LA NOUVELLE REVUE DU SON
METAXAS SOLITAIRE AND MARQUIS
The best surprise is the return of Australia with the new range of MAS (Metaxas Audio Systems) who have beaten new paths as much for the aesthetics as for their musical precision, and they are imported by LTC International who we know well for their seriousness and demanding standards.
The Marquis Preamplifier
The Marquis Preamplifier is an authentic double mono including its power supply. The latter is lodged in a separate box to avoid the inevitable radiance's interfering with the very sensitive micro-signals which are transmitted through the preamp: two large toroidal transformers rated at 100VA each!! They are followed by the filter capacitors with a total energy of 46,000uF. Certain other amplifiers, mindful of economy are not as well endowed.
The voltage regulator circuits are discrete, ultra high speed transistor circuits, not the typical integrated circuits. This very top of the range solution whilst costly, it is infinitely more musically satisfying. It allows for better control of the circuits, notably in the choice of components. This is explained so: the power supply is extremely stable up to 5MHz, the voltage of the negative power supply tracks the positive with a difference that is reduced to a negligible value, the maniacal care brought to the regulator lives up to the rigorousness of the overall conception.
The preamplifier to speak concisely, is a magnificent unit with a finish that is out of the ordinary. The box is in un-oxidised, polished, and electrolyzed antimagnetic steel. The knobs are machined, the components are aligned like a parade on a unique primed in double face glass epoxy, with metalised holes (less than soldering). The implementation is exemplary. On all evidence, the C.A.O. is passed here and there.
The afficionado's of black money are spoiled. The phono stage has been conceived of the usual care (this is increasingly rare…but that is another story…). The input stage is of push-pull differential type. The equipment performs extremely well in terms of reduction of distortion, the slew rate the manufacturer claims 1000C/microseconds!! The transistors, originally American 2N 2219 and 2N 2905) have all be tested before installation: voltage gain, continuous (hFE) and the base resistance which influences the signal to noise.
The micro-switches allow for adjusting the cartridge resistance with a precision which places a definite end to the eternal problems of the adaptation of the phono pick up: in fact, the user has 69 position of 10 ohms to 47K ohms. The gain stage is a cascade assembly using local feedback to obtain greater possible linearity. Finally, the output stage is of the double Darlington type. A Zener diode to reduce the noise is the reference set to optimise and stabilises the outward flow in pure class A.
The amplifier is protected by short fast blow fuses, which have the advantage of not introducing clouration, as in the case with certain sophisticated systems that are not always transparent. Additionally, the protection of loudspeakers is assured by some relays, which intervene in the action since the appearance of a continuing voltage of over 1.0 volts.
Before being released commercially, all the MAS products are burned in for 48 hours, are each listened to individually on a reference system and then finally measured and calibrated.
The price, which they are proposing, is entirely realistic, if not reasonable, in regard to the quality of manufacture, the degree of finish and listening results.
The Metaxas Solitaire amplifier by its passing a wide frequency range means that one has to take some precautions during the testing in order not to pick up some parasitic radio frequency information. Correlating with frequency response, which never appears, weakened even at 200kHz, the rise time of 0.7us is a record in the subject.
The response of a square wave of 20kHz has absolutely no rounding of edges, which would be present of 1kHz on other amplifiers. There is not trace of passing unstable input signals. The establishment simply on the distortion spectrum of some small harmonic points in the very high harmonic frequencies of very elevated rank, is due perhaps to some radio frequency phenomenon. The sine wave form is very beautiful and symmetrical at all frequencies.
The distortion is very low, allowing one to assume a total absence of interacting distortion. The available power is greater than 130W, largely sufficient even with the limitations of low impedance.
The signal to noise at 102dB is linear, a nominal result allowing one to suppose a very silent functioning.
The Metaxas Solitaire amplifier appears to have been designed like test equipment without any compromise in regards to frequency response, distortion and instantly available current.
The line stage is not left behind. Thanks to the large section power supply tracks and low PC board resistance, it is practically transparent. We see that the volume potentiometer, placed in the front, establishes a constant value of the 10 ohms. It avoids the appearance of the parasitic capacitance, which degrade the square wave response.
AMPLFIER: THE SOLITAIRE
One finds here an aesthetic chassis of the type that paths are beaten for, using dual mono construction. A colossal 1800 watt power transformer reduces mains supply loss. It is followed by low impedance capacitors of ultra high quality (66,000uf in total). The Solitaire easily surpasses its 150W rating per channel with an absolute stability on even the most delicate and difficult loads. Certain panel speakers will find this an amplifier to match their standard.
A minute examination of the equipment reveals an exceptional service finish of rigorous conception without any kind of compromise. One is immediately struck by the almost total absence of cables, all the components, even the output transistors are directly soldered on the printed epoxy circuit board. The distance of the signal in the circuits between the input and the speaker outputs is less than 150mm (a record). This is surely not foreign to the general elevated transparency of the listening experience.
The input stage is of the complimentary differential cascade type. This schematic, although classic, obtains a raised output level with great linearity and a low distortion. The parasitic radio HF contingents are eliminated by a gentle 6dB/octave) Bessel filter which avoids all phase shift problems.
