Ryan Hill is the sort of smart guy that makes you feel smarter. When he explains concepts, he does so in a way that bridges the gap between his virtuosity and one’s own limited general knowledge.
Despite having a PhD in chemistry, Ryan has tinkered with HiFi for years – “I probably should have done electrical,” he says. Ryan started off his audio ‘career’ building DIY tube and solid-state amps, leading to him modifying his Krell monoblocks to drive his (notoriously difficult) Apogee Scintillas. Something about Zener diodes and current sources…
Being a scientist, digital amplification initially appealed to him – mainly since the ability to drive difficult loads was offered, but early generation Class D implementations never sounded right, according to Ryan. “Even though they claimed low impedance stability – something that later generation amps lost – the early Class D amps sounded clinical to me,” he explains.
Ryan’s attention was piqued when Ice Power – the Danish Class D innovator – released its 1200AS2 modules. Aside from monstrous output power specs and latest-gen performance, the OEM modules promised the ability to drive low impedance loads, making them a potential partner for the Apogees.
Fast forward a couple of years of tweaking – building massive linear power supplies before deciding that a switch mode power supply performed as well, and literally scrutinising every component to find better replacements, the Magellan Audio brand and its first product –the Fortissimo amplifier – was born.
The Fortissimo’s enhancements don’t stop at its power supply. This is far from another Ice Power implementation in a pretty chassis. Ryan Hill has developed patentable innovations to reduce intermodulation, phase and total harmonic distortions, thereby enhancing the audio quality. Other than describing these refinements as passive circuits and giving an overview of how the cooling requirements are met (a clever T-shaped heatsink), Ryan is justifiably tight-lipped.
The Fortissimo is a sleek low profile black box. The dimensions are classically elegant, and fit and finish is superb, but it is not going to win any awards for design innovation. Even the green LED on the front panel is just, well, normal. The front fascia is reassuringly thick, though, with engraved branding giving the whole thing an understated quality appeal.
The Magellan Audio amp features fully balanced inputs, as well as single ended RCAs. A small rocker switch at the left rear of the amp controls power, and the stainless steal rear plate is laser etched, which reinforces the Fortissimo’s appeal.
Unlike many other digital amps, the Magellan is weightily substantial, and interestingly seems to feel a little warmer than a digital amp generally runs, supporting its maker’s claim that there is more happening under the hood.
Indeed, it seemed that the amp needs some heat to perform its best – at least 30 minutes warm up according to its designer. On power up the Fortissimo sounds a bit recessed, smoothing over detail. Time to make a coffee and answer some emails before you start listening.
One thing is guaranteed, though – from the very first note you hear through a warm Fortissimo, you won’t be able to focus on anything but the music. A deep, spacious soundstage, honey-filled tonal balance, with a sense of space around instruments that makes one want to reach out and stroke each one – this is about as far from clinical as we have heard.
Despite worries that this wouldn’t be the case (the Tannoys are very different to Scintillas), the Magellan Audio amp relished our Royal Westminster SEs. The system sounded organic, controlled, three dimensional.
Switching back to our reference Firstwatt F5 revealed slightly more detail, body and weight, but less of that sumptuous dimensionality. Possible more ‘real’, but at the expense of the trippy musicality that enables the Fortissimo to transport its listener.
The Magellan Audio Fortissimo may not be perfect, but it has that ‘something’ that makes a product very special. It is powerful and stable enough to drive virtually any speaker, and considering its price point, has the most astounding of qualities. For those music lovers looking for an utterly enjoyable, fuss free powerhouse, we recommend this product unreservedly.
Eerily spacious presentation, sweet tonal balance and immense power. In many ways a dream amplifier. Solid build belies the fact that it is a local manufacturer’s first product.
Not the most adventurous of designs.
How can we justify spending megabucks on amps now?
Price as reviewed: R80 000
For more information contact Ryan Hill – 083 325 6017
The review sample was provided by Magellan Audio and reviewed in the context of the AVInside reference system.
Frequency response:10Hz–20kHz ±0.5dB, 10Hz–45kHz +0.1dB, -3.0dB
Output power: 600W into 8 ohms, 1200W into 4 ohms
Signal to noise: > 112dB, 1kHz@1200 watts
Input impedance: single-ended, 50k ohms; balanced, 100k ohms
Output impedance: <0.007 ohms, 50Hz, 2.8Vrms
Damping factor: >550 at 50Hz, 2.8Vrms, 4 ohms; >1100, 8 ohms
THD: <0.005% (1kHz, 1W, 4 ohms); <0.02% (1kHz, 150W, 4 ohms).
Inputs: RCA (unbalanced), XLR (balanced)
Outputs: Copper-base nickel-plated binding posts