Inviting a new piece of gear into our system can be tricky. It seems so many products grab us with whatever we notice as different between the new product and the one we already own. Or sometimes we listen to our systems and wish it was...something more. So when we find that next new product and have it installed, we listen to it. We aren't listening to the system as a whole, but instead focus on the traits of the new item. If you are nodding your head now, please read on.
When I opened up the new Maraschino Desktop Amplifier by the Digital Amplifier Company, I of course was excited to get these little treasures into my system. Tommy O and I enjoyed a previous phone conversation wherein he discussed the merits of the power supply choices and cabling differences available. Ultimately we felt my needs best served by the 60v supplies and standard leashes for DC. This netted 4 small boxes and their interconnecting DC cables. Each amplifier is mounted mono, in its own shielded enclosure with very solid stabilizing bases made of thick black granite slabs on my examples. The dual power supplies live in a slightly larger footprint, but are still quite compact by anyone's standards. Each item is supported by 4 extremely absorbent bumper type feet. The items grip the shelf securely and stay where placed once cabled in. By design the fully dual mono amplification and power supply is intended to be placed near each respective loudspeaker. In doing so, the cabling to the speaker can remain very short. This layout is key. It saves money obviously, as speaker cable has risen to higher prices than the boxes it's connected to in some systems. But more importantly, it minimizes the resistance, capacitance, and rf interference that the long wires feeding speakers can be subject to. In short, it's one less thing between you and your music. Better sound for free.
Desktop Maraschino amps are wired for balanced XLR cables but accommodate common RCA cabling via included adapters. Due to design a balanced cable is naturally immune to RF interference. This convention is the very starting point of our recorded music, used for microphones in recording studios. It's the trusted method to get the most fragile signal produced in the music chain through extremely long runs back to recording consoles. In our home systems today, many of which have modern DAC driven sources, a balanced cable can be used over greater distance and not be subject to signal loss, distortion, or interference.
Upon unpacking, inspection, connection and power up everything went without drama. The real drama began upon pressing Play. The immediate impression was of a newly energized sound. My system just found new jump, pop, power and clarity. No special provisions, no tweaking. Just music. No break in, no fettering about with settings. Just music. And in a rare way it was thus on every type of material I played. Sure, track quality and media type all have their influences but this sense that no matter what type, genre, age or depth of music I played, the new amplification prowess gave me something new to appreciate. The tracks that were recorded too hot and too flat for highfi had new things to appreciate. The cymbals and high hats that just hissed incessantly before were now distinguished by their individual metallic sounds. The bass that plodded before was fleet footed and delineated now. Better amplification gave way to rediscover those old recordings that we all set aside because they in some way expose flaws or weakness in our audio reproduction. The better recordings I have acquired now rewarded me with more insight, more inflection from the vocals on through to individual instruments. When everything seems improved the only explanation can be that the errors and compromises of other circuits have been omitted here. High bandwidth, phase coherence, extremely short signal paths and clean high current power all contribute. Tommy's 4" square amplifier circuit board has about a quarter of the circuit length than the component it replaces in my system. So it seems the electrical impulses have a shorter distance to travel, and thus less distractions whilst doing so.
Some context for credibility. My amplifier trials and ownership in my systems to date have included various SimAudio, Chord, Croft, Modwright, BelCanto, Wyred4Sound, NAD, and I'm sure others. What TommyO has built is different. The Maraschino's are at once Faster, Quieter, more Open, Deeper, better Sizzle, more Energized. These are the standout features that appeal to me. Sonically, I simply can't find a downside to what these little amps can do. The Maraschino's secret weapon seems to be bandwidth. That's not something you hear, it's something that happens. With extended frequency response like this, the tension in the music relaxes and just flows. It's seems the power on tap comes from a source much larger than expected. That power comes faster, and cleaner than should be possible. The music plays from a rock solid foundation that I think can only follow amps possessing a very high damping ratio. This is all at normal listening levels. Yet turn the volume down, way down. Just before invoking the auto power saving. Way down here, the sound is the same. Excellent imaging, depth and layering. Emotional content is still communicated at whisper levels. I say this thanks to such quiet circuits and outboard power supplies.
All my listening was through the very good Zu Audio Message speaker system. The Zu's pride themselves on an extremely high sensitivity and can provide the powerful responses required to give you back what the recording studios intended. There is no electrical crossover circuit between the Zu full range drivers and the amplifier, so I enjoyed the all the directness that the designers intended. What occurs here is a phase correctness that respects the timing and tone in your music. The Maraschino's and the Zu's are an excellent pairing.
I found some eventual fine tuning available via power cord and conditioning choices. Everyone's system responds differently but I found better results with Nordost Brahma power cords over a shielded version of Belden computer cords. Don't be afraid to experiment here. I plugged amps and source DAC into the same Audience Adept ar2p conditioner via six way AC tap augmented with a Nordost Qv2 harmonizer. The stock type computer type cords were a little dryer, and direct to wall dryer still. With the AC cabled and conditioned as described the sound is more natural and neutral. More liquid but not restrained or attenuated in any way.
My conversations and email with TommyO of Digital Amplifier Company illustrate that the man truly makes the company. Tommy's design and philosophy seem less about profits and marketing and instead focus on what we are trying to find here. The focus is all about better sound. The shortest path to it. And Tommy wants to sell amplifiers for sure, but he is heavily invested in doing it properly. The Maraschino eschews extra flair. You aren't buying anything more than you need here. There is enough power on tap to cause serious system or hearing damage if you desire either. There is higher return on the dollar for sound quality than I have heard anywhere else. You can really live with these amps in your system by hiding them behind the speakers, or they are attractive on a shelf with fancy cables and connections. When you close your eyes, and think about what your system needs to be in order to be personally satisfying, consider the Maraschino's. They let you stop listening to your system and instead you'll just hear the music.