Sugg. Retail $2599.00 (CAN)
An equally important contributor to the excellent sound in the new room has been the Anthem Amp 2 power amplifier. A hybrid design the Amp 2 is an attempt to combine “the musicality and finesse of vacuum tubes, with the solidity and control of solid state.” It may sound like brochure copy (probably because it is) but, based on what I’ve been hearing over the past couple of months, it rings amazingly true.
The Amp 2 produces 31 dB of gain using four stages. “First, a vacuum tube buffer and phase splitter are used to provide a high input impedance as well as phase inversion for bridged mono configuration.” Next there’s a “constant current sourced, double differential cascode input stage” which in turn feeds “a high current, Class A transconductance/driver stage” which is coupled to “a cascode configured bipolar output stage, utilizing 12 Motorola 150 watt devices per channel.” Two mil spec 6922 tubes are used in the input stage.
The result is an amp capable of 200 watts per channel into 8 Ohms (with less than 0.05% THD) and 300 wpc into a 4 Ohm load (with less than 0.1% THD). For owners of the thirstiest loudspeakers the Amp 2 can also be bridged to produce a heroic 600 wpc into a single 8 Ohm channel.
A substantial brick of steel and aluminum the Amp 2 is 16″ deep, 5.25 inches high and weighs in at 55 lbs, unpacked. Simple and unadorned, like the other Anthem gear, the Amp 2 is very stylish, a single green LED centered in a vast, symmetrical expanse of silver brushed aluminum broken only by a push button on/off switch at far right (should silver clash with your other gear or d�cor you can also get a black faceplate). Build quality matches the attention to design, and, while not Rowland bomb proof, this Anthem is seriously solid.
The business end of the Amp 2 is equally clean and simple. Binding posts are very well spaced, not only from each other, but from the two single ended input jacks and removable IEC power cord socket mounted in the middle of the rear panel. While the spacing is likely to make users of cumbersome cables happy, the five way biding posts may not. An unusual type (probably designed to comply with strict new European regulations) this plastic-nutted post works fine with bananas, but spades can only be loaded from one Anthem Amp-2 Rear Panelside, which may prove cumbersome with big bulky cables. Aside from this nit pick the amp proved extremely user friendly and utterly reliable, performing its duties without a hint of drama. Once fully broken in the sound remained utterly consistent (assuming it was fully warmed up), which made getting a fix on the Anthem’s character that much easier. While it runs a little hotter than most solid state amps, it’s no furnace, idles with no discernable noise (electronic or physical), and can be left on for long periods of time unsupervised.
A lot of purists might be tempted to associate the word “hybrid” with the word “compromise”, arguing that trying to combine two competing technologies into one design is only likely to dilute their inherent strengths, resulting in a mediocre product which benefits from the advantages of neither and suffers from the shortcomings of both. If you prefer to see the glass as half full, a good hybrid design might offer the best of both worlds, using the strengths of one approach to bolster the weaknesses of another. Either way, if you’re as dogmatic about your amplifier type as you are about your Mac or PC, then the electronic miscegenation going on inside the Amp 2 is likely to put you off. Too bad, because the Anthem is an incredibly well balanced amplifier, one which juggles sonic compromises as well as any I’ve heard.
I wouldn’t call myself bass freak, but it tends to be the first thing I notice when listening to new gear in my system. It was definitely the first thing I noticed about the Amp 2. The word that kept coming to mind to describe the Amp 2’s bass was “traction”. When it came to bottom end the Anthem put rubber to road with phenomenal control, but never sounded too dry or over-damped. Articulation was also excellent, allowing complicated bass guitar and drum passages to emerge from the speakers intact. In fact, the Amp 2 performed as well as any amp I’ve ever heard on Sarah McLaughlin’s “Into the Fire” (from the album “Solace”) a bass torture test if ever their was one, delineating the subterranean synth notes with great finesse. On good organ recordings and bass rich electronica the Amp 2 was spectacular, and, with its prodigious dynamic capabilities, unflappable at high levels.
More importantly, the Amp-2, unlike some other bass stars, is no one trick pony. Great bass performance can get pretty tiresome if an amp overemphasizes the lower extremes or simply falls short in the mids and treble. This is certainly not the case here. I was consistently impressed by the sense of balance and integration the Anthem displayed on all music. To the credit of the hybrid design, there are no major compromises made to get that great bass, and the result is an especially musical and satisfying sound.
While not in the ultra transparent class the Amp2 sounded very neutral, the midband gaining a hint of extra warmth but rendered with very convincing timbre and body. While not an especially airy sounding amp, the Anthem is very open with no shortage of top end detail, trading the laid back, spacious qualities of some amps for a slightly more present and upfront sonic perspective. This is no to say, however, that the Amp-2 sounded closed in or aggressive, because it didn’t, it just put you a little closer to the front of the hall. It still managed to throw an excellent soundstage which extended well outside the left and right boundaries of the speakers. Imaging precision was also very good, but slightly less impressive, with, the locations of sounds a little more vague than I’ve heard with similarly priced amps.
Speaking of similarly priced amps, I spent some time comparing the Amp-2 to Bob Carver’s Sunfire Cinema Grand and MDG’s Allegrio, an exercise which definitely helped put the Anthem’s sonic character into perspective. I was not surprised to find the Anthem had the best bass of the three, making the extremely well controlled Sunfire sound a little tubby by comparison. In terms of sheer transparency, imaging precision and transient attack, the two pure solid state amps acquitted themselves nicely, matching or bettering the Anthem in these respects. Going back to the Amp 2, however, I was struck again by it’s balance and integration; qualities which are better rolled into a broader term: musicality. It’s a little slippery to describe, but there is an inherent rightness to the sound of the Amp 2, a naturalness which made the other amps sound slightly clinical and more electronic by comparison. Yes, it has some small flaws, but its compromises are made with such subtlety and grace that the sonic whole adds up to much more than the sum of its parts. Simply, the Amp 2 gets out of the music’s way more completely than most and makes for a very satisfying and involving sound. As with the Rotel CD Player, it’s few minor flaws are very unobtrusive, and I found myself growing disinterested in comparisons and falling under the spell of the music. Both are products I could live with for the long term.
While I take issue with the implication that musicality and finesse are qualities exclusive to tube-based gear (not to mention that solidity and control are exclusive to solid state), Anthem has succeeded in building an amp which does exactly what they wanted it to do: “combines the musicality and finesse of vacuum tubes, with the solidity and control of solid state.” If you’re neither a die hard tube head nor a dyed in the wool transistor stickler, then you might find that the best of both worlds is exactly what you’re looking for.
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