At this point in my listening journey with the Eclipse monos, I was generally extremely pleased with the ultra-high performance of these new amps. My initial trepidation, based upon my experiences with earlier versions of the Atlas, gave way to pure enjoyment. I could, and did, listen for hours on end without fatigue. You know you are on to something good when a new piece of gear prompts you to pull out more and more of your favorite music.
Straining to find any potential weaknesses of these amps, I can only come up with two caveats: (1) While the soundstage offered by the Atlas Eclipse is very wide and deep (if the recording permits), it may not present the last 5-10% of depth offered by the very best, high-power all-tube amplifiers; and (2) while the extended high-frequencies of these amps usually opened a world of air, nuance, and fine detail on the recordings I played, on occasional hot recordings I can imagine that some listeners might prefer an amplifier with a seemingly more forgiving (i.e., rolled-off) high frequency response. In my view, I accept that all recordings are not optimal or reference quality, and I appreciate all audio equipment, whether tube, solid-state, or hybrid, that allows the free flow of everything contained on the recording, without omission or emphasis of any part of the frequency spectrum. In my experience, problematical recordings always sound problematical, regardless of the playback equipment in use. In truth, during the vast majority of my listening with the Atlas Eclipse monos, most often I was blown away by the air, detail, and sense of space offered by these amplifiers.
To get a full take on the sound quality of the Eclipse version of the Atlas, I listened to a wide range of other recordings. I can sum up that listening experience by highlighting my listening notes. Curious as to how the Eclipse would sound with solo and massed string instruments, I turned to Jacqueline du Pré playing the Haydn Cello Concerto in C (EMI). In addition to beautiful playing by du Pré, this recording offers a very wide stage and sumptuous cello tone. The Eclipse monos did not disappoint. If anything, the soundstage seemed even wider than I recalled. Her cello sounded rich and three-dimensional, as it would when heard live; again, no thinning-out of instruments was taking place. In particular, the entrance of the cello in the second movement was exquisite; the Eclipse amps allowed this music to flow seamlessly and with great delicacy. The massed violins also sounded resinous and lifelike, while orchestral depth on this recording was excellent.
Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 with Zubin Mehta and the L.A. Philharmonic (Decca) was equally rewarding. With the Atlas Eclipse monos in the system, the huge string sections all sounded natural and the horns soared above the orchestra and through the room. The double basses sounded deep and articulate, with no unnatural heaviness. Simply put, this is a stirring performance of a great symphony; the Atlas amps did not editorialize or get in the way of the music.
I didn’t limit my evaluation to jazz and classical music. Female and male voices were reproduced by the Atlas Eclipse amps with pristine clarity and definition. By way of example, I started listening to a few songs from the Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me record (Capitol/Blue Note), but ended up playing the whole album. On the Hank Williams’ classic “Cold Cold Heart,” Norah is serenading in your room while the stand-up bass accompaniment is well-controlled and defined. Complete transparency is the order of the day.
Moreover, the Eclipse versions of the Atlas capture all of the rhythm and energy of rock and roll and electronic music. I was fortunate to see Neil Young reunited with his old band, Crazy Horse, a few years ago at the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco. This great combination of musicians was both loose and tight at the same time, not unlike the Rolling Stones or the old Rod Stewart bands. This version of Neil Young is much more rock-and-roll than his country-oriented albums (which are also fantastic). I had almost forgotten that aside from his composing and singing, Neil Young is a spectacular guitarist. His extended riffs with Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten blew me away at the festival.
Much of this Neil Young with Crazy Horse excitement is captured on Young’s second studio album, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (Reprise; there are also quality reissues). The Atlas Eclipse amps allowed me to play this album, especially the extended cuts “Down by the River” and “Cowgirl in the Sand,” at concert-like levels, without strain or compression. Again, kudos to the Maggie 20.7s, all the better when (very judiciously) paired with the REL 212/SE subwoofers. Because it’s a studio album, Neil Young’s voice sounds cleaner and more detailed than at a live festival performance. And the extended guitar riffs, with the Eclipse monos in the system, sound as gritty and electrifying as when heard live. I couldn’t help but play some of the songs more than once.