Constellation Revelation Series Pictor Linestage, Andromeda Phonostage, and Taurus Monoblock Power Amplifier

Genuine Stars

Equipment report
Categories:
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Phonostages
|
Products:
Constellation Revelation Andromeda,
Constellation Revelation Pictor,
Constellation Revelation Taurus
Constellation Revelation Series Pictor Linestage, Andromeda Phonostage, and Taurus Monoblock Power Amplifier

It may seem like an obvious observation, but the Taurus paired with either the Pictor or Virgo III was particularly felicitous. Of course preamps and power amps made by the same manufacturer should sound good together, but this is especially true with Constellation pairings. Constellation’s preamps have a bit higher gain (26dB) than a lot of preamps and have such precision between the two phases of the balanced output signal that the preamp output can drive the amplifier’s Constellation Direct input that bypasses the power amp’s input stage. The typical buffering and assuring of perfect symmetry between the two phases of the balanced signal are simply not necessary when the amp is used with a Constellation preamp (in balanced mode). The sonic improvements yielded by using the Constellation Direct input are worthwhile. The soundscape opens up more, dynamic immediacy improves, and resolution becomes even finer. You have to turn up the volume to compensate for the bypassed initial gain stage, but I heard only sonic improvements in this configuration—no downsides or compromises.

Amplifier operation was perfectly straightforward. There are two pairs of speaker binding posts to allow for two separate runs of speaker cables for bi-wiring. I like this because it alleviates the need to double up the speaker cables on the same amplifier binding posts if you use two complete pairs of speaker cables to bi-wire speakers. The Taurus requires a 20-amp (C-19) power cord, and the manual recommends using a dedicated 20-amp A/C circuit per amplifier because of the substantial current draw and, thus, power-delivery capability of each Taurus. Because I don’t have enough 20-amp circuits available to comply with the recommendation, I used one 20-amp circuit for both monos and detected no signs of power limitation. Of course, I have no way of knowing how much more powerful the Taurus monos might have sounded in my system if I’d added one more 20-amp circuit.

The Taurus, like other Constellation amplifiers, uses the same Balanced Bridged amplification circuits found in the Reference Hercules II in a trickled-down implementation. They have identical 125-watt, single-ended modules used in a combined bridged implementation. According to Constellation, “this unusual arrangement achieves two important goals. First, it gives Taurus the same delicate, musical sound of a small, single-ended amp, but of course with far superior power and dynamics. Second, because these single-ended modules use only NPN output transistors, the positive and negative halves of the signal are treated exactly the same. In a conventional amplifier, NPN transistors power the positive half of the signal while PNP transistors power the negative half. This difference can obscure the details that for many audiophiles are the most important part of a stereo presentation.” Technology aside, I can confirm the Taurus monos have a great deal of the delicacy and refinement one usually expects from a fine, medium-powered, solid-state Class A amp (or from a nice tube amp) coupled with the solidity and dynamic freedom of a very powerful transistor amp.


Andromeda Phonostage
Finally, we have the Andromeda phonostage, a two-box affair—three if you add the optional DC Filter—with the same look and feel as the Pictor linestage (sans knobs). It can accommodate up to four cartridges so long as they are two moving coils and two moving magnets (one each XLR and RCA). Output can be via XLR or RCA connections. Maximum gain is 65dB (balanced and unbalanced). You can select either a high-gain or a low-gain setting, but the low-gain output level is not specified. The manual instructs the user to simply choose the gain setting (for each input individually) that most closely matches the average output level of the other sources connected to the partnering linestage. Moving-coil cartridge impedance can be set from 5 ohms to 999 ohms in 1-ohm increments via a knob on the main unit’s rear panel and is done separately by channel (because of the Andromeda’s dual-mono topology). I think the 1-ohm steps in the loading adjustments offer users a welcomed level of choice and precision. I certainly appreciated it. Moving-magnet settings allow for three capacitive and three resistive loading options. The LCD touchscreen and small buttons below it were easy to use if you follow the thorough and clearly written manual.

The Andromeda uses some of the same building blocks found in the Pictor linestage, including three separate power supplies in an outboard chassis. A separate optional DC Filter unit can also be used with the Andromeda. The trick, as with any phonostage, is to apply the RIAA equalization curve accurately and build in enough gain to increase the low-voltage cartridge output to line-level standard (about 2V in most consumer audio products), while also preserving signal integrity and keeping noise to a minimum. The Andromeda does a marvelous job of these things. I have heard plenty of mega-buck turntable rigs, and the Andromeda made mine sound much, much closer to those setups than I thought possible, even though my cartridge and turntable don’t really qualify as top-drawer (see Associated Equipment below) in this era of stunning and very expensive state-of-the-art cartridge-to-phono- stage combos. The Andromeda proved itself to be a major contributor to the fabulously clear, open, impactful playback coming from my system. I have always favored analog sources, so the Andromeda really appealed to me on a personal level.

The Andromeda’s sound followed the same highly resolving, dynamically alive, and expansive soundstaging as the rest of the Revelation Series gear, so the only real instructive comments I can add about the its sonic performance is in comparison to my usual phonostage, the fabulously overachieving Moon by Simaudio 610LP. At $7500 it is a David to the Andromeda’s Goliath in price, size, and number of chassis. With the optional DC Filter unit, the Andromeda’s three chassis cost $24,000 ($19,000 without the filter); so, it is 3.2 times more expensive than the single-chassis Simaudio 610LP. Even so, the 610LP can play cartridge signals remarkably well. I was perfectly happy with it until I experienced the embarrassment of analog riches the Andromeda offered. 

The level of transparency to the cartridge and, thus, the record grooves was at a different level of performance with the Andromeda. While the 610LP had a bit more bass heft and was highly musical and revealing of details, the Andromeda, not unexpectedly, had even greater resolution and threw a larger soundstage with greater 3-D depth layering. Notes started a bit sooner and continued a bit longer before they dissolved into the noise threshold. The sense of unfettered immediacy, the ability to instantly respond to signals, was greater with the Andromeda. On the Poulenc Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Tympani [Martinon/Orchestre National de l’O.R.T.F., Erato] more spatial information emerged, so the separation among instruments and the grandeur of the organ came through with a greater impact. Even electronic pop music had more texture through the Andromeda. The Odesza In Return album [Counter], for example, had subtle layers of complexity compared to the purely electronic sounds I had heard before. The Andromeda’s self-noise was very low even though I used the high-gain setting with my Benz-Micro LP-S MR cartridge (0.34mV output).

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