April 20, 2010

Usher Reference 2.5s Power Amp

"Heave, ho!" Big E and me groaned as we hoisted the Usher Reference 2.5s power amp from his car and gingerly laid it down on a trolley. We then started the arduous journey of getting the monster amp into my listening room - first into a lift, then up a handful steps of stairs, then manoeuvring it into position in my tight room while making sure its sharp edges did not touch my loudspeakers, equipment rack, other equipment and last but not least our legs and feet. Phew! after this exercise, we vowed not to ask for another macho amp to play with again, and then there was the return trip to worry about.

But again, which audiophile guy can resist listening to a big amp in his own system?

Unfortunately, this CMY's demo unit did not come with a manual and I also could not find details of it on Usher's website. In any case, listing for Rm13,800, the R2.5s is a very well built piece of equipment. Fit and finish is absolutely exemplary, as attested by many products that come out from that Island of Asian manufacturing powerhouse called Taiwan. I forgot to note the exact weight of the R2.5s, but it'd be in the region of 50kg/110lbs, you do get a lot of material for the price you pay. At the back there are single-ended and balanced inputs, selectable via a switch. There are 2 pairs of loudspeaker outputs, the binding posts are chunky and quite a delight to use - they tighten easily and bite down on the speaker cable spades without turning loose easily. The front and back are also fitted with a pair each of grab handles, which ease the owner's effort to move the amp into position, without them, there was no way Big E and I could have handled the R2.5s at all.

It is a stereo power amp that gives out 250w of output per channel @8 ohms. There is also a switch to bridge the amp into mono for even higher power output. On its front, the words 'Ideal Class A' are printed under the model number. Since the r2.5s never ran as hot as my full class A Pass Labs XA60, I presume the big Usher is running in some sort of Class A/B scheme.

The big Usher made its presence felt easily. With my 60 watters, on some occasions I could feel that they were operating at the edge of the power range (though hardly tumbling over). With Usher's 250 watter, I never had this feeling at all. The big amp gave a sense of just cruising at ease all the time. Their grip on the music and on the loudspeaker cones was never in doubt. Usher's was always a well organized and well structured presentation. With music that has huge dynamic swings and high loudness level especially (Sheffield Lab's drum tracks and Manger's compilation CD for examples), the presentation was always 'stable', never turned unruly or noisy. The beats were done with precision, quite an experience for me and quite different from my Pass Labs XAs, the XAs' can be said to be more flow-y and organic or, more fuzzy rhythmically - whichever way you want to look at it and whichever way that tickles your fancies, they are both quite different in this regard.

Though the R2.5s is rated at 250watts, it does not lack the ability to be able to convey delicacy and minute details in the music. Details did not get glossed over. Atmosphere in recordings such as Shelby Lynne's 'Just a little lovin'" and 2v1g was well preserved and conveyed quite excellently.

Tonally, the R2.5s falls into the solid state camp, it is not a solid state amp trying to imitate tube. It has the virtues of solid state - focus, clarity, and the control and precision mentioned earlier. Its sound is just slightly lean without any excess fat, but with a little hint of warmth. It avoids the criticisms that could be levelled at poorly implemented solid state amps, such as hardness, harshness and shrillness. At times, I wanted the Usher to let its hair down just a little more, however I believe that was not its design brief, its performance was more the other way round, one where no one hair is out of place, always proper, so to speak.

The big Usher would not jump up, wave its hands and yell, 'look at me, look at me'. It just went about doing its job, doing what it could well and did not attract much attention to itself in the process. A trusty and reliable companion in music making, no less.

Usher is already well known for its loudspeakers range, but I see that they are branching off into the electronics area. They now have a CD player, integrated amps, and pre-power combos in their offerings. It is a growing company and one worth keeping an eye on. Coming up next in Hifi-Unlimited will be Usher's P307A pre-amp.

Watch this space.


maggielurva 愛美姬 said...
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Big E said...

If I may add a point or so, based on auditioning Odiosleuth's system with the Usher amp. From the pics, the amp doesn't look half as physically bulky as the actual item. Build quality of the Usher is first rate.

Sound wise, the Usher amp doesn't pretend to be what it's not. It sound very much solid state like. It doesn't quite achieve the low noise floor, refinement and naturalness of the Pass XA just yet, but at 1/3 the price, whose complaining.

The Usher is just as transparent and in fact has power to it's advantage and held the speaker cone's every movement with iron fisted grip. Transient and dynamics it's the Usher strong point too.

It's closest natural competitor is fellow Taiwan made Parasound A23, designed by John Curl of Mark Levinson JC-1 fame. If one is power shoping at that price level, should do well to audition both to which suits the intended system and taste more.

Audiophiles in Malaysia never had so much choice before. Rejoice!