Review: Spectron Musician III Amplifier
Prior to purchasing my Musician III in December 2004, I was a highly satisfied user of an earlier model from Spectron, the Digital One Class D switching amp. Over six years of use, I found the D1 to be a excellent match for my B&W Nautilus 802 speakers, which are not that easy to drive, and provided excellent overall sonic performance at a reason price. Indeed, I enjoyed the performance of the D1 so much that I stayed with it even after the newer Musician I and II models were announced, which I think even John Ulrick of Spectron would admit were essentially incremental improvements on the original design. I did from time to time audition alternate designs and products, but found that, in general, the Spectron offered either much better performance at an equivalent price (as for example compared to the McCormack DNA-225) or incrementally better performance at a much lower price (as for example compared to the Classe CAM 200 monoblocks).
The big breakthrough came with the announcement last year by Spectron of their new Musician III. Not only is the Musician III based on an entirely redesigned architecture flowing from John's over twenty years of experience with Class D amps, but this Spectron amp has considerably more muscle than its predecessors -- putting out 600 watts per channel at 8 ohms, 800 wpc at 4 ohms and a spectacular 1200 wpc at 1 or 2 ohms! This power and high current capability is particularly well suited to my N802's, which produce wonderful sound, but which are not the most efficient speakers on the market today. Other design improvements include the presence of an easy to use switch on the back of the amp used to toggle between the available RCA unbalanced and the XLR balanced input recepticals, and an additional toggle switch which permits convenient alternating between correct and inverted phase.
I do not have anthing close to the 500 to 600 hours of burn-in recommended by Spectron, but the improvement in overall performance in my system has been so overwhelming that I decided not to delay this review any longer. This improvement has been evident across the board in all 13 of the listening criteria that I typically use, ranging from incremental in some to dramatic in others.
Among the incremental improvements, more natural tonality is at the top of the list. The treble is much more real, more lyrical; the mid-range sounds more life-like and "sings" with an irresistable sweetness; the base is much more extended but with even greater clarity. At all frequencies and volume levels there is noticeably greater detail with more micro dynamics coming off the digital source than I have heard before. The brightness typical of some older first generation CD's is much less apparent. And finally multiple instruments or groups of instruments playing simultaneously are well delineated and easy to separate even in major ensemble works.
Even more dramatic improvements are obvious in the presence of a much wider, deeper soundstage. The sense of deminsionality is very close to what you would expect to experience in a concert hall -- truly remarkable. In addition, across all instuments and musical selections, there is a degree of transparency, of space, and of the air surrounding the music that is extraordinary. The bottom line is a sense of realism and musicality that I have never heard before. Taken together with the improvements in tonality and range noted above, I believe that this is as close to the real world as as you can get without spending a lot more money.
Speaking of money, I feel it's only fair to note that Spectron has recently raised their introductory price from $3995 to the now suggested retail price of $4995. This is still a real bargain in my opinion when compared to many highly regarded, big-name solid state amps, not to mention some of the obscenely priced tube amps in the market today. If this is what we can expect from continued improvements in switching amp technology and design, the future, in my opinion, looks very bright for Class D amps in general and for Spectron in particular.
One cautionary note. John Ulrick told me early-on in my experience with my Digital One that Class D amps love pure, constant sine wave, low distortion power. The addition of an Exact Power 1000 regenerator to my system proved him to be absolutely right, and I would stongly recommend this or a similar power regenerator for use with the Musician III and for use all components of the the stereo system for that matter. Also, with regard to my system configuration, it should be noted that I have my APL Denon 3910 player directly attached to the Musician III.
Finally, let me conclude with a statement that has been repeated by other Class D partisans in this forum before -- Spectron is the best keep secret in the current world of audio! This fact, combined with the level of commitment, service and support provided by John and Toni, makes the Spectron Musician III a story that gets far too little notice and comment among both industry professionals and we ordinary audiophiles today.
APL Denon 3910
(Directly connected to Musician III)
B&W Nautilus 802 speakers
Alpha Core Goertz MI-2 speaker cables
Audience AU24 interconnects