October 1, 2002
Accuphase P-1000 Stereo Amplifier
At $19,500 USD the new stereo amplifier from Accuphase -- the P-1000 -- may be worth (gulp!) every penny.
Stevie Ray Vaughn smokes through "Tin Pan Alley." Every lick, run, wail, and bend of steel string is alive with crisp energy and a sense of immediacy that only a complex mixture, rich with an overlay of blues progressions and harmonic structure, can deliver. And then theres that SRV voice, raw earth tinged with the history of experience, exquisite, and in a way emblematic of the best in modern electric blues. This all sounds so very real.
But despite this suction of involvement, Ive been going slowly mad, bonkers, in fact, as the nearly 10 minutes of this track of pits unwinds from the stunningly mastered Vorfuhrungs-CD II Burmester compilation compact disc. What is tripping my anxiety metronome to tick in sync with the classic vu-meters of the Accuphase P-1000 amp? It's the mild, but very real, ground-loop buzz coming mysteriously from somewhere deep in the MartinLogan Prodigy speakers' left sound field.
It hadnt been noticeable on the earlier tracks of this limited-edition CD, but like all things that hang just on the periphery of perception, similar to the sound of an annoying but invisible gnat beating air near the ear, the hum has become inescapable. Once something becomes evident, it cannot be ignored, but unlike the gnat, in audio replay it cannot be waved away.
So, I start what I call the audiophile prowl, which consists of checking behind the rack, tucking and twisting at the connectors, double-checking the power-cord and conditioner interfaces, as well as the IEC connections, and so on. We all know the drill, but in this instance, nothing is amiss, yet the lightly buzzing gnat in SRVs music will not go away -- that is, until the next track arrives, at which point all is normal again.
Of course, I have played myself the fool. Nothing was wrong with the system (Audio Aero Capitole 24/192 CD player directly feeding the Accuphase P-1000). Wiring was Nordost Valhalla through and through, about as straight wire with gain as one could hope for. What was really going on was simply this: The track itself contains the buzzing artifact, which most likely was a ground-loop hum one so often notices when a group plays music in a club or arena. Simple as that. The hum was probably there at the recording session, but the fact remains that it hadnt been perceived prior to the arrival of the Accuphase. And the amp did reveal it, in a softly annoying but persistent manner as part of the fabric of the music itself. Period.
So many amps, in the interest of covering up shortcomings, outwit the spirit with an ersatz resolution that, though attention grabbing in the early listening, quickly become fatiguing, annoying, and lacking heart and soul. They produce a bleached prophecy without the core-moving substance that only layered harmonics can deliver. So many amps manage this false musical religion, but not so the Accuphase P-1000, an amplifier that, for me, bridges the gap between solid state and tubes better than any amp Ive heard to date, including the much revered Halcro dm58 that I wrote about in June. Thats not a dis of the Halcro, which is magical beyond measure itself, but more a meditation on system synergy. The near-minimalist arrangement for this review -- after assorted complex variations that included at least three different tube line sections -- seems to be the ideal marriage for the particular equipment-room interface that is my listening space, an anomalous 12 by 25 by 18 structure requiring a significant amount of Echo Buster treatment, from diffusion to diffraction to ceiling-wall interstice damping and more.
At 110 pounds, the P-1000 is no flyweight, though moving it, with help, is not as difficult as it seems. An ingenious cardboard mechanism with cutouts for gripping makes lifting the amp out of the box and onto a stand almost effortless. Minor siting adjustments can be made via the substantial fascia-mounted handles. The champagne-gold aluminum fascia measures .57" thick, making it virtually nonresonant to knuckle rapping. The amplifiers housing, in solid-black aluminum, measures approximately 19" by 10.25" by 21.5". A significant portion of the exterior dimension -- nearly 60 percent of the volume, in fact -- is taken up with 16 heat fins per side, each fin tapering from a base of .4" to a rounded tip (thank God) of .17". The total surface area of the fins -- more than 2200 square inches -- dissipates heat so well that, despite the demanding loads imposed by the Prodigy, the P-1000 never ran more than mildly warm to the touch.
The P-1000 is clearly a powerful amplifier. To create a stable yet robust power supply, the amp uses what Accuphase calls a "Super Ring" toroidal transformer (rated 1.5kVA). According to Accuphase, the near-circular core of the toroid allows for "near-circular coil windings with high packing density, resulting in low weight, low losses, [and] low leakage flux" under real-world speaker load conditions. Two massive aluminum electrolytic capacitors are rated at 56,000 microfarads, which allow the amplifier to withstand most power demands.
The output side relies on 11 pairs of high-power transistors per channel in a parallel push-pull arrangement -- which explains the massive heatsinking. As well, only minimal negative feedback is employed, while the use of Teflon-based circuit boards -- with a low dielectric constant -- is said to result in greater transparency, as Nordost points out about its own stellar products.
