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When it comes to ultimate immediacy and retrieval of the most minute of details, this is the one area where the Melody amps can't quite compete with the very best I've heard (most of which sell for multiples the M880s' price). Few will be shocked when I say that the M880s are bettered by the SilverTone 3.2 amplifier with its eight watt of direct-heated 300B triodes or even the Canary CA 330s with their 26 watts of push-pull 300B power. What may seem like heresy is the quantification of how much, exactly, the Melody amps fall short by. I hate to use percentages but to make this point, I'll have to and will say that the Melodys fall short in this one area -- the area where 300B amplifiers excel over most of the competition -- by perhaps 10%. I won't say this is exactly negligible. It's not. But the Melodys come close enough that within minutes into the listening session, you're past noticing and deeply immersed in what they do so well.

What the M880s get so right through the midrange is fully 95% of the battle. Tonal richness and smooth neutrality are two of the M880s' finest traits and in this area, they compete favorably with anything on hand. I love their image density and the way they lend the music an almost tactile physicality. So well balanced are they that they avoid any problems with rhythm or timing. And dynamically speaking, the Melody amps are equally expressive.

I can't say that the M880s' bass performance is on par with the biggest Krells or Levinsons. I can't say that because I've never had a big Krell or Levinson in my home. What I can tell you is that into a reasonably friendly speaker such as anything I own except for the Thiels, the M880s produce satisfying and natural bass. My $17,000pr Tidal Pianos with their 88dB efficiency and benign impedance made a great pairing with the Melodys and bass performance was never compromised. Into most speakers, 50 watts are actually a generous amount of usable power. 50 tube watts will surprise a great many people who are using big solid-state amps, thinking that they need all that juice. Quite often, I'm sure, they'd find that they don't. Rather predictably, they won't with these amps.

The Melody M880s don't have the light and airy presentation of the aforementioned Cayin amplifier but don't take that to mean that they are dark and dank, thick or opaque. Neither is the case. In fact, the M880s can sound appropriately big and appropriately spacious. They do the soundstaging thing just as well as one would expect of a pair of top-notch mono amps. I have no qualms at all. What they don't produce is the same kind of fleet-footed airy whimsy of, say, a Mozart concerto. They're instead into the depth and gravitas of a Beethoven or Berlioz overture. Speaking for myself, the former is fun and fairly uplifting but the latter is almost a more cerebral and engaging presentation over the long haul. It's what would keep me coming back again and again because it never grows stale. In this area, the M880s favorably compare to the very best amps I've ever used, including the Canary CA-160 monos and the aforementioned Bel Canto e.One Ref1000s.

It's been quite some time since I brought out Joe Jackson's 1982 release Night And Day [A&M CD-4906] but I wanted to hear how well the M880s portrayed the myriad percussion instruments and how deeply they could dig in and retrieve the various tones and textures. The Melodys did very well. Bigger drums had nice body, depth and power. Smaller percussion instruments had great speed and were presented with excellent tonal delineation and flair. The Melodys made short shrift of the demarcation of varying decays of each instrument and high percussion came across with superb clarity. Overall the Melodys sounded perceptive and fast. Image focus was very good, with sharply if not quite supernaturally razor-sharp image outlines. Depth of stage was very good but from time to time and track to track I was surprised particularly by soundstage width which placed instruments well outside the speakers. Like no other Jackson composition, this collection of songs features varied Latin rhythms and the M880s did an excellent job of producing the kaleidoscope of sounds and signatures for a production that was rhythmic and alive. This disc aptly demonstrates how a high-resolution system can lend insight into certain types of music for an understanding and artistic appreciation that remain incomprehensible on lesser systems.
Stevie Ray Vaughn's The Sky Is Crying [Epic EK 47390] was a CD that featured heavily in the SilverTone amplifier review and while I had its presentation fresh in my mind, I played the CD through the Melodys. No, they couldn't quite offer up the same incisive inner detail and textures produced by SRV on "Little Wing" but all the other essential elements were there. Shannon's bass was deep and powerful and Layton's percussion was colorful and decisive. The M880s didn't produce the same kind of immediacy as the best SETs can but within moments, I found myself completely acclimated and enjoying these amplifiers' bigger picture. Resolution was very good as was depth of tone for the antithesis of bleached or washed out. By the time "Wham" started playing, I felt as though enough space was placed between the presentation and me that I could see the bigger picture on this cut and I may have enjoyed its scale even more than I ever had before. I may not have been able to hear quite into it as deeply as I had before but I actually felt as though a little more distance put me into a better position to enjoy the instrumental interplays more.

