Musical Fidelity Titan power amplifier Page 2

The Titan is also far larger (and heavier) than it appears in photos. Though only slightly more than 7" high, each box is 19" wide and more than 2' deep. The front panel, the custom-made extrusions for the heatsinks, the portholed top panels, and all other visible parts, all machined from mil-spec aluminum billet, add a sleekness to the gracefully proportioned boxes, which are finished in pleasingly understated hues.

Physically, the Titan is everything the kW is not. The kW's cooling fins could grate your fingers like cheese, and its top plate is littered with non-countersunk, non-anodized hex-head screws that have discolored over time. But the smooth surfaces of the Titan's heatsinks invite a caress, and the few screws I could find on this vault-like amp are on the rear panel, out of sight.

Inside the Titan
Visible through the portholes in the top plate of the Titan's 150-lb, dual-mono power supply are two enormous, 3kV toroidal mains transformers, and a pair of toroidal chokes that are larger than most amplifiers' primary transformers. Each channel derives power from its own dedicated 20A IEC jack. A pair of Neutrik sockets provides juice to the amp box via umbilicals from the power supply, while a single cable fitted with multi-pin XLR jacks serves as a communications bridge between the two units. Pushbuttons on the supply's front panel turn each channel's power supply on and off independently.

The 99-lb amplifier contains the rectification, energy storage, and amplification circuits, including 20 bipolar output devices per channel in a fully balanced configuration. The rear panel has balanced XLR and single-ended RCA jacks, a switch to select balanced or unbalanced input for each channel, the Neutrik and multipin connectors, and two pairs of round, 30µm, gold-plated speaker terminals similar to those used on the kW. I really don't like the terminals. Fingertips simply can't work up enough torque to tighten them sufficiently, especially with the typically stiff, large-diameter speaker cables likely to be used with a $30,000 amp. To ensure a tight enough connection, you'll need to use surface-marring pipe-wrench pliers.

Assuming your mains supply can steadily deliver enough juice, Musical Fidelity claims that the Titan outputs 1kWpc into 8 ohms, 2kWpc into 4 ohms, and approximately 3800Wpc into 2 ohms. Nonetheless, the manual includes instructions for biamping. How crazy is that? Antony Michaelson says that the Titan is essentially a "voltage source," regardless of the load's impedance, inductance, or capacitance.

The Titan's claimed signal/noise ratio of 126dBA is a full 3dB quieter than that of the already quiet kW. Musical Fidelity also claims "ultra-low" distortion, even at very high frequencies: less than 0.01% from 10Hz to 50kHz. Even at 100kHz, the Titan's distortion is said to be only "around 1%." At 12W into 8 ohms, the amp's distortion is rated at a vanishingly low 0.008%, 10Hz–20kHz, this rising to 0.009% at 50kHz. The numbers at 4 and 2 ohms are remarkably similar, and even at 1 ohm they're essentially the same from 10Hz to 1kHz (where most amplifier distortion is rated), rising to 0.055% at 20kHz and 0.068% at 50kHz.

While the Titan logo may be somewhat overstated, gone are the kW's Gort-like blue slits, fluorescent front-panel readout, and illuminated feet. Instead, the PSU has two tiny blue LEDs that let you know when the power is on, while the amplifier has six equally tiny LEDs that monitor power from the PSU, the amount of power drawn by each channel, and fault conditions. Pairs of red and orange LEDs indicate current overload (gulp!) and overheating, respectively. A protection circuit will prevent catastrophic speaker and/or amplifier failure in the event of a short. During the review period, I saw only blue lights.

Titanic sound, one iceberg
When I first powered it up, the Titan's power supply emitted noticeable transformer hum. This wasn't audible when music was playing even at very low levels, but it's not something you should have to live with after forking over $30,000 for a power amp—or a car, for that matter. The hum has since been fixed for future production (the repair is retrofittable), but I wonder why it wasn't caught earlier. The review sample's repair kit arrived after the amp had already been hauled away to John Atkinson's test bench to be measured, but I trust it solves the problem: iceberg avoided.

Otherwise, from a cold-garage start, the Titan produced luxurious, velvety, enveloping warmth, along with precise imaging, a huge, stable soundstage, and a nimble rhythmic drive less commonly associated with its own cooler-sounding predecessor, the kW, than with the finest lower-powered solid-state gear—such as a single-ended design from Nelson Pass, or Luxman's 60Wpc M800A stereo amplifier ($16,000; see my review in the November 2008 Stereophile). Considering that, for less than twice the Luxman's price, the Titan delivers well in excess of 16 times as much power into 8 or 4 ohms, it should be considered a power bargain!

Although the kW and Titan sounded very different, I'm not sitting here thinking that one of them sounded necessarily much better than the other—although I'd bet the Titan will measure better overall, particularly in terms of distortion at higher power. Before and after Mike Latvis of Harmonic Resolution Systems plopped six of his HRS damping plates on top of it, the kW sounded like two different amplifiers as well—and I'm not exaggerating.

Plates on, the kW took a few steps in the Titan's direction, with a smoother, less spotlit top end and greater overall coherence. Still, the kW left traces of an aggressive mechanical residue that the Titan didn't—mostly a pristine, slightly over-accentuated, upper-octave leading edge that made me more aware than I should have been that I was listening to reproduced music.

That very same quality of the kW, though, produced a compensatory excitement and a pleasing, subtle hyperreality that had the effect of elevating perceived transparency without interfering with the magic of the very best recordings. Some listeners, sensitive to that quality, find the kW cold and mechanical. I don't. In any case, it's a subtle trait easily complemented by the right associated gear, though the edge becomes more pronounced with increasing volume.

Huge reserves of power need not produce sonic disorganization or "slow" an amplifier. The kW was as "fast," nimble, and well-organized as any moderately powered amplifier I've heard, while projecting an ease and musical flow that no solid-state amplifier of low to moderate power that I've heard has been able to manage. It also produced what some might consider overdefined, sharply drawn images that were perhaps a bit hyper.

The Titan, by comparison, rounded and greatly solidified images, enhancing their physicality and three-dimensionality while producing more natural, somewhat less sharply defined images without blunting the leading edges. Reducing that leading-edge emphasis improves the resolution of texture and inner detail: well-recorded strings sound less aggressive with a more natural sheen, and voices sound more supple.

Compared to the kW, the Titan's upper-octave and transient performances were closer to what I hear in concert from unamplified musicians. Its overall sound was less mechanical, less "electronic," and, at first, less exciting—until my ears adjusted to what were probably vanishingly low levels of distortion.

Musical Fidelity Ltd.
US distributor: KEF America
10 Timber Lane
Marlboro, NJ 07746
(732) 683-2356