What's the biggest challenge facing today's hi-fi manufacturers? I'd say, 'Fighting boredom.' I popped into my local hi-fi emporium on Saturday and left underwhelmed by the much-of-a-muchness of over 200 components, all 430mm and black and, well, boring. It positively frightened me. And that's just the mass-market dreck. High end? It's more a case of sheer overkill. As in: there are far too many brands out there chasing far too few customers. The blessed, welcomed Recession we're still enjoying – as Darwinian an event as one can name – has failed to achieve the one good thing which comes out of recessions. It has failed to weed out the manufacturers, cull the herd. And so onto Metaxas, a part of the herd fighting gamely with a welcomed dose of iconoclasm.
As far as I can tell, Metaxas faces the same challenges that all high end brands outside of the Big Five (Krell, Mark Levinson, Threshold, Audio Research, Jeff Rowland) have to face. Semi-obscurity and 'smallness' are curses or virtues depending on who's doing the talking and who's doing the buying. What Metaxas has going for it is styling just freaky enough to polarise married couples and behaviour which suggests that Kostas Metaxas has used Ferrari rather than Mercedes as his standard of excellence. In other words, switching on a Metaxas amplifier is an adventure. It's as if the original TVA-1 has come back to haunt us.
The ludicrously-named Opulence pre-amp and Soliloquy power amps are the top of the range in yet another over-crowded catalogue. Price-wise, they're hardly exorbitant by today's measures: the pre-amp sells in line-only form for £4600 or £5500 with phono section and a brace of the 100W Soliloquys costs £5990. If you consider lots of polished surfaces to be luxurious (eg, if you're of German extraction), then the Metaxases are definitely upscale. One thing's for certain: MAS doesn't scrimp on fascia detail, the two-box Opulence's outboard power supply looking as much like a stand-alone component as the main chassis, or 'mainframe' as MAS calls it.
The pre-amp is minimalist but useable/practical and demanding no great sacrifices if you run a system consisting of more than one source component. The facilities include four line source inputs with record out facility, full tape monitoring, direct access of the phono section, muting, stepped balance in 1dB stages, volume and stereo/reverse. All of the hardware – the front-panel toggles and rotaries, the socketry at the back – is top-quality. The mains-isolated power supply connects to the mainframe with an umbilical cable terminating in a computer-grade connector and its front panel provides on/off and LED monitoring of mains conditions. The outboard unit is of such overkill design which, by virtue of the large transformers and heat sink visible to all, could be mistaken for a small power amplifier. Which, it turns out, it is: the company describes the power supply as a 'single channel of the Iraklis power amp', operating in Class A.
However much this control unit looks like a proper piece of laboratory equipment, the amplifier resembles an...I don't know what. All I could think of was that gag about a camel being a horse (or elephant) designed by a committee. A verbal description suggests something whole and right and complete and conventional, in that it has a chassis, a front panel and heat sinks. But, as with the smaller Solitaire I reviewed last year, it's just daft. The front panel serves no purpose whatsoever, aside from holding the name plate, because the on/off switch and on indicator are mounted on the front of the chassis; when the fascia is fitted, the combination rocker switch/indicator peeps through a cut-out. So you can actually dispense with the front panel.
At least a proper case protects innards from the elements and keeps fingers and falling objects away from the electronics. Behind the free-standing fascia is a lump of a transformer in a black can, four copper-coloured, phallic capacitors and lots of shiny steel. The chassis is edged in sharp, ankle-scratching heat sinks. And I was mightily disenheartened to find that, when I moved the Soliloquy with one mitt on the black transformer case that it came away in my hand.
The company describes the Soliloquy at the world's only fully-regulated solid-state amp which doesn't employ any capacitors in the regulator circuits or bypassing the regulator outputs. Each Soliloquy consists of five complete amplification circuits on a single PCB, designed to produce absolutely stable voltage and current irrespective of the mains conditions. To this end, the unit features a 2kW grain-oriented steel, bifilar wound transformer that's electrostatic and Faraday shielded. Those highly visible caps supply the energy storage to the output stage and filter the input voltage gain stage. The caps are bolted directly to the PCB. This layout, however much I take the mickey out of it, has been designed for ultra-short signal paths; I just don't share the company's faith in the public's handling of 'naked' electronics, however safe the units may be. Remember: this country can boast consumers who plug electric irons into the auxiliary mains circuits on the back of integrated amplifiers, and put electric frying pans onto gas burners.
Read more about the Opulence and the Soliloquy on Page 2.
Like the earlier Metaxas system I tried, this pairing is so fussy,
so temperamental, so PMT-like in its behaviour that I had to remind
myself of what masochism meant to hi-fi before remote control became
There's no weird switch-on procedure and you needn't don an apron or
roll-up a trouser leg prior to use, but actual set-up is a nightmare.
Shielded or not, the Metaxas units are highly susceptible to the
calibre and type of cable, where you site it, how far you position each
unit from the other, what kind of supports you use, ad nauseum.
