Review: Merrill Audio Taranis Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

Listening Impressions Taranis Class D amplifier from Merrill Audio

[url=]Teranis amp on Merrill site[/url]

This is a summary of listening impressions gained over the last few days during an in-home audition of Merrill Audio’s Taranis power amp. Some comments are in comparison to Cyber 800SE (tube monoblocks) and Hegel H200 (solid state integrated) gear listed below. Comparisons to these other amps were made on the basis of past listening experience with them, the Cybers being last used just before the Taranis was installed.

When reading reviews, I like to understand what equipment the reviewer has been listening to previously, as well as the supporting equipment used, room details, music played, listening habits etc.. Some of that info has been provided here too. Please pardon the resulting (lengthy) pre-amble.

Thanks to Guido Corona for suggesting the Taranis.

For professional reviews of the Taranis see:
Part Time Audiophile
[url=]Part time Audiophile Review[/url]

Enjoy the Music
[url=]Enjoy the Music[/url]

Taranis amp – key features:
• 400 wpc into 8 ohms; 600 wpc into 4 ohms
• Custom designed input stage
• 100k input impedance
• Hypex Ncore NC500 module output stage
• Maximum Output: +/- 80 Volts, 26A (as reported by Tom Lyle, Enjoy the Music review)
• No caps in signal path
• Stainless steel case with mirror-finish front panel
• Dimensions: ~17”W x ~14 3/4”D x ~3 3/4”H
• Weight: less than 30 lbs.
• No conventional on/off switch
• Amp is powered up so long as power cord is attached
• Mute switch located right front underside of case
• LED based power meters on front panel
• On/off switch and brighness control for meters located left front underside of case

• ~20’ W x 21' L to 30’ L ; 8’ ceiling
(Length 21’-30’ due to right half of rear wall at 21’ dropping back to 30' on left)
• Speaker placement 37” from front wall and 6-7’ from side walls
• Typical listening volumes 80-87 db
(Radio Shack meter settings: C weighting, Slow response)
• SPLs measured at listening position ~8-9' from center of speakers
• Engineered hardwood floors with large padded area rugs
• GIK acoustic panels over drywall; 2 corner bass traps behind speakers

Music supporting observations reported here:
(titles in quotes are specific tracks used)
• Bozzio, Levin, Stevens - Black Light Syndrome “Duende”; “Book of Hours"
• Daniel Lanois - Belladonna “Sketches"
• Fabiano Araujo - Rheomusi “Negro"
• Peter Gabriel – So “Mercy Street”; “Excellent Birds"
• Rory Gallagher - S/T 1st solo "Gypsy Woman”

Listening impressions:
(as of writing, ~40 hrs. logged “burning in” w/XLO Test CD Track 9 and music)
1. Out of the box, sound is heavy in upper bass/lower mid-range. Treble rolled-off.
(newly re-installed cabling for use with Taranis possibly contributory)
2. After ~20hrs., things opened up considerably.
3. After ~24hrs., the music is very clear with good treble extension and improved tone balance.
4. After 40 hrs., noticeably more “air” + subtle improvements to treble, and tone bal.
5. Midrange is well represented. Sound is not lean.
6. No hint of thin or shrill at any point.
7. Not harsh or fatiguing even at volume.
8. No trace of any distortion or “muddiness”.
9. Instrument separation remains good even when things get busy (and loud).
10. Good definition at leading edges of notes. Clean attack.
11. Excellent resolution yet very easy on the ears. Not edgy or harsh.
12. Detail preserved even at lower volumes..
13. Good high frequency extension tho’ not “sparkly”; but treble is natural sounding.
14. Listening to XLO CD (Track 7 Demagnetizing Sweep) SPLs across frequency range feel largely constant - more so than with Cybers. During sweep, can feel increased SPL at higher freq. w/Cybers.
15. Tone balance falls between Hegel and Cybers…brighter than Hegel but not as bright as Cybers. (Yup, tubes brighter than ss in my system/room, to my ears)
16. Images are very solid and stable.
17. Center fill between speakers is the best ever.
18. Along with remarkable clarity, strong image support is key a attribute of this amp.
19. Bass seems slightly deeper than w/Hegel or Cybers (e.g., Gypsy Woman) and is well controlled.
20. Bass is nicely “nuanced” (texture, timbre, tone, etc.); e.g., Book of Hours.
21. Sound stage is wide (wider?) and high (higher?). Extends well outside speakers.
22. Front of sound stage possibly slightly more forward than with Hegel or Cybers.
23. Stage depth, ambient detail, air - a little reduced compared to Cybers.
24. Merrill suggests reduced “airiness” due to less “out of phase” artifacts than with tubes. I think difference in treble balance contributes. BUT Taranis’ sound definitely gained airiness with time in use.
25. Compared to Hegel or Cybers, Taranis seems to support slightly greater separation of layered/multi-tracked vocals; e.g., PG on Mercy Street; PG&LA on Excellent Birds.
26. Layering of instruments (especially percussion effects) on Sketches is striking.
27. Decays last a long time (e.g., Sketches)
28. Very low noise floor. On a couple of occasions, startled by silence between tracks; thought CD player had stopped. Don’t understand this “effect”.
29. After 8+ hrs. continuous playing, amp case is comfortably warm, not at all hot.
30. Light weight is a boon for relocating equipment and for lower shipping costs.

