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Reviewer: John Potis
Analog Source: Rega P9 turntable, RB1000 & Hadcock GH Export arms, Rega Super Elys & Garrott Bros Optim FGS Cartridges
Digital Source: Accustic Arts Drive 1/Audio Aero Prima SE DAC
Preamp: Bel Canto Pre2P
Power Amp: Art Audio Carissa, Bel Canto e.One REF1000 and Canary Audio CA-330s, Musical Fidelity A5 Integrated
Speakers: Tidal Audio Pianos, Hørning Perikles Ultimate, Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3.1, Ohm Acoustics Walsh 4 with 4.5 mk.2 upgrade
Cables: JPS Labs Superconductor and Superconductor FX interconnects and speaker wire, Furutech Digi Reference digital
Power Cords: ZCable Heavys, Red & Black Lightnings, JPS Power AC, Analog AC, Digital AC and Kaptovator power cords
Powerline conditioning: Balanced Power Technology 3.5 Signature Plus with ZCable Cyclone Power Cord
Sundry accessories: Sound Mechanics Performance Platform, 2-inch Butcher Block platforms with Quest for Sound Isol-pads, Vibrapod Isolators and Cones, Ultra & Heavy Zsleeves, Viablue QTC spikes under speakers, Auric Illuminator
Room size: 12' by 16' with 9' ceiling
Review component retail: $2888/pr (take 15% off on orders placed before 12/31/06)
I hadn't planned on writing a preview for the Melody M880 monoblock power amplifiers. In fact, I sat down this morning and started to write the review proper. When I wrote Mingus Chu, Melody's US distributor, for clarification on a couple of questions, I received information that changed my course of action. When I wrote asking for clarification on the M880s' MSRP, I was notified that for the duration of the 2006 calendar year, the M880 amplifiers are discounted by 15% off their regular price of $2888/pr to introduce them to America. Because review writing is typically a two-to-three week process for me, by the time I'd be able to get this news out, precious time would have been lost to potential buyers. As I had previously been under the impression that the M880s were $3500 pair, I had been very impressed until this morning. When I learned that the price was really less than $2,900, I was even more impressed. Once aware that for the rest of the month, these amplifiers could be had for less than $2,500... well, I wanted to get the word out. So, as it is the holiday season and time is always short, let me get right to my introduction and a brief sonic synopsis of these monos.
If you like stealthy black components finished in a beautiful high gloss, you'll think as highly of the Melody M880 monos as I do right off the bat. Each one measures 11.5 inches wide by almost 8 inches tall and about 18.5 inches deep (including connections) and weighs in at just under 40 pounds, making each amp fairly easy to handle and much less cumbersome than would be the case if combined onto one monster stereo chassis. The tube covers attach via banana pins and are a smart inclusion in the event your home is inhabited by those with prying fingers. The amps look equally smart with and without them. On the left side of each amplifier is a round and almost flat switch that toggles the amplifier on and off. A similar switch on the right side toggles between the single-ended RCA input and the balanced XLR input, both located on the rear. That's a first for me where power amps are concerned and quite cool. It's not often one gets the option of balanced connectivity at this price point. Also on the side of the chassis are the probe sockets for biasing the amplifier's KT88s. The amps arrive from the factory with tubes installed and already biased for your convenience and are therefore ready to plug in and play. You can check bias for drift when you feel inclined to do so or when you change tubes, but it's convenient that one need not fool with such things before getting to play with the new toy.

Around back are three solid WBT-style binding posts (0, 4 and 8-ohm taps) and one each of the aforementioned balanced and single-ended inputs along with the IEC power inlet and a user-replaceable mains fuse. All hardware is sturdy and gives the assurance of real quality. Tube compliment on each mono block is a pair of KT88s and a duo of 6SN7 tubes for a power delivery of 50 p/p watts of class AB1. Frequency response is stated as 20H- 30kHz, input impedance as 250KΩ, input sensitivity at 800mV and signal to noise ≥88db. The M880 monos are point-to-point wired designs.

