An amp for all reasons - Odyssey Stratos Plus upgraded (SE).
Two fish were swimming up a river, one slightly ahead of the other. It ran into a concrete wall. It turned to his mate and said, ”Dam”.
Hearing an audio piece set synergistically into a system and truly optimized will enable you to exclaim similarly, especially if you’ve owned the same piece in a past or even a present rig and not been quite so successful in extracting it’s inherent virtues as completely.
About a year ago I decided I should add at least another stereo amp to my accumulation of audio goods. I aimed it’s use towards the HT side of things primarily, but wanted one which I could use for stereo only times as well.
HT receivers don’t always have enough ‘gas’ in their tanks to properly fuel just any speaker satisfactorily, and it sure doesn’t hurt to help them with the addition of an out board amp or even three if possible. I wanted something that did well on both fronts, dedicated audio and dedicated theater. That’s not asking too much these days, is it?
I think it just requires a bit more looking into, especially if a very limiting budget is in the mix, and it was indeed. I also wanted one that had not been through the A’gon grist mill and had more frequent travel miles on it than I do personally. I figured my needs would or could be filled for well under a grand. Silly me.
I’m not keen on doing the A’gon shuffle either… buy, try, and then sell… if it’s not the right fit. I’m a worrier. Plain and simple. I worry most about carriers more than sellers.. Consequently, I chose to ask for some other insights from fellow members here. They obliged. I picked Odyssey overall. Not just any standard unit, but a soupped up special custom build, Klaus said he would make to gain my business. Fine. Break out the soldering iron and get to getting big guy!
A few weeks later it arrived in all it’s shiny .black embodied glory. Klaus had told me it would take a few hundred hours for it to run in entirely. Super. I enjoy little else, better than having to wait several more weeks for a unit to be electronically and sonically ready to run. Break in. I detest it. Flat out. Undeniably, I hate it altogether. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s a joint conspiracy between equipment makers and the power companies. In the interests of helping out the economy, I usually give in, plug in, and wait.
Out of the box and plugged in to my second aV system for the burning in process as a second amp, it wasn’t altogether bad sounding. It simply didn’t sound great. Klaus also cautioned me to allow it to be energized for 24 hours prior to playing it.
“To allow the caps to build up. Klaus had installed added power cap reserves, and some board components to this unit. Barring a second transformer, and a mite more reserve capacitance, this 2 ch custom build amp was as close as one will get to having one of his Extreme stereo amps, he said. I’d have gone the whole magilla but for the budgetary constraints I alluded to earlier… which BTW, I exceeded as usual by well more than double.
So I gritted my teeth and let it sit there for another whole day. Then I fired it all up as my paitience had run out completely. The initial ordering, building, and shipping, had taken nearly 5 full weeks, so there was that too!
The first take on the sound was pretty much a “Well, how about that, it works”. Sort of event. Nothing terribly wrong on the whole, just not much to get ones attention either way. Good or bad. Hmmmmm. The amp and my conspiracy theories continued burning in.
Well, Mr super Custom extra money amp, “Get a move on! You’re burning daylight!
I virtually ignored the amp for about a week as much as possible and let it play off the Sony STVR 444 es receiver at normal levels everyday, now and then changing the musical genre, and as well changing the volume, and occasionally simply muting the amp. This went on routinely except during beddy bye times. The second aV? It’s in my bedroom.” The amp got transferred into the main rig the following week, and has remained there since..
Klaus holds fast to the notion his amps should be left energized at all times. I’m not thrilled with this concept, but do know it won’t harm an amplifier especially if the operating temperature is controlled well and it is electrically protected. Both caveats were accommodated handily with a Running Springs Haley power cond, and a 2 degree electronic thermostat set to 75 degrees, along with a forced air fan that runs around the clock in the space provided for all my electronic gear…. Which is the joint I call my ‘office’ as it were.
Based upon the German made Symphony line of amps, the trickle down design effect indeed has it’s benefits. There is speed aplenty, very nice extension on both ends of the sonic frame, and all of it is done with refinement, dexterity, and enthusiasm. It presents both a user friendly and enjoyable experience.
There is sufficient snap, crakle, and pop when such things are the required cues. Tonality remains in force enough to not difuse or convolute the sonic experience. It’s very easy to pick out those items whatever they may be, during a movie or sporting event, or concert. The represented sound is open, tuneful, and easy on the auditory palette, while containing enough impact to add jump’ to the event when called for. The sound doesn’t come off as bright, thin, or dry.
