Aragon 8008 power amplifier
Or do they? There are many superb-sounding super-amps, to be sure, but once you reach a certain point, the cost/weight ratio begins to spiral upward much faster than the sound quality. Increase the size and weight of anything, and the manufacturing costs—and retail price—inevitably increase. Increase the final price, and you have to increase the size and weight to retain a high perceived value. And on and on. The cycle ends only when the manufacturer judges that the market for the product can no longer justify a higher price.
But there is another way. Mondial Designs was not the first company to realize that they could prosper with a Build it Good, Make it Affordable and They Will Come attitude. But from the beginning, they built on that foundation, and are still one of the best at making the concept work in a marketplace that goes ga-ga over big and expensive. The truth, of course, is that more people can afford—and accommodate—a $2000, 70 lb amplifier than a $10,000, 200 lb one. But can the smaller amp compete sonically? The original Mondial design, the Aragon 4004, proved that it could, and the follow-up to that design, the 4004 Mk.II, built on that initial success (footnote 1). The subject of this review is the new 8008, which is a significant refinement of that earlier model.
Eight double-o eight
The Aragon 8008 is manufactured by the same Connecticut-based facility which built the earlier Aragon amplifiers, a factory which also manufactures industrial, medical, and military components. The 8008's heatsinks are significantly larger than those in the 4004, and now form a basic structural element in the redesigned chassis. The changes are visibly evident in the reconfigured ventilation slot (the "V" slot above the internal heatsinks which has become an Aragon trademark) and the front panel. The cosmetic alterations are subtle at first glance, but they give the new amplifier a more substantial appearance compared with the 4004.
The new heatsinks are designed to keep the operating temperatures of each of the output devices as close to identical as possible. The 8008 runs hot in operation, even in idle, which suggests the output stage is biased well into class-A. (Like most amplifiers, it switches to class-AB at higher output powers.)
The power supply is based on a single 2000VA toroidal transformer. There are separate transformer windings for each channel, along with separate rectification and filter capacitance. The input stages are fully discrete, running in class-A, and each channel has its own circuit board for improved isolation. A new DC servo circuit allows the 8008 to operate down to 5Hz. This circuit disconnects the loudspeakers if any energy—including DC—is sensed below that frequency.
In other respects the 8008 continues the design philosophy of the 4004. The power supply is claimed to be the largest which can make full use of a domestic, 15A, 120V power line. The amplifier is designed to drive low impedance loads. Precision matching is performed on all transistors, and gold, silver, or palladium is used on all contacts. Mil-spec or medical-spec parts are used throughout, including silver-composite, Teflon-insulated wiring. All resistors are epoxy-sealed, which according to Mondial, ensures a consistent 1% tolerance in all climatic conditions.
The rear panel of the 8008 has plenty of room for the unbalanced RCA input jacks, detachable power cord, and two pairs of five-way loudspeaker binding posts (for bi-wiring, if desired). The parts quality touted for the 8008 falls down, however, with these posts; three of the eight plastic hex-heads on the review sample stripped in normal use. It was still possible to tighten down spade lugs on the stripped posts, but less snugly than with unstripped terminals.
Our 8008 sample was single-ended only, but a version with balanced inputs is available for an added $500. My experience with balanced audio gear suggests that the difference in sound can be small to nonexistent, unless you use long leads in an EMI-riddled environment. Since I was unable to compare balanced and unbalanced inputs in our sample, any opinions on the two with this design would be mere extrapolation from my prior experiences. Nevertheless, I would listen long and hard before paying the 25% premium for balanced inputs.
While I have not heard the Aragon 4004 Mk.II for two or three years, the 8008 appears ready to sustain the earlier amplifier's reputation—and then some. Its treble was full of detail both subtle and obvious—whichever was musically appropriate. In the reference system, my first reaction to the Aragon was that it produced one of the best-sounding top ends, overall, that I have heard from the Veritas v2.8—and I've tied a lot of pricey amplifiers to those loudspeakers.
Footnote 1: The earlier Aragon amplifiers were reviewed in December 1987, Vol.10 No.9, (4004) and September 1992, Vol.15 No.9, and April 1993, Vol.16 No.4 (4004 Mk.II).