Aavik U-150 Integrated Amp Review 2023.
By Steve Huff
I have heard and owned quite a few integrated amps over the years. From the mighty (large) McIntosh MA8000 to the sleek and sexy Vinnie Rossi L2ISE that retailed for $27k at the time. I have had the Michi X3, Nagra Classic, Gryphon Diablo 300 w/DAC, Enleum AMP 23R, Luxman 595 ASE and every Pass Labs integrated that they make in through these doors for personal testing or review. I have also tried others that did not cost an arm and a leg like the Heaven 11 Billie MKII, a tube based Willsenton R300 and quite a few others.
I believe I have heard between 20- 30 integrated amps in my space over the last few years. I have also had three systems over this time that consisted of “separates” where you need a separate box for everything. Amp, preamp, dac, streamer, etc. At this time in my life I much prefer a great integrated amp that offers up a one box suction but finding one without compromise has been tough.
Usually these all in one devices skimp on the DAC or the Phono preamp and some do not even have these pieces included. Some skimp on parts and some are noisy or run extremely hot. Some weigh 100 lbs or more. Some are ugly as all get out and some are sleek and modern.
I have enjoyed many of these HiFi integrated amps but my favorites, the ones I always remember well, have been the Pass Labs INT-250, INT-25 and the Luxman 590 AXII/595 ASE. The INT-250 and Luxman 505 ASE retailed for $12,500 so they are not inexpensive integrated amps. They are however fantastic integrated amps. Note the Pass pieces do not include a DAC or Phono built in.
Today I want to write about an integrated amp that I bought blind without even hearing it first. This is a rule I should never ever break (and I always recommend you do not break it either) but lets face it…we can not audition every piece of HiFi in our home before purchase. It’s just not possible, especially with some of the more exotic gear that is out there.
The Integrated I am talking about today is the Aavik U-150 with DAC and Phono Stage built in. When new, this had a retail of over $20,000 fully loaded (as this one is) but I found one as new (store demo) from a dealer for under $10k with full five year warranty. I saved over 50% and with that, the U-150 cost me less than the Pass Labs INT-250 and Luxman pieces did yet I am getting a built in DAC and Phono stage that is said to be world class.
I hope so as I really want to slim down the system at this time. Keep it simpler with an integrated, speakers and cables if I can.
Why did I buy this amp blind? Well, I have heard nothing but great things about Aavik from users who own them. A dealer I recently discovered sells them and swears by them. In fact, after conversing with Next Level HiFi in Wayne Illinois I knew I would have to try one of these amps out. From what friends have told me who either owns one or tried one all say the same thing, “It is the best integrated I have ever heard”.
Next Level tells me they have heard it all and chose to carry Aavik over other mega high end brands. They also told me they have had some who have traded in their big money (5 figure) DCS DAC’s for an Aavik Integrated, preferring the DAC inside of the Aavik. If true, that’s a big WOW moment for me as I love my DCS Lina DAC which at $13,800 is shockingly the lowest cost DCS DAC in the lineup, yet a wonderful system altering piece of equipment in my experience.
For starters, the U-150 is a very nice looking piece. Aluminum chassis and heatsinks with a huge modern display that can be seen with eade form across a room. It sure looks like high end audio but I had doubts as to wether it would sound like it due to the Class D amp inside. Yep, this is a Class D design and I always avoided these kind of amps because my early experience with them has not been good. I have heard the NAD offerings (M10 and M33) and the HiFi Rose RA180. The ROSE had a very nice energetic forward sound that wasn’t harsh at all. I liked it but not enough to jump.
They were great products for sure but I found myself missing SOMETHING within the music even though I was not sure exactly what it was, especially with the original NAD M10.
When the Heaven 11 Billie MKII showed up for review I fell in love with this small, simple and beautiful amps sound. It also used a Class D amp section but is mated to a Class A Tube preamp. It offered punch, kick, detail and some warmth in the mids. I enjoyed the heck out of this pairing (with my DCS Lina DAC) for weeks until I fell so hard that I knew I HAD TO TRY what everyone was telling me was among “the best” of Class D amplification.
I did not want to (nor could I) spend $20k+ on a newer design from Aavik so I jumped at the older U-150 as every person I have spoken to who owns one (or did) raved and raved. The new units seem to be even better though and if I were buying new I would have taken a serious look at the U-280 which now uses newer tech such as Tesla coils and more. The looks have changed in the newer line as well and gone is the all metal enclosure. I admit, I prefer the looks of the U-150 and older U-300 to the newer design.
