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Music used during this review:
  • Wes Montgomery, So Much Guitar!, Riverside/Universal Music Japan, UCCO-5103, CD.
  • The Doors, L.A. Woman, Elektra/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-12721, CD.
  • Depeche Mode, Sounds Of The Universe, Mute/Emi Music Japan, TOCP-66878, CD+DVD.
  • The Beatles, Abbey Road, Parlophone/Apple/Toshiba-EMI, TOCP-51122, CD.
  • De/Vision, Void, WEA Records, 29705, CD.
  • John Coltrane, Lush Live, Prestige/Universal Music Japan, UCCO-9255, CD.
  • Ariel Ramirez, Misa Criolla, José Carreras, Philips/Lasting Impression Music, LIM K2HD 040, K2HD.
  • Carmen McRae, Book Of Ballads, Kapp Records/Universal Music Japan, UCCU-9634, SHM-CD.
  • The Oscar Peterson Trio, We Get Request, Verve/Lasting Impression Music, LIM K2HD 032, K2HD.
  • Radiohead, Kid A, EMI, 77532, CD.
  • Danielsson/Dell/Landgren, Salzau Music On The Water, ACT Music+Vision, ACT 9445-2, CD.
  • Vittorio Ghielmi, Il Suonar Parlante, Winter&Winter, 910 119-2, CD.
  • Henry Purcell, Ten Sonatas in Four Parts, Retrospect Trio, Linn Records, CKD 332, SACD/HDCD.
  • e.s.t., Viaticum, ACT Music+Vision, ACT 6001-2, CD.
As mentioned earlier, I know this amplifier fairy well. I listened to it with most of the top digital sources, compared it to many other amplifiers and attached it to many loudspeaker systems. Despite common belief, loudspeakers with active bass weren’t the best companions. All the characteristics—or plain distortion— of such speakers were audible and interfered with the musical perception. The Ancient Audio amplifiers were designed with the mighty semi-active Wing loudspeaker system while the residents of Janusz’s system are stand-mounted Sonus Faber Electa Amator Is. It is with those classic dynamic speakers that they sound best. A second important factor is that Mr. Waszczyszyn believes the best place for the preamplifier to be inside the source component rather than as a separate unit. This is why his players—the top Lektor Grand SE I have used for over three years, the Lektor Prime or even the entry-level Lektor V—all have built-in attenuators in the form of ICs which are integrated into the tube output circuitry.

I used the Prime directly into the monos via Acrolink Mexcel 7N-AD6300 cables but since I am an advocate of external preamplifiers, I also used the Leben RS-28CX, Ayon Audio Polaris II and the Accuphase C-2810 line stages.

I know how the amplifier behaved when fed from the variable output of the DP-700 Accuphase (here) and these monoblocks connected to the mains via two Acrolink 7N-PC7100 power cords. With the Silver Grands, the easiest thing for me to say is that they are the best amplifiers I ever heard not only in my system but in general.*


* When I reread this during editing, I got a bit scared. At the same time something started to bug me. I did not know what it was but this statement bit me in the part usually described as conscience. By morning I knew what it was. A similar class of sound had been presented by the beautiful Reimyo PAT-777. It was a different sound but equally top shelf. This still won't allow you to allocate everything from the bird's eye view but at least it gives us some breathing space. However because the text was final, these remarks about the Reimyo will simply act a counterpoint.

This conclusion of a long process is fairly easy because the assets of these machines are so obvious and audible from the first few minutes of listening. In the long run any such exhortations are of course silly because we're reminded that the reviewer did not possibly hear everything out there. Just around the corner might lurk something even better. Regardless, for me this conclusion as stated a priori was the only possible one. Most obviously I lack a reference point at this exalted level. However, the more interesting process was analyzing what makes sound high end, what constitutes it and—in the attempt to answer these questions—realize how far we still are from the live event (unfortunately we remain quite removed).

The most important thing has already been said. I do not know a better amplifier except perhaps the Reimyo. This is problematic. A truly comprehensive assessment relies on comparisons to something even better so we can look at the sound from all angles, take it apart and reassemble it again all the wiser from the experience. Fortunately I do possess quite extensive experience listening to other equally expensive amplifiers which are- different but equally fantastic. I also can call upon my experience in the recording studio and concert halls as the ultimate aim of every designer to have the gear reproduce the live sound as closely as possible. All this has allowed me—at least I like to think so—to gain some distance from the Silver Grands while thoroughly enjoying the time I had them at my disposal.

Now to the point. The tonal balance of the Polish power amplifier is extremely close to that offered by my Luxman M-800A. That is a solid-state amp working in push-pull but full class A. The differences of accents were much smaller than between the Luxman and other power amplifiers I have reviewed to date. The sound of the Silver Grand Mono is completely different than any tube sound stereotypes. In the beginning Mr. Jarek mentioned his initial reference point of Kondo. A comparison with the Japanese PAT-777 showed something relevant about that because the Reimyo power amp presents a similar balance to Kondo and Audio Note. Not considering other things which are plain magic with the Japanese amps, the tonal balance of the Silvers was closer to them while tube rectification was still used. With the present solid-state rectification, Teflon capacitors etc., the Grands sound different than any other tube amplifier.

