Orchard Audio Starkrimson Ultra DMC 2.0 Power Amplifier REVIEW!

The Orchard Audio Starkrimson Ultra DMC 2.0 Power Amplifier shows its “shining” colors in this full review!

I am not what some consider a close-minded audiophile, you know, the people who only believe their way is the only way. That tubes are the only good amplifying devices, and all else is not worth your time. That Vinyl is the only playback medium you should use; or worse yet, the audiophiles that think only class A solid-state is the only amplifier you should pay attention to.

I understand why people get in their ruts and think only one way is the best. If you ever spent a good amount of money and time trying to get a new technology to sound good in your system only to be disappointed in the outcome know the frustration. Most of us mere mortals can only absorb one or two bad decisions before returning to what we know works.

But in my opinion, there has been a classification of class D amplifiers that deserves everyone’s attention. GaN FET class D is on another level, in my opinion. Now that I have heard several of these new amplifiers, I can say with total confidence that this is what class D needed to be fully appreciated by mainstream audiophiles.

Orchard Audio , a company driven by a passion for technology and audio, was founded by Leonid (LEO) Ayzenshtat in 2017. Leo’s journey began with designing a sound system for his home, a system that was met with overwhelming love and appreciation from friends and family. The positive response sparked Leo’s decision to commercialize his products, focusing on streamer DACs with built-in preamplifiers and power amplifiers that utilize the groundbreaking and unique GaN FET technology.

Unlike most companies that opt for ready-made modules for the output sections of their amplifiers, Leo meticulously designed his own, ensuring that every component in this section met his stringent quality standards. Leo’s unwavering commitment to quality and control in amplifier design is a testament to his dedication to delivering a superior audio experience.

Leo says: Starlkrimson 150 watt and Starkrimson Ultra (500W ) audio amplifiers use my proprietary DC-coupled, fully balanced dual feedback modulator. This allows the amplifier to be completely balanced from input to output, using bridged GaN power stages”.

Orchard Audio’s modulator is an entirely analog circuit, distinguishing it from many of the class D amplifiers on the market that use FPGA, DSP, or other digital-based modulators. This high-quality modulator is then sent through the GaN FET output section, which has its own benefits.

Gallium Nitride FET devices switch 2-3 times faster than standard MosFets or Bipolar transistors. Switching at ~800kHz allows the use of a straightforward LC(inductor and capacitor) filter. Pushing the switching frequency up much higher than the music signal frequencies means that this switching distortion will not interfere with the treble reproduction like past silicon-based FET devices seemed to do in class D designs. That edgy, unrealistic treble reproduction from older class D amplifiers was due to this.

A couple of high-quality switching power supplies from Micro-Audio power all of this amplifier goodness. These new power supplies are built to Leo’s spec and significantly improve noise, and more capacitance can be added to the power supply for better dynamic performance. Another cool thing is that these new power supplies are specified to work from 95 to 265VAC. This means that there is no switch or anything else to do to make them work wherever they are located in the world. Just get the correct power cable, and the power supply will do the rest. Seeing how many people forget to check the voltage switch before plugging in their equipment makes this option well worth it!

Orchard Audio Starkrimson Ultra DMC 2.0 Power Amplifier

Our Starkrimson Ultra DMC 2.0 is a very high-powered amplifier, with 250 watts per channel at 8 ohms and 500 watts per channel at 4 ohms, doubling to 500 watts per channel at 4 ohms. While the Ultra DMC 2.0 is stable into 2 ohms, no power spec is given. This doubling of power as impedance drops generally shows that the power supply, filter capacitance, and output section are overbuilt.

The DMC label on this amplifier means Dual mono and upgraded capacitance. Dual mono – each channel’s power supplies and output section are separate. Upgraded capacitance – the Ultra DMC 2.0 has 87,200uF of filter capacitance, meaning there is a surplus of extra power for dynamic peaks, which helps keep this amplifier running cool and clean.

For people who want or need complete Monoblock amplifiers for their setups, Orchard Audio just released their new Starkrimson Mono Premium and Starkrimson Mono Ultra-Premium LPS amplifiers.

