Nice review, including the bits about build quality and warranty. How about more detail on direct comparison of these amps, or of just the HCA2, with your JC1s?
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I also want to commend and thank you for your thoughtful and thorough review.I am specifically interested as I was going to buy the VR3's or 4's,having owned the Alon speakers previously.Would you elaborate on the Odysseys' place in the evaluation? I also was considering the McCormack.5, and Bryston 3Bst. Are you satisfied with your digital setup?
Thanks so much for the kind words! I had a blast playing with these amps, each wonderful in their own ways.
Calanctus: I wish I could give you a review of the JC-1's but am not fully confident in my appraisal, having only heard them about dozen times in a friends system, and though I'm very familiar with that system it's not my own, so would't be comfortable reviewing them. From what I heard, however, the Stereophile review actually held back, its an even better amp then described. I actually enjoyed the JC-1 more then the 5 figure Spectral, Krell and big Pass Labs amps I've heard recently, which is pretty high praise as they where all killer amps as well (just 2-3x more expensive)!
Tracer: Go with the Vons, you'll not regret it one bit! Check out the new models if you have a dealer, the new VR4SE's will ruin you for any other speaker, but their new smaller speakers are also magical, and I personally prefer the older models to many of the new big dogs. I've heard the McCormack1 and honestly it would have finished last compared to the above amps. Though it is a great amp for the money it's not nearly as refined, balanced or revealing as any of the above, and the top end really puts it in a lower class, though no complaints about power! Regarding the Odyssey amp, that's a long story, please e-mail me if you're really bored and want to hear it.
Seandtaylor99, thanks for the suggestion, I will try to track a used one down to play with!
Thank you captain justice (Kalus or one of his pawns, I'm sure) for your highly useful comments. How long do you wish to kick this dead horse, might I ask? How neurotic are you to bring this matter up here in this unrelated post, let alone doing so a half year later!!! Grow the heck up my friend!
If you would like to stir the pot, let’s stir it a little more vigorously. I'll have you know that I wrote this review well before I was informed of the amp in question supposedly not being a Stratos, though I'm still not entirely convinced of this claim (accusation). Apparently I had the only Odyssey Design Labs model on the planet which someone spent a ton of money CNC fab’ing the exact Stratos faceplate with the right dimensions and took a ton of time silk-screening glass with the "Stratos" name on it (yes, it had "odyssey" on the metal and "Stratos" on the glass, just like all Stratos models and NOT the ODL’s), and also it was the only "ODL" model known to man with the 120,000uf cap upgrade, and other unique components identical to the Stratos, etc. It also looked EXACTLY like the Stratos on the inside from every pic I've ever seen, my friend, an EE, looked inside when I had it and later, looking at another "Stratos" he couldn't find ANY difference, granted this from memory, however. I had NO REASON WHATSOEVER to believe the amp was not an Odyssey Stratos, and I’m still highly skeptical here. From the treatment I received and from reading comments to others with similar dissenting perspectives, I feel that some folks (**read between the lines here**) simply can’t tolerate anything but gushing sheep-minded positive comments to be posted about Odyssey products as being god-like, as seen by past attacks on reviewers that don’t follow the cult path to audio enlightenment. This is nothing new, of course, Bose, B&W, Krell and other companies use the same sort of tactics to the same ends, and “business ethics” is of course an oxymoron.
Another point, supposedly shipping damaged jolted the unit I had and knocked it "out of spec," (ambiguous terms given to me, just passing it along), it later blew fuses due likely to abuse by the owner, and I'd like to see it proven that it wasn't in spec when I heard it rather then just after shipping it ONLY. It shipped 4 times after it left my hands, and a lot can happen to a 60lb package under such conditions, though that’s neither here nor there.