A few other noteworthy features include balanced connection inputs with the Japanese standard of a hot three pin (this review utilized unbalanced connections), a dial that allows you to switch from dual mono to normal (or stereo) to mono left or mono right, and unique output taps. Instead of five-way binding posts, the P-1000 has larger-than-life posts, the centers of which contain a deep slot, large enough to handle an entire spade. Insert the spade, regardless of size, and then readily tighten down the massive plastic nut for one of the most solid fits and maximum contact pressures Ive encountered in years.
Theres a lot more technical information, and youll find it at the Accuphase website. As the synergistic quality of your system improves ("melds" is probably a better verb because of the many variables involved), the quality of acoustical reproduction edges toward cohesion. What I mean is that if youre fortunate in this respect -- and infinitely patient about finding the confluence of equipment -- music, its comprehension, the movement of line and tempo, the composers intent, and the listening experience itself increasingly become a marriage of both analytic sense and deep feeling. For after all, both sides of the brain must be engaged if you are to appreciate music as art; both must be available to you so that you get a sense of the flow of it all, of the interplay of notes toward some conclusion.
With the right combination of ingredients -- which include gear, and not necessarily price-no-object-stuff, wire, room, clean power, even the correct duplex outlet, plus an openness on your part to "receive" the information -- you can experience the music, you can feel it deeply in your soul, your bones, your marrow. If youre lucky, the marriage of these elements will open a window onto what psychotherapists refer to as an "a-ha" phenomenon or a sudden recognition of the meaning of it all.
Thanks in large part to the Accuphase P-1000, many of my listening sessions provided just such moments, such windows into the very heart of musics emotion. And the experience occurred often enough that I started doubting my critical abilities. In my experience, solid state, after all, is not supposed to be capable of creating an envelope of spirit -- and insight -- so fully.
Take Pepe Romeros Flamenco [Phillips422 069-2]. Until Id heard "Zapateado" through the present system, I had failed to comprehend fully the very glorious nature of well-performed flamenco dancing. Now suddenly the interplay of heel and toe of one foot against its counterpart became music of its own. Suddenly flamenco dancing was no longer appreciated for its technique alone; now the experience included an additional dimension. The dancing had become expressively complex -- the sound between toe and heel and rhythm differentiated -- while the gestalt of it all included an infusion of something more ineffable and transcendent. Paco Romeros dancing revealed masculine urgency, powerful, yet filled with grace as he moved -- and the amplifier tracked him -- around sections of the stage, its floorboards occasionally creaking (that last is due to the Accuphases ability to transmit even the most minute detail unaltered amidst a torrent of competing sound).
So, let me quickly dispense with the whole business of cymbal reviewing. Suffice it to say that cymbal tone, from the harder metallic sound of the center bell of the ride cymbal to the shimmer of its outer edge, is all available to you through the Accuphase -- as long as the upstream pieces can themselves retrieve and then carry the information. Whether its drummer Steve Amendola carrying the song along for Pat Martino on Stevie Wonders "Too High" on All Sides Now [Blue Note CDP7243 8 37627 2 9] or Brian Blades delicate filigree work on "Sun King," Chris Potters tribute to Sonny Rollins on his homage to breath-based jazz legends, Gratitude [Verve 314 549-433-2] -- you get it all in abundance, plus more.
Triangles, too, which can present a character difficult to capture because of the subtleties of tone they can create depending on the position struck, move closer toward the real when handled by the P-1000. With less, shall we say, sensitive amplifiers, the triangles tonality on the opening bars of Ricky Lee Joness "Show Biz Kids," from her Its Like This [Artemis 751 054-2], have an overly crisp attenuated sound. A lot of amplifiers know how to float a triangle in space, but few can present harmonic overlay like the Accuphase can on this track.
At the other end of the frequency spectrum, the Accuphase holds the Prodigy electrostatics, with their not-insignificant bass, firmly in its grip -- a bit better, in fact, if I recall correctly, than Halcros dm58 monoblocks. Case in point: almost any CD from Ricky Lee Jones, especially Pop Pop [Geffen GEFD-24426], notable for its AAD recording history, and Its Like This. She's never shy on bass; in fact, the powerful bottom on her discs most often sounds overripe, thick in the 41Hz region, especially when one wants to run full-range speakers. What the Accuphase offered up was crisp, tight, rounded, and full (a bit drier on Its Like This, thanks, I believe, to its pure digital DNA), presenting bass that was as close to live music as Ive heard.
An amplifier claiming to have the ability to swing 1000W into 1-ohm loads (rated 125W into 8 ohms) means that it should be able to handle extreme dynamic demands, the likes of which can be found in spades in "The Battle" from the soundtrack to Gladiator [Decca 289 467 094-2]. With a massive brass section pushing the edge of the treble frequencies and what seems to be row upon row of tympani demanding absolute bass control, even the best systems will suffer respiratory lag -- they will not be able to breathe. The Accuphase acquitted itself better than any amp to come through my home, including the Halcro, which, despite its absolute lack of grain, sounded a tad, only a tad relatively speaking, more lightweight in the brass section's highest frequencies and in the bass end.
