The Digital Amplifier Company Cherry Plus Amplifier

                                       

                 

               

             

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Listening to Nina Simone's rendition of Wild is the Wind proved as natural and emotionally exhilarating as I've heard from an amplifier as affordable as the Cherry Plus. Yeah, I've heard plenty of big rigs do this song justice, but very seldom have I heard a system at this price point provide such honors. For me, the Cherry Plus represents the perfect reason why Class D (that is, well designed and well implemented Class D) will one day become the rule for high-end amplification — rather than the exception.

What the Cherry Plus adds in body is worth further exploration. No matter the song or genre, whether instrumental or vocal, there is a sense of presence and weight that's palpable. As I've done in the past, I decided to take the unit on the road and see if this quality is noticeable with different loudspeakers and in direct comparisons with other Class D amplifiers.
On one of my usual listening sessions at an audiophile friend's home in West Orange, NJ, I asked if I might bring the Cherry Plus with me. This friend's system consists of a pair of Ascendo C8 loudspeakers (that I am still a big fan of) and a well-known Class D amplifier that will remain anonymous to protect the innocent. Accompanying me on this outing were two of today's most serious jazz drummers, Billy Drummond and Alvester Garnett. Both are accomplished in their craft as well as being serious audiophiles. Alvester is a long-time contributor to The Stereo Times, when his schedule allows. Billy has three systems in his home and when not on the road making music, he's usually home listening to it. These guys are exceptions to the old platitude that 'most professional musicians have poor sound systems.' Their systems are very good and they both take their equipment seriously.

In West Orange, after a good serving of steak and veggies, and of course a loooong discussion about jazz, we finally got around to some listening (when you've the chance to talk jazz with musicians who played and recorded with legends like Sonny Rollins, J.J Johnson, Joe Henderson, Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln to name but a few, there's never enough time!). The system here sounded really good, but that's to be expected considering that Ascendo C8s have stolen the show each and every time I've heard them. The music room is also the living room, so by no means is it a dedicated space. Fortunately, this gentleman's wife is also a music lover and as a result the living room is somewhat subordinated to the music system, the furniture being arrayed around the stereo. I was really enjoying the music and the company of audiophile friends who just happen to make their living making the music we were listening to: the beautiful African song Kothbiro, from Regina Carter's latest CD, Reverse Thread. This CD features Alvester on drums and percussions, and we chose it for A/B comparison of the two amplifiers.

In a matter of minutes the system was up and running with the Cherry Plus. We hit the play button and immediately the sense of body and richness emerged from the stereo. I was a bit surprised by this and thought, "Wow, this is similar to what I heard on my rig as well."

The other amplifier certainly did not call attention to itself, but the Cherry Plus produced a noticeable change in the bass. To my ears, for the better. But with this particular setup, the bass felt perhaps a little too prominent and maybe slightly overbearing. Me, I welcomed it with open arms because it brought a certain amount of life to this wonderfully delicate and heartfelt song. Regina Carter's violin, to me, had more of that resonant nuance, life and percussive snap I heard in my own system. The focus of this song was centered more along the midrange and mid-bass with the Cherry Plus. With the other amp, there was a sense of even-handedness that was nice but felt somewhat flat and uneventful. In the end, I guess the overall verdict was everyone really enjoyed the sound of the Cherry Plus, but ultimately could live with either amplifier. For me, however, the added body and harmonic richness would have sent me reeling and on a mission trying to figure out what was it about the Cherry Plus that made it sound that way. Make no bones about it, that's my sound! Just the way I am, I guess. Different strokes for different folks, as they say.

I know what the Cherry Plus sounds like in my system and I've come to respect it. I think the only way to fully understand and appreciate this level of musicality is to have it in your own system. Alvester Garnett was asked to take it home and offer his comments (noted below). Personally, I consider the Cherry Plus to be among the best sounding amplifiers I have heard and an absolute bargain for five grand. It's strengths lie in its incredibly low noise and soundstage capabilities. It's very musical and might be accused of sounding too rich, probably because of its super-quiet top end. While I'm not crazy about the look of this amplifier I absolutely love its sound. I think you will too. Tommy O'Brien has designed a special product that deserves a listen. Easily my 'Publisher's Choice! Most Wanted Component' for 2010!