The Mono Premium uses a 1200-watt switching power supply with 43,600 uF while the Mono Ultra-Premium LPS uses a 1,000-watt toroidal-based linear power supply with 133,600uF of total capacitance. Leo says that these mono amplifiers have the same sound quality as the Ultra DMC 2.0 but with separate chassis for installations requiring it or for people who prefer mono power amplifers.

The front panel of the Starkrimson Ultra DMC 2.0 is simple: it has a center-mounted power button, an Orchard Audio label on the left, and its logo on the left side. The amplifier’s panels are built with high-quality aluminum, and the look is simple, clean, and functional. I appreciate this, as I believe this is partly why Leo’s amplifiers are a touch less expensive than others on the market.

Orchard Audio Starkrimson Ultra DMC 2.0 Power Amplifier back view

The back panel is equally simple, clean, and functional. There is a mains power IEC input, two balanced inputs (one for each channel), and speaker output binding posts. Pictured above is what my review sample came with(Dayton Audio BPFI-G). Orchard Audio also offers upgraded WBT 703-CU binding posts for a $300 upcharge. If I were purchasing this amplifier, I would pick the WBT posts, as I have worked with them previously and know their quality. The stock posts are too small for my Iconoclast speaker cable binding posts to fit into fully. I was able to get them to work, but the WBT posts would have fixed this issue.

For users wanting RCA connectors, Orchard Audio offers an upgrade option to allow an RCA to-balanced converter to be installed right into the amplifier’s back panel, allowing the use of RCA cables. This is a $250 option that gives purchasers options to either save money if they are using balanced or to allow added functionality for a small fee.

Performance and Sound

Connecting the Starkrimson Ultra DMC 2.0 to my system was about as easy as connecting any amplifier I have used. My Iconoclast XLR cables from my Hegel P20 preamp are connected to the inputs, and my Iconoclast speaker cable is connected to the binding post outputs.

The first thing I noticed with my first song played was just how quiet the background is on this amplifier—being a fully differential design with Leo taking extra steps to lower noise and distortion paid off. If you look at the tested specifications of the Starkrimson Ultra DMC 2.0, the test results for noise and distortion are awe-inspiring for any amplifier.

The harmonic distortion at a full 500 watts output is 0.08% 20 – 20kHz, which is lower than many amplifiers on the market at 1 watt! And at 10 watts 20Hz-20kHz, the distortion is almost nonexistent, 0.006% at 8 ohms! While I will never be a measurement-first type of audiophile, I cannot help but applaud these numbers.

When playing songs from Julian Lage’s 2024 album “Speak To Me,” I was surprised by the lack of background noise or noise floor. I heard a similarity in what I heard from my system with the Starkrimson DMC 2.0 and my Hegel P20 preamp. I have heard this preamp with several amplifiers and know its quality well. In fact, The Starkrimson is simply a polished window through which all your other components can play. If you have a favorite tube preamp like an ARC or BAT that you love, the Starkrimson will get out of the way and let the preamp shine.

The sound staging and imaging will only be limited by the other components in your system and the quality of your room and speaker placement. The outcome can be truly amazing if you have your ducks in a row with your room and system.

Listening to the well-recorded tracks on Julian Lage’s new album allowed me to hear the instrument’s tone and body. The stand-up bass had great energy and sounded natural. The drums had a natural acoustic tone that allowed the bodies of the drums themselves to show themselves. Cymbals had a natural attack and decay that allowed me to enjoy the drum work on this album fully. Julain always has a great, clean guitar tone in his albums, and my system with the Starkrimson Ultra DMC 2.0 allowed me to enjoy this thoroughly. It reminded me of my time with the Mola Mola Perca power amplifier last year, with its clean, low-distortion sound and seemingly endless power reserves.

When I spoke to Leo about the Starkrimson Ultra DMC 2.0, he said he designed his amplifiers to be as neutral as possible so that the end user can tune their system to their liking in places like the preamp or DAC. This allows better synergy with other components in the system because you do not have two or more sonic signatures that stray from neutral and could not work well together in the system.

