The Mola Mola Makua Preamplifier and Perca Amplifier have made an indelible mark on Douglas Moore!
In the world of high-end audio, back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, solid-state amplifier technology was moving into the mainstream and people were reluctant to embrace it. Like anything new, technology has had a meager start to life. Eventually, people started to see that this new solid-state amplifier technology could sound good, run cooler, and require less maintenance than their tube counterparts.
Class D amplifiers have gone through many of the same growing pains in their journey. Just like solid-state amplifiers in the ‘60s, these new switching amplifiers were relegated to being used in small devices that did not prioritize sound quality due to the design limitations at the time. But many people could see the potential in an amplifier technology that could be made very small for its power output, could run very efficiently compared to solid-state and tube amplifiers, and if designed right could run much cooler.
While this was excellent news for amplifier designers there was still a problem. With the output section of the amplifier being designed around PWM or a switching output there was a substantial amount of noise from these devices. Unlike class A or A/B solid-state amplifiers that use transistors as linear gain devices, class D uses transistors as electronic switches.
Companies like Hypex, Purifi, Bang and Olufsen, and Pascal have spent many years improving class D to the point that now it is finally able to compete with the best class A or A/B amplifiers when it comes to distortion and sound quality while also being much cooler running, smaller sized, and substantially lighter.
Mola Mola Audio has been at the forefront of taking this technology to where it is today. Named after an ocean sunfish Mola Mola was Founded in 2011 in the Netherlands by Hypex founder Jan-Peter van Amerongen and cofounder Bruno Putzeys
Mola Mola has taken the helm as one of the largest proponents of class D technology and prides itself on making products that sound great regardless of the topology or technology used. While many think that Bruno Putzeys is the primary engineer for Mola Mola this is not the case. He was part of the design and engineering behind some first-generation Mola Mola products but Bruno hasn’t been involved in Mola Mola for a few years.
Mola Mola employs a team of highly praised engineers for its designs taking the “many minds are better than one” approach to engineering. I will be taking both the Perca power amplifier and Makua Preamp for a spin to see if a higher-tech approach to audio reproduction can pay off in my system!
Features and Technology:
PERCA POWER AMP
The Perca power amplifier comes in a cool carry case that doubles as very good protection for shipping. The amplifier was wrapped in a protective branded bag and once unwrapped I was able to see how well constructed this amplifier is.
The half-sized chassis is made with metal panels that have been molded into a sleek shape that seems to fit the character of Mola Mola’s other products. I like the simple silver and dark grey two-tone color choice as it is elegant while not drawing too much attention to itself.
The back panel includes an IEC power input with a cable (I recommend an upgraded cable for the best sound), switchable RCA or XLR inputs, and very high-quality Furutech binding posts. Installing my speaker cables was easier on this amplifier than about any amplifier I have had in for review. Along with the RCA/XLR switch, there is also a gain switch that will allow you to set the gain at 22db and 28db whichever works with your preamp and the Perca’s 100kOhms input impedance. On the front panel, there is a single button centered for power and one light that is installed on the top edge of the front panel to tell you if the unit is on or in standby mode.
The Mola Mola Perca 2-channel stereo amplifier puts out much more power than the small size and weight would assume. The technology of this amplifier is referenced from the NCore technology that its mother company Hypex has developed. Mola Mola decided to refine the self-oscillating principle and feedback concepts from earlier models to develop their new Trajectum amplifier platform that is also shared with the Kula integrated amplifier.
Mola Mola believes that the use of negative feedback can yield great results if done properly. This Trajectum technology is some 5 generations ahead of the Mola Mola Kaluga monoblock amplifiers that have received many awards. In front of the Trajectum circuits is an ultra-low distortion class A input stage with its own voltage rectifier and circuit board.
This amplifier’s power specs were impressive. Putting out 150 watts into 8 ohms and doubling to 300 watts at 4 ohms the Perca should have no problem driving all but the largest of cost no object speakers. Distortion is rated at less than 0.0003% while the S/N ratio is rated at 128db. With a dampening factor greater than 4000, this amplifier should make objectivists (and subjectivists) happy!
Mola Mola’s Makua preamp is a true ‘tour de force’ level preamp that comes in various configurations. Bill Parish from GTT Audio decided to send me a fully loaded Makua which includes a modular card version of the Lupe phono preamp and Tambaqui DAC. This is quite the add-on as both units are highly praised stand-alone components by themselves. I have often said that the Tambaqui DAC is on my shortlist as one of the best DACs available regardless of price. The setup was simple as the back panel is well laid out and marked. The aesthetics of the Makua are the same high-quality shaped steel panels and dark grey and silver finish. In my opinion, the Makua and Perca look great together on a rack having a modern elegant appearance.
