Digital Amplifier Company
KING Maraschino Cherry Mono Blocks
$3,800 pr. with Marble/Granite base, $4,000 pr. Aluminum base
At first thought you might think this review is about large naturally grown cherries, but I assure it is not. Of course you could look at it as these amps are the cherries (size wise) of the amplifier world and by comparison there are some standalone dacs that are larger.
I had not given class D amplifiers a lot of thought even though I owned a tripath based integrated with tube buffer for a while. I am, at heart, a tube lover and consider everything either solid state, tube or other. These Cherry amps come under "other".
Digital Amplifier Company was founded in 1996 after several years of developing switching amplifiers for audio. Their goal was development of new high performance amp technology. One of their first products was a 6-channel digital audio amp for PCs that fit into a drive bay slot and ran from the disk drive power supply. This was about the same time DVD players hit the market.
Tommy O, the Head Cherry, told us, “We were producing four flavors of Cherry Amplifiers for several years. These were the Cherry (2-ch), Cherry ULTRA, Cherry MONO, and Cherry MONO ULTRA. These are still being built nearly a decade later.
We more recently developed the Maraschino Cherry Amplifier. We wanted to see how high we could push bandwidth to accommodate high rate content, like 192kHz/24-bit while preserving that "Cherry Sound". The result was nothing short of astounding. Prototypes indicated serious control over any type of speakers we tried driving with them. Silky highs and tight bass. Extreme detail and authority yielded an ultra-clean presentation. The extended bandwidth and raw speed of these amplifiers produced a rock solid image, placing the instruments in their intended "pick them out" locations. Old recordings sounded new, and we were on our way to producing our new finished product, the Maraschino Cherry Amplifier.”
And yes, they are made in the good ole USA.
(DON’T) CARRY THAT WEIGHT
When I went to pick up the two small boxes, I could not believe there were two, 200 watt mono blocks that I could carry at one time; my 150 watt Usher R1.5 stereo amp weighs 88+ pounds.
Got home and opened them up and you would not believe the custom fit internal packaging (there is a video on their web site showing it). These tiny amps are only 5”x6”x6” and weigh less than 8 lbs with included solid material bases that weighs more than the amps. Their innovative enclosure uses a solid base of aluminum (marble/granite @ $200 less), and Sorbothane™ feet to isolate the Maraschino from vibration. The weighty base holds the Maraschino in place even when connected to heavy speaker wires. Your choice of red or black top.
Included in the box were:
We asked Tommy why the tiny size? “The first finished version we built was the "hanging" Maraschino monoblock. We built them to literally hang on the speakers to be powered. We designed the board with several things in mind.... Compact size to allow various packaging options, concentration on audio performance, and an outboard power supply to allow future options. We hand built a few enclosures to test the thermal performance and tweaked the circuitry for sonics AFTER achieving great bench measurements".
"I took the first pair to an audio party. There were many different amplifiers there, but only a few sets of speakers. I wound up hooking the Maraschinos to an old pair of Jensen speakers in the cozy finished basement. By old speakers, I mean like 1970s, with the old screw-terminals instead of binding posts. After some rigging, I connected everything up using a very nice preamp to drive them. Wish I could remember the name of the preamp, but it was not a mass market piece, and it was well built. Several people listened to the system and found it impressive. A few of the listeners went upstairs to let others at the party know we were getting good results with these strange new amps in the basement. More listeners wound up coming downstairs to listen, and congratulated me on what they believed to be a fine new product. However, the people at the party were puzzled by the hanging amplifier concept. Note that these amps didn't need to be used that way. They could be placed on the floor or table, but the motivation was to make the amps light enough to eliminate speaker wires and all their associated problems. Several of the listeners asked to see behind the speakers because there didn't appear to be any amplifiers in the room. That's when I realized the hang-able feature amplifier was a distraction from the real advantages of the Maraschino design, so I decided to make a tabletop version and sell that first.”
Uh-huh. The takeaway here, obviously, is to go to as many parties as possible..
While these amps are fully balanced (can be expensive to implement), thank heavens that they come with an RCA to XLR adapter since a lot of people don’t do balanced. Most of the time, you find that implementing the balanced circuitry does result in improvements. Since the rest of my system is not balanced, i used the adapters.
I was wondering about the DC_SNAKE that is included in the package, aren’t you? “The Maraschino 60v supply is capable of Kilowatt output. All that voltage and current needs a fast, robust connection to the amplifier. The standard cable will do fine for many users. But discerning listeners will benefit from the custom designed DC_Snake leash, available in standard 3' harnesses or even shorter 6" lengths. Use the 3' leash to power an In-Line Maraschino, or simply if your power supply is on a different shelf than your amps. If you stack Maraschino on top of the power supply, keep the power path short, and use the 6" leash for a cleaner look. Cleaner power and current transfer enhance the high quality Maraschino's bandwidth, speed and overall presentation.
