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Cherry Audio MEGAschino Mk2 Standard Edition Amplifier Review

by June 04, 2021
Cherry MEGAschino Mk2

Cherry MEGAschino Mk2

  • Product Name: MEGAschino Mk2 Standard Edition Amplifier
  • Manufacturer: Cherry Audio
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStarhalf-star
  • Value Rating: StarStarStar
  • Review Date: June 04, 2021 01:00
  • MSRP: $ 6,100
  • Buy Now
  • Gain: 25.6dB
  • SNR: 120dB
  • 1W THD+N: 0.001%
  • Size: 17.0" x 14.3" x 4.6"
  • Power Stage Efficiency: 95%
  • Output Impedance: <0.04Ω at 1kHz, <0.08Ω at 10kHz
  • Sensitivity: 3.0Vin for 400Wout into 8Ω
  • Weight: 30-40 lbs (depending on version)
  • Input Impedance: 20kΩ true balanced
  • Frequency Response: 0Hz to 150kHz (DC coupled)
  •  Output Power (standard 750W transformer):

        Stereo Version: 660Wpc into 4Ω, 400Wpc into 8Ω

        MONO Version: 720Wpc into 4Ω, 430Wpc into 8Ω

  • Output Power (1500W transformer):

        Stereo Version: 750Wpc into 4Ω, 440Wpc into 8Ω

        MONO Version: 850Wpc into 4Ω, 460Wpc into 8Ω

  • Output Connectors: WBT Gold Binding Posts
  •  Input Connectors: Neutrik Gold XLR

        (RCA-to-XLR adapters included)

Pros

  • Lots of power
  • Very low distortion
  • Silent running: inaudible noise floor
  • Good build quality
  • Made in the USA
  • Efficient

Cons

  • Needs pricey capacitor and transformer upgrade options to match other SOTA amps
  • Expensive

 

cherry mk2MEGAschino Mk2 Standard Edition Introduction

The Cherry Digital Amplifier Company is an American-based high-end amplifier company that was founded in 1996 which specializes in designing proprietary Class D amplifiers and DACs. Cherry is a small company and is owned and operated by Tommy O’Brien. Tommy has worked in a number of industries as an electrical engineer and designed Class D amps for major companies like Crest Audio.  Frustrated with an inability to design truly good amplifiers without respect for cost or nonsensical traditions, Tommy Founded Digital Amp Company.  With a desire to provide his own state of the art amplifiers, he then added Cherry Amplifiers as the Digital Amp Company direct sale arm. Cherry has licensed proprietary technology to numerous major chip manufacturers and amplifier OEMs over the years. In for review today is their top-of-the-line Cherry Audio MEGAschino Mk2 standard edition which retails for $6,100 with shipping included in the price. That is a hefty chunk of change for any piece of audio gear, but according to Cherry, this is a state-of-the-art amplifier with an extremely high signal-to-noise ratio and ultra low distortion. There are many more expensive audiophile amplifiers out there that do not have the power output specs of the MEGAschino, so what separates it from the others? In a word, class-D amplification.

Most pricey audiophile amps use class-AB amplification. That works well, but it isn’t very efficient, and those amps tend to need heavier-duty hardware to accomplish the same effect. Class-D is far more efficient, especially at lower levels, and doesn’t need 50 lbs of components with massive heatsinks and a large chassis. Audiophiles have traditionally eschewed class-D amps because of less refined examples in the pro-audio realm and also theoretical advantages of keeping fidelity intact in signal reconstruction. Cherry seeks to keep the major advantages of class-D amps but eliminate its traditional disadvantages for extreme high-fidelity sound reproduction. Let’s now take a close look at the MEGAschino amplifier to see how far they have come to attaining their goal...

