Digital amplifiers have come a long way in the years since we started seeing them in the home audio world. We have all heard of them and many of us have done our fair share of experimenting with Bash, ICE, Behringer and Hypex building megawatt amplifiers or experimenting into the forte of DIY audio. Digital amps are not just for subwoofers and PAs anymore, or at least not all of them.
At RMAF 2015 you were starting to hear some of the outlandish wattage numbers coming back from major players like Jeff Rowland Designs in the beautiful Daemon integrated amp. The Daemon uses a relatively new (to me) amplifier module, the Pascal, capable of 1500 Watts per channel into 8 Ohms. I had the opportunity to spend a little bit of time with the Daemon with these modules at RMAF but at $38,000 it was a little outside of my price range. The implementation was flawless with a brilliantly diverse feature set. I had to find more manufacturers that were using these units.
I did a few web searches and found D-Sonic who has been a value leader in digital amplifier production transitioning from the ICE module (see Bill Gaw's take in Audiolics Anonymous Chapter 103) to their most recent iteration with the new Pascal Pro units outputting, you guessed it, 1500 Watts per channel in stereo. The price has me excited at $2375 for the M3-3000S. The M3-3000S is an unassuming black chassis with a black anodized billet faceplate featuring a single blue LED reminding me of my Clayton Audio S200. It is beefy for a digital amp and features stout balanced and unbalanced connectors and speaker terminals. The build quality overall feels good but it is not a piece of audio jewelry. It is certainly a function over form design but it works well and is well put together. Set up was very easy and balance out of the box sounded spot on. All the connectors fit snuggly. This was a brand new unit and took almost no time to warm up but after an hour or two it really started to open up.
After living with my space heater... ahem... Class A amplifier for a long time, it was a real treat to have a digital amplifier in my listening room. It would've been great in the summer as the winter was starting to put a little chill in the air, but the M3-3000S was never even warm to the touch, even after extended, loud listening sessions. I am sure my energy bill appreciated it this. This is a Prius compared to a Hummer. The M3-3000S with its incredibly low distortion and noise floor lets you listen loudly or quietly without any strain. This eliminates a lot of the fatigue you get from speakers at loud volume with high distortion. I found myself listening around 1 to 2 dB louder than typical in my room without any fatigue. This doesn't mean a whole lot in day to day listening, it just means that those crescendos and dynamic passages in your favorite recordings will be that much more palpable and enjoyable.
If I had to critique the D-Sonic amplifier it would only be that the treble, really only the highest end treble was slightly less smooth than the KT-88 based amp I often listen to. This was really only noticeable in some drum pieces and some pieces with cymbals but it is splitting hairs. It is difficult to say which is the most musically accurate. The dynamic range and low noise floor throughout the rest of the frequency range is better than my reference and 1/5th the cost. This led me to explore recordings I had previously run through a million times and they were rejuvenated. I found a whole new appreciation for orchestral music and really found the limits in the scale of a recording my Vapor Audio Cirrus could reproduce. I never once felt limited by the amplifier. It did however make me question some of the things I think I knew about my system as it stood before. I have known for a while I had some issues with my DAC and the noise it introduced, but the tonality and resolution had been resolved with switching out a few op amps and switching out the cabling, running tubes and Class A amplifiers. I hadn't realized how much of a source of noise the pre amp section still was. It was still not offensive, but it started to give me an itch. Needless to say I am now in the market.