Spread Spectrum Technologies Ampzilla 2000 Power Amplifiers
When I reviewed the original Ampzilla 2000 monoblock power amplifers in February, 2009, I reported on a very good sounding, well made component that had just enough of its own character that it was highly recommended but not without reservations. In hindsight now, comparing its sound to several other currently made amplifiers, its particular character was quite small and more acceptable than the competition.
The new $8495/pair Ampzilla 2000 sees an increase of power from 200 to 300 Watts per channel, while the weight is still very manageable at 52 pounds per chassis. I have had Class D amps that run warmer at low volume levels. When used at high volume levels, the heatsinks get warm. The permanently attached power cord eliminates the option to spend a lot of time and money experimenting with after-market power cords. There are RCA and XLR inputs and 2 pairs of speaker binding posts on each amplifier. There is no remote trigger, and I use a PS Audio Quintet to turn on and turn off the amplifiers remotely. The design is solid industrial but not at all cheap looking. Almost the entire front half of the chassis is taken up by a massive 1200VA power transformer.
My pair (owned, not borrowed or loaned) has a black faceplate and grey chassis. I was a little concerned about the large reflective “A” logo on the front panel. You know, the big Star Trek-looking insignia. This is not a problem, eyesore, intrusion, or distraction. With the amplifiers near the speakers, the reflection from this logo is just black and is only noticeable if I look directly at them. I actually like it. So no worries on that score.
Other components on hand during the audition included a SOTA Cosmos IV vacuum turntable with Triplanar VII u2 tonearm, Basis 2500 Signature turntable with Vector 4 and MØRCH DP-8 tonearms, Miyajima Kansui and Shilabe phono cartridges, Benz LP-S, ZYX Omega-S and UNIverse phono cartridges, Whest PS.30RDT Special Edition phono preamplifier, Bob’s Devices CineMag 1131 “Blue” step-up transformer, Mark Levinson 326S preamplifier with phono, Prism Orpheus Digital Interface and Berkeley Alpha DAC Series 2 with custom Windows 7 computer/music server, KingRex UC384 24bit 384kHz USB to SPDIF digital to digital converter, YG Acoustics Kipod II Signature Main Modules speakers, Dali Mentor 5 speakers (from the home theater system), and Gallo TR-3 subwoofers. Power amplifiers included Mark Levinson 532H, Modwright KWA 150 Signature Edition, Manley Snappers, and Classe CT-M300s. Interconnects and speaker cables are mostly Mogami. All front end components receive their AC power from a PS Audio AV-5000 power conditioner which is connected to the wall power with either PS Audio PerfectWave AC-10 power cord or Shunyata Python CX power cord. Other Shunyata Python CX and Black Mamba CX power cords are used elsewhere in the system, and I use Jerry’s DIY power cords on the music computer and Levinson preamp. A PS
Audio Quintet is normally used for the power amplifiers.
The small character I noticed in the original version of the Ampzilla 2000 is gone. That trace of forwardness in the upper midrange has been completely and utterly banished. With a signal/noise spec of -120dB, excellent low level resolution is assured. Given that the main speakers used for this review were the absolutely state-of-the-art, laboratory grade YG Acoustics Kipod II Signatures, I offer the following:
When I hear any sense of uneven frequency balance, where one part of the audible frequency spectrum is either forward or recessed, I will let you know.
When I hear any hint of uneven harmonic balance, such as a “thin” or threadbare sound in one part of the overall sound, for example, a rich and dense midrange with a thin treble, I will let you know.
When I hear complex music become congested or confused, I will let you know.
When I hear the soundstage offer less than outstanding width, depth, and height, I will let you know.
When I hear the sound field miss the ambience and overall size of the recording venue, I will let you know.
When I hear individual performers become flat “cardboard cutouts” or vague sources of sound, I will let you know.
When I hear these amplifiers have any sense of the negative connotations of “solid-state sound”, I will let you know.
In other words, when I hear these remarkable amplifiers doing anything – and I mean anything – wrong, I will let you know.