While The Makua does have a slim all-metal remote with mute, volume up and down, and input buttons The Makua’s main trick up its sleeve is its app. The Mola Mola Remote app, while simple to use, is a full-featured app with many options. You can control each of the 5 inputs to handle either line level, phono, or direct mode inputs. This means that if you have two turntables and want to hook them up to the Makua you can select two of the inputs as phono inputs and separately control their loading and even change the phono eq curve if you have older records that used a different curve than RIAA.
Mola Mola looked for any curve that they could find and programmed them into the Makua so all the record labels and periods would be covered. This puts the Makua into a small group of full-featured preamps that can do this function. All are controllable through the phone app which makes making changes on the fly a breeze.
Another option for the inputs is for home theater bypass use. A Direct mode is a full-volume option that allows you to connect a home theater receiver or processor to shoot the signal through your two-channel rig. There is also a level offset option that lets you add a fixed amount of volume to one input if you have to change the volume a lot when switching between sources. This is a great feature as most sources will have some volume variance when switching between them.
Each input on the Makua has both RCA and XLR inputs that can be selected with a switch — but through the app, you can bypass this switch and control it by the application.
Phase is something that is overlooked quite often and can have repercussions on how things sound. For example, my Spatial Audio speakers are open baffle and if the absolute phase isn’t right the sound will not be at its best.The Makua can change the absolute phase on any input. As such, if you have a source component that reverses its absolute phase before sending it on to the Makua it can be corrected in Makua’s settings. While I did not have a use for this setting in my time with the Makua, I am sure many will in their setups.
Mastering Mode is a mode that Mola Mola included for A/B testing equipment. It will make switching between the selected inputs much faster and if you are testing the internal DAC compared to an input the DAC will be locked into the last used digital source when switched in this mode. For reviewers like me or people who like to compare gear with their friends, this is a great tool for doing just that.
Ignore Other Remotes is a function on the Makua that will help if you have another device in your system that uses the same IR remote signal. I ran into this myself when my Marantz processor and the Makua seemed to share a remote signal so if I turned up the Makua my Marantz would also respond. This setting was extremely helpful with this issue and made life simpler again. I have not seen this in many high-end preamps and is a welcome addition seeing the amount of gear out there that seems to use the same IR signals.
Four trigger outputs on the Makua are standardized to work with all components with trigger inputs. These triggers can be controlled as well to turn on or off with different input selections should you have a component that you only want on when its input is selected. I could see this being useful if you have a projector screen that runs off of a remote trigger and only wants it to lower when you select your home theater bypass input.
While the phono preamp card can be programmed to each input the DAC card has its separate inputs on the left rear panel. This makes sense as digital inputs are much different than analog RCA or XLR inputs.
The Makua’s digital inputs include USB, Toslink, AES/EBU (XLR), Bluetooth (SBC, AAC, APTX, LDAC), as well as a Roon-ready ethernet connection (the only input missing from the Tambaqui is an I2S HDMI port). Format support is PCM up to 384kHz/32 bits (>192kHz and >24 bits via USB and Roon only), DoP, and Native DSD up to quad speed (USB and Roon only). Needless to say; the DAC specifications are just as impressive as the separate Tambaqui DAC! That’s impressive as the Tambaqui has been out for quite a while in DAC years and is still called the best DAC in the world by many!
The Makua has the same DAC inside the Tambaqui which is very special, and this is due to its design. This is explained on their website:
“The converter is a two-board stack. On the first board, all incoming digital audio is upsampled to 3.125MHz/32 bits and converted to noise-shaped PWM. On the other board are two mono DACs, in which a discrete 32-stage FIR DAC and a single-stage 4th order filtering I/V converter, convert the PWM into an analogue with a breathtaking 130dB SNR. This is near the theoretical limit for 24-bit files and far beyond that of even quad-speed DSD. Uniquely, distortion remains below the noise floor even for full-scale signals.”
First I installed the Perca with my Hegel P20 preamp and Denafrips Venus II DAC to see how this amplifier would sound with equipment that I am very familiar with. Coming from my Reference Pass labs X150.5 I could tell right away that this was going to be a different experience. For one thing, the Mola Mola Perca has an iron grip on the drivers. This is the effect of having a dampening factor greater than 4000.
The Perca reminded me of the large Krell amplifiers in the 80s and 90s that just seemed to put drivers in a stranglehold of control. This allowed the bass to have supreme tightness as well as definition. While I did like the Hegel P20 combination with the Perca amplifier it seemed that having a preamp and an amplifier with prodigious bass capabilities proved to be a little much overall. While the bass was extremely clean and detailed drum base hits had just a tad too much thump taking away from the natural tone of the music.
