Audio Alchemy DDP-1 Preamp/DAC/Headphone Amp, DPA-1 Stereo Power Amp, and DPA-1M Monoblock Power Amp

Value City

Equipment report
Categories:
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Digital-to-analog converters
|
Products:
Audio Alchemy DDP-1,
Audio Alchemy DPA-1,
Audio Alchemy DPA-1M
Audio Alchemy DDP-1 Preamp/DAC/Headphone Amp, DPA-1 Stereo Power Amp, and DPA-1M Monoblock Power Amp

Looking next at the DPA-1, this stereo power amplifier delivers 125Wpc into 8 ohms and 200Wpc into 4 ohms. The front panel offers more features than are traditionally found on power amplifiers, including selectable gain (a +6dB button), clipping indicators, a mute button, and soft-start warm-up. Both balanced and unbalanced inputs are provided, and the binding posts are of high quality. A 12V trigger input allows connection to the DDP-1 (or other product with 12V trigger output) so that powering on the DDP-1 automatically powers on the amplifier as well. The DPA-1M is simply a monaural version of the same amplifier, delivering 325W into 8 ohms and 400W into 4 ohms. At the most recent CES, Alchemy announced the DPA-2 stereo amplifier with 250Wpc ($2995). The company also showed the matching PPA-1 phonostage  and the Roon-ready DMP-1 Media Player, both of which are $1795.

The amplifier features a Class A input stage built from discrete FETs, the same topology found in expensive amplifiers. Most amplifiers at this price rely on op-amps rather than discrete circuits. The output stage is Class D, which explains the DPA-1’s compact size and light weight—the amplifier weighs just 16 pounds. Specifically, the output stage is a Hypex UcD module, designed by Bruno Putzeys. The DPA-1M monoblock simply bridges two of these modules for greater output power.

From first impressions, these new products from Audio Alchemy appear to be quite a step up from those of the company’s first incarnation.

Listening
I was eager to review the new generation of Audio Alchemy products for several reasons: I was a fan of the company’s earlier offerings; I have great respect for the design talents of Peter Madnick; and most importantly, I heard the DDP-1 and DPA-1M sound amazingly great in very-high-end systems at several shows. One of those show systems (Munich) featured TAD CR-1 loudspeakers (perhaps the best stand-mount speaker extant) and another (Rocky Mountain) showcased the Alchemy products with the outstanding Wilson Sabrina speakers. The Alchemy gear more than acquitted itself in this illustrious company.

Speaking of illustrious company…I dropped the DDP-1 (with the PS-5 supply) and a pair of the DPA-1M monoblocks into my reference system. After three days of warm-up, I began by listening to LPs, driving the DDP-1’s balanced analog input, with the DPA-1M monoblocks powering Magico Q7 Mk.IIs. I was immediately impressed by the Alchemy’s sonic virtues and ability to communicate the music. The sound was remarkably transparent, clean, dynamic, and resolved by any measure, and even more so considering the components’ reasonable price.

The Alchemy products threw a large and well-defined soundstage, with outstanding depth, dimensionality, and separation of individual instrumental lines. On “Mars” from The Planets (Mehta, LA Philharmonic, Decca), the insistent snare drum that drives the rhythm was well back in the stage, with a real sense of air and space around it. The call-and-response lines of the tenor tuba and trumpet were well differentiated from each other and from the rest of the orchestra. The sense of size and scale was outstanding. Other hallmarks of the products were clarity and transparency—the sense of nothing between you and the music. The soundstage lacked the veiling that diminishes the sense of realism of instruments at the back of the stage.

With smaller-scale music, the Alchemy electronics showed that they were transparent enough to reflect a recording’s spatial character. Intimate music, like Joni Mitchell’s Blue (LP reissue), was rendered with the appropriate sense of presence and immediacy.

Perhaps the most salient characteristics of the DDP-1 and DPA-1M, however, were powerful rhythmic drive, wide dynamic expression, and rock-solid visceral grip in the bottom end. The timpani in “Mars” was taut, powerful, deep, and dynamic. Bass guitar had a solid feel that was simultaneously full and tight, combining timbral warmth and body with outstanding pitch definition and articulation. Kick-drum cut through the mix with a solid impact. Switching to the less powerful DPA-1 stereo amplifier, I heard no reduction in dynamic range, bass control, or bottom-end extension, at least driving the 94dB-sensitive Magico loudspeakers. (Less sensitive speakers may benefit from the monoblocks’ greater output power.) Both the stereo and the mono versions of this amplifier sounded like indefatigable powerhouses, with plenty of dynamic headroom. I never heard the amplifier soften the bass, harden textures, or congeal the soundstage, no matter what the playback level or how demanding the music.

This powerful rhythmic expression wasn’t just the result of terrific bass grip and definition. The DDP-1 and DPA-1 excelled at portraying transient information, such as drums and percussion. The Alchemy electronics were fast and dynamic, qualities that brought to the fore subtle rhythmic nuances by great drummers, allowing their kits to take on a lifelike quality. The contribution from the great Roy Haynes on the track “Windows” from the album Like Minds (Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Dave Holland, and Haynes) was highlighted by the Alchemy electronics. On the track “Helena” from Gary Burton’s Guided Tour, drummer Antonio Sanchez (who, incidentally, composed and performed the soundtrack for the film Birdman, for which he won the Academy Award in 2015) lets loose with a tour de force solo that was well served by the Alchemy’s outstanding speed and immediacy. Similarly, the timbales on the outstanding Mobile Fidelity reissue of Santana’s Abraxis fairly jumped from the soundstage as though they were recorded yesterday.

When listening to LPs, I thought the overall sound was a bit laid-back in the midrange to the lower treble, with vocals slightly recessed in the mix. The DDP-1 and DPA-1Ms were at the other end of the sonic spectrum of electronics that are bright and forward in this region. This was a good sign, because I’ve selected for these qualities in my LP front end (Basis Inspiration turntable with Basis Superarm 9 and Air-Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge), which leans toward a less incisive rendering than many vinyl playback systems. I’m no fan of moving-coil cartridges that are tipped up in the treble or that hype detail. In other words, the DDP-1’s linestage section and the DPA-1M sounded like my LP front-end sounds; the Alchemy electronics managed to pass along the LP playback system’s character with very little editorializing. This level of transparency to sources in a product of this price is remarkable, particularly when considering the quality of the LP front-end and the resolution of the Magico Q7 Mk.II speakers. These reference-grade components would have laid bare any added brightness, hardness, opacity, or reduction in dynamic expression.

When I switched to a digital source (the Aurender W20 via USB) and was listening to the DDP-1 as a DAC and preamplifier, all the virtues mentioned were present, but now the music had greater verve and illumination. The sound was a bit more immediate and upfront, reflecting the DAC’s character compared with that of my turntable. It didn’t take a lot of careful listening to realize that the DDP-1’s DAC is spectacular—highly resolved, open, transparent, and extremely dynamic. The DAC is very lively and incisive, with a full measure of detail. As with the DPA-1 amplifier, the DDP-1’s DAC excels at reproducing transient information, from the micro to the macro. The DAC’s sound can be fine-tuned through filter selection; I opted for Filter 4, which has a more “gentle” sound than the other three.

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