Line stage of the year
Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0
Constellation Audio makes exceptional products at exceptional prices, but unlike many brands that make a claim of ‘trickle down’ technology, Constellation actually lives by that goal. The technologies used in its Reference series helped create the Performance series, which in itself was the design jumping off point for the Inspiration line, like the £9,000 PreAmp 1.0. This is a line level preamplifier in a single box, but uses many of the circuits and components that made the two-box Altair II and Virgo II preamplifiers so well respected, at a fraction of the price. Most importantly though, it also retains a lot of the same sound quality characteristics of almost tube-like sweetness coupled with absolute precision and fantastic imaging. Best used with the matching Stereo 1.0 or Mono 1.0 amps and in fully balanced operation, this is, quite simply, one of the best preamps money can buy (Reviewed in Issue 130).
Power amplifier of the year
GamuT M250i mono power amplifier
The ‘Holy Grail’ of power amplifier design would be amps that combine abundant bandwidth, speed, subtlety, and nuance (properties normally associated with smaller amps), coupled with robust power and current drive capabilities, plus terrific grip and control (properties normally associated with larger amps). Sadly, most amps tend to exhibit one set of properties or the other, but not both at once. Happily, however, GamuT’s M250i monoblocks have proven to be the exception to the rule. Although they are very powerful (250Wpc @8 Ohms to 900Wpc @ 2 Ohms), the M250i’s are blessed with extremely simply, fully balanced circuitry (each amplifier uses just two giant NPN MOSFETs, applied in a very clever topology). Consequently, the big GamuTs exhibit exceptional agility, lightning fast transient speeds, and the sort of delicacy and purity typically associated with small Class A amps. In short, the M250i’s are amps for all seasons. (Reviewed in Issue 128).