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Writer: Michele Surdi

To me, all high-power transistor amps sound alike by and large. As the flawed product of a noxious marketing strategy based on current-hungry speakers, their pros and cons tend to cancel each other out. This leaves the listener to the melancholy pastime of comparing output stage reaction to 1-ohm impedance and phase condemnations. Still, Nelson Pass has taught me that topology tops dogma any day. Besides, I’m a sucker for looks. Which meant that when my Roman dealer Dimensione Hifi displayed Brinkmann of turntable fame electronics on his shelves by way of the Marconi linestage (€10.200) and mono amps (€12.945), I availed myself of my very dearly bought client privileges to hear 'em.

Overall build and design of this three-piece combo are on a par with darTZeel (my European benchmark for fit and finish), with the Germans appropriately playing Dieter Rams to Marc Newson of the Swiss. What really surprised me was that the manufacturer—somewhat perfunctorily claiming 150 watts into 8 ohms and 250 watts into 4 ohms, no big deal these days—also clearly states that the amps are not to be coupled to speakers with impedances falling below 3 ohms. This was a startingly far cry from the usual will-drive-a–radiator boast.

Also, on closer inspection both preamp and monoblocks turned out to be fully balanced, effectively doubling the component count to partly explain their impressively high prices. Even more intriguing, the programmable-gain six input  line stage, though a tube and tranny affair, was not a bona fide hybrid. The tubes on view through the cooling fins are not euphonic glass end stages or buffers. They act as solely phase splitters with presumably no overt sonic signature of their own. This testifies to a deliberately unconventional approach and one not subservient to the customary best-of-both-worlds come hithers of hifi commercials.

Preamp volume regulation finally is a sophisticated combination of digital control and discrete resistors which results in 0.5dB steps, not a universally popular solution at this price but equally the result of a deliberate choice. The challenge now was coupling the combo to a speaker capable of putting it through its paces without straining the suggested performance envelope. This by the way is the essence of system matching - as opposed to the sell ’em all and let the schmucks sort ‘em out spiel touted by most professional reviewers.

As luck would have it, my dealer had just finished burning in a pair of new Magneplanar MG 1.7 three-way quasi ribbons (€3.400/pr). Like dipoles of all kinds, planars have more than their share of placement problems. Compared to electrostats however, they maintain the signature absence of box colorations without incurring amp-killing impedance and phase-angle cyclone rides. Magneplanars in particular are obstinately inefficient (the 1.7 claims 86dB but it’s likely less) and never rise much above 4 ohms. Yet they work as a purely resistive load. As such they are if not easy to drive then at least free from freakish electrical requirements. Maggies are also exceptionally resolving, making them an excellent analytical tool.

Guts and grain would be the defining issues here. To check them out, I hooked the Marconi in all-balanced mode to the serene Nagra CDP (€13.850) by means of  Nordost Tyr interconnects (€856), linked the linestage to the monos with the discontinued Nordost 4Fil (one of the best of its kind) and connected the Maggies to the monoblocks’ very creditable binding posts with 2+2m of the unostentatious but reassuringly solid and shielded Van den Hul Integration cables (€1.170). Power cords were Nordost Shiva (€347) throughout, current being drawn directly from the wall through an Isotek Sirius 6 distributor (€570). The room was professionally damped with  Echo Busters and all inactive speakers shorted. I also washed behind the ears, religiously.