The review of the Akasha Stereo Amplifier from Wells Audio didn’t even last two weeks. It didn’t need to. I had heard enough; enough of everything a solid state amp is supposed to be to crown it the best of solid state amps I have used – by a mile! For that reason I terminated the review; that’s right, I cancelled the review. I called Jeff Wells and said, “That’s it, the review is over.” Alternatively, I am writing this article in its place, a more direct piece which will convey the same enthusiasm but take me less time to produce a full review.
Why on earth would I do that? After all, it is a violation of my review principles. I am not interested in quick, slapped together articles. I have in the past politely declined some fancy gear when manufacturers or distributors pushed me to have quick turnaround in my reviewing. But this is different. This time there is no need for extended listening, as the Akasha is so profoundly superior to other amps at three to six times its price that further examination is unnecessary. Frankly, just as with the King Sound King, and later the King III, I knew nearly immediately that it was a “mutant,” an absurdly superior device. The experience was the equivalent of reviewing upscale sedans the likes of Infiniti or Lexus, then being given a period of time with a Bentley. How long would it take to conclude that the comparison is superficial and an extended review unnecessary? In the same way, I didn’t feel like wasting time listening when I could be the first to introduce this amp to the world.
So, what is the big news? Consider a solid state amp which embodies the finest of qualities that audiophiles seek at an honestly affordable price. The Akasha is also nice to look at with a piano gloss black façade, discrete (but not illuminated) Voltage meter, and inoffensive metal chassis with side mounted heat sink fins. It’s simple to use, having one set of RCA inputs and two sets of rugged output posts which open their maws wide enough for two sets of spades, a trick that not even some very high dollar amps pull off. These are all positioned sensibly to allow ergonomic efficiency of connections. It is lightweight at about 50 pounds, which is a welcome feature for mid-lifers who may have sore backs. In this respect, the Akasha shatters the myth of the “performance to weight ratio” propounded by some manufacturers, which suggests a bulky chassis is necessary for top performance. It offers 120 super-clean Watts with enough current to drive less efficient, including ESL, speakers well. It doesn’t run hot so as to run you out of the listening room. It is sensibly priced, and yet sounds outrageously good! As they say, there is nothing not to like and everything to love about the Akasha.
Who is behind this product? Jeff Wells is owner of Audible Arts, a Campbell, California audio store of 16 years, who decided he knew as well as anyone else how to make a serious amp. He was right! He teamed with Scott Frankland, who gave him technical guidance in the design of the circuitry, and followed his instincts and ears in how to attain supremely good sound. The result is the Akasha, which finds a fuller expression with internal Bybee products in the Innamorata. The design is exactly the same between the two amps, but the Innamorata is Bybee enhanced.
In the endearing movie The Princess Bride Wallace Shawn plays Vizzini, a high seas bandit who kidnaps a young maiden, Buttercup, pursued by her “true love,” Wesley. As Wesley surmounts every obstacle Vizzini throws in his path en route to rescuing the lovely Buttercup, Vizzini shouts, “Inconceivable!” Indeed, with the intensity and passion with which I have shared this account with you, the odds are you are thinking, “Inconceivable!”
Wells… err, well, the Akasha has more of the following over all these other amps: Vastness of soundstage, delineation of detail, dynamic impact with hyper-clean yet supple bass, superb transients, marvelous contrast of macro and microdynamics, gorgeous tonality – I could go on, but I think you get the point. This is simply a freakishly great amp! When I heard the King Sound King ESL for the first time I knew it had stupendous potential. When I heard the Akasha the first time it struck me the same way. This is the kind of product, similar to a VAC (Valve Amplification Company) component, which you can drop into nearly any serious rig and achieve not just good, not just great, but stellar results. The one variable which is almost never found at this level of sound quality is the price. Most audiophiles who are into the hobby with some skin can afford the Akasha.
What happened to make me so crazy?
Reviewers are in the awkward position of running across enough good gear consistently that their words become mistrusted. After so many glowing articles, spades of recommendations and seemingly eternally effusive praise, the public rightly or wrongly gets jaded. There is one problem, however, that being a tendency of a reader to consider any given reviewer to be “Crying Wolf,” to be sensationalizing a less than sensational product. I try not to be that kind of reviewer. It is difficult, however, as I am continuously exposed to a panoply of products, many of which are highly efficacious and compelling sounding. Like Jeff Wells, I follow my ears because I think they will lead me to superior sounding systems, and therefore a far more compelling listening experience.
What, then, is so different about the Akasha when it comes to the listening experience? Simply put, it does things that other solid state amps have not. For instance, with the Akasha all my older Redbook recordings sound like they have been remastered. I do not use the word, “remastered” lightly. I intend to convey that this amp has such transformative powers that it “updates” and improves qualitatively all older recordings. It mattered not whether I played Lionel Hampton from the 1950’s, the Moody Blues from the 60’s, Dan Fogelberg from the 70’s, or Boston from the 80’s, this amp has an uncanny ability to polish recordings such that they shine without irritation. I understand the age old argument between the “good gear makes older recordings sound poor,” versus th, “good gear makes older recordings sound better” crowds. Unequivocally, the Akasha makes older recordings sound terrific!
Always more definition!
Detail, detail, detail! Just as in real estate, it is said that one principle rules, “Location, location, location,” so also in audio Definition is the key to the high end. I do not care how many people disagree with me on this. Usually, tonality is ranked number one, which to me is erroneous. Show me a tonally rich system with lower definition and I will show you a decrepit High End rig which could have been designed fifty years ago! For me the principle is, no extreme definition, no HiFi.
The Akasha is extreme in its capacity to render definition. Recently, I saw in an audio thread a post in which the individual was guided by a dealer to believe that only apreamplifier can render extreme change to an audio system, certainly more so than an amp. What nonsense! One ten-minute listening session with the Akasha will dispel all such notions. What one learns when hearing the Akasha is how fundamentally constipated most Class A/B amps are. They sound like they have a sonic stick up their ass – stiff, stopped up and painfully poor in comparison!
The key to the magic with the Akasha is a perfect blend of both liquidity and definition. This amp flows, it does not churn out or crunch or crush or mash or pound out sound; the sound flows from it with the power and grace of a large waterfall. I have some speakers which will ruthlessly reveal shortcomings in amps, namely the yet-to-be-reviewed Legacy Audio Whisper DSW Clarity Edition and the new King Sound King III. They are fantastically transparent windows allowing one to peer backwards to the quality of the box components ahead of them.
When a person attends a show they become familiar with the tried-and-true inspiring demo pieces, one of which used with numbing regularity is “Keith, Don’t Go” by Nils Lofgren. A fair number of dealers of the big boy systems blast this tune to impress. It is an engaging recording, so I also use it to see how close to the state of the art I can get in my room. With the Akasha I just moved a lot closer. One of the characteristics of this recording is that it has always struck me as “oversized,” the microphone sounds as though it was jammed to within one inch of Nil’s guitar. The better the system the more huge the guitar sounds, and the more the microphone seems jammed into it. With the Akasha it was, “Fi-Jamma-Ramma-time!” Nils was literally larger than life, just like when heard on the sky is the limit systems at shows, and every click of a finger nail, every slip of a finger on the fret was not just rendered, but done so explosively, majestically!
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