Silver Grand Mono
Price: 110 000 zł (30 000 euro)
Distribution: Ancient Audio
ul. Malawskiego 50
tel: + 48 (012) 417-23
mob.: + 48 602 434 841
WWW: ANCIENT AUDIO
Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski
Ancient Audio is one of the few Polish audio companies, which achieved unquestionable success. Success defined not only as reaching the goal, being the best sound for the given money, and best sound in general, but also success defined as being recognized and by the amount of sold equipment. I will just remind, that tests of its products appeared in magazines “Hi-Fi News” (written by Andrew Harrison) and “6Moons.com” (Srajan Ebaen), something that does not happen often to Polish products. A complete system of that company, composed of the player Lektor Grand SE, the tested amplifier and half-active loudspeakers, utilizing the biggest Raven ribbon speaker, called Wings, was setup in the Californian house of John Tu, the owner of Kingston Technology (report HERE) - a man who is able to purchase anything he wants, who is a musician, who has good hearing. So Ancient Audio is in Poland, and in some areas also outside our country, the synonym of absolute hi-end. But nothing happens by coincidence, and it took Jarek Waszczyszyn ten years to reach that, what we have now. Educated electronics engineer, specialist of digital transmission, researcher of the AGH University of Science and Technology, left everything behind, putting his career and the wellbeing of his family at stake. And he did succeed. I think, that some things cannot be done so-so, in a safe way, hoping to marry fire and water. The example of Ancient Audio is symptomatic for me – only full devotion and a clear goal lead to the top of current audio.
This company is also something special for me, because I know it for years, and I listened to most of the interim versions of the amplifier, that came to life between the Silver 300 and Silver Grand Mono (version 2006) we test now. Constructing the no-compromise power amplifier Mr. Waszczyszyn made some assumptions from the very beginning, developed and modified them consequently. He himself claims, that the previous model, the Silver 300, was built according to the Japanese canon of tube constructions, created in the 70-ties:
Some of those assumptions are still valid – the output tubes are the 300B triodes working in SET, there is also no global negative feedback. But together with better sound it turned out, that there was need to resign from some elements, because those make the sound worse. That was the case with the tube rectification or oil capacitors. I heard the first change, because together with the Krakow Sonic Society we listened to a version, where we could exchange the GZ34 tube rectifier for a solid state rectifying stage. And for sure the second version was better – the tube mudded the sound, and warmed it, and that was not what we were looking for. Oil capacitors were exchanged for Teflon ones, the sound changed again for better, however the oil capacitors returned unexpectedly, but not in the sound path, but as electrolytic capacitor bypasses in the power supply.
A characteristic thing about companies devoted to sound, is the ongoing development, there is no way of speaking about a definitive, final version of a device, this is why this tested amplifier is just an interim version, designed in 2006, with some refinements and tubes chosen by the second architect of its success, a member of the KSS, Janusz Stopa. But this is also the “current” version, the best existing unit (all are upgradable with the newest ideas of Mr. Waszczyszyn, an asset of small companies). The company quotes the following characteristics of this exact unit:
To be able to convey you the most information, I asked the constructor to describe the units in details, which I place below, without abbreviating it.
The construction of the Silver Grand Mono closes ten years of the presence of Ancient Audio on the market. It is also, in my opinion [J. Waszczyszyn – editors note] the conclusion of the current art of making such constructions. The previous model, Silver 300, was made according to the canon of tube amplifiers construction made in the 70-ties in Japan. Those rules, perfected by Hiroyasu Kondo, stood ground perfectly in many hi-end products. However the ongoing improvement in loudspeaker and sound source design imposed the need of changing some of those assumptions. 20th century solutions became not sufficient for the 21th one. Hence the design of the Silver Grand Mono, using some of the canonical solutions as well some new ones, not used before.
