It is an honor and privilege to own a pair of Gand Marquis. Their looks are drop dead and the sound..well the sound, you cannot find enough words. I could repeat what the guys below have said, but this is the ultimate in sound. In the vast world of hi-fi, I could not say if there is better, but if there is, I would really have to ask myself what that would sound like, because I simply cannot imagine what that would sound like. The sound coming out of these amps is beyond imagination. Yes, they run hot and require ultra special care, ramping up and down and adjustments, but this is a small price to pay for reaching the "nirvana" of music. They are also rather pricey, but they are wonderful to listen too. Also the service and support provided by Judd and Marianne Barber, you cannot find words to describe, they are everything a business should be, friendly, prompt, supportive. You actually feel like belonging more to a family. Well, I am real glad to be part of the family and intent to stay a member for a very very long time
Equipment used :
Audio Aero Capitole CD player Joule LA 150 preamp Joule Mk 160 Grand Marquis monoblocks Sonus Faber Amati Hommage speakers Zcable Passion speaker cable Silver Audio interconnects
audio shows take the romantic sheen of cute packaging and sales literature very quickly. Once fatigue and imaptience set in, you discover how much mediocrity is being promoted, and how few designs rise above the fray. The Joule amps exceeded my expectations. The second I heard them, I immediately knew what was missing from nearly every other amplifier on the market. This was the only amplifier I heard that could keep all the harmonic information together in one coherent image. It sounded like other designs were suffocating the harmonics, but hiding the damage behind oversharp highs or thumpy bass. The Joule is technically underdamped, but the bass has the rare quality of being toneful, rather than punchy or visceral. This ability to be true to tone is the great distinguishing qualty of Joule. The complexity of piano strings is fully revealed instead of glary banging. Large stringed instruments have "cavity" , as if you can hear whats happening internally in the instrument. If classical music or acoustic music of any stripe is you favored listening, Joule will absolutely ruin you for any other amp. It is the most civilized tube design in the world, if not the coolest running or easist to live with. This isn't a toy, and it isn't ulta-convenient. You won't want this for ear-crushing boozy gatherings or adolescent angst sessions. It is an adult experience in the best sense of the word.
This is an update of the previous review I submitted, and I'm doing it because I have since had upgrade modifications done to my amplifiers which "raise" them from "Mark III" status to "Mark IV". The upgrade involved doing away with the the external Variac voltage power supply regulator and installing an internal variac in each monoblock. This permits applying and setting proper power to each amp individually, instead of regulating power to both by one external control, and now allows (requires) one to use separate power (AC) cords, 2 per amp. To some, this may sound like more "humbug" and mandatory expense than an "upgrade". To most, especially those (I think) who would be venturing into amps of this quality and price, the ability to individually adjust each block and, more importantly, the ability to select and apply separate AC cords, would be viewed as a real benefit.
And a real benefit it is. The immediately noticeable difference in my Joule Electra Grand Marquis is that they now reproduce considerably more "air" and are able to recreate the illusion of large recording venues (when called for) significantly better than they were able to do before the upgrade. There is also a small but noticeable difference in the dynamic capabilities of the amps. In short, the few "nits" that Harry Pearson had to pick with these amps when he did his glowing review a while back (lack of the "nth" degree of air and slight compression of dynamics at the "fff" end) are successfully addressed by the upgrade, all the while without affecting in the slightest the incredible basic strengths of these amps - speed, clarity, "immediacy" and "purity", all in service to the music.
I am not altogether sure whether the improvements I hear in my amps are the result of the upgrade per se or the 4 aftermarket AC cords I am now using to supply power to the amps. However, for all practical purposes it doesn't really matter. Without the upgrade, I wouldn't have been able to use separate cords. And I hasten to add this - the 4 cords I am using are very moderately priced, good quality cords from BMI and Siltech, NOT megabuck cords from NBS, Shunyata, Electraglide, FIM or the like. Indeed, the cost of all 4 cords I am using is not even close to the price of one of the topline cords from the first three aforementioned companies. Who knows? I might even be able to improve the sound of my amps by changing (upgrading) cords some time in the future. Right now, I don't feel any need to do so.
The ability to separately control the application of power to each amp is also a small plus. For those, like myself, who feel a certain need to be as close to exact as possible in making voltage and bias adjustments (control freaks?), the separate voltage controls on each amp give added peace of mind over the single external variac and control provided in the amps' Mark III iteration. Not a huge deal, but a change that I really like.
