ELAC Alchemy Series DPA-2 power amplifier Page 2

The DPA-2's utilitarian front panel includes a power button, four indicator lights, four function buttons, and a small OEL (organic electroluminescence) display that can show input choice, gain, and mode (stereo or mono) and when the 12V trigger is engaged. I didn't need to use the front-panel GAIN button, which changes some resistor values to increase or decrease gain by 6dB. Among the functions enabled by the screen's "select" button is the ability to monitor output power for both channels via a bargraph meter. (In monoblock configuration, the two bars move together.) The bars are small, and my seat was 12 feet away, so I didn't pay much attention.

The rear panel includes one pair each of balanced and unbalanced inputs, a set of 12VDC, 3.5mm mini jack Trigger inputs and outputs I never used, two sets of binding posts (for stereo use), and a three-prong IEC power input receptacle.

Before I opened the manual, I received an email from Madnick that read, "It is a fully balanced design, so the XLR input is preferred....The output binding posts are labeled differently for Stereo vs. Mono use. Please be sure to use the appropriate pair." Yes sir. Madnick later wrote that if incorrect binding posts had been engaged, "it would be missing one phase or the other. Volume would be lower and could sound as if the speakers were out of phase." This is covered in the manual.

I placed the already–broken-in DPA-2s on Grand Prix Monza amp stands, connected the D'Agostino Momentum HD preamp's XLR outputs to the DPA-2s' inputs with Nordost Odin 2 XLR cabling, and then connected Nordost Odin 2 power cords between the amps and an AudioQuest Niagara 5000 power conditioner. Cables between the dCS Rossini and Momentum HD were also balanced. Just about everything in my system cost far more than the DPA-2s, but using quality components enabled me to hear just about everything the DPA-2s could deliver through the Wilson Alexia 2s. As I was soon to discover, there was...

A lot to hear
It took a bit of time to determine the right combination of equipment supports and room treatments to allow the ELAC Alchemy DPA-2s to deliver all they could. Once I found the best way forward, the DPA-2s established themselves as the finest low-priced power amplifiers I've encountered.

I'm more than a bit jealous of the brilliant Herb Reichert, who lives in the heart of a major cultural capital surrounded by like-minded audiophiles and artists who turn each other on to new and exciting music. While Herb is busy trying to maintain a safe distance from the enlightened folks he converses with on the street, I'm walking the dogs around the cattle farm, waving to deer, and dodging coyotes. The music that most frequently comes my way arrives in the form of birds in the trees, wind whipping across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and branches falling (footnote 4). Too often, those pristine sounds are punctuated by the barks of our three trigger-happy terriers, whose penchant for noise knows nothing of nuance. To fill the inspirational void when Roon radio doesn't do the trick, I check in with brother Herb several times a month, scour his reviews for new music that might strike my fancy, and encourage my friends to pass along musical tips.

Thus was I led to the fascinating album that became one of Herb's faves in 2020: Benoît Menut: Les Îles (Harmonia Mundi, Qobuz 24/96 FLAC). The sound of the Ensemble Syntonia trio was airy and colorful, the music spacious, far-reaching, and profound in its simple, spacious beauty. I loved Maya Villanueva's pure soprano, especially when singing in innocent mode, and cellist Emmanuelle Bertrand's expressive powers were beyond question. The DPA-2s helped fill my being with wonder at how a progression of relatively spare chords and notes, heard through lower-priced amps, could take me on a journey to the infinite.

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Turning to no less expressive and colorful music from an earlier century, Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp on Debussy: Sonatas & Trios (24/96 WAV, Erato 565142) performed by flautist Emmanuel Pahud, violist Gerard Caussé, and harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet, I could easily discern the naturally resonant spaciousness that the engineering/mastering team of Jin Choi and Michael Fine captured in the Salle Colonne in Paris. While the sound was drier than I'm accustomed to from my reference D'Agostino Progression class-AB monoblocks ($38,000/pair), it was gorgeous in its own right.