It was an interesting phenomenon. Previously I'd turned to the CD for the highlighted instrumentals but I was now actually enjoying my previously lesser appreciated cuts in a new way. It was a little akin to having been focused on the individual pieces of the puzzle but once forced to zoom out, I gained a better perspective on the puzzle as a whole. I'm quite sure that all the pieces were available for viewing from that perspective earlier but I'd been distracted by the minutiae of available detail. The reader can decide for him or herself which presentation is preferable. There's no doubt that tastes will vary. As for me, I have to say that I miss some of the 300B insight into what made SRV the supreme master of his instrument but my enjoyment of the CD as a whole may just have peaked with the Melodys.

Recently a reader asked me why I use so many admittedly mediocre CDs in my evaluations. My answer was simple - because so many of my favorite CDs are sounding mediocre! And as great as a good system should make a great CD sound, it's equally important to me that they not destroy what's left of a mediocre recording. I think it was J. Gordon Holt who first observed the inverse relationship between the quality of the music and the quality of the recording. In fact, one of my favorite-most musical finds of the last couple of years has been Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival, a double DVD recorded live in Texas featuring too many excellent guitarists to list here. Suffice to say that if you like fine guitar work, you need to own this DVD. It is, however, a DVD so I had to dub it onto CD myself. Given its video roots, it is mastered with a very heavy bass line. Fortunately, the bass isn't so overblown as to become monotone and mere boom. It's recorded fairly well in fact. There's simply a lot of it. It was on JJ Cale's "They call me the Breeze" when I realized that I was getting a lot of bass which wasn't sounding all that good. More monotone thump than music. Then I noticed it on several of my favorite other cuts too. One of the things that the Melody/Tidal combination does very well is project all the energy of live performances into the room. I was having a great time with the disc but eventually the too imperfect bass started bugging me. I started glaring at the shelf upon which the M880s were sitting in frustration and thinking about their hard aluminum cone footers. Then I had an idea. Under each cone I inserted a single Quest for Sound Isol-pad and went back to listening.

Blessed relief! The bass was still there with all its physical heft but it was far more musical now. It had depth and it had tone. Though still excessive, the bass pounding made much more musical sense. It was now an additive element of the performance and not a subtractive distraction. I listened to the entire disc again with renewed enthusiasm and the appreciation that when it comes to live performances, you never know what kind of bass you're going to hear. I felt as though I was in the audience. Okay, maybe not. I was still enjoying far too much soundstage and imaging tricks which live music doesn't give you. And before JJ Cale takes his first lead on "After Midnight" and hits the pickup selector on his guitar, I doubt that everybody in the audience then heard the immediate change in timbre as well as noise level as he switched between single-coil and humbucker pickups. In all the times I've watched the DVD, I've never been able to hear the contribution of the gal playing the Line 6 Variax Acoustic 700 guitar off to the side. In two-channel, I could clearly hear her chirping away with it to the rear at stage left. That was a first.

One byproduct of posting the preview of the Melody M880 monos was the removal of a bit of pressure to finish up the assignment and move on to the next project. For two weeks, all my notes and impressions had been formed and stored away until it came time to finish penning my copy. I could have removed the Melodys and moved on to something else but I didn't. Frankly, I was so darn pleased and content with what the M880s were serving up in my room that I hadn't even been tempted yet.

Eventually I'll be forced to move on when Mingus Chu rings my bell and the next commitment comes pressing on but with much of my work already in the can, it's been a nice break to listen past the M880s and just enjoy some tunes for a change. When the M880s are gone, that will be what I remember most about them. They just got out of the way and let the music flow. Quite the deal for a pair of affordable, dead-quiet, immaculately finished amplifiers from the People's Republic. How things have changed...

Publisher's note: Readers interested in Melody may enjoy our factory tour - Ed.
US distributor's website