The latest offering from Aavik (well one of them) is the U-280 integrated amp. New look, new tech under $20k with DAC.
My new reference speakers for my review room are now Focal Diablo EVO’s and I was told the U-150 had great synergy with these speakers. I ordered the U-150 via email and had it in my room making music in less than 24 hours (21 to be exact). I replaced the Billie MKII and Pass Labs gear and was ready to be BLOWN AWAY!
I started my first listening impression with a DCS Lina DAC and Clock (with Shunyata Omega Clock Cables) . My very first impressions were written in my notes..
This is warmer and a shade darker in sound than the BIllie MKII but much more refined, smooth and well “High End” sounding.
There is a lack of noise, so much so I wonder sometimes if it is even on.
This has a much larger soundstage than the Billie MKII.
This amp is smoother and more fluid/liquid than the Billie MKII.
Details I the upper treble registers are not as forward as the Billie yet there seems to be more of these details appearing. Low level details are remarkable.
Bass is on the next level from ANY integrated I have had, no matter the cost. The bass in the U-150 bests even the big $35k separates I have here for control, output and impact.
The Aavik also made the Diablos sound like full range speakers, and I was happy to hear them sound big, muscular and with great bass even when subs were turned off.
The Aavik runs cool, looks amazing and is made with high quality parts and construction. The volume dial oozes and feels luxury. The menus are simple to navigate and use and I had it all set within just a couple of minutes.
The Phono Stage inside of the Aavik is without question, hands down, the best I have heard. It easily bested the Pass Labs XP17 I have here in all areas from noise to gain options to sound. This is the first time in 20 years I am hearing vinyl as I always knew it should sound. All from a “built in” phono preamp. Keep in mind the most expensive phono preamps I have heard is the Pass Labs XP-17.
With the phono stage it is simple to change the gain and the loading with the included remote. The gain goes up to 81DB for low output MC carts and I have to tell you, even at 81DB there is not really any noise and this is remarkable.
The DAC inside of the Aavik U-150 is nice but quite a bit different from The DCS Lina and the T+A DAC 200 I have here. When using the internal DAC fed from my streamer via USB (Audioquest Diamond) I hear a warmer, darker and more juicy type of sound vs my Lina or the T+A. I was worried it would be lean, bright or hard but it is the complete opposite. The DAC sounds excellent and it took me a week to get used to this new ultra musical free flowing grooving sound.
When I go back to the DCS or the T+A DAC the sound becomes more open, more detailed, richer as well as more holographic and airy. I lose some of the punch and density though of the U-150 DAC. If I had to compare the DAC inside of the U-150 it reminds me most of a higher end R2R ladder DAC. In fact. a lot like the Denafrips Terminator kind of sound and that is not a bad thing at all. Even so, the big winner in the DAC department is the T+A DAC 200. It’s now the finest DAC I have ever tested for build, ease of use and sound.
The T+A DAC 200 is among the very best DACs I have ever heard, no matter the price. This is a beautiful sounding piece.
I will say it now. This Aavik integrated now takes the #1 spot for my favorite integrated of all time, knocking the Pass Labs INT-250 out of the top spot where it has sat for over 2 years. I will tell you why the Aavik wins out and it did not take me long to decide this. Let’s see why I love this integrated amp…
The Aavik is 40lbs and easy to move. No big heavyweight boxes here.
The Aavik is sleek in design and even better in build. It looks fantastic.
The Aavik has a built in DAC and Phono that bests any other integrated I have heard in this area.
The Aavik is smoother, has more depth and delivers tighter and stronger bass than any integrated I have heard in my life, no matter the cost.
The Aavik has a fullness and density to the sound that is pleasing but at the same time the details are all here and they sound organic. No forward or bleached sound here in any way at all.
The Aavik puts out 300WPC and it feels like it when using it. This amp can drive any speaker with ease.
As I write this and listen I still can not believe this is a Class D amp. My bias against Class D is now fully gone, and I believe it is the future of high end audio. When it sounds and looks this good who needs the heat, the weight and the large size?
