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red dragon audio
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi and a few words by Dave Clark
Coincidence? LEVIathan monoblock amplifiers …love the name, and the amps too. Frankly, this is only the second ICE powered amplifier, after the excellent Edge G8M digital amps, which I have really liked. At 1000-watts into 4 ohms and such a luscious elegant definition in the mids, the Leviathans sing a lovely melodious song and never, ever run out of juice. I did not expect such a high level of sophistication, but here it was in a solid value at $5995. They are certainly worth the money - particularly if you need the watts. Thankfully the Leviathans are smallest, lightest amps around with this kind of power.
They are lookers too. The wood framing and backlighting are very cool. They also sport some of the most solid input/output hardware I have ever seen. Being balanced-in only, an adapter will be necessary for single ended operation. [My experience with adapters is spotty so try before you buy if your system is single-ended—that is it features only RCA outputs.] The Leviathans are permanently on once connected and run very cool— there is no on-off switch. They need lots and lots of break-in…500+ hours. Mine were already broken in, but I did not sit down to seriously listen for 75 more hours. I used my best gear and ancillaries—meaning I only changed the amps. The wondrous Kubala-Sosna Emotion interconnects and AC cables, which were on the E.A.R. 890 tube amps prior, remained the cable of choice. No other changes were made.
I was amazed how such powerful amps were so well mannered and made my very revealing Avalon Eidolons make such beautiful music. My previous experience with this much power and the Avalons is a glassy or etched sound, especially heard on violins and horns. What I heard now with the Leviathans was just the opposite. Layers and layers of rich, sophisticated, even frothy definition in the midband with never, ever any etch or glare. Not the last word in definition or the ultimate in micro dynamics or accuracy, the amps just make great enjoyable music. I would say the Leviathans are more equidistant sonically between what one hears in the better tube and solid-state amplifiers of today. A great place to be for sure. Remember, you have 1000-watts by the leash and oodles of luscious sound to be enjoyed. Thankfully, the Leviathans are no magical sounding 60-watter that always runs out of gas just as the music gets dynamic!
More about the Mids
Voices are smooth and liquid; I loved any and all voices with the Leviathans. You get that “you are there” focus with a bit of candy hanging on every note. Again, maybe a bit too ripe or sweet for the purist, but you won’t care. High calorie reproduction is as lovely as high calorie eating! Not sure how Red Dragon got solid-state to sound like this. Might be a breakthrough! It sure is gorgeous to hear. You’ll hear very good depth and ambience as well as very good soundstaging. Not the biggest or best in those respects, but certainly quite notable. I liked the golden glow and suavely rounded tones of just about every note I heard. These amps caressed my ears. If you have fast, snappy, cutting-edge drivers in your speakers, the Leviathan is a must hear!
They sound somewhat soft and rolled off at the top-end. The specs say the amplifiers are flat to 35kHz with virtually no distortion, but my ears say they are polite on top and a bit golden. Cymbals, bells, and the like are a bit more bronze-like than they should be. I would expect them to be more silvery if the amps were really that accurate and extended. Overall, the Leviathans remind me of my tricked out Dynaco Stereo 70 in some ways: the amplifiers possess massively enjoyable mids with delicate and recessed highs. If you are a long suffering audiophile and are tired of crispy etched sound in your system, here’s the fix! You could call the highs romantic and forgiving. The Leviathans sound this way when they are putting out one watt or pumping out massive choruses. They are a nice break from over articulation and ear buzzing tweeters.
Endless bass…it’s digital and it’s powerful. I did find it a bit softer in that they do not quite reach the ultimate in focus; they are not as tight as I am used to with my reference amps. However, the Leviathans are excellent bass amplifiers. The bass almost blends seamlessly into the mids …I say almost, but one can just differentiate the two. There is though, lots of layering in the lowest octaves and this was quite natural and unforced. On the other hand, this is not fast bass—it was softer and lacked some degree of focus. The bass was rich like the mids and romantic as well. Still, the Leviathans rarely disappointed me regardless of the material. I found I did not need my subwoofer when using the Leviathans. The Avalons needed no reinforcement utilizing these powerhouse monoblocks. An easy recommendation for full range systems.
I ‘m almost at a lack of words here, for I hear an ever so slight coloration in the mids that lightly colorizes instruments. It’s like a rich delicate layer of fog - light tan in color—that shifts the timbres of a piano, harp, sax, or acoustic guitar just so. This shift makes them sound somewhat artificial… rather than like the actual instrument. I don’t want to over emphasize this coloration, but it was evident with all my sources. On the other hand, it did not detract from my musical enjoyment, though for me at least, it does disqualify the amps as a reviewing source. Even so, this lack of absolute neutrality will add to your musical enjoyment rather than detract from it—this is a euphonic glaze that is very appealing.
The Red Dragon Leviathans are powerful, musical, and portable with up to 1000-watts of luscious power to tap into with your music. They really tame a crispy, etched system and are unfailingly delightful to hear. Long listening sessions are truly complimented by these cutting edge digital amplifiers. Not the ultimate in accuracy or realism, they are astonishingly romantic with an all solid-state construction based around the new-ish ICE technology. They never run out of gas and should power up any speaker, no matter how inefficient. Plus, you can carry both monoblocks under one arm. Best used in a system that is balanced (XLR). Gorgeous to look at and hear, the Leviathans will mightily entertain you into the wee hours of the morning. An auspicious beginning for a brand new American manufacturer who obviously loves great music. Robert H. Levi
A few words by Dave Clark
I had my notes ready to compose my review of the Leviathans, but in reading and editing Bob's, well ...I see no reason to run a third full review that would pretty much mirror his. I mean, do you really want to read another few thousand or so words that basically just reiterate what he says above?!
Well, okay... but I got to say at least this much ...Bob hits it right on the head when he suggests that the Leviathans fall squarely in the middle of the better tubed and solid-state offerings. I would take that a bit further and say that the amplifiers remind me of the best SET amps around, but with many of their faults minimized to a great degree. Like an SET they are magical in the mids and are as smooth and svelte as anything around. The Leviathans offer WAY more slam and dynamics—can you say headroom?—than any SET. Heck they are 1000-watts! There is no sense of compression or limiting to what one can muster from their speakers. The only limiting factors are the speakers, your room, and of course your ears.
They change nadda the louder they go. What you get at soft is what you get at loud. You just get more of it louder.
These amps have a gorgeous sound and really get music across to the listener. No fatigue, grain, grit, glare ...nadda. Smooth and very refined. Sure, the Leviathans are more forgiving than most amplifiers, and yes there is that slight coloration Bob refers to (me thinks it to be an ICE artifact), but they are luscious as all get out. They will mate well with more upfront, analytical, in-your-face systems and such. These are amplifiers that one can forget about and enjoy for many an hour.
Bass is what he says: deep and powerful, but a tad less detailed and firm than my Claytons. There is less texture and slam at the bottom, but since most people do not have speakers that go down into the 20s... well, you wont' notice. Ditto treble ...softer and more subdued than that of an solid-state amplifier that tends to be harder or aggressive. No spot-lit treble balance here. All in all, these are nice. Very, very nice.
I would like to note that upon receiving the amps, I gave them a month or so of constant playing in a secondary system. By the time Bob and I reviewed them, they had at least 500 to 700 hours of playing time beyond what Karl Lozier had on them. In re-reading what Karl wrote in his review, many of his reservations and faults may be related to their need for such an extended period of time, as none of those raised their little heads in either of our listening experiences.
The amplifier do ship with XLR/RCA adaptors, run a bit warm, and look stellar in a darkened room. Highly recommended.
Red Dragon Audio