Lab12 Integre 4 MKII - user review


I admit my experience with tube amplifiers were rather limited. I’ve heard a flagship Line Magnetic. I’ve heard Lab12 Pre and Suara when auditioning the DAC1 Reference. They sounded good but I didn’t feel that they drew me in enough to immediately want them. But sometimes later I’ve heard the Jadis I70 paired with Gryphon EOS2 in a show, and I fell in love with it. The “live” feel of it was amazing and I had so much fun listening to that setup. I preferred it to the much more expensive Borresen 05 paired with Aavik Class A integrated exhibited in the same show.

 

I began to consider Integre 4 MKII, a KT170 based integrated just like the Jadis I70. Home auditioned it for one week and decided to purchase it. Here’s my honest take on it after living it for another couple of weeks.

 

I know that the main arguments against having a tube amp are the heavy weight, constant biasing, and the heat. I’m not sure about the heat part because my previous amp is a Sony TA-A1ES, a high bias class A integrated, so I was kind of used to a hot amp. Though it did noticeably run hotter, but I found it still acceptable to use it for a while without turning on the AC despite living in a tropical climate.

I am not sure what dark magic Lab12 practiced, but the Integre 4 MKII is undoubtedly the lightest and the most compact of all the KT170 amps. It weighs only 22 kg. I70 weights backbreaking 45 kg and all the others on the market like Cayin’s weigh above 35 kg. It was easy to place the Integre on my rack. It is also very easy on the eye. I showed my wife photos of popular tube amps and she thought Lab12 looked the best, Qualiton came close though.

 

I Youtubed videos of how to bias some of the popular tube amps and yeah, didn’t look like the most fun thing to do. With the Lab12, the biasing process was painless. With the LED screen, it took me approximately 5 minutes to bias all the KT170 tubes. ARC did it first with their VSI75 integrated, but Lab12’s take on this is simply superior with the screw pots on the LED panel itself.

 

How does it sound then? To be honest my first reaction to it was mixed and I didn’t fully fall in love with it immediately the first time. The demo set I tested used KT150s instead of KT170s. One thing that hit me immediately was the realism of acoustic instruments. I am a full-time trained pianist and for the first time my setup could reproduce piano recordings very precisely. Resolution and detail retrieval were an upgrade; I could make out smaller details more easily now like the sounds of pianist’s feet changing the pedals. The bass quality of this amp was far superior to my previous amp. There was so much more ‘meat’ to it; cello and double bass sounded so much more convincing. The dynamics and PRAT of this amp are marvelous. My previous amp would strain when reproducing loud and complex music, but the Lab12 could handle those without breaking a sweat with still plenty of headroom. Kick drums and timpani had the punch that was missing from my previous Sony. The amp truly exceled in drawing you in and placing you in the center of performance; every music felt ‘live’ when listened through it. Loved it.

 

But there were caveats. With my previous Sony amp, the holographic effect and soundstage were cavernous, almost like wearing a giant headphone. With the Integre, the sound was still holographic, but it was noticeably narrower, and the sound was more centered. The bass quality though was good but there was less of it. Gaming and movies experience were not as good; I missed the cinematic feel my Sony amp provided. The sound was also more fatiguing, I found that the maximum I could listen to music on the Lab12 was around one hour, less than that if I was listening to rock or loud orchestral music.

 

It was not an instant buy for me. The dealer listened to my feedback and loaned me a pair of Black Cat interconnects. With the Black Cat, the aggressiveness seemed to be toned down and there was a smoother softer edge, though this came at slight loss of dynamics and realism. It was an easier sound to live with. I decided to take the plunge as it seemed like most of my concerns could be alleviated by experimenting with cabling.

 

My new set obviously came with KT170s. So, what changed moving from KT150s to KT170s? The sound I described above remained largely the same, but there was a softer edge to the sound that makes it more pleasant. With the KT170s the sound was now only borderline fatiguing and I much preferred that. The soundstage was also wider and there was greater depth. Not as wide as my Sony, but wide enough for me to accept the slight compromise. With KT150s the Integre is a very good amp, with KT170s I do think it’s one of the best sounding integrated monies can buy. I’ve heard more expensive amps in the five digits range from the usual suspects like Esoteric, Luxman, Aavik, AudioNote, Accuphase, Naim and I can confidently say Integre 4 MKII outperforms most of them. Was it as good as the Jadis I70? I did not have a chance to compare these two, but with my setup I think the SQ was identical to the setup I’ve heard with the Gryphon. Does not matter though, the price, weight, and QOL are simply better with the Lab12 Integre 4 MKII. It’s a stunning piece of hardware and IMO is good enough to be an end game amp regardless of your budget.

 

Pros

Very realistic timbre

Highly detailed 

Very quiet

Great dynamics

No shortage of PRAT

Lightest in its class

Very easy to bias

Runs reasonably cool

High WAF factor

Competitive price

Good holographic feel and wide soundstage

 

Cons

Borderline fatiguing

Not for bassheads

Soundstage could still be wider

Gear matching needs care

No pre out/sub out

No bi-wiring

 

Gears:

Cabasse Riga

Cabasse Mercure Sub

Lab12 DAC1 Reference

 

Cabling:

Soundstring Gen1 XLR

Soundstring Gen1 Tricormaxial

Nanotec Golden Strada Sp#79 MKII
Oyaide Class S USB Cable

Furutech Roxy (Amp power cord)

Real Cable Citrine (DAC power cord)

Supra Lorad 2.5 Anniversary (PC power cord)

 

Rack: Quadraspire Q4 Evo

 

128x128auroravengeance

@auroravengeance can I consider getting Perreaux stack an upgrade? Currently, I'm using Anthem MRX 540 AVR (ESS ES9010K2M Sabre DAC). Your input is much appreciated. 

The 100p is an excellent amplifier. I had listened to 300ix before and it seems that the Perreaux’s house sound is an attractive one if you like softer more romantic feel but still want good details, separation and PRAT. 
 

 

Thanks for the write up, but I have a little problem taken it seriously when you write “ more expensive cables made the difference “? I could understand if you said different cables, price doesn’t mean better in hifi, a better product can be better in different ways, but it does not get better just because you go up in price.

@gryphongryph Well, if you have a Synergistic or Audioquest dealer nearby, why don't you just try auditioning power cords progressively from entry level to the highest end on the same amp/dac. And then you can decide for yourself. 

But I do agree that more expensive does not necessarily mean it will synergize well with your setup. That is why if it is possible I will always try to home demo cables and cords.