"Differentiate or die" – the popular business catchphrase is as important today as it was a hundred years ago. While it is most relevant in the world of mass-production products, it seems to be entirely legitimate within our world of perfectionist audio. Aaron's Let's Rock! integrated amplifier as reviewed here, is surely a standout product visually. Within our home turf here in Europe, we usually care about the technical side of the product. Aaron's Let's Rock! is surely within that category. Naturally the company's literature is full of descriptions of special design concepts and solutions, technologies, materials, ideas and philosophy. That is perfectly fine, as this is what our hobby is all about. When it comes to visual design, audiophiles turn out to be generally by very traditional consumers. The model that was developed in the 1970's, where audio products look like lab or recording studio equipment, with low, deep and wide enclosures, and the front panel being the only thing that matters, has survived almost unchanged to this day. As you can see with this review of the Aaron Let's Rock! integrated amplifier, the company chose a highly handcrafted, artistic styling of skulls that would make any enthusiast of such musical genres as rock, metal, alternative, punk, etc very proud.
Perhaps, even more so, Aaron's company owner Thomas Höhne has become part of this new generation that demands both substance and style. In 1986 he founded High-End Consumer Electronics Distribution Company m.b.H. with his wife, Marita Höhne, to "faithfully reproduce music" as we read on various high-end audio websites. The company's full name was too long for a brand name, which is why Mr. and Mrs. Höhne chose its shorter version to emphasize the reference status of their amplifiers. They also wanted to focus their attention on these products to ensure high quality performance. It did not happen all at once; however, as they were selling their first amplifier from 1986, the A300.M monoblocks under the brand name Neumann Audio Technik. Thanks to the success of this project, the company's product lineup was soon divided into two parts: a top high-end line called Sovereign and "only" high-end Aaron. Both of these replaced Neumann Audio Technik in 1989.
I stared this review of the Aaron Let's Rock
integrated amplifier by talking about the provenance of audio amplifiers' visual
design. Mr. and Mrs. Höhne products did generally look like they were taken
straight from a measurement laboratory or recording studio. This was followed by
their design from this German company, The Sovereign. This product was two 1.5m
towers and were so popular there was a six-month customer waiting time and
129,990 EUR price tag. The Sovereign earned the title of "the greatest amp
in the world" in 1995 and were included in the Guinness Book of Records. As
you can see by the photos within this review of the Aaron Let's Rock, the
styling motif of skulls eschews from the classic look of most audio components,
and I take it to include two versions: the vacuum tube design from the 1940s and
1950s and solid-state design from the 1970s and 1980s, generally works well
enough for the audiophiles to fully accept it en
Perhaps it is because most music lovers are
extremely conservative, and yet also extremely individualistic at the same time.
Sometimes they are reflected in a longing for something "different".
Both Mr. and Mrs. Höhne apparently gave their best, because the Aaron Let's
Rock integrated amplifier has a very telling name. Let's Rock! sports the kind
of finish that would be perfectly at home within a "mancave" of any
self-respecting rocker. You need not be all inked up, yet perhaps you're dressed
in leathers and sleeping within them by your motorcycle. In order not to be too
fulsome with changes, the amplifier has a classic shape overall. Let's Rock!'s
front panel is, however, a relief with skulls, stars and fleurs-de-lis.
To leave the customer with little doubt about what Aaron intends for the overall
styling, the top panel features a huge skull bolted directly onto it, which
looks like it has just been nicked from some historic cemetery.
A Few Simple Words From Owner
/ Designer Thomas Höhne
The amplifier is equipped with an absolutely classic, though extensive, set of inputs and outputs. It accepts a line level signal, which can be fed to six RCA input connectors on the back panel, plus it has a preamplifier output and tape loop as well as external processor input and output. Speaker binding posts are a very high quality gold-plated affair. There is also an IEC inlet with fuse. There is no audio "jewelry" to speak about per se as the unit itself is solid, though provides absolutely essential connectors. This pragmatic approach is also manifests itself within the manufacturer's choice of isolation feet, which are plastic bottle corks. Internally, the amplifier has a modular design. Mounted near the rear panel is a large circuit board with a power supply and two preamplifier daughterboards, one per channel, plugged in vertically to the motherboard. The preamplifier circuit is based on matched pairs of bipolar transistors. Volume control is carried out in a 64-step integrated ladder with laser-cut resistors (DS1808-050). The input selection is performed via relays. The same type of relays connect or disconnect the preamplifier and power amplifier sections.
The signal is fed to the power amplifiers via shielded cables. The power amplifier circuits are mounted on two PCBs, separately for each channel of course. They, too, employ a fully solid-state design. The output stage operates in a push-pull class AB and includes carefully matched pairs of transistors, one per channel. These are TO-3 type package, which are rarely ever seen today. Thomas Höhne decided to remove their markings. It just so happens that I have recently reviewed the Passion Amp 650 power amplifier from the French manufacturer YBA, in which I found very similar looking active components. They were ON Semiconductor MJ15024G + MJ15025G bipolar transistors. The TO-3 transistors used in the Aaron are mounted to a small aluminum channel bar to aid with proper heat dissipation, together with driver transistors. Those channel bars are bolted, in turn, to an average size heat sink. The Aaron Let's Rock! Integrated amplifier never operated too hot during the review process, so it seems that the bias current is set to a low value and the amplifier operates within Class AB all the time.
