Some time ago I bought a few amplifiers made in the then communist East to learn more about the achievements of their engineering. It was an interesting experience: it turned out that some of the gear our eastern brothers made was actually quite good, with sound quality in no way inferior to their western and Japanese counterparts. Other devices were, well, average. One of those amps had a charming name, Romantika.
The integrated amplifier ROMANTIKA 15-120 S (РОМАНТИКА 15-120 стерео) was manufactured in the Ukraine (forcibly incorporated into another country at the time) from 1985. My unit came from 1990, which is when Ukraine declared its well deserved independence. I got the amp with a few defects, fortunately it only needed a handful of new capacitors. Humming transformer was an additional problem, but the hum could be significantly reduced by placing washers in strategic places.
ROMANTIKA 15-120 S is a fairly complex amp considering its low power. On the outside, the amplifier looks rather well, especially for an Eastern Block product: aluminum front panel (my unit was silver, a black version was also manufactured) with large, heavy, aluminum knobs – and it’s machined aluminum, not just aluminum shells with plastic filling, like in most cases. Apparently even on the verge of collapse of communism in the Eastern Block, the manufacturers still had no shortage of raw materials. The idea to mark most functions with symbols is quite user friendly (especially for users who do not read Cyrillic), but not all symbols are clear (especially the symbols for phono input and loudness).
The interior layout is very clear, with individual sections on separate PCBs. The board on the right contains input sockets, phono preamplifier and source switches. In the middle part there is a preamplifier board (front) and power amplifier section (back). Transformer and power supply board are on the left. The design is mostly based on discrete components, only the phono preamplifier section uses two ICs (one per channel). The amplifier frame is made of aluminum.
The amplifier’s functions are typical for the 1970s and 1980s designs. In addition to four line level inputs (including 2 tape loops) that can be used to connect a radio tuner, PC, CD, mp3 or tape recorder, the amplifier has a phono input (MM cart) and a built-in phono preamplifier. You can connect 1 pair of loudspeakers and the amplifier handles 4 Ω impedance speakers. All inputs and loudspeaker connectors are DIN type. The headphone jack (fortunately a standard 6.3mm jack) taps to the outputs and is designed for headphones with impedance from 8 up to 2000 ohms.
Additional features include a mono/stereo switch, loudness, high and low filters and lamps that indicate clipping (the point, at which the amplifier exceeds it’s power capability and can distort). According to the manual, the lamps light up at 30 W power output.
The amplifier produces a clear sound, but it lacks dynamics, especially at low volume. The sound balance is nice, it is definitely not an outstanding amplifier, but it sounds quite well. Even with loudness on, the extremes are not overly emphasized, which is an advantage for me. But with loudness off, highs and lows appear to roll off slightly.
Compared to the another, hi(er)-end eastern amplifier we have used, this is clearly a budget product for the proletariat. The retail price of Romantica, fixed and printed on the rear panel, was less than a third of the price of the amp manufactured for the dignitaries.
While Romantika is nothing special, it is not a bad amplifier, it’s sound is pleasant, but quite average. It’s not very common, but if you do find it, it will probably be cheap. Due to it’s low price it can be a very interesting option for someone looking for something unusual – or simply a fairly decent, cheap amplifier for a small or medium-sized room.
TYPE: Stereo integrated amplifier
MODEL: ROMANTIKA 15-120 S (РОМАНТИКА 15-120 стерео)
MANUFACTURER: ZPP Kharkiv T.G. Shevchenko
YEARS: from 1985
Rated power: 15 W per channel/4 ohms
Long-term power: 50 W (25 per channel)
Short term (peak) power: 115 W (57 per channel)
Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz (data on the rear panel) or 40Hz – 16kHz (according to technical data in the manual)
Frequency response with respect to 1 kHz per input:
line: ± 1,5 dB
phono: ± 2 dB
THD: 40-6300 Hz: 0.3%; 6300-16000 Hz: 0.5%
Line level input overload voltage at 1 kHz: 2V
Crosstalk between channels at 1 kHz: 40 dB
Signal/noise ratio measured at rated power: 70 dB
Speaker impedance: min. 4 ohms
Headphones impedance: 8-2000 ohms
Inputs: tape x 2, tuner, universal (aux), phono (MM)
Maximum power consumption: 120W
Dimensions: 460 x 90 x 350 mm
Weight: 7 kg