May
2019

Country of Origin

USA

Element 114

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, COS Engineering D1, Denafrips Terminator, Soundaware D300Ref as USB bridge/SD transport, Jay's Audio CDT2 MkII 
Preamplifier: Nagra Classic, Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage II, COS Engineering D1, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVT module)
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1, SIT3, F5, F6, F7; Goldmund/Job 225; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics NC500 monos; LinnenberG Audio Liszt monos
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Cube Audio Nenuphar; Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V, VI & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence
Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL 3000 & 5000; Zu Event; KingRex uArt double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Black Cat Cable redlevel Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps/sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Review component retail: $15'000

Flerovium. That's the 114th element in the periodic table, "a super-heavy extremely radioactive synthetic element named after the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia where it was discovered in 1998." As Element 114, it also is the newest stereo amplifier from Merrill Audio. It does 200wpc@ Ω and keeps doubling down into 2Ω. Without any feedback and claimed zero dead time between its on/off switching, it uses a proprietary class D circuit with gallium nitride output transistors. It uses a custom LLC-resonant power supply with custom transformer as inductor. "This ultra-low noise power supply gives the amplifier its seemingly limitless supply of power and ultra-low noise floor at full power." It comes in polished black nickel with rose gold fascia and accents. A 20A AC inlet provides for a tighter connection. The Teflon XLR input has rhodium-plated silver pins. The speaker binding posts are pure copper. Gain is 26dB.

Let the echo of that subside until there's dead quiet again. Ancient pond. Frog jumps in. Plop. Ripples. Then silence again. Did anybody notice?

Merrill Wettasinghe, the man behind the brand, has a BSEE and MBA and "worked for Fortune 100 as well as many startups, including a few that he started himself. He built audio since the age of 10 and studied the piano for over 12 years." As such he was one of the original Ncore 1200 OEM users who brought to market amplifiers based on these very powerful Bruno Putzeys class D modules well before Hypex's own spin-off Mola Mola had theirs. He thus has in-depth experience with what to many was the best such tech platform at the time. It takes no imagination to think that he considers his Element range of now three different amplifier models—two monos, today's stereo—which are all based on his own tech, superior. Why otherwise bother?

"The first and foremost consideration for true-to life music reproduction is speed," he maintains as a trained pianist.

That credo demands rock-solid circuit stability to avoid overshoot and ringing/oscillation. Here his choice became the latest available GaN transistors capable of working into the Gigahertz range. Since class D relies on rapidly switching its output devices, higher speeds promise greater resolution at higher bandwidth. "Incorporating highly developed techniques, parasitic inductances and capacitances of our circuit boards have been reduced to near zero."

Coined ZXOL, the zero-feedback circuit's acronym signifies zero dead-time open loop. "Since there's no signal looping back, all feedback loop distortions and attendant time delays are eliminated." This design focus is in direct opposition to the negative feedback ethos of "more is merrier" as still espoused by Bruno Putzeys in his new Purifi venture whose first licensee became NAD at the 2019 Munich show. Mechanical considerations for the Element 114 chassis include "midpoint diffusers and stabilizers" and the plate not anodize finish makes for a "softer more absorbent" material. Eight pounds of pure copper heat sinking promise a stable thermal environment for linear operation. Isoacoustics GAiA III footers are standard. Dimensions are 43x11x42cm WxHxD. Weight is 20kg. Connectivity comes from WBT 0710 pure-copper posts, custom rhodium-plated XLR, Furutech rhodium-plate 20A power inlet and high-gauge silver-plated OFC hookup wiring with Teflon dielectric.

Power stability is down to 1Ω "with the same high-quality sound. Rather than clipping, the amp will rapidly reduce the signal to eliminate any harsh and harmful clipping." Pure balanced operation means XLR-only inputs.

As Infineon say about their gallium nitride parts, they "offer fundamental advantages over silicon. In particular the higher critical electrical field makes it very attractive for power semiconductor devices with outstanding specific dynamic on-state resistance and smaller capacitances compared to silicon switches. That makes GaN great for high-speed switching."

A tech PDF by Efficient Power Conversion Corp. explains the science behind these lateral parts which are promoted as replacements for the ubiquitous silicon-based Mosfet. "The lateral structure of the GaN transistor makes it a very low-charge device. It can switch hundreds of volts in nanoseconds, giving it multiple megahertz capability. This will lead to smaller power converters and higher-fidelity class D amplifiers."

By mid 2019, Merrill Audio's Element amplifiers seemed one of the few to lead this charge.

Another one was the 100-watt AGD Vivace which integrates its GaN output stage inside the envelope of a tube whilst Technics had embraced these parts in a driver stage by already 2017. On the ground floor of the HighEnd Munich show 2019, Martin Bell of Java HiFi bowed his GaN integrated with LDR linestage.

But for gallium nitride transistor sightings in hifi, it still was very early days. The one we're considering today is a single-chassis stereo model which should drive most any loudspeaker made.

… to be continued…