- Category: Feature Articles
- Created on Sunday, 01 August 2010 00:00
- Written by Jeff Fritz
It’s often said that big speakers can exhibit big problems for the designer. Designing a relatively competent two-way, stand-mounted speaker is a task that any designer worth his salt can easily do. But even accomplished engineers are challenged by the daunting task of designing a four-way floorstander in which the complex acoustical and electrical interactions of all those drivers work together and not against each other, and that produces bass that shakes the foundation -- not to mention designing and building the huge cabinet(s) needed to house it all.
I suppose you could make a similar case for amplifiers. Some of the best amps I’ve heard, while not as low-powered as a 6W single-ended triode, have been modestly powered solid-state designs, usually with class-A output stages. I and most listeners who’ve heard them will tell you that Krell’s KSA-50S sounded better than the larger KSA-100S, for instance, and I know for sure that Coda’s System 100 was superior to the System 200 in all the ways that matter. I positively reviewed the Vitus Audio SS-101 a few years ago, and that amp, while claimed to output only 50Wpc, was in some important ways better than most of the mega-power amps I’ve had in my system.
It was with that base of experience that I approached the Musical Fidelity Titan ($30,000 USD), by far the most powerful amplifier I’ve ever had in my system. It is claimed to deliver 1000Wpc into 8 ohms, 2000Wpc into 4 ohms, and close to 4000Wpc into 2 ohms. Those are crazy power specs -- if more power means more sublime sound, I was in for a treat. But if attaining big power is tantamount to designing a huge loudspeaker, who knew what I might hear?
Meet the Titan
Musical Fidelity’s founder, designer, and CEO, Antony Michaelson, says all the right things about the Titan on the company’s website: According to him, it has excellent linearity, low distortion, and low output impedance. MF claims that, from a technical standpoint, the Titan does everything a super-high-fidelity modern amplifier should do.
The Titan is a two-box affair -- but not of the monoblock variety, in which each chassis houses a complete amplifier for one channel. The Titan is split differently: One chassis (19"W x 7.33"H x 24.5"L, 150 pounds) contains the power supply for both channels, while the other (19"W x 7.33"H x 25"L, 99 pounds) contains the audio circuitry and output stages for both channels. Such a configuration has some definite advantages: Unlike in monoblocks, the power supply -- the chassis containing the two massive, 3kVA toroidal transformers and a pair of much smaller chokes -- is physically separate from the critical audio circuits. The Titan is kept dual-mono all the way from the power supply to the wall via two 20A power cords connected to the chassis with IEC inputs, and back the other way too: a pair of XLR cables connects the power supply to the audio circuitry in the other chassis. A single communication cable completes the chassis-to-chassis tethering, for a total of three cables.
The fully balanced, class-AB Titan contains 20 bipolar output devices per channel, affixed to heatsinks that run horizontally along the chassis sides from front to back, and correspond nicely to the grooves on each end of the thick faceplate of machined aluminum. On the rear end of the amplifier chassis are two pairs of large, excellent-quality, all-metal binding posts, for biwiring. These look like the original WBTs, before the plastic-shrouded variety became the norm. I couldn’t find a WBT logo on them, however; I’m not sure who makes these, but they’re of very good quality -- much better, in my opinion, than most modern ones you’ll see, though not as easy to use as the wing-nut type that’s become all the rage on super-expensive amps. There’s a choice of balanced or singled-ended inputs; predictably for a fully balanced design, the former reportedly provides better performance in terms of noise rejection. In my listening, I used only the balanced inputs. A 3.5mm trigger input rounds out the connections.
To power up the Titan from a cold start, three buttons must be pressed: first, two buttons on the front panel of the power supply, labeled Right Channel Power and Left Channel Power. Then the amplifier proper can be turned on, with a single button centrally located. Small LEDS on the amplifier indicate that the power is turned on, and also if the protection circuitry has been triggered for either channel. I never saw these come on. A temperature LED indicates when the Titan has overheated, which also never happened during my listening.
While I thought the Titan well built for an audio amplifier, I didn’t see anything special for a $30,000 amplifier. Its chassis certainly isn’t made to the standard of Boulder Amplifiers’ 2060, for instance, with the latter’s extreme attention to damping and nonresonant heatsinks. The Titan’s top panel, particularly the six mesh ovals that cover the audio circuits and the grooved metal section that runs between them, rattled and rang when I tapped them; the Boulder has no such shortcoming. I also never took to the Titan’s styling: Rather than the understated elegance and solidity of Vitus Audio’s SS-101, for instance, the Titan looked . . . flashy. In terms of bling factor, think of the Titan as more Cadillac Escalade, the Boulder and Vitus as more Mercedes-Benz GL550: understated but obviously of high quality. Of course, this is entirely a matter of personal taste.
