Constellation Performance Centaur II 500 power amplifier Page 2

Regarding the Centaur II 500's reproduction of low frequencies, even when the speaker had relatively limited extension—such as the Dynaudio Special Forty stand-mount I reviewed in September 2018—there was a surprisingly satisfying combination of weight and control. For example, when Jaco Pastorius drops down to a detuned low F and C at the start of "Overture—Cotton Avenue," from Joni Mitchell's Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (AIFF file, 24-bit/192kHz needle drop from LP, Asylum K63003), I didn't feel I was missing too much music with the Dynaudios. (And yes, I know—no one but a reviewer is going to use a $55k amplifier with $3k speakers.) And the dynamics were, as you might expect from a 500Wpc amplifier, superb. The timpani blows before the gong that introduces the coda in the Rachmaninoff's final movement rocked me back in my chair. (This was not with the small Dynaudios, of course, but with Tidal Audio's full-range Akira speakers, which I'll review next month.)

918conste.ins.jpg

One aspect of the time I spent with the Constellation puzzled me: Its sound varied more than I'm accustomed to. Yes, as Steve Guttenberg wrote in our August issue, it's not uncommon for a system that makes music magic one evening to suffer the blahs the next. Even so, the Centaur II 500 seemed more prone to this phenomenon than the other amplifiers I've been using recently. Which brings me to . . .

Comparisons
The Constellation Performance Centaur II 500 replaced the Lamm Industries M1.2 Reference monoblock amplifiers, which I reviewed in April 2012 and which had proved a synergistic partner to the Wilson speakers. Still, the Wilsons' high sensitivity revealed that the Lamms had become noisier than when I'd reviewed them, perhaps due to their input tubes aging. The Lamms cost $32,490/pair and combine a tubed front end with a conventional push-pull MOSFET output stage to produce a maximum output of 110W into 8 ohms. The Lamms are almost 6dB more sensitive than the Constellation, so when comparing the amplifiers I took care to match their levels to within 0.1dB, using the volume control of my PS Audio PerfectWave DirectStream DAC.

918conste.ins2.jpg

The Lamms had a more robust, less delicate sound than the Constellation. In "Overture—Cotton Avenue," Joni Mitchell's voice projected slightly more to the front of the soundstage, and had a little more richness in the midrange. In the Rachmaninoff symphony, the Constellation had a bit more top-octave "air" around instruments, but rather less bloom in the upper bass. With the rolled bass-drum figure at the end of the Rachmaninoff's final movement, the Performance Centaur II 500 definitely had a tighter grip on the woofers than did the M1.2s. When it came to imaging, though I'd always found the Lamm monoblocks to be imaging champs, the two-channel Constellation threw a little more soundstage depth.

918conste.ins3.jpg

For example: At the start of the second movement of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra's recording of Beethoven's Symphony 7, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (24/96 ALAC, SFS Media), the violas, cellos, and double basses introduce the riff that underlies the movement. With the Lamms, the images of the groups of instruments are apparent, but the violas blend into the cellos a little; with the Constellation, the view into the soundstage was a little more clear, and more of the hall acoustic was audible.

The Bricasti Design M15 power amplifier, which Jason Victor Serinus reviewed in July 2018, was still around when I received the Constellation, so I spent a weekend comparing the two amps with the Wilson speakers, again with levels matched. The M15 costs $18,000, has a push-pull output stage using bipolar transistors, and offers 125Wpc into 8 ohms. The Bricasti's low frequencies had a bit too much bloom compared with the Lamms, and even more in comparison with the Constellation, though the richness the M15 added to the cellos and double basses in the San Francisco Symphony's recording of Beethoven's Symphony 7 was enjoyable.

The M15's top octaves were very smooth—the violins in the Beethoven sounded a little sweeter than through the Centaur II 500—but again, the Constellation amplifier presented a cleaner view into the recorded soundstage. If the Bricasti's sonic signature is reminiscent of the Mark Levinson amplifiers of the 1990s—mellow, with a big bass, but somewhat lacking in pace, rhythm, and timing (footnote 2)—the Constellation's was more like the Krells of that era: clean, clear, with superb low-frequency control.

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My new torture track for revealing any problems a product might have dealing with low frequencies at high powers is "#thatpower," featuring Justin Bieber, from Will.i.am's #willpower (16/44.1 FLAC MQA, Interscope). The Bricasti reproduced the sampled kick drum with more upper bass than did the Lamms or the Constellation. Peak levels reached 98.6dB (measured with the Studio Six Digital SPL Meter app on my iPhone 6S, with C weighting and slow ballistics). When, on the line "I'll take you higher," the bass line drops to the subdominant, the Centaur II 500 sounded a little less "phatt" than the M1.2s, and even less so than the M15, to the benefit of the music's clarity. The sampled snare drum in this track inherently sounds coarse, but the Centaur II 500 had less of a cack-cack quality than either the Bricasti or the Lamms. Winner on points? The Constellation.

