Merrill Audio Element 116 Review


Equipment Used:

Speakers:        Wilson Audio Sasha 2

DAC:                Chord DAVE

Source:            MacMini, Roon, Sonore microRendu with Uptone Audio UltraCap LPS-1.2

Music:             Mixture of redbook and hi-rez via HDTracks, Tidal and Quboz

 

I’ll start this review by saying that at the end of our listening period we contacted Merrill to purchase the amplifiers. I have had the Merrill Audio Veritas since January 2014 and have definitely enjoyed owning them. In parallel to this recent home audition we had also arranged with my local dealer to audition some other amps and we didn’t end up pursuing that option. I felt bad about this, but he understood our decision and admirably said about Merrill “They have treated you well and deserve your support”.

 

Some high-level thoughts

·      Beautiful looking amps, very solid, seem well put together and aesthetically pleasing

·      Overall these are a major upgrade: here are a few quotes from my wife

·      "I feel I am hearing it the way it was meant to be for the first time"

·      "I have heard people say it was almost like been there but this is the first time I have experienced that”.  

·      "I was expecting some small improvements here and there but this is big s..t"

 

The Element 116s use 20A power IEC connectors (though don’t require 20A feed) this meant I couldn’t use my usual Lessloss DFPC cables with the amps, so all my listening was done using the stock cables supplied. I am going to change my cables to use Oyaide C-236 20A IEC connectors, so they work will with the amps.

 

My preference when listening is for a sound that is true to the recordings without any added coloration. Having heard many of my favorite artists live, some only as recently as the last few months back I think the amplifiers do a great job of delivering on this and in a way that is engaging and never tiring. There is a slight extra presence to vocals now that elevate things in a subtle but noticeable way. The flip side of course is that the amps do no favors to poorly recorded material – they tell it as it is.

 

When introduced to our system these amplifiers represented a significant improvement. Our week-long listening session was peppered with exclamations such as “did you hear that?”, “I never knew there was so much going on in that song before” or “that is the best I have EVER heard it”. The amps may lose out ever so slightly in terms of overall punch compared to a much more expensive set of monoblocs I listened to a few weeks back but from my memory they are close. That listening session was in a different room with similar but different speakers so it is difficult to really compare but I remember on one particular song we stopped playing because it just didn’t sound great yet at home on the 116s it was better. It is easy to say what something is good at, I am not so good at identifying negatives so can’t tell what the amps might not be excelling at but I didn’t notice any negatives and the following improvements were abundantly clear. 

 

Bass was more evident and tighter; bass lines came through in ways they have never before, the sound was more cohesive then ever and everything had better separation and incredible detail. Voices had more air to them and in harmonies instead of just hearing a chorus you could pull out spatial details and male vs female separation. They produced a very full sound and enveloping soundstage that was engaging, had a real depth to it presenting a more 3D rather than 2D experience and one that was full of detail and really impressive transients and decay. In short all the areas I wanted improvements on were just there, I didn't have to listen carefully or dig for them they were just there.


jmjohnson
Nice review! What cables did you use? Any power conditioning used?
So, what amp did they replace and what other amps have you heard in your system?
First paragraph says he has owned Merril Veritas since 2014.
@t_ramey 1+, for reading comprehension. 
What cables did you use? Any power conditioning used?

All my analog interconnects including speaker cable are Purist Audio Design Aqueous Aureus and the digital interconnects are from Wireworld Platinum Starlight. I don't use power conditioning.

Post removed 

congratulations!!

I heard the E 116s recently. albeit all too briefly. I've been around long enough to know when I'm listening to something special though and quite immediately.

i also heard the latest Sasha DAWs Peter McGraff was presenting but with aR pre plus 150 monos and DCS gear.

I spent most of the time talking with Merril w. about the amps , and since found out the whole setup.

specifically I saw he used his own wires. PCs too with the muraudio Stats.

as well EMM Labs dAC x2 and an Aurender was on the dais.

I found his setup overall to be spooky good. as you posted or your better half said, a lot of they are here was going on.

your account is spot on.

Iv'e been wondering since what the wilson and E116 & the Christina Ref pre would sound like together.

with the aR gear the DAWs bottom end was big for sure, but IMO loose.

as you have a very nice set of cabling but now need 20A IEC types, have you considered going with what MW uses in his show demos? as PCs go, they sure are not too terribly pricey.

