Xindak XA6950 Class A Integrated Amplifier
Retail Price $1,249.95
Some people are more into names than performance. A customer at a local dealer was bragging about a number of high panache brand name electronics that she owned. While there, she purchased something with barely a listen. This person could miss out on certain audio gems like the Xindak XA6950 class A integrated amplifier. Class A amplifiers bias the amplifying circuit such that they always amplify in the most linear portion of their range, reducing distortion but at the expense of using a fair amount of power, even at idle.
The XA6950 is a minimalist design integrated amplifier with a large emphasis on sound, build quality, and design. It runs in class A mode for the first 30 watts and then switches to class AB in order to achieve 100 watts per channel. It features 4 inputs total with 4 pairs of RCA inputs and one set of balanced inputs which override the first set of RCA inputs when used. There are no inputs for turntables here. The only other specific feature is a temperature readout which actually comes in handy given the class A designation of this unit.
The remote, handsomely carved out of solid aluminum, can control the volume and source select as well as the temperature readout. It has a stylish twist in that the top right hand corner is chopped off making it look a bit like Gumby made out of aluminum. It looks great and feels solid with one visitor mentioning that you could hurt somebody with it. The buttons, labeled B1, S1, S2, S3, and S4, select inputs but do not have any backlighting nor do they glow. Depressing the buttons result in a very distinct “pa-tink” which my wife found off-putting but I found reassuring. They have the distinct feeling of buttons that were meant to last a long time.
In their quest for the best sound possible, the XA6950 utilizes a top quality ALPS volume control in the analog domain, digitally controlled via a motorized mechanism. This is part of their effort to have a very short signal part for better sound quality. Balance and tone controls are nowhere to be found, extending the minimalist theme. Preamp outputs are also not an option here. This may not really be an issue as the real strength of this unit is the amplifier. Top notch parts are found throughout such as Dale resistors, Wima MKP capacitors, and CMC RCA connectors.
This is the first amplifier where Xindak has employed negative feedback circuitry with a very wide frequency range with the characteristics of high speed and low distortion. It also uses SANKEN MOS FET output transistors in comparison with some of their amplifiers which utilize tubes. In past experience, amplifiers utilizing MOS FET transistors seem to have had a strong authoritative bass characteristic. Read on to see if that trend continued.
The power supply is comprised of two high power torroidial transformers which may lend to the XA6950’s overall dynamic character. In order to cool all this power, both sides of the unit are large cooling fins looking both rugged and jewel like with fine attention to detail. These flank the front panel which is a redesign from the older generation Xindak amplifiers. One feature that is rather rare on an integrated amp, epecially at this price, is a pair of XLR jacks for a balanced input.
The look is rather elegant with an LED screen indicating the input select, volume, and temperature if requested. In the center of the new faceplate is the volume knob. Behind what is arguable one of the best volume controls in the world, is a volume knob that cheapens the look of the system. It is relatively flush with the faceplate and, in order to turn it, one must place a finger inside an indent to turn it. This just isn’t up to the quality level of the rest of the system. My wife commented that it looked like a Bose Wave radio from the front pointing out the cheap volume knob. Lucky for us, it’s the sound of the Xindak XA6950 that really exceeded our expectations.
The delivery man struggled to unload the XA6950. At 60 lbs this hulking exercise in minimalism is difficult to maneuver with one person, especially one taking extra care with a sample unit. Opening the box revealed the remote, a bound simple yet effective manual, a Xindak cloth bag for the amplifier, and white gloves which were really a nice touch. The white gloves are likely to keep the unit pristine during setup although a better use may be wiping sweat from your brow once maneuvering the amplifier into place.
The Xindak was put into service directly in place of the reference integrated amplifier, a Bryston B100 SST. The setup utilized speaker cables from Cardas, an Audioquest NRG-2 power cord, and BlueJeans LC-1 interconnects. The inputs were connected to the outputs of a Lite Audio DAC AM modified by Pacific Valve. Break-in consisted of playing a 7 disk CD on random changer over and over during the day while keeping the amplifier idling at night. The temperature display indicated an idle temperature of around 38-42 degrees Celsius. The initial listen resulted in replacing the Audioquest NRG-2 power cable with a simple Volex shielded 17604. The Volex was a better fit as it removed some initial harshness and traces of sibilance. Note that the power cord was plugged directly into the wall via a PS audio hospital grade outlet “au-natural”.
