Review: Final Laboratories Music 6 Amplifier
Music 5 Review
This review is way overdue, since I have had the amplifier since early January, 2004. The Final Music 6 is the culmination so far of a quest of the best amplifier, within means and reasonable budget be it solid state or tube. I will not try to be authoritative, for there are many world class amplifiers out there that deserve review and attention, and as many as there are out there, so there will be as many differences in design, execution and fan or hate base. The review and the sonic signature of the Music 6 is based in real time comparison to some amps that I have had the pleasure of owning in the past 16 years as a new audiophile:
Carver M 4.0 t, SS, 375 watts per channel
Nakamichi Stasis PA-7 SS, 200 watts per channel mostly Class A
Sonic Frontiers Power 2, 110 watts per channel, fully tubed (the largest, and the meanest amp I have had in my arsenal.)
Blue Circle BC-2 Monoblocks, hybrid, 75 watts of fully Class A power
Assemblage 300B Platinum edition, the last before Parts Connection and Sonic Frontiers folded, with Western Electric matched tubes, 9 watts per channel SET.
McCormack DNA 225, SS, 200 watts per channel.
47 Labs Shigaraki Integrated amplifier, SS, 20 watts.
Final Laboratory Music 6, SS, entirely DC powered or with the option of a tubed power supply, SS, 10 watts.
As you will be able to assess, I have taken a walk through different territories of audio design in the past 16 years, and yet, most of the amp swapping and hoarding happened between 2000-2004. Carver, need not to talk about it, typical of the most shameful aspect of my audio life.
Since 2000, with the avid hunger for gear and other unalturated reviews through the Internet, I became intrigued with all the bigger and more heavy weight presence in the audio magazines such as Sonic Frontiers before they were acquired by Paradigm. At the same time I became aware of very esoteric world of minimalist SS equipment manufacturers. Two of these companies were 47 Labs with their now eponymous Gaincard and the other being Final Laboratories with their Music 6 amplifiers. Most of the early buzz with these two amplifiers occurred via the internet, especially specialty webzines as Soundstage and also TNT audio, from Italy.
It took at least 3 years and thousands of dollars worth of amplifier swapping and other worthless pursuits to return to the roots. I purchased the 47 Labs Shigaraki integrated outright after having read a review from 6moons audio and the reviews were right, contagiously rhythmic and powerful sounding in its own 20 watts…..of course, I was not going to stay put for too long, even through my arsenal of amplifiers was growing.
In January I was able to purchase the Music 6 with its battery supplies, after almost 4 years of its debut in the US. What the 47 Labs Shigaraki Integrated did best with 20 watts, the Final Music 6 did better, with just half of the power and yet, more of the quickness and presence.
The Final Music 6 with 10 watts of DC battery powered watts is:
As smooth in the midrange as the Assemblage 300B with Western Electric tubes, mind you a tubed SET amplifier will always have a midrange magic that is inherent to the tubes, but the Final Music 6 attains the same sort of magic, or at least I will say 90% easily, with the advantage of quickness and authority in the bottom end, especially with my fullrange speakers, the Zhorns weighting in at 97db on the rearhorn loaded cabinets.
Furthemore, the Final Music 6 achieves a drive that is similar to the 47 Labs Shigaraki integrated, as reviewed in 6Moons back in February of 2003, by the editor…there is a drive and rhythm that are on the vein of the best SS, similar to the McCormack DNA amplifiers, especially with the DNA 225, but there is a key difference.
While the DNA 225 sounds quick, exciting, pratty, there are times when it can definetly sound a little too “jumpy” with an excitement that sometimes gives way to a little listener fatigue…perhaps some audiophiles will call it a sign of “grain” something that not too many reviews have commented about, and yet, the Final Music 6 is nearly as exciting in the drive as the DNA, but with the advantage of being absolutely non-fatiguing.
I believe that most of the SS fatigue is derived from the grainness that can be attributed to the variable of the wall fed current or other aspect of circuit design etc… The closest amplifier types that comes to the sound of the Final Music 6 is the 47 Labs Shigaraki and possibly the Gaincard, which I did not have the chance of auditioning.
