THE METAXAS IRAKLIS:
Reviewed by Jean Hiraga/Patrick Vercher, LA NOUVELLE REVUE DU SON, France
We have already tested in this column one of the best models in the prestigious Metaxas range, the Solitaire amplifier. We have selected this time from the reference such as Marquis, Charisma, Opulence or Soliloquy, the Iraklis Amplifier which powers 2 x 50 W.
One finds, on the Iraklis Amplifier - Hercules in Greek, a symbol of strength - a conception of pure audiophile which is always present in each piece of this range of Australian origin. This company, Metaxas Audio Systems (MAS), directed by a man with a grand passion for high end audio, Kostas Metaxas has always fixed as its objective, the conception of amplifiers and preamplifiers responding to the different needs of audiophiles particularly the perfectionists, and to this end the company makes no concessions that could destroy the performances in terms of transparency or dynamics.
The Iraklis, of smaller dimensions, renders the same aesthetic as the 2 x 100W Solitaire. It is very different from the classical rack modesl with which we are familiar and has the box form with front face, almost square (22x18.5) anodised black linked to a quite narrow chassis (20.5cm) but quite deep (37cm).
The heatsinks of the power suplies are not placed conventionally - usually on the top of the chassis - but they are placed behind of the chassis on lateral sides of it. If this conception was not enhanced by chrome, by an impeccable finish, one could be foregiven for thinking that it was a creation of an amateur audiophile more anxious about problems of thermic dissipation or searching for very short internal links rather than a classical high end piece of equipment.
The implementation of the different elements shows that there is no mystery on these points. The linking between each RCA input (gold plated of excellent quality) is reduced to a few millimetres. In output, the speaker terminals are very near the output stage transistors which are Japanese Toshiba complements 2SC 2563/2SA 1093 rated at 80 watts. All the components of the amplification section of each channel, with the exception of the power supply, are on a surface of note more than 8 x 10cm. It is difficult to do better and this philosophy is applied to all of the best pieces like the Charisma preamplifier which has no internal wire link.
If the philosophy of the circuit is not really a new one, it uses formulas that have always proved to be amongst the finest of the audio specialists: driver stages working in pure class A, power supplies of huge dimensions with very fast rectifiers in parallel and filter condensers of very high capacity (22,000mF x 4), Darlington type power stage complemented and temperature stabilised, differential and symmetric input circuits, multiple local feedback circuits which allow the application of a total negative feedback which is only 10dB. Bessel type input filtering which eliminates radio frequencies above 500kHz, in the gradual slope this allows the removal of all incidence on the stability or on the phase in the audio band.
On each channel the active components are limited to about 15:2 power transistors, 2 driver transistors, (2SC 2275/2SA 985), 1 operational amplifier comparer (LF351, which gives compensation for DC offset) input transistors and pre-drivers of Amercian and European origin. (BC 549, 559, 2N 2205 2219). The components of diverse origins, (Europe, USA, Japan) have each been chosen according to criteria as much technical as it is subjective: WIMA MKS4 polycarbonate condensers, metallic film resistors with a 2% tolerance, polystyrene condensers (for small value).
On the power supply side, the transformer under the armour-plated cover is 1000VA (over dimensioned because 300VA would have been more than sufficient) has on the second side, four fuses for protection and another one, general, on the first side. The rectification is not assured by a diode bridge but by some (triplets) of rapid diodes IN4004 shown in parallel (not commutation pics).
The configuration being double mono type, the power supply circuits are separated from the transformer which has a single common winding but a double secondary winding.
All of the pieces composing the chassis are made starting from non-magnetic metals such as stainless steel, light aluminium alloys. Compared with the Solitaire, the Iraklis offer for the price of a limited power to 2 x 50W, a simple push-pull output stage (the Solitaire is a quadruple push-pull type).
The back panel has only the essential: input connectors, H.P. connectors, A.C. connectors. The front panel only has the on/off switch.
For the specifications, the manufacturer proclaims a signal to noise ratio of -117dB (with a short circuited input), an input impedence of 130 kOhms, a damping factor of 500 and an average harmonic distortion of 0.25%.