I was impressed by the Xindak sound from the beginning. Stringed instruments, horns, and voices sounded more real than ever before in my listening room. The Xindak’s sonic character revealed itself quickly slightly besting the reference Bryston B100 SST in every way. The Xindak consistently revealed a large sense of space being neither too bright nor rolled off in the highs. The tonal balance was one of warmth with deep very taught powerful bass. Male voices were fleshed out nicely without being boomy while female voices were rendered with great delicacy. After a quick pass with some reference CDs, and then a larger pass with a broader spectrum of music it became clear that this amplifier performs great across all types of music from classical, to jazz, to pop, hard rock, and even dance music. Picking musical references was going to be a fun problem as no one piece of music really showcased the sound over the other, it was just good across the board. My wife noted that she found the Bryston’s slower fuller bass a bit more forgiving with some 80’s music like “Green” from REM.
One rather interesting character was seemingly endless harmonics from stringed instruments which also took on a warm almost boxy tone. This was mostly evident on acoustic guitars as well as the violin and viola where it seemed like the microphone was bit closer than it might really have been. Correct or not, I really enjoyed how real they sounded. A great example of this was Friday Night Live in San Francisco by De Lucia, DiMeola, and Mclaughlin on CD. This also really showcased the detail, immediate speed, and attack of of which the Xindak is capable.
Horns played through the Xindak XA6950 were rendered with beautiful texture and body. Saxophones had a bit more weight than with the Bryston. A visiting listener noted how the horn switched from a trumpet to a saxophone in Dire Straits “Your Latest Trick” on SACD. Thinking it may be the SACD vs CD difference, we played the CD and the effect was still there. Small airy details in the texture were all too clear adding a sense of reality and enjoyment to the sound. We swapped the Bryston B100 SST back in and noticed that there is a larger sweet spot for multiple listeners through the Xindak. My friend’s quote regarding the Xindak was much more convincing in person than in print; “This is a good amplifier”. What is missing is that he said it real slow while shaking his head in disbelief. I was even shunned from my listening room for a while until he had his fill. Taking this one step further, I poured through Coltrane and Miles Davis recordings.
The Boston Pops “Pops Goes the Fourth” was receiving some playtime given the time of year. It’s been two years now since I’ve heard them live. Hearing it through the Xindak brought us right back; “You are there”. It showcased the slight added sense of space and decay with respect to the Bryston while delivering cannon fire with a decent punch.
Playing Tupelo from John Lee Hooker’s “Best of Friends” on CD, the clopping of John’s foot sounded eerily lifelike. My wife and I both noticed how great and intimate the guitar sounded and surprised at how much you could hear his breathing between verses in the song.
Out of curiosity, I hooked up some Maggie MC1 speakers in place of my reference speakers. These have a tendency to be a bit bright but that’s part of their character and somehow it works. They can reveal issues like grainy treble pretty quickly. In the case of the Xindak, yes it was a little bright as expected but those quasi-ribbon tweeters sounded rather good through the Xindak. Note that the amplifier eeked out just enough power to run the Maggies in my rather small listening room. If you have Maggies and you want them to get real loud, you might have a tough time with them combined with this amplifier and a large room.
The sound of the Xindak XA6950 is neutral enough so that changing cables makes obvious differences in the sound. I originally connected it using BlueJeans LC-1 interconnects and Cardas Crosslink 1s speaker cables. I later tried the Kimber 4TC speaker cables and Monster M1000 interconnects to satisfy a friend’s curiosity. Different permutations of these revealed that the Cardas cable was warmer than the Kimber 4TC. We found the Cardas to be the best match with the Xindak. The interconnects we found most pleasing here were the BlueJeans LC-1, offering tighter bass and extended highs, but it was really the combination that worked nicely. Using the Monster M1000 interconnects and the Kimber 4TC speaker cables was also an acceptable combination but, in the end, the Cardas and BlueJeans combo was a great fit.
But Can You Trust It?