The Aavik U-300 came out before the U-150. The U-150 was Aavik’s answer to creating a more affordable version of this guy. Some say the U-150 is better, some say the U-300 is better. Some say they sound exactly the same. The U-300 was around $30k new.
BUT WAIT A SECOND!!!
So yes, I said it. This is now my fave integrated ever and this is Aavik’s older design! I love the sound, the style, the built in DAC and Phono and the effortless ease of power it exudes. The sound though is quite different from what I have been used to.
Most integrated amps I have had through here sound similar but different. Some may have more sparkle up top, others may have more mid bass for bigger mids. Some sound fast and lean, others sound fuller. Some may just have better features but all in all, most of these uber integrated are products I could be happy with as they are all quite nice at this level.
The Aavik though…well, it has a unique sound. It doesn’t sound like Class D, Class A or Class A/B to these ears.
Rather the U-150 when using the built in DAC and streaming from a Lumin U-1 Mini (BNC) or Bluesound Node (USB) the sound is simply musical with the most effortless control over my speakers I have ever witnessed. It’s as if the 300 WPC U-150 takes hold of the drivers and with absolute ease delivers the music as it should be heard.
I have had other amps in here that sounded dense, muscular and effortless but the Aavik takes that up several notches as with this density does not come any hardness or dullness at all.
This is a sound that is large but dense where you hear the bass, the warmth and a super sweet top end. With my Focal Diablo EVO’s the U-150 makes them sing incredibly well and ensures there is no treble glare, edginess or splashiness. The sound is smooth and the sound is absolutely huge and solid. Dense. The details are all there but they are not as aggressive as they are with the Luxman, Pass or Heaven 11. Not that those are “aggressive” but when compared it’s clear that the U-150 is presenting a much different kind of musical picture.
The stage is natural and also tall and deep. It’s not cavernous wide but the imaging is organic and natural vs etched. It’s possibly the most refined amp I have heard but some of you who prefer that high treble energy may not like the all out smooth sound of the Aavik.
A REL S/510 Sub in the System
The sound is in no way forward or in your face, in fact, it is more about a smooth tonality and a powerhouse kind of sound. Rock and metal even on the two way Diablos is insanely great with the U-150. There is no shortage of massive power and you feel the music rather than just hear it.
I would not say this is an amp for those that want extreme holographic details or a lit up presentation. It’s for those who want an amp that can power ANY speaker with ease, and be an all in one with the most refined solid sound on earth. That’s it exactly, refinement. Usually as you climb the price ladder you gear more refinement in audio products. Meaning less of the jagged edgy sounds and more of the fluid silky sounds. The U-150 is the most fluid, silky and yet powerful amp I have ever heard.
Pass Labs INT-250
Class A and Tubes?
The sound of the U-150 to me sounds like a mix of Class A (Pass Labs XA 60.8 for example), Tubes and Class D.
The Class A sound comes from the warmth and size of the sound. The effortless ease of which the amp controls the speakers. The tube sound is here in small amounts due to the imaging and soundstage that is presented that is somewhat tube like yet there are no tubes here. It’s holographic to some extent but all while sounding full, ripe and rich. The Class D sound comes from it sounding a touch laid back as some Class D amps can sound as well as dead quiet with astonishing bass control.
The Luxman 595 ASE lifts up the treble more, is leaner in the mids and also more shy in the bass.
The Pass INT-250 is more wide open in sound, more transparent and also more lit up in the treble but leaner in the lower mids and bass.
The Heaven 11 Billie MKII has the punch and the treble detail but is a touch harder sounding in a direct comparison as well as not nearly as refined in the sound. Not as smooth or fluid.
I love this amp, and will keep it for a while to come if not for years. Hard to say as I never know what will come through the door next. If an integrated comes in for review that I prefer to this one, and I can upgrade without a loss, I will do it.
I can say with confidence that I am no longer interested in large, heavy and beastly big box separate amps. I have to move things around to often (for reviews) and I am getting up there in age, even recently injuring my arm. Lifting 100lb amps is no longer fun for me, especially when I am not hearing the sonic benefit from them vs lighter designs.
Yes, this one box solution makes me happy to ditch the big separates.
Before I go I will say that The DCS Lina DAC along with the T+A DAC 200 do sound better to me going into the U-150 than the internal DAC that is in there. Not that the internal DAC is bad in the U-150 as it bests any other internal DAC I have heard. It’s just that these dedicated DACs that I have here are some of the best in the world, and they do sound a little better in some areas and quite a bit better in others.