Hear ye, Hear ye! This is a game changing product. Vacuum tubes sound nice, but you will hear in short order how that “tube sound” really is a form of distortion that colors the music, giving it a false golden hue, obscuring and coloring upper frequency detail, and of course, reducing the resolution and impact in the bass. ALL of the sweet detail in the midrange and treble that we hear from good tube amplifiers is fully present with the Ampzillas, but without unwanted and incorrect additional baggage. Give these SST amps 200-300 hours of break in and your tube amps will be looking for a new home. And if you are like me, you will not miss wondering if your tube amps are going to blow a tube when you turn them on, harming your anticipated listening session. You will not miss that!
As I typed the preceeding paragraph I realized that the natural comparison for the solid-state Ampzilla amplifiers is not to other solid-state amplifiers, but to vacuum tube amplifiers with their natural and lifelike sound. We take for granted the tubes’ wonderful harmonic depth and realistic presentation of voices and acoustic instruments, while accepting their almost universal weaknesses in the bass and upper treble. Eliminate those weaknesses, plus those noted above, and you have the Ampzillas.
I am using my system much more since I installed the Ampzilla amplifiers several months ago. I don’t worry about “wasting” costly vacuum tubes with background music. I don’t worry about the electric bill with these running all day because they use only about 0.6 Amps (each chassis) at low volume levels. Compare that to the Parasound JC-1 which draws 4.8 Amps at LOW bias, or Krell FPB-300cx at 4.5 Amps. And most of all, I am not thinking about my next amplifier! The amplifiers have operated perfectly without any faults or strange behavior since installed.
The Spread Spectrum Technologies Ampzilla 2000 power amplifiers are the most neutral and enjoyable sounding amps I have heard in my systems. My perfect amplifier would offer faultless sound, be affordable and easy to install, not heat the room, have no ongoing maintenance, and be inexpensive to operate. I believe that amplifier is in my listening room right now! If you are shopping in the $20k plus range, you will ignore these no matter how good they sound. For the rest of us, these are happy days! Live long and prosper.
Trinaural Processor Review (Original)
Having had the Trinaural Processor in my system for a few months now, I figured it was time to write a review to let people know the good, bad, and otherwise interesting aspects of this piece of equipment. As a dealer for this product, it would be foolish of me to think I had no bias. However, I am a firm believer in „full disclosure“ and believe that my long-term credibility and viability as a dealer depends on that. The opinions and observations I express here are strictly my own and may or may not align exactly with that of Spread Spectrum Technologies. For those that want the abbreviated summary up front, here it is:
Pro: Without a doubt, the best sound I have ever heard regardless of price. Significantly added more width, depth, and clarity to an already excellent system.
Cons: Takes a relatively long time to adjust to the „new“ sound. Best performance requires a center channel equal or better than the side channels.
I first heard the Trinaural Processor at the 2003 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. After a few short-term listening sessions, my initial opinion was that it was OK but not fantastic. Luckily for James Bongiorno, I was not the judge at CES and the product went on to win the „Best of High-End Audio“ product award given at the show. I then heard the Trinaural a few months later at the home of Luther Ward (http://www.wardsweb.org/audio/index_audio.html). Luther is a fantastic guy, has extreme amounts of audio knowledge, and is a good friend of James Bongiorno (and thus had a Trinaural before anyone else in the world). Instead of $16k in speakers (three RM/Xs) and $20k in electronics (five Ampzilla monoblocs, Theadra pre-amp, etc.) as demonstrated at CES, Luther had the Trinaural plugged into JBL bookshelf speakers and a few hundred dollars of vintage electronics. I was a little surprised, but it actually sounded quite good. In this system, the sound was MUCH better with the Trinaural added. This audition definitely got my interest up so that I could not wait until I had a Trinaural in my own test system.
The first production Trinaural Processors finally shipped in late May. I wasted no time in integrating it into my system. Before I go too far with this review, I want to point out two very important things:
1) The term „Processor“ is really a misnomer. Everything the Trinaural does is strictly in the Analog domain. The Trinaural does no/zero/zilch/nada digital processing at all. As far as I know, it is currently the only Analog two channel to 3.1 channel converter in the world. Comparing the Trinaural to any of the digital processors that I have heard is definitely an apples to bananas comparison. Most of the digital processors sound very good when you first use them since they sound interesting/different. They also give depth/ambiance to lower end systems that previously had none. However, once you get accustomed to the sound, you will likely start to notice that there is much less detail in the music (especially with something like 2 channel SACD). This is strictly a fact of life associated with the quality of the DSP chips used. Since the Trinaural is strictly Analog, there are none of these problems.