Making full use of the power the Titan can produce doesn’t just require a pair of full-range floorstanding speakers, but speakers capable of prodigious output levels and, ideally, subterranean bass. The Rockport Technologies Arrakis easily meets those requirements: It’s a 4-ohm design with two 15" woofers, two 8" midbass drivers, two 5.25" midranges, and a single 1" soft-dome tweeter per side. Controlling all of those drivers requires a stout amplifier. Was the Titan up to the job?
Uh, yeah. The Titan kicked around the Arrakises more authoritatively than anything else I’ve had in my system. In fact, in terms of bass authority, the Titan is the best amp I’ve ever heard.
What the Titan did in the low frequencies was just insane -- in a good way. On several occasions I was made aware, for the first time, of just how capable the Arrakis is in the low bass. The Titan made the Arrakis’s bass response sound deeper and more powerful than I’ve experienced with any other amplifier. One of my reference bass tracks of the last few years has been Bruno Coulais’s "Norbu," from his Himalaya soundtrack (CD, Virgin France 848478). The huge whacks on the massive drum at the start of the song provide physical concussions that, when played loudly enough, seem to reset your heartbeat. Listening to this track with the Titan and Rockports, more than ever before I got the sense that speakers and amp were one, each seeming to explore the other’s bass capabilities with little regard for modesty. The bass was so controlled that it made the Arrakises sound like active speakers (i.e., speakers with their own amps connected directly to the drivers). The initial sound of the drumstroke was more physically powerful than I’d ever heard, and the sustain was longer and more audibly tangible. It occurred to me that, in the past, the sustain on this track has perhaps been compromised by a lack of headroom traceable back to whatever amp I was using. Now what I seemed to be hearing was the sustain decaying in the venue in which this track was recorded, as opposed to an unnatural decay in my room due to insufficient power. I realized that, up till now, it had been the power amplifier’s inability to hold up its end of the bargain that had truncated the drum’s decay. It was as if I were hearing this recording accurately for the first time.
I pulled out reference bass track after bass track and quickly found that there was more to be heard on many of them than I had imagined. Many years ago, when the first Krell amps hit the market, it was common to hear that they "added an octave of bass" to any speaker they drove. And if you had passive subwoofers, getting a Krell was the only logical thing to do if you wanted to explore the subs’ full capabilities. The Titan takes the crown in this regard -- it is the bass amplifier.
Music with great dynamic range was also startling through the Titan, which was capable of instantaneously and effortlessly reproducing shifts in the music from very soft to very loud. I listened to a couple of film soundtracks with ridiculously wide dynamic range -- recordings that can easily damage most amplifier-speaker combinations if the volume is cranked too high. The first I tried was "Why So Serious," from Hans Zimmer’s music for The Dark Knight. Do not play this track too loudly through your system the first time, unless you’re hankering to replace your woofers. Some low-frequency effects appear from nowhere about 3:30 into the track, taking over from a raucous chorus of synthesized higher-frequency mayhem. When that bass kicks in, the highs disappear, leaving frequencies so low that all you sense is the room moving about you -- you can easily hold a conversation with someone sitting next to you during this passage, because there are no sounds above the subsonic region. Then, about a minute later, the HF synthesizer mayhem kicks into overdrive once again. The Titan transitioned from soft to loud, from piercing highs to earth-shifting lows, and back again, with absolute fluidity. There was never a hitch in its delivery of power.
The second track that displayed the Titan’s ability to scale a huge dynamic range was also by Zimmer: "The Battle," from the Gladiator soundtrack. As this track builds in intensity, the brasses blare while the bass drums pound -- then it all subsides, only to come on even stronger the next instant. The Titan planted a firm foundation, reproducing the bass drums with absolute authority. It built in intensity with ease, displaying music with majestic scale and iron-fisted control. Each instrument in "The Battle" remained properly delineated in space, and the cacophony never became muddled or confused. In other words, the Titan managed to keep order not by compressing the sounds, as many amplifiers do, but by unleashing hell in a perfectly synchronized assault on the senses. Exciting!