It provides more snap and slam than I’ve heard from some Levinson amps, though not the sheer might of some Krells. Smoother than my previous BK Ref 220, and more musical velour than any Adcom, Anthem, Rotel or Parasound I have heard. The sound of the SE unit is akin to the smaller McIntosh sand amps. There is no darkness or muddling of the sound at all. It remains open and distinct.
Clean, supple, and possessing surprising body and depth it will place images across the stage with good spacing. The highs of the Odyssey amp got my attention first. The upper end information coming through the Phase tech PC10.5s or the Silverline Sonata IIIs were articulate, expressive and as required, swept about the room from one speaker to the other as if a large fan were being waved by some huge invisible hand while the audio content was at play across the front speakers. The top end sparkles and was quite close in tone being near dead on, to that of the Dodd mono blocks yet without the decay or inner glow represented by those EL34 tubes.
There is power enough on tap to emulate whatever the film’s audio tracks contain with even the 87db 4 ohm Phase Tech PC 10.5s which can and do drop to 2 ohms at times.
At the lowest levels the sound is not affected, nor at highest levels is it compressed. Albeit, I did not exceed by much an average listening level of 96db, and then, only briefly. I value my hearing. Normal levels for me are in the mid to upper 80’s.
All of the main HT duties at Blindjim’s House of Sunburn and Sonics, are now processed by an Onkyo TS SR 805 receiver. I usually run into the Odyssey with Audio Art RCA cables 1.5M long. I use the hybrid ones with a combination of copper and silver. These cables are super overachievers…. For HT or for audio, the Audio Art wires present a very good value, and one isn’t missing very much if at all, during the playback of any film I’ve viewed so far. Were I more flush, I might entertain Cardas Neutral Refs, or still more monied, perhaps some from Synergistic Research or M.I.T.
HT 2 ch listening
I’ll not bore further anyone here as to the gains of the Odyssey’s sonic performance over that of using solely the Onkyo 805. there’s very little comparisons there. The Onkyo is as good an audio performer in receivers as many in the about one grand retail market, and bettered several I previewed before making it my latest choice as the heart of my most recent foray into HT. The TX SR 805 seems to me to be aimed more towards the music fan than are others in the HT receiver industry. My sony 444es for example has less rated power but carries more punch and a harder leading edge across the harmonic range, thereby adding more intensity or snap, to the viewing – listening, event. Preferences will account for which is truly better for you, yet either receiver involves and delivers a very satisfying account of themselves with DVDs and TV.
Musically speaking the preamp in the Onkyo 805 is on par with the Adcoms I’ve heard, and the Adcom 700 series preamp has something of a following in the budget buying over achiever preamp category. In that race I feel it is a photo finish, but given the added flexibility of the Onkyo processing abilities, I’ll give the TX SR 805 the nod. Additionally I feel the Onkyo’s preamp section slightly more music oriented than it is for purely big screen materials.
Two cannibals were eating a clown, one looked to the other and asked, “Does this taste funny to you?”
I find it funny how tastes can change over time with an audio hobby. Preferences for one genre over another, one era over another etc., and even how one component can become something unexpected with just a few changes in the context of a system.
If you integrate the Odyssey SE into a system that has a better preamp, for example, things pick up considerably. No question. Slip it into a much better appointed system throughout and it will resemble another more pricey amp altogether. In fact each change of system items were easily noticeable, regardless their stature. Isolation devices, wires, etc. Each additive move upwards gained me a closer preview to the venue itself.
I hooked up my thor TA 1000 MK II preamp to the Stratos SE, using it in place of my Dodd MK II mono blocks just to see for myself how much of an amp this Klaus conglomeration might well be. Or not be.
All the same cabling, conditioning, etc., used then were that which I would normally use for strickly 2 ch listening. . Voodoo, Shunyata, and Elrod, power cords, Nirvana SX Ltd., SR Resolution Research x2 active, and HT Magic II interconnects, and onto a Sound Anchor rack.
Let’s just say this about that…. Whoa. I was not disappointed. Nor did my expectations get dashed on the rocks. I simply wasn’t prepared for the results I met.
