Audionet Max monoblock power amplifier Page 2

Joe Kubala agreed to send what amounted to an 80-lb tub filled with Elation! cables and a Kubala-Sosna Xpander power distributor. Although in price the Elation!s are far more comparable to Nordost's Valhalla 2s than their Odin 2s, Kubala felt I wouldn't be disappointed.

While awaiting that shipment, I reinstalled my Pass Labs XA200.8s so that I could review recordings without pain. But when the Passes now sounded bad as well, I went into a full panic. Check the connections, check the ground . . . everything checked out except my composure.

Many days later, but before I'd settled down, my reference amps began to sound themselves again. In retrospect, I believe the problem was not that one of my neighbors had started a power-sucking marijuana-growing operation that was dumping obscene levels of noise into the line, but that I'd gummed up the sound by spraying much too much DeOxit contact cleaner on my connectors.

Regardless, I ended up with a tub full of Kubala-Sosna cables in the middle of my music room. Weeks went by before I could summon up sufficient fortitude to carefully replace my entire system's worth of Nordost cables and power treatment products with their Kubala-Sosna equivalents: Elation!s and the Xpander. I used not a single squirt of DeOxit. And, as I finally sat down to listen, and realized that I would also need to hear the Audionets with the Nordosts before I could write the review, the Almighty Atkinson's wise words came back to haunt me . . .


As excellent as the Kubala-Sosna Elation!s were with bass, and as admirably smooth as the system sounded overall, I found it darker, less open on top, less rich in the midrange, and not as focused as with the Nordost Odin 2s. So here, I confine my observations to those made after my reference wires were returned to the system.

As I listened to Mahler's Symphony 9, with Iván Fischer conducting the Budapest Festival Orchestra (SACD/CD, Channel Classics CCS SA 36115), I noted how tightly the Audionet Maxes depicted bass-drum thwacks. Rapid timpani rolls were correspondingly clearer than with my Pass amps. But I had little sense of hall acoustic and boundaries. Although the violins sounded fairly silky and sweet, they were a little edgier than I'm accustomed to. Overall, the sound was darker and less colorful than with my reference monoblocks.

Even more deep percussion is to be savored in Revueltas's Sensemayá, with Werner Herbers conducting the Ebony Band (SACD/CD, Channel Classics CCS SA 21104). Here, the Maxes excelled more in bass impact than in richness. Ditto with soprano Carolyn Sampson's recital disc Fleurs (SACD/CD, BIS 2102)—Joseph Middleton's piano sounded flatter than usual, Sampson's voice more toned down, less engaging, a bit edgier.

Back to percussion and speed. I find the 24-bit/96kHz download of Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony's recording of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (Seattle Symphony Media 1005) extremely demanding in both departments, as well as extremely colorful. Once again, the Audionets were superb on the low end.


Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton may have sounded a bit darker and less brilliant through the Maxes than I'm accustomed to, but I absolutely loved listening to her huge, resplendent voice in the 24/96 download of her All Who Wander, with pianist Brian Zeger (Delos 3494). Ditto for a very different singer, lyric soprano Elly Ameling, whose gifts, on her rendition of Schubert's "Die Sterne" with Dalton Baldwin (The Artistry of Elly Ameling, CD, Philips 473-4512), the Maxes reproduced without that last iota of radiance that the Pass XA200.8s can provide.

A tip of the hat to Jon Iverson for turning me on to Yello—I indulged in two 24/48 download tracks from their album Toy (Polydor). The driving beat of "Lost in Motion" was extremely fast, with lots of layering. Ditto with "Electrified II," whose very wide, studio-enhanced soundstage, sizzling top, and fast, hard-hitting bass made me want to get up and dance. Both tracks sounded so much tighter and more impactful through the Maxes than through the Passes that I don't hesitate to say it: If your preferences lean toward hard rock, driving jazz, or propulsive/explosive music of any genre, Audionet's Max monoblocks are must-hears.

These sentiments were reaffirmed when I revisited Four Four Three: The Music of Terry Riley (DSD128 download, Channel Classics 37816) that I reviewed for This collaboration of the Ragazze String Quartet with the percussion quartet Slagwerk Den Haag and Kapok—a genre-redefining trio of horn, guitar, and drum kit—has slam for days, and sounded fabulous: again, darker than I'm used to, but fabulous nonetheless.

"This Seeming Dream," from Zen Widow's Screaming in Daytime (Makes Men Forget) (CD, pfMentum PFMCD 069), was ideal for illustrating the Maxes' many strengths. From bright and eerie sounds to piercing trumpet and knock-down violent percussion, this unhinged jazz from trumpeter Leo Wadada Smith, percussionist Garth Powell, and crew was so compelling that I quickly turned out the lights to better surrender to its grip. Ditto for "Black on White Paper," which sounded even more stark and violent than through the AVM MA8.2 monoblocks. If the Audionet Maxes didn't transmit the most well-lit images on the planet, their darker yet detailed top, combined with their excellence down below, made them ideal for recordings with ear-bleed potential.