The power supply uses two transformers. A large
500W toroidal transformer supplies electricity to the power amplifier (and
perhaps the preamplifier section too) and a smaller regular type transformer
that powers the control circuit and (most likely) relays. The preamplifier and
control circuit power supplies include voltage regulators and the power
amplifier supply voltage is rectified and filtered in a capacitor bank that
comprises six 10,000 uF capacitors. One of them sports Thomas's hologram sticker
and markings. Could it perhaps mean that there have been attempts to make
illegal clones of Aaron amplifiers? The amplifier circuit employs good quality
and visually attractive passive and active components. All internal cabling is
sensibly distributed. The only thing that I was not too sure about is running
the power supply and speaker cables in parallel, but apparently that does not
alter the amplifier's measurable parameters. Aaron's Let's Rock! remote control
is large and made with aluminum. The user manual is well written and nicely
printed. Instead of the usual metal "clip," the manual pages are held
together with a leather strap and a small skull pendant tied to it. A very
solid, hand assembled, quality high-end piece of audio equipment deserves such
Leaving the philosophical aspects of such a claim aside, the Platonic cave, the postmodern indeterminacy (or situationality, the dependence of our perception of a given object on many factors), it is quite easy to point out the utopian character of that approach. Suffice it to say about the variety of microphone techniques employed during audio recordings, each of them with its own pros and cons and none being absolutely perfect. One could also call to mind the specific recording and monitoring methods when the "stereo" sound (in a Greek sense of the word where it means "solid" or integral, indivisible) is reproduced by a finite (i.e. 2, 5, 7, 10 and more) number of speakers. Or you can go to any given concert and then try to repeat that experience at home. I believe we have all experienced that many a time and the verdict is one: it is impossible.
I started the auditions with Dead
of Night off Depeche Mode's Ultra,
the track which was the first one to follow the electronic versions of Easy
Tiger and Dream On 13 years ago in Warsaw. The bass that rolled over us
then, its sheer weight and power, is only possible to experience in the open
air, using massive stage speaker systems capable of outputting tens (if not
hundreds) of thousands of Watts. The same track listened to on the Aaron
amplifier and my Harbeth M40.1 speakers, as well as the Trenner & Friedl
Isis speakers, and played back from the best available spec CD2 album release
did not even come close to what I remembered from the concert. Since the memory
cannot be fully trusted 100% of the time, I also auditioned several albums heard
during the live gigs including King Crimson and The Crimson ProjeKCt (March 20th,
2014, Klub Studio, Krakow), Peter Gabriel from his album So
(May 12th, 2014, Atlas Arena, Lodz) and Daniel Miller (May 23rd,
2014, Bielskie Centrum Kultury, BielskoBiala). If I wanted to repeat the live
gig experience at home, even sitting in front of my speakers with their powerful
woofers (Harbeth: 300 mm, Trenner & Friedl: 380 mm), I would have to say
that the music played back at home had nothing to do with the live gig, that is
– by implication – with the reference or model event.
Fortunately, I have no such illusions. Actually,
I never had. I understand music playback at home as a completely new reality, in
some way connected with the act of playing music in the real world, but rather
being a different kind of art. Hence, I was very impressed with the sound of
these albums when using the Aaron Let's Rock!. Thomas Höhne designed an
amplifier that plays the rock music in the way the rockers rarely get the
opportunity to listen to. It is refined enough for other types of music and did
justice to the recordings. The sound of this component is extremely well
ordered. This characteristic is not necessarily associated with a rock 'n' roll
life, is it? Perhaps it is less so with this kind of music. However, music
playback is an act which may not always mirror clichés from other areas of
life. The Aaron Let's Rock! is a great case in point that all you need for a
proper reproduction of a given type of music is simply a consistent, dynamic and
The refinement of the Aaron Let's Rock! is primarily manifested in its well-ordered sound. The tonality is even and the tones are rich in harmonics, liquid and dense. Guided by the amplifier's name, I spent a large part of the auditions on listening to rock music, in all its varieties of course. I took the most pleasure in Platinum SHM-CD releases. If anyone says that the way the CD is made does not affect its sound quality, let them just pause for a moment and listen to this newest "patent" from Universal. Cream, Queen, Derek & The Dominos, Dire Straits, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Asia and even Mike Oldfield – all these CDs sounded very interesting and if I were a megalomaniac I would say "analog." Their sound was dense and well differentiated.
