Been toying with the idea of another power amp or going down the active speakers route for quite some time now. The problem with both those moves is you almost have to burn your bridges in the process as auditioning down my neck of the woods isn't easy so I have to buy virtually blind, although the actual "cost to change" (as they say in the motor trade) isn't huge but sellingthe oldcomponent before the new one is acquired isn't always that easy or desirable either as it's so easy to get it wrong. I digress . . . . . .
I decided this time around to buy a cheap power amp as an interim stopgap while I look out for another onefor my main system. Searching through the used kit in the classifiedsI came across an amp called the Chameleon Ruby. Having never seen or heard of one before I asked for pictures and specs from the seller. He said it has it's design origins in recording studios and is able to compete very well with so-called high end domestic audiophile kit, so he bought it after a dealer demo against Krell and Mark Levinson amps and it certainly impressed him enough to buy it.
The first obvious thing that hits you is how slim it is at just about two inches tall. The two outer divisions in the casework are in fact 'V' shaped heatsinks so the amp itself is actually quite small.
Rated at 200 watts per channel minimum into 8 ohms with a damping factor of 500 @ 50hz and 8 ohms it promised to have plenty of grip on the bass registers and I'll expand on this in a moment. It has the choice between balanced and single ended inputs with just one set of binding posts so biwiring isn't an option. The front panel has just one control, an on/off swith with an indicator LED that's very low light level indeed, so at a distance it's barely visible, but on the plus side it isn't intrusive either. At the other end of the sloped extruded aluminium front panel that's more gunmetal colour than silveris two pairs of LED's which signify when a signal input is present (?) and another pair of LED's to show when the amp is about to run out of steam. The signal input LED's are about as much use as a spaghetti towrope to be honest and the wick needs to be turned up pretty high before they illuminate and when they do they are rather distracting flickering away to the music.
This is the very first solid state amplifier I have heard that actually manages to 'do' mid and treble the way it should be. It is incredibly detailed and clear so the sound just hangs in space with no distortion artifacts at all. Cymbal crashes have a superb crisp metallic sheen that's far easier to appreciate with the ears than to describe in words. Other esoteric amps I've heard arealways borderingon the threshold of rendering the treble into splashy harshness and the recording quality becomes a critical issue during listening, yet the Ruby neatly dances with treble the same way a goodKT88 valve power amp does. Midband too has no fog, aura, chestiness or nasality whatsoever, so female vocals are reproduced with supreme naturalness and timbre. Bass is what this amp does vey well with a tenacious grip at all times so bass notes start and particularly stop, as if it's thrown an anchor over the side onto the speakerbass cones. When the music gets complex and loud the Ruby shrugs it off, keeping all instruments exactly where they should be and doesn't suffer the masking effects on quieter sounds that the louder sounds and dynamics can crush beneath their weight, or reduce to a background blur by drowning as most other amps do when the noises get loud. Imaging is pinpoint accurate with no wavering, but if I must criticise anywhere it's the lack of generous (although it is there) front to back depth and height that I notice in my small listening room, but at least it isn't projecting it out into the room either so you don't feel pinned against the back wall as you would a forward sounding or aggressive amp.
My current PS Audio HCA-2 power amp sounds positively lethargic by comparison and I never regarded it as such at all before I heard what the Chameleon Ruby could do. The jury is still out just the same if it's going to be a 'keeper'as I'm going to live with it for a week or so then revert back to the PS Audio to see if it's a sound I'm going to want to live with permanently, especially when I move houseand have a new listening environment to settle into. I also want to put the Ruby head to head with anotherexotic ampto see where this thing actually positions itself with regard to the competition at considerably more money. Krell killer? Maybe yes, maybe no, although the previous owner was spot on word for word so far when he described what this amp was capable of delivering and I don't doubt it for one minute.
I couldn't establish whether Chameleon are still trading or not from an internet search. I bought mine secondhand of course off Hi-Fi For Sale for the princly sum of £375.00 and at that price it's a positive steal considering the fantastic effortless sound it produces.
I get a lot of personal pleasure when I dare to step off the beaten track of buying well known brands to venture off into slightly"off the wall" products thatcome up trumps with real money savings and great sounds into the bargain.