Dont get me wrong; both amplifiers make the music visceral, moving. Both handle micro- and macrodynamics extremely well without collapsing into the middle two-thirds of the space between the speakers. Both differentiate instrumental sections with aplomb and incisiveness, but ultimately my nod, however slight it may be, goes to the P-1000 for its oh-so-slightly richer tonal presentations, which I have come to believe may be the result of minimal connections for this review setup (there was more gear and wire with the Halcros) and room interface issues. (In the interest of fair play, the addition of an Audio Excellence AZ World Power double-cryogenically treated duplex outlet -- the Hubbell 83000GY -- on the digital mains leg during this review seemed to result in enhanced resolution of harmonic information.)
The quality of reproduction of female voices and piano colors represents a couple of the surer tests of an amplifiers ability to reproduce realistically in a listening environment. While you can choose to focus on a wide swath of assessment protocols, for me, the observations rely on the realms of sibilance, how overly sharp an "s" can sound, and on subtle plosives, the mild explosions of breath generated by words utilizing the consonants "p" and "t," especially at a word's terminus.
On such parameters, the Accuphase does marvelously well, serving up, for example, Carmen McCraes voice on Carmen Sings Monk [BMG 3086-2-N] as a natural rendition of vocal shadings. Ditto for Ella Fitzgerald on Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie! [Verve 835 646-2]: The sibilance of her powerful, young but already nuanced voice can be distracting through lesser amplification. The P-1000 presents a more natural sounding, grainless Ella, and thats due, I believe, to the amplifiers ability to flesh-out overtones in critical frequency bands.
Likewise for piano. Fidelis Records The Seasons [FR001], a rich, warm-sounding, and evocative piano trio of Tchaikovskys sensitive work, readily showcases the left hands essentialness in creating color and tonal underpinnings. Through the Accuphase, the pianos cavity sounds positively sonorous, while the right hand has the correct sparkle and body, meaning it doesnt sound etched.
Truly, theres something engaging about this sand-based amplifier, which to my ears, tends a bit to the warm side, though to call it even slightly dark would be absolute mischaracterization. No, the Accuphase P-1000 readily reveals even the slightest alterations upstream. For example, swapping out Amperex Orange Globe 6DJ8s in the Conrad-Johnson 17LS line section (used much earlier in the review before the minimalist path was finally taken) revealed a slightly tipped-up presentation compared to the Amperex Bugle Boy "Made in Holland" 6DJ8s, which are considered harmonically richer in the upper octaves and more dense without sounding bloated in the lower registers. The amplifier revealed the differences readily. Also, whether I rotated power cords or interconnects, the amplifier revealed the characteristics of each as Ive come to know them and without much listening time devoted to the process. Throw harsh goods into the mix, and the amplifier will transparently transfer what it has been fed.
On the nit side, and indeed there are a couple of very small issues, the P-1000 just doesnt quite create the kind of pristine holography that I am used to as a lover of tubed gear. What Im talking about, however, is a matter of relative degree. Rest assured, the Accuphase P-1000 casts a holographic soundstage the likes of which may be setting precedent at this price point for any solid-state amplifier. When I dropped in the Conrad-Johnson 17LS, with its quad of Amperex "Made in Holland" Bugle Boy 6DJ8s, known for their ability to throw solid images, the Accuphase delivered precisely that -- instruments had a "there" quality that was undeniably enticing.
The other critique has more to do with personal bias. I prefer a more forward presentation, somewhere in the first third of a concert hall, not midway or farther back. The Accuphase P-1000 seems to put one squarely in the center rows, which moves the soundstage away from the front plane of the Prodigys. For many audiophiles, this type of seating sense is highly preferable, but I thought you at least needed to understand my bias in this matter.
One more item, and that is the house look. I wonder if it would be too much to ask Accuphase to update what has now become a classic look. Mind you, theres nothing wrong visually, but even Conrad-Johnson has made its look much more modern without going over the top. Nuff said.
Ultimately, the Accuphase P-1000 can be ruthlessly revealing of ancillaries -- so be forewarned that it will not add warmth or "glow" to famished-sounding upstream and downstream gear. Having said that, it's safe to point out that this product from a trusted hi-fi name in Japan, with a small loyal following in North America, offers up a sound that would have been described in earlier days as honey-like. Not honey with an amber translucence but rather of a very light, golden gossamer glow -- which is a plus in my book.
If youre in the market for a new amplifier, irrespective of whether youre a bottlehead or sand-based lover, the Accuphase P-1000 is an absolute winner you must try. I doubt youll find much better in so many ways for a similar amount of money (and in many cases for even more money).
Accuphase P-1000 Stereo Power Amplifier
Accuphase Laboratory, Inc.
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