Review - Atoll IN200se Integated Amplifier – Bigger is not always better.
Ok - so I have finally reached audio nirvana in a small box. A little over a year ago I had a chance to listen to a compact sized integrated amplifier. The Atoll IN200SE.
Background: Over the years I have made several good friends in the audio business. It is through one of those friends that I had a chance to listen to some Atoll gear. From time to time he asks me to live with, break-in and give him my feedback on different products. (Who would turn down this request?) I think sometimes he wants a second set of ears or maybe he’s just got audio overload.
This time it was a product from Atoll. Who? I new nothing about them. Specifically, the IN200SE integrated amplifier.
The ONLY downside to having gear to audition no strings attached is that you have to actually pull apart your existing audio rack to change out equipment, cables, etc. I must admit, in my living room, my homemade audio rack was a giant mess. My wife loves to share her opinion; “why do you need all this stuff just to listen to music...”
Living room system:
Speakers: Dynaudio Confidence C1 II
Preamps: Eastern Electric Avant (Tubes), sometimes Odyssey Audio Tempest Extreme (SS)
Amps: 2 giant mono block amps (not going to mention manufacturer cause I love the product, know some people that work there, but they are really large... ~ 200w each, freaky huge power reserves, now sold – cost ~ 35% more than the IN200SE and a great value)
Turntable: Rega Planar 25 w/Van Den Hul “Frog” cartridge
Phono Pre: Eastern Electric Mini-max
DAC: Schiit Audio Modi Multibit (amazing DAC for the price – not just for the head phone crowd)
Dish Box and an old CD player that never gets used.
The IN200 is only 4 inches high, but I had no room for it in my audio rack. So I pulled out a preamp and in went the IN200. Then I decided, what the heck, pull everything out for a good cleaning. Anyway, I fired up the IN200 and sat down for a quick listen. Nice. I really wasn’t expecting too much, I have been happy with my system for some time. My Dynaudio C1s need high quality, clean power to really shine. My amps drive them effortlessly. Though my rack now looked nice and had a lot of room, the IN200 was just so puny compared to the stack of stuff it had replaced. So connections are all good, I left to do some other things.
A few hours later, armed with a cocktail, I sat down for a listen. My first thought was Wow, this thing has promise!” Wow. Very, very good right out of the box. Time to learn about what I was listening to.
From the web:
A true dual mono design with two large torodial transformers that provide power, control and an effortless dynamic presentation. The impressive topology delivers a healthy 200 X 2 watts in 4 ohms with power to spare; transient peaks of 300 watts per channel !
The top level discrete components offer a clean and very detailed presentation with a large soundstage and pinpoint imaging. The IN 200 is designed to be without equal not only in quality, power and performance but in elegant design.
Featuring the flexibility of 5 analog inputs, a separate Home Theater bypass and two sets of analog preamp outputs make the IN 200SE easily expandable and scalable.
Adding an amplifier like the highly respected AM 200 can make bi-amping or tri amping easy while still maintaining an aesthetically pleasing and balanced package.
Retail price: $2500.
That explained some of what I was hearing. Two discrete amp sections. Plus a decent amount of power. Maybe not mono block reserve power, but quite a bit for the size (only 4 inches high). I spent several hours listening that night. One of those pieces of gear that just make you want to re-visit your favorites. Lots of smiles of appreciation to go with the cocktails.
I popped the top off the IN200. It does appear to be 2 totally separate/discrete amp sections. I tried to post a pic here, but can’t figure out how to do it (seriously Audiogon?)
Over the next several days me and the IN200 became good buds. Seriously good piece of equipment. In some ways, absolutely crazy, are you kidding me!!!, freaking good. The IN200SE is just plain fun to listen to. Sound stage not as wide as with my EE Avant tube preamp, but the string instrument and vocal transients were just getting better and better with every listen.
On the downside, something was not quite right with the bass. I was expecting the low end to be there but take a while to firm up, tighten up, feel fast, etc.. With the IN200, I had a sense that the lower end just wasn’t complete. Not exactly right, maybe Atoll chose to skimp on the lower end to be able to focus on mid range and highs?
BTW, mids and highs were coming together brilliantly. For a new piece of gear, pianos were tight – my go to for evaluation. When piano tracks sound right, you are on a roll. (Wife plays piano, have a baby grand in the same room.) And holy shit, piano is really good on the IN200. Perahia, Barenboim, Lyle Mays, pretty close to jaw dropping. Certainly in the category of sounds freaking good. Horns? The timing is really good. Coltrane’s My Favorite Things – spot on. Sound stage and spacing are very good. On the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s ’Take Five’, drums and sax are exactly where they should be, and the transient edges – spectacular. The decay of notes natural and the extension breathtaking. Seriously shocked at a box a few days old at this price point. Also, the IN200 is really good at low volume! Way better than my Mono/Avant system.
