Verité et Beauté
Anthony Kershaw ruminates on the concept of truth and beauty and MDG Audio's Allegrio Pre/Power combo
The Ancient Greek ideals of truth and beauty are two concepts in which our society is sorely lacking. During the waning moments of the twentieth century, the best exponents of art and science continue to try and reverse the seemingly inevitable slide towards the acceptance of mediocrity. Although not quite the defining people of our time, audio designers certainly play their part in the pursuit of truth and beauty. Thus, they play an integral part in the musical equation of our beloved hobby. Sadly, designers come and go. The best ones, however, are in for the long haul, and bring to their craft a true passion for music.
MDG Audio owner and designer Maurice De Grandmont loves music, and it shows. He is passionate about delivering the best sound possible within the confines of his considerable powers. To that end, his premiere efforts, the Allegrio Preamplifier and Power Amplifier, are unbridled successes.
Maurice has an extensive engineering background and worked for several years at Spar Aerospace in Montreal. What better place, then, to premiere his first efforts in the world of audio than the Montreal Audio Show. It was at the 1997 show that Maurice offered his Allegrio pre/power combo for review to Audiophilia Online Magazine. The Editor doles out the review gear fairly, and suggested I try to get to the heart of them. Here goes.
Upon arrival of the Allegrios, the excruciating realization of break-in reared its ugly head. Not the most patient of people, I find it difficult waiting a week or so for electronics to settle in. But wait I did. Wait and wait! Reviewing a designer's precious equipment is serious business, so, the gentlemen (and ladies) of our publication break in equipment very methodically. Most high-end equipment sounds lousy out of the box, no matter what the dealer tells you. The MDG equipment was no exception. The usual suspects were present. You know the ones: harshness, grain, brightness, etc. No surprises. Unfortunately, the suspects overstayed their welcome. In fact they still remained after one hundred hours. My patience was wearing thin. And just as pen was going to be set to paper, the cavalry arrived. No...it didn't sound better! Maurice De Grandmont called our Editor, saying one of the amplifier's resistors was out of spec and a new unit was being sent. Thus, everything was boxed up, and relegated to the dreary confines of the cellar. Sigh.
Happiness was restored some three weeks later when the new unit arrived. This time, after a reasonable break-in period, a smooth, tizzy-free sound presented itself Phoenix-like. All was well with the world. [MDG Audio has recalled and modified all of the offending units - Ed.]
The cosmetic design of both units is most certainly utilitarian and will be unlikely to set hearts a flutter. The rear panels of the units, however, are finished meticulously, using high-quality, gold-plated connectors and offering a detachable power cord. The pre-amp is connected to its separate power supply by an umbilical terminated with a three-pin din. During a phone conversation, De Grandmont spoke proudly of assembling the units by hand. Both pieces were built with consummate workmanship. Of this, he should be proud. And although not striking to my eye, musically, the Allegrios told me another tale.
First in the Arcam Alpha 6 CD player was Gustav Mahler's great Das Lied von de Erde. One of his most sublime creations, Das Lied takes the orchestral song cycle to the zenith of its remarkable form. The performance by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Otto Klemperer is just as remarkable (EMI CDC 747231 2). The famous performance showcases the genius of tenor Fritz Wunderlich and soprano Christa Ludwig. The MDG pair showed me the pure delight of this recording. Incredible power and absolute delicacy were portrayed with enviable poise and grace. When listening to the piece through the Arcam Alpha 9 integrated amplifier, the soundstage was presented in front of the loudspeakers. The MDG gear threw a much deeper soundstage, which, coupled with the smooth presentation, offered a fatigue-free digital environment. A fellow Audiophilia Online Magazine staffer commented on the richness of the presentation and the secure placement of the instruments. I also found said placement to be pinpoint and surrounded by a lovely liquid space. No, the Allegrios did not compete with the best tube or solid-state gear, but they did their job admirably.
A superb new CD from Telarc (2CD-80426) certainly showed the musical capabilities of the combo. Under the expert guidance of the Allegrios, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's wonderful performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony shone through the ProAc Tablette 50s. This piece should be a shattering experience. It was. The intensity of the playing was showcased very impressively, with authoritative bass, sweet strings, and imaging that engendered bravos!
