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Alto & Tempo Part Deux

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz, Tidal, Singxer SU-6 USB bridge, Sonnet Pasithea DAC; Active filter: icOn 80Hz/4th-order hi/lo-pass; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 mono, Enleum AMP-23R; Headamp: Kinki Studio; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: sound|kaos Vox 3awf w. sound|kaos DSUB 15 on Carbide Audio footers, Audio Physic Codex, Cube Audio Nenuphar Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: Soundaware D300Ref SD transport clock-slaved to Denafrips Terminator +; Preamp/filter: icOn 4Pro + 4th-order/40Hz hi-low pass; Amplifier: Goldmund Job 225; Loudspeakers: Acelec Model One, Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64; USB bridge: Singxer SU-2; Headamp/DAC: iFi iDSD Pro Signature;  Headphones: Final D-8000; Active speakers: DMAX SC5
Upstairs headfi/speaker system: Source: smsl Dp5 transport; DAC: Auralic Vega; Integrated amplifier: Schiit Jotunheim R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a; Active DSP speakers: Fram Midi 120
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Gold Note IS-1000 Deluxe; Loudspeakers: Zu Soul VI; Subwoofer: Zu Submission; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m

Review component retail: €5K for preamp, €5.5K for amp in standard finish

2nd opinions. Readers luv 'em. More makes merrier. Reviewers luv 'em; if they serve up seconds. They get to be lazy. They only need to cover sonics, not tech/history or value assessment. Extra spice beckons should they question the original findings. If instead their findings work in an echo chamber, being second could feel like working an overgrazed meadow; or wearing a hand-me-down. If first in line only had wonderful things to say, getting those signed in duplicate becomes an extra win for the maker. Should the usurping writer disagree or throw a single yes-but qualifier into the mix, the original shine tarnishes. True, makers contemplating 2-for-1 gigs could face double victory. Hurray! But they could also face double jeopardy. That's when a lukewarm or heavily qualified original review meets a Cool Hand Luke follow-up not glorious vindication of a second writer calling out the first as having gotten it all wrong. If you wondered why makers don't pursue 2nd opinions more often, these are some of the reasons weighing down the upside. Of course Alberto Guerra of AGD Production is made of sterner stuff. His last name means 'war' in Italian after all. When in the wake of Dawid's very happy first review I expressed hots to hear this twosome for myself, he was all in. His UK importer simply needed the duo for two domestic shows in September and October. Could I wait until the 2nd show had run its course? With the theme of two running this show, I of course said of course.

When Werner Erhard's EST training still was a thing, I took that course. It included a snappy quip to happy sex: if you're hot you're hot, if you're not you're not. Penny-store Zen. About this gig, I definitely had the itch. Why? Merrill Audio's Element 114 and AGD's Vivace live on my Mount Olympos for statement level class D. The Element 114 demands a cool €15K. So do the Vivace monos. Both are GaN powered. From Alberto's personal stash, Tempo now runs the same otherwise unobtainium GaNFet parts like Vivace. Then it scales down Vivace's circuit for less power and de-monofies to stereo. Gone are the GaNTubes. Hello instead single board for 800kHz SMPS plus matching two-channel switching output stage. That can still be bridged for 400w/4Ω like €18.5K/pr Gran Vivace. Yet the price for the stereo amp is €5.5K so 64% off Vivace's tariff. Definitely hot. Itch. Must scratch. The matching preamp promised that I'd hear Tempo exactly as its designer intends. More scratch. You get the picture. Then there's this detail most won't ever notice. Alto's two single-ended stereo outputs are "low/high-pass xover customizable" sez the website. To learn more about that rare option which 2.1 subwoofer integrators get hot about, I had to ask David of Whole Note Distribution who graciously forwarded his samples from Blighty.

Alberto: "For Alto the option to have the 3rd output as bypass filter is only by special order. It's standard with Andante but so far only 2 clients (~5% of all users) have actively utilized it. That's why for Alto I kept things simple and made it a custom option only. In Andante the standard high-pass filter sits at 100Hz/1st-order. However, I can easily tune the values based on a customer's needs. The unit you'll get from David is the standard Alto whose 3rd output is a pass-through like a tape-out from the old days."

It's arguably the only aspect where 'old days' fits. Otherwise this is ultra-modern kit whose elegant minimalism makes very solid cases for itself. The Tempo amp will appeal to those who found the GaNTube conceit too outré but loved the sound and only wished it cost less. The last two counts include me. With my three prior AGD reviews reduced to fond memories, I won't offer comparative comments on how Tempo rates relative to Audion, Vivace or Gran Vivace. That's for folks who have them on hand for actual A/B.

My on-handedness just then meant Crayon's CFA-1.2 and Kinki Studio's EX-B7 monos, with Enleum's AMP-23R in Seoul for an upgrade. For a specialist encore I had sound|kaos' passive 2×15" cardioid subwoofer. On it Tempo could play dedicated bassist in lieu of Goldmund's Job 225. I got the idea from the sub's designer. He reports superlative bass from his Vivace monos; not that dedicating those to sub 80Hz duty would be such a financially happy combo. But forget the season for reason. With year-end parties inbound, Tempo could drive each of the big AudioTechnology dipole woofers with its own channel in stereo. Or it could bridge into the sub's summed umbilical to drive two now parallel woofers off one high-power channel. Ace bass amp discovery ahead?