Stereo Amplifiers Awards – Q1 2013 (Part 2)

3/18/2013 9:15:58 AM

Heed Audio Obelisk SI: $1,935

It’s a good job our Awards aren’t handed out for first impressions. Or by a quick scan of the specification sheet. Then we’d have a very different set of results.

Heed Audio Obelisk si, the best stereo amp $1500-$2250

Heed Audio Obelisk si, the best stereo amp $1,500-$2,250

Take the Heed Audio Obelisk SI: 35 watts per channel in exchange for $1950 doesn’t appear particularly great value. Take it out of the box and the amplifier feels solid enough, but it lacks the luxury feel we would expect at this price. A basic ‘credit-card’ remote control handset completes the uncomfortable introduction.

The Obelisk SI sounds robust and controlled even when pushed. And it’s enthusiastic without ever being overbearing

Musically accomplished

But when we came to take our first listen. And once the Obelisk SI is plugged into system, any of those initial doubts simply fade away. This is one of the most musically accomplished stereo amps we’ve heard anywhere near this price. In fact, you’d have to go up a level to Roksan Caspian M2 to better the sound. Tunes with plenty of pep and zip, such as the Black Eyed Peas Hey Mamma, charge along. The amp makes the most of the intricate rhythms and dynamic thrust of the track. The unit sounds robust and controlled even when pushed to extremes. And it sounds enthusiastic without ever becoming overbearing.

Opt for a more laidback piece such as Emeli Sandé’s Mountains and the Heed shifts down the gears effortlessly. It delivers vocals with appealing warmth and subtlety. And like Cyrus, Heed offers an appealing and useful upgrade path for ‘SI’ owners.

There’s the option of adding an outboard power supply ($1095). This raises power to 50W and adds extra scale and punch to proceedings. The Obelisk si will also accept optional modules: a coax-only DAC ($397.5) or a moving magnet phono stage ($217.5).

To sum up, then, this is a product that proves the maxim that one should never judge a book (okay, and amplifier) by its cover – you could be missing out. The Heed is a peach of a product and a deserved Award-winner.

Best stereo amp $2,250+

Roksan Caspian M2: $2,475

Over the years, Roksan’s Caspian range has evolved into a firm favorite over here at What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision.

Need more power? Should the Caspian need a bit more comph for your system, you can add Roksan’s M2 power amp to really get things singing

Need more power? Should the Caspian need a bit more for your system, you can add Roksan’s M2 power amp to really get things singing

Excellent build quality, generous features, and the ability to produce brilliant all-round sound are all attractive assets, and Caspians have consistently combined all three to stunning effect. This, the M2, is the most accomplished version to date and that’s why it walks away with a Best Buy Awards for a second year.

The M2 feels substantial and well damped. Each control is solid and precise; combine that with a smart remote control handset and you’re getting a package that looks and feels the part.

And it sounds the part too.  The Caspian’s strength has always been its amazing all-round ability – there’s bucket load of detail to admire as the amp delivers serious levels of subtlety and manages to arrange it musically and in a manner that exposes all the various elements of a track to the maximum. The soundstage is nicely layered and the stereo image is extremely focused. Vocals and instruments are locked into place no matter how intricate rhythms are or how dynamically demanding a track gets.

Vocals and instruments are locked into place no matter how intricate rhythms are or how demanding a track gets

Superb timing, bountiful bass

Crank the volume up and the Roksan takes the strain it its stride. The amplifier is fitted with an intelligent internal cooling fan to make sure the circuitry doesn’t overheat when it’s working hard.

Hip-hop and dance tunes are dispatched with aplomb. The Caspian’s expert timing and powerful, bountiful bass keeps rhythms flowing positively, not ponderously. Of course the M2’s natural partner would be the matching Caspian M2 CD player, an Award-winner in its own right while for speakers; you’d get great results hooking it all up to a talented floor-stander such as the PMC Twenty 23 ($3,150). If your budget can stretch, then you’ll struggle to hear better at the money.

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