Either which way you take that fun filled story I’ve presented so far there is one more chapter for the final climax to add, in that I've since heard another "Stratos" just to prove my own sanity. (I’ve heard probably 40 amps in the past year alone, 25 or so digital sources, a few dozen speakers, 20 preamps….I get around, all around the country to different showrooms and have a ton of stuff going through my home. It’s a fun hobby for me, except for issues like this one that just won’t die!). I still wouldn't trade either a PSA or Bel Canto digital amp for it, no way, no how! The digital amps, to my ears, with my music, are clearly superior in terms of bass handling, smoothness, soundstage solidarity, PRAT, midrange richness and detail, musicality and lack of sterility that most SS amps possess and good tube and digital amps avoid, these things those highly important to me, I concluded the digital pieces all around “better” amps to ME. The Stratos has a trace more transparency with more etched (yet 2D) images on its side, and, in the case of the HCA-2, a slightly more cohesive tonal balance on its side in the midbass without use of a $500 powercord, but I don’t much value those things in the small degree they differed, given the HUGE tradeoffs present in favor of the other amps. If the HCA-2 and Evo2 are "A" grade amps then Stratos is maybe a B/B-. Sorry, fans, that's just the way it is as I hear it.
To get preachy, not even a deaf person would confuse the Odyssey sound for the PS Audio or Bel Canto sound, to think that personal preference wouldn’t lead folk’s one direction or the other is also something I can’t get over here, that some can’t seem to understand this, that aesthetics (high end audio) is purely subjective and some simply may not like the Odyssey sound! I’m completely fine if someone favors the Odyssey products, I really don’t care what someone else likes, I really don’t! The Odyssey big chief himself even mentioned (reluctantly and with back-peddling, granted) that folks have favored the digital amps for some of the reasons above, according to BB posts on audiocircle.com. I've also been given a few testimonies via email of folks that read my review here, bought the HCA-2 and sold their Odyssey amps (though one guy kept the monoblocks as they simply fed his hungry eStats where the HCA-2 turned off at high levels). There have been TONS of odyssey amps sold on audiogon, they had to be replaced by something, right…..:) Good value from Odyssey, sure, great warranty and pleasing aesthetics/build for the superficial is a plus for many, but there are better amps available to my ears, lots of them! If another found bliss and an exit-level product in Odyssey, I’m happy for them, I won’t judge them, peace be with you.
Do I sound sour, bitter even in this reply? Maybe I’m overreacting here you think? That’s quite likely, but it's only because the owner of Odyssey Audio made me this way, as well as emails and comments online from his good buddies also involved with the ordeal in one way or another. I’m sure most didn’t want to hear this and really don’t care to know the details, as no sane person with a life should, but apparently there are those with mental disorders that do! I let the issue go and haven't mentioned it since publicly, not once (!!!), someone apparently hasn't let go for whatever sick reason and I'm frankly sick of addressing it repeatedly and getting emails about the Odyssey amp, so, to amuse myself, I decided to let it all out of the bag, only because prompted, just move get on. I'm done on the subject, there's nothing left to be told, and will not respond to this matter again. I’ve anticipated ever question I would have received in my initial much briefer response to this topic, hence the seemingly undue length of this reply to the simple statement above. I have MUCH better things to do with my time/life. Have a nice day, thanks for reading. THE END.
P.S. Captain truth, try an HCA-2 or eVo2 next to a Stratos then tell me what you think. You can even borrow my amps if you are near D.C..
Cosmic_void: The A3 24 dac was my favorite amongst a MSB Nelson, Bel Canto dac 1.1, Chord 64, Rega Jupiter and Jolida JD100 listening spree I had a few months back when on a digital binge. The MCD205 McIntosh 5 disc changer that ST reviewed against it DOES indeed sound almost exactly like this dac in its strengths, I also hear that at my dealer and brought the A324 along. I owned the A324 for a while before getting bit by the SACD bug, still have very fond memories of its uncanny openness, fabulous soundstaging, nicely enriched midrange and smooth presentation. Only real fault was in terms of electronic-music-like bass slam in the 20-40hz range. The bass speed and articulation was superb but it lacked the more vicseral, feel it rather then hear it type of bass that I crave for my high intensity and dynamic trip-hop, Mahler and other demanding music listening sessions. Otherwise it's hard to fault in its price range, very balanced, non-fatiguing yet very detailed with glorious topend extension and clarity, nothing to draw attention to itself and it's only faults are seen with a direct a/b comparison and careful listening. Only cavaet, and it's a big one, is that it requires a VERY GOOD transport to shine or else it can sound downright awful. The A3 CDP, I'm sorry to say, suprisingly isn't a very good transport for this dac, many folks have noted this, as odd as that sounds. A Theta Basic, Pear or Jade, or even Sony 9000ES would do it justice. I like a Silver or silver coated digital with this dac, PC's didn't make much of a difference with it. Hope that helps, if you need more info feel free to post or email me.
