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The Pinnacle of The Electrostatic Sound

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Audiophile Review!
Merrill Audio VERITAS
Class-D Monoblock Amplifier
"The Evolution of Class D"



Brevis
Price: $12,000 per mono pair
Likes: Class D accuracy, quality build
Dislikes: pricey, no onboard RCA input
Wow Factor: Class D has really evolved

by John Gatski
  Although analog amplifiers, with their beefy power supplies and massive build, still dominate the audiophile landscape, Class D (or digital amplifiers) has been quietly (and cooly evolving) into quite good sounding iterations. I am a big fan of the Rogue Audio tube/Class D hybrid amp, and I have quickly become a fan of the more upscale Merrill Audio VERITAS monoblocks reviewed here.
  Priced at a high-end price of $12,000 per pair, the Merrill VERITAS monoblock amplifier is a Class D amplifier that utilizes the Hypex NC1200 Class D module, tweaked by designer Merrill Wettasinghe. Unlike a Class A or AB amplifier, the Class D design operates very efficiently in terms of power use, and can offer significant power in small, lighter boxes that use a fraction of AC power of a conventional amp.
  The knock on Class D has been varying sound quality, with descriptions from edgy to sterile in varying degrees; good for the less sensitive bass frequencies but hard on the ears in the midrange and treble.
  However, newer Class D amps have come a long way and amps like the Merrill VERITAS, show that you can get a very musical, detailed, and spacious  stereo image that is smooth but accurate.

  This pricey, yet extremely detailed, musically neutral amplifier offers a classy, pedigreed look and exudes a sonic character that extracts the last bit of accuracy from the best sources and preamplifiers.

  Designer Merrill Wettasinghe, president of Merrill Audio Advanced Technology Labs, says that VERITAS showcases the company’s “audio purity” philosophy. “The design philosophy was not to get in the way of the music. That means the audio signal has to be amplified cleanly, with the full dynamic range and speed and not get bogged down by the load,” Wettasinghe explained.
  According to Wettasinghe, the VERITAS amplifier was designed around Class D and SMPS power supplies, as this design can deliver “extreme sonic performance” at a reasonable cost.
  “Music is much closer to a square wave then it is to a sine wave,” he elaborated. “The unconscious recognition of live music is the immediacy of the sound - notes, vocals, percussion. Getting the rise time is critical in music reproduction and should be the audio holy grail — rather than childhood-reminiscent, euphonic warmth.”

Accurate converter deserves an accurate amplifier

  Wettasinghe said that Hypex Class D design was chosen because of its potential sonic superiority over any other circuit or design, including Class A. Having a 2 milliohm output impedance and power/frequency response that is independent of load, means more accurate reproduction of the signal.
  Wettasinghe added that the VERITAS circuit design addresses “critical Class D factors such as dead time and distortion, which are  prevalent in other Class D circuits, and are greatly minimized here by using appropriate 5th-order feedback loops. While some have chosen to slow this module down, I have chosen to let it free — without ring and overshoot.”
  In addressing the VERITAS switch mode power supply, Wettasinghe points out that an equivalent linear power supply for such a power amp would be more than a hundred pounds and ten times larger. He said the VERITAS’ overall efficiency is 85 percent at higher power levels.

Features
  The VERITAS monoblock is a beautiful, solid, high-end amp that feels and looks upscale. Although each amp only weighs 33 pounds, they are rated at 400 watts output at 4 ohms (800 at 4 ohms/1,200@2 ohms). The signal to noise is positively DAC like at -128 dB. Distortion spec is .004 percent at 200 watts. Factory rated gain is listed at 26 dB. Other specs include damping factor, 2,000 at 4Ω; and a frequency response from 0 Hz to 50 kHz, 0/-3dB, Gain: 26dB.

Hypex NC1200 module is key to VERITAS design

  The VERITAS was built with high-grade circuit boards, premium components and ultra thick PC boards for the surface mounted components. High-end power cords and Cardas XLR to RCA converters are also available as options.  It is a high-end looking amp with a refined feel. For $12,000 it should exude a certain top-tier appearance and build, and it does. The back panel includes Cardas balanced XLR inputs and IEC AC cord connection. Color options are red, black and silver. Each amp comes with mounting feet.

The setup
  I am no stranger to Class D amplifiers as I have listened to various iterations in pro and hi-fi since the 1990s. I actually own a Rogue Audio Medusa hybrid/tube Class D amp that uses Hypex modules as well. The Rogue is quite transparent and leans more toward the accuracy and vibrancy of a solid state amp than a traditional tube amp. It sounds great with my electrostatics.