 

 

Another listen from Alvester Garnett



Cherry Picking…

My brief experience with the Cherry Plus was a revelation in the possibilities of so-called “digital amplifier” technology. Up against my reference of Nuforce’s Ref 9 V3 SE I was thoroughly impressed at how well the Cherry Plus performed especially considering their similarity in price. One of the immediately noticeable differences is the higher output gain level the Cherry Plus had relative to the Nuforce V3 SE. Whereas I spent a good deal of time listening with the Nuforce P-9 set around the 12 to 2 o’clock volume knob range with the Nuforce amps, I generally kept the P-9 around the 9 to 11 o’clock knob range when paired with the Cherry Plus. The majority of my at home listening was of WMA Lossless ripped files off of my Windows Home Server via a Squeezebox Touch through a Perpetual Technologies P-3A DAC.

One of the Cherry Plus’ greatest strengths is its speed, clarity and authoritative weight. For example in listening to George Duke’s “Every Day Hero” from Dukey Treats (Heads Up, CD) the Cherry Plus offered up a torrent of gut bustin’ grip and sublimely delineated texture to this funky track that excelled past my Ref 9 V3 SE’s performance in terms of clarity, weight and soundstage depth. The Cherry Plus seemed to have more headroom for grander dynamic sweeps. [As an FYI after I returned the Cherry Plus I sent in my Ref 9 V3 SEs for an upgrade to the V3.01 spec which I feel sonically narrows the gap to the Cherry Plus.] One of the most telling moments demonstrating several of the Cherry Plus’ multiple strengths can be heard at one minute into “Every Day Hero” where there is a lightning fast cascading tom fill that via the Cherry Plus is so well delineated and rendered with such a clear separation of the individual drum strokes that the result is nearly surrealistic. I heard more detail there than what I might have heard in real life but then again I wouldn’t have been listening to the drums nearly as close as the mics were most likely placed for this recording. In that regard I think the Cherry Plus was most likely revealing more of what was simply on the recording.

As powerful as the Cherry Plus was it also displayed an equally impressive amount of subtlety and micro dynamics in combination with a warmth and lack of noise that imparted new heights of enjoyment on Philipe Entremont’s solo piano performance of the 2nd movement of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit entitled “Le Gibet” off of Ravel:Complete Piano Works (Sony Classical, CD). The trailing ends of the piano’s sound fell off into an exquisitely serene and inky black background that resulted in marvelous amount of nuance, air, and texture. Hearing this track back to back after Duke’s power house funk fest let me know this amp had a case of multiple personalities in the best way possible. “Compelling” was the word that jumped at me. Whereas the Nuforce invited me to listen, the Cherry Plus in large part compelled me to listen. (Either attribute is what makes high-end audio fun, or dare I say, a blessing.) Perhaps it was the newness of the sound but I found myself at times practically forced to sit and admire the music Cherry Plus was pushing through my system. (In all fairness to the Ref 9 V3 SE I also recall listening to the monoblocks early on during its burn-in period from 10:30 one night until 6 AM the next day.) The weight and authority displayed by the Cherry Plus was one of its most impressive characteristics. Relative to the Ref 9 V3 SE I heard and felt (mainly in my gut) a stronger sense of meatiness, presence and impact on all styles of music including Jazz, Classical, Pop, Rock, R&B, Hip Hop and Vocal music. The V3 SE still proved to be a strong and excellent performer it’s just that the Cherry Plus managed to show more inner detail, offered a darker background from which the musical colors emerged and drove the speakers with a tighter grip.

Listening to the Bill Evans Sunday Night at The Village Vanguard (Analogue Productions, CD) and Miles Davis’ “Masqualero” from The Sorcerer (Sony Columbia, CD) I heard a more expressive and expansive rendering of the cymbals on both recordings. Cymbals had that solidity to them that I find hard to capture through most solid state amps excepting select Class A amps. Here I was hearing that substance and sonic energy in the presence region of the cymbal sound that I find so elusive in audio recreation.

After a while I began to wonder was all of this new information a bit on the excessive side. Was I hearing a surreal presentation? One evening I had a couple of musician/audiophile buddies over (amazing saxophonist Jed Levy and phenomenal bassist Phil Palombi) for some comparison listening. Though they were both thoroughly impressed as we listened to a variety of music Jed expressed a very insightful thought – “The Cherry Plus offers a more ultra-high end studio-like quality while not sounding brittle, but the Nuforces present the music in a more laid-back home audio but still high-end manner.” Jed questioned the long term listenability of the Cherry Plus but I felt that once again the Nuforce amp was inviting while the Cherry Plus was compelling. We all however came to an agreement that the Cherry Plus might very well be an extremely excellent amp also for a high-end recording studio.

