Review: Red Dragon Audio M500 MKII Amplifier
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.
Mac Mini - Bel Canto 1.5 DAC - Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE Preamp - Acoustic Zen Adagio Speakers