Merrill has been great to deal with - responsive and gracious; a good person to do business with. Will purchase this amp. No consideration given for the write up. A write up was not discussed during our “negotiations” or at any other time.

Associated gear
• Consonance Ref 50 MkI preamp (2 6H30s; 1 EZ80) w/Pangea 14SE power cord
• Totem Forest speakers
• TEAC Distnction Series CD3000 w/Shunyata Venom S power cord
• Cardas Parsec IC (unbalanced) from TEAC to preamp (1M)
• Cabledyne XLR ICs from preamp to Taranis (1M) w/XLR to RCA male/male adapters at preamp (preamp is not balanced)
• Shunyata Venom power cord on Taranis
• Morrow Audio SP4 speaker cable (2M)
I have owned a Taranis for a few months now and my experience is very similar to the one described above.

The main points where I agree are:
20. Bass is nicely “nuanced” (texture, timbre, tone, etc.)
25. Greater separation of layered/multi-tracked vocals
*. Merrill has been great to deal with - responsive and gracious; a good person to do business with.

I went from a Rega Brio-R to the Taranis and the difference was remarkable. The extra power, lower distortion and greater transparency produce a very different listening experience.

My setup is:
Auralic Aries -> Schitt Wyrd -> Audioab M-DAC -> Blue Jean Cables XLR -> Taranis w/ Venom Power Cord -> Rega Speaker Cable -> Focal 807W

My room has no acoustic treatment and is quite small (typical NY apartment living room) which forces me to have the speakers less than 1 foot from the back wall and 8ft apart. Still, the sound is great!
Thanks for commenting Ag66. Good to hear from another Taranis owner.
Informative and concise review. Nice to know what gear you were using before the Taranis was introduced. I hope that it provides many years of great listening for you. An observation - I have read a number of other comments on Merrill and they have all been positive. Hoping you have a very positive experience too.
Charles's findings on the lovely Taranis are right on the money.

I had the pleasure of evaluating Taranis in my own system for a few months in late spring and summer.... Let me premise that my listening room is demanding.... Relatively large at about 18 x 30+ feet, and a system that consists of an Esoteric X-01 CD player, a Rowland Aeris DAC going directly into mono power amps, and a pair of rather demanding Vienna Die muzik speakers, which feature an wild impedance curve, jumping around from 3 to perhaps 6 Ohms.... These beasties require stiff power to shine -- my standard amps serve them with 430W/8 and 850W/4 per channell, and Taranis made it, with only a simple tweak, as discussed later.

Even new, no more than a couple of hours out of the box, I could tell that Teranis is likely to develop into a very fine amp. Of course, I heard some of the typical artifacts of a brand new device... A little constraint, a touch of thinness in the sound, perhaps some peakiness in the treble, less than perfect staging and imaging, and a frequency band that could use some stretching. But most unusual for amps, Taranis is quite pleasing to the ear even before "teething" occurs. This is as much a characteristics of the underlying NCore technology in the core of the device, as it is a product of the loving treatment that merrill has given to this entry level NCore NC500 implementation through the Merrill designed input stage, and all the quality connectivity surrounding the NC500 modules and the single NC1200 SMPS.

The break-in process is relatively short, and seems to be reaching plateau at about 600 hours, at which point Teranis achieves full bloom and makes music at a level that can be seldom expected at its moderate price point. Characteristic of Merrill's creations, there is negligible treble intermodulation to yield hardness in complex treble and confusion in lower frequencies... High string passages are clean and without effort, midrange has fine texture and one can hear distinctly harmonic ringing in piano music, bass is distinct and well developed with a fine sense of pitch. Brass music is full and complex with more than a good amount of growl required in orchestral tutti. Staging and imaging is amazingly satisfying, even in those purely acoustic and live recordings like Bernstein and the Israel Phylharmonic playing Dvorak's New World Symphony, where the feel of the venue is, well... The venue itself. In case you asked, I would rate the overall stage and image sizes to perhaps 75% of what the Merrill Veritas generate.