The $13k+ DCS is more detailed, richer, has better instrument separation and is more holographic. The T+A has a much nicer sound and is more transparent with a huge soundstage width and depth. The imaging on the T+A is among the best I have heard as sounds natural yet very detailed in what it does. This is a great DAC and the one I would recommend today as a Best Buy. I will have a review soon for it.
Also, I did sell my DCS Lina to fund the U-150 (after I had it here and heard it) and I hope to live with an all in one for a while though I do see myself adding a DAC at some point. If I had to choose an external DAC today it would be the T+A DAC 200.
The Aavik U-150 is well worth the price I paid, and I have seen them sell for much less with just the DAC (and not the phono). In fact, there is one for sale now as I write this for $6700 and that my friends is a steal for this amp if you enjoy a meatier, warmer and fuller kind of sound vs the analytical more detailed lit up treble kind of sound.
As for the Phono stage it is the one thing that really blew my mind. It sounds better than any external stage I have heard. This brings the sound of vinyl to life like we should expect. Big, fat, rich, and inviting. Vinyl sounds like it should and Aavik created a pretty special phono stage here. I do feel the phono stage is indeed world class.
The U-150 is the best all in one I have ever heard but I guess it should be for the $20k+ it cost when it was new. The power is unreal, the ease of that power is otherworldly. It’s the first Class D amp to make me forget about Class A and Class A/B. At todays used prices this is a great buy. Remember, newer is not always better, just different. : )
It has been wonderful to turn on one box, have it ready within seconds (no big warm up needed) and just listen to smooth rich detailed music without heat, without noise or buzzing and without any hard edge at all. I can listen to streaming services from Spotify to Tidal to Qobuz and they all sound phenomenal. I can play some vinyl and enjoy the finest sound from records that I have ever heard. I do not need a slew of interconnects that cost a fortune and this U-150 cut down my cables to one USB and one set of speaker cables.
The U-150 doesn’t run hot so it’s a great year round amp. I can easily and highly recommend the Aavik U-150 or even the older U-300 as both are often found used for under $10k with DAC and Phono. I have paid more for much less in the world of HiFi and this amp has made me truly believe that Class D is the future of this hobby. I do not miss Class A or A/B when listening to the Aavik. I just do not. At all. Instead I have a grin on my face that shows me progress has been made in audio over the years, and this one box is a stunner indeed. If you want a high end integrated, and one that is super refined and sweet do take a look at Aavik if your budge permits.
One day I will have to hear the pinnacle of Aavik Integrated amps, the U-580. If the “old” U-150 is this good, what on earth does the newest U-580 sound like? Maybe one day I will find out. Until then I will enjoy the U-150 which I did buy and now enjoy as a one box solution for my reference system. Do I miss all of the big amps, the extra boxes, the uber $13k DACs? No, and that is the biggest shocker, even to myself. This tells me I got a steal of a deal for this one box as my one lone DAC sold for enough to pay for this entire integrated and while that one DAC did sound better into the U-150 than the internal DAC does, the difference is not as big as some would think.
The U-150 is without question my fave all in one integrated to date. Effortless in power, grace and style and with true high end sound but a unique sound that sounds like nothing I have heard before it.
The Aavik U-150 is a winner, especially at the used prices I have seen for them.
Very interesting as usual. You have lived with, and heard, more top-end Hi-Fi gear than most. Your commitment to the Aavik U-150 in that context is a game-changer. Class D has landed. I have heard Marantz and Gato and very fine they were too, amongst the top performers in their price band. Run cool, not cumbersome, efficient. Amazing how your reference system is constantly evolving. Less can be more, says me, the recovered “upgrade junkie” who is happily plodding on with an old 50 watt Mk1 Naim Uniti, having sold all the boxes. It can sound good enough when well set-up. I am free in a way. I just listen to the music…You always tempt me, but I refuse to go back to the days when I was obsessed with the gear!
*Mid-80s Mission 770 Freedom (£60 used) on 40 cm stands I had in the shed. Flawed, but just so brilliantly musical.
*Naim Uniti Mk1, bought new early in 2011. I can stream, but I rarely bother. My CD collection and favourite internet radio stations suffice. I will listen though, to Aavik, first chance I get…not a common product here in England.