Class D amplification is certainly not new to The Sound Advocate, as many of the amplifiers we have evaluated in the past few years have been designed using the prominent Hypex, N-core, and ICE applications; to name a few. These designs offer some of the finest sound quality I have experienced in my home system; including Peachtree Audio, Wyred 4 Sound, and of course the latest PS Audio Stellar series DAC and D700 power amplifiers. It would not be at all out of line in stating that the future of Class D is going to be quite common in many of the most demanding applications.
This brings us to my subjective review presented here of Orchard Audio’s first and new integrated amplifier which owner and designer Leo Ayzenshtat has named the Starkrimson. Quite new and interestingly, Leo’s Starkrimson is one of the only integrated amplifiers currently on the market which uses gallium nitride (GaN) technology and arguably, the most affordable amplifier on the market that employs this mechanization.
GaN transistors he claims, should provide the following sonic/sound benefits over their traditional silicon counterparts: less harshness; cleaner highs; better transparency; and higher detail. This is because GaN transistors possess an increased slew rate, reduced ringing, faster switching, and faster overload recovery. All of the above equates to reduced noise, reduced distortion, higher bandwidth, and improved transient response as well as the amplifiers’ ability to improve its control of the inherent drivers in some of today’s finest loudspeaker designs.
Finally, Orchard Audio was quite adamant about their insistence in offering discerning audiophiles a product of the highest quality at a very attainable price point; thereby giving enthusiasts access to the finest listening experience.
The Starkrimson is quite a simple unit to use, providing access to both the DAC outputs and amplifier inputs; this enables the connection of devices like digital signal processors (DSPs) and preamps between the two. Obviously, for vinyl users, a phono stage/preamp of your choice will be needed to insert for both moving magnets and moving coil cartridges. All the circuitry in the amplifier is extremely efficient so in the idle state, it consumes very little electricity. As such, there is no other on/off switch (light) other than the one on the back panel. Some users may find this a bit disconcerting, but you get used to it quite fast. Another disappointment is the lack of a remote control.
This unique integrated amplifier is an analog switching audio power amplifier and DAC. The pulse-width modulation (PWM) is performed completely in the analog domain and is then amplified by the GaN power stages. This sets the Starkrimson apart from its counterparts that use digital modulation techniques applying FPGAs and DSPs while offering a strong 150 watts ( 2 x Starkrimson™ mono amplifiers) per channel. Orchard Audio’s Pecan Pi DAC technologies are then combined into a single enclosure. The inputs are either USB or S/PDIF. In effect, you can just attach your loudspeakers to the amplifier terminals and listen to music.
As the Starkrimson comes equipped with its own, small length balanced connectors already attached between the DAC output and amplifier input, it makes for a fast and easy connection from a CD player or transport (with the amps coax digital input).
However, being a fully balanced design, you will not be able to make use of your foremost interconnect cables while using the Starkrimson if, in fact, you choose to hook up another DAC or preamp to the system. I was fortunate enough to have recently bought some fine, quality balanced interconnects from Blue Jeans Cable at a mighty decent price. This gave me a good opportunity to interchange another DAC and/or amplifier to my system for comparative purposes.
SET UP & SOUND QUALITY
My first order of business was to connect up the Starkrimson alone using my Wireworld Starlight digital 75-ohm coax cable from the Audio Note CD3.1xII CD player and then hooking up 1 of 3 pairs of loudspeakers to the system. I started with the Stirling BBC LS3/6 loudspeaker (review forthcoming) and later on re-installed the Audio Note AN/ED speakers in their unique but rewarding corner room placement.
Towards the end of my time with the Starkrimson, the Spendor BC1 was installed as a comprehensive midrange accuracy check. The PS Audio Stellar M700 monoblock was also compared to the Starkrimson amplifier using their balanced outputs. I would have loved to have compared this unit directly to my Peachtree Audio Nova 300, but alas, it has no balanced connections. Fortunately, I have a particularly incisive memory as to how this integrated amplifier performs, so my memory here will serve me and you, the reader, quite well indeed!
After a few days of warm-up, I put on some CD-r burned downloads as well as some superbly recorded commercial pop and classical CDs and started listening. Initially, the Starkrimson emanated a fine overall balance of sound that struck some interesting chords with me as I re-read my listening notes. The unit delivered a very firm and deep bass response with double basses and cellos that were undoubtedly quite flattering to hear. In effect, its bass response was quite awesome and robust as the amplifier sounded incredibly powerful. While using this amplifier with its balanced connections, I was a little surprised to find that the music exhibited an even more intense and delightfully strong, firm bass dynamic impression with powerful weight in those lower frequencies.
The power of the amplifier delivered a muscular sense of control over musical dynamics, (one of its biggest assets) and instrumental transients that undeniably confirmed that the Starkrimson had an abundance of reserve power; particularly noteworthy with higher sensitivity loudspeakers such as Audio Note’s AN/ED speakers.
