Let’s get the headline story out the way first. This Constellation Audio Hercules II stereo amplifier from the company’s Reference Class is the best amplifier I have ever heard, and by a significant margin. OK, at £85,000 it’s also one of the most expensive, too. But, I have had a lot of experience with audio’s top table, and the Hercules II pushes ‘best’ to new levels.
That ‘best’ part also extends to the finish, which is something people have commented on from the first days of Constellation Audio. The aluminium casework of this amplifier is so far beyond the norm, comparisons are meaningless. Exemplary doesn’t even get close. The finish almost looks like it has been plastic coating or painted until you get up close and really look at it and especially run your hand across the finish. It is simply without parallel.
As distinct from the original Hercules, the Constellation Audio Hercules II comes in stereo and mono form, but you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart from the inside or out, save for the second set of RCA phono, XLR balanced, and XLR direct connections at the bottom of the rear plate (the mono amp uses the second set of multi-way loudspeaker terminals for bi-wiring). Naturally, this kind of amp requires a beefier-than-usual 20A IEC termina
Constellation Audio followers might note there is a fairly big difference between Hercules and Hercules II. The original was an upright monoblock chassis, looking rather like a pair of tower computers, where the newer models – stereo, and mono – are more conventional power-amp shaped devices. This was one of the reasons for the change from Hercules to Hercules II – the original towers look great, but a single tower between the loudspeakers didn’t have the same appeal, so a more conventional stereo design was mooted. This design demanded a very different layout, and it was decided to apply the same form factor to the revised monoblock amplifiers, in the process making them more powerful. And they are powerful: the Hercules II stereo tested here delivers an impressive 550W into eight ohms, where the new mono amplifier delivers a mighty 1,100W into the same load.
However, the basic circuit of the original Hercules remains the same in the Hercules II, even though there is no such thing as a ‘basic’ circuit on a Constellation device. In fact, the circuit is more like a ‘greatest hits’ of all the things you’d want from an amplifier circuit, with the best components that were made for an amplifier of its kind (irrespective of price or current availability), designed and built by a ‘dream team’ of the finest amplifier engineers the world has ever seen. And, unlike other ‘greatest hits’, it doesn’t come with half an album full of ‘filler’ tracks.