True too, the souped up Stratos SE was not on par with the Dodds, naturally. But, it sure is not a ‘so so’ amp either. Not at all. The Odyssey did not provide the clarity or extension the Dodds possess. The Odyssey’s sheer speed did not supplant by much, the alacrity of the MK IIs either. The bottom end of the Odyssey as one might think should be more delineated and deeper with it’s reach was surely that, though not inordinately. The consequently deeper reach into the pocket for the greater benefit of the tube monos’ costing several thousand more dollars, wasn’t required either.
I dislike trying to compare SS to HS. Whatever the pieces are in truth. No real comparisons are justified or reasonable. They are in the end, unlike one another front to back much of the time…. Yet we do compare sound in our heads all the while, and make the laudable assignments to what’s doing what, thereafter.
The Odyssey’s imaging was significant throughout, and clearly evidenced, and harmonically enriched by the Thor’s influence. The music did not take on some other worldly visage or grip the listener with sheer SS PRAT, impact and slam. Notes displayed more tube like quality than solid state attributes, speaking more for the Odyssey’s ability to step aside and allow the music itself, to issue forth.
It did invite one to continue double clicking tracks though. it was hard to stop playing music through that setup indeed. I played and enjoyed much of everything I owned via a sampler platter…. Some tracks I hadn’t heard in months or years, along with my favs.
That always is a very good statement on performance and delivery of the sound itself…. Isn’t it?
From Adagio Trio to ZZ Top, from the 50’s jazz to current pop, Acoustic guitar from Pablo Luca, Al di meola, Ottmar Liebert, Yo Yo, to harmonies from Manhattan Transfer and the Nylons. From Bonnie Raitt to Solomon burke, Stevie Ray to Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles to Charlie Pride, Allison to Harrison… the music begged me to keep typing, searching, clicking, and most of all listening! Variety on the spot is a wonderful thing and a distinct advantage of using a PC based source.
The tracks just played and played. After getting used to the now solid state delivery being nearly invisible, there was no real ambition for rediscovery, or finding out how differently they sounded through the Odyssey, as they all sounded rather good to great. Given the inherent recording quality… it was simply unabashed fun. Involving. Exciting. Satisfyingly grin material.
Oddly enough, until I selected known quality recorded cuts, even the lesser ones were presented very well. This all encompassing less biased display enabled poorly done recordings wherein content was valued, were rendered easily listenable.
Each well captured song’s presentation was set onto a sound stage which yielded dimensionality, steadfast imaging outside the sweet spot, and a consistent well balanced blend across the harmonic structure of the tune being played. Singers were more than mouths peering out of the blackness.
Guitar players stylings with slides, finger picks or sans anything but fingertips upon strings are readily noticed and added to the realism of each recordings venue information.
One of my fav discs is the Illinois Jacquette led, “Jacquette’s Got it”. Filled with a 17 piece band the album covers many traditional cuts while adding a smattering of Jean Baptiste’s signature tracks. I recommend this CD strongly for the exciting interplay of the band, Jean’s solos, and the at times quite interesting mixing of the musical elements wherein some of the solos are mixed into center stage, placing the featured musician immediately in front of the listener, in my case just slightly in front of the speakers and dead center. Other spot lit solos remain in place amidst the balance of the seated musicians.
Apart from the imaginative production, the tunes are expressively involving, expertly rendered, and provide the listener with an experience which spans the gamut from bluesy illustrative cuts to quick tempo exhilaration. Nearly all the first seaters are featured at some point during the session.
The auditory parameters here exhibit a complex sound stage, pace, tempo, and tonality arguments for the competency of one’s system. The Odyssey SE delivered every time without confusing the array or mitigating individual instrument harmonic fidelity, primarily due to it’s ability to show as much detail without the loss of artistic expression. I’ve heard amps which can excel at high resolution yet do not convey the musical richness of the instruments and their blends. The Odyssey SE in a moderately well heeled stereo setup does both!
Did you hear the Invisible man married the invisible woman? No I didn’t how did things turn out?
OK I believe, but the kids were nothing to look at.
The Odyssey Stratos SE isn’t so transparent as to entirely disappear, but it does get well out of the way of the music being recreated. I detected no colorization, and found it warmish, but not overly so. There is not a brittle bone in it’s sleek little body. Neither does it lighten an already darkened back drop.
