Class D Power At A Bargain Basement Price: XTZ Edge A2-300 Power Amplifier
Review by Jamie Gillies
I’ve heard about Class D, read about Class D, but never had tried Class D until Oliver Fragman, the owner of Le Studio du Son in Montreal, Québec kindly sent me a new amplifier from Swedish manufacturer XTZ. The A2-300 power amplifier is their smaller amp, made to power everything from bookshelf and desktop speakers to full range floorstanders. It delivers tremendous power considering it weighs only five pounds. This is remarkable considering every solid state power amplifier I have ever seen is usually a minimum of twenty pounds. The XTZ products have been gaining a good reputation with an online following and some excellent reviews. So I was curious to hear how the A2-300 would sound in comparison to the Class A/B amplification typical of solid state amps.
I have also heard all of the usual knocks about Class D amplification: detailed but fatiguing, cold and unnatural, and one friend simply says, “it just never sounds right.” If you dig deep on the information superhighway, there are all sorts of solutions to making Class D sound good: vacuum tubes at the output stage, pairing with the right gear, designing listening spaces to account for resonances that Class D technology will amplify. After awhile, I thought, maybe it is time to just try it and listen.
The XTZ is a fairly straightforward amplifier. It has RCA inputs, speaker connections and a gain knob, as well as two switches for always on or auto-on, and mono or stereo. It uses the well-known ICEPower Class D technology in a compact and small aluminum cabinet, with 300 watts of power into 4 Ohms and 100 watts into 8 Ohms.
Upon first listen, the sound is not what I expected. It provides a lot of wallop. Right out of the box, it had my preamp at critical listening level at what I consider a fairly low volume. I adjusted the amp’s gain slightly to account for this. I then let it play for a few hours to break it in. What I realized is that it ultimately needed about 100 hours of break-in until it started to relax. I also realized that I had not asked Oliver Fragman at Le studio du Son to break in the XTZ. I should have requested that so that its sonic signature was immediately clear from the start.
Synergy and Sweet Spot
After break-in, the XTZ seemed to like big bookshelf speakers the most. I tried it with my Marantz 2235B receiver being used as a preamp, and my Soliloquy 5.3 speakers. I tried it in my all-analog vinyl rig as well. I hooked it up to my NAD C165BEE preamplifier and then tried it with two sets of vintage bookshelf speakers: my ADS L-710s and my JBL 4312 control monitors. It was with the JBLs that the XTZ really started to perform. It delivered a huge soundstage for such a small amp. In thinking about the XTZ power and its sonic signature, I asked Oliver where his customers use this amp. He said “this amp is also great to add power to home theatres, whether it is to beef up the mains or all surround sound speakers using a receiver as a processor. The other use is with home automation systems, such as Sonos for instance.” In-wall and in-ceiling speaker systems are notoriously underpowered and often sound uninvolving because their hub is usually a receiver that tries to do everything. So adding some power here makes sense. But what about two channel audiophiles with smallish rooms?
Since the JBLs seemed to be the best fit, I hauled them up from the vinyl rig and paired them with my trusty exaSound e20 DAC and PlayPoint streamer in my home office listening space. This is a smaller room which I tend to use exclusively for auditioning and streaming music. I also cut out the middleman here. I used the exaSound DAC as the preamp, straight into the XTZ. This is where I noticed something unique: it wasn’t as refined with a high end sound as I am used to, but streaming music played wonderfully, particularly modern pop and rock. Dua Lipa’s Levitating, Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy and Lana Del Rey’s White Dress all sounded great through the JBLs in this configuration.
You also have to take into account that Class D sound is somewhat different. It is detailed and offers very powerful imaging. These modern tracks completely filled this space. In listening to Dua Lipa, I heard all kinds of instrumentation behind the music that I had never noticed before. Class D seems to give you more of the music. I switched to some different styles of music, like Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas and Tom Waits’s Mule Variations. It generated a sound that was different but not a sound that was unpleasant: more detail, more clarity and a little more power.
I listened to this combination for a week, spinning modern stuff, jazz, rock, blues and instrumental music. The more I listened, what began to strike me was that it really created a much different sound signature from both typical A/B solid state amplification and tube amps. The XTZ seemed to show off the spaces in between in music. For example, I was listening to Sketches of Spain, Miles Davis’ wonderful album, and I was hearing things that I had always heard beneath his trumpet or buried in the mix behind the orchestration.
To close out the testing, I listened to Taylor Swift’s Midnights. Around our house, I have listened to this album now about a hundred times. The sound with the XTZ was clean, powerful with a deep soundstage. It was all around me. The ballads on Midnights were fantastic. Sweet Nothing and Maroon were mesmerizing. I had so much fun with this amplifier. And it is fantastic for those of us with small rooms and small spaces.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
I think that Class D amplification is not for everyone. Just as Klipsch horn speakers or tube amplifiers are not for everyone. But where the XTZ power amplifier really excelled is for those of us on limited budgets and with limited space. Pairing it with the right gear is key, and I suspect this is a forgiving amp if it is used to augment most digital systems like Sonos. With that much power in a small lightweight unit, it will be a revelation.
The XTZ Edge A2-300 Class-D amplifier made me think more about those audiophiles breaking into the hobby. Most people do not have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on gear. But they want something that is better than the sound from their phones (or a streaming service) into an underpowered amp or a turntable purchased at Best Buy or the mall. So the XTZ would have a good audience for people looking at lots of power in amplification for the first time. You have to start somewhere and for under $1000, this is a very good deal. If you are looking for clarity, detail and power, this has it all in a small package. It is perfect for bookshelf speakers, from small ones to big control monitors. And it is great in smaller rooms. But it is also more than that: for many this will give them a taste of audiophile level equipment at a fraction of the cost.
XTZ amplifiers are sold exclusively in Canada through Le Studio du Son in Montreal:
MSRP as of 5/2023: $999 Canadian.
I want to thank Oliver Fragman for all of his help and advice.
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