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Norma Audio Electronics

Prices (when reviewed): 16 990 PLN (silver version)

Di Ing. Enrico Rossi
Via Persico 26 | Frazione Bettenesco
26043 Persico Dosimo, Cremona ⸜ ITALY


Supplied for the test by: AUDIO ATELIER


translation Marek Dyba
images „High Fidelity”, Bartosz Łuczak/Piksel Studio

No 239

April 2, 2024


Norma Audio Electronics is an Italian company founded in 1987. Initially specializing in amplifiers, with its first product being the NS 123 integrated amplifier, it was bought by Opal Electronics in 1991. It took nearly seven years of research and development to come up with an entirely new series of devices. They were presented in 1997 at the Top Audio Show in Milan and remained on offer for many years, undergoing only minor changes and improvements.

FROM MY VISIT TO CREMONA, the Italian city where artists such as Monteverdi and Ponchielli lived and worked, and where luthiers from the Stradivari, Guarnieri and Amati families had their workshops, I remember most of all the absolute calm during siesta time and the excellent sound of the violin being played by someone in the concert hall of the Museo del Violino, or Violin Museum.

It features violins and cellos from the workshops of all three of the above-mentioned families, the products of other famous Italian masters, as well as selected instruments from contemporary production by luthiers who have won any of the editions of the Concorso Triennale Internazionale di Liuteria Antonio Stradivari, a sort of - as we read in the exhibition guide - "Olympics" for violin instrument makers. The museum's permanent exhibition also includes violins from Poland.

Living in such a place, working in such a place, a person is "marked" in a certain way. One can do anything there, but if one's work is related to music, it has some additional meaning to it that is difficult to decipher, and which one understands only when dealing with the results of this work. It's good to be aware of this, so that we don't use Cremona in the role of a lock-pick. Listening to Norma's products in the past, I had the impression that this principle was known to Norma and that it was followed by its crew.


NORMA AUDIO ELECTRONICS is owned by Opal Electronics, a manufacturer of measuring devices. So it is clear that it is important for it to have test results of this type. On the other hand, however, let's pay attention to its name. Norma the name of the main character of Vincenzo Bellini's tragic opera of the same title. As it is said that the title role is one of the most difficult soprano parts in the entire operatic repertoire. The unsurpassed model for it remains to this day Maria Callas, whose interpretations have been immortalized in recordings from 1954 and 1960, in which she was partnered by Franco Corelli under the baton of Tullio Serafin. Norma brand combines technologies (arts and crafts) and musical culture. Simply put - Italy.

Enrico Rosso, head and chief engineer of Norma Audio, says about the new amplifier:

The Revo IPA-80 is the result of our several years of research and challenges in designing our new amplifier. We wanted to offer a product with an advanced design, top-notch workmanship and very high quality sound, all at an affordable price. Thanks to our years of experience, the challenge was successful. Working on Revo IPA-80 actually developed our creativity, passion and love for music.

Revo IPA 80 offers a level of sophistication and listening pleasure unknown in this market segment - until now. Transparent. Neutral. Fast. Dynamic. Revealing. All of these qualities are evident at both high and low volume levels, while offering great versatility for a variety of speaker options. These features express much more than one might think from its small size.

⸜ source: press release

The '80' model is the successor to the excellent '70B' amplifier we tested in 2014 - the year we celebrated HIGH FIDELITY's 10th anniversary (more → HERE {PL}). Is it a coincidence that another amplifier from this manufacturer is coming to us for our 20th anniversary? Apparently, there are no coincidences. By the way, it also shows that new models from this Italian manufacturer are a rarity. As the manufacturer assures us, the time between launches is devoted entirely to designing and testing new ideas.

The IPA-80 is an integrated amplifier and one of two amplifiers of this type in this Italian manufacturer's lineup. Above in the price list is the even more expensive IPA-140 model. As we read, "keeping the internal topology of its younger brother REVO IPA-70B intact", it offers a new power supply section with a higher current capability - 24 A, with a peak as high as 100 A! This is one of the more important special features cited by the manufacturer. The other is the extremely wide frequency response, reaching above 1 MHz. I know from experience that this bodes well for the future.