Design Overview

Fresh out of the box, the MEGAschino has an interesting look, and certainly better than the online images would suggest. It feels high-quality with solidity and heft, but it looks very reminiscent of amplifier design from the 1990s. While I don’t think it looks bad, I am not a huge fan of its aesthetics and think there are other more attractive amplifiers in its price range. However, its looks also would have no impact on my purchase decision since it would get stuffed into a cabinet and so would be heard and not seen. For those who care about country of origin, the MEGAschino is fully manufactured in the USA. The only parts not from America would be the semiconductors and passive components themselves; even the PCB boards and board stuffing is done within the United States (New Jersey in fact!). This is in contrast to many “US” manufacturers of high-end audio gear that uses Chinese built modules which dramatically lowered costs.

cherry mk2 open

It’s worth it to note again how much more it costs to make these amplifiers in the USA than it is to use Chinese manufactured components, and that does have a considerable effect on the end cost. Having built plenty of amplifiers myself, I have had to design and source components and have done so from both China and the Americas. The cost is not slightly different, but substantially so. A custom made steel and aluminum chassis like Cherry uses could be had from China for around $150-$200, maybe less in bulk. That same chassis, custom made in the United States, would more than double, and likely cost closer to $400 to $600. In one of my amplifiers, I went with a custom-designed cast Aluminum clamshell chassis, and the American made chassis would have cost me $2000, and the price could not drop lower than half that even in bulk. A similar design was had from a Chinese supplier for just $500 and could have been much lower in quantity. The same is true for toroidal transformers, capacitors, etc. These parts often cost much more when you go with the major American based brands. As such, while we can complain that Cherry isn’t providing much value compared to the competition, that for the price we want better, keep in mind, much of this amplifiers price is the physical parts alone. Cherry then needs to pay its employees, keep the lights on, and turn enough of a profit for the owner, Tommy O’Brien to raise his family.  I don’t think Tommy is lining his pockets, I think it is very expensive to build amplifiers this way. We’ve been spoiled by cheap labor.  Many want to see manufacturing return to the US.  This is how it starts and we have to accept higher prices if that is what we want.    

cherry mk2 insode

cherry mk2 rearThe MEGAschino is the top of the line series that uses a Proprietary Class D amplifier with a novel  feedback design. Among many of its highlights, it can output 1,000 watts into 4 ohms and 2,000 watts into 2 ohms and is 95% efficient at full power. It has a signal-to-Noise Ratio of 120dB relative to full power and distortion as low as .001%. It has a linear power supply with a large 750-watt toroidal transformer in the standard version and a 1500-watt power supply in the ‘King’ version. It is a full double differential amplifier, where the minus terminal is the negative phase not tied to the ground. It is DC coupled for perfectly flat and extended bass response down to 0 Hz. It uses WBT Output Connectors and Neutrik  XLR inputs. It also has a steel chassis with a ½” thick aluminum front panel in Cherry Red.

cherry mk2 inside 3

While that is an impressive list of features, I do have some critiques about the design. Firstly, in my  opinion, the linear power supply is a mistake. There are real advantages to be sure, such as being capable of a more gradual clipping of their own output which prevents the amplifier from hitting a hard limit, but they are heavy and noisy. A large high-output regulated and low-ripple SMPS supply would, in my opinion, improve performance. It also would reduce weight, which I like! The MEGAschino’s WBT connectors are very high quality, but I would have liked to see Speakon, which are cheaper and more reliable connectors. The RCA to XLR adapter means that the single-ended preamp will need to be able to cleanly produce at least 4 volts for the amplifier to reach maximum output, but most AV receiver preamp outputs struggle to cleanly produce more than 2 volts. A single-ended to balanced conversion board in the amplifier would be better for those using single-ended sources.

cherry mk2 inside 2

The MEGAschino is a true fully balanced differential amplifier from input to output. It is essentially two  amps for each channel, and one amp per phase. This means it really should be used in a fully balanced system.The manufacturer supplies an XLR to RCA adapter, but these should not be used. If a balanced connection cannot be used, note that the amp cannot be driven to full power from a 2-volt single-ended output, the limit of most receivers. You leave half the power on the table. Further, this particular method also has an increased chance of noise. It would have been better to use a single-ended to XLR cable that ties the ground and negative phase together at the RCA end.

How Does It Sound?