Several recordings confirmed that the soundstage was as wide as one might hope, and image weight was quite good. No, the bass on Yello's "Electrified II" from Toy (24/48 FLAC) was not as gut-shakingly profound as through my reference, which costs more than 10 times as much. Nonetheless, through speakers with a notoriously challenging impedance dip in the bass, bass was far more impactful than one might expect.

My friend Steve Zettel turned me on to jazz bassist Brian Bromberg's "The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers" from Wood (Qobuz 24/96 FLAC). Bromberg's three-century-old Matteo Guersam acoustic bass sounded notably warm and full as it rose on high (for a bass) and then plumbed the depths. Cymbals lacked ultimate wetness and splash, and brushes on percussion sometimes sounded slightly brittle, but the audiophile bottom line—the ability to convey musical truth—was beyond question.

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I wasn't surprised by the dryness, which I've found common to class-D components. What caught me off guard, and pleasantly, was the wide range of color I heard from these inherently musical amps. My favorite artists may have been transported to a moderately dryer venue than the one in which they recorded, but otherwise they sounded like themselves. On mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli's incomparably vivid rendition of Vivaldi's "Se lento ancora il fulmine" ("If the thunderbolt delays in avenging the wrongs done to me"), from Argippo, as recorded in 2018 for her album, Vivaldi Arias (Tidal, 24/96 MQA FLAC), I recognized the voice I've heard live a number of times. Bartoli's furious, rapid-fire coloratura was controlled, without audible distortion, and the sweetness she brings to the aria's middle section sounded as beautiful as in real life. Ensemble Matheus's harpsichord sounded a bit dry and crinkly, but that mattered little.

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On "Sleepers Awake" from Bach Trios (24/96 FLAC, Nonesuch 558933), one of John Atkinson's 2021 Records to Die For, the thud created by rapid plucks on the strings of Edgar Meyer's bass sometimes assumed unexpected prominence before the string began to vibrate and warm tones emerged. The same thing happened with Chris Thile's mandolin, whose sound lacked some of the overtones and textural complexity I've come to expect from this recording (footnote 5). Yet Yo-Yo Ma's cello, whose strings were bowed rather than plucked, sounded seductively clear and beautiful.

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Revelations topped reservations by a long shot. Cue Rickie Lee Jones's fabulously idiosyncratic take on the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" (Tidal, 16/44.1 FLAC), from The Devil You Know, where the DPA-2s conveyed every slight change of dynamics and nuance. When I segued to Eriks Ešenvalds's "The Heaven's Flock" and "Translation" from the Portland State Chamber Choir's exceptionally spacious all-Ešenvalds recording, Translations (Naxos 8.574124), engineered respectively by Doug Tourtelot and John Atkinson, and compared the sound of the 24/96 WAV files on my NAS drive with the 24/96 FLAC version on Qobuz, the greater immediacy and vividness of the WAVs (which John had shared with me) were easily audible. Conversely, when I turned to Chausson's Poème on violinist Hilary Hahn's recently reviewed Paris with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France sublimely conducted by Mikko Franck, the extra presence of Tidal's 24/48 MQA version won out over the 24/48 WAV files stored on my NAS drive.

Beyond the comparisons lay the music itself. On "Vineta," from Translations, John Atkinson's engineering of chimes and bells sounded magical, and the DPA-2s conveyed the delicacy of Franck's accompaniment on Paris in ways so convincing as to confirm my decision to review the album for our May issue.

I ended my listening with a performance so beautifully engineered that I wish every audiophile could hear it: Peter McGrath's recording of pianist Amir Katz's 2018 all-Liszt recital in Miami. McGrath had sent along files in both standard 24/176.4 FLAC and 24/176.4 MQA. On "Consolation No.4," MQA won out with its immediacy, presence, and delicacy. When Katz played softly, there was occasionally and momentarily too much emphasis on the percussive strike before the strings began to sing. The sound was also drier than ideal, and the overtones I've come to expect from a well-captured piano were inaudible. Nonetheless, the DPA-2s reached into the expressive center of Katz's artistry and brought it home to my heart. The experience was mesmerizing.

