Norma Audio Electronics IPA-70b Integrated Amplifier

A Musical Jewel with Truly
Italian Refinement

Oh, those Italians! They are an extraordinary, multitalented people who have contributed so much to the world through their great creativity. In the high-fidelity sector, the Italians are champions in the art of offering products with superb design and memorable sound. Pathos, Sonus Faber, Opera and many others have paved the way for unique Italian craftsmanship with undeniable charm. The Norma Audio Electronics brand, and more specifically the IPA-70B amplifier, continues this long tradition and even manages to raise the bar a notch. Although Norma products are relatively new to the Quebec market, they are well worth taking the time to discover. So for this test bench, here is the splendid IPA-70B integrated amplifier from Norma. This remarkably musical and impeccably crafted machine holds great promise.

If there is one Italian city that has always been steeped in music, it is Cremona. As the birthplace of great artists such as Monteverdi, Ponchietti and Amati, Cremona is still flooded with music today. It is the ideal place to develop your musical culture by attending high-quality concerts and being able to rub shoulders with leading artists. You can even shop for the violin of your dreams if you feel so inclined. It is also the home of Enrico Rossi, the founder of Norma Audio Electronics and Opal Electronics. The latter is a company specialised in electronic instrumentation in the civil field.

Around 1990, Enrico Rossi, an electronics engineer with a great passion for music and opera, began an ambitious research project that would last seven years. The main objective of this project was to better understand the influence of electronic components and circuits on music reproduction. Thanks to the investments already made at Opal Electronics, Enrico Rossi was able to go very far in his research. To best achieve his goals, he went so far as to manufacture certain specific measuring instruments.

Around 1997, a whole new generation of Norma products was born – the result of Enrico Rossi’s studies. This new range surprised everyone with its incredible sound quality. These new products perfectly illustrated what was to become the Norma product philosophy, based on a minimalist approach in regards to the design of audio circuits, reducing the number of electronic parts in the signal path to a strict minimum. According to his reasoning, the journey of music inside devices should be as short as possible, and the components chosen would be of the best quality available.

Enrico Rossi was aiming to reproduce the human voice as faithfully as possible when listened to. According to his statements and his research, if the human voice is reproduced perfectly, everything else will naturally fall into place, and the device will be pleasant to use for listening. Norma products are also known for their natural tone and lack of colouring. In addition, Enrico Rossi made it his mission to eliminate any form of hearing fatigue when using a Norma device. Now let us see what technical means he used to achieve his goals.

Technical Description
The Norma IPA-70B is an integrated amplifier that is available with a selection of options. It develops 70 W per channel at 8 ohms and 140 W at 4 ohms. This is a very conventional design that uses class AB for the polarization of transistors. A high-quality phono stage is available as an option, as well as a DAC board with a USB input. The buyer must choose between one of these two options but cannot have both at the same time. Norma’s IPA-70B integrated amplifier has three line inputs and one fixed-level line output to feed a headphone amplifier. It also has a direct input into the power stage, which overrides the volume control. This type of input makes it easy to integrate an amplifier into a home theatre installation.

Once the seven screws of the thick aluminium cover have been removed, a true masterpiece – in terms of electronic assembly – is revealed to us. How exquisite! I have rarely seen such a beautiful circuit implemented with such care. True to the philosophy of its creator, the IPA-70B has a minimum number of components, but they are of impeccable quality. Wima capacitors, hand-picked resistors and large circuit tracks: everything has been thought out with the sole purpose of maximising the music reproduction quality. The battery, with six very high-quality red capacitors, is spectacular and can instantaneously offer a considerable amount of current to the output transistors. They have a substantial cooling radiator, which is very well implemented, both mechanically and aesthetically.

Each section of the unit is mechanically isolated from the others by metal shielding sections. This really is the concept of a box within a box, isolated inside another metal box. This type of arrangement ensures a very quiet sound because it minimises disturbances between the various sections of the unit.

The unit’s case is also of flawless quality. It is made from thick pieces of aluminium that are machined with perfect precision. It provides total control of mechanical vibrations, in addition to looking great. Norma’s IPA-70B leaves you with an impression of solidity and seriousness, giving you the irresistible desire to touch it and – above all – listen to it.