The amplifier features six line inputs, two of which are user-configurable. The first three are classic RCA line inputs. Input #4 can be converted into an MM/MC phono input, provided a phono preamplifier module is installed inside. Although it is "only" an additional board, the user can set the load for the MC cartridge on it. Input #5 can operate as a line input, but it can also be used as a line output with a fixed output voltage. They used to be referred to as "recording output" ("Rec Out"). The selection of this functionality can be made using a remote control. And there's an AV input, which allows the amplifier to work in a home theater system as a power amplifier for the front channels. A module with a D/A converter and USB input is also expected to be available soon.

The device looks exceptionally nice. Its chassis is made of thick aluminum sheets, and the front is milled from a piece of the same material. It has a clean front panel and a thoughtful mechanical design. Its top and bottom walls are not rectangular or square, but converge towards the back. This is a motif found from time to time in audio, but not too often. This is because it is more expensive to implement than the classic rectangular "boxes". At the moment, the French company Atoll in particular comes to mind. There, however, the shorter wall is at the front, while in Norma the shorter wall is at the back. The unit is available in two colors - silver and black. The silver version costs 16,990, and the black costs 18,380 PLN.

The stylistic purity of this amplifier comes not only from the well-chosen proportions, but also from reducing the number of manipulators to a minimum. On the front panel, it is primarily the silver chrome volume knob that draws attention. It is not accompanied by any sort of a scale, having only a notch on one side, so we get the indication "by eye." Next to it is a small switch, serving as a standby and input-changing switch. Further to the right are seven (unfortunately) blue LEDs, indicating the selected input and standby mode.

The set comes with a remote control with the symbol RC-41. Made of aluminum, it has well-functioning buttons with a clear operating point. The remote control supports both Norma amplifiers and CD players.


HOW WE LISTENED • The Norma REVO IPA-80 integrated amplifier was compared to a two-box reference amplifier, namely the Ayon Audio Spheris III preamplifier and Soulution 710 solid-state power amplifier, as well as the Ayre EX-8 2.0 integrated amplifier. During the test, the IPA-80 stood on its feet on the top carbon shelf of the Finite Elemente Pagode Edition Mk II rack.

During the test, I used the Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition SACD player as the source. The signal between the player and amplifier was sent via Crystal Cable Absolute Dream RCA interconnect. The amplifier was powered by Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version cable, and the signal to the speakers was supplied by Crystal Cable Da Vinci speaker cable. The amplifier was driving Harbeth M40.1 speakers. Let me add that I connected a Nordost QKore artificial ground to the ground terminal.


⸜ OLIVER NELSON, The Blues and The Abstract Truth, Impulse!/Universal Classics & Jazz UCGQ-9040, Acoustic Sounds SACD Series, SHM-SACD (1961/2023).
⸜ ELLA FITZGERALD & LOUIS ARMSTRONG, Ella and Louis, Verve/Lasting Impression Music, LIM UHD 045, UltraHD CD (1956/2010).
⸜ KRZYSZTOF DUDA & PRZEMYSŁAW RUDŹ, Musica Electrica, Master CD-R (płyta jeszcze nie wydana).
⸜ PERFECT, Perfect, Polskie Nagrania MUZA/Polskie Nagrania | Warner Music Poland 50541 9 78085 1 7, SACD/CD (1981).
⸜ DEEP PURPLE, In Rock, Harvest/Audio Fidelity AFZ 051, Gold-HDCD (1970/2009) w: DEEP PURPLE, The Audio Fidelity Collection, Warner Bros. Records/Audio Fidelity AFZB 019, Limited Edition № 0878, (2009)
⸜ VARIOUS, Andrea Amati Carlo IX: Le Origini Del Violino wyk: Federico Guglielmo, Cristina Fanelli, Davide Pozzi, Diego Cantalupi, MV Cremona MCV 018-45, CD (2018).