Conclusions
Constellation Audio's Performance Centaur II 500 is one of the best-sounding amplifiers I have auditioned in my system. It offers high power, excellent low-frequency control, and clean, clear high frequencies. The accuracy and stability of its stereo imaging are to die for, coupled with a superbly transparent view into the soundstage.

And it is very expensive. I fear I must leave it to you, dear reader, to decide if it is too expensive.



Footnote 2: I will never forget visiting UK reviewer Martin Colloms in the early 1990s. Like me, he was using Wilson WATT3 speakers and Puppy2 woofers. However, while I had a Mark Levinson No.23.5 amplifier at that time, Martin was using, if I remember correctly, all Naim amplification. While my system was optimized for soundstage reproduction at the expense of rather lazy low frequencies, such was the sense of drive from Martin's system that it had me groping for my asthma inhaler!
COMPANY INFO
Constellation Audio
Suite 1, Level 6, 580 Street, Kilda Road
Melbourne, Vic 3004
Australia
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

"Centaur" .......... Buck 65 :-) .........

georgehifi's picture

This amp far from doubles it power which the maker wants you to belive, in fact it actually goes backwards in the 2ohms!!!

Published
500Wpc 8 ohms
1000Wpc 4 ohms
1600Wpc 2 ohms

Actual
550Wpc 8 ohms
880Wpc 4 ohms
700Wpc 2 ohms

When are amp manufacturers going to wake up and tell the truth.

Cheers George

dalethorn's picture

There must be something skewing that 2-ohms number, since the lower resistance/impedance should increase the wattage. I wonder what that something is.

slcaudiophile's picture

agreed ... i was shocked when i read that too. but i guess at the same time, who needs 500 Watts anymore? but i agree, manufactures should always be conservative with power ratings.

Anton's picture

Anybody remember the Chord SPM 14000 Ultimate monoblock power amplifier?

https://www.stereophile.com/solidpoweramps/306chord/index.html

"Accurate performance specs? We don't need no accurate performance specs."

_

"And you may ask yourself, well how did I get here?"

Same as it ever was.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It is not like 3 strikes .......... One measurement was (close to) a hit (for Constellation) :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Think about this ......... When the new Centaur III comes out this one can be sold for 1/3rd the original price in the used market :-) ..........

dalethorn's picture

"The diamond dogs are poachers and they hide behind trees...."

And this amp will sell for double its original price, as a heater on cold winter nights in the post-apocalyptic city.

allhifi's picture

The internal layout is atrocious; with such haphazard wiring running wildly this way and that, two things become alarmingly clear:

1) QC is non-existent
2) no two amps from this laughable, but sad company will sound the same as a result.

If 'Constipation' products even 'last' 5-years I'd be surprised, as I would if it retained 10% of its original value over the same time frame.

What an ugly joke of an amp/company.

pj

Ortofan's picture

...which costs only $9K for a pair of monoblocks.
https://www.stereophile.com/content/parasound-halo-jc-1-monoblock-power-amplifier-measurements

Published
400W 8 ohms
800W 4 ohms
1200W 2 ohms

Actual
586W 8 ohms
1154W 4 ohms
2255W 2 ohms
(4200W 1 ohm)

Also, for $55K, you'd think that Constellation could do a better job than this rat's nest of wiring:
https://www.stereophile.com/images/918conste.ins.jpg

Anton's picture

I have it on good authority from a fellow local Hi Fi Club member that if it costs more, it must be better.

That trumps Parasound, soundly.

;-D

Bogolu Haranath's picture

All those internal wires are cryogenically treated with a "secret sauce" ........... So, they acquire all that musicality ......... It is a very expensive process, and hence the enormous total price tag :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If we match-up the recently reviewed $45,000 CD player with this amp, the sound is sure gonna be "heavenly" :-) ............

Ortofan's picture

... your local Hi-Fi Club member.
From their Reference series product line comes the Hercules II stereo amp. Priced at $90,000, it must be almost twice as good as the Centaur II 500.
https://www.constellationaudio.com/reference/hercules-ii-stereo
http://www.theaudiobeat.com/ces2014/ces2014_constellation.htm

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Hercules II does not weigh 300 pounds ......... So, it can't be twice as good :-) ............

Ortofan's picture

... the 355 lb. Boulder 3060:
http://boulderamp.com/products/3060-stereo-power-amplifier/

georgehifi's picture

Not if the current's not up to it, either the powersupply or output stage.