Deep into the review period, something terrible happened. My DAC (not a Xindak) stopped locking on to digital signals. After much trouble shooting, it was deemed necessary to send it back. My DAC is, ironically, a Chinese product imported and modified by a company called Pacific Valve in the US. This brought to light the importance of purchasing from a reputable dealer. The folks at Pacific Valve were friendly and fixed my DAC quickly for a reasonable sum. It may behoove those interested in purchasing a Xindak XA6950 do so from a reputable dealer. The US Distributor, Lotus Audio Import, answered my questions quickly and politely and might be a good place to fall back on if one is looking for a recommended dealer.
Before my DAC died, I was on the fence as to whether to purchase the unit. I really didn’t need another amplifier but it was a bit better than anything else I had. Once my DAC went AWOL, a few things came to light. The amplifier will absolutely not make up for a mediocre source. I tried a few older CD players, an average Panasonic DVD player, and the CD section of a Linn Classik. Each was fine but some of the benefits of the amplifier where it really shines were lost. Suffering from withdrawal from my sonic nirvana, I picked up a used Pioneer Elite DV-47A universal player which brought joy back to Mudville. It wasn’t as good as the Pacific Valve DAC in some ways but it was close and decent enough to enjoy.
Couldn’t Let It Go
I ended up purchasing the amplifier. It was only marginally better than the Bryston B100, albeit slightly less forgiving than the Bryston with 80’s pop music, but still very enjoyable. The Bryston will continue to serve its duty in the main family system while I will get a chance to have the Xindak all to my self in an auxiliary system.
Once warmed up, I honestly couldn’t find any sonic fault with the Xindak XA6950. It needs to be warmed up a bit to sound its best. It takes about five minutes to get past a grainy sound when it’s cold and about ten to twenty minutes to fully warm up. Actually, this is very normal for all components - even speakers - publisher. One could just leave it on all the time, but powered with the knowledge that this was a class A amplifier, I couldn’t help but use a power meter to see how much juice it drinks.
Using a Kill-a-watt meter, it used 127 to 128 watts of power at idle and under normal listening conditions. The Bryston, in contrast, used about 1 to 2 watts of power while idling. Those who want to keep “green” may want to err on the side of letting the amplifier warm up a few minutes before each listening session instead of leaving it on all the time.
The fact that the amplifier switches to the input labeled "S1" every time it is turned on may be an annoyance to some. I would have expected it to remember the last input, but nay. You might want to plug your most often used component, say your CD player, into that circuit. My only other complaint is the labeling of the inputs uses rather non-intuitive labeling - S1 through S4 rather than CD, Tape, Aux, Tuner, etc. My guess is that with only four inputs, perhaps they did not want to be presumptuous. My wife and I quickly realized that remembering what was hooked into S1 and S2 was not so hard after all.
Xindak is a Chinese high-end name that carries weight in China but is relatively unknown in the US. At least I, nor any of my friends, had heard of them. I've been aware of them for about 4 years - publisher. According to their website, Xindak has been around in China since 1988 - almost twenty years - so this is no recent startup. They have been importing into the US for about five years. Their design goals were to create a more innovative, stylish integrated amplifier that also takes a leap forward sonically with higher speed and lower distortion. Sonically, these design goals were fully met. Style-wise, they get nearly as far.
Xindak gambled and won with new amplifier circuitry and styling changes for the XA6950. When asked to recommend a great $1,200 integrated amplifier to a friend or family member, the XA6950 is now on my list. Those looking for great clean sound and who can get away with 100wpc, aren’t into name dropping, and are content with a one-piece closed unit with no phono, the Xindak XA6950 should be right at the top of the shopping list. Warranty is for 1 year.
Bryston B100 SST
Lite Audio DAC modified by Pacific Valve
Pioneer Elite DV-47A
Nakamichi MB-2s as transport
DIY speakers using SEAS ER15RLY/P and SEAS 27TDFC
Maggie MMG MC1 speakers
HSU HB1 MK2 speakers
Other DIY speakers of different flavors
DIY and HSU Subwoofers
Audioquest NRG-2 and Volex 17604 power cords
Cardas Crosslink 1s speaker cables
Kimber 4TC speaker cables
BlueJeans LC-1 interconnects
Monster Cable M1000 interconnects
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