As I mentioned earlier, in order to drive my speakers, Taranis did require a small tweak. During the first few weeks, I was nagged by the sudden appearance of some fatigue appearing all of the sudden as I raised the volume to "realistic" listening levels... This, in the more earthy language that my better half likes to throw at her suffering audiophilic hubbie is.. "Way too bloody loud!" I discussed the problem with Merrill: no, the issue was not the obvious incorrect spousal judgment of my sonic needs, nor the recommendation of a good family lawyer, but this odd discontinuity of the clenliness in the sound.

Merrill conjectured that for my speakers, a slightly higher gain than the standard 26dB might have been appropriate. And true enough, a quick return trip to the Merrill factory increased gain by 3 dB to a total 29dB, and the problem was solved completely. Taranis suddenly behaved linearly thereafter, and always maintained its remarkable musicality, even when I increased volume to the aforementioned "realistic" level that my audiophrenia gravis demands, and my wife abhors.

Granted, if my speakers were just a little smaller and less demanding, such as the Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Imperials, or the Vienna Listz, it is highly unlikely that the increase in gain would have been needed at all.

Like many other amplifiers, Taranis is exquisitely sensitive to power cords. While its fine qualities are obvious even through its stock cord, the use of a carefully selected after market cord enhances results even further. I found the most desirable results with the fabulous HFC (High Fidelity Cables) CT-1 designed by Rick Schultz in Dallas. Its application seems to augment the performance of Taranis for all parameters mentioned earlier, without introducing any unbalance or negative artifacts.

So, whom is this lovely amp for? First of all, Taranis is for anyone who adores a refined sound of music, and requires significant power, while controlling cost. I can see only one "drawback" to Taranis... It might spoil you, and make you wonder what Merrill's higher end creations can do for living... Thus, Teranis is also one ideal entry point for the music lover who might later on want to venture higher up in the progressively more refined realm of Merrill's creations... Which is, in my opinion, a worth wile quest!

Saluti, Guido
Nice review Ghost. I wonder how the Taranis would compare to my DIY NC400 mono blocks in Aluminati cases. Maybe you should shoot over some time to hear the Vapor Joules pushed by them. Send PM or donpatterson99@yahoo some time if you'd like to by for a listen.

Don P.
Don - They say, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." Who do you think got me thinking about Class D? Thanks for the invite. I'll get in touch on that. The Joules look beautiful in your pix. Guessing they sound that way too.
I first heard the Merrill Veritas mono blocks at RMAF 2013 and was like Wow!!! I couldn't believe it was class D. That's when I heard about Hypex and the ncore modules and began doing a little research since $12,000.00 was definitely out of my league. I think its great that Merrill has brought an affordable solution to the marketplace.

Teranis definitely brings the magic of the NCore+Merrill house sound in the realm of affordability. And gives a temptalizing glimpse of what one might discover moving up the line.

Regards, Guido
That's great you heard the Veritas, Don. Didn't know you were familiar with Merrill. They are certainly out of my league too (Thor's also would be a stretch, for that matter). I was mainly looking for a back up SS amp. Thought Class D because I already had an A/B SS integrated and had noted the "post-tubes" direction you took with amplification (though I did not know those were DIY). I contacted Guido about some used Class D stuff I saw on A'gon that was more affordable. He suggested I consider the Taranis. Can't comment on Guido's point about a Merrill house sound. But if that's the case, I like living in that house. I will hazard a guess that Merrill's custom input stage has something to do with it's stated 100K ohm input impedance that is allowing it to pair up nicely with the Ref 50 tube pre-amp I'm using. From the little reading I've done, I think high input impedance is otherwise not typical of Class D.

Regardless, the sound is excellent. Listening (LOUD) to some Tears for Fears that I haven't heard in years. Roland certainly enjoyed complex arrangements and multi-tracking. The sound with the Taranis is clean and uncongested. Nicely detailed but not harsh (I'm repeating my review, I guess). And saying clean does not mean sterile. The music has great heft and body. It's just more "there"...has great density (to steal someone else's adjective). 400 watts really has these Forests sitting up and talking.

OK. Fun stuff. Hope more people get to enjoy Merrill's tech. One final comment, as good as things do sound, I've ordered a Schiit SYS. We'll see how things sound without any pre-amplification. Output voltage from TEAC & Gungnir managed by a potentiometer should be adequate . We'll see if things remain as robust sounding as now or if they get all "anemic and skinny".

Later. Ciao.
Hi Ghosthouse, the low input impedance of Class D modules is by no means universal.

For example the NC500 used in Teranis appears to have an input impedance of 16.5K Ohms, which is raised to 100K Ohms by the custom input stage designed by Merrill. On the other hand, the higher end NC1200 module has a much higher native input impedance, as seen in the Merrill Veritas for example, which uses the stock NC1200 circuitry to manage its inputs, and yet achieves a whopping 90KOhms of input impedance.