Going back to my Hegel/Pass labs reference brought back the balance and all was fine. While imaging and soundstage were very good, and the music had great body and tone. The Bass held back this package as it was just too much of a good thing.
When I put the Mola Mola Makua in the system replacing the Hegel P20 driving my Pass X150.5 things were very interesting. Not only did it replace my Hegel, but it also replaced my Denafrips DAC with the Tambaqui-based DAC inside the Makua. The sound had a balance between the technical low-distortion circuits in the Makua and the more sound over measurements approach in the Pass labs. One would think that this Clash of the Titans would not have good results, but this would not be true as I spent quite a while with this setup and was quite impressed with the results. Just like what I have seen with speaker/amplifier combinations sometimes combining an intricate, very high-measuring product with a product that is more about tone and emotional content will yield a kind of best of both worlds result.
Kirsten Edkins “Shapes & Sound” reviewed here is a wonderful new album that takes what some would call an “old school” approach to making music. It’s analog recorded and produced and sounds wonderful! The Mola Mola Makua and Pass Labs combo surprised me with a very technically correct performance letting the Makua present its low distortion and technically proficient nature but with the Pass Labs power amplifier throwing in a dash of harmonic richness. Kirsten’s Sax had a great presence and seemed to have a little more separation in the mix.
All of the musicians had more separation between their respective instruments than when my Denafrips/Hegel DAC and preamp were in play. It wasn’t a huge difference but one worth noting. Another aspect was that image layering took another leap up. From cymbals to guitarists at different spots on the stage, there was a clearer picture of where they were. Being that the Makua with the DAC and Phono card add-on is just shy of 24K I expected it to be better. At around 8K my Hegel P20 and Denafrips Venus II combo is around 3 times less expensive.
I love my reference Hegel P20 and Pass Labs X150.5 and what it gives me in musical emotion and clarity but– as far as transparency and lower noise floor output the Mola Mola takes the prize.
After a couple of weeks of listening to this combo and enjoying it, I decided to swap out my Pass Labs for the Perca power amplifier. With the Makua doing duty as the DAC or phono preamp and the Perca for power amplifier duties I was finally able to hear what a full Mola Mola system could do!
On first listen something was very apparent. My system sounded bigger and heftier with the Makua/Perca combo. It wasn’t due to drastically more bass or a thicker midrange but seemed to be more associated with the soundstage and how the recorded venue came through on recordings. Several of the live albums I played seemed to do a better job of expressing that they were live on the Mola Mola gear. After several albums of this kind, I concluded that most likely the extremely low noise floor on the Makua and Perca combined to allow me to hear even the smallest of ambient cues in the mix. This is extremely impressive as my Hegel/Pass Labs combo already excels at this.
Harry Belafonte’s 1959 album “Belafonte At Carnegie Hall” is a classic and fun listen when you want to venture into the past and hear a live performance that is well recorded for the time and is very musically satisfying. My Hegel/Pass Labs combo always sounds great on this album and switching to the Mola Mola gear seemed to produce excellent results.
I will say this right now the Mola Mola combo is some of the most transparent gear I have had in my system regardless of price. Harry’s voice and accompanying musicians have a natural tone that shines through on the Mola Mola gear. Compared to my Hegel/Pass Labs reference the Mola Mola had better instrument separation and soundstage width. Again, these are small differences, but they were there.
I think the Makua preamp with DAC card has much to do with these differences as the Makua/Pass Labs combo produced many of these benefits. Adding the Perca power amplifier with its super low noise floor and high-negative feedback architecture seemed to be a transparent conduit for the Makua to shine.
My musical guilty pleasure happens to be doom metal/stoner rock. Yes, I know, it isn’t the typical music audio reviewer references, but I think of things differently. I will always listen to my review products with all of the music I listen to normally to get a feel for how they respond to different recording styles and quality.
Pallbearers 2020 album “Forgotten Days” is a great album that showcases a raw unfiltered type of sound. The deeply distorted and down-tuned guitars are the star of the show and give the music a deep dark vibe. On vinyl, this album has a more natural sound than its digital counterpart plus I was able to test Makua’s phono preamp card as well as how it sounds with my phono stage.
The title track “Forgotten Days” is heavy and showcases the ability of a system to keep its composure. Using my Pro-Ject X2B turntable and Darlington Labs MP-7/SU-7 through the Makua/Perca I was left with great instrument tone and body with a great ability to separate all the instruments in the mix.