  Via the electrostatic ML Montis, the VERITAS really shined its spotlight on The Anthony Wilson Trio’s — Our Gang SACD. Because of the plump, midbass of the Hammond organ playing, some amps can sound soggy on this recording. But from the first play of the title cut, the VERITAS nailed the tone balance perfectly.

  So with the Rogue and a plethora of other amps for comparison, I eagerly put the VERITAS into the EAN evaluation system. Components included a Benchmark DAC3 HGC DAC, Mytek Digital Brooklyn DAC, an Oppo Sonica DAC and a  Resonessence VERITAS DAC/preamp (some coincidence, eh?).
  For straight-ahead preamps, I linked the VERITAS to a Rogue Audio RP-5 tube preamplifier, an older Coda (still one of the most accurate out there) and a Pass Labs XP-10 MOSFET preamp.
  For comparison amps, I had on hand the aforementioned Rogue Medusa hybrid tube/Class D stereo amp, a Pass Labs INT-160.8 integrated (review upcoming),  and a new Bryston 14B SST Cube.
  Speakers included my MartinLogan Montis electrostatics, ATC SCM40 (review upcoming), a pair of Amphion Argon3S stand speakers and a pair of Westlake LC8.1 stand speakers. Cables were all Wireworld Eclipse including speakers cables and interconnects and digital connections. Power cables were from Essential Sound Products.

The audition
  The Class D amplifier criticism always seems to be that it lacks warmth and character versus analog amps, but as a reviewer who plays music, and records music as well as listen via the finer hi-fi products, I appreciate the detail, accuracy and bass precision of Class D’s better amps.
  They also have come a long way in delivering this precision without the harshness of the original Class Ds, thanks to developers such as Hypex, and the innovative manufacturers such as Merrill and Rogue Audio who implement these modules.
  Like the Rogue Medusa, I found the VERITAS, super clean and a master at transient response. There is a readily apparent air around instruments such as violin, drum cymbals, piano notes and classical guitar that magnifies hi-res recording accuracy. It is not a warm filter, analog quality, but a precise presence that allows me to listen deep into the music.
  Via the electrostatic ML Montis, the VERITAS really shined its spotlight on The Anthony Wilson TrioOur Gang SACD. Because of the plump, midbass of the Hammond organ playing, some amps can sound soggy on this recording. But from the first play of the title cut, the VERITAS nailed the tone balance perfectly.

Simple, but effective, back panel with balanced line input

  The snare hits, the jazz guitar note runs and the drum cymbals came through with a blend of space and dynamics that showcase the warm DSD recording. Like the Rogue Audio Medusa, the Merrill VERITAS also made an impression when I played the uptempo cut “Time Flies” (love that drum kit). The really good Class D amps keep control of individual dynamics of the various instruments of this recording — without blurring them together.
  And I am happy to report that the VERITAS is pretty darn smooth sounding. It did not exhibit any of the “digititis” of cheap Class D amps. Even at loud levels, I did not experience any ear grit on the Anthony Wilson Trio SACD.
  Switching to (no pun intended) a violin recording, 2L’s MOZART Violin Concertos 
(Marianne Thorsen, violin; TrondheimSolistene,Øyvind Gimse, conductor) at 24 bit/352 DXD, I wanted to hear if the VERITAS could transit those string to bow harmonics of the violin without succumbing to the edginess of old Class D or even hard-sounding analog solid state amps.

“The design philosophy was not to get in the way of the music. That means the audio signal has to be amplified cleanly, with the full dynamic range and speed and not get bogged down by the load.” 
—Merrill Wettasinghe

  Again, the sonic impression via the hi-res download was one of spacious detail and complexity of the violin playing, but it was not harsh. It was not warm or rich, but  quite neutral. Damn I like that.
  Okay, how about trumpets and other instruments? Those can sound hard through hi-fi gear, just by the nature of the instrument’s sound projection. So I popped in the Miles DavisSomeday My Prince Will Come SACD. The hi-res transfer of Mr. Davis’ highly rated 1963 recording sounds fabulous with good amplifiers with an intimate yet open performance of the small combo. Trumpet and sax tones are dynamic but a little understated as is the bass and drums. Cymbals, and snare have an open airy quality.
  The VERITAS duo and ML’s really nailed this recording as well. That precision in the upper bass to low treble removes a veil that lesser amps leave on the recording playback. While listening to this album, I did not think about analog, digital, MOSFET, bipolar, tube, etc. I just simply enjoyed the wide space presentation of each instrument and that uncanny accuracy VERITAS projects. I had the same sense of music when I auditioned the Rogue Medusa. I think the better Class D amps are perfect for electrostatic speakers.


