Exposure 3010S2 Mono Power Amplifier

No pair of speakers, no matter how good, can perform up to its level without an equal level of amplification. Exposure has been designing and building amplifiers in the UK for nearly 40 years, drawing from its in-studio experience with Pink Floyd and David Bowie to help voice its products. A pair of the 3010S2 mono power amplifiers puts 100 watts per channel into any system for just $2,895.

A standard class AB design, these 30-pound (12kg) monoblocks won’t break your back or bank account. Designed and built in the UK with all-discrete components and robust power transformers, the 3010S2s run cool to the touch under most conditions. A full-power, hour-long heavy metal test will warm them up, but even maximum punishment does not cause a thermal shutdown, indicating solid power-supply design.

Outfitted with black front panels holding just a power button and single red LED indicator, these Exposure models are the essence of simplicity. An unbalanced RCA is the only available input, but the outputs include the less-common BFA jacks with the ability to bi-wire. Bananas, spades, and bare wire need not apply here, so make sure to have speaker wire with BFA adaptors or acquire adapters for your existing cables.

Out of The Box, Running

Listening tests began with my reference Marantz AV7005 preamplifier and Oppo BDP-83SE disc player to get a feel for the amplifiers. While the latter don’t require a ton of break-in, they do need to be left powered on for about 48 hours before they come out of the solid-state fog—just like most any other solid-state amplifier.

Starting with Mobile Fidelity’s CD of Natalie Merchant’s Tigerlily, Merchant’s voice comes across strong and solidly anchored in the center of the room. Just as importantly, it’s free from shrillness and harshness when Merchant reaches to hit a deep note. The vocal top-end is slightly pulled back, just as you might find with a tube amplifier.

A quick swap from the Marantz to the matching Exposure 3012S2 preamp reveals the advantages of an all-Exposure system. Akin to other famous British brands like Naim, Rega, and Linn, Exposure amplifiers deliver the best experience when used along with namesake preamps.

With a full complement of Exposure electronics, the 3010S2s springs to life with tighter, deeper bass and a much more balanced soundstage. Exposure’s touted tube quality manifests itself on female vocals, and lower-octave guitars retain their steely tone.

Revisiting the same tracks I played on the Marantz signifies a complete change of character between the systems. On the CD layer of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks SACD, music bursts from the speakers rather than settling down behind them. Whereas “Tangled Up In Blue” has too relaxed of a pace and flow via the Marantz, there’s now a raw energy, and the song pulls me in instead of keeping me at a distance.

Sigur Ros’ Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust further shows the system’s synergy. Pounding rhythms during “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur” explode from the speakers. Before, they didn’t have the right preamp to flesh out their character.  Overlapping vocals and instruments bear distinct character and separation, and the soundstage moves from a small recessed area to the whole front of my room.

On Mobile Fidelity CD version of Beck’s Sea Change, the guitars’ metallic sound translates with verve. The soundstage on “Lost Cause” extends to my room’s walls, with Beck and his band locked into place. Bass is strong and tight, with guitar notes feeling full and solid, and yet, never obscuring the sound of Beck’s hand moving over the strings during chord changes. Pace and timing at their finest.

REM’s Automatic for the People shifts effortlessly between arena-filling rock and more peaceful orchestral tracks, which allow one the opportunity to crank up the volume on larger-scale fare.  On “Find the River” and “Nightswimming,” orchestral strings are clear and detailed, and notes linger in the air. “Drive” mixes formal elements with guitars, and the 3010S2s places the strings in the rear while the guitars push forward, confirming its ability to keep the aural elements properly sorted in a complex recording.

The Amplifier Does Make a Difference

Additional listening at the TONEAudio studio via Conrad Johnson, McIntosh, and Simaudio preamplifiers validates the Exposure’s merit. There’s no compromise in tonality or dynamics. Should you not choose the all-Exposure path, try and audition several possibilities in your system—another reason to work with a good dealer.

Playing mix and match with speakers, the 3010S2s’ 100 watts per channel throw enough power to drive everything on-hand save the power-hungry Magnepan 1.7s. All else is fair game. Even the somewhat inefficient Dynaudio Confidence C1 (85db/1 watt) and Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 (86db/1watt) pose no difficulty, and possess plenty of dynamic oomph and control.

Switching to my $399 Epos ELS-3 bookshelf speakers confirms how much more they deliver when powered by high-quality amplification. With the Exposure gear, they throw a much larger soundstage then I’ve ever experienced in my budget system.

The Full Monty

The Exposure 3010S2 mono power amplifiers offer a warm albeit detailed top end and tight, controlled bass, along with an expansive soundstage. One caveat: If improperly mated with other gear, they lack bite and spaciousness. Make sure to evaluate them with your existing preamp to find out how they interact with your system. Once that hurdle is cleared, break out the plastic and get ready to rock.

Exposure 3010S2 Monoblock Power Amplifiers

MSRP:  $2,895

www.exposurehifi.com  (factory)

www.bluebirdmusic.com  (North American Distributor)