On a Concord CD produced by the great jazz arranger Benny Golson, for example, I was quite taken with the presentation of the Momentum gear on cuts like “Whisper Not,” which features Al Jarreau. Even as Jarreau croons away, the bass line, which is deep and can be somewhat murky on lesser gear, was clearly audible. Ditto for piano. On the Golson album the deepest notes resounded with an authority and decisiveness and richness that reminded of what I recently heard in New York at Dizzy’s Coca-Cola Club, where I recently had the good fortune to see the Jamaican jazz pianist Monty Alexander. If you’re familiar with Alexander’s playing, you know that it’s no holds barred. I’m not going to tell you that the Momentums can match the dynamism of a live jazz band with two full sets of drummers, one on each end of the stage, going at full force. Nothing can. But in setting up the bass foundation, the Momentum amps and preamp also allowed me to hear more fully what the dCS Vivaldi stack was transmitting. Another album that vividly brought this home was the British trumpeter Alison Balsom’s daring CD called Caprice on EMI Classics. The timpani whacks on Mozart’s “Rondo alla turca” are powerful and vividly defined, emanating from the rear of the hall. The plucks of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra’s bass section are also accurately captured on “Libertango.” (Incidentally, another thing that the Momentum preamplifier demonstrated was that the Vivaldi DAC sounds a lot better in scale and power when set to output 6 volts, which the Momentum can easily handle, than at the Vivaldi’s standard 2-volt setting.)
Another plus is a kind of reassuring placidity to the sound. On a Sony CD of Emanuel Ax playing Haydn piano concertos, I was struck by the flowing ease of the sound. There is a kind of understated gravity, a pearl-like enunciation of the notes that the Momentums convey. The Haydn concertos don’t indulge in the storms followed by sunlight of a Beethoven sonata, let alone the fusillade of notes in a Chopin work. Rather, they have a playful and jaunty character grounded in an earnest classicism. Once more, the Momentum amplifiers, for all their power, were able to reproduce Ax’s trills with great delicacy, allowing them to be sounded and then fade away into the distance. So here we come to the fabled decay so prized by audiophiles, which the Momentums possess in abundance—perhaps not to the extent of a tube amplifier, but still with a tenacity that conveys more than the penumbra of a note.
But it’s not simply a question of a low noise floor and superb decay of the notes. Another noteworthy attribute here is that the control of the amplifiers means that the notes and instruments are properly scaled. No bloat or flab here. This is an amplifier with a six-pack. You can listen to a Haydn piano concerto played by a top-notch performer like Ax at low volume and even then it sounds like the proportions are spot on. In some ways, it even becomes more alluring because the sound hovers in the air in a rather spooky fashion. Something similar occurred on the aforementioned Alison Balsom’s rendering of Oskar Lindberg’s “Andante,” or on Jean-Baptiste Arban’s famous “Variations on Casta Diva.” There is a melting sinuosity to the sound that delivers almost more by implication than emphatic statement.
Still, the inner devil is going to emerge. You don’t buy an amp and speakers like the WAMMs to sit around drinking out of porcelain cups in the sonic equivalent of a dainty tea party. There come moments when it’s time to put on your big-boy pants, crank the dial, and get those air molecules vibrating. So I plopped on an SACD of Monty Alexander—actually, Sir Monty—playing Bob Marley tunes, and gave the volume ring of the Momentum preamplifier a healthy twist. Yeah, baby! On cuts such as “Running Away,” I defy you to hear more realistic instruments than what I heard emanating via the Momentums—a robust, resonant, life-sized trombone backed by an emphatic rhythm section. The scale of the soundstage wasn’t big; it was cavernous.
Nor do you lose anything when going to vinyl. With the excellent TechDas Air Force 3 in situ (which the ineffable Maier Shadi of the Audio Salon visited me to install), I played an album I recently acquired in Los Angeles, a Pablo from 1984 featuring Milt Jackson, Ray Brown, Cedar Walton, and Mickey Roker. Jackson’s mallets on vibes came through with concussive force, and the shimmer of the cymbals was to die for. The precision and force of Walton’s piano playing was enthralling, block chord upon block chord reaching tumultuous crescendos. Pacing was also spot-on—propulsive and snappy like a string of firecrackers going off. To give the bass another test run, I listened to a SteepleChase recording of the Kenny Drew and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen called Duo 2. The depth and solidity and weight of Pedersen’s bass were uncanny. On Led Zeppelin II, the phonostage easily coped with the welter of information let loose by the Air Force 3. Throughout, the nonchalant command of the Momentum over complex material was abundantly in evidence. Bass may have been tops so far in my system, getting the burr around the electric guitars to an unprecedented level on cuts such as “What Is and What Should Never Be.”
So, yes, the D’Agostino complement will give you both refinement and a dose of rocket fuel. The word for this gear is commanding. Dan D’Agostino is back and ready to rumble. Are you?
Specs & Pricing
Momentum 400 Monoblock Amplifiers
Power: 400 watts @ 8 ohms, 800 watts @ 4 ohms, 1600 watts @ 2 ohms
Frequency response: 1Hz–200kHz, –1dB; 20Hz–20kHz, ±0.1dB
Distortion: 0.1% @ 1kHz, 400 watts @ 8 ohms
SNR: 105 dB, unweighted
Inputs: One balanced XLR
Input impedance: 1M ohm
Output impedance: 0.12 ohms
Dimensions: 12.5" x 5.25" x 21.5"
Weight: 95 lbs.
Price: $65,000 per pair
Inputs: Six with theater throughout
Outputs: Two balanced
Input impedance: 1M ohm
Output impedance: 10 ohms
Dimensions: 17" x 8" x 16"
Weight: 85 lbs.
Inputs: Four pairs via XLR and RCA (two moving-coil, two moving-magnet)
Outputs: One pair balanced via XLR
Gain: 70dB for mc, 50dB for mm
Dimensions: Main, 15.5" x 3.5" x 12.75"
Power supply: 13.5" x 2.5" x 11"
Transformer box: 4" x 2" x 10.5"
Weight: 65 lbs.
Wilson WAMM Master Chronosonic loudspeakers and subwoofers, Continuum Caliburn and TechDas Air Force 3 turntables with SAT tonearms, Lyra Etna SL, Miyajima Zero mono, and TechDas cartridges, dCS Vivaldi CD/SACD system, Ypsilon PST-100 Mk. II, VPS 100 phonostage, and Hyperion monoblock amplifiers, Transparent Opus Gen 5 and Nordost Odin 2 cabling