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Was I impressed?
I was. Replacing class-AB amps that cost many times more, surrounded by comparably high-end equipment, the ELAC Alchemy DPA-2 Switchable Stereo/Mono Power Amplifier delivered far more musical truth and pleasure than you might expect. Chief designer Peter Madnick has exceeded his goal "to provide the kind of real-life transparency and clarity that you would not expect at this price point, as well as an overall balance that would lead you to say, 'Wow, that thing's really good for the money.'" He may also have created a benchmark product for this price range—not that I've heard all the monoblocks that are available for under $3000/ pair. (There aren't that many.) But if there are many other equally fine amps at this price, budget-conscious audiophiles are living in a golden age. Enthusiastically recommended


Footnote 4: I'm not Herb, obviously, but as one who has lived through the pandemic in the same city as Herb (although in a different borough), for me, the best reason to be here—maybe the only reason—is live music, which of course has been shut down throughout the pandemic. Meanwhile, the closest I've come to communing with nature is joining a crowd of 50 or so folks with binoculars aiming to catch a glimpse of a barred owl high in a tree in Riverside Park. Let's just say that Jason's tranquil walks aren't winning any sympathy from me.—Editor

Footnote 5: The relationship between a note's transient leading edge and the sustained tone that follows seems to be a common complaint about class-D amplification. Michael Fremer noted something somewhat similar in his otherwise very favorable review in January 2021 of the ICE-based PS Audio M1200 monoblocks.—Editor

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COMMENTS
Glotz's picture

That relationship (in time) seems to be the reason I keep away from Class D amplification.

I know it can be corrected with additional product investment, but isn't that the real question? Is this a product of all Class D or is this a design/cost issue?

I am in the market for a stereo amp or monoblocks in this price range, and yes, I obviously need to hear these first.

Kudos to Peter here... to impress Jason takes a lot!

What about the Odyssey Stratos Mono Amps for a future review? They seem to still be going strong as well...

cgh's picture

Compared to old fashioned linear amps it's probably impossible to talk about class D without knowing what's inside the box. Slew rate limiting, negative feedback, filtering, signal/power bandwidth, ..., you-name-it and that leading edge has slope on the output. I am biased. All my time with playing and building guitars and violins we focus on that onset transient and the subsequent coloration in the decay. Don't mess with that onset! Flamenco is percussive and classical is not.

tnargs's picture

It’s hard to imagine why you wouldn’t use Class A for the input stage.

Maybe you just mis-reported it.

John Atkinson's picture
tnargs wrote:
It’s hard to imagine why you wouldn’t use Class A for the input stage. Maybe you just mis-reported it.

Yes, it was a typo, now corrected.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

tonykaz's picture

Hello Jason,

I thought that I'd let you know that China is doing a Big Bicycle Show, just now.

I've owned Bicycle Manufacturing so I have some involvement in Bicycle Accessories.

As far as I can tell, the Shanghai attendance is low.

I'm not seeing much in the way of USA Shows waking up from their Rip Van Winkle naps, same for Europe.

The World still needs about 6 Billion more Vaccinations before any 'Herd-immunity' comfort levels make Big Public Gatherings seem safe.

I had to delay a trip to Port Townsend for the Tally Ho project because of the darn plague. ( I have a Covid travel passport )

The entire World is probably jealous of your lovely Natural Setting, ( I'm hearing that ) parts of NY City are a Hell-hole just now, and that NY'rs are just starting to escape to restaurants for a rare outing.

This Class D probably isn't for the upper Caste folks and may never be but it's a useful solution for folks reaching up with lesser buying abilities, it probably deserves to belong here with us.

Anyway, it's nice reading you again.

Wishing you well,

Tony in Venice Florida

a.wayne's picture

I have always found class D to have timbre issues when ran below 8ohm , measurements here makes it pretty obvious this one is a solid 8 ohm load guy , with plenty power for the Clipsters....!

Regards

PS: Careful John ,brain damage from NPR signal is irreversible ...! :)

Dpl53's picture

I really enjoyed this review, the fact that you were able to favorably compare this amp to your reference amp at a much higher cost is impressive. I would also like to note that I checked out Brian Bromberg after reading this review and really like his music. Always nice to discover a new jazz artist!!

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