Atoll – due to the occasional but very positive online and magazine ‘vibes’ I’d picked up over the years, I’d had a hankering for quite a while to try some of their kit, but for some reason it just hadn’t happened. Then I spotted an eBay auction for one of the early AM80 power amps, and soon it was firmly ensconced in my system … and showing my beloved Krell KAV-250a power amp a thing or two about playing music!
I was a bit surprised, to say the least.
So I was on the old email pronto to suggest to Stu (Mr Hifi Pig) that some current Atoll kit may well be of interest for a review. A handful of emails were exchanged with the UK distributor Atoll-GB and some Atoll Electronique-labelled boxes soon arrived.
With the commendable philosophy of providing “reasonably priced true high-end audio electronics for budget-conscious audiophiles” Atoll was founded in September 1997 by 2 brothers, Stéphane & Emmanuel Dubreuil and is based in Brecey, Normandy, France.
Atoll’s product line is quite extensive, and includes 5 integrated amplifiers, starting with the 50wpc IN30. The IN200 SE reviewed here being part of the Prestige range. Digital streamers and AV equipment are also available.
UK prices are currently set at £1495 for both IN200 SE amp and CD200 SE-2 CD player, and start at around £400 for the IN30 amp.
There is also a “high end” range called Gamme or 400 Series, priced at around £4,000 per component. The styling of these is rather more adventurous than the rectangular boxes of the mid-priced range, and I am sure the intention is to provide sonics of even higher fidelity. I’ve not heard these, but given the fine performance of the lower-priced range, I would be very interested in doing so!
The IN200 SE integrated amp
With MOSFET output devices, this solid state integrated amp is a bit of a powerhouse, providing up to 120wpc (8 ohms) and 200wpc into a 4 ohm load.
Available with black or silver faceplates, this is a solidly made substantial piece of gear and quite attractive in a conventional rectangular box kind of way. A finishing touch that greatly appealed to me were the ventilating grille holes on the top panel of the amp; a swirling array of small circular holes, very nice!
Five single-ended inputs are provided (one of which can be modified to access an optional phonostage), one tape loop, a home theatre bypass (to access the power section directly without passing through the volume control) and two pre-outs. Unusually, the IN200 SE also has a balance control (this is not accessible from the remote control, though).
Usefully, but sadly rarely seen these days, there is a (6.3mm) headphone socket lower left corner of front fascia controlled by the amp’s volume knob. Output to the speakers is muted when the jack is inserted.
The display can be dimmed (3 settings) or turned off altogether.
The CD200 SE-2 CD player
This uses a TEAC drawer and laser mechanism designed purely for audio purposes. The drawer action is solid and purposeful, none of the shaky quickfire jerkiness sometimes encountered.
A BURR-BROWN PCM1794 d-a converter chipset is used providing 24bits/192 kHz and 8x oversampling.
A stereo pair of RCA outputs is accompanied by a RCA digital output. As mentioned, an option is available to access the onboard DAC by adding USB and co-ax digital input sockets.
Unlike the IN200 SE amp, the display cannot be dimmed or turned off. The middle dimmer setting on the amp is a very close match.
Usefully, the remote handset provided could control both the amp and the CD player.
Individually or together, the amp and CD player had a similar sonic signature and undoubtedly worked extremely well when paired. There was definitely a lot of positive synergy at work here.
Where these Atoll components excel is in midrange and treble resolution and transparency – vocals are crystal clear, higher frequency percussion is superbly rendered, and complex musical mixes are unravelled with genuinely excellent lucidity and articulation. Quite exceptionally so when price is considered.
The Buggles’ Age of Plastic album has wonderful clarity and presence with the Atoll gear, and the separation of the vocals from the supporting electronic mix saw me with a huge grin on my face – to be honest, in many ways I’ve never heard it this well portrayed before. Quite stunning. Thankfully, the transparency is not artificially enhanced by hyping up the treble response; the high frequencies are clean and pure and are a pleasure to listen to.
The Buggles album also highlights one of the relative shortcomings of the Atoll equipment reviewed here – it doesn’t have the deepest, grippiest bass I have heard. It’s pretty good and has moderate slam and control, but there is a bit of an added gently softening bloom. Some listeners may well like this, but in my view the real joy of this equipment lies further up the frequency spectrum.
But, realistically, you cannot have everything, especially with what must be regarded as mid-price components.
Loreena McKennitt’s Parallel Dreams album again highlights the Atoll pairings superb lucidity in vocal music, and it’s commendable lack of confusion when the music has many simultaneous interwoven strands. It also shows up another slight limitation – the soundstage is of only moderate depth. The track Breaking the Silence doesn’t throw the almost holographically 3D soundstage that can be obtained – usually with much more expensive equipment! Left to right (lateral) imaging is excellent and clearly benefits from the top class resolution that the Atoll components provide, but for some reason front to rear separation is a bit truncated. It’s not at all bad, actually it’s pretty good, but it can be improved on.
I’m usually a ‘mix & match’ kind of audiophile, happy to have each component in a system from a different manufacturer, so long as it’s synergistically done and is enjoyable to listen to! But I might make an exception here. The Atoll amplifier and CD player really do complement each other well – considering the very reasonable prices asked, there is exceptional transparency to be had in the mid and high frequency bands and I would be wary of pairing either item with another brand for fear of diluting this.
A little care is probably also needed so as not to combine the explicit midrange and treble of the Atoll equipment with a loudspeaker that is on the forward and bright side of neutral - the combination may be a bit much and result in a tiring sound.
The slightly higher priced Roksan Caspian M2integrated amp that I reviewed a while back for Hifi Pig provides an excellent example of an alternative approach to amplifier voicing. The Roksan’s presentation is funky and upbeat, with grippy bass and real slam across the frequency range, and a way with rhythms that just propels the music along. Great for some music, but, for me, lacking in subtlety and finesse for less upbeat musical genres.
So – bring on the Atoll IN200 SE!
With the Atoll amp everything is a bit more evenhanded. The rather 2 dimensional imaging of the Roksan is improved upon by a subtler and more insightful rendition of the recorded acoustic, although as previously mentioned, more can be had in this respect. The truly excellent high resolution in the Atoll midrange and treble gives a startling and subtle insight into vocals and higher frequency percussion, for example.
But does the Atoll amp re-arrange your internal organs and have you stomping your feet to dubstep rhythms in the way the Roksan can? Well, no – it really is a case of horses for courses. It would be very interesting to hear what the top range Gamme / 400 Series of Atoll components provides – the very fine sounding mid-price units reviewed here would certainly form an excellent foundation for a true high end range – at the cost, of course, of nearly tripling the prices!
Excellent sound and equally excellent value for money are to be had with both the Atoll CD200 SE-2 and IN200 SE.
If bass-led musical genres are your main interest, the Atoll equipment adds a bit of low frequency bloom, and you can get better grip and control elsewhere.
But for pretty much any other music, the exceptional levels of midrange and treble resolution of these Atoll Electronique components and their ability to deftly handle all the complexities that music can throw at them should most certainly qualify them to be on your audition list.
Review system: MBL 116F speakers ; Vincent CD S7 CD Player; Restek Challenger integrated amp, Krell KAV-250a power amp, Restek Consens pre-amp.