In operation, the Argo is cutting-edge. All manner of settings can be tailored to the listener’s preferences via on-screen menus. Software runs the show, and it’s upgradeable over the Internet. There’s even a built-in headphone amp. (That’s right, the Argo can serve as a $25k can amp!)
Personally, I found the touchscreen’s text too small for these tired eyes. Also, the volume control changed values too slowly for me. Fortunately, all is resolved by using the well-conceived and predictably substantive remote. With it, volume changes are a swift and precise affair. You can even adjust balance from your seat, a detail for which Constellation deserves extra kudos.
Once I started listening to the Argo, it didn’t take long to confirm that Robert’s Performance Series impressions applied fully to this new model. I would only add a one-word summary to his observations: seductive. Despite my current reference electronics being blindingly fast, infinitely extended, and exceedingly dynamic CH Precision components, the Argo completely seduced me. The main reason: a midrange overflowing with beautiful tonality and textural details. For instance, on Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” from the classic Mingus Ah Um, the Argo captures the horn’s spit, polish, and mellifluous tone. On another classic, Belafonte at Carnegie Hall, the Argo pours out the singer’s voice as pure honey. And any orchestral or chamber recording will confirm that the Argo has a special way with strings. From upright bass to pizzicato violins, this amp’s string tone is more than a little reminiscent of the real thing.
Another of the Argo’s seductive qualities is its forgiving nature. Indeed, the first thing that may strike you about its sound is the lack of rough edges. Lately I’ve been traipsing around audio shows with Beck’s Song Reader compilation, mostly because I’m enthralled with the opening track, “Title of this Song.” This is an exquisite recording, but one that can nonetheless become hard in the second half. Not through the Argo. Even on iffy material, this amp will never pierce your ears.
Happily, this roundedness and forgiveness does not extend to rhythms; they are as tight as you could want. Prepare to tap your toes—or to start dancing around the room. Similarly, and not coincidentally, the Argo’s bass has no slop whatsoever, and like the rest of the aural spectrum, it’s full of beautifully complex timbres.
Compared to my reference linestage and power amps, which tote up to about five Argos, the Argo falls short in just a few areas. The integrated amp has less upper-end extension, which you hear as a smaller pillow of air around instruments. (The balanced inputs, by the way, are more open and resolved than the single-ended.) Mind you, the Argo never sounds closed-in or truncated, and rolling off those highs at less than megahertz territory undoubtedly contributes to the amp’s forgiving character. So this is a trade-off. But if you haven’t been exposed to the sense of infinite air that megahertz-bandwidth components convey, then I suspect you won’t feel like you’re missing a thing.
As for dynamics, the Argo is generally very accomplished. To be sure, it cannot match my reference system in terms of “jump,” but it comes surprisingly close. On that dynamic torture-test chestnut, Flim and the BB’s Tricycle (title cut), the Argo’s sudden dynamic bursts evoke nearly the same sense of surprise and impact as my reference setup. On the live Belafonte, the amp also does an exceptional job of conveying the singer’s considerable dynamic range, which he uses to great expressive effect.
Bass is the one area where the Argo trails its otherwise impressive dynamic performance. A timpani strike through the Argo, for instance, won’t deliver the kind of stomach-punch I get from my more powerful reference setup—or that one can reap from Constellation’s own Reference Series. Finally, while the Argo is stellar at imaging and conjuring a wide soundstage, it is less accomplished at portraying depth.
Frankly, I doubt any of these deficiencies will matter to the Argo admirer. After all, they haven’t mattered to fans of the hugely successful Performance Series, with which the Argo shares these traits. Rather, prospective Argo buyers will likely be seduced, as I was, by its gorgeous tone and easy presentation that nonetheless passes along important musical details. These are priceless, classic Constellation qualities and, at $25k, the Argo is now by far the least expensive way to gain access to them.
SPECS & PRICING
Inputs: Two XLR, two RCA, USB (for service and control systems), 3.5mm jack for 12-volt trigger
Outputs: Argento Clamps speaker cable connectors, XLR balanced line-level, ¼"/6.2mm headphone jack
Power output: 125Wpc into 8 ohms
Input impedance: 20k ohms single-ended, 40k ohms balanced
Output impedance: 0.08 ohms
THD: 0.005 percent
Frequency response: 10Hz–200kHz +.5/-.25dB
Dimensions: 17" x 5.5" 15.75"
Weight: 40 lbs.
3533 Old Conejo Road
Newbury Park, CA 91320