Aragon 8008 power amplifier Page 2
There were, indeed, times when the Aragon sounded so refined and so finely shaded with convincing detail that it sent shivers down my spine. It was not as soft-sounding as some solid-state amplifiers, and I am reasonably certain that tube lovers will not like the way it lays bare the flaws in some program material, but with good recordings it never sounded edgy, bright, hard, or grainy.
The midrange was not as "palpable" as some—the Carver Lightstar Reference comes to mind here—but neither was it threadbare or cold-sounding. Vocal character was accurately presented—the texture on the vocal in "Superman's Song" from the Crash Test Dummies' The Ghosts that Haunt Me (Arista ARCD-8677), for example, or the slight richness of the Fairfield Four on Standing in the Safety Zone (Warner Brothers 9 26945-2). This is the sort of sonic performance that is hard to criticize and can only be properly evaluated in direct comparison with the sound of other good amplifiers.
The same was true of the 8008's bottom end. I found it a real surprise through the sometimes too lush-sounding Energys (which do so many other things so well that I find this one shortcoming relatively easy to ignore)—an effective combination of tightness and body, richness and detail. Although the 8008 did sound a little less powerful than certain other amps—the Krell KSA-300S or the Carver Lightstar Reference, to name two—it wasn't all that far off the mark. Bass quality depends very much on the loudspeaker/amplifier match (the Aragon was not, in my room, an ideal match for either the Wilson WITTs or the KEF Reference Fours, both of which were better served by the tighter grip of the Krell), and the match with the Energys was convincingly right.
I should also note here that at the January 1996 Winter CES, Acarian chose to drive their new Poseidon subwoofers ($15,000—for a pair, I hope) with the 8008. It was the most impressive bass I heard at the show, and while I'm sure the Poseidons deserve most of the credit, the Aragon certainly didn't appear to be holding them back in any way.
The soundstage was all I could wish for, and when the program material allowed, imaging and depth were both first-rate. Again, tube lovers will likely not find the 8008 sufficiently immediate-sounding—its sonic perspective is just a little laid-back. Solo instruments and voices didn't float in front of my nose, but did sit realistically in space between the loudspeakers, sometimes a little in front of them, sometimes a little behind.
I could go on, telling you how much this or that recording impressed me. But it would add nothing significant to what I have already said. Even before I compared the Aragon 8008 directly to anything else, I could tell that it was a superb amplifier. Beyond this, only comparing the Aragon with other amplifiers selling for the same or higher prices will give you any significant information. So...
First up, the recently discontinued Krell KSA-300S. Yes, one of those super-heavy, super-expensive amplifiers, and my long-term reference. My initial reaction was that the Krell sounded a little smoother at the very top end and more forward in the low- to mid-treble, though not to the point where it was analytic or etched. It was simply a bit more detailed. The Aragon was a little darker-sounding, except in the highest treble, where the Krell's top end was free of that slight extra zing—the Aragon sounds a bit wispy in comparison.
Yet not always. While Mary Black and the King's Singers sounded a little more substantial on the Krell, other recordings, such as the jazz/vocal Potato Radio (Justice JR# 0802-2), sounded airier and more spacious on the Aragon. Ultimately, I came to marginally prefer the overall treble of the Aragon in my system, though a little more sweetness in the very top octave would be a plus.
Through the important midrange, the Krell was slightly more solid-sounding and palpable, the Aragon more laid-back. In the bass, the Aragon seemed marginally more full-bodied than the Krell—surprisingly—but a little less crisp. On Vaughan Williams's Sinfonia Antartica (Koss Classics KC-2214), for example, the Krell sounded tighter on drums, more imposingly immediate on organ. The overall bass quality of the two amplifiers, however, was quite comparable.
There are times when the Krell will definitely show its stuff—see my January 1996 review of the Wilson WITT loudspeaker (Vol.19 No.1)—but for many readers the difference on lesser loudspeakers will not justify the added cost. The Aragon may have come up a little shy of the Krell overall, but the law of diminishing returns is alive and well; the 8008 definitely holds its own, and 80% of the performance for about 20% of the cost is a pretty fair exchange (and I'm being conservative here, some may well put that figure closer to 90%). As ever, that last increment of performance is very expensive.