reducing the carbon footprint, but also, or perhaps even primarily, about getting the best possible price for the end user. The French claim that with their equipment they want to democratize the world of hi-fi - to give access to modern solutions even to music lovers, who until now could at most look at audiophile equipment through a glass window. It's a noble idea, but when I read such stories, I reflexively get ready for a bill of at least €1000-1200. But no. Octavio AMP costs €699. And I emphasize that this is not so much an amplifier as a fully functional all-in-one system, which only needs good speakers, electricity, and LAN or Wi-Fi access to be fully happy.
On the front we see two metal buttons, an LED indicating the amplifier's activity, and a very nice, handy potentiometer knob, also made of metal. Operation is trivial - the first button is the physical on/off switch, while the one on the right is responsible for selecting the source and, when held for a long time, entering configuration mode. The color of the LED placed under the model name informs us of the active input - white is LAN or Wi-Fi, blue is Bluetooth, purple is optical input, and yellow and green are the analog inputs described as Aux 1 and Aux 2. At the back, the eye is drawn to the huge speaker terminals, which are cleverly placed so that even the installation of pitchfork plugs or cables without insulation at the ends, despite the small dimensions of the amplifier, goes fairly comfortably. Just above the sockets for the left speaker was a socket for a Wi-Fi antenna. Further on, we have two RCA inputs, an optical input, a single RCA output for the subwoofer, a LAN and USB-A jack for storage media, and a power jack. The whole thing was thought out so that the amplifier has all the essentials without wasting money on the unnecessary. It looks really simple, beautiful, and elegant, and thanks to the massive speaker terminals you get the impression that some experienced audiophile has been rummaging around.
The French assure that, thanks to its minimalist casing, the Octavio AMP will easily find a place in any home. Today it's hard for me to imagine a situation where it really makes a difference to someone whether such equipment is 20 or 43 cm wide, but I remember very well when I lived in a dormitory and had a problem placing a tiny Pro-Ject headphone amplifier on my desk. The founders of Octavio are certainly familiar with similar issues. The head of our music department, Karol Otkała, unlike me, has a huge collection of compact discs and various kinds of merch. Since he uses Audiolab's kit, the 6000A Play amplifier, and 6000CDT transport, he got the new Omnia all-in-one system to test, and his first observation was that with such a cluttered apartment, whether the kit consists of one or two blocks really makes a difference. Therefore, it seems to me that the Octavio AMP will be a hit with many music lovers. If it were just another ridiculous little box with few capabilities, without support for any sources that enable high-quality music listening, it probably wouldn't be anything special, but if we have TIDAL Connect, if you can even connect to Roon via AirPlay, if there's an ARM Cortex-A53 processor sitting inside, and if the DAC is based on Burr-Brown PCM1798, I'm already optimistic at this stage.
The installation and operation of the AMP are trivial. I'm glad that the designers decided to leave the classic knob and two buttons on the front. This makes interacting with their equipment a pleasant experience, and we don't feel like we've bought some kind of router with an amplifier function. If we have the ability to connect to the network via LAN cable and want to use, for example, TIDAL, Spotify or Roon, and don't want to install the company's app, we can stop at connecting the cables. Even then, the Octavio AMP will be visible in the mentioned services. Just select it as an output device and you can start listening. Frankly speaking, this is completely enough for me to be happy, and in such a mode I conducted a few days' warm-up. Interestingly, in Roon, the French amplifier appeared with the addition of the Muzo Cobblestone, and I've seen this name somewhere before - precisely in the test of the NuPrime Stream-9 network player, the sound of which I evaluated very positively, and which, let's be objective, does not offer as much functionality as the Octavio AMP and is much more expensive than it. If we need to use Wi-Fi, we have no choice but to screw on the antenna and launch the app, which will quickly and efficiently guide us through the process of installing the device, and then give it the command to update the software. Here's an important note - at the time of the test, the Virtuose app was still in the testing phase, but there is another app available, which is simply called Octavio, and that's what I used to configure the hardware.