The power supply turned out to be so worked out, that it had to be transferred to a separate enclosure. In addition separation to two monoblocks and two monophonic power supplies minimized their mutual interference, especially those caused by dissipated magnetic fields. Every power supply has three independent power transformers: high voltage and heating of the E88CC tubes, heating of the 300B and amplifier control. All voltages are stabilized. The amplifier has a battery of capacitors, which can hold a significant amount of energy. For example the high voltage capacitors can hold over 1000J of energy. This would be enough to start a gasoline engine or light a 100W bulb for 10 seconds.
Teflon signal capacitors
Fast electrolytic capacitors
Anode current meter
We wrote about the following Ancient Audio products:
Płyty użyte podczas odsłuchu:
Like mentioned before, I know this amplifier fairy well. I listened to it with most of top digital sources, compared it to many other amplifiers and attached it to many loudspeaker systems. Despite common belief tube loudspeakers (with active bass) weren’t the best companion for the Grand. All the characteristics of such speakers, or just plain distortion, were audible and interfering with the perception of music. The Ancient amplifiers were designed together with the mighty, half active, Wing loudspeaker system, and the residents of Janusz’s system stand mounted Sonus Faber Electa Amator I. And with those classic, dynamic speakers they sound best. A second important factor, that should be taken into account, is that Mr. Waszczyszyn believes, that the best place for the preamplifier is inside the sound source, and not as a separate unit. This is why his players – the top Lektor Grand SE, the used by me for over three years Lektor Prime,or even the cheapest of them all Lektor V have built in attenuators (in the form of ICs) integrated with the output circuitry.
Prime hooked directly to the monoblocks using the Acrolink Mexcel 7N-AD6300. But because I am an advocate of external preamplifiers I listened to the Grand also using the following preamps:HERE). Finally lets add, that the monoblock were connected to mains with two power cables Acrolink 7N-PC7100.
In case of the Grand the easiest thing for me to say, is that the Ancient monoblocks are the best amplifier I ever heard – not only in my system, but in general. (When I read this text during editing, I got a bit scared. At the same time something started bugging me. I did not know what it was, but this statement has bitten me in the part of me, usually described as conscience… In the morning I knew what it was: similar class of sound was presented by the beautiful Reimyo PAT-777. This is a different sound, but from the same shelf. This will still not allow to look at everything from “above”, but at least gives some breathing space. However because the text was ready, the remarks about Reimyo will be just a counterpoint to the theses posed). This is a fairly easy conclusion of a long text, because the assets of those constructions are obvious and audible from the first minutes of the listening session. But this statement is, in the long run, stupid, because it shows, that the reviewer did not hear everything, as there, just behind the corner, better devices can hide. Despite those remarks, this easy conclusion, stated a priori, in the beginning of the test, was the only possible one. Most obviously I lack a reference point on such a high level. However it turned out, that a more interesting process was the way of analyzing, what combines into a hi-end sound, what constitutes it, and the attempt to answer the question, how far away we are from the live event (unfortunately – we are still far from it…). The most important thing was already said: I do not know a better amplifier, maybe except for the quoted Reimyo. This is problematic for me, because a comprehensive description, an evaluation, etc, are possible, when we compare the product to something better, when we can look at the sound from every side, split it apart and put together again, wiser from that experience. Fortunately I have quite a big experience in listening to other, equally expensive, amplifiers from competing companies, different, but equally fantastic. I could also call upon my experience from the recording studio and concert halls, as the ultimate goal of every constructor should be the ability of his gear to reproduce the sound as close to live sound as it is only possible. All those things together allowed me (at least I think so) to gain some distance to the Silver and enjoy the time I had them at my disposal.