Audio Systemsenthusiasts the componentsapart I know this used to be
par for the course, but I've been spoiled by components which minimise
the need for large-scale tweaking. Indeed, MAS should talk to Mana
Acoustics (see 'Headroom') because that company's amplifier tables
eliminated much of the grief of installation.
I settled on NBS for pre-to-power connections, XLO spaker wire and
Mandrake between the Krell MD-20/Studio CD system and the pre-amp. Also
tried were players from Primare and Marantz and the G36 Revox tweaked
by Tim de Paravicini. So neutral, though, is the Metaxas set-up that I
could have used just about any sources I liked once the cables were
sorted and I'll I'd be hearing were the individual characteristics of
the source components. The trick was finding the right speakers for the
Too lean with the WATTs on their own, but just about right with
WATTs/Puppies. Just enough sheer grunt for the Apogee Stages, nor the
Sonus Faber Extremas. The little Linaeums sounded so sweet and
transparent driven by the Soliloquys, but they told me little about the
MAS system's lower registers. So where did I turn? To the not much
larger, not-all-that-sensitive Sonus Faber Minima Amators and, sigh,
LS3/5As. Oh, and lots of not-too-raucous listening through the
WATTs/Puppies, which needed just a bit more slam than the Soliloquy
could provide. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that these monoblocks
have less urge than the smaller, stereo Solitaire, which took on
everything I threw at it.
Credit where it's due, though: this MAS set-up behaves with far
greater decorum than the Solitaire/Marquis, and for a number of
reasons. I would assume that much of the extra control and greater
composure is down to the more substantial power supplies. And trivial
though this may seem, the more robustly assembled power supply chassis
of the Opulence may be contributing as well, for I know that I had less
trouble positioning it than I did the ringing, rattling tin can of a
container used for the Marquis. The 'mainframe' proved far more
troublesome to locate.
However neutral and 'naked' the sound, the MAS doesn't come off too
transistory or clinical. It's almost an about-face after the earlier
system, which I remember as being fierce, overpowering, brutal. The
dearer combination swaps some of the muscle for finesse, a welcomed
change of approach in a year which has seen some of the greatest
advances in CD player, transport and DAC performance and mainly in the
areas of the greatest subtlety. This MAS system's sound, which I admit
that I expected to border on the anarchic, recentlit of which were wide
wonderfully always There are still far too many 'high end' brands out
there, by a fator of three at least. pre-amplifier completely withpower
consists of, the necessary swicthes and socketslots of If I didn't know
that MAS was based in Foster's Land, I'd swear it was British it's so
''combination altogether This amp is a throwback to the Colin Clive
School of Hardware Design. into the auxiliary mains outlethow much and
took the torture out of audiosince elayers from Primare and Marantz, as
well as interconnecting . All, and not because of power mismatches My
notes suggest: Almoing, but what aboute MAS system's lower registers.
sa bit I remember it fondly as a Terminator of an amp.ly
specifiedeem, the more robust construction of the hyper-detailed as
well as fierce, overpowering, almost barbaric, because of previous
experience had a feather-light touch and a way with tiny details that
suggested either a pedigreed 60W or 70W/channel tube amp of recent
vintage, or a small stereo Krell.
And yet you can hammer the Soliloquys, though less successfully than
with the brutish smaller brother. Even in my medium-sized room, you can
get them to clip the Wilsons – impossible with the Solitaire – and
the Soliloquys run out of steam before the Extremas scream 'Ouch!'. The
area where the MAS amps are most seriously challenged is in the lowest
octaves, the treble remaining crisp, clear and fast long after the bass
has started to crumble.
Which leads me to a cop-out. Because the speakers designed by MAS
for use with thie company's electronics tend to be high-sensitivity
– the Ulyssis (sic) has 96dB/1W/1m sensitivity – I'm downplaying the
performance limitations with the hungry stuff. Why? Because I firmly
believe the 'horses for courses' b rule which, to use an analogy,
states that a given CD transport will favour a DAC from the same
manufacturer. Which leads me to using this costly system with the
sub- 500 LS3/5As. It was, unfortunately, a magical experience only
slightly less thrilling that with the Audio research package reviewed
in this issue. The speakers proved so undemanding that the
Opulence/Soliloquy set up sang without any pressure. The bass anomalies
were filtered. The speakers themselves crapped out well before the
Is this, though, conduct unbecoming of a ten grand package? I
suppose so if you're of the camp which argues, quite rightly, that any
pre/power combination costing as much as a loaded Peugeot 205 should
have just as much horsepower. Me? I just wish I'd had a chance to try
the MAS gear with the Klipsch Heresies.
So MAS has succeeded by being different, almost eccentric,
definitely not a 'me, too' product. What you have, then, is a
thoroughbred combination ideal for a listener who cherishes
luxo-details, exclusivity and finesse, and cares less about absolute
power. Which, as we all know, corrupts absolutely.