Audiopax Model Eighty Eight monoblock power amplifier Page 4
The above description should not be taken to mean that the Model Eighty Eight made recordings sound more easy on the ear by obscuring detail, in a manner analogous to a soft-focus "portrait" lens. In fact, listening to recordings I'd heard dozens of times (like Chesky Records' Jazz Sampler and Audiophile Test CD, Vol.1, which is one of my standards for component evaluation), I kept hearing little details that I hadn't noticed before. Resolution of detail was in the top class, just not overemphasized or thrust at me in an obvious way—come to think of it, a lot like live music.
The tonal character—keeping in mind that the Eighty Eight's Timbre Lock controls permit some variability—was fundamentally neutral, leaning perhaps in the direction of a little extra top-end sweetness. Given that most recordings are on the bright side, this is not a bad bias to have, the only downside being a slight loss of high-frequency "air."
Single-ended triodes are famed for the "special" quality of their midranges, and although the Model Eighty Eight is a single-ended pentode, it had much the same liquid midrange quality that I remember from such SET amplifiers as the Wavelength Gemini and the Cary CAD-2A3-SE. I'm skeptical enough to question any claim that uses the word "perfect" (need I mention "perfect sound forever"?) that I would tend to discount Audiopax's claim of Perfect Triode Simulation. Let's just call it Pretty Darn Near Perfect Triode Simulation.
In my review of the Air Tight ATM-211, I said that that amplifier's delineation of soundstage depth was the best I'd heard in my system. Although I didn't have the ATM-211 around for direct comparison, I'd say that its record has been tied by the Model Eighty Eight. Where the Eighty Eights were unmatched was in the way they portrayed soundstage width and the lateral placement of voices and instruments. One of the CDs I file under "Guilty Pleasures" is Harmony (Dan Gibson's Solitudes CDG100), which combines nature sounds recorded by Dan Gibson with Hennie Bekker's music played on a Synclavier. (It was given to me at a show, okay?) It's quite soothing to play at night, with all the lights out, and has a wonderful sense of space. I was playing a track I'd heard many times before, when all of a sudden I heard a frog croaking way over on the right, well outside the position of the speaker. With other amplifiers, the frog was in the same general vicinity but its location was not nearly as clear, its presence not as startlingly real.
There were two, possibly related, areas where I felt the Model Eighty Eight's performance could have been even better: bass extension/power and high-level dynamics. The bass was never less than good, with a natural quality and none of the exaggerated midbass warmth that's sometimes a characteristic of tubes, but bass drums and synthesizer low notes in Mickey Hart's Planet Drum (Rykodisc RCD 10206), played at high but not unreasonable levels, lacked some extension and power. Similarly, playing large-scale orchestral music at high levels, I occasionally had a sense of dynamics being a bit on the subdued side, with some negative effect on the perceived pace of the music. These weaknesses were relatively minor, and apparent only in contrast to the Model Eighty Eight's outstanding performance in all other areas.
The Audiopax Model Eighty Eight is the result of some original thinking about amplifier design, and it succeeds brilliantly. The Eighty Eight's contribution to the sound of my audio system was always musical, doing its job in a way that extracted maximum listening pleasure, whatever the technical quality of the source material. Although not perfect—I had some reservations about the Eighty Eight's bass extension/power and high-level dynamics—the ways it deviated from the ideal amplifier were sufficiently minor that I suspect most people who have the opportunity to hear what the Model Eighty Eight can do for their enjoyment of recorded music—and who are not discouraged by its price—will find it hard to resist.
Footnote 1: While a visit from the designer is not normally offered to Model Eighty Eight owners, a problem like the one I experienced would be covered by warranty service.
Footnote 2: Because the Model Eighty Eight itself is inverting, I originally had the cables between amplifiers and speakers connected positive-to-negative, which restored absolute polarity. My final setup had the amplifier and speaker connected positive-to-positive, with the Perpetual Technologies P-3A set to invert polarity. Yes, it can get a bit confusing.