The Titan also excelled at the reproduction of soundstages. They were freakin’ huge. My Music Vault listening room seemed to strain at its seams in an attempt to contain the dimensions of large-scale orchestral works and stadium rock. Width, depth, height -- as well as the density of images within those dimensions -- were the equals of the best I’ve heard. This amplifier could cast a soundstage that was like an aural hologram projected into the room -- a big hologram. When coupled with the Titan’s tremendous bass power, lightning-quick transient impact, and headroom for days, the soundstage reproduction created a thrilling experience. In some cases it could produce sensory overload, leaving me sweating and physically tired. I found myself with an unquenchable desire to explore music’s outer limits with massive dynamic swings at ridiculous output levels. Throughout my listening, there were times I almost felt as if the Titan and the Arrakis speakers were laughing at my inability to find any limitations in their performance. Neither gave the other an inch; hearing them explore each other’s sonic abilities was like experiencing thunder and lightning at uncomfortably close range.
There’s little point in going through the checklist of the Titan’s tonal aberrations: I couldn’t hear any. It was dead neutral throughout the audioband, and didn’t spotlight any area that I could point to and say Ah-ha! The Titan reproduced voices, both male and female, with crystalline clarity, and highs with no added noise or exaggeration of detail. I guess in this respect the Titan is right in line with other top-flight amplifiers I’ve had in my system: no obvious flaws, no great revelations. In terms of noise floor, the Titan was extremely quiet, almost on a par with the best I’ve heard in this realm, from Boulder and Halcro.
Speaking of other amplifiers: My reference Boulder 2060 ($44,000) is just as dead neutral throughout the mids and highs, but its bass reproduction isn’t as pronounced as the Titan's. The Boulder is a touch quieter in absolute terms, both mechanically (its potted transformers are silent, the Titan's aren't) and within the signal sent to the speakers, which leads to even greater resolution of fine detail -- but in this regard both amplifiers are already heads and shoulders above most of the rest. The Boulder is built better, in my estimation, and looks a lot better, too. But in terms of sound, both are topflight. The Titan sounded more powerful and more effortless than many of the monoblocks I’ve had in my system, from the vintage Krell KAS IIs to the Pass Labs X600.5s ($20,000/pair). The Titan was perhaps not quite as refined as the Vitus SS-101 ($41,000), but it was the more exciting-sounding of the two by a long shot, perhaps because of its voluminous soundstage and deliciously deep, powerful bass response. The MF approached the same analog feel that the Gryphon amps have in spades, and matched the latters’ sheer coherence of sound. And the Titan threw an even larger soundstage than does the Simaudio Moon Evolution W-8 ($15,000), itself a champ in this regard against almost any other amplifier I’ve heard.
The Musical Fidelity Titan kicks butt. It is competitive in every sonic category you could name, and moves ahead of the competition in some. One thing that should give prospective owners confidence is the notion that they can choose whichever speakers tickle their fancy, with no regard for their power requirements. I can’t imagine any properly designed speaker that would challenge the Titan, and even a high-efficiency model will benefit from the amp’s low noise floor. The Titan has no practical weaknesses.
The Titan is a gorgeous-sounding power amplifier that set new standards in my system for bass depth, bass power, and absolute control over the lowest frequencies. It should be on the list of anyone who has a super speaker that needs ample power and a tight-fisted grip on its woofers. But bass wasn’t the only area in which the Titan excelled. It was crystal-clear throughout the audioband, with no tonal anomalies or gratingly bad habits. Criticisms? Not many, and none serious. I’d like to see the cosmetics improved a bit with more understated elegance, and perhaps a chassis design more focused on resonance control.
I can see the Musical Fidelity Titan appealing to the group of audiophiles who used to buy Krell’s biggest models, back when Krell was considered the top dog in ultrapowerful solid-state amplification. Though those days appear to be behind us, it’s nice to know that the thrill lives on. The Titan is an amplifier of almost unlimited power that sounds great no matter the output level. If you want or need 1kWpc, you need look no further. The Titan is your amp.
. . . Jeff Fritz
The World’s Best Audio System, July 2010
- Speakers -- Rockport Technologies Arrakis, Dynaudio Focus 360, EgglestonWorks Andra III
- Amplifier - Boulder Amplifiers 2060
- Preamplifiers -- Boulder Amplifiers 1010, Musical Fidelity Primo
- Sources -- Apple MacBook running iTunes and Amarra, Simaudio Moon Evolution 750D DAC
- Cables and power conditioning -- All Shunyata Research: Aurora-IC interconnects; Aurora-SP speaker cables; Anaconda Helix Alpha/VX, Python Helix Alpha/VX, Taipan Helix Alpha/VX power cords; Hydra V-Ray II power conditioner
Manufacturer contact information
Musical Fidelity Limited
24-26 Fulton Road
Fulton Road, Wembley
Middlesex, England HA9 0TF
Phone: +44 (0)20-8900-2866
Fax: +44 (0)20-8900-2983
North American distributor:
Tempo Sales & Marketing
P.O. Box 541443
Waltham, MA 02453
Phone: (617) 314-9227