September 15, 2004Antique Sound Lab Hurricane DT Monoblock Power Amplifier How many times have you installed an audio component in your system, only to ask yourself, months later, Wheres the beef? The component looks great, and at first everything seems fine, but after youve spent enough time with it, you find that theres no there there. Somehow, the Antique Sound Lab Hurricane DT monoblock amplifier possesses a beauty of its own that did not fade over time. It continued to deliver the beef.
The "beauty" I speak of is not physical -- the Hurricane, which costs $4995 USD per pair, would barely fit into my Top 15 of power-amp visual appeal, and it will never win the Miss Universe crown: from the outside, its just a simple 11.5" by 19" chassis of stainless steel with an anodized black front. And its not too heavy: only 70 pounds each. Compared to, say, a Jadis 800 of days of old, thats a reasonable weight for a monoblock of such quality.
Theres nothing unusual here: The usual 4-, 8-, and 16-ohm taps are provided, the point-to-point wiring is neatly arranged, and there are RCA jacks for single-ended operation. No provision has been made for balanced outputs, but I found the Hurricane quiet enough even without that feature, so no fear. Some hum seemed to be amp-generated, but I could hear it only when I placed my ear against the speaker drivers.
Bias adjustments for each of the Hurricanes eight KT88 tubes are made via setscrews, and thats a good thing. The bad thing: with this tube, the bias drifts -- given enough time, it will drift all the way to China. The problem isnt serious, but its there. I found the best bias setting to be around 480, the first time -- and, mere hours later, a second time, and sometimes a third. But one learns patience, and for that virtue one is rewarded with a 200W pentode amp also wired for triode operation (which reduces the power to 100W).
Digital sources included the Arcam FMJ 23, the JVC XLZ-1010TN, and the Philips SACD-1000. The preamp the First Sound line stage, while the speakers were the Hales Revelation 3s, the Alón Lil Rascals, and the Sound Dynamics RTS-3s. The interconnect cables were Nordost Quattro Fil, along with a Shunyata Python AC cord (Arcam), and Shunyata Andromeda speaker cables. A PS Audio Power Plant 300 provided filtering for the CD players.
A rocky start
My first experience with the Hurricanes was not exactly the lovers kiss of my dreams, but more like "hurry up and wait." I turned them on and heard exactly nothing. A fuse had blown. I replaced the fuse with loving care, then turned the offending amp on. Again, nothing. The next day, the Hurricanes and I journeyed to the local electronics repair shop, 30 miles away. After their release from the shop and another 60-mile round trip, I turned them on again. Nothing. The resistor had blown again. A third 60-mile round trip and two days later, I turned them on again. Sound -- finally. No, thats not quite right -- music was the repast. Wheres the beef? Forget beef. This was filet mignon.
My love affair with the Hurricanes started out great, with Dick Schorys Bang, Baa-room and Harp [CD, RCA/Classic LSPCD-1866]. The minute the first track began, I sat agog as I heard Orchestra Hall reproduced as a gigantic venue -- I mean, huge. The airiness of the soundstage surpassed all previous renderings of this recording, with excellent ambience retrieval. Without a strong reproduction of ambience, depth layering is typically folded up, like a squeezed accordion. The Hurricanes did not, in and of themselves, compress depth of field, although they could if the setup was incorrect. But then, it was easy to determine when my setup was correct by the improvement in the sound. Fundamentals and overtones radiated from the same localized area, instead of the higher frequencies jumping off to the side of the fundamentals as a flea jumps off a dog.
The Hales Revelation 3s and the Hurricanes worked in cooperation to produce excellent sound, something that had concerned me enough prior to the amps arrival that Id called Tash Goka, the importer, to inquire if he thought there would be a problem. He had not. The combination of Hales and Hurricanes resulted in that "good time that was had by all" that Dorothy Parker once described. And this despite the fact that the Hales have quite an impedance drop, down to 3 ohms. The Hurricanes refused to be cowed by the lower impedance, or by the Hales tricky phase angle in the bass. With the Hales, the Hurricanes soundstaging abilities were mesmerizing.
