The Pictor’s sonic contribution to the Revelation presentation included the same sort of detail-with-ease quality as the rest of the stack. The Pictor also had a large, open soundscape with very good depth layering. Soundstage height was notably higher than I am used to, and the back corners of the recording venue in well-recorded orchestral music were more distinct. Fine details, like the subtle emphasis mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton uses in her enunciation and dynamic shading on “When My Soul Touches Yours” on Bernstein [RR], emerged with wonderful facility. This rather moody song became more interesting and artful sounding through the Pictor compared to my admittedly much less costly and older Ayre Acoustics K-1xe. Tonal colors remained full and rich. Constellation’s own Performance Series Virgo III did everything the Pictor did at a higher level, especially depth layering and 3-D imaging. Tonal colors were also more fleshed out, and even more of a “peer into the soundstage” clarity emerged. The more expensive Virgo III linestage with its optional DC Filter unit ($38,000) also had a more tube-like continuousness, and by direct comparison showed the Pictor left some of the finest details slightly less fleshed out.
The Pictor has six inputs, two fewer than the Virgo III, so some of the cost savings comes from a reduction in inputs. But the Pictor offers so much of what the Virgo III does for considerably less financial outlay that I believe it represents the better value. (Honestly though, if I had the means, I would spring for the Virgo III. It is better, plain and simple.)
On the nuts and bolts side, the Pictor has the same combination of controls and easy-to-use LCD touchscreen as other Constellation preamps. All aspects of the user interface are straightforward, and the variety and range of the adjustments covers everything I would ever need: standby, balance, phase polarity, mute, theater bypass, screen display time-out and brightness, individual input-relative volume offset, and of course volume and input selection. There are no tone controls. (I have never lived with a preamp with high-quality tone controls, so I didn’t miss them.) The screen menu navigation and selections are logically laid out. The metal remote control keeps things simple but useful with buttons for volume, balance, input, standby, and handy-to-have phase polarity. The downloaded manual is thorough and easy to follow. All Constellation preamps display the volume setting as an attenuation value: the lower the volume, the higher the numerical value. It’s an “engineering thing” and makes perfect sense, but it is the opposite of what I am used to. (A higher number means a higher volume, right?)
The 22-pound external power supply unit has two R-core transformers, one each for the right and left channel analog circuitry and one EI-type transformer for the control circuits. Accordingly, there are three separate umbilical cords to feed the R/L analog and control circuits. If you’re including the optional DC Filter unit (and I recommend it), the same connections are made but with the DC Filter in between the power supply and the main unit. The separate power supplies in this dual-mono, fully balanced design allow for enhanced channel separation and noise reduction. Power demand in one channel does not adversely affect the other, and Constellation’s implementation of its Line Stage Gain Module—first developed for the ground-breaking Altair preamp—actively adjusts for any minute positive/negative signal imbalances and corrects them. The result is that any remaining difference between the positive and negative signals is noise, and more readily canceled out by the fully balanced circuits.
The optional DC Filter units ($5000 each) for both the Pictor linestage and the Andromeda phonostage reduce underlying noise and allow for better dynamic range and control. Soundstage depth and the space around instruments and voices are better portrayed with the DC Filters installed. The differences are not obvious on all material but they contribute worthwhile improvements on the whole. I would add them later if I didn’t want to pay for them upfront, but I definitely recommend them.
Taurus Mono Power Amplifier
The Taurus mono amplifier is a large, powerful beast...and it sounds wonderful: commanding, agile, transparent, extended, and neutral in its “just right” contribution to the trio’s sonic package. A “big iron” amp at 120 pounds in a 17" by 8.5" by 23" chassis, it delivers 500 watts into eight ohms (doubling into four). While it doesn’t run hot to the touch like the Performance Centaur II does, it requires some commitment on the part of the owner to allocate the space (and supply the strength) needed to deploy it. But I believe that many music lovers in the market for amplifiers such as the Taurus will be won over by its uncanny wideband resolution, dynamic stability, soundstaging, and free-flowing musicality.
Whether I paired the amp with the Pictor, Virgo III, or my Ayre preamp, the Taurus retained its stunning transparency, extension, and dynamic snap. Music emerged in a vivid, evocative, Technicolor presentation that never sounded stilted or wore poorly over the long term. The Taurus made its contribution to the Revelation trio’s excellent soundstaging by expanding the stage in all directions and lending even more solidity to individual images within the soundscape. My $26,000 Gamut M250i mono amplifiers kept up with the Taurus surprisingly well across the board, but the Taurus rendered a more expansive soundstage, particularly in height. The whole front third of my listening room was filled with a detailed soundfield on the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony [Stern/Kansas City, RR], for example. To its credit, the Gamut M250i amp sounded almost as powerful as the Taurus and had a more liquid, tube-like presentation. On the whole, though, the Taurus simply revealed more subtle details and sounded a hair more responsive to hard transients.
The Taurus is certainly the most powerful-sounding amp I have used, even though I have had other 500Wpc and even 600Wpc amplifiers in my system. The Taurus’ grip and tunefulness in the bass, coupled with its fantastic dynamic control, just added to its appeal and provided an example, yet again, of how an amplifier’s nominal wattage is only a starting point for assessing how its power behavior will actually manifest itself. Bass notes on full orchestra and electronica took on commanding ease and fluidity and allowed me to relax into the music. I enjoyed the music all the more because I did not have to mentally compensate for a slight wobbling of control or brittleness when quick, bass-laden dynamic upswings kicked in. This is not a thin-sounding amplifier. Everything was underpinned by a solid foundation and tonal colors were given their full measure of expression. Again, “just right.”