Now to the point: the tonal balance of the Polish power amplifier is extremely close to the one, offered by my Luxman M-800A – this is a solid state amp, working in push-pull, but fully in class A. The differences in placing accents were small, much smaller than between the Luxman and other power amplifiers, I tested to date. The sound proposed by the Silver Grand Mono is completely different than the “tube sound” stereotype. In the beginning Mr. Jarek mentioned the reference point, devices from Kondo. A comparison with the Japanese PAT-777 showed, that there is something true about that, because the Reimyo power amp presents a similar sound balance to Kondo and Audio Note units. Not looking at other things, which are plain magical in the Japanese devices, the tonal balance of the Silver was closer to them, when tube rectification was used. Now, with solid state rectification, Teflon capacitors, etc, the Grand sound different than any other tube amplifier. In comparison – Jota Sentry from Art Audio sounded much warmer, it was closer to the Kondo, Reimyo and Accu P-7100. But this is not all: the Ancient does also not emulate solid state sound. They sound just in a very leveled way. There was no hint of any dryness in the upper octave, like with the Krell EVO402, or a slight flattening of perspective, like in the MC501 McIntosh. The power amplifier P-7100 Accuphase and McIntosh monoblocks are much closer to ‘tubey’ sound, than the Ancient. I looked at that longer than usual, because this quality level requires uncompromising review and lack of any prejudice. I do not agree with Janusz, that tube devices should be reviewed in a different way than solid state ones, because they sound so different, that their assets and shortcomings cannot be compared and “weighted”. I do not agree due to one simple thing: the user, in his striving to achieve the absolute sound, should not be bothered by the technology used to achieve that. Especially in extreme hi-end we talk about here. When something sounds worse, like bass from tubes, then it is a flaw, period. Not a “characteristic” of a tube, but a shortcoming. When on the other hand the treble is not detailed enough, because this is a transistor based unit, then we deal with the same thing – a shortcoming. Splitting the equipment in technological groups is a methodological error, and as such should be abandoned and forgotten. Especially when the Krakow amplifier shows, that there can be a device, which is an alpha and omega in almost all categories.
This does not mean, that there aren’t any elements, that couldn’t be done differently. It is hard to say “better” on this level, here the preferences, the choice of how we “feel” a disc, do count. This is why my two remarks, which I can make in this situation, come from my habit to a certain sound and from my experience. One thing is about the treble, the range of, more or less, above 5kHz and below 10kHz. The Silver has an outstanding, never before experienced by me in audio, resolution of that range. It is better than in the Jota Sentry, and even – although only “a little” – than the PAT-777. But it is not about that. It seems to me, that this range sounds stronger, than I am used to – and for me the reference is the mentioned Reimyo amplifier. We cannot talk about sharpening, because relatively sharper sounds my Luxman (or, based on many years of listening during the Munich High End shows, the Wavac), and the Krell was even stronger than that. The amount of information is enormous in the Grand, what results in Music, and not Sound, but I think, that the energy of that frequency range determines the sound character of the amplifier. Maybe this is the key to the differentiation, something of greatest value for may audio journalists and manufacturers, because it shows the true “transparency” of the sound chain, which is phenomenal here. My Luxman, outstanding gear in that aspect, also the Jota Sentry Art Audio, already mentioned, which is better than the Luxman, and finally the brilliant PAT-777 Reimyo show things in front of them in a very competent way, I have no doubts about the mastering or implementation. But even the beautiful Reimyo did not show the differences so well. The Silver showed something more – classy hi-end devices differentiate – just to visualize it better – on a scale from 0 to 10. The Silver goes up to 15. It may seem not being a big difference, but this is only a mirage. This is like August evenings in the mountains and in the lowlands – the temperature differences between day and night are similar, yet in the mountains we feel the cold much more. Yes, this is that kind of change. Luxman, Reimyo, Art, but also the A-65 Accuphase, and the mentioned McIntosh monoblocks, “buck up” the sound a bit – now I can hear that – allowing to hear everything placed on a disc in a comfortable, “safe” way. But if they would be more “transparent” we could end up with a headache. The Silver show more treble. But because the sound is also richer in harmonics, we have there more internal connections, lack of veiling, this leads to a better understanding of music, easier concentration on the program, and not on the gear. M-800A is not far behind, but it is behind.
