Enlightening sounds|Exposure 3510 integrated amplifier



Date: 2024-04-30


Do you also associate classic British virtues with terms such as “comfortable”, “warm” or even “somewhat sedate”? Already after the first notes it was clear that this prejudice would be dissolved through clarity and joy of playing.

Among other things, the English term “exposure” stands for revelation. Contrary to my expectations of a classic British amplifier, this term hits the nail on the head in terms of sound. No trace of sedate or slightly obscured sound. The translation also provides the term “exposure”. The 3510 clearly doesn't sound underexposed or dark.

Traditional understatement
The appearance of the Exposure 3510 can be described as traditional or even conservative. The British seem to be calmly leaving the race for visual trends to their competitors. Visually, it's exactly right for anyone who wants to design their living space with coordinated accessories instead of being dominated by magnificent HiFi fortresses. Classic design is not particularly exciting or innovative, but it is simple and, above all, timeless.

The manageable range and the comfortable model update clearly show that Exposure's developments are not primarily marketing-driven, but rather evolutionary. The simple design not only has a symbolic effect, but also represents the necessary basis for it. The actual technical progress is usually not as rapid and unsteady as the design trends.

Those who do not allow themselves to be rushed by promises of innovation and instead deal with what is available are well served. The truly impressive developments in the digital sector are efficiently taken into account with the modularity of the optional DAC. I think that makes sense – also from the perspective of sustainability.

Short interview with Tony Brady
The manufacturer himself certainly knows best why what is being done and how. I am pleased that I was able to conduct a short interview with Tony Brady, the developer of the integrated amplifier, to give readers an exclusive insight.

The development of an electronic circuit is always associated with specific goals. What do you think are some of the key goals behind developing the 3510 integrated amplifier?

The 3510 is a further development of the 3010S2 D and also the previous amplifiers in this series. So it's more of an evolution than a revolution. In general, the preamplifier and the output amp have been improved. There are many important things, but the basics have to be right. The power supply must be large enough to supply the power amplifier without too much voltage drop and to have enough drive to drive the speakers well. The entire amplifier must also be open without sounding bright.

There are always challenges and limitations when pursuing goals. What aspects come to mind spontaneously from a developer's perspective?

Good speaker control and a well-controlled frequency response, so that the amplifier sounds neutral and is not influenced by external interference that can directly or indirectly affect the sound.

Every developer and manufacturer follows a certain philosophy. Which sound characteristics of the 3510 integrated amplifier were particularly important during development?

Nowadays, every smart device already contains a digital/analog converter. From a technical perspective , how does the 351 0's integrated DAC differ from such simple solutions?

We use a high quality DAC chip as well as an output stage and our own power supply. Smart devices don't have this luxury with their low battery voltage and Class D output stages. We have a lot more power and headroom available.

Equipment and operation
The only controls on the amplifier are the ON/OFF switch (no standby mode), a rotary knob for volume control and one for source selection. The circular, black window for the infrared receiver and the opening for the headphone jack seem a bit artificial on the silver version. However, these are hardly noticeable in black.

If the amplifier is switched on, three blue LEDs light up on the silver version (red LEDs on the black version). One LED is used to signal the operating status and a second marks the selected source. There is another one on the volume knob so that you can easily see the volume setting even from a distance . The LEDs shine brightly and are not dimmable. Since I really enjoy listening to music in the dark, I would like the display button on the remote control, for example, to be used to reduce the brightness.

The workmanship of the case is solid and valuable. You won't find any frills or bling-bling. The input selector switch and the volume control are milled aluminum elements with a ground surface, not thin aluminum shells sitting on a plastic plug, as is often the case. The knobs feel incredibly smooth to the touch.

The RCA sockets on all inputs and outputs are of high quality and above the class average. The BNC connection for the coaxial S/PDIF input of the optional DAC is exceptionally correctly designed with its characteristic impedance of 75 ohms. Most manufacturers neglect this by using RCA sockets, whose characteristic impedance almost always deviates from 75 ohms.

