Tonally the 8008 hews to a neutral line, but does cast music in a warmer, mellower light—one with slightly softer corners and edges. I noted the same rounded, somewhat laid-back temperament listening to a variety of vocalists like Jennifer Warnes, soprano Anna Netrebko, and jazz artist Holly Cole. With classical music, such as Vaughan Williams’ The Wasps and Elgar’s Enigma Variations from Reference Recordings, it was as if I were sitting a row or two further back from the stage than I’m used to with my reference system.
The 8008 possesses a far better than average dimensional component, particularly the front-to-back perspective, and cleanly reveals the layering of an orchestra on stage. Compared with the upper echelon of amplifiers like MBL and Vitus Audio there is some lateral constriction of images and a slightly lowered ceiling over the performance. For instance, as I listened to Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, as open a recording as any I know, the 8008 just missed reproducing the full measure of treble air—a minor demerit overall.
A tight, bouncy bass vamp introduces Holly Cole’s cover of “I Can See Clearly,” and through the Aragon I could hear (clearly) a sure-fisted grip brimming with bass-range pace, pitch, and timbre specifics. On full view were the wing-like flutter of the strings, the instrument’s deep, dark woody resonance, plus details that included the unique transient signatures of the player’s fingers moving up and down the neck of the fretless bass (compared to the more precisely pitched, fretted neck of most electric basses). Overall the Aragon’s reproduction of bass is not as locked down as well-executed Class D or its hybrid Class D variants—a sound that at least some of my colleagues feel is unnaturally controlled. The Aragon has a more classic Class AB bloom, just a little looser with a bit more give. For some this might mean a hint of reduced definition, but to my ears it represents a very natural and realistic portrayal of low bass character.
Timbre, even during the softest orchestral pianissimos, is authentically reproduced by the Aragon. A great example is the Met/Levine Pictures at an Exhibition [DG] from 1993. It’s a wonderful and magisterial performance, not least for the sonic fireworks during “The Great Gate of Kiev” finale. (Perhaps too plodding for some but I’m a sucker for the pageantry.) In this instance I refer to the marvelous wood and nasality of the bassoon. It’s a difficult and complex voice to reproduce, but then so is the transient string detail and decaying resonances of the concert harp towards the end of Mussorgsky’s chestnut. Following the inner details of symphonic recordings of this quality was a distinct strength of the 8008.
In resolving power, the ability to disappear from the electronic chain and reveal a performance in all its transparency, the 8008 closes the gap but can’t quite match the aforementioned top-tier MBL and Vitus amps. There’s a very light veil over the stage that slightly pinches resolution and dulls the brighter sparks of transients. For solo piano it means lightning-quick arpeggio lines could be a touch cleaner, and during the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto the orchestra could have a bit more clarity and color.
The fullest realization of an amp’s performance largely depends on the company it keeps. Systems form complex relationships, and though the Aragon may not be outlandishly expensive by today’s standards a less than excellent chain of associated components will hamstring it. This was very evident during my observations of soundstage dimension and imaging. The Aragon raises its game driving well-tuned high-performance speakers, such as the Franco Serblin Accordo (Issue 239) and a reference favorite, the ATC SCM20SL. The former is a two-way bass-reflex design, the latter a larger, two-way acoustic-suspension design. Any competently engineered amplifier will drive them both satisfactorily, but achieving their full potential is another story. The Aragon truly woke up these speakers, allowing them to reproduce the finer points of micro-dynamic gradations and transient information and to further develop interior detail and dimension. For percussion this can be a revelation as the high-pitched rattle of a snare and the reverberant bounce of a family of tom-toms suddenly flower to life with greater tonal color and textural detail.
I cannot overstate the transformative nature that occurs in an audio system with a well-executed amp like the Aragon 8008. On the one hand, the 8008 will expose, even magnify once-buried system weaknesses. On the other, a good system can morph into a great one. So, raise a glass and give a hearty “welcome back” to an original. The 8008 has made lightning strike a second time.
SPECS & PRICING
Power output: 200Wpc into 8 ohms (400Wpc into 4 ohms)
Inputs: Unbalanced RCA, and balanced XLR
Dimensions: 16" x 7" x 19"
Weight: 63 lbs.
Indy Audio Labs, LLC
5225 Exploration Drive
Indianapolis, IN 46241
Sota Cosmos Series IV turntable; SME V tonearm; Sumiko Palo Santos, Air Tight PC-3; Parasound JC 3 phono; mbl C31, Simaudio 260D CD players; mbl C51 and Vitus Audio RI-100 integrated amplifiers; Synergistic Element Tungsten, Wireworld Platinum Series 7 interconnect & speaker cables; AudioQuest Coffee USB & Firewire, & Audience au24se phono cable & power cords, Synergistic Tesla, Wireworld Platinum Series 7 power cords.