The second element I want to highlight, is the turning point between the midrange and bass, with the slight upping of medium bass. Those elements are also a tad stronger than their surroundings. Yes, this shape of sound makes the Ancient amplifier incredibly attractive, there is no trace of thinning, slimming, etc. In contrary: the virtual sources are big, almost natural in their size, and the sound is incredibly saturated and full. It is also important that the Silver splendidly handled my full range loudspeakers, Dobermann Harpia Acoustics, sounding sufficiently loud, also discs like Void De/Vision, Sounds Of The Universe Depeche Mode and Abbey Road The Beatles. Really, I did not have even one moment, when I would be able to point to something concrete and tell, that I feel lack of bass. And this was only 18W for god’s sake! Yes, the Krell EVO402, Accuphase, MC501 McIntosh or my Luxman reach lower and control the 40Hz region better (let me remind, that the lowest sound of a contrabass is around 42Hz). And the PAT-777 Reimyo did not handle the Dobermann as well. The listening session needed to be much quieter, and there was no doubt, that half the power means half the volume. This is why the Japanese amplifier requires well chosen loudspeakers, while the Silver will handle more constructions, when their impedance does not fall below 4Ω, preferably staying above 5Ω. When we meet those requirements, then it will turn out, that the Ancient amplifier sounds with such a rich, saturated sound (if not for the phenomenal resolution, we could talk about “viscosity”, but in the positive sense of a rich network of internal connections), that the slight softening of the lowest frequencies can be forgiven. But in absolute categories this is a shortcoming. And we cannot obscure that. During the listening sessions this did not translate into any change in the perception of music, we could not pinpoint this range and tell, that there is something wrong with it.
But there is something associated with that. Like I mentioned, the Ancient devices were designed for working with the Sonus Faber Electa Amator. Those are stand mount speakers, and we cannot talk about full range here. But to make the sound as complete as possible, the constructor of the Grand used a certain trick in the amplifier – he boosted some of the lower midrange and bass. Everything has the right balance on the Sonus, the kettledrums in symphonic orchestra are breath taking. But the truth is, that physics does not allow the Electa to reach below 40Hz, and also some of the range just above that is reproduced only partially. Making us feel “completeness” of the sound is just psychoacoustics. But on my Dobermann this was immediately clear. This did not ruin anything in the sound – ah, how well all the guitars sounded! Those from L.A. Wooman The Doors, or So Much Guitar! Wesa Montgomery!!! And vocals – pure honey! It was sufficient to listen to Carmen McRae from the fantastic disc Books Of Ballads, or even better to the reference re-master, made by First Impression Music, of the Misa Criolla Ariel Ramirez with José Carreras, to get goose-flesh. And the violins sounded even better, perfectly clear, full and “fluent”, like form the reference recording of Ten Sonatas in Four Parts Purcella by Retrospect Trio. But there were some side effects of such sound shaping – not audible on stand mount speakers. The sound was closer to the listener than with the Luxman, and the stage was turned a bit inside, I mean, that the elements placed on the sides were closer to the medium axis than with my amplifying system (Ayon and Luxman). Interestingly, the sound stage itself, was very big – better than everything else I heard. And yet Carreras was closer than with the Luxman, and the effect suggesting recording in a small room with hard walls placed on the voice of Gahan (Depeche Mode) was not so clear.
