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Amplifier Woodside ISA230 review

Woodside Electronics started out manufacturing the legendary Radford valve amplifier designs from the Sixties. Its latest creation, the ?900 ISA230 reviewed here, represents a break with tradition, and looks destined to meet Audio Innovations head-on by offering a line-only, bottle-filled integrated amplifier. Marching under the ‘Contemporary Range’ banner, the ISA230is minimalistto the core: a high quality Alps volume control, four-way input selector and tape switch are the only features, and the standard of construction is workmanlike and durable rather than aesthetically daring.

A fuller specification ISA230P is available for ?999 complete with a hybrid MM vinyl disc stage. This is not retro-fittable, however, as it involves discarding the ISA230’s existing input board.

The two versions share a common chassis with a revised design philosophy. A single-ended ECC83 triode operates in push-pull mode at the input, maintaining a low output impedance and wide bandwidth as it drives the ECC81 phase-splitter and Tesla EL34 power valves. This marks a departure for Woodside whose previous amplifiers have perpetuated the old Radford/Bailey pentode/triode phase-splitter circuit.


Sound quality

The Woodside has very little obviously amiss in respect of tonal balance, stability of imaging or fine detailing. Nevertheless, not one member of our listening panel could musteranything morethan passing enthusiasm for the music at hand.

‘It’s just so very bland’ they remarked, despite it sounding big and loud. Marty Paich’s jazz ensemble appeared all but monophonic in parts, with sax, piano, double bass, and percussion emerging with equal strength from both speakers.

This amplifier seems content to reproduce the separate threads of the music without stressing its individuality. The busier classical CDs sparked further criticism, and bass was described variously as plump, confused and blustery. After a time a grittiness also reared its head, particularly with violins or guitars, and the naturally vivid timbre would be strangely foreshortened.

Conclusion

First impressions can be deceptive, for although this rugged valve amplifier can sound superficially ambient, neutral and detailed, close scrutiny revealed this to be a thumbnail sketch rather than an intimate portrayal of the music. ‘Nice enough but it’s just going through the motions’ concluded the panel. ‘Roger and out’ was the reaction on being told the asking price.

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