2) Speaker/room set-up is absolutely critical to getting the most out of the Trinaural. Some balancing and moving of speakers will be required for 99% of the Home Theater systems the Trinaural will be put into. Since there is no digital delay (no digital anything, actually), the front three speakers will need to be set up on an equidistant arc as shown:
I started the process by putting the Trinaural into my standard demo Stereo/Home Theater system. The front half of this system consisted of VMPS RM40s, LRC, Ampzilla monoblocs, Marsh P2000B pre-amp, and a Pioneer Elite SACD/DVD-A/CD player.
When using the Trinaural, I had to bring my Left/Right speaker out just a little from their normal position so that everything was perfectly equidistant. I then used an SPL meter to make sure the balance on my pre-amp was still correct. I then hooked the Trinaural into the path and used the SPL meter to balance the Center with the Left/Right (that is, after I was able to get the ground loop out of my system caused by adding the Trinaural into the chain ;-). After about an hour of moving, cabling, and AC detective work, I was finally ready to listen.
When I first heard the sound, it immediately reminded me of CES. It was still a little different but not fantastic. The center channel seemed a little hot and the side channels seemed beamy. However, I had been told by James Bongiorno to expect this and that it was 100% normal. However, another thing I immediately noticed was that I could distinctly hear more of the music. This wasn’t just a relatively small difference like you would expect when changing cables/interconnect, this was major difference like changing speakers!!! Background harmonies that I typically struggle to hear on good systems (or can’t hear at all on lesser systems), were fully present from first to last note. Wow, that was interesting. Since I knew that it would take my ear/brain a while to adjust to the „new“ sound (James suggests up to two weeks of periodic listening), I sat in my listening chair and casually listened/read a book for a few hours.
After about an hour or so, the center channel finally started to loose its perceived „loudness/brightness“. After about another two hours, the beamyness of the Left/Right speakers started to subside and the space between the speakers started to fill in. At this point, I would say that the overall „enjoyment“ of the system was about the same as when I was set up for Stereo. Some things were better (could hear more music), some things were about the same (soundstage), and some things were slightly worse (voices had slightly less warmth). I also learned at this point that I could move virtually the entire width of the Left/Right speakers with almost no change in the sound. The idea of a single sweet spot 6 inches wide directly between the speakers is a thing of the past. For about a 3 foot area I could hear virtually no difference in imaging and even outside that the difference was amazingly small.
After a good nights sleep and another few hours of listening, things changed even more. The continuous soundstage now started to have more depth. While the RM40s are no slouch in this area to begin with, I now felt like it was three times the depth I was used too. At this point, the „enjoyment“ factor was definitely tilted in favor of the Trinaural. What was even more amazing was that after another day of listening the sound seemed to change again!!! Our brains are definitely a very funny thing. By day 3 the soundstage had spread beyond the speakers. At this point I can truthfully say that I had never heard any system, at any price, that sounded as good as what I was hearing (and I have heard 100s of systems ranging from a few hundred dollars to a a few hundred thousand dollars). Was it perfect? No. Voices were still a little thin but all the other attributes more than made up for that fact.
Because of this imperfection, I decided to take the next step. Since I did not have any demos scheduled for a few days, I decided to totally re-organize the room for an absolute optimal Trinaural setup. My best guess as to why voices sounded a little thin was that I was used to listening to vocals being produced by a total of eight Neo Panels (4 each on the Left and Right speaker) but now I was listen only via one (the single Neo panel in the LRC). Simple problem, simple solution. Use an RM40 for my center channel:
When I hit play with this system, all I could do was sit and listen in amazement. Playing Mahler’s 6th-Tragic by Zander was truly amazing. I felt like I was sitting in the third row at the symphony. Width, depth, and clarity were like nothing I had ever heard before. A jazz CD like Trio Jeepy by Branford Marsalis is absolutely amazing since each instrument (sax, drums, and upright bass) is rendered by a separate speaker. Male and female voices were now stunning. Natalie McMasters and Dianna Krall were both breathtaking. Having had the opportunity to sit in on actual recording studio sessions of some of my test CDs, there were actually a few cases in which I thought this system sounded better then when I listened to the performance live in the studio!!!!!
