Metaxas Solitaire Power Amp and Marquise Preamp Reviewed

Published On: February 14, 1992
Last Updated on: October 31, 2020
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Metaxas Solitaire Power Amp and Marquise Preamp Reviewed

The Metaxas Marquise is a two-box preamp that is completely dual mono. Placement is critical to get the best from the Marquise. It needs to be well away from any mains power supplies and your cable choices will have a big influence on the quality of the overall sound.

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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Mercifully, the Solitaire -- maybe Metaxas collects Andy Williams LPs? Neil Sedaka?? -- suffers only the cable fixations of the Marquis. Hook it up and switch it on. That's it, just like a power amp should be. But there's more to consider in day-to-day practice once it's installed, because this amp does not like upsets.

It's a strange-looking device, with an anodized aluminium faceplate standing there and doing nothing other than providing a surface on which to mount the on/off switch. The amp is low and flat and sprouting vicious heatsinks, with four whacking great capacitors and the power supply there for all to see. Which bothers me, and not just because Sam'n'Dave Kessler is a 20-month-old toddlin' catastrophe. You don't need kids to see why Metaxas should stop playing Aussie Macho Man and produce a damned cage for this thing. After all, the holes in the heat sinks would make dandy receptacles for the 'legs' of a grille or cage.

Okay, okay, so the only power travelling through the exposed bits, like the readily accessible fuses, is low voltage, but that won't stop some klutz, like the apocryphal punter who wondered why her electric frying pan was destroy when she put it on a gas fire, from wreaking havoc. I'm reminded of the latest in American T-shirt and coffee mug slogans, which I saw all over Las Vegas: "Shit Happens". Which is America's neat if coarse way of of using three syllables to describe every single one of Murphy's laws. But enough about the unclad aspects of the Solitaire. At least everything is finished to Tiffany (the jeweller, that is) levels, with more stainless steel, top-quality sockets and binding posts and that free-standing fascia. Which, I should add, is drilled for rack mounting.

Which would take care of the naked chassis dilemma. But I still think a cage should be made for it anyway.

The Solitaire is dual-mono, two high speed amps sharing one 1600W laminated transformer delivering 150W/channel from DC to 500kHz into any load. (I'll tell you right now that neither the Apogee Divas nor the Sonus Faber Extremas fazed it at all, while it drove the Wilson WATTs/Puppies as if they were Lowthers.) Inside, it's one large motherboard holding all of the components including the output transistors. The topology is such that the signal path from input to output is only 150mm including the current path from the transformer to the output devices. As speed appears to be one of Metaxas' priorities, no bypass capacitors have been fitted, the company regarding these as detrimental.

Protection is limited to fuses guarding the high current output stages, while a four pole relay in series with the speaker connections responds to any DC sensed at the amplifier output. As with the pre-amp, the Solitaire features DC-monitoring circuitry within the amplifier itself.

The units arrived already run-in, but a good 15-30 minutes warm-up from switching on is advisable. Once up to operating temperature, these products sing. But occasionally off-key.

Let's dispense with the Solitaire first. Whatever the power rating, this amplifier is an animal of the fiercest variety. At no point during the two weeks of auditioning did I feel a need for more power and nothing upset it. Other than stray fields from anything in the room including my telephone, my computer, traffic outside, satellites orbiting Jupiter, you name it. You will spend so much time messing about with the wiring and siting of this amplifier that you'll wonder if it's worth the bother. But that's the price of high performance, and the performance is high indeed.

This amplifier, once it stops pouting and stamping its feet, has definition, transparency, clarity and solidity which will charm the pants of anyone who regards imaging and detail retrieval as paramount. You hear into the performance, noting small events which may be masked with lesser amplifiers. And the Solitaire rises to every occasion, dealing with both the subtle notes and the barnstormer sounds with a sense of balance that borders on state-of-the-art diplomacy. Nothing is swamped. All remains relative. Feed it something delicate or something coarse and the Solitaire will change character as needed.

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