Always obtaining an increased output level without distortion, the second stage was seen to apply on increased local feedback.
The overall negative feedback has also been able to be reduced to only 121dB in order to stablilise the amplifier. At full power, the total harmonic distortion does not surpass 0.1% (essentially second harmonic distortion).
Finally for the output stage, one has a triple Darlington configuration with a thermal regulator in order to avoid the thermal imbalances. The circuits have been conceived to deliver the maximum current up to very high frequencies (80MHz) corresponding to the fT of the output transistors. But contrary to the more classic schematics, there is not any stabilising circuit (self or RC network system) which always altars the musicality.
LISTENING - Listening A
Many audio systems of this caliber are geared to a specific local market and are manufactured in either very small or very large ranges. Those companies concerned become known either by mass advertising campaigns requiring a large financial commitment or by word of mouth, especially in cases where the audio systems warrant superior quality. Such is the case of the MAS Australian superior audio systems, which are selling almost like hotcakes without any advertising. Needless to say, many distributors have purchased one or more models permitting them to advise, with confidence, other retailers looking for a new clearer, better sound. They can honestly say "Metaxas is what you're looking for!.
In the presentation, curiously enough, in the form of a box but without a back cover and with the lateral radiators shown in all their glory, on a brilliant chrome chassis. One is seduced in the first seconds of listening to the Solitaire, an amplifier that risks not to be easily available for long because it is so easy to speak well of it.
On further listening, one is even more able to appreciate the synthesis of the harmonies as much as the other qualities almost right subjective response curve level/frequency, elevated dynamic fullness and perfect reproduction in all frequency bands, exhaustive definition, but reinforce the impression of the gap, of the natural bond between the sounds, beauty of the timbres, cleanliness of the low pitched contours, precision of the high pitched notes.
On the opposite side of this, the Solitaire does not excel in the falsely romantic style. This type of reproduction overtakes on a umber of points in some of the very top of the range American electronics, which goes to prove that true high end fidelity is universal. There is not much else to say except that the Solitaire leaves far behind our best references.
The preamplifier Marquis suits the same philosophy but merits a little less praise in comparison to other similarly priced products but is still of high quality. When hooked up to the auxiliary input the surge of power is too high, obliging you to control the volume immediately, which is not very practical. Almost "overprotected" from the continuos power supply, the amplifier tends to momentarily disconnect (hesitate) especially when the volume is adjusted too quickly even without any signal. It is important to note this behaviour should be considered an operational detail rather than a defect. No doubt the competitive price tag will be a contributing factor to a marked success - definitely worth listening to.
Let's get straight to the point: MAS electronics are more than surprising they are a real discovery, a rare find. Rarely have we heard on transistor units such liquidity, such an ease of reproduction where voices once again find melody and softness. For example Julianne Baird (CD Dorian DOR90109), soprano, is really haunting. She is totally devoid of crispness often witnessed which to explain this unconstrained sound would be difficult until you hear electronics of the class as MAS.
Here, everything flows with a baffling simplicity that we rediscover records, which had lost this undeniable aggressiveness. Music is reproduced without any tension, with a freedom only very few power amplifiers are capable of (and usually with outrageous price tags).
This new found freedom compared to a transparency leaving absolutely no detail to the imagination: the slight coughing of an audience, the turning of the pages of a full score, the breathing of an interpreter. Music flows in a clear environment with a scrupulous respect for the acoustical surroundings.
This sensation of space is made more marvellous on the grand composition: Rachmaninov's Vespers (record 'Le sons of the World') are rendered with legibility and an overwhelming presence.
It is interesting to note at this time another phenomenon. A fairly old CD recorded in `965 is clearly inhibited by breaths, however with MAS electronics these breaths (gasps) seem to be in the far background. One tends to forget them and hears only the music. Incidentally, the same was said of very high quality record players, which seemed to eliminate the effects apparent on vinyl records.
The explanation rests in the equilibrium of MAS electronics (not by the coincidence of the needle) and in the total absence of grain in the upper spectrum. The extraordinary fluidity and quality of tone is found throughout the entire range. Quite often, amplifiers will fail one of our test records, which reaches dangerous pitch levels to the lowest octave and density (even in cases where the amplifiers are otherwise good).
One the MAS tone quality is present without diminishing and with an extraordinary steadiness: the notes are detached with a rare subtlety without any heaviness. This heavy hand is covered with a velvet glove.
The Marquis and Solitaire couple are as comfortable with the Berlin Philharmonic as they are with a small jazz composition where the transparent qualities and the marvellous definition serve both the stands and the following soloists.
In order to be totally objective, it seems to us that the Solitaire amplifier, which is an uncontestable success, deserves to be associated with the best amplifiers of the moment, in order to give its full measure, for example, the Opulence model by the same manufacturer.
On all grounds, the marquis and Solitaire ensemble, which we would separate with regret, dominate the majority of their competitors through the unique faculty of having forgotten the profit marking side of music. It constitutes in our opinion, pure gold and is already the reference point in this price category and will not be superceded in a hurry.