The bass was tight, fast, and as detailed as the partnering components would let it be. The midrange was super clean, nicely liquid, and holographic. Instrument separation and placement were also excellent and allowed me to accurately hear where the player was on the stage and any overtones they had. The soundstage was as wide as the recording and partnering equipment allowed it to be and in my system spread well past the speakers in my room.

Deciding to rock out a bit, I changed to the great album by Swan Valley Heights, “The Heavy Seed. This German stoner rock psychedelic band has great music and is recorded well. I was running the PS Audio Airlens Denafrips Venus II DAC with the Hegel P20 preamp through the Starkrimson Ultra DMC 2.0, which proved to do this music as much justice as I have heard. Many of the class D amplifiers I have heard in past years fail to handle this music well. When turned up, the sound becomes harsh and overly etched. Not with the Starkrimson Ultra, this amplifier seemed to handle any hard-driving music I threw at it easily. This allowed me to fully appreciate what this new GaN FET technology brings to the audio world.

Comparisons

The main amplifiers I had on hand to compare directly were my reference Pass Labs X150.5 and the Heaven 11 Billie MkII. I will reference the Mola Mola Perca in this discussion as it is a recent review and is very similar in performance to the Starkrimson Ultra.

Comparing the Starkrimson Ultra DMC 2.0 to my Pass Labs X150.5, the Pass Labs is the harmonically richer of the two amplifiers. The lower midrange had more meat on its bones with music with low-tuned guitars or lower register string instruments. The Starkrimson Ultra, in contrast, was leaner and more neutral-focused. Depending on the music being played, the speakers being used, and my listening mood usually determined which I preferred at a given time.

With my reference open baffle speakers, both amplifiers sounded great in the midrange, with the Starkrimson getting the nod in accuracy and the Pass Labs in musicality and tone. Comparing the bass between these two amplifiers was very interesting. The Starkrimson Ultra had a death grip on the drivers and presented a linear bass with all the depth one could ask for. The Pass amplifier, in contrast, lost a little in ultra-deep bass but had better impact or slam.

The treble on both amplifiers was detailed, quite smooth and had great energy. The Starkrimson was the cooler sounding of the two in the treble but was not bright or etched. The Pass has always had a very natural-sounding treble that allows the music to flow. A technical listener might pick the Starkrimson for its treble detail, while others would pick the Pass for its slightly more natural attack and decay of instruments.

Imaging and soundstage reproduction was excellent on both amplifiers as the stage set behind the speakers was as deep as the recording allowed it to be. I would give the edge to the Pass for its ultra-deep stage, but the Starkrimson was not far behind. In the end, I think it would be more of a decision of listening preference regarding which amplifier would be more appropriate for you.

The Heaven 11 Billie MKII  integrated amplifier is a lower-priced tube hybrid integrated that blew me away with its ability at its price. With the Billie MKII, the bass was slightly more anemic than the Starkrimson Ultra. The bass still had great punch and detail and dug low but not to the level of the Starkrimson. The midrange is where things between these two amplifiers got interesting.

The Billie MKII has a very well-designed tube preamp that is lovely in the midrange. The instruments have great body and tone, the vocals are beautiful. The Billie injects that tube magic and gives the midrange that holographic effect that tubes are known for. The Starkrimson Ultra is not like that. It is super clean, explicitly detailed, and very transparent. No “harmonic liquidity” or anything else alters the sound. The output section of the Starkrimson Ultra is much more refined, being designed and built just for the Starkrimson line of amplifiers. This shows up in the refinement and effortless detail that this amplifier can produce.

As such, The Billie MKII, with its off-the-shelf ICE module, just cannot keep up with it. Both amplifiers produced good treble, but the Starkrimson had better sound intricacy and attack/decay characteristics. At times, I could hear the ICE module show itself in the treble response of the Billie MKII with that slight glare that silicon-based class D puts on the treble. For as good as the Billie MKII is as an all-in-one integrated amplifier, the Orchard Audio Starkrimson is the better amplifier in all respects. I think if you could match the excellent tube preamp section of the Billie MKII with the Starkrimsons power amplifier section, it would be a wonderful experience to hear. But it was not to happen, as the Billie had to return right before I got to that part of the Starkrimson review.