With the substitution of the Alón Esprit speakers, the picture changed: The soundstage was still very good, but somewhat smaller, with less depth. This was partly due to the Alóns more distant perspective on the soundstage, and not a function of the Hurricanes themselves. The Esprits are dipolar; one would expect there to be more depth, not less. The point is that the Hurricanes did not produce depth; they reproduced depth. A component that "produces depth" will make any naturally produced soundstage sound deeper: the Hurricanes allowed soundstages to appear as small or as big -- or, in the case of pop music, as nonexistent -- as on the original recording.
This made the Hurricanes ideal components for reviewing: There was no question of "Is it real or is it Memorex?" Focus and specificity were excellent: watch Ella Fitzgerald sing; see Sarah Vaughan swoon. In fact, the three-dimensional focus of these amps reminded me of my early years with the Wilson WATTs. Outlines of instruments were not ambiguous. Listening to Bill Evans Waltz for Debby [CD, Riverside OJCCD 210-2], it was hard to decide if I was in the Village Voice, or if the Village Voice had materialized in my listening room. It seemed to be both. If you like to "watch" your performances as well as listen to them, the Hurricane is the genie that might grant you your wish.
There may be only one drawback to the soundstaging aspects of the Hurricanes: I didnt hear as much of the sidewalls as I do with other amps. The Goldmund Mimesis 9 amplifier, for example, will clearly let you hear the sidewalls of a recording venue. This may be a function of the Hurricanes high-frequency extension, which I discuss later. Or it may just be the JVC XLZ-1010TN CD player. However, even with the Philips SACD-1000 SACD player, which has excellent high-frequency characteristics, I didnt hear sidewall information. Rear-wall reflections could be heard, but again, not as clearly as with the Goldmund, which is exemplary in this respect. I wasnt troubled by this, as Im not paying attention to walls (as long as theyre not about to collapse on me in earthquakes, which are part of life in San Francisco). What I do listen for is tonal beauty -- something that elicits deep emotional responses when I listen to music.
The Hurricane will delight you with its vivid tonal colors, particularly with brass. The brass in Valery Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestras recording of Tchaikovskys The Nutcracker [CD, Philips 289 462 114 2] sounded beautifully golden, with just a bit of sizzle, as it should: the JVCs characteristic bite on brass showed through here, and the Hurricane did not smooth over this trait. The amp itself was transparent to the recording being listened to.
Unprocessed voices are the quickest way to determine an amps additions or subtractions. The Hurricane let voices and instruments come through with their natural qualities intact (with only one alteration, which I discuss later). When I listen to Leontyne Prices disc of arias from Puccini operas [CD, RCA 68883-2], the tonal qualities of the recording are apparent. Unfortunately, they are apparently dull. While Prices voice is stunning (as usual), theres no particular beauty to the tonal colorings. Still, its Leontyne Price, so I was content with how beautifully the Hurricanes reproduced her vocal qualities. Nonetheless, the Hurricanes did not infuse voices with false richness. This was true of all the singers I listened to -- Jacintha, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan -- in recordings that were mostly minimally miked and produced.
The Hurricanes produced evenness across the frequency range, but sounded particularly dazzling in the bass. Here there was a terrific sense of weight, along with great control and detail, but without damping the life out of the harmonics. In a Scott Lafaro bass solo on Bill Evans Waltz for Debby, the weight, solidity, and low-level detail of the bass were just plain fun. This was much more apparent when using the Hales Revelation 3 speakers. With the Alón Esprits, the bass had a much lighter feel -- or was that just the 10" Hales woofer vs. the 8" Esprit woofer? But again, the focus on the instrument was awesome -- the image of the double bass remained virtually visible as Lafaro played up and down the scale.
The Hurricanes were equally adept at portraying groups of double basses in an orchestral section. Track 2 of Alberia [CD, Mercury Living Presence 434 388 2] opens with the double basses playing softly. It was easy to hear them as a section of individual instruments, not merely a mush of sound playing together. What was most delightful was the sense of musicians playing together, something that most assuredly did not happen with the JVC 1010 CD player, but did with the Arcam FMJ 23. The Hurricanes relieved any concerns I had about my components showing their best. With the Arcam in the system, my doubts about the Hurricanes bass transparency were erased. Double that for the bass dynamics. And the resolution of inner detail of bass instruments, as well as all the other instruments of the orchestra, was excellent. I could hear the lines of instruments placed farther back in the soundstage, even during fortes. No crowding effect here.
