It was late May 2002 and I was about to leave the Free Republic of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, for the high-class hallways of the New York Hilton and Home Entertainment 2002, so I could file daily reports for www.stereophile.com. As he was giving me last-minute instructions, webmaster Jon Iverson said, "I don't know whether or not you followed Hervé Delétraz's articles on building his amplifier, but he's going to have a sample at the Show. You should drop in and check it out. It sounds kind of interesting."
A recent (unpublished) letter to the editor argued that the reference for audio perfection is the sound of real instruments in a real space. The writer claimed that, since the art and/or science of audio is advancing, and because it is a "scientific truth" that the closer you get to perfection, the less divergence there is components, that therefore there should be less difference in sound among the components listed in Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components" than among those in Class B, much less Class C. This should be true of loudspeakers, he said, but even more true of top-rated amplifiers, since "they inherently have less divergence."
When I first laid eyes on the Paravicini M100A monoblock power amplifiers at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2001, an audiophile in the room squinted at my badge and cried out, "Hey, J-10, these amps have your name written all over 'em!"
Consider the plight of solid-state muscle amps. Often derided as brutes lacking sophistication or subtlety, particularly by the SET set (ie, fans of single-ended triodes), these powerhouses are taken for granted and often, like Rodney Dangerfield, they get no respect. And once upon a time, the stereotypes were true. Every veteran audiophile has at some time heard an immensely powerful transistor amp that had the soft sonic allure of a sheet of sandpaper, a lumbering oaf of a component with nothing whatsoever to recommend it save for a bulging set of mighty moose muscles.
One of my favorite parental duties is dispensing advice that's calculated to make me sound wiser than I am. Among those pearls: Every so often you should change your point of viewyour philosophiesjust to see if your opinions can stand the strain. In doing so, you may discover a few things that are better than you expected them to be!
In his 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne presents the enigmatic Captain Nemo, commander of the great submarine Nautilus, as powerful, charismatic, and mysterious. On first meeting Nemo, the narrator, M. Aronnax, notes, "I made out his prevailing qualities directly: self-confidencebecause his head was well set on his shoulders, and his black eyes looked around with cold assurance; calmnessfor his skin, rather pale, showed his coolness of blood; energyevinced by the rapid contraction of his lofty brows; and couragebecause his deep breathing denoted great power of lungs." All in all, "this man was certainly the most admirable specimen I had ever met."
When I first heard the Eagle 2 at the 1985 Winter CES I knew this amplifier was a winner. I was eager for a chance to get my hands on it, but I also knew that J. Gordon Holt was champing at the bit to do the same. So it came as both a surprise and a delight when ye Gracious Editor gave me first crack at the Eagle 2. I wasn't disappointed; the little Eagle more than lived up to expectations. It's not the best power amplifier I've ever heard, but it's damn good. It is, in fact, better than its big brother, the Eagle 7A, in significant ways; in view of the 2's reasonable price, that's saying a lot.
Modern hi-fi is little more than a way of getting electricity to pretend that it's music. Of course, good source components remain all-important, and even if loudspeakers are imperfect, most of us can find one or two that suit our tastes, if not our rooms and the rest of our gear.
To judge from the $6400 Mimesis 8, Goldmund walks its own way when it comes to power amplifier design. High-end solid-state amplifiers from US companies like Krell, Mark Levinson, Threshold, and the Jeff Rowland Design Group marry massive power supplies to large numbers of output devices (these often heavily biased to run in class-A), built on chassis of such nonmagnetic materials as aluminum. By contrast, the Mimesis 8 has a magnetic (steel) chassis, and uses a relatively modest power supply, that for each channel based on two main 4700µF reservoir capacitors. The 8 offers just two pairs per channel of complementary output MOSFETs (Hitachi K134/J49). These carry a modest bias current of around 80mA total.
Some time ago in these pages, Anthony H. Cordesman observed rather ungraciously that the whole line of Hafler electronics "could do with reworking." This was interpreted by many readersincluding the good people at the David Hafler Companyas meaning that AHC felt the entire Hafler line to be mediocre. In fact, he does not. (He had given a Hafler product a positive review a few issues previously.) Tony's comment, however, did express a sentiment that most of us at Stereophile have shared for some time: a feeling that Hafler products had slipped from the position of sonic preeminence which they enjoyed during the 1960s and '70s to one of mere excellence in a field where only preeminence is acclaimed.
One of the highlights of recent Consumer Electronics and Home Entertainment shows has been the demonstrations of sound quality put on by Australian amplifier manufacturer Halcro with Wilson Audio loudspeakers. At my first exposure to one of these demos—described in my April 2002 "As We See It"—enormous dynamic range was coupled with a grain-free presentation and almost holographic stereo imaging to produce a breathtaking sweep of sound. Paul Bolin reviewed Halcro's dm58 monoblock in October 2002, and that amplifier was subsequently voted this magazine's "Amplification Component of 2002" by our reviewers.
Revolutionary is a word that's tossed around all too lightly in the world of audio. The understandable impulse to tout every new development as a quantum leap forward in sound reproduction has made it difficult to sort out the evolutionary from the truly groundbreaking. And there's not that much left to do in amplifier design that is worthy of being described as "revolutionary," or so it seems. Vacuum-tube circuitry has been thoroughly understood since the late 1940s, and 40 years of development of solid-state has rendered it, in its finest implementations, a worthy competitor and alternative to the venerable tube.
When I went to my shelf of Stereophile back issues to find Paul Bolin's seminal review of the Halcro dm58, I was shocked to find myself leafing further and further back—through not only 2004 but 2003 as well, all the way back to October 2002 (Vol.25 No.10). It doesn't seem possible that it's been almost four years since Halcro exploded onto our radar screens, the dm58 emblazoned on that issue's cover alongside the banner headline "THE BEST AMPLIFIER EVER!"
Within a few years of entering the US market, Australian audio manufacturer Bruce Halcro Candy cemented his place in audio history by designing a amplifier that Paul Bolin said (in the October 2002 Stereophile) "could well justify the creation of a 'Class A+' amplifier category in 'Recommended Components'," and the low distortion characteristics of which prompted editor John Atkinson, a man who has elevated the craft of understatement to a high art, to reach for the word astonishing. That was the Halcro dm58 monoblock ($29,990/pair), which has only recently been superseded by the Halcro dm78.
Keith Herron plopped himself down in my listening chair and smiled, clearly pleased with the sound of my system now that his M150 monoblock power amplifiers had been substituted for my Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300. He began to tell me why.