I understand that if you buy a pair of Grand Marquis amps now, you'll get them the way mine are configured after the upgrade. All I can say in closing is that these are marvelous, marvelous amps - the best I ever heard before and even better now.
I'll get the negative stuff out of the way right at the start. If you want bullet-proof, space efficient, cool running, turn-on and forget it amplification, look elsewhere. The Grand Marquis are big, hot running, tube amps that require a lot of space and ventilation, careful handling and some manual fine tuning every time you sit down to listen. You can't hide the Grand Marquis (fortunately, they are among the nicest, least "industrial" looking tube amps on the market today), but at the same time, the eight exposed power bottles on the top of each monoblock make it critical that these amps be kept out of harms way. You can't just flip a switch to turn these amps on and off. You have to manually "ramp up" the power to the desired level (to preserve tube life) and then individually bias each of the 16 output tubes once the amps have reached a suitable operating temperature (about 25-30 minutes). When your listening session is over, it's probably a good idea to "ramp down" the power rather just shut off completely (again to prolong tube life). The whole procedure is not at all difficult, but it is bothersome enough to make you ask yourself just how much you are willing to put up with to get the "best" sound.
Moreover, you can't use these amps just any speakers. Wattage is plentiful enought for most applications, but being Output Transformerless (OTL) does mean that these amps will not work very well with current demanding speakers of low input impedance (lower than 4 ohms) or speakers with big dip(s) in impedance to significantly below the 4 ohm level. I had to change speakers because the Grand Marquis would not drive my dipole radiating Genesis speakers anywhere near as well as my previous lower powered Pass amplification did. So speaker matching with the Joules is important.
Yet, despite all the aforementioned system matching and ergonomic humbug one has to put up with to use the Grand Marquis, I still found it worth my while to change speakers just to accommodate and take advantage of their fantastic sonic capabilities. I departed from the conventional wisdom of finding amps to fit my speakers and went out and found speakers to suit these amps. Here's why.
As do most high-ticket, widely acclaimed amplifiers, whether they be tubed or solid state, the Grand Marquis have all the qualities necessary to provide extremely impressive and satisfying sound reporduction, to wit: extended and evenly balanced frequency response, amazing low level resolution, terrific speed and dynamics, and "see through" transparency. Where these amps stand in comparison with other "great" amps in regard to each of the these qualities, I couldn't say. Suffice it to say that coupled with suitable components, the Grand Marquis will produce music that is lifelike and natural sounding, both tonally and timbrally. With good source material and capable speakers, they will image like crazy, throwing a soundfield that is wide, deep and tall and populated with stable, well-focused images. Moreover, as is the renown of the best tubed electronics, they will recreate images that have "reach-out-and-touch-it" body and occupy their own space in a layered, three dimensional soundstage. In short, the Grand Marquis have all the capabilities necessary to drive an audio system that will create an eye-opening illusion of the real thing, whatever the real thing is for you - rock, jazz, pop, classical, vocal, instrumental, acoustic, electronic, grandiose, intimate - your pleasure.
So what is it, if anything, that separates these amps from any other "great" amp? Obviously, I haven't heard all the wonderfula amplifiers out there, or even a lot of them. But the Grand Marquis have a bell-like clarity and purity of sound that I have not heard or which noticeably exceeds anything I've heard from any other amplification device, including several amps of significantly higher price and/or wider acclaim. This "cleanness" or purity is easy to hear but difficult to describe. It's not just lack of grain or some hyper-natural sheen, but rather a "varnish removed" sort of revelation. Harry Pearson tries to describe it in his glowing review of the Grand Marquis in the Absolute Sound (Issue 115, 12/98), and perhaps you will get a better notion of what I'm trying to say by reading his review. All I can really say is that on good recordings, especially, but not limited to analog, the experience of this tonal purity and "cleanness" is almost religious, and once you've heard it, you will recognize it and find it difficult to forget this truly remarkable quality.
Are the Grand Marquis the best amps on the market? In my experience, Yes! but I doubt that my experience qualifies me to render such an opinion. Furthermore, at the level of quality reached by these amps, I doubt that the term "best" is valid or even relevant. Certainly they deserve to be considered in any quest for the most beautiful and realistic sound reproduction currently possible.