In my view, trying to explain what a well-functioning amplifier sounds like is problematic. I don’t find that well-designed amplifiers make a huge difference in sound quality other than at the limits. At very low levels, the amplifier’s self-noise can become an audible distraction, even in noisy rooms. Clipping distortion, even if just momentarily, can lead to significant degradation of sound and ends the fun by taking you out of the music. So, in my view, the best solution is to have more power than you need by a lot and very low noise. The question then becomes, could the MEGAschino amp deliver on these counts?

I concluded from these tests that the MEGAschino is as quiet as anything I’ve used.

Before any listening began, I had serious ground loop problems with my single-ended devices, but no ground loop problems with balanced devices such as my Motu 828x or the Cherry Dac Dac. I’m not sure if this is an amplifier issue or my own, but I don’t have these problems with my other amps. I had to use a ground lift plug when converting to single-ended inputs.

Abbey SpeakerWith the ground loop problem solved, I first decided to look for an audible noise floor. I plugged the MEGAschino into my own Gedlee Abbeys (95dB at 2.83v 1m sensitivity) and the JTR Noesis 212RT’s (101 dB at 2v 1m); both of these being very sensitive speakers would be the most revealing of noise. With no signal at all, I heard no audible hiss when used with the Cherry Dac Dac, but did hear hiss with other sources, showing the sources to be the cause of noise. As a test, I used XLR shorting plugs for noise testing and similarly found no audible hiss or hum. I then sent a very low -100dB 1khz test signal to ensure everything was on correctly and placed my ear against the tweeter. In this scenario, there was a very faint hiss that was not audible even a few inches away. I concluded from these tests that the MEGAschino is as quiet as anything I’ve used.

I then listened to some typical music by using various tracks. Everything sounded good. Most listening at modest sound levels didn’t sound any better or worse than other amplifiers on hand, including a Yamaha R-N803 receiver and Acurus A200 amplifier. All of these amplifiers are competently designed and under these conditions, I couldn’t really hear a difference between amplifiers. The Acurus amplifier has a higher noise floor with a slight audible hum, but this wasn’t noticeable during music.

I then turned to much louder listening levels to see how the MEGAschino handled a wider dynamic range. The average level at my listening position hovered around 85dB to 95dB with peaks over 100dB. I let the speakers run full-range with a signal path of a laptop as the source. I used the Cherry Dac Dac as the pre-amp, and either the Gedlee or JTR speakers. As was mentioned before, these speakers are very efficient and don’t need a lot of power to hit these loud levels but can still draw a lot of power if run full range. Still, this test only likely drew up to 100 watts. This kind of dynamic test again showed no issues. In comparison with the other amps I had on hand, the Yamaha receiver struggled a bit, at times, but all of them mostly sounded fine. No differences could be heard, even with big bass, from the Acurus A200 and MEGAschino amplifier.

xmenI then turned to movies as a source of content with a wide dynamic range. Movies can often have a greater difference between peak levels and nominal levels, more so than most music recordings. I moved on to using the MEGAschino in place of my Acurus to run my main speakers during movies, and the biggest improvement was the noticeably lower noise floor. The dynamics sounded at least as good as I am used to. One movie I watched for its dynamic range was ‘X-Men: Apocalypse.’ This movie has a lot of big action scenes such as when Erik plays with the magnetic poles of the earth thereby causing huge destruction. The effects in this movie are intense and a strain on most systems when played at reference levels that can cause many lesser amps to quickly clip and distort. But it wasn’t a problem with the Cherry MEGAschino which had plenty of power. The MEGAschino amplifier exhibited no faults, and here no news is good news. There is nothing special to report; the amp did its job and was great during movies.

Another listening test I conducted was to use the MEGAschino with less sensitive speakers. I had a review pair of Polk Legend L800 speakers, and they have a sensitivity that is more reflective of typical home audio loudspeakers at 87dB. Polk’s SDA tech is negatively impacted by the differential output of the amp but I could disengage that, and it worked fine for regular testing of the speaker. This turned out to be a much more revealing test. By pushing more bass-heavy and dynamic music, the Cherry Amp clearly showed the dynamic flaws in the Yamaha receiver I had used to power the other speakers for a bit. The Polks didn’t like being fed just 150 watts RMS, and they wanted more. The Cherry amplifier could provide them with upwards of 600 watts and the difference was audible. There was less hardness on the dynamic peaks, the bass sounded tighter and deeper at higher output levels, and music had a more effortless quality to the presentation. Compared to the Acurus, the differences were nill, but again, I did notice the lower noise floor. 