I mentioned before that I think that the Mola Mola Perca and the Starkrimson has a lot in common. They are both highly respected class D designs that focus on low noise and distortion with good power output. The Mola Mola Perca is over twice the price of the Starkrimson, and I did not have it here to make a direct A-to-B comparison, so I will refrain from trying to imagine it here. However, the ultra-clean and linear character of these two amplifiers is very similar, and I could see someone cross-shopping them even though their price is not in the same class. And I will say it this way: If it were my money, I would spend some time listening to these two before purchasing to see which one worked better in your system with your ears. Both are excellent amplifiers that share a lot of the same qualities.

Conclusion

I enjoyed talking to Leo and getting to know Orchard Audio as a company. They make great products that deliver more than their price would seem. Knowing that Leo took the added task of designing his own GaN FET class D modules instead of using prebuilt off-the-shelf amplifier modules speaks volumes of his dedication to his craft.

 Years ago, if you had asked my opinion of class D amplifiers, I would have said they are great for high-powered pro-sound or cheap desktop amplifier use but not true high-end audio. But in the last few years, I have seen research and development that has made this technology viable as a proper high-end amplifier solution. The new GaN FET technology allows class D to compete, if not perform better than classic designs using class A or A/B output sections.

Based off what I heard with the Orchard Audio Starkrimson Ultra DMC 2.0, I can wholeheartedly recommend anyone looking for a power amplifier in or around this price class give this amplifier a try. With Orchard Audio’s no-questions-asked 30-day trial period, there is no reason not to!

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, IconoclastGeneration 2 ETPC XLR cables and Gotham 4/1 RCA interconnects, Iconoclast BAV REL subwoofer cable

Orchard Audio.com

Succasunna, NJ 07876

Demo Room Location
176 Franklin Ave, Rockaway, NJ 07866

Call +1 (504) 233-3444

Price: $3,995.00

Specifications

Gain Balanced Input: 19.05dB
Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR): 120dB (A-weighted, 22kHz BW)
Residual Noise: 44.72uV (A-weighted, 22kHz BW)
THD* @ 10W: <0.0004% (-108dB) for 1kHz into 8Ω
THD @ 0.25W: <0.0016% for 20Hz – 20kHz into 8Ω
THD @ 10W: <0.0006% for 20Hz – 20kHz into 8Ω
THD @ 62.5W: <0.001% for 20Hz – 20kHz into 8Ω
THD @ 250W: <0.016% for 20Hz – 20kHz into 8Ω
THD @ 10W: <0.0005% (-106dB) for 1kHz into 4Ω
THD @ 0.25W: <0.0021% for 20Hz – 20kHz into 4Ω
THD @ 10W: <0.0007% for 20Hz – 20kHz into 4Ω
THD @ 125W: <0.0018% for 20Hz – 20kHz into 4Ω
THD @ 500W: <0.08% for 20Hz – 20kHz into 4Ω
SINAD** @ 5W 1kHz: 102.5dB into 16Ω
SINAD @ 5W 1kHz: 100dB into 8Ω
SINAD @ 5W 1kHz: 97dB into 4Ω

Frequency Response: DC – 80kHz+
Sensitivity Balanced Input: 5Vin for 250W into 8Ω
Sensitivity Balanced Input: 5Vin for 500W into 4Ω
Balanced Input Impedance: 44kΩ
Output Power (16Ω): 125WRMS (250WPEAK)
Output Power (8Ω): 250WRMS (500WPEAK)
Output Power (4Ω): 500WRMS (1000WPEAK)
Output Power (2Ω): 250WRMS (500WPEAK)
Damping Factor: >700 @ 1kHz
Module Size: 4.95″ (125.7mm) x 3.75″ (95.3mm) x 1.45″ (36.8mm)
Module Weight: 8.75oz (248g)
Power Supply Input Voltages (rev 3.0+ modules): +/-36V (+/-30 to 43.4V)
Power Supply Input Voltage (stereo/mono amp): 95 to 265VAC
Efficiency module (Rev 3.0): click here
Efficiency (stereo/mono amp): ~85%

*THD – Total Harmonic Distortion
**SINAD – Signal-To-Noise And Distortion Ratio

WHERE the MUSIC BEAT meets the AUDIOPHILE ELITE !

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