1)        SPACE & SOUNDSTAGING – While the Golden Cherry as well as certain other amps can throw a soundstage of varying size, shape, and believability, it usually has some limits; with some speakers, the load can present the output stage of an amp with such a variable impedance that both speaker and amp change the sound of each other while they play together. Yet here, more so than with the Golden Cherry, the palpability of the space rendered is quite visceral. You can almost “see” with your ears how and where each part of a mix exists separately from the others, and also within the totality of sound being produced. With classical music recorded simply (one stereo microphone, let’s say) and played back on the MEGAschino, such as my acapella album “Chants & Carols” performed by The Yale Russian Chorus (Epiphany Recording Ltd. EP9 - 1994), you can close your eyes and identify each of the twenty-two singers, standing in an arc shape around and in front of you (and my unique microphone); and you can also hear how you are inside a small stone chapel on the Yale campus. While distinct qualities about each singer’s performance was heard clearly on other amps used in this review, with the Golden Cherry’s sounding spot-on, I found with the MEGAschino a new level of inner acoustic detail that I had only half imagined being there before, except under the very best of playback conditions, costing outrageous sums. Here, from a single amplifier, was an apparent pulling away of previously unknown layers of veiling – revealing an unheard level of texture, nuance, air, and solidity.


2)        TIMING, RHYTHM & PACING – Often digital is maligned for not getting the soul of music right, especially the CD. Audiophiles who unfairly assign blame to binary code should hear what happens when the amplification just gets out of the way. Let’s take the beating of a drum, like the Conga, as heard played by Poncho Sanchez on “Eddie Bauer – Mambo Mambo” – Track 3: Watermelon Man is played with such wonderful enthusiasm that can be heard with each different hand and finger lick. But, here again, there is wonderfully rhythmic shading that is clearly on display when listening through the MEGAschino, in particular. That sense of timing and pace are also easily heard on Track 10 – Para Ti from Sanchez’s “Conga Blue” (Concord Jazz SACD). From the double bass at the beginning, calling out the foundation of the tune, and going all the way to the cowbell punctuating the primary beat, both the band’s physicality in the space of the studio combined with precision of leading edge transient definition makes this tune sound fantastic played back at any level through the MEGAschino.

LISTENING OBSERVATIONS


I started with our house dynamic speaker, the 2-way Ologe (pronounced Oh-Lowj) Model 5, hand-made in Germany and seen, here, as the white pair of speakers. Whether on the floor, mounted to an Ologe stand, or on a wall/ceiling bracket, the speakers came alive when powered by Digital Amp Co.’s products; then and today (see below and my review of the MEGAschino). I listened to the Golden Cherry Amps on and off … for over 18 months, until I unfortunately had to return the review pair. During that time, they simply were my “go to” choice in the areas of 1) bullet proof reliability, 2) spot-on sound quality at all volume levels and from day to day, 3) ease of use and portability, 4) ability to be improved through company upgrades and tweaks, easily, and affordably, and 5) essentially free from typical maladies such as distortion and noise; they are colorless and clear, and quite frankly thrilling sounding with just about any speaker I auditioned, here.


So when I listened to Talking Heads performing on “More Songs About Buildings And Food” (96/24 from HDTracks.com), Naked (CD or 96/24) or “Stop Making Sense” (Live Film - BD), they Rocked!!! The ensemble was tight, sprawled out horizontally but also descending into the distance, so that members of the band could easily be “seen” to process around the soundstage, sonically; especially in the live concert film. And if you are going to rock it, you need to be able to turn it up … to 11 or even 12. I felt in most cases that I was drawing on a nearly limitless reserve of clean pure power and only once, while running the BD of Christopher Nolan’s IMAX film INTERSTELLAR, was I able to overtax the Golden Cherries, getting the protection circuits to engage, briefly. But within a few seconds, the amps unmuted and there was no damage nor change in sound quality.