By comparison, Art Audio's Jota Sentry was far warmer and closer to the Kondo, Reimyo and Accuphase P-7100. Yet the Ancient Audio monos do not emulate solid-state in turn. They just sound very neutral. There was no hint of dryness in the upper octaves as is the case with the Krell EVO402, nor a slight flattening of perspective as over the MC501 McIntosh. The P-7100 Accuphase and McIntosh amplifiers in fact sit much closer to tube sound than the Ancients. I looked at that statement longer than usual because this quality level requires an uncompromising attitude without prejudice. I do not agree with Janusz that tube devices should be judged differently than transistors just because they sound so different that their assets and shortcomings cannot be compared and weighted. I do not agree for one simple fact. In her striving to achieve the absolute sound, the user should not be bothered by which technology is harnessed to achieve it, particularly so in the extreme sector we talk about here. When something sounds inferior like bass from tubes, it's a flaw, period. It's not a characteristic of tubes but a shortcoming. When on the other hand the treble is not detailed enough because it a transistor-based unit, we deal with another shortcoming. Splitting equipment into technological groups is an error of methodology that should be abandoned and forgotten - especially when these Krakow amplifiers show that a device exists that can be the alpha and omega in nearly all categories.

This doesn't mean that no single element couldn’t be different. At this level it's simply hard to say 'better'. Here preferences, the choices of how we feel about certain discs assert themselves. This is why two remarks I can make in this situation stem from my habit to a certain sound and my personal experience. One is about the treble, the range of more or less 5kHz to below 10kHz. The Silver has such outstanding resolution in that range as I have never before experienced from hifi. Here it is better than the Jota Sentry and even—although only a little—better than the PAT-777. It seems that this range is stronger than I am used to and for me the reference is the Reimyo. We cannot talk about a sharpening because my Luxman is relatively sharper (based on many years of listening during the Munich High End shows, so is the Wavac) and the Krell is stronger still. The amount of information the Grand retrieves is enormous but it results in music, not mere sound.

I think it's the energy in that frequency range which determines the sonic character of these amplifiers. Perhaps it's the key to their differentiation. It's something of great value to audio journalists and manufacturers because it shows the true transparency of the audio chain. And here it is phenomenal. My Luxman is outstanding in that regard. So is the Art Audio Jota Sentry which is better than the Luxman and finally the brilliant PAT-777 Reimyo - they all show things in front of them in a very competent way such that I have no doubts about the mastering or implementation. Yet even the beautiful Reimyo does not show differences this well.

The Silvers revealed more. Classy hi-end devices differentiate better and to visualize it on a scale from 0 to 10, the Silver hits 15. That may not seem like a big difference but that's deceptive. This difference is like those August evenings in the mountains and lowlands. The temperature differences between night and day are similar yet in the mountains we feel the cold far more. That's the kind of difference I mean. The Luxman, Reimyo, Art Audio but also the A-65 Accuphase and McIntosh amplifiers "buck up" the sound a bit to hear everything placed on a disc in a comfortably safe way. If they were more 'transparent', we could end up with a headache. Yet the Silver shows more treble and because the sound is also richer in harmonics, we sense more internal connections and a lack of veiling. This leads to a better understanding of the music, an easier concentration on the program and not the gear. The M-800A is not far behind but is behind.

The second element I want to highlight is the transition between midrange and bass and a slight emphasis there on the mid bass. These aspects are also a tad stronger than their surroundings. This sound shape makes the Ancient amplifiers incredibly attractive. There is no trace of thinning or slimming. Au contraire, the virtual sound sources are big, almost natural in their size and the sound is incredibly saturated and full. It is important to mention how splendidly these tube amps handled my full-range Dobermann Harpia Acoustics loudspeakers to play sufficiently loud on discs like De/Vision's Void, Depeche Mode's Sounds Of The Universe and The Beatles' Abbey Road. I really had not even one moment to point at something concrete to pronounce any lack of bass. And these were only 18 watts for god’s sake!

Yes the Krell EVO402, Accuphase, McIntosh MC501 or my Luxman reach lower and control the 40Hz region better (let me remind you that the lowest sound of a contrabass is around 42Hz) while the Reimyo PAT-777 Reimyo did not handle the Dobermanns nearly as well. There the listening session needed to be far more subdued and left no doubt that half the power meant half the volume. This is why the Japanese amplifier requires well-matched loudspeakers. The Silver will handle broader choices as long as impedance does not fall below 4Ω and preferably stays above 5Ω. When those requirements are met, the Ancient amplifiers perform with such rich saturated sound that were it not for their phenomenal resolution, we could talk about viscosity in the positive sense of a rich network of internal connections such that the slight softening of the lowest frequencies can be forgiven. But in absolute categories this is still a shortcoming which I cannot obscure. During the listening sessions this did not translate as pointing at this range with claims of anything amiss.

Yet there remains an association. As mentioned, the Ancient amps were designed with the Sonus Faber Electa Amator, a stand-mount speaker that isn't full range. To make the sound as compelling as possible, the Italian designer used a certain trick and boosted some of the lower midrange and bass. Everything has its proper balance on the Amator and the kettledrums in symphonic orchestras are breathtaking. But the truth is, physics do not allow the Electa to reach below 40Hz and some of the range just above it is reproduced only partially to make perceived completeness of sound mere psychoacoustics. On my Dobermann this became clear immediately. This did not ruin anything. The guitars from the Doors' L.A. Woman or Wes Montgomery's So Much Guitar! were scrumptious and the vocals pure honey. It was sufficient to listen to Carmen McRae on the fantastic Books Of Ballads or better yet the reference re-master from First Impression Music of the Ariel Ramirez Misa Criolla with José Carreras to get goose bumps. Violins sounded even better, perfectly clear, full and liquid as on the reference recording of Purcell's Ten Sonatas in Four Parts with the Retrospect Trio. But there were some side effects of such sound shaping not audible over the stand-mounted speakers. The sound was closer to the listener than over the Luxman and the stage was turned a bit inside such that the lateral elements were closer to the central axis than with my Ayon/Luxman system. Interestingly, the sound stage itself was very big – better than anything else I heard. Yet Carreras was closer than over the Luxman. The effect of a recording in a small room with hard walls was not as clear with the voice of Depeche Mode's Gahan however.