There seems to be a theme developing, yes? This company really DOES go to great lengths to present a product that is not only first rate, yet leaves options open for the owner to start basic and move up when their system and/or wallet allows. We like options.
In my comparison between the snakes and the standard cables, I preferred the snakes because the bass was cleaner and the midrange was more defined so I stayed with the reptilian versions. They have the snake interconnects and speaker cables as well, but only the interconnects are provided in the package.
POWER TO THE CHERRY PEOPLE
There are three available power supply options, the 30v (specs not listed), 48v (140 watts 8ohm and 250 watts 4ohm), King 60v (200 watts 8ohm, 400 watts 4ohm and 800 watts 2ohm). If you’ve been a reader of Stereomojo for a time, you know that we’ve taught you that power supplies are important. Like computers, car engines and cities, what supplies the power is critical. A great car can be compromised by a slug engine (power supply) just like a great amp, CD player or any other electrical device.
I know there are some specs that you need to properly mate components together, but let your ear guide you through the other specs. In other words, don't get hung up on the numbers. For this review I would like to get away from the “listen to this cut at the x:xx minute mark to listen for this”, instead I will mention the CD and tell what I heard. This way, I want you to enjoy the music as a whole and just not sit there and nit pick portions of the music.
Around back, things couldn't be simpler. There's an XLR input for the balanced function, a pair of gold speaker posts and a connector for the power.
Again, these only accept XLR for inputs, but RCA adapters are supplied.
Music used (various selections) from:
Shirley Horn – You Don't Forget Me
Manu Katche – Neighborhood
Kate Walsh - Tim's House
Melody Gardot – My One And Only Thrill
Roger Waters – Amused To Death
CHERRY NOT SO CHEERY
When I first listened to the Maraschinos, I must admit I did not like the sound and thought I was going to give it a rather negative review. (Yes, we DO publish negative reviews. Most others just drop them.) Don't you think you guys need to know when something doesn't perform to expectations as much, if not more, than those that do? Initially, I thought the bass was tight, deep and clean with clear non-fatiguing highs, but the problem came in with the mid range. There was something off there, sounding unnatural or artificial. Fast forward to after I purchased another set of speaker cables, Cerious Technologies Nano Signature, and low and behold the Cherry amps now had a great natural sounding mid range that I very much enjoyed.
This just goes to show you that even cables, yes cables, can make a difference in the synergy of your system. This is not saying the MG Audio Design Planus 2 speaker are not good cables, in fact they are great cables, but they just didn't play well with the Cherry amps, at least for me.
Now I'm ready to rock n' roll.
Roger Waters’ Amused to Death is well known in the audiophile community because of it's Pink Floyd-esque sound. But there's something else! This was recorded in what was called QSound back in the day – a way of recording that fooled the ear into hearing 360 degree surround from just two speakers. Here you hear crickets chirping and dogs barking WAY to the left and right of the speakers and about halfway between the speakers and you. With the Cherry’s dead silent background, this was ear opening - I thought there was a real Schnauser or something outside in my back yard.
Another surprise was listening to interviews coming from the left wall 4 feet in front of the speakers. This Q sound is something to hear, everything very life like and natural, other than the extreme special effects. Cut 7 features some a sledgehammer pounding something, followed by a stagecoach rumbling and jingling from back to front over your head. it's all very impactful.
The amps are very fast and dynamic and portrayed the EXF and music in convincing fashion.
Amused To Death is like a contemporary rock opera, each song just rolls into the next, the entire CD being a dystopian epoch that has to be told, very relevant to the world in which we live today.
DON’T CALL ME SHIRLEY
After being surrounded by rock, it's time for a fully mature supreme female vocalist, Shirley Horn. Her voice just holds you to the chair with a mixture of upper
level rawness and mid range smoothness that will keep you listening all night. The piano comes through with precise imaging as the hammers hit the strings. Muted trumpet and cymbals have a bite to them that brings goosebumps. That is much to do with the incredible speed these amps possess.
You sometimes hear the term “PRAT” in reviews which is supposed to stand for “Pace, Rhythm and Timing”. There’s no such thing, it’s just another of the made-up terms some reviewers like to throw in. In audio, pace, rhythm and timing all mean the same thing. (In music, that’s another thing) All of those qualities are functions of speed. Speed represents how a component or speaker reproduces the initial nanosecond transient of a given sound. Transients dictate qualities such as detail, soundstage depth, width and timbre. If something in your system is too slow to play those transients exactly how they were recorded, in the simplest terms, the music is just going to sound less real. Shirley and her band sounded VERY real.
An extraordinarily good harmonica solo can be heard here and it is three dimensional and crisp and clean.
Another female vocalist know for her jazz chops is Melody Gardot. On Melody Gardot's “My One And Only Thrill”, I ran into some more Miles style muted trumpets and throw in a little Hammond organ and tambourine with Melody's throwback voice and you have a recipe for a nice night of sweet jams. The sound stage background was as black Melody's song, “Your Heart Is As Black As Night” where you can close your eyes and pinpoint where each instrument is located.