Cheers George

ok's picture

any amplifier equipped with "some" 3000w power transformer could ever provide continuous output of 1600w simultaneously per channel – or anything close for that matter since there is always more to be stably fed in a power amp than merely output transistors. Curious thing is that Constellation Hercules II stereo amplifier that sports twice the aforementioned transformer and presumably larger output stages comes along with more conservative specifications which most probably will be exceeded by the actual measurements at the test bench.

tonykaz's picture

doesn't that phrase have to do with a "Bubble-Gum" daughter of a "Captain of Industry" describing the desirability of a $5,000 Fendi Purse?

Isn't our age group already too close to Oakwood Cemetery's Waiting List to consider our next Amp as one to "die for" ? Phew, maybe I should hunt down a vintage conrad-johnson MV-45a whilst hoping for another 3 Decades.

or

maybe we should consider this Amp's imaging as something: To Live For !!!

Dear Editor JA,

Your wonderful yet quirky reviewing twins have discovered 16 ohm output resistors. It seems that Nelson Pass has been informing your Staff. Steve & Herb are "to live for" .

Tony in Michigan

dalethorn's picture

No, it has to do with the hypocrisy of selling expensive gear and then decrying others who also like to enjoy the finer things of life.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

They tried twice and still couldn't get the measurements right ......... Let us wait another year or two and they may come out with Centaur III with better measurements :-) ...........

dalethorn's picture

Maybe we're missing the real quality here, blinded by "measurement". For example, what if the amp has a secret technology that reduces the power value in direct proportion to how it produces a purer cleaner more musical signal, but does so in such a way that the sense of dynamics is even more breathtaking than indicated in the review? That, or I just wrote the best ad copy this year.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Constellation Audio thanks you for your support and free promotion. Centaur III is gonna be even better (sounding). They want repeat buyers :-) ..........

Anton's picture

Perhaps we are simply seeing the current paradigm of making up "alternative facts" and people being OK with that, and it's leaking into Hi Fi.

Constellation should call it a 2,000 watt per channel amp, the most powerful amplifier, ever. It is such a winning amp that audiophiles will get tired from all the sonic winning it does?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Thank you JA for the measurements .......... Stereophile is the only hi-end magazine providing comprehensive measurements for audio equipment (so far) :-) ............

Axiom05's picture

A $55K amp and they can't warrant it for more than 3 years? Bryston gives a 20 year warranty, should be an industry standard.

tonykaz's picture

... Schiit outfit in California that makes all their gear in the USA! Phew!!

Tony in Michigan

ps. Zippo lighters all have a "Lifetime" warranty ( for gods sake ) and they seem to appreciate in Value as they get older.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Those lighter guys know that those smokers don't live for long ......... So, no problem :-) ............

dalethorn's picture

I think Koss has a lifetime warranty on their headphones, and the plan seems to be that you eventually get tired of sending them in and just buy a replacement.

dalethorn's picture

Here the longest person who ever lived (to 122) smoked until she was 117. The reason she lived so long smoking is because she smoked Centaur cigarettes (rebranded Chesterfields actually), although due to copyright issues, Guinness doesn't mention the brand.

http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/oldest-person

Herb Reichert's picture

In the 1990s, when I represented Kondo/AN Japan, their amps came with a lifetime parts and labor warranty - except tubes. We usually sold these amps with a back up set of NOS tubes. After 20 years, most owners have not touched the back up tubes.

steverman's picture

I wonder if those making the remarks have actually heard this amp. I heard it at a friends place and it sounded absolutely sublime. It didn't run hot actually. I thought it sounded like a Class A amp, but it never got hot. He was using it with a tube preamp, but it was the best amp I have heard at his home, and he's owned alot!

Anton's picture

It may sound great, so why lie?

allhifi's picture

I can't imagine I haven't replied to this abomination of a high-school tech project gone bad.

Constellation 'hack's' (including "supporter's" Harley & company) have absolutely no shame, dignity, design/construction capability, honesty, any sense of minimum quality standards nor craftsmanship, whatsoever.

This beyond laughable POS high-school failure of an excuse design- construction project is an unmistakable, unfathomable rip-off "project" that surely must have been designed as a joke to do nothing but 'poke-fun' at anyone who either raves of its "quality" -or god forbid, purchases it.

It's a piece-of-junk. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Comparing it to 'Lamm', 'Levinson', SimAudio, etc. should be detested by all readers and/or listener's who value engineering 'chops' and precision manufacture -both of which 'Crapellation' fails miserably. And shamelessly.

Unconscionable. UGLY. Figuratively. Literally.

pj

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