To what extent this generally influences signal integrity remains to be seen. It is not uncommon for the use of the BNC socket to result in the use of a coaxial RCA cable in combination with an RCA-BNC adapter. This means that the correct signal routing via the 75 ohm path is no longer possible. Even if this will usually lead to connections that are not entirely consistent, it offers a clean basis for all those who want to connect correctly.

Six high-level inputs and three outputs are available as standard. The AV input is intended for use as a power amplifier in home cinema. The output is controlled at full gain and without volume control.

In addition to the tape out, there are two pre-outs available, which means that the integrated amplifier can also be used as a preamp and can still control two subwoofers. Optionally, the AUX1 input serves as a dock for the record player and is then no longer available as a high-level input.

There is a 6.3 mm jack socket on the front for headphones. With an output impedance of under 12 ohms, the headphone output is capable of delivering 4.8 Vrms into 33 ohms and up to 7 Vrms into 330 ohms. The headphone out is therefore equipped for a wide range of headphones.

Two pairs of 4 mm laboratory sockets are available on the left and right for connecting the speakers. These cannot be switched and are therefore only suitable for a bi-wiring connection - i.e. the connection with a speaker cable for the low frequency and a second cable for the mid/high frequency. I think using the laboratory sockets is a brave decision. Not everyone will like this because, for example, cables with spades cannot be used. This means that strands or wires cannot be used without a plug.

The DAC module and a phono board (either MC or MM) are optionally available. Only one of them can be accommodated, which is why you have to decide what should be outsourced if the worst comes to the worst. The DAC board costs 660 CHF and a phono module costs 440 CHF. Both phono modules can be tuned to the tone cell as usual. The DAC is already integrated in my test sample. I consider the price quoted for it to be very fair considering the sound. On the one hand, external DACs quickly cost significantly more, and in terms of sound, the integrated DAC doesn't have to worry about external solutions that are three times as expensive.

A linear power supply is installed in the 3510 integrated amplifier, which you can tell by its considerable weight when lifting it - especially on the left side. The transformer is mounted on the far left. This is shielded from the electronic circuits across the entire width by the heat sink of the power transistors.

In normal operation the amplifier gets lukewarm. As already mentioned in the introduction, this is extremely practical for storing in a niche or in a closed cupboard. The performance specifications of the power amplifier are twice 110 W continuous power at 8 ohms and around twice that at an impedance of 4 ohms. Both are rather conservative figures, as shown by independent measurements.

The feel of the remote control is okay and the design is plain and simple. The arrangement of the volume buttons differs from the usual arrangement of these two buttons. Most of them are placed right next to each other. Here they are slightly separated from the rest. After a short period of getting used to it, it is easy to blindly hit the right key. The good thing is that this arrangement prevents confusion with the input selection buttons. Unfortunately, I discovered that operating our AV receiver, at least when changing the volume, also set the corresponding rotary knob on the 3510 in motion. This could be a coincidence, according to Exposure you use independent Philips RC codes, but in practical use I would check whether it reacts to another in-house remote control in order to prevent noisy surprises.

The optional integrated DAC can be controlled via USB or S/PDIF (Coax). When using it, you will notice that there is a very short hissing sound when switching between tracks with different conversion rates. Since I develop and build DACs myself, I am familiar with this problem. The reasons for this are different. Personally, this doesn't bother me much because I know that the cause is not a defect or error. In any case, it is reassuring that the intensity of this noise seems to be independent of the volume setting. This means that it may be a bit annoying when listening to quiet music or changing albums frequently, but it does not endanger the speakers even at high volumes.

