Founded way back in 1979 in Brighton, England by Tony Brady, Onix was a well-known and well respected “small English brand” in the 1980s. The OA21 ‘shoe-box’ style integrated amp was something of a cult item and was highly regarded largely due to the excellence of its power supply implementation.
Onix dropped out of sight in the 1990s until finally being acquired by the Chinese Shanling company in 2002 where the marketing focus was the Far East and the USA. But Italian Francesco Pace then took up the reins of European distribution with his Pacetech company and a complete new line of Onix products started in 2008, encompassing amplifiers, pre-amplifiers and phono stages as well as CD players and DACs. The Onix brand is distributed in the UK by UKD.
The Onix RA125 integrated Amplifier
Rated at 130wpc into 8 ohms, and doubling that power into 4 ohms, this is something of a powerhouse of an integrated amp. Power supply design clearly remains a priority with Onix.
Finished in a very attractive piano black with large and shiny gold volume and input selection knobs, this is an amp that makes a strong visual statement. I think it looks great … and it matches well with my black & gold MBL speakers! The large gold volume knob is dead-centre, and some may find the off-centre and slightly smaller gold input selector knob makes the amp look a little skewed and unbalanced. I soon got used to that, though.
Unusually these days, a 6.3mm headphone jack socket is provided on the front fascia. Inserting a jack mutes the loudspeaker output.
Remote control of volume and input selection is standard, but the handset was not provided for review so I cannot comment on it.
The RA125 retails in the UK for £1975.
Settling in …
There’s a ‘rightness’ to the sound as soon as the music starts to play that created a very positive first impression for me. It’s quite explicit and detailed, quite well defined but not hyped or exaggerated, warm tonally but not stodgy. I thought, “Ah, fine” and settled down to just enjoying some music during the usual initial accustomisation phase of the review. After a short while, though, my attention started to wander … all very nice, but somehow not very …well … not very interesting.
… Mains mania …
A few more CDs were sampled. I barely managed to suppress a yawn. Something strange was going on here, the amp sounds so almost right …. ahhh, hang on, I’d plugged the amp into a mains block fed by my Power Inspired AG1500 mains regenerator. My big Krell amp doesn’t work well from there – I always feed that straight from the wall socket – so maybe the hefty Onix is the same? Reverting to the same socket used by the Krell — Result ! The music now sparkled with subtle dynamic inflection, whereas previously it had merely chugged along.
Be careful how you feed the Onix RA125 – it’s a powerful beast and is fussy about its mains supply.
I hate to say this, but it’s a bit fussy about the power cord you use as well. A Nordost Magus (much favoured chez Jerry) was a bit polite, a PS Audio ‘Power Link’ cable was better, but I still felt there was more to be had. Once again my Krell amp provided a good insight into the Onix’s needs – a MusicWorks mains cable simply hit the spot – dynamic and clear, powerful and purposeful – that will do nicely!
… the longer term perspective …
Overall, I’d place the Onix RA125 in the broad middle ground of the analytical / lush divide, tending a little to the analytical. Personally, from my MBL speakers I like to hear just a smidgeon more detail and sllghtly faster, snappier transients, to hear with just a little more transparency and focus into the recorded acoustic. But that’s just my personal preference – I know many folk who don’t share my taste for high resolution immediacy. Fair enough – if you are after a ‘best of both worlds’ amplifier, the Onix may well hit the spot for you.
A Tale of Two Speakers ….
So, OK – not an ideal match with my MBL speakers as far as I am concerned.
But, as luck would have it, the Onix RA125 amp also shared housespace with a pair of excellent German Physiks Unlimited Mk2 speakers (see Hifi Pig review, soon to follow this one). Ah, much much better! The Krell was a bit over-excitable for the leaner, lighter sounding German Physiks speakers – but with the warmer sound emanating from the Onix amp the music was very enjoyable indeed, and distinctly preferable to the Krell.
Curiously, the slight taming affect of the afore-mentioned PS Audio Power Link mains cable into the Onix amp also synergised well with the German Physiks speakers.
No surprise, then – system component synergy is as important as ever.
Some music ….
On Eddy Louiss’s Blues for Klook the character of the amplifier was well displayed. The transient edge of the synth snaps were just a little smoothed over, the blink-inducing transients were allowed a steady stare. The grin-inducing bassline was full and powerful, but also a bit fruity and lacking impact and shudder. All this compared to my Krell amp, which could have been designed with this particular track in mind!
The opening brass fanfare of Mahler’s 3rd symphony is superbly rendered by the Onix. Rich, vibrant, sonorous. Wow, lovely stuff.
The ensuing bass drum rolls are deep and powerful, but a little blurred, though, the individual strikes blending together a little more than they can do.
Mmm – overall, you’re sitting a little further back in the concert hall than with my Krell, the acoustic a bit more enveloping, the immediacy of the sound reduced a little
The delicate and beautiful vocals of Susanna Wallumrod are well caught on her If Grief Could Wait album on ECM. The imaging is painted with a fairly broad brush, I have heard more pinpoint focus on solo vocals and instruments. But tonally the presentation is gorgeously rich, almost lush. A very emotionally involving listen.
Some headphone listening ….
Unless you are into Deep Headphone mode, I doubt you’ll feel the need for a separate off-board headphone amp. The sound provided by the Onix’s headphone socket is very good indeed – solid, powerful, controlled and brimming with detail but not harsh. Very nice.
Worth spending more?
So, what do you get by doubling your budget? Well, my passive pre-amp / Krell combo will get you a little more transparency, sharper image focus, faster transients. Which is all well and good, if that’s what you want. It would be worth it for me, but I know of many folk who would prefer the Onix’s rather more laidback – but by no means boring! – perspective on the music.
You can also get a more subtle rendering of fine detail, but that is often at the cost of dynamic driving power. Once again it comes down to personal preferences and priorities.
The Onix is a fine amp for the money. It’s easy to use, it looks good, it sounds good. It is quite high resolution, powerful and controlled, but not over-bearing and ‘in your face’. It should easily drive even difficult speakers.
It sits in the middle ground – very competent dynamically and with a beguiling tonal richness. Not the fastest or most exciting sounding amp – but not by any means overly slow or boring. This will suit many folk down to the ground, I reckon!
Author – Jerry
Review system: MBL 116F & German Physiks Unlimited Mk2 speakers, Krell KAV-250a power amp, Tisbury Mini Passive pre-amp, McCormack UDP-1 universal disc player. RFC Pluto i/c and Cable Talk Symphony 3 speaker cables.