EAR/Yoshino M100A monoblock power amplifier Page 3

Electricity? I wondered. Poor Man's Balanced Electrical Running (two different phases of positive, footnote 1) was noisy on the M100As, with boatloads of RFI. Running both amps into one Cardas star-wired power extender with Synergistic Research Designer's Reference Master Couplers2 power cords into one of our isolated 30-amp sockets quieted things down enormously. Curious.

But however the electrical supply was configured, no matter which power cord I tried, the M100As still sounded lean and underpowered. So I began to play with preamps. I got the best results (but wildly different sounds) with the Mark Levinson No.32 Reference and the Conrad-Johnson 17LS, both used with C-J's Premier 15 phono stage. Some time was logged on the Lamm L2 as well, which doesn't use DC blocking caps.

Per the M100A manual, I ran my JMlab Utopias on the 8 ohm taps (the Utopia is a 6 ohm speaker). I tried the 4 ohm taps, but the sound wasn't as good, the bass was weak, and the available power seemed even lower.

It's the first milliwatt that counts
Starting with the Mark Levinson No.32 Reference preamp, I fired up Air's 10,000Hz Legend (Source 8 10332 2 in Europe, Astralwerks in the US) and St. Germain's great Boulevard (F Communications F022CD, another European label), playing both at acceptably loud levels. Leading-edge transients were razor-sharp and incisive, setting up the following-on harmonics with nary an effort. I thought both recordings a bit hard-sounding on top, but the air and space were amazing. The midrange was texturally accurate, the bass adequate for mild trip-hop rockin'. The M100As were pulling no more than a steady 3–5W according to the meters, but if I twisted the volume control up just a tad, I could hear some strain.

One of my favorite recordings of male vocals is Lou Reed and John Cale's "Faces and Names," from their Songs for Drella (Sire 26140-2). These are heartfelt songs about Andy Warhol, written after his death. (Hold the cover of the jewelbox up to the light to see Warhol's face behind Reed and Cale.) I heard no thickening or chestiness whatsoever, but a touch of grain jarred me. Over the years, I've enjoyed this recording—mastered by Bob Ludwig at Masterdisk—for its very fine sound, but at that moment, I thought I was listening to it through a 1980s solid-state amp!

Turning the volume down helped, but I lost the visceral impact I crave. The space and air were amazing again—the separation, the way Reed, Cale, and their instruments occupied their own cushions of space and time in the acoustic blend of the soundstage, was heavily goosebump-inducing. Playing the same disc through the Accuphases affirmed that combo's suave, soothing handling of recordings with greater high-frequency etch; in fact, with the hyperfast and detailed M100As, I preferred the Accuphases to the dCS Purcell/Elgar Plus for straight "Red Book" CDs. As a consolation, via the Accuphases there was a quality of richness in the midrange, a type of sound that I think humans are programmed to seek out and enjoy.

About that top end: Even when playing Miles Davis on LP (Tune Up, Prestige P-24077), I had to crank the van den Hul Grasshopper cartridge down at the back to lower its VTA a bit for smoother highs. Once again, the M100As registered a very palpable soundstage, very 3D, with very black backgrounds and extreme You Are There transparency. It was the same with Thelonious Monk in Italy (Riverside 9443), an oldie, and a newer release, Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (Fantasy OJC-039). I never associate these records with a bright top end, but that's what I got—along with good bass and, I must admit, not bad mids. Fast and detailed, though.

This One's for Blanton (Analogue Productions CAPJ 015), featuring Duke Ellington and Ray Brown in Las Vegas in 1972, sounded terrific. My only objection was the piano strings, which were a bit more metallic than I'm used to hearing from this rich, mellow recording. Ray Brown's bass was a bit out of control and too fat, although yes, that's his natural sound. After I'd settled on a satisfying volume level I squinted at the meters, and found I was never doing much over 1W. Again, I was struck by the air, volume, and separation these amps brought to this special recording.

Running the Accuphases with SACDs into the Mark Levinson No.32 was magic, however. Listening to Ellington's Blues in Orbit (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDCD 757), the clarity, smoothness, air, effortlessness, depth of soundstage, apparent fidelity to the original tonalities, the massiveness and scale, were all wonderful to hear. With SACD, the highs were in no way bright or harsh, as they sounded with regular CDs via these amps. Just pure...ecstasy.

Nevertheless, I all through my auditoning I wound up riding the gain, setting the volume for the point just before distortion set in, all at a surprisingly low level—basically, anything over 5W! Best running was to be found at about 2.5W, per the M100As' meters, far below the 100W specified as the amplifier's maximum power.

Then, as I was wrapping up my listening, the right channel began audibly distorting, even at low power levels. The still-functioning sample went to JA to see if he could find out what was going on electrically. We were both curious to know what had gone wrong in a big amplifier from a reliably talented designer such as Tim de Paravicini.

When finally informed of the results of the listening and measurements, and after regaining his composure, Paravicini distributor Dan Meinwald explained that he'd get back to me with more information after TdP had had a chance to check them out himself in Ol' Blighty. Obviously, something had gone amiss.

Footnote 1: For details, see "Fine Tunes No.11."