Constellation Audio Inspiration Series Preamp 1.0 Linestage, Stereo 1.0 Stereo Amplifier, and Mono 1.0 Monoblock Amplifiers

Progeny

Equipment report
Categories:
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Solid-state preamplifiers
|
Products:
Constellation Mono 1.0,
Constellation Preamp 1.0,
Constellation Stereo 1.0
Constellation Audio Inspiration Series Preamp 1.0 Linestage, Stereo 1.0 Stereo Amplifier, and Mono 1.0 Monoblock Amplifiers

I’m happy to report that with the Inspiration Series, bass performance is no longer a caveat. In fact, the Stereo 1.0’s bass is outstanding, combining weight and authority with dynamic agility and a wonderful tunefulness. For example, Ray Brown’s incomparable playing on the high-res download of Soular Energy has plenty of weight, along with the ability to convey the instrument’s dynamics and tone color. The Mono 1.0s are even better, offering greater dynamic impact and effortlessness. Compared with the Centaur monoblocks, the Inspiration’s fuller bottom gave the entire presentation a bolder, more forceful character. The Centaur (and Hercules) fosters an impression of elegance, grace, and refinement, not one of raw, primal power. The Stereo 1.0 and Mono 1.0 largely retain the midrange and treble refinement of the Centaur while giving the presentation a more muscular quality. It isn’t just power music that benefits; even on a record like Duke Ellington’s Duke’s Big Four the Inspiration’s fuller bass better conveys the swing and drive of this terrific band. Incidentally, the circuit changes that improved the bass were developed for the new Hercules II, and have been incorporated first into the Inspiration amplifiers.

Several years ago a visiting loudspeaker designer had just finished setting up a pair of reference-quality speakers in my room, and asked to hear the various amplifiers I had on-hand. After the auditioning, he pointed to a non-Constellation amp and said, “I want the bass extension and power of that amplifier,” and then pointing to the Constellation continued “with the midrange and treble of that amplifier.” If he were to visit again, he would wish for no such chimera; the Inspiration leaves nothing to be desired in bass weight and tonal balance. This is particularly true with the Mono 1.0 monoblocks, which have greater bass authority, wider dynamic contrasts, and sound more composed during complex passages than the Stereo 1.0, as you’d expect from twice-the-power monoblocks. Nonetheless, the Stereo 1.0’s bottom end is fully satisfying.

If you’re getting the idea that these electronics are spectacular values, you’re right. It seems almost churlish to point out the Inspiration’s shortcomings relative to the world-class Performance Series, but since I’ve heard them all I would be remiss not to share my experience. I must reiterate, however, that if you didn’t hear the two Series side by side, you wouldn’t miss anything in the Inspiration. You’d still get the essential quality of Constellation electronics, which as I mentioned earlier is an extraordinary transparency, high resolution, gorgeous tone color, and tremendous soundstage dimensionality. The differences in sound between Performance and Inspiration are more quantitative rather than qualitative. Moreover, the Performance Series, despite its not insignificant price, is still a terrific value, delivering close to the benchmark established by the Altair and Hercules in the Reference Series. I should mention that I’ve heard the Inspiration Series at three shows driving a variety of loudspeakers, and thought (along with many other showgoers) that the sound was superb on each occasion.


After I’d finished auditioning the Preamp 1.0 and Mono 1.0 I returned to the $55k Soulution 725 preamplifier and $165k-per-pair 701 monoblock amplifiers. One would think that this juxtaposition would only highlight the limitations of the one-eighth-the-price Inspiration pair. Instead, the comparison threw into sharp relief just how extraordinary the Inspiration electronics are. Not surprisingly, the Soulution was decidedly better (see Jonathan Valin’s review this issue and my comments). But the Inspiration had some exceptional qualities that drove home what a great achievement and value these electronics represent.

Conclusion
The Inspiration Series brings more than a taste of world-class performance to electronics within reach of music lovers for whom six-figure amplifiers are out of the question. Although not budget-priced, the Inspiration Series delivers much more than a taste of the musical virtues of the Altair and Hercules. The sonic differences between the Reference, Performance, and Inspiration Series are a matter of degree, not of fundamental character.

The Preamp 1.0, mated to the Stereo 1.0 or a pair of Mono 1.0s, bring a level of transparency, resolution, refinement, and soundstaging to this price segment once reserved for much more expensive electronics. Coupled with these traditional Constellation qualities is a newfound bass performance that adds a welcome authority, bottom-end dynamics, and tonal richness that were not the strong suits of the Reference and Performance Series.

It’s unlikely that the Inspiration’s combination of performance and value could have been realized from a clean sheet of paper. By taking the long view and investing in developing cost-no-object electronics, Constellation is able to offer the identical circuit topologies, and many of the design tricks, of those cutting-edge products in the relatively affordable Inspirations.

For those of you who find $65k preamps and $140k amps morally objectionable, take heart knowing that the existence of those products made it possible for music lovers of more modest means to own very close to the best for a fraction of the price. That’s something we can all celebrate.              

SPECS & PRICING

Preamp 1.0
Inputs: Four balanced, four unbalanced (USB input for control)
Outputs: Two balanced, two unbalanced, 12V trigger
Input impedance: 20k ohms balanced, 10k ohms unbalanced
Output impedance: <50 ohms
Weight: 25 lbs.
Dimensions: 17" x 5.25" x 15"
Price: $9000

Stereo 1.0
Power output: 200Wpc into 8 ohms, 400Wpc into 4 ohms (1kHz, 0.1% THD)
Inputs: Balanced, Constellation Direct (balanced), unbalanced
Input impedance: 20k ohms (balanced, Constellation Direct), 10k ohms (unbalanced)
Output impedance: 0.1 ohm
Gain: 14dB unbalanced, 26dB balanced
Weight: 55 lbs.
Dimensions: 8.5" x 17" x 19"
Price: $10,000

Mono 1.0
Power output: 400Wpc into 8 ohms, 800Wpc into 4 ohms (1kHz, 0.2% THD)
Inputs: Balanced, Constellation Direct (balanced), unbalanced
Input impedance: 20k ohms (balanced, Constellation Direct), 10k ohms (unbalanced)
Output impedance: 0.1 ohm
Gain: 14dB unbalanced, 26dB balanced
Weight: 55 lbs each
Dimensions: 8.5" x 17" x 19"
Price: $20,000 per pair

Constellation Audio
3533 Old Conejo Road, Suite 107
Newbury Park, CA 91320
constellationaudio.com

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