Perhaps by contrasting the Onkyo preamp section and it’s commensurate sound, against the Thor’s greater grip on the harmonics, one could say the Odyssey Stratos SE is as close to neutral and transparent as can be for so modestly priced an amplifier. Such is the case for the bipolar & mos fet output devices, and Sankens are used in the Odyssey line up. My usual preffs for SS amps tend to be set in the area of control of the loudspeakers drivers. Ever reminding myself of the Odyssey SE price tag, all is well and beyond satisfactory in the control department…. It is only my wishes which aren’t served as precisely.
Doubtless anyone will add a sub $2000 (new) amp in between a $9000 preamp and $7000 speakers as their first choice of power house. If you do…. I’ll say you won’t be upset with the results. Truth be told, if you are merely honest, I’ll say you will be quite pleased…. And definitely surprised,… as well as hedging financially, your position in the current recession.
If you are driven more by ego than by actual performance the Odyssey line up might not be for you. However, if sound commensurate to the price is a trigger, or possessing a quality overachiever is not some thing you would want to pass up for a primary amp or as an auxiliary unit, or if a still shorter term, solution is required, one could do far, far worse than to have such an amp about the premises. Be it for a beginner budgetary system, or plugged into something more capable, I find the Odyssey Se a most viable choice for either purpose.
Despite the venue, theatre, TV, multi ch audio or pure stereo, the Odyssey SE amp ran cooler than almost every amp I’ve previewed or owned. Delivered far more than a satisfying account of itself and it’s shortcomings weren’t glaring, amounting to preferential disparities only. Even while driving along in class A the amp responds well and doesn’t sweat the owner or heat the room.
I passed on connecting my Bel Canto DAC 3 for another preamp insight. Given the DAC3’s excellent speed, timing, slam in the lower bass and extension through the treble, I felt the result would be too much of a good thing initially, but somehow I feel the ease with which the odyssey SE conveys the music, it would be at the very least fascinatingly exciteing. I may yet do that at some later date and fill in the results as a follow up addendum.
Overall, I’m most happy with the performance of the amp I bought new from Klaus at Odyssey Audio. Indeed. I’m sorry I could not directly account for the dissimilarities between this factory modded Stratos Plus, (SE) and other Odyssey amps. I can say it is the second best SS amp I’ve owned, behind the BAT VK500 w/BAT Pk. Despite the control (horse power) shortcomings. It is more musical than either the BK 220 or Krell KAV250, though it doesn’t have the sheer HP any of those amps have on the spec sheet, but in practice only side by side comparisons or extensive experience with each, would tell you differently.
Although for myself, I find it an exceptional value and fine performer, it can be bettered I’m sure. If you move up the financial ladder several steps and at least double the investment. I’ve not heard ‘em all. At least not all of the ones in the $1500 -/+ new retail price range. Many folks around here will opt to buy older, higher priced amps instead… usually. Saving on the initial outlay required for those products, and hopeing for the best in terms of looks and operational content. Some will dismiss entirely the Odyssey amp as a journeyman amp at best and opt for more brand name recognition or popularity with their power choices.
If however, you are the sort which likes some reassurances, wants something new, not tired, and don’t want to layout copius wads of cash for a very nice solid state amp, and further might entertain ideas of upgrading at some future point, I’ve got to admit the Odyssey Stratos Plus with some added tweaking from Klaus’ bench will go a long ways towards satisfying you.
In the grand scheme of things it has to be considered both a budget amp and sincerely overlooked gem. It also has to be considered an outstanding value in solid state amp performance. it does many things well, and it’s hard to find any one thing to kick about.
So if it’s not an ‘amp for all seasons’, or the last word in solid state amplification, perhaps quite possibly it should be one of the first, when an inexpensive amp for ‘all reasons’, is the desire one should consider.
Excellent price to performance value No question.
Stable into low imp loads
Simple to operate, handle and move about at 60lbs. and no sharp edges.
Coolest running SS amp I’ve owned. Period.
Sleek good looks.
Power cable friendly, meaning it enjoys aftermarket PCs.
Exceptional lengthy transferable warranty
Exceptional consumer oriented support, and cost effective upgrades.
Power button on back of unit (if left on as suggested, this is not a minus)
No remote trigger
Not truly balanced
Must be left energized… (at least a full day prior to use once run in for best results. Two days wouldn’t hurt.)Associated gear Click to view my Virtual SystemSimilar products
B&K, Anthem, Adcom, Parasound, ATI,SAE, Krell, McIntosh, Levinson, Rotel, Ayre.