It is nice to see that there are a few U.S.A. companies still building high-end amplifiers. Recently I auditioned a nice sounding amp, made in the Pacific Northwest by AudioControl. As I discovered, the five-channel Pantages is a great choice for studios, post facilities and broadcast facilities that need a high quality, multichannel amp that produces high power, high current, but yet produces a fraction of the heat of traditional amps.
Product PointsApplications: Post production, studio, broadcast
Key Features: Five-channel; Class H; 200 watts per channel; balanced or unbalanced input, front panel display, 12V trigger
Price: $2,499 ($20 extra for rack handles)
Contact: AudioControl at 425-775-8461, Web Site.
Abargain at $2,499, the audiophile/videophile- originated Pantages is a compact five-channel amp that kicks out 200 watts per channel across all five channels. But with its optional rack handles ($20 for a set) and balanced connectors, it is perfect for pro use.
The amp is pretty cool looking with its dim blue fluorescent front panel that indicates relative gain of each of the channels. The display and standby switches are on the front panel’s left side, Around back, the amp offers up five pairs of speaker output connectors, five RCA unbalanced and five balanced XLR input connections. The Pantages is remote triggerable via a 12V connection on the rear.
The heart of the amp is its Class H power supply design that is said to offer only the power that is demanded up to its peak output — without wasting a lot of power as heat as the Class A/AB designs are prone. As a result of the heat, high-powered conventional Class A/AB amps also need more careful consideration for mounting.
There is still quite a bit of affection that high-end pros and audiophiles have for the “hotter” running conventional amps. They consider the switching power supply amps to be drier and thinner sounding than Class A/AB amps.
AudioControl President Tom Walker said that his engineers designed the Pantages so that its rail voltage to the MOSFET output stage is maintained as high as possible to avoid the “thin, dry sound,” but yet give the Class H efficiency and low-heat output that end-users want.
I put the Pantages in my main reference system and used it to play stereo and 5.1 high-resolution audio recordings. The amp was used to power two Legacy Class II tower speakers, a Legacy Silver Screen center channel and two Legacy Studios for the surround speakers. Preamps included my Legacy High Current stereo preamp, an AudioControl Maestro 5.1 preamp, a BelCanto Pre6 multichannel preamp and an RE Designs SCPA-1. Cables included Kimber Cable interconnects and speaker cables. Sources included an Esoteric DV-50 universal player, a Sony SCD-XA9000ES SACD player.
Through a variety of source material, including my own acoustic guitar stereo DVD-As, as well as a number of multichannel SACDs and DVD-As, I found the AudioControl Pantages to be a very neutral sounding amp with no dry, harsh characteristic that I have heard in lesser Class H amps. It powered the Legacy speakers without strain to incredibly loud levels, and its sound had the fidelity, resolution and most of the smoothness of my Bryston — even at high power levels. With the chosen speaker system, the transient response with SACD and high-bit rate PCM was outstanding with trumpets, trombones and cymbals being reproduced with just the right sheen, but with no ear grit
While listening to one of my reference SACDs, Steve Davis’ Quality of Silence recorded by Tom Jung on his DMP label, I listened for the extra degree of realism on piano that I usually can hear when the player is playing single notes on the instrument’s upper register. Most good amps, including my Bryston and my Pass X-250 do a great job of bringing out that characteristic. The Pantages, again, did a fine job there as well.
My only complaints with the Pantages were the annoying, clearly audible, startup and turn off thumps when switching the amp on or off. According to AudioControl’s Walker, there is no thump when switching off and on remotely via the 12V trigger. The other quibble is that rack ears should come standard and not as an option.
If your surround production/post production studio needs a high performance, compact, cool-running multichannel amp with ample power for a variety of room sizes, the AudioControl Pantages is one to consider. I am impressed that a switching power supply amp can sound so good.