Admittedly, we were running INTERSTELLAR (and other test and demo materials) with peaks out at 110 dB/SPL or beyond through either Magnepan 1.7i quasi-ribbon speakers, Waterfall Audio Victoria Evo glass speakers, or the newest PureAudioProject Quintet 15 / Horn 5 Dynamic loudspeakers. But regardless of speaker brand, or load, the sound quality at both very, Very , VERY loud levels or near to a whisper were equally well controlled, natural sounding and without electronic haze or artificiality, especially with really breathtaking, great sounding recordings.  I easily got the feeling of hearing well known albums as if for the very first time. Because of these qualities, I found myself immersed in my favorites … going from album to album, and pretty soon a whole afternoon or evening of fine and memorable listening had taken place.

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INTRODUCTION


It must have been quite the day on October, 25th 1906 when Lee De Forest, after experimenting with various nascent attempts at radio detection from afar for the Navy, developed what would become the first practical audio amplification device: the three-element “grid Audion” – otherwise known as the Triode vacuum tube. Even though he had tried to employ Guglielmo Marconi and Nikola Tesla (serious names in the history of science) as early as 1901 to aid him in this venture, it would be De Forest through the next five years and under three different companies employment who would push forward to succeed in creating the first “wireless telegraph”; the forerunner of radio, in fact. Although it would be another six years before the appearance of what we might begin to recognize as an amplification tube took place, the final path that resulted in commercial radio communication (1921), sound with film (1926), television (1948), the Transistor (1956), integrated circuits – IC (1966) and the internet (1996) required many, many people and years of attempts before any of these inventions became the product categories and businesses they finally became.


This is true also of the many fine sounding amplification circuits designed and developed over the last century plus, with such well known variants as Class A (tube & solid state varieties), Class AB (using integrated circuits like MosFets), Class C (which is really a special case used in manufacturing), and of which the latest iteration is now Class-D; sometimes confused with being digital (or binary) which, strictly speaking, it is not. Instead, Class-D refers to a specific methodology of transforming one voltage (the source) to a selected higher one (using gain) across the widest possible spectrum (frequency response) without adding or subtracting anything (distortion) using Pulse Density Modulation (PDM) functions. Simply put, a very high frequency counting system looks at the incoming signal and codifies higher volume as a greater number impulses per unit of time (see illustration). This constantly varying PDM signal produces an exact copy of the incoming signal but at louder volume level. While this might appear digital on the surface, the PDM function varies infinitely and so precisely mimics or tracks the original signal; unlike PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) which is always an approximation of the original source based on specific frequency response requirements and bit-depth.


The degree of success (the ultimate sound quality heard with any circuit design) is a matter of closely guarded experimentation, luck, and secrecy, continuing to this day. Great amp brands like Krell, Classé, Audio Research, Threshold, Pass Labs, and Mark Levinson all had standout products over time because they utilized a little known or used, unique manufacturing process and/or circuit design to distinguish themselves from the rest. This precise character is audible but hard to quantify, nonetheless, and the subject of endless audiophile magazine reviews and now years of chat room scuttlebutt. Do you take note of the Krell KSA 100 or 250’s power and authority when controlling speakers of all varieties? Or do you prefer the smooth and silky sound of the Classé or the extended three-dimensionality of the Audio Research? Certainly, the Pass Labs is known for unerring detail and transient speed. Yet, what can be said of so called Class-D amplifier designs by well known and respected names like Mark Levinson, Bryston, Crest Audio, Crown, ModWright, and Yamaha, especially when some refer to N-Core modules as their centerpiece, or use Pulse Width vs. Pulse Density Modulation, and other variations on approach that may or may not result in great or even different sound quality from each other. And as to why Class-D amplification circuits might sound different, my exclusive interview with Tommy O’Brien of Digital Amplifier Co., in Positive Feedback Magazine, will delve into all the particulars:


https://positive-feedback.com/interviews/tommy-obrien-digital-amplifier-co/


And he is happy to answer questions about the entire line-up of Cherry Amps (see below), which vary in size, power, and price. But each has sound equally excellent in it’s respective tier. And can be factory upgraded easily and affordably as budget and desire dictate.