In the mids, the evenness of instruments was apparent, with no apparent leanness. Listening to Porgy and Bess [LP, RCA 1831], with Cleo Laine and Ray Charles, I was enraptured by the quality of the voices. A friend, an opera singer, was bowled over by how realistic they sounded -- he could hear the aging and deterioration in Laines voice only too clearly, and Charles sounded as throaty as he had when Id heard him in Davies Hall in San Francisco. I gave up trying to hear microscopic flaws in the Hurricanes reproduction of voice.
The Hurricanes did something Id not heard before: they maintained the size of instruments all the way to the back of the orchestra. Most amps have a more "triangular" sound: Imagine a triangle laid on its side with one side nearest you, its apex farthest from you. Before the Hurricanes, my experience with amplifiers had been that they reproduced foreground instruments and voices as big; farther back on the stage, images dwindled, like the Incredible Shrinking Man. But with the Hurricanes, brass instruments, for example, seem life-sized. Even flutes sounded plus-sized compared to a typical amps reproduction. This made for a big sound, and was perhaps part of the reason that the soundstage reproduced by the Hurricanes sounded big.
It was easy to discern when one of my ASC Tube Traps was out of alignment: the instruments in the rear of the soundstage sounded smaller. At first, I thought this was the recording itself. But because I occasionally needed to access an electrical outlet hidden behind a Trap, it became apparent over a period of months that I was changing the orientation of the Trap itself (small adjustments of Tube Traps, especially Traps placed in room corners, affect instrument size, transient response, and ambience around instruments). I would then feel annoyed that the oboe seemed smaller, until I realized that the shift in the Traps position was the cause. A slight adjustment of the Trap, and voilà! The oboe reached adulthood with undue speed. As one expects most instruments at the rear of the orchestra to sound smaller, one would not be as aware that anything is amiss. With the Hurricanes, it was a snap to reveal full-size instrumentation.
In this case, not only does size matter, but if instruments at the back of the soundstage sound shrunken through your system, it is your preamp, CD player, or interconnects that are at fault -- if the rest of your system is capable, the Hurricanes will show life-sized images, and people, throughout the stage. This is one fun effect, especially with the Alón Lil Rascals and the Sound Dynamics RTS-3 speakers. Is this a distortion? I dont know. I dont care. Its fun.
The Hurricane has another fun virtue: an emotional expressiveness composed of quite good dynamic range and wonderful dynamic inflection. By dynamic inflection, I mean tiny shifts in dynamics within the frequencies themselves, sometimes called the "jump factor." Take the flute, for example. There are moments when, as a musical line is played, the flutist leans into a note. I call this inflection or accentuation. The Hurricanes inflections moved me -- nearly as much as, and as delicately as, say, the Jadis Defy-7. I leaned forward in my seat as if receiving a lovers caress. And this from CD!
Eventually in any love affair, but especially in audio, one sees ones beloveds flaws. With the Hurricane, those flaws took a while to discover, but I found a few of which you should be aware.
The Hurricane lacked some of the sense of bloom of other amps. While instrumental decay was good, the actual bloom -- the sense of the sound going through all of its harmonics -- was a bit less present. An analogy to this is the MIT speaker cables of old. What they had in spades was a sense of fully shaped notes spreading out in space and time, shimmering like the strings of a harp, the sound decaying in the air in complex patterns. With the Hurricanes, I heard the overtones decay without the complete sense of the "blossoming" that follows in real life. This was a minor failing; while those overtones were still present, they just didnt seem as complex as they do in all but the driest concert halls (think Davies Hall in San Francisco). Because of this slight loss of the full range of harmonics, the Hurricane sounded a bit dark.
There could also have been more of a sense of purity to instruments. There was, in my system, just the slightest lack of utter cleanness and purity, especially in the higher frequencies, and in comparison to the Goldmund amp. Not much to dislike, as flaws go.
Put all this together and you have the sound of music. This promises to be a long love affair: me and the Hurricanes and the music. The Antique Sound Lab Hurricane DTs deliver music to laugh by and music to cry by. Isnt that what we listen to music for?
Antique Sound Lab Hurricane DT Monoblock Power
Antique Sound Lab
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