IT TOOK ME A MINUTE to realize what I was actually listening to. A lot of audio equipment has quite distinct "vectors" of sound, and this is true regardless of how much the product costs. This is not a mistake, this is how it works in audio. Theoretical "neutrality" is a certain idea that we strive for, but which will never be achieved. And as a result, manufacturers go in its direction through various paths, most often, as I say, their own ones. Enrico Rosso, Norma's boss and chief engineer, has also trodden his own path. But one in which he hides behind the sound, rather than dominating it.

The thing is that the Italian amplifier played in an extraordinarily clear, dynamic, spacious way. The dynamic contrasts, the ability to show different shades of timbre were exceptional. Listening to OLIVER NELSON's The Blues and The Abstract Truth I appreciated both the class of the recording, the way it was remastered, and the wonderful release on SHM-SACD. But above all, I listened to the music. I had the impression of attending a concert, so fast were the pulses and so cleanly given the attack. And there was everything that goes "behind" the attack, which makes us perceive the sound as natural.

The IPA-80 is an incredibly resolving and clean sounding device that is not, however, devoid of character. In the sense that it is not passionless performance. There is passion in it, there is feeling, there is "groove" as well. The music is served effortlessly by the Italian amplifier. Where even powerful amps seem to "work hard", the Norma flashes by, as if its designer had overcome the problem of friction. It means that instruments have a quick and accurate attack, followed by a nice fill, all presented in an unforced, almost nonchalant manner.

As you might have already figured out, the Italian device does not belong to that group of audiophile category, which, by the way, I like and appreciate, and which would "arrange" the presentation in such a way as to please us. In a word: it doesn't color it. Because it doesn't have to. For it has something unique to offer: credibility. I don't know what else to call it, but every time I played an album, I listened to it with interest, and not in the background. This is because the resolution of the device allows it to show a lot of information that builds a meaning-dense presentation, saturated with emotion.

I had already noticed this with Olivier Nelson, but it was with the ELLA FITZGERALD and LOUIS ARMSTRONG’s Ella and Louis album that it occurred to me that the IPA-80 is not "trying" anything and that with it the sound just "is". Do you know what I mean? - Surely you've heard many devices you had to fish out the sound from, its meaning, for yourself. Here we don't have to do anything, the amplifier gives us a rich sound panorama in its entirety, without the need to interpret it, without the need to "dig through" the sound.

Fitzgerald's and Armstrong's voices were shown in front of the orchestra, which is how they are mixed, but the instruments behind them were not lost. So Oscar Peterson's piano playing had a great, clear sound, while never being too bright or glassy.

Likewise Ray Brown's double bass - fast, clean, clear, and never too dry. It is, by the way, a sound that is hard to define as "warm" or "cool". For a while we sit confused, because it escapes quick audiophile dichotomies. And that's because it's neither one or the other - it's naturally neutral.

It sounds a bit like a baroque oxymoron, because who does not remember from school the poems of Andrzej Morsztyn, who does not have in memory church songs in which this type of treatment survives. The Greek root of the term 'oxymoron' indicates wit and absurdity. Here it is totally serious and absolutely sensible. It is within us that the process of understanding occurs, and it happens by confronting our experiences and habits with what we hear. And we hear a coloration-free, saturated and powerful sound.

Thus, the IPA-80 amplifier allows you to enter the world of music recordings without prior expectations. Each of them will be shown as something separate, its own. So the new, yet unreleased album by KRZYSZTOF DUDA and PRZEMYSŁAW RUDŹ Musica Electrica, which I got from them on a Master CD-R, sounded great. It was a deep and fast sound. There was nothing annoying in it, there was no shadow of exaggeration in showing the upper midrange or upper treble. And yet it was a very open sound, much more open than with many other amps.

Norma does it in a way that doesn't make us think, searching for meanings. We get the full musical package right away, with perfect timbral and dynamic differentiation. The disc in question combines Krzysztof's organ playing with Przemysław's electronic passages. The organ was shown in a fantastic perspective, perhaps without tightening the lowest part of the band, but also without skinnying it.

PERFECT from its debut album, released in 1981 and again this year by Warner Music Poland on SACD sounded fast, strong, with a kick. Again, there was not a sound based on the lowest bass notes, this is not that type of sound. It's a fast and dynamic presentation, you could say - spot-on. Norma played this album in a modern way, exactly as imagined by Damian Lipinski, who prepared this remaster (more about it in the report of the 145th meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society).

