When Constellation Audio first appeared at CES three years ago, I was not the only one to be taken aback by the quality and style of the casework. However, I was the first to say as much to the man who would eventually become the distributor for the brand in the UK. I am now very glad that I did so, because I got first ‘dibs’ on the product range. Not only do the Constellation products look better than any other high end audio component, they sound better than all of those that I have had the opportunity to hear at home. What’s more, I only have the Performance Series models, Constellation’s ‘entry level’ pre/power combo the Virgo and Centaur Stereo.
Constellation Audio is not your regular high-end company. It is more like a project to create the best audio components in the world... ever! This is an often the stated aim in this business, but it is usually based on the vision and skills of one or two engineers, Constellation took the unusual approach of commissioning a number of the top names in the audio engineering business and challenging them to come up with something above and beyond that which they had done in the past. The list of engineers in the so-called ‘dream team’ is pretty impressive and includes James Bongiorno (Dynaco), Keith Allsop (Audio Alchemy), John Curl (Vendetta, Parasound et al), Demian Martin (Spectral, Rockport, Nuforce), Bascom King (Marantz, PS Audio, conradjohnson) and Peter Madnick (Audio Alchemy). These are just the better known people involved with CA; the design team is 17 strong, which is not something you can say of the entire workforce in many high-end companies. The concept behind Constellation came from Murali Murugasu and David Payes from Continuum Audio, another company that thinks outside the box, who contacted Peter Madnick who pulled the project together in 2010.
The look of these extraordinary pieces is the work of Alex Rasmussen who works with the Neal Feay Company which produces the metalwork. The pictures you see on these pages give some idea of how beautiful the casework is but it’s another thing in the flesh. More like fabric than aluminium, the attention to detail is in another league; for instance, the way that a crease line tapers to flat is just sumptuous. The longer you spend with them the more detailing becomes apparent, to the point where the chassis parts on the side of the Virgo preamp join is a work of art in itself. This degree of precision would grace a fine watch and makes all other casework seem clunky and crude. I have to point out one more touch, it’s the way that the ventilation holes on the side of the Centaur are shifted out of alignment with holes in the plate underneath. This is particularly pleasing in the flesh, a real meeting of art and design enabled by precision engineering. The craftsmanship reminds me of Bugatti... and strangely enough the sense of speed that this combo can produce does too.