Review: Melody MK88 Tube amp
As some of you may have noticed, I recently overhauled my entire system. I had assembled a rig based around gear I enjoyed, voiced to my specific tastes. A few fellow ACers had the opportunity to hear it and I really quite loved it, but it was a poor fit to my domestic setting. Aside from intruding in the room, I couldn’t situate things to sound their best.
After trying to mitigate the problem for over a year, I finally broke down and bought new speakers, the Von Schweikert VR-33s which are meant to be placed close to a wall… With their sensitivity I had hoped for them to be a drop in substitute for my prior Zu speakers—perhaps in power, but certainly not in synergy. As a result I found myself re-voicing my core components to suit this speakers.
As I was raising funds for what had to be done, I stumbled upon Hugh of Angel City Audio and, after some discussion, we arranged a partial trade and I took a chance on a Melody MK88 Integrated.
The MK88 is an physically stunning Class A integrated producing 32 watts per channel. It uses KT88 tubes as power tubes, 6SJ7 drivers (NOT 6SN7 despite some misinformation on the web) and 6AK5 inputs.
The integrated amplifier comes equipped with a metal remote control and a matching tube cage which is quite welcome in my home where I have a mischievous toddler.
I spent as little time listening with the stock tubes as possible. In addition to already having a nice, burned in quad of Black Treasure KT88s, I caught a bad 6SJ7 in my stock tubes and they needed replacement immediately. I replaced them with JAN 6SJ7WGTs Also, upon researching the 6AK5 tubes, I discovered very nice specimens could be had very cheaply… I elected to purchase GE five stars on ebay.
Though I was skeptical at first and replacing my failed driver tubes was a PITA, I appreciate the tube compliment employed. Very inexpensive to roll great sounding combinations.
From my very first listening session with the Melody, I was impressed. I could tell it was rough around the edges and in need of some time, but my first impressions gave me hints of tonal sophistication, speed/agility and general musicality. The Melody didn’t have the same low end impact or harmonic development of my Decware Torii, but SOB I was enjoying listening to it more.
Over the next couple of weeks things developed nicely. Much of my amps “idle time” was spent playing ISOTEK burn in tones in loop. As things settled I found myself texting, PMing and Gchatting with many of my audio brethren expressing my positive sentiments about this amp.
Specifically, with burn in, I found it to be a very transparent and resolved without ever transcending into the realm of the sterile. I enjoyed my previous Decware Torii a good bit, but it did not walk this line as well and could be slightly analytical at times.
Staging is always beautifully portrayed, not only with width, which a lot of gear nails, but depth which is something I’m sensitive to.
The KT88 isn’t my favorite power tube and I generally find myself preferring the el34, but in this amp the more linear KT88 also manages to be very sweet with great body and dimensionality. I’m listening to Mighty Sam McClain’s “If You Could See” as I type this and it’s simultaneously beautiful, emotional and pure.
There’s a quality to this amp I have a hard time putting it words. A friend of mine once described the way an excellent sounding system washes over the listener in waves and that is how I’m feeling here. Its just an utterly musical ride that I find both irresistible and versatile.
The bass quality of the amp is nice. It has a nice punchy mid bass and reaches low though its not the fullest bass I’ve experienced its always clean and engaging.
I read another review of this amp that classified its dynamic qualities as ‘mid to high end’ and I suppose I would have to agree with that. The presentation is natural and capable of excitement, but I have had more dynamic amps in the same power output range such as my former Shuguang S845 MK 845 SET monoblocks and my Decware Torii, though in fairness they were also matted to a more dynamic pair of loud speakers. That said, I don’t find this to be a short coming or to hold back my enjoyment of this amp at all. It is very versatile and in a given night I’ll listen to everything form Natalie Merchant to Drake.
This amplifier is better then the sum of its adjectives. It is musically and emotionally communicative consistently keeps me listening deep into the early AM.
It replaced about $8k in separates and to be honest, they won’t be missed. At just under $2k this thing is a steal and highly recommended. I’m very glad I simplified my system in this way and couldn’t be happier with my price performance ratio.
Von Schweikert VR-33
Lampizator Level 3
Bolder Modified SB Touch Transport
Kuzma Stogi S/Stabi S with SAE 1000e cartridge
Jasmine LP 2.0SE
Decware, Rogue, Atma-sphere, Shuguang Treasure Series, Alchemist, etc.