The guitars were brilliantly rendered, and Grzegorz Markowski's vocals were also brilliantly heard. Once again, it was fast, dynamic playing. And at the same time resolving. This is something that came back to me every time I listened to another album. When testing amplifiers I pay attention to different aspects of their sound, looking at them one by one. I'll admit that this time I didn't quite succeed. And that's because it was the Italian amplifier's delivery that was so dense and so "finished" that pointing out individual elements of the sound was difficult.

With the IPA-80 we can listen to music loudly or quietly, because either way, it will be clear and dynamic. But even with high sound levels it will not be jazzy. It will be something like a concert brought into our room, with its energy and feistiness. At the same time, the sound will remain clear and accurate. You won't hear compression or slowdown either.

It might seem that this could push us towards playing rock music with this amplifier - this is not the case. Admittedly, both Perfect and the next album In Rock by DEEP PURPLE, released magnificently in 2009 by Audio Fidelity on HDCD gold disc, were presented with fire, with energy, in a clear way with selective guitars, drums or Hammond organ (Purple), but that does not mean that this is an amplifier only "for rock".

It is so that when we listen to an album with it, any album, we think that this is THE kind of music the IPA-80 sounds best with. But in a moment we cue in another one and find that THIS is the „right” genre and proper expression. Therefore, it can be said that the tested amplifier is so transparent to the musical material that it lets it "speak" for itself, it does not stand between us and the recorded material.


I MAY HAVE STARTED WITH IT, but that would have been too obvious - the violin with the IPA-80 amplifier sounded in a carrying, open way. Not even so much carrying as loud. Because it had a full, deep and clear sound. Dense - but not warm, that's not the case. This was the case, for example, with Andrea Amati's Carlo IX violin, an instrument made around 1570. They are part of the collection of the Museo del Violino. Since the museum has a small but acoustically excellent concert hall, it also has a record label. Instruments from its collection can be listened to in their - one might say - natural surroundings. On the Andrea Amati Carlo IX: Le Origini Del Violino they are played by Federico Guglielmo.

The sound I got resembled that of a concert, which happened previously with rock material. That is, I heard a fairly close standing performer in a room with vivid acoustics. The sound was super-resolving and well-contrasted in terms of timbre and dynamics. Even the noise of the microphones and tape from the Fitzgerald and Armstrong album listened to earlier, was not a hiss, but had texture. The space stretched far into the depths without being widely stretched to the sides - one of this amplifier's own characteristics. The presentation was clear and carrying, as if the unit had no power limitations.

Above all, however, Norma plays any music with equal commitment, with a kind of "nerve" implemented to each disc. Combine it with some warm speakers, and you get the best of both worlds. Don't expect a visceral bass, that's not here. Nor is there warming and massive bodies. Instead, there is energy, power, and momentum. The Revo IPA-80 is really a very good, exceptionally interesting example of an interpretation of the integrated amplifier idiom. An excellent device.


THE MANUFACTURER IN ITS TECHNICAL MATERIALS lists several solutions that differentiate its amplifiers from its competitors' devices. Let me quote after the manufacturer selected points:

• Extreme low noise and high speed schematic topology,
• Wide band ( >1 MHz ),
• High current MOS-FET power device (100 A output peak current),
• 8 power device for a total rated 1.000 W power handling capability,
• Semiconductor selected and matching for Left & Right channel,
• PCB Board with wide ground plane,
• Separate ground plane power supply for Gain, Driver and Output stage,
• Toroidal power transformer specially designed for audio applications, low dispersion flow, low mechanical noise, high permeability magnetic core with consequent low output impedance,
• Two-speed volume control (Fine and Fast),
• Protection for DC signal sensitive speakers,
• Inputs selection by relay with GOLD/PALLADIUM contacts,
• Stand-by mode switches off the microprocessor one the command is executed, so as to annul any interference towards analogue signal.