The funny thing is that if anyone were to walk into the room just then, they would not have enjoyed it nearly as much as I was. I could just imagine someone saying „The emperor has no cloths!!“ The fact was, that at that point, the way I heard music was physically and psychologically different than anyone else. As such, I can only imagine what the naysayers on the forums are going to say about this product (at least those that have not heard it themselves). My guess is that ultimately someone will have to take „before“ and „after“ brain scans for most people to understand and believe the actual ear/brain changes going on. The best thing I can associate this with is the Atkins diet. After a few weeks of not eating carbohydrates, your body will actually change the process it uses for storing and burning energy (a physical change you can verify by urinating on a special paper to see if fat burning ketones are present in your system).
After all my ravings on how wonderful the Trinaural sounds, the obvious question is „What negatives did you find?“. I would like to say absolutely none but unfortunately I cannot. I did notice a few things that people should be aware of:
1) After listening to a significant number of CDs/SACDs, I have noticed that a small percentage of songs (less than 5%) sound a little congested/flat in the center channel. Using a friends demo tracks (he owns a recording studio), we were able to surmise that the use of digitally mastered delay seems to be the cause. What is this? Sometimes in the recording process the mixer only has a mono source of an instrument. If they want the instrument to be presented hard right or left but also have some width to the music, they will digitally copy the mono source and then delay it by 5 to 15 ms in the opposite speaker (this „trick“ is not considered an industry best practice). I have no idea how/why but the Trinaural tries to pull both images to the center which can then overpower the melody. Poor recording technique is more to blame than the Trinaural but this can still be a little frustrating especially if Sting’s new CD is your favorite.
2) There seems to be an ever so slight loss of recorded echo/reverb. On Natalie McMaster’s SACD „In My Hands“ tract 10, I can clearly hear a trailing room echo when listening in Stereo (i.e., she was recording in a large/live room). This echo is significantly fainter when using the Trinaural. I have been unable to determine if this „echo“ is being filtered out or just being covered up by the additional „music“ that can now be heard. So far, this has been the only song on any of the CDs/SACDs that I have listened to that I have noticed this.
3) There are a couple of cosmetic idiosyncrasies with the unit (but they do not effect the music at all). The parts manufacturers somehow got the blueprints upside down so the Left/Right switch used for balancing the speakers is backwards, the Right input jacks are white and the Left input jacks are red, and the balanced input plugs are upside down. All these things only come into play on initial set-up and do not effect the performance in any way.
4) As my experience showed, the center channel is now the most important speaker in the system. If you have fantastic Left/Right speakers but a poor center channel, you will likely be unhappy with the Trinaural. The center channel needs to be at least as good if not better than the side channels. If the center channel is only „as good“ or does not have the full frequency response of the Left/Right channels, the use of a separate subwoofer is advisable. The Trinaural has subwoofer outputs for this situation.
5) The final obvious negative is that it takes time to get used to. Switching back and forth between Stereo and Trinaural is not advisable due to the ear/brain effect. As such, there is no „easy“ way to switch to Stereo with the Trinaural. However, the Trinaural does have a second set of bypass inputs that allow you to easily hook up your multi-channel SACD or Home Theater processor. I noticed no obvious negative effect when listening to multi-channel SACDs or watching movies through the Trinaural.
The Trinaural Processor is a revolutionary product with the potential to break through the „sonic barrier“ that most high-end two channel systems are approaching today. The Trinaural is capable of delivering more musical clarity, depth, and soundstage than I previously thought possible.
So the real question is „Who should buy this?“.