Downsides? Frankly, I see only two, and both are quite obvious. The first is a few missing features, which is due to the concept adopted by the French designers. They wanted the final product to be compact and inexpensive, and adding more slots and features contradicts this idea. The biggest problem, in my opinion, is the lack of a USB type B socket, which could be used to easily connect the tested amplifier to a computer. After all, such a tiny device could become not only a great alternative to an amplifier standing under the TV, but also the heart of a desktop stereo system. Here, however, there is a problem, because we are left with streaming, but what about sounds from various applications or games? This we will do only via Bluetooth, and acutely looking from this perspective, it is good that we have this option. Fans of listening to music while working on the computer would certainly be pleased to see a headphone jack on the front panel. Octavio boasts that a turntable can be connected to the AMP, and yes, this is possible, but only if it has a built-in equalizer stage or if you reach for an external phono stage. And so one can go on and on - there is still no HDMI jack, no balanced input, no digital coaxial input, no output from the preamplifier for connecting an external power amplifier, and no compact disc drawer. We should be clear - going by this line of reasoning, instead of a small, clever, beautiful block that will fit anywhere, we will come out with the Audiolab Omnia, rather, an all-in-one that costs €1999. The French wanted to create something much simpler, and they succeeded. In my opinion, the Octavio AMP has everything that 90% of users need. The rest of us have to accept that for this money we can't get a device with every single slot we can think of. The other downside may be that Octavio is a young company, with all the consequences. We have an impressive product, but what will happen next? In such cases, there is always the danger that something will go wrong. Here, however, I recommend digging into the materials published by Octavio again and judging for yourself whether these people are talented engineers who are doing exceptionally cool things, or whether it all smacks of a one-off adventure that no one will remember in a few months. I have my opinion, but I am not the alpha and omega. If someone assumes that the bigger and older the company, the greater the probability of success - okay, in these times it's easy to understand why.
Before the listening part of the test, I wasn't expecting some incredibly engaging and original sound from the French amplifier, as it has already impressed me with its looks, equipment, build quality, compatibility with key streaming services, and seamless operation, so how far can you go, right? Secondly, here we have a class-D power amplifier, and in this price range that usually means correct, neutral, but not very engaging sound. I'm not prejudiced against the technology itself, as was clearly evident, for example, in the test of the NAD M23, but there we had a high-end power amplifier built based on the new Purifi Eigentakt modules, which, bought separately, cost as much as the Octavio AMP. Fortunately, it turned out that the designers of the described device also realized that in the sonic sphere it does not pay to combine by force. The sleek mic greeted me with a calm, well-balanced, completely normal sound, which harmonized well with any musical genre and gave me a reason to believe that it will only get better further.
Already on the second day, after some experiments with very demanding tracks, the practical part of the test became a little more exciting. After listening with the Equilibrium Nano monitors, during which I made sure that nothing unpleasant would befall me from the French mic, I decided to take it to another room, where it played with the Audiovectors QR5. Neither the size nor the price of the Danish speakers are as important here as the equipment that the Octavio AMP replaced - Auralic Vega G1 and Hegel H20, spliced with KBL Sound Red Corona balanced interconnects and powered by Enerr Transcenda Ultimate power cords. Altogether, that's about €13500. Now imagine that next to all this apparatus and tangle of thick cables you put a box that fits easily in a small backpack or shoulder bag, plug in the power supply, speaker cables, and after a while you can resume listening.
I make no secret of the fact that this concept seems very appealing to me, as I recently did the same thing with my computer, thanks to the help of a friend. The big, heavy, dust-attracting PC was replaced by a box the size of two Octavio AMPs. Without losing performance, I gained valuable space in the room where I work. Getting rid of the grind turned out to be important enough for me to do a small but significant rearrangement - the desk stood closer to the wall, so I regained access to the window. Some people don't have to worry about such things, but it seems to me that most music lovers are not at all familiar with this problem. The Octavio AMP is virtually unbeatable in this respect. It can work with tiny monitors or three-way floorstanders, you don't need to connect any external devices to it, and on top of that it doesn't cost a fortune. And the effect? It's obvious that you won't get a sound of this class, as with the Auralic with Hegel, but the French all-in-one impressed me with its neutrality and versatility, as well as its dynamics, transparency, transparent color and willingness to play, regardless of the repertoire. It's worth mentioning that the Audiovectory QR5s, despite their size, are rather easy to drive and work sensationally with both tube amplifiers and inexpensive class-D amps, so I wasn't surprised that the Octavio AMP was able to handle them as well.