But now … the New MEGAschino Stereo Amplifier


Now I suppose nothing can last forever. And after I sent the Golden Cherry review loan back, I returned to working and reviewing using a variety of other amplifiers. But … I sorely missed the almost indescribably clean, clear, rock solid, holographic presentation of the Golden Cherry’s. Their cutting edge, tight, handling of most any music with every speaker I came up with, both large and small, made me long for them to return, soon. And then … three months or so later, what arrives on my studio doorstep can only be described as the successor to the Golden Cherry: MEGAschino. Although sounding a little bit like a new creation from Starbucks,


A)   The amplification circuit is the culmination of 30 years research and development in Class-D amplifiers; a leap even beyond the Golden Cherry’s


B)   Features discrete noise free power supplies and separate chokes are used for each channel


C)   The proprietary circuit design features several different kinds if internal feedback to correct any signal tracking errors


D)   There are a minimal amount of components that are built onto custom boards


E)   Every effort was made to produce an unrivaled amplification experience with the highest power rating, least distortion, greatest speaker handling capability, and ultimately refined and see-through sound presentation quality


Dare I say my appetite was wetted, immensely – here was another great moment where I could closely hear an evolution of one man’s vision of Class-D amplification in pursuit of audio nirvana. But could all the hyperbole actually result in a product that, despite being Class-D and also from a privately owned company, amplify sound in a way that would (again) set a new benchmark? I opened the heavy but very well insulated box and withdrew what I imagined would be another great opportunity to hear Tommy’s fine engineering work, if nothing else. A more typical but still small and lighter amplifier shape emerged, with connections and the power switch on the back - the idea being to set-up, turn-on and leave the amp alone. It wakes when it senses music, and sleeps in a standby mode automatically after being unplayed for 8 min. So I attached balanced cables (Cardas, Mogami, Monster, Skogrand, etc.) between my many sources (analog and digital) and the MEGAschino. And here is what I heard (both similar to and different from the Golden Cherry Amps I had just been reviewing):

Digital Amplifier Company’s


GOLDEN CHERRY Mono Block Amplifiers


  - - -   At Kipnis Studios (KSS) – by Jeremy R. Kipnis (© 2018)

GOLDEN CHERRY Mono Block Amplifiers –

Evolutionary Class-D Design with Distinction


After years of seeing Cherry Amplifiers being spoken of so highly on the internet, with remarks frequently made in forums online about transparency, power, speed, tonality and all from a small sized footprint at affordable prices, I decided to contact Tommy O’Brien and find out for myself what was going on, here. His exuberance concerning the nature of “switching” amplifiers vs. conventional tube or solid state contributions was infectious. He was certain his spin on Class-D was superior in just about every regard to his competition; large brand names with often long and successful histories of their own. I welcomed the opportunity of listening and reviewing one of his many products closely with a large stable of speakers and stack of great sources making their way through my studio and review environments. First described in 1938, the “switching” amplifier is neither analog nor digital, actually, but rather a circuit that uses a very high frequency triangle wave that is biased by the signal one desires to be amplified. In this way, distortion is kept exceptionally low across the widest usable pass-band (frequency range), while the efficiency of amplification per unit energy consumed is the highest while taking up the least size and weight of any amplifier circuit ever created. Of course, here as with all designs, the final sound quality is as much a rich combination of parts choice and quality as the precision of the circuit layout, it’s power supply, and extensive testing on the bench and through listening that makes for the best possible results.


Well … at the end of the day, all I know (and can tell you about of real concern) is in what I can hear and appreciate: sonically and musically. And in this way as in so many others, the Golden Cherry amplifiers I received and unpacked for review (back in March 2016) startled me in several very specific ways, which I know you will find interesting if not unheard of before. First, the size of each Golden Cherry is diminutive by comparison to most every other audiophile accepted amplifier every built. Not much bigger than a quad of bricks, and about half the weight, you just don’t expect gear this small to pack both punch and finesse … at the same level as the great names I have been dropping, above! If your world audiophile view is that some gear just shines, no matter how old it’s design so long as everything is at or near factory specifications, then you may find yourself at a crossroads, as I did, here. When hearing the Golden Cherries for the first time … or for the 400th time ... the audio and musical experience are outstanding. And what’s truly amazing is to sit and listen to a wealth of favorite musical sources (and beyond) through amps of this particular level of design prowess, regardless of brand, as I did over two years during the review of these tiny gems.