ML Montis, VERITAS  excelled in transient response


  With the accurate, precision persona the Merrill amp had in spades, I had to listen to one of the transient rich recordings ever made, the Warren BernhardtSo Real SACD, recorded by Tom Jung for DMP in 2000.
   As mentioned many times in my reviews, the drum cymbals and percussion of the title track is one of the best demo tracks for room “air” and the realistic portrayal of space from a  recording.
  And as I expected the VERITAS projected the cut with precise relay of the upper register piano notes attack and decay, as well as those brush, airy drum cymbals. And when you hear the drummer rolling the drum stick around the snare in stereo, it is like you are sitting right there. That was the clincher for me.  Nowhere did I hear an etched, thin quality to the music. Music sounded like music. It was warm, not cold , hard or soft; it was great sounding performances coming out of this amplifier.
  With the impressive impression of Jazz and Classical, I switched off to Pop Music. Fleetwood Mac — Rumours, in 24-bit, has a bright EQ’d character that is detailed, but can sound edgy if the amp takes it over the line. When playing the hit “Dreams,” the treble splash of the cymbals does get pushed, but the VERITAS revealed the brightness without descending into grain. It just sounds a little bright, like the recording. But man, the open space around the drums and multi-tracked acoustic guitars on the song’s chorus is really brought out by the VERITAS.
  I popped in the limited SACD version of Celine DionFalling Into You, a fantastic sounding, 1996-produced hi-res Pop album with a mix of hits, ballads and uptempo dance songs.

Special edition SACD gets royal treatment via Merrill amps

  Ms. Dion's powerful vocals shined on the Eric Carmen cut "All By Myself." Her voice was full and emotive with a massive dose of dynamic range in the final chorus. I did not get a sense that there was anything artificial about the albums via VERITAS. No Class D blandness or emotion disconnectedness. In fact, quite the opposite, the amp’s precision character allowed me to hear deeper to the mix.
  How about dense, hard Rock music? I played the HDtracks 24-bit download of NirvanaNevermind. The fuzzy guitars and haze of Grunge hangs over this album, but the hi-res mix opens it up. Good amps can bring out the separation of instruments and vocal mix without exacerbating Kurt Cobain’s guitars sonic hardness. I have played Class D amp pro speakers that sounded awful with Nevermind.
  That was not the case with the Merrill VERITAS, they kicked out the open, sonic haze of Smells Like Teen Spirit without imparting extra tizziness. Again, the neutral nature of VERITAS makes it seem less compressed than conventional amps.
  Overall, all these listening impressions were repeatable with different pairings of the other speakers and preamps. Each component added their own bit to the equation, but the VERITAS was always clean, dynamic and presently detailed through every pair of speakers. The ML's ability to deliver space front  to back and side to side made it a go-to match up with the VERITAS. But the ATC SCM40 three-ways also really worked well with the Class D amps. An accurate speaker paired with an accurate amp sure fills the bill in my book.


  When I reviewed the Rogue Medusa in 2012, I was plenty impressed with its Class D hybrid design, with abundant treble detail, midrange accuracy and succinct bass performance. In comparison, however, I think the new VERITAS ekes out even more “space” and “air” — and generally sounds smoother than Medusa, which is now a few years old (maybe a tube upgrade is in order.) The Merrill monoblock‘s premium parts selection, plus the upgraded design tweaks, push the VERITAS to the next level of Class D. Of course, you pay for it in the list price.
  The only functional negative (besides having to shell out $12,000) regarding the VERITAS is that there are no onboard single-ended RCA inputs.You have to use unbalanced-to-XLR converters to connect RCA cables. You can order the Cardas XLR-to-RCA converters as an option, about $165 for a pair. You can also purchase optional Cardas power cords.

The verdict
  For those willing to shell out $12,000 for high-end power amps, I have no problem recommending the Merrill VERITAS Class D amplifier as a luxury class audiophile product. This pricey, yet extremely detailed, musically neutral amplifier offers a classy, pedigreed look and exudes a sonic character that extracts the last bit of accuracy from the best sources and preamplifiers.
  Yes, the pair is much pricier than mid-tier priced audiophile amps, but not as expensive as say the $80,000 XS Pass amp, or some of the Boulder amplifier models. In fact, there are numerous $10,000 plus high-end amplifiers that audiophiles are willing to buy — just like there are $100,000 cars that rich folks will plunk down their money on.
  As a luxury class amplifier implementing a first-rate Class D topology, the Merrill Class D VERITAS deserves a listen, and it receives the Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.

   John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via email: everything.audio@verizon.net

1 comment:

Kemper Holt said...

I heard the Veritas amps driving German Physiks speakers at AXPONA in Larry Borden's room, sensational, I rated it one of my favorite rooms for AVS.