Group Think
After I'd finished my solo listening, I invited 20 members of the Pacific Northwest Audio Society to my home, in Port Townsend, Washington, to compare the sounds of the Audionets and Passes in a series of listening sessions. Set-up issues meant that the Maxes were at a disadvantage: They lacked Grand Prix Monaco amp stands, to help with bass, clarity, transparency, and soundstaging; and their Odin 2 power cables were shorter and, due to Nordost's unique mechanical-resonance technology, less revealing than the longer Odin 2s on the Passes. Nonetheless, the Maxes' strengths emerged.


To a person, Group 1, which heard the Pass Labs XA200.8s before the Audionet Maxes, unanimously preferred the Audionets. Group 2, which listened to the amps in the reverse order, overwhelmingly preferred the Passes. As much as this says about the limits of an A/B comparisons based on listening to short passages of music without the opportunity to at least return to A after having heard A and B, it also produced some extremely revealing commentary.

Group 1 (in which there was such unanimity of opinion, they let Society President Rene Jaeger speak for them): "The Audionet was better in transparency, clarity, and ability to delineate instruments; it had tighter, more exact, and better delineated bass. You could actually hear the reflections of the timpani from the back of the hall, and, in the 24/96 tracks from The Rite of Spring, the distinctly different timbral contributions of timpani and bass drum."

Group 2 (these quotes are from various different members): "The Pass was more emotionally engaging. The Audionet was cerebral and cool, and would work in a system that needed a little drying out." "The Pass was more open-sounding, and sounded more like music. The Audionet was more sibilant, with more of an edge on voices, and even the piano." "In terms of overall engagement, I thought I could listen to the Pass longer. There was more heart." "Pass had an ability to differentiate different sounds from different instruments, as opposed to that Phil Spector wall of noise that I thought I was getting from the Audionet."

People had the most difficulty talking about color. And, as I hear it, it is in color, warmth, and an emotionally compelling sense of beauty and grace that the Pass Labs XA200.8 excels. The Audionet Max was unquestionably tighter and more impactful in the low end, at least through the Wilson Alexias, and more defined overall. Its sound was also more connected than the AVM MA8.2's, with less Spartan-like space between aural images.

Summing Up
Even among monoblocks costing $30,000 to $40,000 per pair, trade-offs are inevitable. The Max may sound a bit dark in some set-ups, but it's not into fuzzy-wuzzies or lily-gilding. Rather, it's a straight-talking, often thrilling-sounding monoblock that puts its money where its mouth is. And it's exceedingly strong in areas that many music lovers consider their top priorities. If that's you, and you've got the bucks, don't hesitate to audition the Audionet Max monoblocks in your system.

Idektron GmbH
US distributor: GTT Audio & Video
(908) 850-3092

Owen1's picture

I thought I was going to read a review of the Audionet MAXes but ended up feeling like I just read a rave review on the the Pass XA200.8 monoblocks and the Nordost Odin 2s at the expense of The MAXes and Kubala Sosna Elation!s. Perhaps the funniest or saddest comment depending on how you look at this was the admission that the MAXes may have been at a distinct disadvantage due to them NOT being on the Grand Prix Audio amp stands like the Passes WERE when evaluating. YOU THINK? That's like saying "we didn't feel the Ferrari handled as well as the Lamborghini but perhaps it was because the tires on the Ferrari were worn out retreads and the Lamborghini was test driven with Perelli P ZERO CORSAs". Wow!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I spent months with the Max monos in my system, properly positioned on the Grand Prix Audio amp stands. All my conclusions were based on that proper set-up, using the volume control of the dCS Rossini (which, I might add, needs no apologies).

The PNWAS visit took place after I had reached my own conclusions about the sound of Max monos. It was only during that brief visit, which extended over several hours, that the Max was at a disadvantage due to the lack of four amp stands and sufficient space to put them.

In retrospect, it was a mistake to have devoted so much space to comments made by others, at a demo where one set of amps was at a disadvantage. If you skip those comments, and read the rest of the review, I believe that it will make sense.

icorem's picture

I'm a proud owner of the Audionet Max.
I didn't find in the "associated equipment" section the pre that was used in that review.
I, as Owen1, found the review a little bit confusing...

John Atkinson's picture
icorem wrote:
I didn't find in the "associated equipment" section the pre that was used in that review.

No preamplifier - the dCS DAC, with its own volume control, was connected directly to the Max amplifiers.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

chhue's picture

Some years ago, I wanted to upgrade from my Bryston 4B SST. Because I already owned a Audionet Preamp, I aimed for the Audionet Amp. But I got an Audionet Max to audition at home. Because I was in search for a little more warmth and colour I finally got the Pass XA 60.5. But I always missed the last bit of rhythm and tight bass and also being more "effectful", traits the Max provided in my system.

I can relate to this review, though it was never a real A/B comparisson, because I've got the Pass some weeks later than I had the Audionet Max at home. Reading the review here, was greatly in line with my own memories.

The Pass XA 200.8 is surely an improvement over the XA 60.5.