It took a couple of weeks, then my concerns disappeared. Like a long forgotten friend, the IN200s picked up the phone and put a smile on my face. I was streaming some Rush and realized, wow, the envelop is no longer missing anything. Everything is tight, accurate, VERY fast, no bloat whatsoever. (Sounds kind of like a good woman... political correctness – bite me). I am on the bandwagon. I’ve listened to 2 channel integrated amps from Anthem, NAD, Arcam, McIntosh (sp?), Bryston, Simaudio and probably a few others. Great sounding? Yes. I have never wanted to buy one until now. The IN200 is better than any integrated I have heard under $5,000. The low end is tight, transparent and fast. Very revealing about what is in the music rather than trying to overwhelm. I must admit, this improvement kind of snuck up on me. Very musical, refined, harmonics just as they should be. While I not have done a side by side with my mono blocks, I think the IN200 is overall more revealing. It has a surprisingly quiet amp section. Went back and listened to some of my favorites. Best of The String Cheese Incident, Alanis Morrisette Jagged Little Pill acoustic version, to name two. Wow. I spent a good part of the next weekend going through my music collection.
Friends/family have asked me why I spend so much money to get a little more detail from music. My answer – it’s not just detail. It’s how the detail comes across, how it leaves. How it flows through senses. How you begin to feel the music in a similar sense to viewing northern light colors flowing on a night sky. Walls disappear. If a piece of equipment does not impact my senses, it does not stick around long.
I have no doubt that the IN200 would shine in an audio friendly room. My living room is kind of an audio challenge. 23Ft x 15ft. Hardwood floors with throw rugs. 8 Ft ceilings. Audio equipment on a long wall due to doors, etc.. The IN200 is well suited for use in an audio challenged room. Being very quiet, it excels at digging deep into the music, revealing and engaging without needing to reach for the volume button. The IN200 and Dyn C1s are really good together. With my Dyn C1s, the IN200 leans maybe a little toward the mids/highs, which I like.
Ok, what don’t I like about the IN200SE? Some of my gripes are probably why Atoll can sell the IN200SE for $2500:
Crappy feet, crappy power cord.
Remote is fairly cheap feeling.
Only RCA connections. Not an issue for me but worth a mention.
What do I like about the IN200SE?
Amp section is outstanding. Really, really fun to listen to.
Mid and Highs are scary good, low end is very tight and fast.
Transients and harmonics better than ANYTHING I have heard in this price range.
Awesome at all volume levels – low level detail is outstanding.
Volume very adjustable. While it may take a while to get from quiet to loud, ability to fine tune volume appreciated.
Size – 4 inches high piece of gear that continues to make me smile.
Besides the feet, build quality is excellent.
Synergy. Add a preamp, don’t add a preamp. The amp section in this thing is alone worth $2500++ IMHO. I tried using my 2 preamps through the IN200’s By-Pass mode. Dead quiet. Which means it would integrate nicely into an existing HT system. For fun, I dropped it into my HT system which is is a much larger but audio friendly room. It drove my Dynaudio T2.5 floorstanders to way past concert levels without breaking a sweat.
After living with the Atoll IN200SE for about three weeks, I decided to buy one. I loved the price/performance, but Atoll has a big following in Europe, not so much in the US. I am fortunate to have the means to have some nice gear. However, $2500 is a lot of money. After weighing the risks of possibly having to deal overseas with any problems and not seeing a big re-sale market, I pulled the trigger and am glad that I did. Still makes me smile and my wife is happy with less clutter in my audio rack (although I have kind of filled up that free space with albums, lol).
Fully broken in, the IN200SE is IMHO, an incredible value. A year later, I’m still impressed. A purchase I would gladly do again.
So now I have broken in two IN200s. Same initial concern on the lower end for the first few weeks. Then after that – big time audio nirvana – in a small package. If you get a chance to listen to the IN200SE, make sure its fully broken in. In my opinion, stellar value and performance.
Most of my casual listening is done from vinyl or streamed from Tidal to a Google Chromecast then adapted to the digital input on my DAC.
From my notes - Recordings/Artists that made me smile and decide to buy the IN200SE:
Alanis Morrisette Jagged Little Pill – Acoustic, Sara Bareilles – Live at the Variety Playhouse, Allison Cross and Union Station – Live, Grateful Dead – Reckoning album, Chris Botti in Boston – When I Fall in Love (lots of stuff going on), Santana - Amigos
Pearl Jam, Nancy Wilson,, Coltrane, Miles Davis,, String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic, Aaron Watson, Susan Tedeshi / Trucks Band, Pat Metheny, Natalie Merchant, Rolling Stones, Brothers Osborne, Joan Armitrading, Katie Melua, Led Zepplin, Yes.
I’m a mid 50’s dude who has always liked to listen to music. I don’t write many reviews, only when I think value maybe has gone unnoticed. If the IN200 cost $6,000, I wouldn’t have bought it. But it doesn’t. Hope this helps anyone considering an IN200SE, an integrated amplifier, or is preparing a short list regarding what to go listen to. Thanks for reading.
I also spent some time with the Atoll AV500. Great little AV 5 channel amp that is sweet for music as well.
Also, the PR300SE and AM200SE separate pre-amp and amp respectively. Fantastic combination. Slightly better in some ways than the IN200SE. I don’t remember what these cost, but for me personally, the performance and value of the IN200SE made it a no brainer.
My rack is still cable/wire challenged... but love the small footprint and performance of the Atoll IN200SE.