From the very first CD that I played—I ran the amp in balanced mode both directly from the dCS Vivaldi four-piece stack and from my Ypsilon PST-100 Mk II preamp—it was clear that this amplifier doesn’t waste time getting down to cases.
Take the CD This Time For Real [VizzTone], which features the southern soul singers Otis Clay and Billy Price. On track after track, I was both impressed (and seduced) by the command of the Classic Stereo. From bass to treble, it was as though the sonic tapestry were cut from a single cloth, partly because of the alacrity of the amplifier, partly because of its grip in the bass region. TAS Editor Robert Harley has written previously about the sensation of bass being a half-step behind the rest of the musical presentation. It creates a slightly vertiginous sensation, as though you want to physically push the music forward. There was none of that time lag here. On the Warner Classics reissue of the trumpeter Maurice André’s recordings, for instance, the precision of the bass accompaniment on Benedetto Marcello’s “Adagio” meant that there was no overhang—André’s trumpet simply soared over the bass line, which clearly demarcated the pulse of the music.
Worthy of note, too, was the verisimilitude with which the Classic Stereo conveyed the nuances of Clay’s and Price’s singing—crooning sighs, bellowing, and so on seemed to be palpably realistic. Much of this can be ascribed to the interstitial silence created by the amp’s ability to start and stop on time. What separates the pros from the amateurs in amplifiers, the men from the boys, is their sense of timing, regardless of musical genre. This is one area that D’Agostino has nailed.
Another thing that D’Agostino’s amp does very well indeed is to set up a cavernous soundstage. On the album Philadelphia Beat [Sunnyside Records], it presents the trio of Albert “Tootie” Heath on drums, Ethan Iverson on piano, and Ben Street on bass with a remarkable presence and sense of space. The tautness of Street’s bass is beautifully delineated, a real thud on the deepest notes, not to mention a warm, deep, and rich sound to the piano, particularly in the bass area, where it resounds thunderingly. This amp pushes a loudspeaker to move gobs of air.
So much, in fact, that some listeners may initially be taken aback by how much energy the Classic Stereo delivers in the 60–200Hz region, where most of the sense of bass performance really resides. On Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas [Sony], it offered the richest and gruffest rendition of his voice that I’ve ever heard. Some may find this a little over the top, but I think D’Agostino’s amp is fleshing out what’s already present in the recording without supplying much of an additive flavor. All of this is a way of saying that this isn’t a sterile and bleached-sounding amplifier. Rather, it lands on the warm and full side but without sacrificing detail or transparency. It’s not necessary to play it loud, for the Classic Stereo will reproduce fine detail at lower volumes, once again as a function of its power.
So what separates it from the truly megabuck amplifiers? It lacks the last degree of tactility, finesse, and depth that a more refined amplifier would convey. On a Harmonia Mundi recording of Bach’s violin concertos by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, the amp’s control was readily apparent but so was a slight glaze over the original instruments that the ensemble deploys for its performances. If this amp has a weak spot, it’s the treble where it can harden slightly on very complex and dynamic passages. Obviously, some compromises had to be made to get to this price point. I seriously doubt, however, that an amplifier built a decade ago for ten times the price would sound as good as D’Agostino’s Classic.
In that regard, perhaps the most striking aspect is how easily the Classic Stereo delivers the sense of an ensemble playing in unison. There is always what the U.S. Army likes to call unit cohesion when listening to the Classic Stereo. Put otherwise, there is no smearing, no bloat, or any of the other sonic nasties that can mar the suspension of disbelief that audiophiles crave when attempting to replicate live music; rather, the amplifier conveyed a lissome sense of ease and flow to the music. In sum, the Classic Stereo offers amazing imaging and clout. If you’re looking for an amp that can handle difficult loads with ease and provide excellent performance without costing you a packet, this is it.
SPECS & PRICING
Inputs: Two balanced XLR (XLR to RCA adapters supplied)
Power rating: 300Wpc into 8 ohms, 600Wpc into 4 ohms, 1200Wpc into 2 ohms
Frequency response: 1Hz–200kHz, -1dB
Signal-to-noise ratio: 100dB
Input impedance: 100k ohms
Output impedance: 0.12 ohm
Dimensions: 11.5" x 19" x 20"
Weight: 108 lbs.
D’Agostino Master Audio Systems
7171 E. Cave Creek Road Unit K
Carefree, AZ 85337
Continuum Caliburn with Swedish Analog Technology and Cobra tonearms, Lyra Atlas and Miyajima Zero mono cartridges, dCS Vivaldi digital playback system, Ypsilon (silver) PST 100 Mk. 2 preamp, VPS 100 phonostage and SET 100 Ultimate Mk 2 monoblocks, Wilson XLF and Hammer of Thor subwoofers, Nordost Odin 2 and Transparent Opus Gen 5 cabling, Stillpoints Ultra 6 isolation feet