1) For an Audiophile with a dedicate room who does not watch movies, the Trinaural Processor is an absolute no-brainer. For many audiophiles that already have great systems, incremental 1% changes often cost a great deal of money. For these individuals, the Trinaural is a revolutionary product that will give them a 10%-15% increase in performance for less than they would spend on a single speaker cable (assuming they have an extra speaker or two stashed away somewhere as many do ;-).
2) The Trinaural is also an easy choice for Home Theater enthusiasts that already have a great center channel but only moderate/good front L/R speakers. The overall benefit could be greater with a Trinaural than spending equal or even significantly more money on the L/R speakers.
3) Individuals with front speakers that have good timbre but may not image overly well can greatly benefit from the Trinaural (in fact, the relative performance increase seems to be greater for lower-end speakers than the higher-end speakers as demonstrated by Luther’s system). Someone just starting out in audio may even want to use the Trinaural as the core component and upgrade around it.
And of course the opposite question, „Who should avoid the Trinaural?“
1) If you currently have fantastic L/R speakers and you have no desire to get a center channel (or a better center channel in the case of many combination Stereo/HT systems), then the Trinaural may not be a fit for you. The center channel is extremely important when using the Trinaural and will dictate the overall performance of the system.
2) If you only use integrated amps without pre-outs and separate pre-inputs, then the Trinaural will not work. The Trinaural must be placed in the path between the pre-amp and the amp.
3) If you routinely have people over to your home to demonstrate your „fantastic sounding system“, then the lack of a Stereo bypass might be an issue. Once you are used to the Trinaural, what you hear (great image, soundstage, depth, etc.) and what they hear (hot center channel with beamy side channels) will be very different. However, by careful configuration you can use the bypass inputs to allow for regular Stereo for when your friends come by. Therefore, this is more of a convenience/planning issue than a real limitation.
Happy listening. Julian Turner
Printed with permission
Sedona Sky Sound.
Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10/30/03 Review originally written: 07/16/03
„the audiophile voice“
– Ampzilla 2000 Testbericht –
Spread Spectrum Technologies Inc.
Reviewer: Anthony H. Cordesman
„The Ampzilla 2000 is one of the most dynamic amplifiers that I have heard in terms of musically natural power in handling orchestral climaxes and its ability to reproduce truly loud rock. It is also exceptional in its ability to accurately reproduce musically natural dynamic changes even in very complex music and at very high power levels.“
Anthony H. Cordesman
Testbericht in Auszügen… (Übersetzung folgt)
James helped pioneer the high-quality, high-powered transistor amp some 30 years ago. … I used designs of his like the Dynaco 400, his original Sumo amplifiers, and the original Ampzilla. All were designs that moved the state of the art forward at a time when most solid-state amplifiers had serious sonic problems.
It may not have changed my psyche or brought me a sonic revolution, but it is an exceptionally good and very musical amplifier.
… „The Ampzilla 2000 is one of the most dynamic amplifiers that i have heard in terms of musically natural power in handling orchestral climaxes and its ability to reproduce truly loud rock. It is also exceptional in its ability to accurately reproduce musically natural dynamic changes even in very complex music and at very high power levels.“
… Moreover, the Ampzilla performs equally well with highly efficient speakers; unlike some transistor power amplifiers, its dynamics are as clean at low power levels with simple loads as at high power levels with difficult loads.
… The Ampzilla 2000 did an outstanding job of this with my favorite Telarc and Reference Recording’s bass spectaculars, with the demanding climax of Saint Saens‘ Third Symphony and with the more complex passages of Mahler’s Eigth. My son informs me Ampzilla 2000 does equally well with electronic synthesizer and bass guitar, his music.
… I found the Ampzilla 2000 to have a slightly warmer timbre that I felt was a bit more musically realistic than the timbre of the Pass X 600…
The Ampzilla 2000 did, however, produce excellent resolution of percussion (including the usual Telarc and Reference Recording bass drum sounds) and very good articulation of the bass from complex organ music.
… I was impressed with the compatibility of the Ampzilla 2000. It easily drove any speaker I used it with…
… it also worked fine with all of my speaker cables as well.
The Sensible Sound magazine #97 Sept/Oct – Trinaural Processor review –
Spread Spectrum Technologies Inc.
Reviewer: David Rich