The Pass and Audionet are very good amps, but for me they aim at opposing tastes. So I would not recommend choosing between them in a short period of time or even try to call one better or worse. At least this is how I understood this review, even if there is a slight bias in favour for the pass.

In fact, I think there are many amplifiers in between these sonic signatures. Because I build my own speakers with an cross over running in my computer, I've switched to two NAD M27. Though I might miss some of the XA 60.5's strengths, I do not miss their tradeoffs.

tonykaz's picture

I feel your concern.

It could've gone the other way and this comment section would have the Pass owners griping.

As an Salon Owner using Electrocompaniet Gear, I was never able to find any Amplification that could out-perform it but nearly all Reviewed Amps were "said" to be superior, I sampled nearly all to find them lacking.

Customers listen with their Eyes and when it comes to Amps.

Customers eagerly "listen" to all pricy Wire Products, they will always hear differences.

Customers can (and easily do) hear differences in PreAmps, nooooooooo problem.

Audiophile Amplification is the most Psychotic component, it's 2+2= something different for each person.

All this makes me wonder : What is the most popular Audiophile Amplifiers ever? I'd guess it's the NAD 3020.

Tony in Michigan

Ukcolin99's picture

Wondering what version of Toy you have my copy has neither track you referenced. Thank you

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

The 24/48 download from HDTracks. I have not heard other versions. Whenever possible, I work with hi-rez files or SACD (or perhaps, in the future, MQA CD), because the sound is so much better.

Double Fun's picture

Found this on Facebook, maybe it'll help:

"The Audionet review in this issue is perplexing. We have had 16 reviews of Audionet systems in the US since becoming the distributor and all of those reviewers come up with a different conclusion.
We strongly recommend using amplifiers with a companion preamp or at least a preamp. We don’t believe a DAC going direct with a digital volume control that trims bits is ever superior to a proper preamplifier. Further if a system is filled with tweaks and you are going to evaluate a component we strongly encourage detweaking the system and then reoptimizing the system. Only then can you really tell what a particular component really sounds like.
Also note that when using a digital volume control and playing DSD files the DSD is converted to PCM for the volume adjustment.
Any system’s sound is a sum of its parts. The system in which the MAX amps were placed might have been the Audionet showing off other parts of the system rather than the actual sound of the MAX.
At the most recent Axpona 2017 where the MAX amplification was used Jason reported,
“proved once again that this was a perfect, synchronistic match of components.
Perfect match? How about "highs that were brilliant without being piercing, impressive bass (albeit nowhere near as overwhelmingly powerful as from the far more expensive Sonja XV system), and excellent timbres? The bottom end may not have been as focused and clear as it could have been—this was a hotel room set-up, after all—but the excellence of timbres made for a winning presentation. Reservations aside, I loved it."
It is these types of experiences of our setups that peaked Jason’s interest enough to give the Max a try in his system. We just wish the recommendation of a preamp was used and a bit more care in the setup addressed. A true apple to apple comparison would have been appreciated.
We are not quite sure why Audionet was chosen for this beta-test-experiment of amplifier comparisons for an Audio Society when according to Jason, “the Maxes were at a distinct disadvantage” and the system clearly optimized for his reference amplifiers. Not only did the end results end in differing conclusions but amounted to a severely flawed experiment. True A/B test should be on an apple to apples basis which this clearly was not.
We appreciate John Atkinson’s measurements and his conclusion that “Max performed very well on the bench, offering high powers with very low levels of distortion and noise”.
We would like to highlight and clarify a couple of things in the measurement section. The measurement spikes which are shown in Figure 3 have nothing to do with the 1 kHz Signal. These are 60 Hz components from the mains. The procedure which Max turned off after 42 minutes has no practical attempt for a speaker but this was stated later on. All shut downs from the safety circuit are correct.

supamark's picture

makes you think it's a digital volume control? That makes zero sense from a design standpoint. Also, from the Audiostream review:

"...The summed latch outputs drive the second portion of the Analog Board: a balanced, Class A mix amplifier and filter stage. The mix amplifier and filter stage removes any unwanted noise and switching artifacts created by the high-speed latch mapping, and provides a variable-voltage, very-low output impedance, balanced analogue output signal."

That variable voltage output signal sounds a lot like an analog volume control, eh? dCS doesn't seem to say where the volume control is in the signal chain in their lit, but analog (after DAC) is the only one that makes engineering sense for a component like this.

supamark's picture

seemed as much about cables as amps. I don't personally buy into the cable thing, though I'd like to see all copper connectors/wire from imput to output. sending the signal through multiple metals, each with different electrical properties, is going to cause far more harm than some teflon dilectric layer can possibly fix. was funny that the the "B" option was overwhelmingly preferred (even when the amps were switched)... makes you think about the validity of those "lemmie swap in our high priced cables after listening to yours" demos, hmmm?

Would have much preferred the space spent going on about cables be spent comparing the sound of the two (or more) amps (even better if you could use multiple speakers since that's the interaction that determines if the amp will work for someone).

Anon's picture

What did you think about the Xpander?

Also, which PowerCell are using?

Thank you for any answers you can provide! :)