With that in mind I couldn’t resist taking the Cherry Plus over to Avatar Studios (formerly The Power Station) in Manhattan where my friend Joe Ferla (studio engineer for Roberta Flack, Steely Dan, Michael Brecker, Cyrus Chestnut, John Scofield, Christian McBride, Regina Carter and many others) was just wrapping up engineering a session. We inserted them into his travelling studio rig that consisted of Hot House amps and speakers, Kimber Cable 4AG speaker cable and Synergistic XLR interconnects. Playing back via Avatar’s board in Studio A I heard a bit more forward presentation from the Cherry Plus than what Joe’s Hot House Amp presented but over the course of our short 45 minutes of listening I noticed the Cherry Plus settle down a bit. (This is definitely an amp that benefits from being left on.) Listening to my wife, Regina Carter’s violin and my drumming on her latest release Reverse Thread (which Joe recorded) on the track “N’Teri” I heard her sound a little more forward in the mix and bit more separated than Joe’s amp displayed. My cymbals also had a little bit earthier but a bit less sweet presentation through the Cherry Plus vs. his Hot House amp. I felt here again the Cherry Plus had more weight and impact but at this point the Cherry Plus sounded a bit less refined relative to the Hot House. In all fairness to the Cherry Plus, the Hot House amp was designed for the Hot House speakers so I didn’t place too much weight on this comparison but it was interesting nonetheless to hear it in pro’s studio system.


A bit of nit-picking… getting over it… and enjoying the flavor.

As we all know us audiophiles are generally not the average audio consumers. What I’ve found is most of the better high end consumer systems lie slightly south of a truly high-end studio playback chain in terms of detail and harmonic retrieval. In this regard as I listened more to the Cherry Plus and got into the gritty business of nit-picking, I felt that it did tend to slightly homogenize recordings yet this might be exactly what some folks want and need. It seemed to do such an amazing job with making all of my music sound so darn good that many of the what I felt were botched reissues sounded much better and more enjoyable but at the same time I couldn’t help but wonder was it doing something that wasn’t honest to the recording.

At times I will listen AT music (not to) on my main rig in shuffle mode playing across the 4000 + tracks on my server while working at my desk in my office next to our listening room. Usually I can hear the difference in time periods/recording techniques during playback but a few surprising times I found myself being fooled by the Cherry Plus into thinking that some of my older thinner sounding recordings were instead rich sounding recent modern recordings. Some audio purists might have a problem with this aspect of the performance whereas I think others might handily welcome this. My left brain pondered it for a while but my right brain let go and couldn’t ignore how good the end result was.

The Cherry Plus’ bass capacity was one of its greatest strengths but at the same time without careful system matching and possibly room conditioning it could potentially be one of its greatest weaknesses. For example I felt at times in my system that I might have actually benefitted from 14 gauge rather than 12 gauge cables on my bass modules to help tame some of the prodigious bass the Cherry Plus was throwing out into my listening room. This was not a shortcoming of the amps but merely more of a revealing of a shortcoming of my rectangular room that has ben brought even more to my atention. With that I will reserve judgment on the Cherry Plus’ bass refinement as it was quite tremendous. I do recall that I spent more time than typical in listening to and enjoying highly produced modern R&B and funk based music with all of the Cherry Plus’ powerful bass performance on tap.

A Cherry worth taking home

My time with the Cherry Plus was truly an enjoyable and memorable experience. Its fantastic performance, relative to its price range, is what I would consider to be an excellent audiophile deal and firmly establishes itself as one of the super heavyweights in the arena of solid state switch mode amps. As much of a studio-like pristine quality it could put out the Cherry Plus still managed to maintain a great amount of pleasantness, musicality and enjoyment. I hated to part with the Cherry Plus but I hope someday to have one on hand as a reference. Digital Amplifier Company has planted the seed and congratulations on cultivating a stellar fruit. The Cherry Plus’ sonic performance represents what I find to be state of the audio art.






Digital Amplifier Company
Price: $4995.00 USA

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