I’ve been listening to the Centaur monoblocks driving the Magico Q7 loudspeakers for several months, comparing them to the Rowland 725s, the Lamm ML2.2 single-ended triode, and the Absolare Passion 845 single-ended triode amplifiers. I’ve also heard these amplifiers, and the $26,000 stereo version (reviewed by Jonathan Valin in Issue 223), many times at shows.
The Centaurs sound very much like the Hercules, with tremendous transparency and resolution, a big and open spatial presentation, and a feeling that the amplifier is light on its feet dynamically. The overall balance leans slightly toward the upper- midrange and treble, with very airy and highly resolved midrange and treble. The Centaur’s bottom end is full and satisfying, but not the last word in weight and heft. The bass tends to be quick, agile, and articulate. Resolution and transparency are simply world- class—this is an amplifier that allows you to hear back through the playback chain with every detail highly resolved.
In a lesser amplifier this personality could make the sound analytical and cold, with bleached tonal colors and a threadbare rendering of timbre—resolution for its own sake rather than in the service of musical enjoyment. The Centaur’s somehow manages to combine standard-setting transparency, resolution, and openness with absolutely gorgeous textural density, fully saturated tone color, and a full measure of warmth and body. There are amplifiers one can admire for their sonic achievement but not fully enjoy musically. These amplifiers tend to have massive resolution and spectacular soundstaging, but somehow don’t connect emotionally because of a lack of warmth and richness of timbre. The opposite end of the spectrum is the amplifier that sacrifices resolution and transparency for “musicality” at the expense of a certain intellectual disengagement induced by a diminution of real musical information. The Centaur’s great achievement is delivering the most transparent and resolved midrange and treble presentation I’ve ever heard from an amplifier (except the Hercules) along with an exceptional richness of tone color and density of timbre. Massed strings or solo violin tend to be an acid test that reveals where an amplifier falls on the analytical-warmth spectrum. Getting just the right sheen on the strings without excessive edge and brightness is a tough challenge. But listen, for example, to the LA Philharmonic string section on the outstanding Speaker’s Corner LP reissue of Holst’s The Planets. Through the Centaur the violins have a light and airy rendering with tremendous resolution of inner detail, yet at the same time are richly textured and silky smooth with no trace of edge or whitish character. This is no mean feat, and largely due to the remarkably pristine quality through the treble. The Centaur’s top end is as clean as it gets, but it never crosses the line into the dry or antiseptic.
Just as the Centaur combines resolution with ease, it also portrays transient information with whiplash speed without an unnatural emphasis on transient leading edges. The upper registers of piano are particularly impressive, with a full measure of attack without the glassy hardness of many solid-state amplifiers. The transient speed in the bottom end is phenomenal, with startling impact on bass drum. I also enjoyed the Centaur’s sense of immediacy, presence, and vitality through the midrange and treble. The sense of presence isn’t the result of a forward midrange balance, but rather of the amplifier’s wonderfully realistic rendering of timbre, tremendous purity of instrumental texture, and remarkable sense of nothing between the music and me. Moreover, the jet-black background contributes to the vividness, setting off instruments with greater realism and drama.
Although I auditioned the Centaur monoblocks in a different system than the Hercules, I thought that the Centaur gave up very little to the $140,000 Hercules in sound quality. If you don’t need 1100W the Centaur monoblocks will get you within a hair of the state-of-the-art in solid-state amplification today. Both amplifiers are extremely transparent and resolved, with a light and open character that never crosses the line into the analytical. This combination of rich and saturated tone color with such an open and detailed midrange and treble is unprecedented in my experience (save the Hercules). The Centaurs are also unflappable dynamically, throw a huge and well-defined soundstage, and are beautifully built.
Recommending an amplifier is often accompanied by caveats regarding the amplifier’s particular sonic signature or its technical limitations, such as the ability to drive difficult loads. I have no such reservations about the Centaur monoblocks; these amplifiers are gorgeous sounding without straying from neutrality, and are muscular enough to drive virtually any loudspeaker with ease. They will satisfy those looking for extremely high resolution, but also listeners who value gorgeous tone color, density of texture, and musical ease. The Hercules sets the bar high in solid-state amplification, but the Centuar monoblocks come tantalizingly close for less than half the price.
SPECS & PRICING
Output power: 500W into 8 ohms, 800W into 4 ohms, 1000W into 2 ohms (1kHz, 1% THD+N); Gain: 26dB (14dB in Constellation Direct mode)
Input impedance: 100k ohms unbalanced, 200k ohms balanced
Output impedance: 0.05 ohms
Inputs: Two balanced on XLR, one unbalanced on RCA
Weight: 103 pounds each, net
Dimension: 11" x 7" x 20"
Price: $54,000 per pair
3533 Old Conejo Road, Suite 107
Newbury Park, CA 91320