Aesthetically, I've got to say that these amps score a direct bull's eye. Their size is right, their high-gloss piano lacquer flawless - as is the overall fit and finish. Even the faceplate is slightly sculpted rather than flat and makes for a very elegant addition. The KT88 tubes aren't the most illuminated and they don't throw as much light in a darkened room as some others but when surrounded by so much black chassis, they make an elegant if somewhat subtle statement during those late-night listening sessions that, as it happens, matches their sound to a very great extent.

In a nutshell or two, the M880 mono amplifiers are beautiful sounding amplifiers likely to complement a great deal of systems. Before the music even starts, these amps will impress you with their utter silence even into speakers as efficient as my 96dB Hørning Perikles. The amps are dead quiet - no hum, no hiss, no nothing. Some may cringe when I say that I've always thought of the KT88 as one of the most solid-state-like tubes out there. This comes from being very linear at both frequency extremes and fairly neutral and powerful. Those used to transistor amplifiers and what they do best will likely suffer little if any remorse if they step to a good KT88 amplifier. That's of course not to say that it sounds like solid-state, simply that it shares many of solid state's better virtues. You don't have to fear soggy or limp bass or rolled-off syrupy sweet highs - not that many tube amps sound this way today but some stereotypes die hard, don't they?

Building upon 50 linear watts that produce nicely detailed and solid bass and crystal clear delicate highs, the M880 monos bridge the frequency extremes with an excellent midrange that's large on transparency and clarity for starters. If you've read my review of the excellent Bel Canto e.One Ref 1000 monos, you can now infer a lot about how the M880s sound. They actually sound a lot alike. You may also recall that the Bel Canto review fell on the heels of the KT88-based Cayin A-88T stereo integrated amplifier and how they couldn't have sounded less alike. The Cayin had a big and airy personality that was short on harmonic depth and solidity and in this respect, the Bel Cantos actually sounded more tube-like. Put the M880s solidly into this latter camp of a deep, rich and harmonically dense tone. If the Cayin was a slice of angle food cake -- sweet, light and airy -- the Melody is a slice of Chocolate fudge cake with dense chocolate fudge icing. No, make that vanilla butter cream icing. Chocolate icing would make the cake too heavy and too dense. There's nothing overly heavy, dense or slow about the M880 amplifiers. They're solid but lithe on their feet.

Okay, new analogy. The Cayin was like a good wide receiver - fast and agile but unable to put a hurting on a defensive back. The Melody M880s are more like a strong running back. Fast and agile for sure but they likely won't bother to dance around you as they've got what it takes to run you right through. There's nothing wrong with the Cayin. I found it an enjoyable amplifier. But for my own continued use, I like the solidity of image and the harmonic saturation that the Melody produces. As some would say, there's much more there there and the presentation takes on a more visual type of appeal. It simply sounds more accurate and more real to me. I've long been a fan of the EL34 tube for this same kind of powerful and harmonic richness and I have to say that the Melody and its KT88s meet most EL34 amplifiers on their own turf - plus Melody doesn't have to apologize for any softness at the frequency extremes. The M880s may not have the ultimate resolution of mega-buck SET amplifiers but they offer instead both the power to drive a much greater range of speakers and a thoroughly pleasing musical persona that I predict will excite a great many listeners.

If you're the type of reader who skips to the conclusion of a review anyway, you already know a great deal about the Melody amplifiers and are in a pretty good position to determine if they are something you'd be interested in hearing. In the second part of the review, I'll go into detail with regard to just exactly what I'm hearing but in the meantime, if you're ready to jump into the market and are not adverse to saving some additional green on a pair of amplifiers that already represent excellent value, get a listen to the Melody M880s for yourself and see what you think (if you buy from Mingus Chu directly because there's no dealer yet in your vicinity, you even enjoy a 30-day satisfaction guarantee).