Dynamic guitar passages never got fatiguing or grating but kept their explosive ‘in your face’ nature intact. The bass on this album is very heavy-handed and can get bloomy or bloated on some systems (there is just so much going on in the low end). It just so happens that my reference Spatial Audio speakers have lightning-fast bass that allows the detail in these thick mixes to shine. The ultra-high dampening factor of the Perca amplifier took this control and bass tightness a level up producing some of the best bass on this album I have heard. The imaging and soundstage were great and on par with my reference if not a tad wider.
Moving on to the same album using Makua’s phono card I was very impressed with the performance. The phono section is very quiet on par if not quieter than my reference phono stage. My Audio Technica AT33 PTG/II cartridge fit well with the phono card and even allowed me to hear the same analog magic that my reference phono stage gives.
The main difference is that my reference Darlington Labs’ phono stage leans on the side of a subjective warm-bodied and dynamic presentation. Makua’s phono card was more technical. Detail took a step up and the tonal balance was more neutral. The different configurations alone should make most turntable owners with multiple cartridges or tonearms happy while I will say having a phono card equal to a high-end separate phono stage shows how it should be done (other companies take note!) when features like this are added to a high-end preamp.
While listening to Makua’s phono stage, I heard nothing but great tone, balance, and a great combination of technical and musical prowess with great harmonic engagement from my records. I could see some hardcore music lovers deciding to sell their DAC, Phonostage, and preamp to get the Makua and be done with it knowing that each piece inside the preamp is top of their game performance. Adding the Perca power amplifier would round out this system with a transparent window to your music.
With today’s ever-increasing move toward all-in-one do-everything components, I think Mola Mola is taking the right direction here. Having the Makua be configurable with or without the DAC and phono card gives prospective owners choices in what they want their Makua preamp to be.
Whether they already have a great DAC (maybe a Tambaqui!) and a great phono stage and just want a great preamp or they want to upgrade the whole thing and have a one-box solution to all of that the Makua is a preamp to behold and would be at home in any system regardless of price.
The Perca power amplifier continues the trend toward ultimate transparency allowing anything in front of it to shine through. The fact that the Perca is so clean, has enough power that could drive about any speaker on the planet, and is a super high efficient and low heat class D design. The new Mola Mola Perca is one of the best examples of the technology I have personally heard in my system.
The Makua/Perca paired together offers an elusive window into your music. It will not sugarcoat recordings or add warmth like some tube designs but is cleaner with a higher dampening factor than most solid-state designs. If the music has warmth in its recording the Mola Mola system will show it. If the music is dynamic and lively the Mola Mola system will display that as well; this combo doesn’t take sides! If I were ready to move to other components for my reference system, the Mola Mola components would be right there in the running no matter what price category I would be shopping. Two outstanding pieces of equipment!
Review System: Speakers: Spatial Audio M3 Turbo S open baffle./ REL T9x subwoofer/ Digital: Denafrips Venus II, / Modified PC-based Music server/streamer. PS Audio Airlens Network Streamer Analog: Pro Ject X2 B Turntable, Darlington labs MP-7, and SU-7 phono preamp, Audio Technica AT33 PTG/ii cartridge Amplification: Hegel P20 preamp. Pass Labs X150.5 power amp. Conditioner: PS Audio Quintet. Cables: Iconoclast Series 2 SPTPC speaker cables, Iconoclast Generation 2 ETPC XLR cables and Gotham 4/1 RCA interconnects, Iconoclast BAV REL subwoofer cable
Mola Mola – distributor USA firstname.lastname@example.org
Naughright Road Long Valley, NJ 07853
Prices and Specifications:
$12,200 base model
DAC Card: $8,500
Phono Card: $3,000
Mola Mola Perca Stereo Amplifier:
2x 150W 8Ohm 2x 300W 4Ohm
22dB or 28dB
DISTORTION (THD AND IMD)
(Or Damping factor >4000)
Mola Mola Makua Preamplifier:
5 balanced and 5 unbalanced inputs, selectable by switch and software
2 parallel balanced outputs for bi-amping (XLR)
4 programmable trigger outputs (3.5mm Jack)
All inputs routable through optional processor boards like the phono stage
Processing balance and input gain offset
Phase invert and mono-sum
Full software control of routing and processing
Maximum input/output level: 20dBu (7.75Vrms)
Unweighted noise voltage at unity gain: 1.9uV
Input impedance: 100kohm
Output impedance: 44ohm
Distortion at maximum signal level (THD, IMD): not measurable, estimated around -150dB
Gain range: -70dB to +15dB
Gain resolution: <1dB, better than 0.2dB over a normal listening range
DIMENSIONS AND WEIGHT
420mm (W) x 110mm (H) x 345mm (D). Depth includes volume knob and connectors.
WHERE the MUSIC BEAT meets the AUDIOPHILE ELITE !
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