There is a wine maker in California known as Jim Clendenen who makes some of most fantastic Chardonnays in the central coast under the brand Au Bon Climat, as well as under his Clendenen Family Vineyards moniker. He is also contracted with legendary wine stores like Wally's Wines to make their house brand. Roy Yamaguchi from the Hawaiian chain of Roy's restaurants has been known to use Clendenen's wines as the restaurant's premium house Chardonnay. He's the star wine maker backing the bars of the best restaurants out there.
Morris Kessler is the same guy for amplifiers. With 50-plus years of manufacturing experience, it could be argued that nobody makes a better amp for the dollar than Morris. Other companies seek out his help with both design and manufacture, including but not limited to the Harman brands, Outlaw Audio, Lexicon, Datasat, and many others over the years. Morris also owns brands like SAE, Theta Digital, and B&K and makes many of their amps.
The AT6002 is Morris' signature stereo power amplifier, rocking 300 watts into eight ohms in a stereo configuration for $3,995. It can be purchased direct or through dealers and/or custom installers. If you need more channels of power, ATI has you covered with the AT6003, AT6004, AT6005, AT6006, and AT6007, which as you may have guessed are the three-, four-, five-, six-, and seven-channel brothers of the stereo 6002.
The AT6002 is a mean amp. Its fully balanced design uses current feedback with a single input stage and dual-differential output stages to increase amplifier speed (slew rate) and reportedly reduce noise by upwards of 50 percent. The 6000 Series amps use dual DC servos to deal with issues of DC offset. You actually have to plug this amp into the wall twice, which you will gladly do when you get your first taste of the sound.
ATI offers a seven-year transferable warranty, which is quite favorable to the consumer. The 6000 Series amps report 0.03 percent THD at eight ohms, 20 Hz to 20 kHz with all channels driven to the max, thus the amp has the headroom for today's best formats, be it Dolby Atmos, HD music files, or uncompressed 7.1 soundtracks from Blu-ray. All ATI 6000 Series amps use dual toroidal transformers, dual power switches, and dual AC power chords, thus they are truly dual mono amps in one chassis. The AT6007 reportedly performs even better when given two unique 20-amp circuits to provide its power. That might be a little bit of overkill for the AT6002, not that overkill ever goes out of style when you are talking about big, audiophile-grade amps.
The AT6002 measures 9.5 inches high, 17.25 inches wide, and 18.5 inches deep, with a 19-inch faceplate suitable for rack-mounting. Under normal circumstances, I'd prefer to bolt the ATI amp right into my rig; however, for this review, I swapped out my measly (it's really not measly) pure Class A Pass Labs XA30.5 amp with the 300-watt Class AB ATI amp in my office rig. The ATI amp powered Focal Diablo Utopia Diablo speakers and enjoyed a signal fed from a Benchmark DAC1 PRE, with sources like an Apple Mac Pro tower, an Oppo BDP-103, and beyond. Cabling was Transparent Reference for analog, speakers, and most digital cables.
Installing an AT6002 couldn't be much easier. Open the box. Pull off the plastic. Be careful not to hurt your back lifting the sucker, especially if it's one of the multichannel amps (the 6000 Series amps weigh between 86 and 136 pounds, depending on the model). Plug in your XLR cables (remember, this is a balanced amp, thus you will want to enjoy it in a fully balanced system), plug in the power cables, attach the speaker cables, and you will be ready to go. I did have a little bit of an issue getting the spades of my Transparent speaker cables into the back of the AT6002, but with a little finesse, I was able to get it going. Top cable companies like Transparent are glad to re-terminate your cables if you make an upgrade to a new amp. Often you just need to send them back, and they will take care of you as your system demands.
Heat is always a consideration with big power amps; but, in this case, I couldn't get the AT6002 to run very hot even under heavy abuse. Perhaps in a more enclosed rack, the AT6002 will run hotter. Compared with other amps in the price category and above, though, the AT6002 runs as cool as a cucumber.
We can and will talk about audio jewelry later; but, when auditioning an amplifier of this classification, you want to get to the listening process as fast as you can. I kicked off my evaluation with "Para Sempre" from the latest Thievery Corporation album Saudade ripped at 1440 AIFF. This fast-paced yet loungy Brazilian-jazz-inspired track jumped right out at me with an immediacy that seriously caught my attention. Bass was well defined. The female vocals were sweet -- not Class-A amp sweet, but 90 percent of the way there. The depth of soundstage was notable. With this much power on 94dB-efficient Focal speakers, it felt like having a V12 power plant waiting for you to stomp on the accelerator. Just give me a second until I pull onto the freeway, OK?
I then evaluated at the AT6002 through what I call "The Jimi Standard" -- that means if a system/component/speaker doesn't sound good with Jimi Hendrix, then it likely sucks and shouldn't be bought. I cued up "Gypsy Eyes" from the Electric Ladyland CD. Obviously, the age of the recording was evident compared with the previous track, but what was notable was the depth of soundstage. Yes, this is a quiet amp, as Morris went to great lengths to refine every detail he could for his reference offering. The result is not only an ability to resolve the excitement of a left-handed Fender Stratocaster played by the greatest guitar player of all time, but also the ability to remarkably reproduce the depth of a recording made during a renaissance period for rock-and-roll music.
Click over to Page Two for more on Performance, plus The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...