This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Audio-gd Master 10 integrated.
Power = money, money = power. Getting big watts-per-channel numbers not in Class D ain’t cheap. If I lived Stateside, you’d probably be reading about an Emotiva unit. Down Under China’s Audio-gd is super popular among Australian budget DAC fanciers. Presumably low manufacturing costs and a direct-sell model to most territories keep end user pricing extremely keen. With a smaller user base, kingpin Qin Hua’s (‘Kingwa’) amplifiers are a lesser known quantity. In the $1.880 Master 10 integrated he has packed 500 horses running class A/B into the MMG’s nominal 4 ohms. Impressive. Kingwa is also keen to point out that there are no op-amps anywhere within his chassis. At 38kg moving this amplifier is not for the weak of heart, arms or wallet as shipping costs run into the hundreds.

See those large twin transformers? They fuel a fully balanced design with a twist: each of the two balanced inputs and two single-ended inputs have their signal converted to current mode before being amplified by a single Class A gain stage. Volume attenuation also takes place in the current domain. A quad FET zero feedback output buffer returns current to voltage drive.

Audio-gd’s own technical skinny can be found here. A single set of ACSS inputs is present to accept a direct current feed from similarly ACSS-equipped Audio-gd digital sources. From memory an ACSS-conjoined setup sounds more science neutral than that heard from the single-ended socketry of the Master 10.

With this integrated powerhouse in tow, the MMG didn’t show off the stars-at-night sparkle of Wadia's 151PowerDAC Mini.  The Master 10 integrated was fatter, chunkier and packed more wallop than either the Wadia or outgoing Peachtree did. The match with Resonessence's ultra-smooth Concero DAC wasn’t as caffeinated as I would have liked though. Doubling up on tonal richness at the expense of crisply fried player outlines wasn’t what the $600 Magnepans needed. Enter iFi's iDAC. It pipes in brightness and some much-needed wide-eyed enthusiasm for inner detail. Most budget DACs fall into its camp of thinner, skinnier and shinier. And DACs which play more to the leading edge than the ensuing tonal flourishes really do well here. Kingwa's amp can play happy host to leaner meaner digital front ends which counterbalance its own tonal lushness and warmish haze. It’s everything I expected the Sansui AU-719 to be which it sadly wasn't.

Laser-guided maladies. Dadub’s Giovanni Conti and Daniele Antezza are as much into mastering as they are into making electronic music. Their sinister electronic opus You Are Eternity (2013) sounds as if every last detail were meticulously sculpted from electrical sugar. I called on this album for exemplification. 500wpc meant that the MMGs didn't want for slammage, dynamics or body. However the clicks and hisses that dart left and right required a DAC which better tracked their origin and movement. And AMR/iFi's budget unit just buffs out spaces around such minutiae. Now we had a more uniformly informative musical picture. Finer results still would likely be had with Eastern Electric's MiniMax or Anedio's D1 whose digital decoder would slice deeper musical resolve right through the Audio-gd's thicker more humid air.

Pluses. Post Peachtree in Audio-gd land, music stepped forward two paces which in turn drew the illusion of greater spatial depth. A thicker midbass meant a lower center of gravity for superior musical anchoring.

Minuses. For all the checkboxes being struck during longer listening sessions, I also picked up a slight hit to speed. Sometimes the Master 10 ran with more swing than finger-clicking snap and thus more noticeably languorous on the electronic highway. All'round muscularity could also mean that tonal information was teased out further down the vapour trail following the blat and blast of David Byrne and St Vincent's horn section. Instrumentation was meatier and more tonally satisfying but not as well separated as with the Nova125. What had been crystalline from team Peachtree got comparatively fuzzier with the Audio-gd. Know that such deltas were vanishingly small. I was simply being extraordinarily picky.

Then there’s the MMGs' relaxed sonic repose. Playtime with the Nova125 revealed a reticence with HF energies in these budget Maggies. This is where descriptors pertaining to ‘crunch’ and ‘definition’ live. Edgier more energised amplification and similar sources play very nicely with the baby panels. You need something to cut through the haze, stretch the connective tissue, pepper the cream and sand the Vaseline. Hello Schiit Modi. G’day Micromega MyDAC. Ni Hao AMR/iFi iDAC.

The Master 10 thus helps strategically to keep those front-end costs down. This is very good news when considering its amplification-only status against the backdrop of the DAC-bundling Peachtree unit.

The Audio-gd demands that you still handle decoder and its interconnect. That said, the Master 10 is an amplifier that makes for a more thoroughly sound MMG ally than the Peachtree Nova125; one that offers seemingly bottomless power reserves to push heavier on tonal mass and dynamic reflexes. Moreover its comparatively balmier air opens the door to all manner of transient-leading budget DACs where you could easily be up and running with a knockout MMG-centered system for less than $3.000.

Well played, King Wa!

Audiog-d website
Magnepan website