REVIEW: Harmonious Audio MPA-1 mkII MC Head Amp
I recently received a Harmonious Audio MPA-1 mkII MC Head Amp, in the mail. Made in my neighbouring US of A. Not the bargain up here in Canuckistan, compared to domestic American customers, as the exchange rate is brutal - and I had to pay $14 customs duty on top of shipping. But for under $135 CAD ($89 in the US), I am pleasantly surprised.
??A butt-ugly chunk of cheap-looking aluminum, with garish red plastic buttons that look like they are scrounged from a dollar store child’s toy, this unit does not a good first impression make (and this is in spite of the fact that the gold RCA plugs are decent quality). Add to that, my initial attempt to set it up with a defective RCA cable (HUMMMM!!!), and I was ready to send it back immediately. Well, I was mostly ready to send it back because soon after I purchased this head amp on E[gads!]bay, I found a Benz Micro Lukaschek PP-1 T9 MC phono stage at such a low price, I had to order that. When it gets here in about a week, I will compare it to this head amp (through the phono stage of the Rotel RX-855; I will try it through the phono stage of the venerable NAD 3020, and the lowly Realistic 42-2109 later, when I compare it against the Benz). ??
The system is: Linn ASAK, Thorens TD-160 mkI, Harmonious Audio head amp, Rotel RX-855 phono stage (MM), PS Audio 6.1 preamplifier in both active and passive modes, and bi-amped through a Nikko Alpha II for lows and an old Electrohome SE tube amp for highs, to Tannoy 609 dual concentric speakers.??
The first few hours seemed to have a lot of surface noise and pops. This mellowed after the first 6 or so hours (burn in is real!), and now surface noise is not particularly present, but not particularly hidden, either (the MC head amp in the Rotel receiver seemed to underplay surface noise a bit better).??
But compared to both the Rotel phono stage and an old Project Phonobox S I was using prior, this head amp is QUIET. The engineer at Harmonious Audio who decided to bypass a power transformer by using two 9 volt batteries, made a very good decision. I am really curious how the Benz will compare, in terms of thermal noise and other electronic hisses.??
After listening for two days, the music sounds very good. The Tannoys are not the best speakers for imaging, but they are doing an adequate job now. And they are singing! I keep turning the volume up. Having said that, the very high end is slightly grainy, and strident. I’m not sure if that is the innate nature of these Tannoy aluminum horn-loaded tweeters, but I am hoping the Benz will exhibit less of this character, and bring out more of the Electrohome’s sweet mellow tubey treble.??
The bass is nice and deep, but my system is not particularly “fast” or “controlled” in this department (the Nikko’s damping factor is only 80, so if you have a modern amp with a ridiculous DF, like 1000, this may not be an issue for you). Instrument separation is good, and difference of tonal colours between them is also fairly good. I love the loud 20th century classics, so I have been listening to Stravinsky Conducts Rite of Spring (Columbia), Previn and the London Symphony on Shostakovich’s monumental 8th Symphony (Angel), Perlman, Previn and the LSO on Bartok’s 2nd Violin Concerto (Angel) Bernstein conducting the New York Phil, in Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, the Concerto for Two Pianos, Percussion and Orchestra (Columbia), and Reiner’s classic recording with Chicago of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra (RCA). Many glorious moments of almost-real orchestral sounds!?? And I have never heard the Tannoys have such a wide and TALL soundstage. Good stuff!
For the price, and ease of use, and quietness, and decency of performance, I would recommend this inexpensive, ugly/shiny little box, to those curious about tasting moving coil magic,without breaking the bank.
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