When I first talked to Tommy back in 2015, he was thrilled about what he was creating: amps that really set the benchmark much, much higher, sonically and musically; especially for Class-D amps which were (and are) often thought of differently and not always with affection. Digital is not a bad word. But there are as many types of digital as there are types of analog; all based on different circuit designs, choice of parts, and a lot of listening and adjustment over time to get it right (or terribly wrong). There are no shortcuts. So when I first received and set-up the GOLDEN Cherry amps in my mastering studio, a large 2-story vaulted room where I had many speakers and amps on-hand to make review comparisons (see photos), I was simply unprepared for how small, well thought out the Golden Cherry design was, and which also delivered marvelous, musical listening from moment one. Consider that most amplifiers of any power and sound quality are usually fairly large and heavy, like a KRELL, Threshold, or Pass Labs ingot; you need two people to lift the things - minimum. But the Golden Cherry Amps were tiny … minuscule, really, by comparison. And as you can see, each Mono block - made up of the amplifier and it’s separately housed power supply - were easily able to sit on less than a square foot of surface area, yet produced over 450 watts (into 4 ohms) of clear clean colorless distortion-free amplification. ZOWEEEEEEE!!!

It’s fair to say that compared to most other amps I had on hand, including a few audiophile favorites, like:


Crown Macro Reference (1992 / 650 watts Stereo)

Carver Black Magic 20 Mono blocks (2013 / Tube 40 Watts)

Mesa Boogie Baron (1996 / Tube Stereo Mono block 160 Watts)

McIntosh MC2102 (Stereo - 200 watt Tube)

McIntosh MC2301 (Mono block 400 watt tube)

  1. -     Rogers High Fidelity EHF-100 Mk. 2 (2016 Tube Stereo - 65 Watts)

  2. -     Mark Levinson No. 53 (2005 / 150 Watt Quad Balanced Mono block)

  3. -     Dynaco ST-70 Mark III (2018 / 70 Watt Stereo Balanced input driver)


The Golden Cherry amps were simply as good as the very best individual attributes associated with any of these very different brands listed above while distinguishing itself through sounding so very transparent, direct, immediate, and precise that they were my go to for both audio production work on my audiophile label, Epiphany Recordings Ltd., as well as for pure and simple listening enjoyment. Countless hours of movies, 4k & HD streaming videos, analog records played on high-end tables (including the ELP all-analog Laser-based turntable), reel-to-reel analog master tapes, video games, SACDs, CDs, BDs, you name it . . . my first choice for listening became the Golden Cherries!

CONCLUSIONS


If you really feel that there is something out there that can light your fire on an audio level, then you have finally arrived at that product – an amplifier of distinction, and here’s why. I’ve been listening to and making fine recordings for many decades, now. And I continue to passionately listen to and review all manner of audio and video equipment so as to know what looks and sounds the very best on this planet. The MEGAschino amplifier by Digital Amplifier Company is one of those rare cases where time, money, expertise, and sonic truth have been brought together in pursuit of forging a new level of emotional connection to your favorite music. It is not often that I go from reviewing an already stunning performer (the Golden Cherry Amps, which were an all out winner for an 18 month review period and against some fierce competition) to an outright benchmark maker. Tommy O’Brien’s newest achievement in Class-D amplification is a total success; both as a continuation of his already great sounding audio design work but also from the standpoint of making great sound available at an affordable price without compromise.


Regardless of whether you are powering a small bookshelf or nearfield speaker or going for a full-sized tower loudspeaker with many, many drivers or even an electrostatic, panel, or ribbon speaker (with their low and varying impedances), the Cherry amplifiers (of which I closely reviewed the Golden Cherry for 18 months and then it’s successor: the MEGAschino for another month) are an audio engine that can power your ride through your many favorite songs, albums, and daily audio desires like few others. And whether listening to classical, jazz, rock, pop, country, soundtrack, videogame, or streaming video / movie, the Cherry amps have an uncanny ability to roll with the music. This brings out the emotions at every turn of a song, allowing you to feel so much more than when just listening on good or even very good gear and speakers. The use of components that are at heart designed and built by hand (or very nearly) offers more possibility than most would believe one can experience simply through listening. When this level of commitment is lavished on (re)creating music as though it were live, something happens to our appreciation of life that is simply ineffable – yet it is the foundation of our being human: Emotions.

