As I don't do dealers, shows or hifi mags, I'm a bit reticent when posting my views on kit because I don't have a great deal of opportunity to compare items like for like. But, as the ASR doesn't appear to be well known on the forum, I thought I'd give it a go...........
Anyway, a couple of weeks after winning it on ebay.de for the princely sum of £950, it finally arrived today. At this point, it's worth mentioning that contrary to the comments on James' "amplifier" thread it wasn't a mistake buying this from Germany. Having it shipped within the Fatherland (as the seller wouldn't ship to the UK) and then on to me in Manchester has cost a grand total of approx. £50. Not bad for two boxes with a combined weight of 50+kg.
And soo, my regular grumpy Parcelforce guy turned up this morning at his normal delivery (just as I was getting in the shower) time, with two huge boxes. One that was reasonably easy to carry and one that came very close to causing a hernia or slipped disc.
On unpacking, the first thing you notice about the ASR is it's physical size. It's two boxes, a power supply and the main unit. Both have the footprint of a full size VRDS tranport. The ASR power supply is roughly the same size as my P30 but wieghs in at 31kg. The main unit is about 5cm heigher, but only wieghs approx 10kg. The second thing that strikes you is that they've obviously been aware of NVA, because both units are metal frame, but encased in acrylic.
The two units are connected by an umbilical cord, hard-wired into the main unit and connecting to the power supply by the bastard offspring of a scart-socket and a serial port, but about twice the size of either. This umbilical cord looks exactly like an Isotek mains lead (silver plaited sheath in transparent PVC), but about three times the diameter. Seriously, it makes all but the lardiest Shunyata look positively anorexic.
So, I carefully re-arrange my rack and connect them up, the power supply is the second box down, the main unit the one below it.......
Yeah, I did worry if the glass shelf would support the 30+kg power supply, but nothing has broken yet.
I replaced the standard IEC terminated mains cable to the power supply with a spare Coherent Conoisseur because it was easier then re-terminating the two-pin standard lead and because I didn't have any spare MK Tough plugs.
When you power on, you're greated by what can only be described as "the Illuminations". The power supply has two sets of six LEDS which light up green, blue, yellow, red, green, blue. If my reading of German was good enough to understand the manual, I might know what this signifies, but as it is, it's just pretty. The main unit goes thru' a boot sequence, lighting four coloured squares on it's front, three yellow, one green and then eventually displays a large number; the volume. This. I subsequrntly find, appears to be in 1dB increments. The rotary volume control itself is freaky, as it has no start and end. It just spins freely.
Having left it running for an hour or so, to settle down and warm up after it's traumatic ten days travelling, I thought I'd try to have a critical listening session. Note : the ASR website suggests that the unit only really comes on song once it's been running from it's power supply for three days!
I tried a whole series of tracks I know well :-
Pink Floyd, Elisabeth Valetti, Philip Glass, Black Sabbath, Faithless, Jeff Buckley, Rolling Stones and many more
But of all of the tracks I tried, the one that stood out the most was Uriah Heep's "Melinda" from "Very 'Eavy Very 'Umble", an album whose content and production values were critically slated when it was first released.
So, how does it sound? Particulary, in the context of replacing the BOW Walrus power amp I'd been using (driven directly by my DAC) for the last couple of years and the NAD S300 I'd picked up a couple of months ago.
Oh, almost forgot, the system is :-
TEAC P30 -> Wadia 25 -> ASR Emitter -> WB Arcs (& a Sony ST-6B analogue tuner)
All analogue interconnects are Z-Squared Au/Au. The digital is an Acoustic Zen E=MC2. Speaker cable is Kimer 8TC. All mains cables are Z-Squared Au/Au Elite, other than the Conoisseur on the amp itself.
No fancy power conditioning 'cos the buzzing of the Trichord power block I have bugs the hell out of me. I'm using two Olson Sound Fantastic blocks, one for the digital components, one for the analogue.
Anyway, back to the sound. How is it?
Quite simply, like no other solid state amp I've ever heard.
My criticism of the BOW was that it had a vice-like grip and belted out a tune, but it was remorseless with no soul. The NAD S300 integrated allowed me to run the Wadia on max gain and added a bit of warmth to the system, but didn't control my speakers anywhere near as well.
It drives the Arcs like nothing I've ever heard. Metaphorically, it feels as though it could pick the speakers up and throw them thru' the fecking window.
It's more dynamic that anything I've ever heard, switching been quiet and loud passages effortlessly; absolutley nothing I threw at it phased it. But, it demostrates a subtlety that no other amp I've owned has been capable of.
I've always thought that my system sounded artifical and had always put that down to the digital front-end. With the ASR in place, this is sooooo not the case. It's difficult to believe that I'm listening to the same transport/DAC I've been listening to for the last 2+ years. It now sounds so natural, so organic, so "analogue".
For something that is sounding so un-digital, I'd have expected to lose some of the hi-fi aspects, but that's not the case. The soundstage is as wide as it's ever been; it's now much easier to comprehend the concept of depth of soundtage, much easier to pick-out physical positioning of instruments and vocals in the mix.
The Arcs do seem to generate a decent amount of (mid)bass for small standmounts, but I've never heard them sounding like this. On double-bass and piano, it now has a "weight" which I didn't think was possible with such small speakers. Nova Nova's "Tones" (from Cafe del Mar vol 2) really is something to hear, you can really appreciate the feeling of it being played on a grand piano.
So, red wine induced written diahorrea over, how to summarise?
If you're not going down the valve / high effeciency speaker route, then you need to hear this amplifier. For the £950 + PP I paid, it's an incredible bargain; you've gotta bear in mind the BOW Walrus it's replacing had an RRP of £4k. Even if you go to Hifi-Guy and pay £4500 for a brand-spanking new Emitter 1 Exclusive, I'd say it was worth every penny.
Coming from a mainstream / What-HiFi background of manufacturers like Cyrus and MF, I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I genuinely think my speakers are out of their class, now the weakness in the system. I think I really really need to go out and spend £5+k on a pair of 2nd hand speakers that will do this amplifier justice.
Last but not least, a big thanks to coopee/coops for bigging this amp up on PF and making me think I ought to get off my arse and take a punt.
Happy as a pig in sh1t.