That said, the Red Dragon amps in BTL mode were able to provide the Vivid Audio G1 with sufficient energy and current to make them work perfectly. Still, overall performance was not as good as my current Luxman twins. Even though my Japanese contenders rate at four times less power, the actual sensation with them was of more power and ease. Meanwhile the Red Dragons sounded a bit more civilized, linear and neutral than the Luxmans which are more on the warm side of neutral. It was also interesting to observe how they reacted when tapping into a full Lumina loom. Here I must remind you that my preamp/amp combo was carefully assembled to be an ultimate match for my Vivid speaker. And, my Luxman M800a cost far more than the Red Dragon twins even with superior cords so the comparison remained lopsided.

Just so, the Luxman M800a belongs to a very small club of amplifiers that simultaneously deliver incredible transparency, air and superb timbres whilst remaining unconditionally stable and capable of sourcing terrific current in bridged mode. They already outclassed many really big muscle amps from the likes of Chord, Karan, Coda and ASR which I’ve hosted for comparison. But let's focus on my American loaners. Despite being rather neutral and balanced, they had something very special and addictive on voices. Male and female singers enjoyed very realistic in-room presence. Regardless of power cord, that was a real strength of the dragons. My understanding became that their very compact short signal-path circuitry made for a lot of transparency which just lacked sufficient current for my woofers when used with the stock cords. Here upgrading to the French Esprit Lumina cables made a big difference (adding them to my digital and preamplifier further improved the system). The Esprit Lumina signal cables moved in the same direction. They provided music with more body and density. With the full Lumina loom, the Vivid played wonderfully off the class D blocks, almost as good as with my two M800a. That highlights the importance of proper setup. You will miss the full potential of any piece of gear if not implemented correctly.

As all systems are specific and far from universal, I asked my friend Thierry Nkaoua to test the Red Dragons on another pair of demanding speakers, the wickedly futuristic French Leedh E. This became by far his best association compared to an underpowered Ayon Odin stereo amp and my old Orpheus Labs Three monos which he bought. Even the very stable Orpheus had some issues at high SPL, suffering audible distortion whilst the Red Dragons remained unruffled under all circumstances. They provided deeper bass and a more articulate midrange. Dynamics were outstanding as was the case with the Orpheus. On less demanding music, the Ayon Odin still demonstrated a bit more finesse than the transistorized contenders. Just so, this was a big showing for the Class D boxes given that I’d never before viewed the Orpheus as load sensitive and thought them able to drive anything. And again, the Red Dragon S500s relied on the use of good power cords. This becomes a mandatory proviso in fact.

With easier loads like Thierry’s Klinger Favre D56 monitors, it was more difficult to stress out the Swiss monos but the Red Dragon amps again demonstrated stunning linearity and neutrality. Here the Swiss provided slightly higher dynamics but according to Thierry, it was a very subtle difference which only arose after several A/B comparisons. He didn't have enough time to also test the S500 on his pair of TAD Evolution. But we both had to confess that it seemed impossible to rattle the two small Utah boxes. We never sensed any muscle-bound behaviour for having on tap 1’000 watts into 8Ω or even the faintest onset of audible distortion.

Listening to the Reference Recordings There's a time featuring Blues legend Doug McLeod, my first impression was focused on the very taut robust bass. That's quite commonplace for class D but this time I noticed a particularly detailed nuanced bottom end to suggest that the two reds had perfect control over my ‘V-twin’ Vivid woofers. On "Rosa Lee", guitar and voice were holographic and located in the same place. I never had this sensation of having a kind of vocal zoom or listening to very distant voices far back in the soundstage. Doug McLeod's voice was sized realistically and showed great detail and finesse. The treble too was very accurate without any brightness. On the second track "Black nights", the guitar's string decay was perfectly reproduced along with a very lifelike modulated voice. By contrast, my Luxman combo provided me with a more organic sound and even more robust bass. The Red Dragons impressed nevertheless with better noise rejection. They did need warm-up to deliver their best where the Luxmans require less. After 12 hours, the bass with the reds was quite comparable to what I get from the Luxmans.

In the classical repertoire, Anton Bruckner’s Second Symphony played by the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra under Simone Young on DSD was the perfect opportunity for my loaners to demonstrate very good skills at reproducing the various layers of a complete orchestra. The big Esprit Lumina power cords really contributed more body and a lower tonal balance to this recording especially in the second movement. Timbres were outstanding and the increased dynamics never led to any listening fatigue on my part. The three-dimensional image was very good, quite as good as what I achieved previously with the custom Ncore Bel Canto Black combo. Finally I really appreciated the dynamic contrast, depth and ultra-low noise level. It was possible during the quieter passages to hear the microphone diaphragms yet the Red Dragons also succeeded at reproducing the most demanding fortés effortlessly.
Compared to my Japanese class A amps, the Utah upstarts were not as liquid or holographic. They definitely sounded more solid state than tube whereas the M800a are definitely tube-like. It meant that I was comparing Luxman's fantasy with Red Dragon's precision. My two M800a were like the ocean’s tidal wave to Red Dragon’s robust and stable rock. Listening to Billy Childs' Map to the treasure - Reimagining Laura Nyro, I had the sensation of increased depth. On the fourth track "Upstairs by a Chinese lamp", I heard some small details I didn't pay attention to previously such as discrete guitar riffs in the background. This album will at times reveal small cues about perfectible treble and upper midrange at realistic SPL. This wasn’t the case with my loaners. The saxophone was very well defined, plaintive and powerful but never aggressive. I wasn't able to distinguish any tonal shifts during peaks. The female voice was also very natural and life-like but I already commented on this pleasing feature. On the fifth track "Been on a train", I had the sensation of seamless tones delivered above a dark black background improving the soundstage's overall coherence and allowing very small ambient detail to appear distinctly.

Hence after some integration efforts for my personal system, their overall performance was excellent. I remember a number of amplifiers which cost far more to deliver less. These Red Dragons should be considered quite the Doctor Jeckill & Mr Hyde types seeing how they need proper ancillaries. They undoubtedly double as expert demonstrators on how optimization is key to success. Of course nothing would transform lead into gold. But very evidently, the boys from Utah aren’t made from lead. They possess intrinsic qualities which outshine many of their pricier rivals. To answer the question of whether these small boxes can compete with top-notch competitors, my answer is sincerely positive. Would I swap my two Luxman amplifiers for two Red Dragons? Perhaps, especially during the summer season. Then the heat from class A monoliths becomes the obvious discomfort. But excluding a seasonal effect, I remain completely seduced by my Japanese fantasy’s ability to immerse me into the music. Is that worth the price difference? Absolutely not. Could I live with the Red Dragon S500? No doubt and with a big yes. 

Conclusion. For the price, the Red Dragon S500 is a true bargain. In BTL mode and at twice the expense, the S500 becomes a serious contender for big speakers. According to the power cord used, performance may vary significantly. I most strongly recommend giving them a chance with big power cords. The Triode Cable Labs 7+ or big Esprit Lumina power cords both transformed an honest realization into a top-notch class D example that worked flawlessly into the most ambitious systems. That in my opinion is a complete game changer even though I really dislike proposing such costly power cords especially for such value-priced amplifiers. Keeping in mind many different levels of appreciation, I really think that these small red dragons stand well above "not bad considering they're class D" to "surprising for the money" or other such conditional formulae to really be part of the bona fide range of high-end results  If there you like it very detailed and with lifelike voices, overall neutrality plus you need a big figure of affordable watts, the S500 should appear on the top of your list of options!

Red Dragon Audio website