LPs were auditioned via the phono stage of the Arcam Alpha 9. The same excellent qualities were noted as when listening to CDs. Whether Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra pumping out The Pines of Rome (LSC-2436 Classic Records reissue), or Patricia Barber singing and playing her unique style of jazz chamber music on Café Blue (Premonition Records 737), the Allegrio combo did a fine job of communicating with its audience. The almost tactile feeling one gets from the best in vinyl was much in evidence. Even Philadelphia Jerry Ricks jumped out at me, brandishing a guitar and smoky voice to express his particular brand of blues (Roksan RLP016).
A variety of loudspeakers was auditioned with the 95 Watt Allegrio power amplifier, and while it drove the amplifier-friendly Meadowlark Kestrels and ProAc Tablette 50s with complete authority, it had less success with more difficult loads. Pairing the Allegrio power amplifier with Martin-Logan Sequel IIs, for example, was not pretty. The treble and midrange were glorious, but the bass was nowhere to be seen. To be fair, nothing short of nuclear fission seems to be able to drive the woofer of this beast, although the similarly priced, but now discontinued, Aragon 2004 Mk.II proved more capable.
As time passed, the Allegrio combination continued to impress. When returning to the Arcam integrated, the depth of the soundstage constricted, placing it in the previously noted forward location. While I love the sound of the Arcam, the Allegrios' imaging and deep soundstage are not easily forgotten.
Even after long term listening, fatigue did not show its unwelcome face. Lean mid-bass, a sometime side effect of transistors, was never evident. The treble remained clear and extended, midrange was pleasant, and the bass, quite deep and accurate. These tonal qualities certainly let the ProAc Tablette 50s sing beautifully. Let's be clear - the combo met my musical requirements admirably, but I never confused their sound with the best examples in tubes or solid-state. But paired with similarly-priced equipment, the Allegrios will do nicely. At his price, Monsieur De Grandmont has met his mandate remarkably well.
Presently, De Grandmont is designing an add-on phono stage that will increase the price of the preamp by CDN$250.00. Also in the works is a stand-alone phono stage with separate power supply, and an 80W integrated amp. The aptly named Allegrio-Duo monoblocks are also on the drawing board.
Purchasing audio equipment from a new company can be a somewhat dicey affair. In this case, MDG Audio seems to have its act together. Maurice De Grandmont is in the business for the long term, and with a four year warranty, purchase of either, or both, pieces should not be a risky decision. Of course, the combined pre/power price of CDN$3750.00 places the Allegrios in direct competition with some other serious hi-fi. Entry level Classé separates leap to mind as alternative and viable pieces. For the price, we are also in Krell integrated country. And although these and many more famous names may come to mind before MDG Audio, I would urge you to give the Allegrio pre/power combination a serious audition. The soundstage and tonal beauty the pair provide will be worthy of your time and effort.
Preamplifier and Power Amplifier
Manufactured by MDG Audio
78 Croissant Agathe, St-Joseph-du-Lac, Quebec, Canada, J0N 1M0
phone: (514) 623-2770
Price: Preamplifier CDN$1650.00, Power amplifier CDN$2100.00
Source of review sample: Manufacturer Loan
Preamplifier: Fully discrete components. Class A circuit, with no feedback circuitry and no integrated circuits in the signal path. 1% tolerance metal film resistors. High precision metallic film capacitors are added to the DC voltage sources and used as bypass capacitors to eliminate high frequency noise. Five line-level inputs, Noble balance and volume controls.
Preamplifier Power Supply: Dual mono. Uses discrete transistors. Includes RFI coils to eliminate parasitic radio frequencies. Both preamp and its power supply use double-sided glass epoxy circuit boards.
Power Amplifier: Fully discrete components. Class Alpha circuit (see below). 500VA custom-made toroidal power transformer. Bridge rectifiers and regulator circuits used to maintain the integrity of the signal at high power. 1% tolerance metal film resistors. Metallic film capacitors. Double-sided glass epoxy circuit boards. High precision, 20 turns, sealed potentiometers.
"Class Alpha" as defined by MDG Audio:
A "Class Alpha" amplifier amplifies a musical signal just like a pure "Class A" amplifier, but when no signal is present at the input of the power amplifier, its output transistors are polarized as "Class AB", therefore reducing both the power consumption of the amplifier and the power transistors' temperature.
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