A Sweet-sounding Bargain: the Margules Audio ACRH 1.2 Hybrid Integrated Amp
I am an unabashed fan of products that deliver a consistently high return in performance for money spent. The Magenta ADE 24.1, an all-analog harmonic sweetener made by Mexico City-based Magules Audio, is one of these—in my opinion one of the greatest values in the hi-fi marketplace.
Recently I’ve enjoyed an extended test drive of the company’s ACRH 1.2 hybrid integrated amplifier. With five line-level inputs (including tape loop), unity-gain valve buffer stage (two 12AU7s) and motorized volume control, the amp is capable of 90 watts per channel from its solid-state output stage, said to benefit from an “optimizing” bias scheme intended to avoid both distortion and overheating.
Design, construction and operation are all from the straightforward, no-frills school. The back panel sports a row of gold-plated RCA connectors, a mains connector for detachable power cord, and an on/off switch. The curved front panel has a power-on switch, input selector, hefty volume control knob, and illuminated input indicators. Simple, elegant, utilitarian.
POWER OUTPUT: 90 wpc into 8 ohms, 120/ch into 4 ohms | FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 5-40 kHz | MAX THD: 0.05% | S/N RATIO: >80 db | TOTAL NOISE: <0.5mv | MAX POWER CONSUMPTION: 220 w PRE-AMPLIFIER FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 4-80kHz | NOISE: <0.1mv | GAIN: 1db
That’s it—no phono stage, no balance control, and no headphone output jack. This last omission is one that will be sorely missed by those with a penchant for late-night private listening sessions, but isn’t one that affected my enjoyment. The diminutive remote control is likewise minimalist—power on/off, input select, mute, and volume up/down. When powered down, the ACRH remains in a ready state. When turned on, it springs to life immediately rather than needing a couple minutes warm-up time for the tubes.
The ACRH 1.2 lives in my bedroom system, driving either a pair of rebuilt 20-year-old Duntech Marquis loudspeakers or a pair of Silverline Audio SR-17 mini-monitors on 28” stands, flanking a Sharp Aquous 52” LCD. (Yes, I like to watch TV and movies while lying about.) Interconnects and speaker cabling in this system are all generic, nothing fancy. The unit’s pre-out feature enables use of external amplifiers, and its inboard stereo amp can be bridged for use in high-power (270 watts) mono mode.
While its specifications are far from cutting-edge (signal-to-noise is rated at a mere 80dB, probably due to the valve circuitry), the sonic performance of the ACRH is a welcome improvement over that of the Sony receiver that it replaced, which despite a higher power rating, comes off too crisp and edgy by comparison. The ACRH 1.2 is warm and sweet with a hint of lushness that’s just this side of soft; bass is satisfyingly punchy without the bottomless quality of exotic super amps; sound-staging capability yields plausible sonic depth without eliciting any epiphanies.
Reliability is also a paramount consideration, and here the Margules amp is a standout. My review sample of the ACRH 1.2 worked perfectly day after day for many months. Its overall sound quality recalls classic-era Marantz and Mcintosh with a strong element of 1970s-‘80s Yamaha—in other words, realistic but romantic, seductive enough to encourage long, fatigue-free listening sessions, and like an inexpensive but fun-to-drive car, good-looking enough to prompt a bit of reverse-snobbery pride of ownership. It’s both punchy enough for the Black-Eyed Peas, and sweet enough to render Kathleen Battle in her transcendent glory.
"The ACRH 1.2 is the ideal companion for any loudspeaker with inherent edginess or glare, the perfect counterbalance to speakers tending toward shrillness."
The ACRH 1.2 is the ideal companion for any loudspeaker with inherent edginess or glare, the perfect counterbalance to speakers tending toward shrillness. And its comparatively soft bass impact makes it not a dance partner for loudspeakers given to bass bloat. Ideal loudspeakers for the ACRH 1.2 are those with a hint of leanness in the bottom end and a bit too much bite on top—a description of many mid-priced speakers on the market today. In fact, the Margules is a great partner for dozens of current loudspeakers at a wide variety of price points.
Designed with music lovers in mind, the ACRH 1.2 should serve nicely and durably as the heart of many real-world/real-budget audio systems. It does everything right without editorializing or drawing unwarranted attention to itself. If your audio goal is warm seductive music that you can enjoy for days on end, look no further. US retail price is $2199, equal to that of home-theater receivers with every feature on earth, but far below the typical price of audiophile amplification.
For more info, see http://www.margules.com/
~ Barry Willis