Was the return to the previous configuration pleasant? Yes, I won't hide the fact that it was. After all, this is a system that I worked on for quite a long time and whose sound still impresses me. But was it a difference that I would be willing to pay €13000? Absolutely not. Especially considering the fact that both sets worked with the same speakers, so that the character of the presentation did not change drastically. The Auralic and Hegel showed the same sound in a much more advanced, extended, polished and definitely more realistic form, but with the French Audiovectory amplifier they still presented a fast, three-dimensional sound with deep bass and a resolving, sparklingly detailed treble. Placed in such a dilemma, with no other alternative, I would have left myself with the Octavio AMP. Not because it plays as well as a hi-end system. Fear not, I haven't lost my mind. Auralic and Hegel eat the French amp for breakfast, that's not debatable. But the price gap is also huge - much, much bigger than the quality gap. With cables, this gives you an amount for which you can buy a new car, go on a trip around the world, or for two years, not counting Sundays and holidays, visit a vinyl store every day, choosing one record each time.
After this unusual experiment, I decided to come down to earth, because the Octavio AMP is not likely to be a proposition for audiophiles looking for an excuse to get rid of all their electronics, but rather for conscious music lovers looking for something simple but good. So I went back to the smaller room and the Equilibrium Nano monitors, trying to discover some weaknesses in the tested equipment. To that end, I conducted a fire test, which the French system passed singingly. Not only that - it turned out that louder listening suits it very well. Just by gently turning the potentiometer to the right, its sound began to open up, gaining not only power, but also clarity and depth. The speakers began to pulsate pleasantly with life, the vocals became more palpable, the bass ventured more readily into subwoofer regions, while at the same time getting firmer. To be honest, it was only at this point that I nodded my head vigorously with appreciation.
Such a sound from such a tiny device? Amazing! I also immediately began to wonder how the Octavio AMP would play with this power supply. Apparently, the interest in such an upgrade exceeded the French company's expectations, but now it doesn't surprise me at all. Getting such good results with a standard set, a person quickly develops a desire for more. Even if higher power is theoretically not needed, it should not be ruled out that with a stronger, larger power supply the Octavio AMP plays even bolder, grittier, and more convincingly at the same volume level. Maybe the magic, which during the test started only after crossing a certain barrier, after performing such an upgrade starts much earlier, almost from the beginning of the scale? I don't know that yet, but I intend to find out, because the Octavio AMP probably has to stay with me as the benchmark device for reasonably priced all-in-one systems. Other than that, it's just a cool, sweet piece of equipment, created by smart, young people, that you want to use and that you're dying to show to others.
Build quality and technical parameters
Octavio AMP is a stereo all-in-one system enclosed in a compact chassis made entirely of aluminum. The French designers assumed that the electronic circuitry should be immediately divided into two parts - the connection section and the audio circuits, including primarily the DAC and power amplifier. Developing everything from scratch was, of course, impossible, as it would have required a gigantic amount of money. Instead, Octavio's team decided to find and combine the best components available on the market, whose prices do not make you dizzy. The connection part was based on the Linkplay A98 IC. Linkplay is a California-based company that develops electronic circuits for some of the biggest brands in the industry, such as Yamaha, Marshall, Triangle, Audio Pro and Belkin, as does its German competitor, Stream Unlimited. The French believe that Linkplay has a unique knowledge of the market, so this solution seemed ideal. The A98 chipset integrated all the network services they wanted - reliable, stable and proven multi-room technology and unparalleled ease of use. David and Victor were also convinced by the powerful ARM Cortex-A53 processor. The D/A conversion was decided to entrust the proven Burr-Brown PCM1798 chip. It's not the latest cry of fashion in the world of audiophile DACs, but many people appreciate it for its natural, pleasant and musical sound. As for the power amplifier, the French engineers neither reinvented the wheel nor opted for an extremely extravagant "off-the-shelf", such as the Purifi Eigentakt chips (which is quite obvious given their high price). Instead, they once again reached for proven technology, specifically the Texas Instruments TPA3250 class-D amplifier. The Octavio AMP's electronics are equipped with proprietary Sound Filter technology, which analyzes the audio signal at the input and compares it with the output signal before sending it to the speakers to remove any potential noise or interference, go to guarantee clear and accurate sound. In short, it's a built-in real-time distortion elimination system. I think I've heard something similar somewhere before. I think it was at Hegel, and Luxman, and Quad....