Listening impressions
I mainly listened to music on my speakers, the Audio Note AN-E SEC. As mentioned, these don't require nearly the power and control available. However, in my experience, they meticulously uncover any sonic peculiarities in the playback chain. In any case, I am very familiar with these speakers - and anyone who hasn't experienced them would hardly believe how accurately my Audio Note chain played, even in direct comparison with my Strauss electro-acoustic chain. Alternatively, I explored the sonic capabilities of the Exposure on my Living Voice Auditorium II.

I explored the sonic characteristics of the Exposure 3510 integrated amplifier primarily with the integrated DAC. In order to explore the quality of the preamplifier, I compared various DACs from my collection. The preamp is extremely transparent and makes it easy to see the often subtle differences between these source devices. I liked the integrated DAC so much straight away that its external and sometimes much more expensive rivals remained switched off for all of the following listening impressions.

What struck me at first was that I found the bass not only to be cleanly contoured, but also fluid and well integrated. The detail in the treble range appeared to me in a similar way, which led me to the conclusion that the Exposure has a good sense of this important balance.

With “simple” fare and the track “The Feels” from Labrinth’s album “Ends & Begins” I begin to listen with concentration. The spherical sounds at the beginning of the track are involving and enveloping. The low-frequency runs are presented with a lot of pressure and tension. The sounds of the piece float around the room effortlessly, silky and clear, as well as with an engaging flow.

The piece “Summertimes” from the Archie Shepp Quartet’s album “True Ballads” is much more demanding. Tonally balanced and with subtlety and a well-dosed bite, a thoroughly authentic representation is achieved. The cymbal work and the blowing noises are reproduced naturally. Even if, in y opinion, the immediacy doesn't quite come close to that of a good "non-oversampling converter". Compared to the countless DACs I have owned, I would definitely rate the naturalness of the 3510 as one of the better ones.

Next, from my Qobuz favorites, I choose piano concertos numbers 18 and 19 (Köchelliste 456/459) by WA Mozart, played by Mitsuko Uchida accompanied by the Cleveland Orchestra. The piano sounds are sparkling and it seems powerful when Mitsuko Uchida reaches into the lower registers. The orchestra's entrances are fresh and thanks to the pleasantly fluid playing style, I listen to the album more than once without noticing until I tear myself away from it and play the next album: namely the Piano Concerto No. 9 and 21 (K. 271/467), which I listen to straight to the end.

There are countless interpretations of the song “Imagine” by John Lennon. I particularly like the version by Harrison Kennedy, Jean-Jacques Milteau and Vincent Ségal from the album “CrossBorder Blues”. The harmonica plays an important role for me. This is played vibrantly and with verve. Emotionally, it's more on the sinewy side than on the indulgent, fleshy side.

For me, what makes the 3510 so special is its harmony, coupled with its clarity and joy of playing. Control, flow, subtlety and attack - everything is present in balance and none of it is dominant. The spatial representation is credible in terms of depth and breadth, the separation of instruments appears authentic and the presentation is neither too intrusive nor distant.

Tonally it is very balanced and suitable for long-term use. The bass offers a lot of pressure and contour without wanting to show off excessively thick muscles or unaesthetic, steel-hard tendons and veins. In the highs he plays clearly and resolved, but does not tend to meticulously dissect. Overall, the music on the 3510 sounds balanced and coherent, but still quite engaging.

Down-to-earth and calm – that’s what the Exposure 3510 integrated amplifier appears to be. Visually as well as sonically, there is also a joy of playing that you wouldn't necessarily expect based on its appearance. Although conservative on the outside, there is little that is old-fashioned about this amplifier in terms of sound and concept.

The 3510 plays with a high level of transparency, does not neglect the flow of the game and delivers a remarkably balanced performance overall. The equipment fulfills some wishes and the operation is intuitive. The fact that only one of the three optional modules (DAC, Phono MC or Phono MM) can be installed is a small downer. The fact that the 3510 integrated amplifier also accepts commands from other common device remote controls is suboptimal. The exposure offers the discerning music listener a high value and has an overall decelerating effect. Thanks to durability, high transparency and convincing qualities!