Crown Macro Reference power amplifier Tom Norton
It is Stereophile's policy when reviewers disagree about a component's merits—despite LL's dislike of the Macro Reference's sound, Sam Tellig was politely impressed last December (Vol.15 No.12, p.147)—to seek a third opinion. I therefore asked Tom Norton to take a listen to the Crown and to perform a specific comparison with the magazine-owned sample of the Krell KSA-250.—John Atkinson
As I begin to write this postscript, I have yet to read LL's assessment of the Crown, though JA informs me that the general tone of his review is far less upbeat than ST's observations on the same amplifier last December. Where do I stand in the debate? I was only able to spend a brief time with the Crown; less than ST, and most certainly less than LL. The system was the same used in my review of the Mark Levinson No.35 processor elsewhere in this issue, including Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy loudspeakers at the receiving end. I listened to the Crown exclusively in its balanced mode.
Like ST, I found the Crown to be a little, but only a little, lean through the midbass. I did not, unlike him, find it to sound particularly quick. It did have a trace of brightness in the low treble—most noticeable on recordings which themselves are forward in this region—that will, in some circumstances, make it sound "faster."
The good news is that the Crown is, generally, clean and powerful. It has a tight, punchy bottom end. In the latter respect it bettered the Krell KSA-250—no slouch in this area. It did not sound hashy or edgy on good program material. Where I found it to fall short was in the areas of openness, transparency, and spatial perspective. Comparing it directly to the Krell KSA-250 with carefully matched levels, the Crown was more forward, with foreshortened depth. The latter became more obvious at higher levels.
The Crown did remain unruffled—I never used more than a fraction of its available power—and, listened to on its own, was always totally composed. But the sonic textures did thicken as the program became more complex. The Crown's soundstage was less expansive, its focus less precise, than the Krell's, though these shortcomings were less apparent on simpler program material. Compared with the Krell, it was more difficult, for example, to see into dense orchestral and choral structures as they interacted with each other. This tended to make above-average recordings sound worse than they should—not really bad, just rather ordinary.
Nevertheless, my listening notes do not come down all that hard on the Crown. I found it competent, though not by any means a giant-killer. Nor can I call it all that great a bargain, unless you have need for an immensely powerful, classically designed amplifier with a fine, deep, tight bottom-end. I'd liked to have compared it with the less powerful but much less expensive Aragon 4004 Mk.II, or perhaps the Hafler 9500. Neither of these amplifiers was on hand, but my past experience with them strongly suggests that they would beat the Crown in the transparency/dimensionality sweepstakes. And their lower power would not be a liability in most listening circumstances— certainly not in mine.
As I now read LL's comments on the Crown, I find that we seem to agree to a great extent in details, if not in degree—except in the bass, where the Crown was clearly happier with my WATTs/Puppies than with his B&Ws. With a bit more attention paid to listening rather than to merely logging the Macro's already superlative measurements, I suspect that Crown would have a platform here on which they just might build an audiophile amplifier.—Thomas J. Norton