When Frank Van Alstine asked me to review the prototype version of his soon to be released DVA 225 mono block amps I jumped at the chance. I have reviewed several of his products and it is always fun and interesting and this review was no different.
I was finally able to post a picture at the bottom of the page by converting it to a JPEG file. I can tell you that the amps utilize the silver faceplates and blue power button that is available on the higher end AVA equipment. They weigh about 16 pounds each and their dimensions are about 10" deep and 8 3/4" wide. They have XLR only inputs and a ground lift switch in the back. Frank says that they put out 225 wpc at 8 ohms and almost double at 4 ohms. They are high current amps and after listening to them with my Magnepans I have no doubt about that.
I listened to them in my reference system which is as follows- BAT VK 51se tube preamp, Luxman DA-06 DAC, Magnepan QR1.6 speakers, dual Martin Logan original Dynamo subs, XLR's- Belden 8402 and Audioquest Colombia 72v DBS. Speaker cables- 10g Belden by BJC's. My reference amp for comparison is my Pass X250, 250 wpc at 8 ohms and 500 wpc at 4.
I also listened to them in my son's system which consists of a Pass B1 preamp buffer that we built using high end boutique parts, Parasound A21 amp, my older AVA DAC the Ultra II SL Hybrid DAC with all the mods and using 1950's NOS Raytheon 6CG7 tubes. this takes SPDIF input only and plays standard redbook. A Schiit Eitr USB to SPDIF converter was used for computer music files. Speakers are the new Wharfedale EVO 4.4's. We used an RCA to XLR converter that Frank built as the Pass B1 is single ended only.
XLR cables were Cardas Parsec's and RCA's by BJC's.
I wanted to listen to them in my friends $45,000 system but he was unavailable. If Frank lets me hold onto them for 2 more weeks I will post another review.
Music players used were Bug Head and Audirvana.
I first listened to the amps in my reference system. I picked a piano piece from George Winston's remastered Autumn album called Colors/Dance. I love this song for a reference as the piano has weight, texture, depth and excellent decay. I feel that if a system can get piano right then most (not all) other aspects of sound fall into place. After the first few notes I knew that the amps were special. It sounded like George was playing in my room (I have seen him live 4 time and once 2 rows back in an intimate venue). The piano had great body, tone and texture and the decay was fabulous. The sound stage extended toward the ends of my 17' wide room and to the top of my 9' ceilings. I could tell already that the amp was more detailed than my Pass. The attack was more well defined as the leading edges had a natural crispness that the Pass does not have. The Pass is more rounded and softer in presentation. Moving on I queued up Eva Cassidy's Live at Blues Alley Stormy Monday and Fields of Gold on the Bug Head Music Player. This is one of my favorite albums and I know it intimately. The textures of her voice really stood out. It felt like I was in the front row in center stage at the intimate club where it was recorded. Her voice just had wonderful tone.
Next up I listened to Boxer Rebellion's Cold Still as I wanted to get an idea on how the amps handled bass. The amps did not disappoint. They had very good low frequency authority. Bass was well defined and tight. My Pass amp has a little more bass slam and presence but the DVA 225's had tighter and faster bass and sounded more controlled. If you are not familiar with Pass amps, they tend to be a little rounded on the edges, bass is thunderous but a little loose and slow compared to some amps. The DVA's definitely have better PRAT. And don't get me wrong, the DVA's have very good slam, just the Pass hits a little harder.
I then listened to London Grammar's Hey Now from the album If You Wait. Her voice was lush and had a forceful presentation but still had air and transparency. The music had just the right amount of bloom and bass rattled my room in a good way. I then put on Sara Bareilles Yellow Brick Road from the album Live at the Variety Playhouse. I first heard this album a few years ago at Axpona with all Bricasti gear and Tidal speakers and I was blown away at how real her voice sounded and at how the piano just seemed to be floating in air. Well I got the same feeling that I did in the Bricasti room. The amp gave a great holographic presentation. Sara's voice had authority but was delicate when it needed to be. Piano sounded like it was floating in air with space around it. Now it was not to the same extent as the Bricasti system but it sounded damn good.
I then wanted to put on some pristine recordings so I queued up the song Skylark from the Best Audiophile voices vol. I by Monica Mancini. I was not disappointed. The background was dead silent. The sound stage was spacious and well defined and despite the smooth and clean sound there was great texture to Mancini's voice. Next up was an ECM recording by the Tord Gustafson Trio. There was great space between the instruments and each was well defined. Treble had good air and was grain free.
I found the DAV 225's to be fun to listen to. They were more musical and had better PRAT than my Pass amp. They have excellent dynamics and great headroom. I listened at various volumes and they never broke up or sounded congested at loud volumes and they never ran out of steam. The general tone of the amps are neutral with just a hint of warmth and darkness but that is probably be due to my BAT preamp and Luxman DAC. I prefer a bit of warmth and darkness. They present a tall and wide soundstage with good depth and have a nice holographic sound. My Pass has a little more midrange fullness and a slightly wider and deeper sound stage but the amps are very close. The DVA's have tighter, faster bass but again, the Pass had just a bit more authority. The DVA's have better attack, more detail, texture and resolution. The DVA's have very good air and transparency but not quite on par with the Pass.
As far as presentation, my Pass presents as middle row listening while the DVA is more forward. It is not quite front row but somewhere between the middle row and front row in my system. Interestingly, Audirvana has more air and transparency compared to Bug Head but the midrange is thinner. When I used the DVA with Audirvana, the midrange sounded better than with the Pass. It did not lose as much body as the Pass. Probably because the 225's have a slightly more forward midrange.
Overall, the DVA's hold their own and surpass my Pass amp in many respects.
Next up, my son and I compared the DV 225's to his A21 amp. The A21 was embarrassed and sounded mifi in comparison. It was not even close. Bass, musicality, dynamics, transparency, sound stage were much better with the 225's. There was much more detail, texture and resolution. You could really hear the grain in the A21 when compared to the 225's. We listened to George Ogilvie's a Delicate Kind and were not disappointed with bass slam and drum kicks which sounded great and like real drums. Pat Metheny's guitar on The What's It All About album sounded natural with great pluck and detail. Jackson Brown's voice from the Solo and Acoustic Vol. I had great texture and you could hear the subtle imperfections in his voice.
In conclusion, the DVA 225's represent great value just by the fact that they surpass my Pass amp in many respects. They offer very good detail, musicality, PRAT, texture and bass all the while sounding holographic, smooth and fatigue free.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask or PM me.