While many fine products will no doubt come my way for both review and enjoyment, I can honestly say I look forward to my next opportunity to review and compare Tommy O’Brien’s latest outstanding work against other amplifiers, DACs, Pre-Amps, and the like. I suspect if I given a choice on a personal and professional level, I’ll find it difficult not to recommend that anyone and everyone even remotely thinking they already have the best amplifier in their systems … please give the GOLDEN and the MEGAschino an audition, quick or remain in true ignorant bliss of what your music can really sound like. These two stolid leaders of sonic immutability offer us amazing levels of musical detail, sonic spectacle, and emotional depth through the careful transformation of any source into a sound we can hear and appreciate, fully. When alternating back and forth between any two devices under test or review, there is always one that stands out, even if only subtly. Here, Digital Amplifier Co. has distinguished itself in my ears as being one of only a few companies that continue to set the bar so high, year after year, that others will have to copy his work in order just to keep up.


~      ~      ~

3)        DETAIL & REFINEMENT – One thing that we all demand (as well seasoned listeners) is a high degree of audibility of fine details. Anyone can hum along with the radio, but to find the intricate qualities of fine work easily heard in a high end playback system takes finesse and patients. So when I’m listening to Barbra Streisand’s “The Broadway Album”, Track 1 – Putting It Together is a wonderful opportunity to drink up the layers and layers of detail built into the superstar’s album mix. Voices come from all different directions but each has an individual and precisely recognizable sound of it’s own, and it occupies it’s own space. Adding the orchestra, kit(s), synths, and finally Barbra herself … gives the equivalent of a 3D Stereo sound illusion (over two-channels) where you are inside the production. And you know that the reason this album sounds so fantastic is because only the best sounding work will do for a Streisand production. Here, as heard on and through the MEGAschino with a variety of speakers, she would be proud that this album reveals such a sublimely intricate journey which plays it’s best because you can hear all the details they worked in so carefully; clearly and without obvious adulteration.


4)        PITCH & TIMBRE – As a musician, being exactly on pitch is critical to playing the music correctly; whatever pitch that may be. And our ability to draw enjoyment through listening to music is increased when we can hear an instrument’s individuality, especially when heard in a band or orchestra setting. Those qualities of distinctiveness are on display only when their individual timbres (the precise balances of each instrument’s overtone structure) can be heard precisely and free from noticeable distortion. So it was quite a surprise when I spun through my library to find “The Nightfly” with Donald Fagen (48/24 HDTracks.com) and how beautifully clear, clean and focused the sound is – ravishing, really; revealing wonderfully vivid orchestration and sublime mixing to create a tapestry worthy of close inspection and repeated listening’s. The synths in the “B” section really lock into place and have such honesty that they make me feel like I’m in the studio with them. That is a rare level of precision and palpability afforded by the exceptionally well considered and voiced circuit designs of over 30 years musical experience making Class D amplifiers.


5)        DYNAMICS – While seemingly easy to portray, dynamic changes from loud to soft are often taken for granted in our world of compressed streaming audio. But when it comes to communicating emotions through sound, music makes it’s living being dynamic: big changes, small shadings, loud, soft, and everything in between has to be reproduced properly in order to fully communicate the performance of the musicians and their emotional intents. MEGAschino may very well be the most dynamic amplifier ever built – ousting the Golden Cherry as my favorite in this area or reproduction. While playing exceptionally loud and clean is critical, so is getting the tiny graduations right, as well. Again, when playing highly revealing material or just listening as background, I find that the MEGAschino sounds louder than most amps, even when it is playing quietly. This I attribute to the exceptionally quiet noise floor (120 dB) that allows even the most subtle dynamic information to come through unimpeded --- and it is revelatory when playing great material, such as Sir Adrian Boult conducting some of his “Concert Favorites” on Chesky Records (CD & CR53), which I remastered from the 1st generation 1/4" Decca/Reader’s Digest original master tapes. The MEGAschino revealed the same explosive dynamics I remember when listening directly off that master tape – a previously unparalleled experience, and one ... I will never forget!