As you can see, the guts of the described device resemble a Lego building, although Octavio's team must be commended for the skillful combination of all these components and the fact that everything else is made in France, with the help of local sub-suppliers. After creating the first prototypes, Octavio's founders were eager to enlist the help of companies nearby, so the cases are made at the Plastisem factory in the town of Tourcoing, then they go to Haute-Savoie, where lettering is applied, then they return to Tourcoing, where assembly takes place, while the packaging is produced near Villeneuve d'Ascq, a few kilometers from Octavio's headquarters. I make no secret of the fact that I was very curious to see what a French amplifier looks like from the inside. To find out, you need to remove four rubber feet. Hidden under them are four screws. After unscrewing them, to my eyes appeared literally one board occupying 3/4 of the space inside the aluminum box. Unfortunately, it was mounted in such a way that I could only admire the soldering points, and after unscrewing more screws holding this board in place, it turned out that it was still holding very tightly - perhaps a bit of glue was used, or maybe it was held so tightly by the tightly seated sockets and cables leading to the buttons and volume control knob. Either way, I didn't learn much beyond what the manufacturer itself wrote. If anything, I saw with my own eyes that the electronic circuitry is really minimalist and the build quality is first-rate. And that there are no huge transformers and heat sinks? Well, apparently they are not needed.
Audiovector QR5, Equilibrium Nano, Unison Research Triode 25, Hegel H20, Auralic Aries G1, Auralic Vega G1, Marantz HD-DAC1, Clearaudio Concept, Cambridge Audio CP2, Cardas Clear Reflection, Tellurium Q Ultra Blue II, Albedo Geo, KBL Sound Red Corona, Enerr One 6S DCB, Enerr Tablette 6S, Enerr Transcenda Ultimate, Fidata HFU2, Melodika Purple Rain, Sennheiser HD 600, Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO, Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, Meze 99 Classics, Bowers & Wilkins PX5, Pro-Ject Wallmount It 1, Custom Design RS 202, Silent Angel N8, Vicoustic VicWallpaper VMT, Vicoustic ViCloud VMT.
Reading the press release about this amplifier, I was convinced someone was making me a fool. How is it possible that a group of young people managed to build a device whose appearance, equipment, functionality and performance put it at the forefront of affordable all-in-one systems, alongside such market hits as Audiolab 6000A Play or Bluesound Powernode? How is it possible that when we test similar equipment from established brands, we almost always immediately see some shortcomings, while this little amp seems to have everything an audiophile needs, including Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2 and TIDAL Connect? Where's the catch? I don't know. After a week of intensive listening, I'm completely dumbfounded. Do we turn a blind eye to minor shortcomings in eight-thousand-euro devices too often, or did the Octavio team achieve something really special here? That's what customers will probably verify, provided, of course, that they know this amplifier exists before deciding to buy one costing two or three times as much. What impressed me most was that the Octavio AMP is a piece of equipment created in an extremely thoughtful manner. The founders of the French company had a great idea and consistently executed it, without setting aside their values or allowing their original vision to become diluted in the whole process. It's a modern, functional, eco-friendly all-in-one stereo system to which you only need to connect speakers - small, large, new, old, whatever suits you. And what about the sound? Rest assured, they've thought of that too. Highly recommended!
Analog inputs: 2 x RCA
Analog outputs: 1 x sub-out (RCA)
Digital inputs: 1 x optical, USB-A
Connectivity: LAN, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0
Output power: 2 x 35 W/8 Ω, 2 x 65 W/4 Ω
Total harmonic distortion: <0,005%
Supported formats: FLAC, OGG, ALAC, WMA, APE, MP3
D/A converter: Burr-Brown PCM1798
Standby power consumption: Dimensions (W/S/G): 3.9/19.6/19.6 cm
Price: €699 (standard version), €749 (with larger power supply)