Quite recently, the listening test of the new MAS Australian amplifier Solitaire has revealed to us some hallucinating results: just as if MAS had been able to understand and grasp the best of each of the tubes and transistors technologies. No mystery however, on the circuit levels. Some simple schematics but they have been refined and improved over time, some astuteness here and there, a judicious choice of active and passive components and above all much know-how, a good ear to realise those ideas to go as far as the electrostatic speakers.
As soon as one enters the world of very high end audio, one encounters the problem of the 'reference', existing only in fiction cannot be apprehended to make very complex comparisons and correlations. On certain sides, the Iraklis is sensibly different from the Solitaire, primarily through reasons of power. Secondly, the Iraklis has a listenability, a perfection of style and a surprising eloquence. The best test that shows in plain light these rare criteria is that of the transcription of the very complex orchestral works. Generally, and according to the height or the power one very quickly arrives to either a general confusion, to a simplification of the sounds with a kind of hardening, with evidence of distortion sounds through intermodulation. With this amplifier, some instruments until now, hidden by others, appear in all their richness of timbre, with expressivity. The ambiences of the concert halls, the reverberation of the cathedrals, the atmosphere of full air, are one by one transcribed with realism, with a three dimensional effect transcribes with precision each technique of producing the sound. What comes from the speakers appears transfigured, the one hundred and one aspects of a melodic phrase here take on one thousand and one aspects. So, from the first listening test one can derive many different impressions that will be in contradiction with what we will find later after half an hour of listening, a total restitution quality getting better and better with the time that passes. The Iraklis expresses itself, articulates with a manner that is very different from anything else. The most important thing is that one believes in what one is listening to, that many things happen, that the reproduction does not allow for one second of boredom and that one is very happy, going from surprise to surprise and anticipating further surprises in the listening of the next record.
Those first impressions that are so very different from the others on the first listening, augur finally, a new style of listening, at the same time, fascinating and intriguing exactly the same way that the very great systems did which later became world references. If one is looking for very high sound levels on low efficiency speakes, the Solitaire will naturally be better. But beyond the enormous systems, the Iraklis will find its place, a place where one will not risk regretting having bought it a few months after the purchase.
MAS electrostatics have made a very strong impression in France and this does not surpise us. We have still in our memories the fabulous listening of the preamp/amp ensemble, Marquis and Solitaire. If, at the time, we told you that the quality for the price was remarkable, it is nevertheless true that these superb units are not within the reach of everybody. The Iraklis amplifer being much more cheaper will compensate for this. For a more affordable total price, it proposes a sound aesthetic that has once more subjugated us. For the price, it is truly extraordinary. In parentheses, this proves that Kostas Metaxas (the designer) is not only an engineer who has a perfect mastery of circuits but equally, he is a music lover with an exacting ear.
The Iraklis possesses an exceptional richness of timbre for a transistor amplifier. Compared to other electronics of high repute, it makes a real great difference, thanks to its singing character, its expressivity which is difficult to put into words. The sonorities seem to have much more body, are better held. Voices, for example, have a natural confidence. It is rare to have a rendering of such fruity textures. The piano concert of Stakkato CD is reproduced with a remarkable homogenity on the whole range of the clavier.
The lower register is both dense and rapid: the strokes are open and honest with a good differentiation of notes. On the test of Japanese (Taiko) (CD The Pulse) there is no intermodulation on the Iraklis even at strong levels and this amplifier reproduces even the smallest sounds as well as the stronger ones. Even if you ask of the Iraklis its full power, the distortion is very mild as in the manner of tube amplifiers. One has a lasting impression that this amplifier is much more power than what they say.
To these fluid qualities, one must add a stereophonic opening example, the sound scene is deep, wide. The exact recognition of instruments in a symphonic orchestra is child's play. The various members of an orchestra are differentiated with great precision without being detached from the ensemble formation. Certainaly we know of electronics that go higher in pitch but it is rare to have such cohesion on all the usable band frequencies.
The Iraklis is an amplifier in the grand class that one must absolutely discover; but beware, once you have experienced it, you won't want to leave it.