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Vol. 14, No. 1 Spring/Summer, 2011



NEW PRODUCTS

Audio Research

As was the case last year, Audio Research has been very busy introducing new and exciting offerings in both advanced digital and analog product areas. These include the Definition Series DS225 switching power amplifier, the DS450M switching, mono-block power amplifier, the Reference 150 stereo, tube power amplifier, the Reference 250 mono-block, tube power amplifier, and the LS27 tube preamplifier.

Audio Research DS225 power amplifierWith the introduction of the DSi200 and DS450 Class-D power amplifiers, Audio Research has proven that high power output, great sonics, and high efficiency can all come together in a single package. The DS225 ($4995) takes the proven format of the DS450 and scales it down slightly in size and power (225 watts/channel). Housed in a chassis the same size as the DSi200 integrated amplifier, the DS225 continues the design hallmarks of the DS450. The Audio Research proprietary Class-D, all-discrete, analog, switching, MOSFET, output technology is, again, combined with a linear, analog power supply. This yields tremendous speed and power delivery and does so with cool-running efficiency, idling at only 38 watts. The DS225 will drive almost any loudspeaker available today with ease. It is a fully-balanced design with both XLR balanced inputs and RCA single-ended inputs. Like its predecessors, the DS225 has an uncanny ability to resolve information and place it intelligibly within a defined soundstage, even at low sound levels. You'll hear none of the “ dead zone” effect at low volume common to less sophisticated switching designs. Bass control, reach, and impact are all superb, and musical dynamics are instantaneous. In addition, the amplifier has an extremely low noise floor which also helps overall resolution. Tonal balance is neutral, fine-grained, and relaxed.

Audio Research DS450M mono-block power amplifierThe DS450M ($4995) is a mono-block version of the DS450 described in our last newsletter. There are several reasons to choose the DS450M over its stereo counterpart. The most important is performance-based. A pair of monaural power amplifiers simply produces a bigger, more spacious sound stage by virtue of the left and right channels being totally isolated. Also, Audio Research was able to fit a much larger power supply in the chassis. There is also the virtue of smaller size. The DS450M is smaller and easier to place than the larger DS450 stereo model. In addition to its reduced height, the DS450M mono is 4.15 inches shallower, allowing it to fit in a much tighter cabinet space. Lastly, the DS450M is perfect for multi-channel home theater systems when you need a powerful and dynamic amplifier to drive the center channel loudspeaker. Rated power is 450 watts into 8 ohms. AS with all other Definition Series amplifiers, the DS450M remains a distinctive Audio Research design from the ground up, avoiding the use of the prepackaged OEM power modules common to other switching amplifiers. One major enhancement that allows a pair of DS450M's to offer even higher performance than a DS450 is that the energy storage of the two power supplies is 62% greater than that of a DS450. This immense power supply allows the DS450M to energize the most inefficient loudspeakers when the music demands it. In addition to its fabulous dynamics, this power amplifier has great resolving power, pinpoint imaging, and a musicality that is immediately involving.

Audio Research REF150 power amplifierAs for new tube models, let's start with the Reference 150 power amplifier which supersedes the Reference 110. The REF150 ($12,995) offers more power, more sonic finesse, quieter operation, and a more contemporary appearance. While the REF150 has identical outer dimensions to the REF110, the REF150 has much more packed into its chassis. Under the top cover there are a number of circuit enhancements resulting in stunningly improved performance. First, power supply energy storage has been doubled to some 1040 joules. The all-new inter-stage coupling capacitors use technology and materials first employed in the Anniversary Edition preamplifier. These capacitors effortlessly link input and output stages. The output stage is powered by two matched quads of KT120 output tubes driven by 6H30 twin triodes. Power supply regulation is solid-state and multistage, as in the REF110. Larger, wide-bandwidth output transformers easily handle the greater output power of the REF150, which is rated at 150 Watts/Channel into 4-, 8-, or 16-ohm loudspeaker loads.

With all of these internal component improvements, one would logically expect enhanced performance. We earnestly believe you will not be disappointed. The immediate impression is of much greater speed, power, and control compared to just about any other tube power amplifier. Bass extension, harmonic delineation, and loudspeaker control are the best ever to come from an Audio Research tube power amplifier, and that is saying something. You will hear inner harmonic structure and dynamic realism that simply were not audible before, within an envelope of wonderfully realistic air and spatiality. In short, the REF150 amplifies more critical musical information from your preamplifier and source components than you have ever heard before.

The performance advances of the new REF150 stereo power amplifier vs. the previous REF110 are replicated even more forcefully in the Reference 250 vs. the previous Reference 210. The Reference 250 ($12,995 each) is a mono-block design affording the maximum channel isolation for the best possible stereo imaging. A new power transformer and 50% more power supply energy storage, along with KT120 output tubes, give the REF250 tremendous impact, bass speed, control, and definition. New Teflon-technology capacitors also improve resolution and focus on every type of musical program. Explosive micro- and macro-dynamics, a very low noise floor, and vice-like control over every type of loudspeaker will be recognized as the hallmarks of this remarkable power amplifier. A new analog meter replaces the vacuum-fluorescent digital display of its predecessor. This illuminated meter is capable of displaying power output and output tube bias settings. Adjustment pots for tube bias are located just underneath the meter, making changes to tube bias a very simple and quick operation. Meter illumination has three levels and can be turned off completely. Near the front of the circuit board inside the REF250 there is a small LCD display showing accumulated tube hours, visible with the top cover in place. The fan on the rear of each chassis now features low-turbulence intake grids and has two selectable speeds for ultra quiet and effective cooling. Audio Research believes that the REF250 is the finest sounding power amplifier they have ever made.

Audio Research LS27 preamplifierThe new LS27 preamplifier ($6995) continues with all the best features of its predecessor, the LS26. Yet it significantly advances sonic performance with a new level of resolution, musicality, and dynamic impact. In terms of controls, the LS27 has selectable high/ medium/low gain settings, balanced/ single ended selection, left-right balance control, absolute phase inversion, and stereo/mono selection. There is a processor pass-through for home theater applications, and the display can be dimmed or turned off. All of the inputs and outputs have balanced XLR and single-ended RCA connectors, including six pairs of discrete inputs, a processor ( unity gain) input, a monitor loop, and two sets of main outputs. A new microprocessor controls all functions. The LS27 is a pure Class-A design with zero feedback, and the massive power supply is fully regulated. Gain is provided by twin 6H30 triodes. Multiple circuit changes and refinements account for greatly improved performance. These include significantly increased power supply storage and costly new output and bypass coupling capacitors that bring new dynamic life and even more refinement to the presentation. The LS27 sounds very much like a REF5 on a slightly smaller scale, with an organic, lifelike musicality. Like its big brother, the LS27 combines great resolving power with a tonal richness, purity and naturalness that is wonderfully involving. The grain structure is superfine and electronic artifacts have been banished. Bass impact and control are also superb. The LS27 surpasses the performance of the REF3 in virtually every way, making it a stunning value.

 

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