During my time as a reviewer, I've met a plethora of passionate subjective audiophiles, as well as quite a few objectivist audiophiles, but there aren't a lot of passionate objectivist audiophiles. And then there's Tommy O'Brien, who--while not unique in his outlook--has a passionate objectivism that has driven him to start the Facebook group "Truth in AUDIO." Given that I have been writing for subjectivist audio publications for over thirty years, O'Brien's act of submitting one of his amplifiers for review by someone like myself could be viewed as insane. But given what's going on elsewhere in the world, perhaps not. So, let's see what the fruits of his labors have in the way of juice.
Digital Amplifier Company makes, as you might expect, power amplifiers and other components based on digital technology. Some of the company's power amplifiers are desktop-sized, such as the Desktop Maraschino (DTM, $2,500-$6,900) and Stereo Maraschino (STM, $1,200-$1,700), while others are full-sized 19-inch-wide rack-mountable amps, such as the subject of this review: the MEGAschino ($6,100 for the stereo model; $9,800 per pair or $5,000 each for monoblock versions).
In terms of looks, the MEGAschino harkens back to the golden age of hi-fi when power amplifiers were unobtrusive black boxes instead of gargantuan gilded lilies. The MEGAschino sports a black heavy gauge steel cabinet with a 3/8-inch-thick front plate that includes a colorful graphic of Cherries, rack handles, and no other additional front plate adornments. The on/off switch is on the back of the amplifier, and once you have turned it on, chances are you'll never have to touch it again. The amplifier has a built-in sleep function that engages after eight minutes and cuts consumption for the stereo version down to a meager 11 watts. So how do you tell if the thing is on? Inside the MEGAschino are two LEDs--one red and one blue--that emit a friendly glow through the circular perforations in the amp's top plate. Unlike old-school power amplifiers, the Megaschino lacks fins or other heatsink devices. Instead, its proprietary thermal design routes all the excess heat into the MEGAschino's chassis. It gets warm to the touch, but never hot.
Obviously, what's inside the MEGAschino is where the magic is. The design begins with a massive linear transformer with separate rails for each channel. It is DC-coupled with published bass response down to 0 Hz and no phase shift. The MEGAschino boasts low output impedance throughout the audible frequency band, 120dB rated signal-to-noise ratio, 150kHz Bandwidth, and 0.005 percent THD+N, with 400 watts per channel output into 8 ohms and 660 watts per channel into 4 ohms.
Setting up the MEGAschino was easy. I placed it on top of my current reference, the Pass Labs X150.8, changed the Audience speaker cables and Wireworld balanced interconnects from the Pass the MEGAschino, turned it on, and I was ready to begin listening. The MEGAschino offers only a balanced input option, so if you have single-ended cables you will need to replace them or use the included RCA removable ground lift input adapters.
Since the MEGAschino and Pass were within 0.5dB of each other in terms of gain, I only had to make a very minor adjustment to my two JL Audio Fathom F-112 subwoofers. During the review, the MEGAschino was connected to three different loudspeaker systems: the Elac AF-61, Spatial X-2 prototype, and Spatial X-2 production spec. version.
The first loudspeaker the MEGAschino was tethered to was the original prototype Spatial X-2 loudspeakers that premiered at the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. After the show, Clayton Shaw, Spatial's designer, delivered them to me. They are extremely efficient, measuring somewhere around 97dB at 1 watt at one meter. Even with its 120dB SNR spec, the MEGAschino reduced a slight but audible hiss from one foot away. In comparison, the Pass X150.8 produced less hiss; you needed to be a couple of inches away from the tweeter before you can hear it, although the noise could be from the source considering the amp's signal-to-noise ratio.
Clayton Shaw returned after further refining his design and completely rebuilt the Spatial X-2 to current production specifications, which involved new 15-inch woofers, new cabling, and new crossovers. It was, after the changes, an entirely new loudspeaker. The new design reduced the X-2's efficiency down to 91dB. Now both the MEGAschino and Pass were dead quiet, even if I stuck my ear into the speaker's horn until it nearly touched the X-2's ribbon tweeter.
I have a very quiet listening room that measures 35dB. In my room I could hear a faint mechanical hum from the MEGAschino if I was closer than six feet to its chassis. The hum might not be noticeable or even present in another environment with different power or room characteristics, but in my room it was present.
As you might expect from a designer with Tommy O'Brien's objectivist outlook, the MEGAschino is definitely the most uncolored power amplifier I've ever heard. That doesn't mean it sounds sterile or lacking in complexity. No, what you get is music--straight, with no chaser, as Thelonious Monk would say...
In most "subjective" reviews, this is the part of the review where you get the rapturous prose about how the gear transported the reviewer to musical parts previously unknown. But that is not the case with the MEGAschino; with it the rapture comes from the well-recorded music, not from the gear imbuing it with super-aural powers. So, what does the MEGAschino do? It leaves the music well enough alone. By this I mean it has a level of transparency and neutrality that reduces its sonic influence or coloring of the sound to a minimum. And while trying to do less to the sound, the MEGAschino manages to do more. Imaging, especially lateral imaging, has a level of definition that is as good as I've ever heard. Also, the MEGAschino's ability to retain the three-dimensionality of a natural soundstage on good recordings was first-rate.
Competition and Comparisons
I have been using Pass Labs power amplifiers in my main systems regularly for over twenty years. Most of that time it has been a Pass Labs X150.3 three-channel version, but a little over a year ago I added the Pass Labs X150.8 because the X150.3 was not as noise-free with sensitive loudspeakers as I needed. To put this in perspective, the Pass Labs X150.3 had more hiss from the Spatial X-2 prototypes than the MEGAschino, but the MEGAschino had more hiss than the Pass X150.8.
Technically, the two amplifiers--the Pass Labs X150.8 and the MEGAschino--are quite different. The Pass is a more traditional Class AB solid-state amplifier that operates in class A for the first couple of watts of output while the MEGAschino is a Class D design. And while their topologies are different, their final sonic results were surprisingly similar. Both had excellent low bass control (I turned off the JL subs for this) and allowed the loudspeakers under load to extend as low as their design and the room would permit. Based on their specifications, you would think that the MEGAschino, with its greater power capabilities, might have better control during dynamic peaks, but in my room, at my usual listening levels where peaks rarely exceed 98dB, neither amplifier exhibited the slightest traces of stress. But in a larger room with less efficient loudspeakers, the Pass, due to its lower power capabilities, should scream uncle first.
Soundstaging and tonal differences between the Pass Labs X150.8 and the MEGAschino were minimal. On some tracks the Pass had a better sense of apparent depth at the center of the soundstage, but the MEGAschino had more precise lateral placement. With both amplifiers, additive coloration was minimal, and as one listener told me, "I feel like I'm listening to the different individual microphones in the recording." The high level of inner detail and subtle sonic locational cues retained by both amplifiers is simply that good; they both can virtually disappear.
Many power amplifiers are replaced by new ones in the hope they will alter the sound in a positive way. But the whole point of the MEGAschino is to alter the sound as little as possible while delivering oodles of clean power. The MEGAschino is the embodiment of the longstanding audiophile ideal of a straight wire with gain. If you need a powerful, carefully engineered power amplifier that does not try to voice or alter the sound in any way, you need to give the MEGAschino a serious listen.
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