EAR/Yoshino M100A monoblock power amplifier

When I first laid eyes on the Paravicini M100A monoblock power amplifiers at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2001, an audiophile in the room squinted at my badge and cried out, "Hey, J-10, these amps have your name written all over 'em!"

I had to admit that it sure looked that way: $35,000/pair, vertical orientation, gorgeous art deco faceplates, two old-fashioned–looking meters per side, and 100W to boot.

I sidled up to Dan Meinwald of EAR USA, said Hello, shook designer Tim de Paravicini's hand, sat down for a listen (using Paravicini's matching transformer-coupled 312 preamplifier), and, after a bit, wiggled my eyebrows meaningfully at Mr. Meinwald. We retired to the hallway, where a deal was struck.

After Home Entertainment 2001 in New York the following May, Meinwald delivered the M100As himself. He had help from a couple of guys in kidney belts—each amp weighs 154 lbs!

Striking Is as Striking Does
Striking is the best word to describe these towering monoblocks—I've never seen anything like them. Each stands just under 23" high, almost 10" wide, and about 20" deep. The ½"-thick aluminum faceplate is adorned—the word is apt—with four rounded and radiused side stanchions with a gap in the middle. Sitting in the gap, fitted on and around the side of the faceplate—as are the four stanchions—is a ball-like styling element. Within the height of the faceplate is an oval depression; into its top third is set a power meter that looks like an upside-down heart, illuminated by a slightly yellowish-white backlight.

The meter is scaled above a curved line from –55 (dB, I suppose; no indication is given) to –5 in increments of 10, after which there are four small strakes to 0. From 0 to +5 the meter is in the red zone—like a tachometer in a sports car. The numbers under the curved line are power ratings in watts: –55 is marked –1mW, –45 is 1mW, –35 is 10mW, –25 is –1W, –15 is a full watt—wow—and –5 heaves out an indicated 10W. There are dots above the lower power-reading numerals; the dot for maximum power of 100W (at 2% distortion, per the manual) is located in the red zone. (More about the readings and how they corresponded to music listening later in the review.)

Farther down the faceplate, still within the oval depression, sits another, smaller meter, looking like a frowning Powerpuff Girl; it lights up the same vaguely old-fashioned way when power is applied. There are no indications on this meter except a curved line with a dot in the middle.

Below the lower meter is a gold-toned volume knob (for biamp gain-matching, or perhaps running a CD player direct into the amps' inputs). Finally, to the right, is an orange backlit power-on button.

Four large spring-loaded footers fit tightly around four of the heatsinks on which each M100A sits. Face-on, it's all haute art deco and very imposing. If you look down on the amp from the front, you'll see an oval grille punched into the top plate, with a solid piece running down the middle of the grille—for structural integrity, I suppose. You can see that the interior is packed with parts, transformers, wires, and other electronic paraphernalia. You can also take a gander at the open, square-section heatsink tops. It's like looking down at a tall building from a helicopter.

Around back are several interesting features. Balanced signal in and out XLRs (the latter marked Loop Thru) sit upper left, next to a pair of RCA jacks with the same functions, and a switch to choose between inputs. Below are pairs of output-transformer taps: two COM (ground) plus a pair each of 4, 8, and 16 ohm taps. Lower left is a 15 amp AC mains in on a standard IEC fitting, with an AC mains out just above, presumably for that array of M100As your spouse has been promising you for Christmas—right after she moves out. A fuse and two lifting bars, top and bottom, finish off the massive back panel.

Technical Description
Though he has designed solid-state amplifiers for other companies, the M100A is the second solid-state design to bear Tim de Paravicini's name, the first being the matching 312 preamp. He points out in the rather sparse documentation that although tubes are still being made around the world, "as time goes by it becomes increasingly attractive to design with transistors." He goes on to say that the M100A is made to "emulate" many of the best qualities of tube amps. But rather than focus on tubes or transistors, he posits that "what is far more important...is the whole circuit in which the component is used." This is the same Tim de Paravicini, to whom I shall henceforth refer as "TdP," who claimed in an interview in the now-defunct Audio magazine that tubes or transistors didn't matter to him—he could get the sound he wanted with either—and that it was all a question of marketing.