Like both of the 47 Labs designs, the Final Music 6 also uses an op amp, something more common in the domain of portable sound amplification design that are seen in portable CD player and other mobile devices.
The seemingly hybridization of an OP Amp along with the reliance of DC power, that is gathered from 36 D type of batteries, in two separate cases might throw some people off, but for me, the Final Music 6 has been a sort of magic potion that has fed some soul to my already jaded perspective as young audiophile.
Music, be it vocal or Jazz is uncanningly immediate, palpable with a rhythm that can make the more hyped up SS designs to shame and yet,
This control or prodigiousness in the lower register definition abilities does not sacrifice of the material as it lives in the mid registers. The mid registers or midrange through the Final Music 6 has a presence that is akin to the best tubes and this, once again I believe has to do with the lack of grain that is part of the DC design of this amplifier.
Also, not only is the amplifier a virtual lens towards jazz or vocal performances, but it is also a great device for any sort of modern music filled with quick change of rhythms and heavy synthetizer works. Be it BOA (an Asian teenage prodigy from Korea) or some other music as RAP or Hip Hop, the amp is a stage that let the nuances flow…nuances that are not clinical or cold in nature, but a mix in the type of lighting that can be used….the Final Music 6 and its sound palette cannot be called glowing, gold as SET design can be called, or clinical as some SS designs are known for, but, the Final Music 6 remains steadily somewhere in between, acquiring the best of both words.
Does this mean that the Final Music 6 is the best amplifier out there, regardless of category? I would not say so, but from all the amplifiers that I was able to audition so far and use extensively at my listening room, I have to state that is comes as close to a comprise between the best SS out there, especially when it comes to controlling the lower registers. Furthermore, its midrange reproduction is comes near the best tubes SET amplifiers, be it pure tube or hybrid design as was the BC-2 Monoblocks that I once owned.
There are two draw backs to the Final Music 6:
The need to periodically swap the batteries…36 D batteries that come to about $9 every 4-5 months of heavy listening. The whole idea of the batteries lasting 6 months is a little too optimistic, but I did use the amplifier very well with a mix of days when it went unused, to days when I used it for more than 5 hours straight (on Saturdays.) The battery change takes less than 15 minutes of one’s time.
When does one need to change the batteries?
I have noticed the sound slowly degrading somewhere in between the voltage market that is provided. A new set of batteries will begin somewhere in the 27 volt range and never 30 volt as the market states…and the useful life of the batteries will be reached when the needle points at 15 volts…from there the sound slowly deteriorates.
Another negative of the design could be the need to always turn it off, if it is not used. There can be no more of the “leave it on” ideology as with other SS amplifiers, if you do not want to spend time swapping the batteries.
In conclusion, as there are many positives sides in everything, there are compromises in everything and the Final Music 6 is no exception to this rule…if the idea of filling a garbage can with 36 d batteries every 4-5 months is not really logical or ecologically responsable, just simply attempt to close your and put your favorite track, so it can be reproduced with the Final Music 6 with its suitable/sympathetic speakers…you will never wonder or ask why the act of adding to land field Earth is not such a big deal after all.
Overall, I highly recommend Audiophiles who are interested in obtaining the best, more dynamic, vivid and intimate sound through their stereos to audition this esoteric looking amplification devices in their own listening rooms…you will not regret it.
Final Laboratory Music 5 preamplifier
47 Labs Shigaraki CD transport
Bel Canto DAC 2.0 DAC
McIntosh MR 78 circa 1975
Zhorn Garuda with Fostex 208 Sigma full range drivers (8") 96.5 db
Infinity Intermezzo 1.1 12" subwoofer with 850 watt Bash class D amplifier and RABOS kit
BPT balanced power treatment deluxe with bybee purifiers and silver wiring 20A..
An assortment of power and connecting cables.
47 Labs OTA cable runs to the Zhorn cabinets
Analysis Plus cabling towards the subwoofer
Assemblage 300B Signature SET 9 watts per channel with 300B WE matched tubes
47 Labs Shigaraki integrated (20 watts per channel)
McCormack DNA 225 (200 watts per channel SS, circa 2001)
Blue Circle BC 2.0 class A hybrid monoblocks at 75 watts per channel (circa 1996)