Review: Red Dragon Audio M500 MKII Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

As a matter of background I had the nagging feeling that my system through various upgrades had outgrown my trusted Bel Canto 300s amplifier. I also wanted to see how far I could push my AZ Adagios that just continue to amaze me. Based on my experience with the BC I am a firm believer in Class D amps and the B&O ICE based amps in particular. A visit to B&O's ICE web-site is highly recommended for those unfamiliar with these little boards of wonder. Looking around for some time I realized based on the specs that most of the brands using this technology have been slow to adapt the newest third generation ASX2 ICE boards, which are squarely aimed at the audiophile, or they were charging an exorbitant premium. Red Dragon Audio have been making ICE based amps since the beginning of this technology including the now in some circles legendary Leviathan amplifiers. I also understand that there is a close relationship with Acoustic Zen so one would expect their amps to be very compatible with the Adagios. Consequently, Red Dragon's website has been part of my occasional visits to the various companies that produce ICE based amplifiers. When I pulled their website up and saw the specs on the new M500 MKII's I realized that they must be based on the ASX2 series boards, which I later confirmed with Ryan Tew at RDA. Let me just say at this point what a pleasure it has been to deal with Ryan throughout this process. Very responsive and informative! It was with great anticipation that I returned home from vacation over the New Year to find my very own pair in black waiting. They were very well packaged. They look very good in person and should fit in well with any high-end system. They will easily fit side-by-side in any rack. The front panel includes the laser carved outline of a fire breading dragon head that glows red when powered up. Very cool actually! The back panel is well laid out with quality inputs/outputs making the whole package very solid and attractive. I chose to put on my own footers, but that is a mater of personal preference. I have them on a maple amp stand from Timber Nation with footers from Herbie's Audio - two other great companies. So how do they sound? Well, I think the real question you have to ask yourself is if your front end is up to the task of taking advantage of the dynamics of these amplifiers. The specs are pretty impressive with among other things a dynamic range of 121 with the limits of the human ear being 130. Make no mistake these amplifiers should keep up with even the highest end equipment. However, sound is not created on specs alone. Let me just start out by saying that these amplifiers will stay in my system for a long time! After letting them burn in for the recommended amount of time - sometimes you just do as you are told - I have had a chance to listen to my reference albums that I am intimately familiar with representing a wide swath of music including jazz, rock, classical and R&B. There were three aspects that jumped out at me in my system. THE BASS is oh so deep and tight. Anyone with true full range speakers or speaker/sub combo will be able to utilize their capabilities to the fullest. THE SOUND STAGE is huge with a depth that makes you truly feel like you are "there" at times on first class recordings and mixes. THE VOCALS are so lifelike you could swear the artist is in the room. Combine that with sweet highs and the incredible dynamics and you have a pretty impressive package. If you are looking for an amplifier to color your system in any way these would probably be your last choice. I for one cannot wait until the next listening session as my whole CD collection has taken on a new life that must be experienced. I have a lot of listening to do and far too little time so in short I would not hesitate to recommend these to anyone interested in ICE powered Class D amplifiers. I would venture to say that they must be one of the best values in high-end audio out there.

Associated gear
Mac Mini - Bel Canto 1.5 DAC - Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE Preamp - Acoustic Zen Adagio Speakers

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Thank you for posting your review. I have Modded Nuforce V3SE's that are based on a different Class D system and with proper set up and tubed front end I like them very much. Have recently auditioned the Channel Island 500 MK2 and the Anvils. I like my amps to be a clear transparent channel for source.To keep abreast sounds like I need to hear the Dragons.What is the price? Would you comment on their degree of warmth and liquidity?
The price is the great news at $799 each or $1,099 for the 1,000 watt! version. I would call them very neutral - they will give you what is there without any color that I can discern. Due to the great dynamics you will hear every little nuance on recordings - good or bad - very revealing! Not cold or harsh in any way but you better have some pretty good speakers to handle all the detail. The sound is very cohesive and absolutely no listening fatigue - something I have been struggling with a little in my system, but now 5-6 hours go by and I do not even know it.
Right before Christmas I got the first pair Wyred 4 Sound Mamps. Outstanding product! I believe they use the same generation ICE modules you mention in your review. Most of your observations are right in line with my experiences. I had the original BC Ref1000's which I really did not like. I skipped the second gen stuff for that reason. With that said I believe class D is finally ready for prim time. Thanks for your review.
Six hours of musical enjoyment flowing by is a great recommendation that there must be no artificial imbalance, grain or hash
At the risk of starting yet another cable discussion I may add that cable choice is in my opinion very important with these amps. They should be as non-colored as possible. My favorite is Bogdan Audio Ghost cables which is a silver/copper hybrid - brings out the best of the bass and sweet highs. Wywires work very well as well. They have both have a similar philosophy as to what works best in cable design. Cables that have not worked so well are Acoustic Zen (both silver and matrix) and Zu Audio Mission. On especially the AZ cables vocals seem subdued and the dynamics in general seem to suffer. I have no real explanation to this except what my ears hear.
Mine arrived this week and after sitting in my dinning room I was finally able to get them connected for an audition.

I couldn't agree more with Bjorn.
My JM Labs 936s sound amazing. Pulled out some of my classic CDs and was very impressed. Did an A/B comparison with my current amp and got an unbiased second opinion. Its a keeper for sure.
One of the best upgrades for me so far.