Metaxas Solitaire Power Amp and Marquise Preamp Reviewed

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Metaxas Solitaire Power Amp and Marquise Preamp Reviewed

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Knowing that Kostas Metaxas is related to the boozemakers of the same name has little relevance to his hi-fi products other than for realizing that both are upmarket offerings. Will the hardware intoxicate as easily as the liquidware? Perhaps. But being tee-total, I can stretch the analogy no further. Which is a shame, because, for once there's an excuse to describe hi-fi with adjectives best reserved for something else entirely.

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Actually, the knowledge that the Metaxas name is shared by such disparate products does reflect on Kostas. He's what you can only call a bon vivant, even going so far as to publish a magazine Downunder called Vive La Vie!, best recognized as a materialist's bible, or yuppie porn. And it's worth knowing this if you're to understand the Marquis pre-amp and the Solitaire power amp. Which were named either for diamonds or, respectively, a lousy American automobile and a card game. And it speaks volumes for Metaxas' sense of humour. Otherwise, how do you explain naming a stereo power amplifier with such a monophonic moniker?

The two products drip of luxury, but, unfortunately, in the German manner. Yes, Metaxas has opted for acres of stainless steel, which is even more of a magnet for fingerprints than perspex. And harder to keep clean, though far more resistant than the glossy plastics to spiderweb scratching from even the softest duster.

The Marquis is a two-box pre-amp, the power supplied housed in an all-stainless steel box, a completely dual-mono, high current, stacked 100W toroidals, with 46,000 uF of primary filtering monster. It connects to the pre-amp chassis via an umbilical cord with a five-pin plug, the juice entering the pre-amp through another 10,000 uF of filtering before reaching the regulating circuitry. This consists of a proprietary circuit built around matched transistors; the company eschews the use of ICs. The circuitry ensures that the DC is stable and that the impedance of the regulator is is consistent at eliminating any AC components on the DC line from DC to 5MHz. Further circuitry prevents the possibility of any DC surges which could affect the servo circuits from maintaining absolute zero level DC at the outputs. And if that ain't enough, a dual FET trips a relay in series with the output, short circuiting the input to the power amp to prevent any damage to the loudspeakers.

The main pre-amp chassis is a pro-look, low-profile rack-mountable affair with an anti-magnetic stainless steel case and a black front panel. The fascia contains chrome plated hardware and etched legends, a mix of laboratory aesthetics and lily-gilding. And nothing shatters the illusion of luxury save for a lack of mass due to the positioning of the hefty bits in the external case. And you're reminded of this every time you flick a switch or twist a knob should the pre-amp be placed on a smooth surface. It is, simply, so light that even the force of the cable from the power supply can push it out of position. Which caused me to discover a previously hidden use for Flux Dumpers: even if you think that their hum-dimishing properties are just so much tweaker nonsense, there's no denying that they'll help to keep the Marquis in place by sheer weight.

The panel is crammed with facilities, including source and record select, a toggle to choose between line inputs and phono, a tape monitor switch, stereo/reverse selector, muting, balance and volume, All of the switches and knobs have positive action, suggesting high quality. This is reflected at the back, with the single row of sockets entirely gold-plated. These, by the way, are solderred directly to the motherboard.

The phono section uses proprietary push-pull differential input topology, with carefully selected and matched transistors. Internal microswitches allow the user to select a range of over 60 loadings from 10 ohms up to 47k ohms, with a single switch available to add 270pF of extra capacitance if necessary.

Without any doubt, the Metaxas Marquis is the fussiest pre-amp I've ever installed in my system. Not only is it tetchy about the choice of cables (the manual states the need for properly shielded designs), it's also fussy about their orientation. While I didn't have to hang the leads from the ceiling, I did have to experiment with their proximity to the two chassis and to each other, eventually placing the power supply as far as possible from the main chassis, while ensuring that no leads -- from the sources or to the Solitaire -- were within a foot of the power supply umbilical cord. And then I had to ensure that the rest of the leads were kept well-separated. While this may seem like nothing more than good housekeeping, it did strike me as inordinately critical. Failure to do so resulted in background texturing and, depending on the wires, low level hum. This pre-amp simply goes crazy when placed too close to mains leads feeding other components.

Feeling in need of an analogue fix? Missing the days of DIP switches and plug-in resistors? So hair-spring is the behaviour of the Marquis phono section that you'll be in no doubt when the values are out, however slightly. And I'm not talking about whacko cartridges like Audio Notes or elderly Ortofons. Even the most accommodating types needed loads of trial-and-error adjustment. Thank goodness my Deccas were not in use; I'm certain that the Metaxas-Decca interface would be a hi-fi equivalent of the Arab-Israeli conference. I hadn't spent so much time setting up a cartridge since the days before Bitstream...

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