Halcro dm38 power amplifier Page 2

The dm38 didn't pale in comparison with my 18-month-old memories of the dm58s. "Awesome dynamics," I noted, after playing Prince's Musicology (CD, NPG 74645 84692 7) two times through after hearing Prince live at Madison Square Garden; "awesome!" This CD also demonstrated the Halcro's iron-fisted control of the bass, which made the Mark Levinson No.33H monoblocks' low frequencies sound rather fat and slow in comparison.

Perhaps more important, as well as excellent macrodynamics—the differences between loud and soft and how consistent the amplifier's presentation was at the dynamic extremes—the dm38 also excelled at reproducing microdynamics. By this mean I mean how well it preserved the tonal and imaging differences among different sonic objects at different levels. A favorite test track for this aspect is the DVD-Audio version of bassist Ray Brown's Soular Energy (Hi-Rez Music HRM 2011). In the track "Mistreated but Undefeated Blues," the late Emily Remler's electric guitar and Red Holloway's tenor sax play exactly the same line in the verse at exactly the same pitch. The Halcro allowed me easily to identify how each instrument was contributing to the combined tone, regardless of the speakers I was using.

At the risk of venturing into the semantic void, it wasn't just that the dm38 reproduced the sounds of instruments or voices with superb fidelity; it also excelled at reproducing the space between those instruments. Remember that the stereo image is an illusion, its fragility due to the brain's having to put aside what the ears actually hear in favor of reconstructing a simulated space between and behind the speakers.

On Contrasts and Parallels, the fairly new M•A CD from the Hungarian Kálmán Oláh Trio (MO65A), the piano, bass, and drums play around with themes from grand master Johann Sebastian Bach. Todd Garfinkle used a single pair of mikes for this recording, but the problem with a purist setup such as this is that it can be hard to get a sufficiently similar blend of direct sound and reverberation for each instrument so that the ensemble blends properly. Track 5 features a drum solo, and yes, the drums sound more reverberant than the piano and bass—but as reproduced by the Halcros driving the Revel Ultima Studios, the kit was clearly and unambiguously set back behind the other instruments in the same acoustic.

I had a similar experience with the new Christmas album from Minnesotan choir Cantus, which I was editing and mixing using the Halcro amplifier. For the sessions at the recital hall attached to the Mennonite music school in Goshen, Indiana, I basically used the same three mike arrays I'd used for Cantus' Deep River CD in 2003: a central ORTF pair of DPA cardioids, a spaced pair of DPA 4006 omnis, and, farther back, a pair of high-voltage DPA 4003 omnis placed either side of a Jecklin disc. Okay, there was a major difference, in that I'd used the spherical acoustic equalizers on the 4003s, which boosts treble on-axis to give better channel separation at high frequencies. But as I was applying an inverse curve to this boost in the mix, I hadn't expected there to be a major difference in imaging specificity between the two projects. Yet listening to test mixes of the 2004 recording via Revel Studios driven by the dm38, the individual choristers could be heard to be more easily differentiated in space than they had been in the 2003 CD.

So, the dm38 combined great dynamics and great bass control with a superbly transparent view into the recorded soundstage. Its treble was free from grain and its midrange was as smooth as silk. However, I couldn't escape the feeling that the amplifier's tonal balance was on the lean, cool side. This was a constant, regardless of the speakers I used, and was exacerbated when I used the dm38 with Halcro's dm10 preamplifier (using balanced connections). My room is quite live in the treble, and the overall balance worked better with the Levinson No.380S preamplifier driving the dm38 or the dm10 driving the Levinson monoblocks.

Even so, the sniffing on Emmanuel Ax's lush-sounding recording of Brahms' Handel Variations (Sony Classical SK 48046) was a little more noticeable than I had expected from my auditioning of this 1992 CD on other amplifiers. Similarly, the occasional rattle, as Ray Brown lets the plucked strings of his double bass rebound against the fingerboard on Soular Energy, was presented slightly more forward in the soundstage than the image of his instrument.

Where the recording was already a little on the threadbare side—for example, on Daniel Barenboim's 1994 set of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations (CD, Erato D104960), which I was studying in order to prepare for a forthcoming recording project with pianist Robert Silverman—the thin-sounding piano actively annoyed me. But when the recording was itself neutrally balanced, such as Tony Faulkner's SACD of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto (K622, Musical Fidelity MFSACD017), the Halcro dm38 simply removed itself from the sonic equation in a most satisfying manner.

A clue to the overall quality of the Halcro was circumstantial without my actually being aware of it—except in hindsight, when I noticed the CD jewel boxes littering my listening-room floor at the end of one weekend.

I found myself digging deep into my collection to play recordings I hadn't played in years: old 'uns like Dished Up for Piano, Martin Jones playing Percy Grainger's piano music (CD, Nimbus NI5220); new 'uns like Tony Faulkner's recording of Elgar's Symphony 3 (CD, Naxos 8.554719). The chain of musical association triggered by M•A's Hungarian jazz trio CD led in turn to June 2004's "Recording of the Month," Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book One (CD, ECM New Series 1853/54), with Till Fellner, and then to András Schiff performing the Goldberg Variations (CD, ECM New Series 1825).

Such an open window on the music has always been a sign that something special is happening with a component. The Halcro dm38 is special.

Summing up
It may be expensive, but Halcro's dm38 effortlessly joins the ranks of top-rated power amplifiers, not only for its sound quality but also its measured performance (not a given; witness some recent reviews). As with its monoblock siblings, loudspeaker loads that dip significantly below 4 ohms are best avoided if the amplifier's dynamic range is not to be compromised. However, this will not have practical consequences in listening rooms of normal size.

Like the dm58 monoblock, the dm38 is balanced toward the cool side of the spectrum—though I am sure Bruce Candy will argue that the Halcro amplifiers are actually neutral compared with the competition—so it will work best with speakers and source components that don't themselves sound lean. But with optimal system matching, the Halcro's effortless dynamics and astonishingly clean presentation will satisfy the listener's soul.

US distributor: On A Higher Note
26081 Via Estelita
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
(949) 488-3004