When mating it to the two other speaker systems of lower sensitivity, again it showed no sense of stress on wide dynamic range program sources and was able to deliver a very formative, uncompressed amount of high amplitude, short-duration sound detail and unconstrained dynamic peaks on just about every disc that was recruited.
The Starkrimson amplifier section could be characterized as rich and full-bodied in its midrange and bass with a bit of an “upfront” balance between the loudspeakers. It also induced a sense of “punchiness” to instrumental timbres within the balance of the recording as it exhibited an “exciting” overall sound balance. At times, this exciting quality may be presumed by some (?) to be a touch less than ‘neutral’, generally speaking. The amplifier is excellently geared to well-recorded pop, rock, and jazz program formats where recordings of a live “club” experience could be greatly appreciated. No doubt, in this sense, its bass response was more than welcome!
Classical performances were also reproduced with fine string tonality, and legitimate concert hall reverberance while also adding a bit more of that rousing “vigor” to the listening experience.
Later on, I substituted the Pecan Pi DAC incorporated into the Starkrimson for my Audio Note CD3.1x/ii player (which was used with the PS Audio Stellar DAC/Preamp outputs) into the balanced Starkrimson amplifier inputs. In this sense, the Starkrimson did a fine job holding its own with its excellent bass/midbass reproduction. As we began to enter the midrange and higher frequencies, things did change somewhat.
The Audio Note presented a more subtle and detailed midrange articulation with its airy and overtly natural laid-back quality– although in this respect, the Starkrimson was no slouch, indeed! (even though the Audio Note is 3 times the price of the Orchard Starkrimson as a whole). I can only presume these were differences in the sound between the 2 DAC’s involved.
I can safely say that even with the Starkrimson amplifier section having excellent power reserves, when comparing it to the slightly more expensive and powerful Peachtree Nova and its accompanying DAC, the latter offers a huge plethora of inputs, (phono included) outputs, and streaming capabilities. Conversely, one can buy Orchard Audio’s highly acclaimed streamer at a very admirable price!). Paradoxically, both of these fine class D amplifiers could not have sounded more different. The Starkrimson offered a riveting sound presentation as opposed to the Peachtree Nova, which was less bold but somewhat more nuanced, delicate and more even in its sound-stage profile and representation.
Aside from that, one must take into account that the Starkrimson was specifically designed as a “minimalist” high-end no-frills product for a very discerning audio enthusiast. In this respect, Leo has done his job intensely well, indeed!
Currently, my reference audio speaker cables are made up of no less than 3 product types, depending on the loudspeakers and amplifier I prefer to mate them with.
It became quite evident after long listening sessions that The Starkrimson became a little more ‘truthful’ and somewhat more beautifully “relaxed” when switching from my excellent Inakustik LS-400 speaker cables to the quite subtle, yet decisively forthcoming Audio Note Lexus cables.
The overall sound quality incrementally became a little more expansively translucent and airy with a distinctive feeling of a “lithe” ambient decay that I was used to and personally hold to be exceedingly musical and “honest!” when engaging some of the better quality program sources. This quite decisively made me aware of the fundamentally natural, and inherently fine sound reproduction qualities that make up the Starkrimson design.
Designer Leo Ayzenshtat has done an extremely fine job of incorporating his Pecan Pi DAC and the company’s existing /Starkrimson 150-watt monoblock amplifiers (as mentioned above) into this newly designed Starkrimson integrated unit. Incidentally, this brute force amplifier can produce peak levels of up to 300 watts per channel! Believe me, after many fine listening hours, this is quite indisputable!
As the main design goal of the Starkrimson was to produce an engaging and highly discriminating sound quality for the most demanding audiophile enthusiasts at a very reasonable price, there is no doubt that this objective has undeniably been accomplished!
SYSTEM: Digital ~~ Audio Note (UK) CD3.1×2 player /Wyred 4 Sound 10th Anniversary DAC/ Innuos Zenith Mk.3 server/streamer ● / Amplification ● Peachtree Audio Nova 300 (2019 ) / PS Audio Stellar M700 monoblock amplifiers / Stellar DAC preamp ● Loudspeakers ~ Spendor BC1, Sterling LS3/6 BBC monitors/ Audio Note AN/ED loudspeakers ● Cables – Conditioners: Mad Scientist “Black Magic” USB cable/ Inakustik AC-3500p power station & LS-4004 speaker cables, AC-2404 reference Air Power Cord/ Silversmith Audio ‘Fidelium’ loudspeaker cables/ Audio Note (UK) Lexus bi-wired speaker cables / Wireworld Eclipse 8 interconnects & Electra 7 power cords/ Audio Art 1 e” AC Power Cord.
Orchard Audio is based in Succasunna, NJ. Starkrimson is currently available with an MSRP set at $2495.
The Starkrimson is currently available at ~ www.orchardaudio.com
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