Unpacking and Installation
The IPA-70B integrated amplifier is an ultra-simple device to install and handle. It only generates a very reasonable amount of heat, so no worries there. The unit comes with a beautiful little remote control that is machined from a block of aluminium. It has a rather unique function, as it is equipped with two pairs of volume control buttons. The first pair lets you quickly increase or decrease the volume. The second pair provides fine adjustment at a very low speed. This solution and this particular implementation will appeal to some and a little less to others. When rotated, the volume knob on the device leaves a nice quality tactile feel. Unfortunately, the notch that identifies its position is difficult to see. This is an ergonomic irritation that I think should definitely be fixed in a future release. The instruction manual is very complete and well written. It indicates a burn-in period of about three hundred hours before reaching its full potential. So you will have to be patient, but the reward will be worth it.

A Full and Fleshy Listening Experience
So here is an amplifier with a dense, full sound and lots of meat around the bone. Lovers of small, high-quality loudspeakers will probably be thrilled with this device. The timbres are warm, which is reminiscent of the sound presentation of Unison Research tube amplifiers. This pleasant warmth of timbre, however, comes with a lot of control and an excellent hold on the loudspeakers. With the album End of Summer by the Espen Eriksen Trio, the bass, the piano and the drums have a lot of support. This makes listening quickly satisfying and avoids having to constantly raise the volume to arouse the senses. Even at low volumes, the piano is still beautiful, articulate and well detailed. This great instrument, which is so difficult to reproduce, maintains its dimensions and impact even at low volumes with small loudspeakers.

The IPA-70B has a wonderful ability to highlight every little dynamic deviation, as if it were underlining them with a soft lead pencil. It is obvious that this amplifier is excessively fast and quick to deliver power to the loudspeakers. It provides a listening that is never boring and that captures our attention and involves us. Norma’s IPA-70B is an amplifier that, subjectively speaking, seems much more powerful than the advertised figures. Indeed, it is a device that will be able to cope with loudspeakers that are difficult to amplify, without running out of steam.

Very High and Well-Balanced Resolution
When using IPA-70B, we see that the years of research, the very long development and the finesse of the design have given clear results. This is an amplifier whose ability to bring out fine details in music is expressed with a measure that borders on perfection. Although the IPA-70B misses absolutely nothing from recordings, it does so without falling into an overly analytical reproduction, keeping its warm side. This is a superb quality that is difficult to obtain, since it is the prerogative of very large electronics, whose sky-high prices have nothing to do with Norma’s IPA-70B. With the album Talking Timbuktu by Ali Farka Touré and Ry Cooder, the songs are teeming with micro-information. The rendering is rich with small details springing out of nowhere. The stereophonic image is beautiful and well contained, and it does not spread out too much. The sound levels are perfectly respected, and the depth perspective remains realistic. Instead of a blurred sound image, the Norma allows you to see the instruments, and it places the artists between the loudspeakers with a convincing precision. This is an exceptionally mature listening quality aimed at experienced and demanding audiophiles.

→ Conclusion
Norma’s IPA-70B is a great integrated amplifier that really stands out. It is a splendid device whose impeccable quality of manufacture does not suffer from any defects. Its very solid, dense and superbly refined sound is the result of a long development process. It is aimed at a discerning clientele who will appreciate its Italian charm. For those who are looking for their latest lifelong amplifier, the Norma IPA-70B is a gem that they absolutely must put on their list.

→ General Informations
Price: $7,100, $7,650 with built-in MC/MM phono board,
and $8,200 with built-in DAC board. Black finish, add $200

Warranty: 2 years, parts and labour
Distributor: Hi-Fi Art, Phone: 204.338.6929
Exclusively for Quebec, Ontario and Eastern Canada: Art & Son,
Phone: 514.222.2342,

→ Mediagraphy
Espen Eriksen Trio, End of Summer, Rune Grammofon, RCD2216

Ali Farka Touré & Ry Cooder, Talking Timbuktu, Hannibal Records, HNCD 1381