... and have you ever heard tthe E 116 using MA's own wires front to back?

without direct cable comparisons its impossible to say, but there sure was a ton of transparency going on in that room! how or what part of it was due to the wires is another of my brain teasers.

again, congratulations!

Thanks. 

 

Strangely enough I am not sure I like the DAWs. I have heard them twice now in fairly intimate sessions, the second time was with my own music, sources, cables etc. but I haven’t taken to them. We had some hiccups the second time around with phase issues (once with cable connections and once with an inadvertent DAVE phase inversion) that muddied the water. I’d like to hear them again at some stage especially now with the 116s.  I was initially considering swapping out the Sasha 2s to the DAWs but reconsidered and went with new amps instead. Hopefully in a few years when my audio savings have recovered I can think again about speakers.

 

Regarding your cabling questions:

I am not sure what Merrill is currently using. The audition set I had came with what seemed like a stock set of power cords. Back in 2014 when I got the Veritas I tried a number of power cables. I can’t be 100% sure but I think I included the ANAPs from Merrill at the time and found I preferred the Lossless over everything I tried. I don’t think I ever tried speaker cable from Merrill.

I don’t think I’ll be trying different cabling though – not sure I have it in me for all the AB testing J

 

Not sure if I can post something like this on the forum, and you may be aware of it already, but if you are ever interested in auditioning cables of any sort “the cable co” lending library  is a great resource.



THX

interesting to hear about the issue with the DAWs. Peter Mc made a point of showing that particular diff during his demo.

Sasha's are well above my pay grade presently and maybe Wilson's in general. dunno. it was a dynamic presentation though even with limited (150/160w) glass power.

yes. I've been around here long enough to have dealt with Fat Wire/Cable co. for some time. nice folks. 10 days is often too short an audition period though for some wires.

I've been around long enough too to know some wires work better with certain items than do others. interesting to hear your words on 'lossless'. a friend of mine raved about them some years back.

congrats. be well.

jmjohnson,
Thanks for your E 116 review.  It appears that you have listened for about a week.  Regarding break in, have you noticed any changes so far?  Please update your impressions after a month or more.  No doubt you are spreading the word to your friends, so it would be fruitful if they brought over other SOTA amps for comparison in your known system. Thanks.
I let them warm up as per suggestions for a few days. There were improvements between zero hour and after the warm up period. They were on 24/7. I don't expect much significant change but I'll post if I notice.

Note: I say purchased but that doesn't mean I physically have them - right now I am waiting for my pair to arrive, the demo units went back. All my comments are on the demo units.

I have no friends locally who are interested in audio. At previous locations I have and it has been fun to share & swap equipment but that is not possible at present. Sure when friends drop by they will happily listen but the closest any of them have are Sonos (which I am not knocking)
jmjohnson,
Thanks.  The demo units were probably broken in.  You were smart to listen to the demo units.  The real test will be how your new units break in.  Keep us posted.

I’ll second that note about posting what you notice during break in, and its overall length.


BTW, ever consider just having your 15A IEC PCs reterminated t 20s? as long as the conductors are# 10 AWG stranded or greater, you’re  legal. with #12 you are good given the application remains dedicated to the present amps.  


simply having them reterminated lowers the run in period and if the same brand and type plugs are used the voice should not change dramatically. if at all.


BTW, ever consider just having your 15A IEC PCs reterminated t 20s? as long as the conductors are# 10 AWG stranded or greater, you’re  legal. with #12 you are good given the application remains dedicated to the present amps.


That is my plan. I realized my wording was imprecise above when I said change my cables to use 20A I meant reterminate the connectors. I just ordered two new Oyaide 20A IECs

well, its been a while....

what do you think now that you have your new amps run in and your cables reterminated?

better? same? worse?

thinking of upgrading your dAC now?

Adding a streamer/server?

still very curious as to how MA fits with Sasha's?

many thanks.Z
I know this is an older thread but OP said something interesting about phase with Sasha DAWs.
 I bought a pair in the spring and they're pretty well broken in now,  but it wasn't until I reversed polarity on the tweeters that the imaging locked into place.
Has anyone had a similar experience?