This all was when the Lektor Prime was connected directly, without a preamplifier. Every attempt to connect a preamplifier in-between ended poorly – the sound got smaller, resolution diminished and everything got sharper. The effect was completely opposite to what I usually get. It was best with the Polaris II, but still it was better without the preamplifier. With other sources, like the Accuphase DP-700 the result was different – there the preamplifier turned out to be necessary. So the Silver was designed to work optimally with one preamplifier in the sound path, and not two – as one is mounted inside the Lektor, and the second one was external. The amplifier effortlessly handled large floor standers, showing good bass (please listen to the opening of Missa Criolla with the deep sounds of the kettle drums) and drive, and I would rather not pair them with tube loudspeakers, because it is not worth to sacrifice even frequency response in the name of better energy transfer. The bass is not as low as with good solid state amps, but because the Silver clip very softly, this does not matter. I caught them clipping only once, on the Danielsson, Dell i Landgren Salzau Music On The Water, where the sound is recorded without any compression, very close to the instruments. And the distortion was audible when listening loud, but not on the bass, but on the midrange. The sound depth is incredible – due to the extraordinary high resolution the virtual sources are drawn in a truly three-dimensional way and placed in a very big, natural space of the stage. The depth in the limits of a given sound event is so big, that I cannot compare it with anything. The sound of a real instrument is even more vivid, but – attention! – less “extracted” from the background, than listened through the Ancient amplification. Because this is how the microphones “see” the event. This is a hyper-realism, but necessary – in reality a part of the reception is supported by vision. At home (I am talking about audio) we do not have that, this is why everything needs to be a bit exaggerated, just to make sense. And the Grand shows is brilliantly.
But those amplifiers need perfect elements all around – the level of the Acrolink 7N-AD6300 interconnects, power cables 7N-PC9100 or Tara Labs Omega Onyx loudspeaker cables is the optimum. The amplifiers are so transparent (this simplicity of the sound path! – this is KISS incorporated: Keep It Simple Stupid), that the better level we reach with the companions, the better sound we will get. Their sound stage is extremely worked out, fantastically sorted out and filled. Similar situation is with the basis sound of the instrument. But is worth checking, how the midrange-bass range works with the specific loudspeakers – I think, that the Ancient amplifier will fare better with stand mount speakers than with full range, passive constructions – not because it will lack bass, but because the sound is shaped in that way. With half-active loudspeakers, when we can adjust the level of the bass, it should be just perfect.
We discussed the construction basics in the beginning, so I will not repeat them – I will just plain describe what I see. The Silver Grand Mono (2006) is a power amplifier, fully tube based, with two parallel, directly heated 300B triodes on output. Like the name suggest this amplifier consists of two monoblocks, and each is divided in two parts. The original Silver 300B had one enclosure per channel, here the power supply, with two power transformers, is in a separate one. They have fairy small size, with acrylic front panels and a mesh cover, there are also dimmed blue LEDs below the mesh. There are no power switches, those are placed on the main units. The power supply is connected to the amplifying unit by a meter long, multi strand cable (this is the blue-black loudspeaker cable Kimber Cable), with a DIN plug. Inside we see a battery of filtering capacitors, two toroidal transformers and power stabilizers.
The amplifying modules are made using a similar technique to the Ancient CD players. The basis is a granite plinth, to which a metal box is mounted from below, containing all the circuitry. The output transformer and anode voltage capacitors are placed on top. Behind the metal cover, on the level of the granite, there is a single pair of WBT loudspeaker terminals. The input is on the back plate, just next to the heat sink and the power cable socket. In Janusz’s unit those are top models from Furutech – I recommend those, I use the same model in my Lektor Prime player. Next to those there is a power switch. Let’s stop here for a moment, as this is one thing, that annoys me incredibly. Silver Grand Mono is a very expensive amplifier. Its handling should be as pleasing as boarding a Lexus. But hi-end manufacturers are mostly audiophiles and/or engineers, who do not pay enough attention to such “minor” things. The Silver has two switches, one for each channel, placed on the back, close to a sharp edged heat sink. And this should be easy to use, one switch should do the trick. And in fact this should be handled from the Ancient player, as commonly those work together in systems.
The front of the box with electronics is covered by a smoked glass plate, where ten LEDs were placed behind. 5-6 of them should be lit, this is the indicator of bias current. The 2006 version has automatic bias, so this should not interest us at all. And the tubes are as follows, for each channel: on the input a single low power triode E88CC (in the tested unit those were the NOS Philips SQ or Valvo), the same kind of tube was used in the power triode control stage and on output the Full Music 300B/c with carbon plate. I heard those tubes also with a mesh plate (like on the pictures), but the carbon version sounds much better to me. The units stand on four gold plated cones.
Technical data (according to manufacturer):
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