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Power vs gain. With 2.2V input sensitivity for 200 watts into 4Ω but able to deliver 250 watts, we already knew that it takes more than a standard 2V CD player to drive these to full power. Depending on system gain, speaker sensitivity, room size, sitting distance and desired loudness, your preamp's volume control should sit higher than it would with amps of high 0.5V inputs. A passive preamp in fact could sit in its third or fourth quadrant for a big system. That would indicate nothing amiss, just that Maraschino's gain is a bit lower to benefit its own signal-to-noise ratio. It's also useful with 4V+ sources which in conjunction with hi-gain amps can strangulate useful volume range because things get too loud too quickly. When such sources use digital volume to encourage direct drive, less is definitely more. The underlying reality is lost on users who think it bad if they must turn their pots past 12:00 or 2:00. It doesn't mean their amps don't have enough power.

AURALiC Vega, digitally tapped iPod, Clones Audio trio, Gallo Strada 2, Gallo TR-3D sub below the desk

Au contraire. Attenuation throws away signal. The closer to fully open your volume can sit, the more efficiently your system gain matches your actual needs. Listening at 9:00 and never getting beyond 10:00 is excess and wastefulness like a car never leaving second gear. Time to lend ears, first on the above desktop. Here the €899 Clones Audio 55pm monos at about half the Maraschino's power would show what four times the coin might buy for added sonics when power wasn't decisive (a quick SPL meter check shows how into the Gallo Strada 2's sensitivity I listen below 1/10th of a watt RMS and never exceed 1 watt at peaks). Such 1st-watt performance is important because it's here where the majority of listening occurs with 90dB speakers. If you must play very loud before things sound good, your system is flawed.

As Tommy's speed-is-our-deed axiom predicted, Maraschino was a very early riser. T'ai Chi on the lawn before breakfast. That plus petite makes these perfect desktoppers. Here power is obscene of course. But because they're perfectly quiet and cool, you'd never know of the four extra gears you never use. With time-tweaked minimal-phase soundstaging fiends like the Gallo Strada 2, the Maraschinos not only imaged highly sorted—so did the Clones—but could on the right cuts add that striated 'super lock' effect for certain percussive events. Think clacking wood sticks, rattles, shakers, rim trills, sharp conga hits, snapped strings. This suggested steep rise times. Also apparent right out of the heavily foam-clad oversize shipping box? A very extended lit-up treble quite different from the ICEpower amps I'd reviewed over the last 15 months. After earlier class D those had made an about face into the shadows. They've become warmer, softer and cuddlier; very pleasant but not really that resolved. Their treble enunciation and harmonic finesse plays second fiddle to good traditional circuits and not in the same orchestra as a very wide bandwidth amp from Bakoon or Crayon for two out of my circle. Very early Maraschino impressions suggested far more NuForce or Ncore than ICEpower and Pascal.

The signal-sensing power cycling was quite effective. Going for lunch the minis had turned themselves off by the time I returned. Both awoke without delay once I hit 'play' on my iPod. Leaving the Clones Audio preamp very near at full mute to check, one amp eventually turned itself off but sprang back to life the instant I clicked up the volume one notch. Whilst the trigger threshold between my units perhaps wasn't 100% identical, it seemed very close. Where this scheme goes south is with headfi/preamps like Wow Audio Lab's L1 below or Questsound's CMA800R. Neither mutes its main outputs when a headphone is inserted. One must power down the main amps. Usually one flicks a switch or two. With the Maraschinos one must unplug either their SMPS umbilicals or the main power cords. That's funky. If your preamp makes a thump when it turns off, you'll hear that too.

With Wow Audio Lab L1 preamp; insert shows included XLR-to-RCA adaptor.

When opposites dilute. In hifi it's common to combat salt with sugar. If your speakers are too lean, the crass rationale is to use a fat amp. There's another way of doing things. Now one builds a system with gear which deliberately magnifies the same qualities to not invoke any turnabout (a word that also means repentance). Here the rationale is not to change your cat's stripes into dots but to enhance the stripes. Create a super tiger, not a leopard/tiger liger hybrid. Mating the cherries to the L1 shifted their flavor noticeably. The combination still sounded very good but more 'ordinary' than the red minis had with the Clones AP1. Then the sound exhibited rather more of the speed, wiriness, lucidity and charge I assume Digital Amplifier Company groomed their monos for given how designer Tommy O' likes to drive them source direct. As I'd put it in the L1's review, "said gravitas—what one might equate with big-woofer'd Harbeths versus a small Raidho 2-way monitor—really is the dominant quality. The associated sense of calm is its surrounding flavor. It's like the unhurried confidence of a slightly fat but firm man completely at ease with himself taking up space. There's nothing hasty, nervous, jittery, jagged or small about him or this." I mention this only to show how effective the steering wheel of your preamp choice can be on the direction your final sound takes.

Relative to the concept of realsization which does the most for the least whilst refusing features, trim bling and power one doesn't need—the realization of happy downsizing— on the desk and into my loads the €899/pr 55pm were every bit as good as the $4'000/pr Maraschinos though different on flavor. The black bricks were voiced warmer, heavier and less for adrenaline. For them the move from €549 AP1 to $3'295 L1 was optimization by pulling in the same direction though the magnitude of change certainly falls well outside the realsization ideal. Former contributor Michael Lavorgna covers the core difference between the Clones and DAC sound in this brief comparison of two converter modules for the Burson Conductor. The ESS Sabre 9018 is the American amp, the BB PCM1793 the Hong Kong version. Give it a quick read to appreciate how another experienced listener handles the description verbally.