I tried the PS Audio against the Odyssey Stratos Mono not the standard Odyssey. The PS and the Odyssey sounded different. The Stratos was more cohesive, the PS was more explosive. Detail was on par. Depth was on par. The Odyssey also sounded better with the PS power cord than it did with its own. The Stratos has to be on all the time to sound good. Period. The PS sounds good (after break-in) as soon as you turn it on. The Odyssey was more transparent, the PS sounded faster.
However, I'm a tall guy and I don't drive cars I can't fit in. Why be uncomfortable. I don't keep amps that can't drive my preferred speakers. Why limit myself to only a few records at lower levels. I liked the PS immensely. Is it better than the regular Odyssey? I don't know. I never had one. Is it bettr than the Monos? No. Did I like the way it sounded definitely.
Would I buy the PS. Depends on the speaker.
I also listened to the BC and agree completely with Socrates. I did not have one in direct comparison with the other two. I did spend two days listening to a BC in another system.
The Odyssey and the PS I had at the same time.
And I still defend Socrates.
Thank you for the comments, Dannylw, I appreciate the defense and always good to hear multiple perspectives to see how gear works in other systems. Any seasoned audiphile will tell you that the amp-speaker interaction is what makes or breaks the percieved quality of an amp in any system. I own speakers that are well know to respond to the speed, power, ease, smoothness and magical midrange of digital amps, the digital-amp sound if you will (at least as I've heard digital amps sound "in general"). Other speakers have other needs and differnt demands in terms of load and power. Big estats with 83db efficiency will eat a HCA-2 for breakfast, as they will most sub 500WPC amps, for example. That said, my full range Vons are only 87db efficient, yet I've pushed my HCA-2 to night club level volumes once a month at parties in my home, with my european friend techno playing with my volume dial set to "kill-tweeter and blow fuses" level (which it did with MANY other amps that where given this task) for 3 hours non-stop, yet the HCA-2, to steal Kal Rubinsons line, pumped out the power like a nuclear power plant. No clipping, just effortless, controlled and still smooth power.
I've tried every amp I've owned with a variety of PC's to varying effects, though too many cords and too small of a difference to waste time telling a story about them!
I feel that the Odyssey amps must be kept on 24/7 is also a huge drawback to those paying the elctric bill, while the 90 some % efficiency of digital amps, that they come "on song" with 10 minutes of warmup is great, and the cool running nature is a huge plus in my book, not to mention the space saved. Another note for potential buyers, I feel the HCA-2 to be one of the most revealing amps I've ever heard. When folks find faults with them it's usually not in the amp but a problem upstream getting magnified, at least in my experience with mating it with dozens of other components, though the ability to mate with the speakers is no doubt of paramount importance.
FWIW, I agree with Dannylw's assessment of the PSA and Odyssey. Also, I do own a a Bryston and an Odyssey and am hardly a minion or Klaus :) The Stratos absolutely has to be left on all the time to work it's magic - it starts doing its thing after about 2-3 full days left on. This could be seen as a drawback to some, I'm sure. No problem with your personal taste on this issue -- could care less what you like better, but all the facts help make this more useful to other ppl reading.
Also, ODL did produce idential amps physically (but bias'd very differently) to Odyssey before they were forced to change the glass plate. (Also Stratos's design has evolved quite a bit even in the past few years). So, relax a little Socrates, and thanks for the comparison. Your SACD shootout was very helpful and I tend to agree with everything you wrote in your digital review. Thanks for taking the time to write that up, and I look forward to hearing you opinions of the DV50 or 5900 :)