» FRONY AND REAR • The REVO IPA-80 is an integrated amplifier with six line inputs, one of which can be switched to operate as a line output, and one can operate as a "direct" input, bypassing the attenuator. The unit can also accommodate optional boards with an MM/MC phono preamplifier or a DAC; the latter offers only one input, USB.

Its body is compact and rigid, which should help dampen vibrations. The unusual shape, with sides converging towards the back, is suggested by the top and bottom panels. The sides are classic, perpendicular to the front. I don't know if this was intentional, but such a mechanical construction makes the whole thing more rigid than in classic designs

The aesthetics of the unit are founded in both the shape of the cabinet and the minimalism of the front panel. The knob is chrome-plated, as is the only button, making them contrasting elements to both matte silver and deep black - and the amplifier is available in these two color versions. On the back, you'll find RCA input jacks, unfortunately not gold-plated, soldered to the board (only the ground is gold-plated). Gold-plated in their entirety are, instead, the single pair of speaker jacks. Next to the input into which the phono preamplifier board can be plugged is a ground socket.

» INSIDE • Looking inside the amplifier, we will be reminded of the view from a dozen or so years ago, perhaps even a few decades ago, reserved for small, specialized audio companies. Though with important improvements.

The whole thing has been assembled on a PCB featuring thick, gold-plated tracks and ground routed for each section separately - previously not a point high on the list of priorities of audio equipment manufacturers. Hermetic relays can be seen at the input. The manufacturer says that their contacts are coated with gold and palladium, so they should be reliable and "sound" good. Behind them there is an attenuator. Nowadays, an integrated resistor ladder is usually used here, because it is the easiest solution, in addition, not subject to degradation over time. Here we have a classic Alps rotary potentiometer with a long axis going to the front panel.

The control section of the amplifier has been enclosed in thick screens. However, you can see the output transistors. They are surprisingly small, just as the heat-sink to which they are screwed is small. As we read, however, the manufacturer says that they are high-current MOS-FET transistors with a peak output current of 100 A, in addition, they were carefully selected and matched. They operate in class AB and output 80 W RMS into an 8 ohm load and as much as 150 W RMS into 4 ohm. Next to the control modules you can see very nice passive components, such as Wima polypropylene and Elna electrolytic capacitors.

Exactly half of the amplifier, however, is occupied by the power supply. And this is one of the things that has changed and currently is treated as an important element of the design. Its base is a large toroidal transformer with a resin-flooded center, manufactured by the Italian company NOR-SE. It is a specialized company founded in 1981 by Egidio Mapelli. Its headquarters are in Dovera, a district located 30 km from Milan and 45 from Cremona. So it can be said that Norma has benefited from a local supplier. Also Italian are the main power grid ripple suppression capacitors - eight pieces bought from Itelcond. This is also a "local" company, as it is from Milan.

The manufacturer speaks of as many as eight independent power supplies - and indeed, I counted eight rectifier bridges. Working with them are complex voltage-stabilizing circuits, discrete ones, that is built using transistors. Here you can also see nice passive components. This entire section is covered with an additional screen to suppress RFI and EMI interference. Inside, you can see as many as eleven fuses - in the power and protection circuits, plus one at the IEC power socket. All of them can be replaced with specialized products in the future.

Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer)

Inputs: 1 x MM/MC (optional), 4 x line RCA, 1 x „direct” RCA
Phono input impedance settings for MC: 47 kΩ, 1 kΩ, 500 Ω, 100 Ω
Phono input gain settings for MC: 34 dB, 38 dB, 42 dB, 46 dB, 50 dB, 52 dB
Input impedance: 10 kΩ
Nominal output: 80 W RMS/8 Ω, 150 W RMS/4 Ω
Maximum output current: 24 A (continuous), 100 A (peak)
Sensitivity/input gain: 34 dB, 470 mV at 70 W/8 Ω
Dimensions (W x H x D): 430 x 87 x 139 mm
Weight: 15 kg

THIS TEST HAS BEEN DESIGNED ACCORDING TO THE GUIDELINES adopted by the Association of International Audiophile Publications, an international audio press association concerned with ethical and professional standards in our industry, of which HIGH FIDELITY is a founding member. More about the association and its constituent titles → HERE.


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