If you haven't heard Melody's latest, Currency of Man, you may not want to - it's a drastic departure for her vocally, stylistically and even the purist style production values for which she is so famous. Your first clue might be the tiny note on the CD that says, "Don't play this on shitty speakers". Really. This is an album you may love or you may hate, but if you are into Gardot, it deserves a listen.
As I start to wind down my listening session, I put in Kate Walsh and can't help but notice the dark background again and the ease of presentation that the Cherry amps displayed. Hearing music emanating from an unusually noise-free background can be revelatory and the Cherrys have it bigtime. The sound stage was very stable with, again, pinpoint imaging and believable female voice. The guitars were missing some of that wood sound, but string plucking was chilling. There is one song where there are ocean waves and sea gulls, I could almost taste the ocean. That's some serious Mojo.
I gotta put on my man, Manu Katche. Manu is a percussionist who became known by his work with Peter Gabriel's 1986 album So and his subsequent work with Sting on Nothing Like the Sun and The Soul Cages. Since then he has played with numerous luminary bands and artists like Jeff Beck, Al Di Meola, Tears For Fears, Eurythmics, Simple Minds, Dire Straits, Jan Garbarek, Robbie Robertson, Joan Armatrading, and Joe Satriani to name a mere handful.
The piano is here is so sweet, then comes the cymbals. Manu is known for his cymbal work. There is no harshness, no spittyness in the upper regions. The drums have a nice explosive snap to them. The rhythm is a nice toe tapping exercise, well that's how I get my exercise. Publisher ~ you must have very strong toes Marvin…
There's a big sound stage with the music being balanced over the entire frequency range and, of course, this being my last libation...... all is well.
DOES SIZE REALLY MATTER?
I had on hand two more conventional power amps to compare against the Maraschino, Usher R1.5 (150 watts solid state) and the Consonance Cyber 800 tube mono blocks (78 watts).
Weight-wise it is still a shock comparing a less than 8 lb amp to an 88 lb amp and a 120 lbs worth of mono block tube amps with the Cherry's total 400 watts out muscling the others. But, power is not the last word in bottom-line fidelity. Let's see what happens in a direct comparion.
Versus the Usher solid stater, the Maraschino had tighter, cleaner bass with the Usher sounding more full blooded in the lower-mid regions. I would give the nod to the Usher in the midrange and the Maraschino gets the edge in the highs and low bass.
Versus the Consonance tube amps, bass goes to the Maraschino, but the Consonance takes the midrange and high end with it's tube richness.
If you are looking for no-fuss, no-noise, tiny footprint, near reference quality amps with power to spare, then the Maraschino Cherry monoblock amplifiers by Digital Amplifier Company deserve a hard look. It is still amazing that these minuscule amps produce 200 watts each! At $4,000 a side, we can't say these are screaming bargains unless you have specialize needs or wants. They do have a place in many audiophile's home or office. Motorhome. Desktop. Part of the expense is that since these are monoblocks, two separate power supplies are required. Also bear inmind that these are the King Cherry model - the to of the line, so if you don't need all that power, there are alternatives.
The fully balanced circuitry is a big plus for amps so small and at this price point. We don't know of any competitors that offers this feature in this size
If heat or electric bills are a consideration, these are extremely efficient, using 96% of the power fed to them so they run almost cool to the touch. People in tropical zones or who are green oriented, pay attention.
Perfect for desktop applications if you want real high-end sound from your computer system. Heck, you could almost use them on a motorcycle!
These would also be a great choice if you want to bi-amp your speakers. Put your tubes on top and these on the bottom.
They have to be a real wife pleaser, too. You could install these and she’d never know it.
As with any component, it is important to make sure you match pieces for synergy. In my system they were great performers with speed, accuracy, balance, and swing. Just remember, soundwise they are not tubes and not solid state, so as we always say, you will have to listen for yourself and decide what you prefer. Some would say they give you the best of both worlds. In the end, isn't that what this hobby is all about.
Here's the Specs
Power Efficiency: 96%
Output Impedance: <0.02ohm
Sensitivity: 3.1v in for 400w into 4ohm
Input Impedance: 20 kΩ true balanced
Frequency Response: 0 Hz to >100 kHz
Output Power per channel:
AC MAINS options (based on shipping destination):
My Reference System:
Consonance Cyber 800 tube mono blocks
Dehavilland Ultraverve 3 preamp
Cayin Venus CD 100i CDp
Usher Dancer Mini 2 dmd speakers
Cerious Technologies Nano speaker cables
MG Audio Design Planus Cu2 interconnects
The Maraschinos are available in several iterations.
DTM – Desktop Maraschino (on base)
ILM – In-Line Maraschino (hang-able to get as close to the speaker as possible)
STM – Stereo Maraschino (new)
Each of the above is available in standard (48v power) or King (60v power).