The Bel Canto Ref600 are also based on NCore NC500 and have their own custom input stage to create high imput impedance. They declare 200KOhms of input impedance.

Saluti, G.
Guido - Thanks for that correction on "typical" Class D input impedance.
Hi Charles, you will find some class D amps still today having input impedances below 10KOhms from some manufacturers. But higher tier manufacturers tend to ensure that their class D devices have high output impedances to ensure cross-compatibility with most SS and tube preamplifiers.

I have a Schiit SYS in my upstairs system with Bifrost w/ Uber upgrade running to Tube Audio Design Hibachi mono blocks and the Von Schweikert VR4jrs. It's not bad but I'm guessing you'll like your system with the preamp in. The SYS volume control isn't that great but what do you expect for $50.00. Probably going to send the Bifrost in for the multibit upgrade. Looking to move to Yggdrasil for the main system in a couple months when some used ones should be around.
Ag66 Schitt Wyrd -> or Wyrd Schitt?
Wondering if you experienced any issues with the unbalanced pre-amp feeding the Taranis with RCA-XLR adapters?
How does Merrill compare to Jeff Rowland? I'm still trying to decide if I should go from my Continuum S2 Integrated to the JR 625 S2. The decision would be easier if I could hear the JR 625 S2. Maybe Merrill is a least expensive upgrade from the JR Continuum. Not that I'm unhappy, but I'm trying to go to the next level of transparency, detail, and improved imaging/soundstaging.
In particular I'm talking about the VERITAS Monoblock Power Amplifiers.
Richard, Merrill Teranis is a wonderful amp for its $2500 level. It is more than congruent with my concept of what sound should be for a moderately priced amp.

However, for my musical/sonic taste, Rowland Continuum S2 comfortably surpasses anything I have heard up to $30K... I have not heard Rowland M625 S2 yet, but all things point to M625 S2 going far beyond Continuum S2 performance. As you know, M625 S2 does not run in class D but is a class A/B device. In it Rowland introduced technical solutions much more advanced than in Continuum S2, including distortion reduction circuitry brand new to high end amps.

Veritas is a lovely NCore implementation that uses stock NC1200 modules with NCore NC1200/700 power supplies, without custom inpput stages. It makes wonderful music for its $12K price point... but it is not as quiet as CS2. IMO, a move from CS2 to Veritas would not yield a performance enhancement.

To move up in performance from the CS2 power amplification stage, while opting for the NCore path, you will need the Rowland M825, which will set you back $32K plus the cost of a separate preamplifier of similar caliber.

"Wondering if you experienced any issues with the unbalanced pre-amp feeding the Taranis with RCA-XLR adapters?"

Mojo - if directed to me, all I can say is I'm not aware of any issues using an RCA to XLR adapter at the preamp. Not ideal I suppose, but told Merrill I would be doing this and he didn't seem concerned. Things do sound very, very good with this amp.

I'd been using Cabledyne Reference Copper XLR ICs. Just picked up a pair of Audioquest Columbia XLRs w/72V DBS on sale from Music Direct. It'll be interesting to "see" if I can hear any benefit.
Ricred1, I'd have to agree with Guido that moving from the CS2 to the Veritas might not be your best choice. As with all such things, though, it does come down to a matter of preference.

I had the Veritas monoblocks in-house for a number of weeks, thanks to Merrill's generosity -- he's a delight to work with. His monos handily bested any other amp that I tested against it, including Bel Canto Ref600M, Sanders Magtech, and others. Most times, it wasn't even a contest.

My last comparison was the Rowland CS2 vs. Veritas. There were a lot of good aspects to both amps, but in the end, the Rowland was our choice.

There was a certain sound to the Rowland that we enjoyed. It was smoother, fuller, and less edgy than most amps we tried. We could have happily lived with the Veritas, but are more than pleased with our choice.
Thanks for the information. I actually love my CS2, but I'm being a stupid audiophile. I thought about going to the 625 S2, but I won't do the change until I can compare the two. One dealer said there is a big difference between the two and another dealer said there's a marginal difference. There would have to be a very significant difference for me to change from the CS2 to the 625 S2. I've been tweaking my system with stillpoints and I'm in the process of upgrading my power cables.
A recent (12/20/15) review of the Merrill Audio Taranis amp from Positive Feedback can be found here:

A number of the reviewer's comments (e.g., listening levels that are most satisfying; extreme quietness; detail) match my experience with this amp.  Regarding the comment "...the stage is generally inside the speakers." - well of course it is!  In my own listening, the sound stage regularly extends outside the speakers.  There is nothing squished or congested about the sonics of this amp (this was certainly not the intended implication of the reviewer's comment).  Music listening continues to be very enjoyable.