Moscode 402Au power amplifier Page 2

The 402Au does require some warmup and run-in. Like many tube components, its sound opened up as the tubes warmed and the caps saturated. After about 20 minutes, the amp sounded noticeably more relaxed and open. The 402Au also took a few hundred hours of run-in to fully open up. Unlike some components I've auditioned, it never sounded "broken-in," it just kept sounding better over the first week or so.

Ain't we got fun?
One area where the 402Au really opened up in that first week was in the bass. The Moscode was no wimp; in fact, it was superb at throwing its weight around. "Little Faces," from Oysterhead's The Grand Pecking Order (CD, Elektra/Asylum 62677), surfs along on Stuart Copeland's skittering drums, but it's Les Claypool's subterranean bass that anchors everything. The 402Au gave Claypool's sound slam and solidity. Trey Anastasio's power chords rise above the rhythm and thunderous bass lines and ring (also roar). Oh yes, the Moscode did it some good rock'n'roll.

At the same time, on acoustic material—such as "Leslie Anne Levine," from the Decemberists' Castaways and Cutouts (CD, Kill Rock Stars 397)—the 402Au delivered as much nuance as power. Colin Meloy's voice, recorded close, sounded huge but very natural. Jenny Conlee's accordion and Nate Query's acoustic bass had great specificity and were solidly placed in the soundstage. The acoustic guitar's harmonic overtones were pristine—take that, "MOSFET mist."

The track that really convinced me of the 402Au's sonic realism was the Decemberists' "Shankill Butchers," from The Crane Wife (CD, Capitol 53984). Here, Meloy was presented with a more realistic perspective and the backing instruments had a hushed, almost muted quality—muted, maybe, but also deeply rooted in a specific place and acoustic space. The backing chorus almost filled that space to the brim, but there was enough acoustic to cushion the voices. In the acoustic guitar break someone uncredited whistles under it, and I could hear just how large that room was—and just how far back into it the mystery whistler was.

On the extended jam on "Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me," from Bluesiana Triangle (CD, Windham Hill WH-0125), the Moscode did a superb job of sorting out the numerous musicians on stage and articulating the rhythms generated by drummer Art Blakey and percussionist Joe Bonadio. The call-and-response vocals between Dr. John and bassists Essiet Essiet and Okan Essiet were also perfectly sorted out spatially. More important, the song's interlocking rhythms and rollicking percussion duels had snap and pace a-plenty. Inner detail? During Blakey's wonderful drum solo, Bonadio dragged a wetted finger across the head of a conga, using his opposite hand to release pressure on the head—the resulting sound is a faint moan. While I've heard this very subtle effect performed live many times, I'd never before heard it so clearly from a recording.

A little fun to match the sorrow
Since I still had the 401HR, I thought it would be interesting to see how Moscode's earlier amp stacked up to their 2009 model. After all, the 401HR cost only three-fourths as much as the 402Au. Rather than go through a song-by-song comparison, I'll just say Heck yeah: The 402Au had deeper bass, more high-end extension, and less grunge in the signal. I liked the 401HR when I reviewed it three years ago, but I thought it had a bit of an edge tonally—a quality completely missing from the 402Au's sound.

I've taken my fun where I've found it
So I pulled out the Parasound Halo JC 1 monoblocks, which, at $8000/pair, live in the same neighborhood as the 402Au. On Oysterhead's "Little Faces," the JC 1s matched the 402Au in the slam department—perhaps the Parasounds dug a bit deeper, but the Moscode had a slightly fatter bottom. It would be hard to call one better than the other, but I found myself slightly preferring the Moscode's bigger helping of fatback.

On the Decemberists' "Leslie Anne Levine," the 402Au cast the larger soundstage—deeper, too. However, while smaller, the Halos' soundstage seemed a bit finer grained. Everything was still there, it just wasn't writ as large. This meant that I found Colin Meloy's voice less outsize in comparison to the rest of the band—and I liked that perspective a lot. Which was right? Both felt right, but the Decemberists don't strike me as seeking audio verité, so I suspect the 402Au might have been righter.

The tale was similar with "The Shankill Butchers": The Moscode cast the larger soundstage, but the Parasounds' tighter one seemed a bit clearer for its smaller scale. I'll tell you one thing, though: The way the 402Au put that whistler waaaay back in the acoustic was a deal-closer for me. That's what I want when I listen attentively. I'm a sucker for the dramatic gesture.

On Bluesiana Triangle's "Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me," the JC 1s cast a wider soundstage, but the 402Au's stage was deeper. I found appealing the Moscode's slightly snappier, more vivid tonality. Some people, however, might prefer the JC 1s' quiet precision.

Any way you slice it, the Moscode 402Au compared extremely well against one of the great audio bargains of the age. To be in the same league as the Halo JC 1s is an impressive feat.

Are we having fun yet?
George Kaye once told me that his goal in designing Moscode products is to achieve glorious tube sound without tube hassle or tube drawbacks. By that metric, the 402Au is a success. The input triode tubes Kaye uses in the 402Au are plentiful, affordable, and long-lived—and, thanks to his front-panel design, easily replaced.

Does the 402Au have that glorious "tubey" midrange? Well no, most of us call that coloration these days (not that there's anything wrong with that). Its midrange sounds more like that of tubed products from the current lines of VTL and Aesthetix: clear, clean, timbrally accurate.

The 402Au's build quality is impressive. Its sound certainly was. I liked the amplifier a lot and feel it's well worth $6495.

Is the 402Au perfect? Of course not—no audio product I've heard does everything for everyone—but the 402Au sure pushed most of my buttons. However, I can listen only with my own ears. What I hear as vivid another listener might find fatiguing. What I hear as big another listener might find overhyped.

What I want from my hi-fi is that sense of involvement that, every time I turned it on, the Moscode 402Au generated. It wasn't just good. It was fun.

74 Cotton Mill Hill, Suite A124
Brattleboro, VT 05301
(877) 797-8823

Et Quelle's picture

Whoa, finally a big powerful tube amp that looks sexy. Those parasounds are ugly but Stereophile always states they are a bargain for the money. They make my listening rm look dull. 1,000 watt listening room is my goal. Oysterheads is terrible rock, but to each his own.