What was particularly captivating in this
presentation was a great combination of great order, outstanding rhythmic
ability, excellent frequency extension – both from the top and the bottom –
and its forgiving character. This is not the kind of amplifier that brings out
music production flaws and examines them. Nor does it ‘wag its finger' at
them, reprimanding the sound engineers and music labels for their errors. I
think it does it by ever so slightly reducing the attack transients. I have no
doubt that a number of fans of harder styles of music will point to the
"softness" of such sound. And they will be right. If they believe it
to be a downside, the Aaron amplifier may not be to their liking. Despite its
great differentiation of instruments' bodies, their directionality and tonal
quality, the Let's Rock! will soften the impact that some rock musicians are
fighting for. Having experience with various types of amplifiers, I choose this
way of music playback without any doubt or hesitation. It is a good
sound, regardless of what you listen to – be that rock, classical, jazz,
ethno, folk, blues or any other type of music. If you can come to terms with the
lack of garishness, artificial selectivity and hyper-detail, the German
amplifier will prove to be exactly the kind of amplifier the rockers need. It
will make all albums sound enveloping, multifaceted and deep. The better the
recording, the more enjoyment you will receive from its sound. Yet with lower
quality productions, like the 2003 SACD version of Gabriel's So,
like Layla from Derek & The
Dominos or like black metal albums, which are usually only listenable on vinyl,
you can still enjoy the music.
The amplifier has a very low bass, which is at
the same time very well-differentiated and defined. It will never get hardened,
though. The upper treble is rounded, but not recessed. The Depeche Mode album Ultra
has a rather hard sonic signature, especially at the top end. The Aaron played
it back dense and full, without withdrawing the cymbals. Nor did it let them
break away from the rest of the presentation, which is widespread. And the sound
was full-bodied, which I earlier heard on the 1971 live album from Guru Guru,
released as a nice box set by the United States label Cleopatra Records.
But what about the wink I have mentioned earlier? It lies in the fact that the Let's Rock! fantastically played back the albums that come from a completely different planet, like Billie Holiday recordings that had been originally released on 10" vinyl LP in 1952 and 1954, or Relaxin' With The Miles Davis Quintet on Platinum SHM-CD and others. The depth, density, beautiful timbres... everything that turned the hard rock tracks into the moment of "contact" with the musician were also brought forther musically akin to time captured within a capsule. Not in the sense of slavish "imitation," because verismo is nearly a dead end in audio circles. And in terms of creative re-creation of the musical event, giving it meaning and probability, we "buy" into it without hesitation while being fully aware that we are listening to a mechanical reproduction... perhaps a tiny bit distant from the actual live event.
Review Methodology And Tips
Looking for a matching pair of speakers, it is worth considering speakers from Harbeth or the Classic line from Spendor. That will be a safe choice and you get in return a beautiful tonality and low, meaty bass. I think, however, there are speakers that seem to be made just for the Let's Rock! – the JBL Studio Monitor 4429 for example. Display screen and front panel color finish? Check! Rock connotations? Check! Matching sound? Check! Putting together such a system you will receive an added value – a sensible, well thought-out audio system with classic pedigree and with a sparkle.
Auditioned During The Review
• Brainticket, The
Vintage Anthology 1971-1980, Cleopatra Records | Purple Pyramid
Records 57594829, 4 x CD (2011).
• Chopin, Waltzes,
DinuLipatti (piano), EMI Records CDC 7 47390 2, CD (1950/1986).
• Cream, Disraeli
Gears, Polydor/Universal Music LLC UICY-40023, Platinum SHM-CD
• Deep Purple, The
Audio Fidelity Collection, Warner Bros./Audio Fidelity AFZB 019, "Limited
Edition No. 0878", 4 x gold-CD (1970, 1971, 1972, 1973/2013).
• Depeche Mode, Ultra,
Mute/Sony Music Labels, Blu-spec CD2, (2007/2014).
• Derek & The Dominos, Layla,
Polydor/Universal Music LLC UICY-40004, Platinum SHM-CD (1970/2013).
• Diary of Dreams, Panik
Manifesto, Accession Records EFA 23452-2, CD (2002).
• Dire Straits, Dire
Straits, Vertigo/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UICY-40008, Platinum SHM-CD
• Dire Straits, Love
Over Gold, Vertigo/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UICY-40029, Platinum
• Guru Guru, Live
in Germany ‘71, Cleopatra Records CLP 6844-2, CD (2011).
• Mike Oldfield, Tubular
Bells, Mercury Records/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UICY-40016,
Platinum SHM-CD (1973/2013).
• Miles Davis Quintet, Relaxin'
With The Miles Davis Quintet, Prestige/Universal Music LLC (Japan)
UCCO-40005, Platinum SHM-CD, (1958/2013).
• Mobley/Cohn/Coltrane/Sims, Tenor
Conclave, Prestige/Analogue Productions CPRJ 7074 SA, SACD/CD
• Queen, A
Night At The Opera, Island/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UICY-40006,
Platinum SHM-CD (1975/2013).
• The Rolling Stones, Exile
on Main St., Atlantic/Universal Music Company (Japan) UICY-40001,
Platinum SHM-CD (1972/2013).
Inputs: Six stereo line input RCA gold plated