Here’s a question: What stereo amp generates 130Wpc into 8 ohms, is stable down to 2 ohms, has a bandwidth that extends to 400kHz, is capable of 40 amp swings, has a damping factor greater than 500 and distortion less than 0.04%, runs in Class A and AB, uses virtually the same circuit as the Symphonic Line RG11 stereo amp from Germany, and was recommended to me by none other than Magico’s Alon Wolf, who uses it (among other amps) in his factory to test speakers, including my current darlings—the M5s?
Wolf has access to every amp on earth—and has heard most of the top contenders (heard more of them than I have). And while this particular number isn’t among the elite (that would be Soulution, Spectral, and Boulder, according to W.), he considers it “good enough,” especially for the money, to float his boat(s). Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention the money. The amp costs $800 ($995 in the ugraded version I received).
How can this be, you may be asking yourself (as I certainly asked myself). A W.-approved amp that costs about the same dough as a single Mundorf capacitor in a single M5? Well, part of the answer is that the amp in question—named the “Khartago Stereo,” made by a company called Odyssey located in picturesque Indianapolis, IN, and literally tweaked to order by Odyssey’s Klaus Bunge—is only sold direct. (If you’re interested, go to http://www.odysseyaudio.com/index.html and take a look around.) Eliminating the distributor and, alas, the retailer apparently does wonders for the bottom line—and your pocket book. (The Symphonic Line RG11 amp, which is, as noted, more or less identical to the Khartago Stereo, costs more than five times as much as the Odyssey version.)
How does it sound? Well…I’m still collating, but I can already tell ya that it doesn’t sound remotely like any $800 amp I’ve ever heard, and the $2.2k Stratos monoblocks, which I also have on hand, don’t sound remotely like any $2k amp I’ve ever heard, either. In this price range, you have every right to expect decent sound, but you don’t expect much refinement. There will be noise; there will be grain; there will be soundstage constriction, timbral anomalies, dynamic and SPL limits, less detail, less everything.
Not so with the Odyssey amps. Tremendous soundstage width, a warm natural tonal palette with (believe it or not) a touch of ARC-like bloom, very good dynamics top-to-bottom, and—wonder of wonder—no transistor grain, no transistor darkness, no edge or etching of detail. Though I wouldn’t say the Khartago or the Strati are the equals (or close to the equals) of the Soulution 700s or 710 in resolution, transparency, neutrality, dynamic range, or, frankly, any other parameter you’d care to examine, they are, indeed, “good enough” to drive even a delicacy like the M5 with surprisingly lifelike realism.
Now I can’t imagine many folks shopping for M5s will be leaning toward an $800 amplifier. But for the rest of us, this may be one of those once-in-a-decade wonders—a dirt-cheap amp that doesn’t come with the compromises that “budget” amps always seem to have.
I’m not sure of this, yet—after all, I just got ’em a week ago and haven't even begun to take detailed listening notes. But I am sure that these Odyssey amps aren't run-of-the-mill. They are different, and they are special. And lest you’re wondering how reliable a sold-direct $800 amp may turn out to be, understand that Bunge has been building these things for better than a decade, has sold thousands of them (direct), and can more or less “tune” them to your speakers and your electricity. They are warranted for twenty years (twenty years!) and their warranty is transferable. Moreover, Bunge will check up any Odyssey amp (bias, offset, etc.) free of charge for registered customers.
Though new to me, the Khartago Stereo and Stratos monoblocks aren’t new products. They’ve been around a long while, since the late 90s, although the current versions are superior (according to Bunge) to the ones that were widely praised back in the day. I’ll be reviewing them in the September TAS (Issue 195), so you may want to wait to read my considered thoughts, when I’ve gotten over the shell shock of hearing an $800 stereo amp and a $2k monoblock amp make the Magico M5s sound far better than I expected any piece of electronics at this price point could make a speaker of this sophistication sound.