After evaluating the amp from simply listening to it, I can only conclude that the MEGAschino does exactly what it is supposed to do. I could bring in a lot of flowery language around sound quality, but that would be a lie. I don’t find that amplifiers have huge sound quality differences when operating within their linear range. For me, the decision comes down to more pragmatic issues. Does the amp produce enough extra power that I can get at least 3-6dB of headroom, to avoid inadvertently clipping the amplifier? Is the noise floor low enough that I cannot hear it at any point when listening to music or movies? If so, then it is good enough, and any better is just academic. Is the frequency response, with a reactive load, good enough to add no audible distortions? With Class-AB amps, this isn’t an issue, but with Class-D, it can be. The Cherry amplifier clearly didn’t color the sound in any way, and it didn’t change the response or add audible noise or distortion. From that perspective, the amp is great. Getting amplifiers capable of giving me 6dB of headroom over the upper end of the levels I listen requires about 400 watts with my own Gedlee speakers and 1500 watts with the Polks (reality is, the Polks can’t play that loud or handle that kind of power). Finding good low noise/distortion amplifiers with a flat frequency response and 300-400 watts RMS of output into 8 ohms is difficult. The best options tend to be Pro audio and often they are sonically inferior, with mediocre performance, high noise, and non-flat responses. Class-AB designs exist that can work from ATI and Monolith, but it is not a joke to say that my theater noticeably increased my electrical bill and, prior to moving to multiple dedicated lines, had occasionally tripped a breaker. I like the idea of cool running and efficient Class D amplifiers. The fact that the Cherry Amplifier equaled the performance of my Class-AB Acurus amplifier is actually high praise in this world. It’s hard to get amplifiers that are this powerful and perform this well that are also Class-D and made in America.

One more bit that deserves mentioning was that I appreciated that the amp goes to sleep to save energy when not in use. It is nice not to have to worry about remembering to turn it on and off.

About the author:

Matthew has spent the better part of the last two decades studying acoustics and good sound reproduction. He provides down to earth explanations of complex scientific topics related to audio reproduction.

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Recent Forum Posts:

lovinthehd posts on June 09, 2021 20:39
buckchester, post: 1488473, member: 78944
I don't think my logic is skewed.

I assume that if you asked most people in this hobby what their primary purpose would be in purchasing new gear it would be to try and improve the sound quality of their system. Now, I did not suggest getting rid of the measurements. I believe they do provide value. They can help people make reasoned assumptions as to whether or not a piece of gear will yield an audible improvement. However, they still do often leave a degree of uncertainty for many people. Blind testing is a way to get us closer to that level of certainty.

Yeah that improving sound quality gets deep into the significant return category and that can be tough these days with so much gear with very good performance at very good price points….
AcuDefTechGuy posts on June 09, 2021 19:41
ryanosaur, post: 1488471, member: 86393
…many of us here do tend to agree that those extra decimal places may be irrelevant, but it speaks volumes to the care and attention to detail of the designer and their capabilities…
Or their abilities to tweak or work the system just to get those extra decimal points?

Does the best THD+N and SINAD guarantee that every single thing inside the component is absolutely the best quality?

Or do designers/engineers just have to tweak their components so that they will get the best THD+N and SINAD if they know exactly what the reviewers are looking for?

For example, maybe components like the Marantz AVP and Anthem AVP had great SNR, Crosstalk, and THD numbers on S&V magazine for years because their engineers knew exactly what S&V and Stereophile were looking for in their measurements. But these same AVP didn’t seem to have great THD+N and SINAD from ASR because Amir doesn’t measure the same as S&V and Stereophile.

Now that S&V and Stereophile no longer do measurements, and Amir now does more measurements than anybody, Marantz AVP and Anthem AVP engineers may change their approach and tweak their components to get the best SINAD since now they know exactly what Amir is looking for.

Just a thought.
buckchester posts on June 09, 2021 15:04
ryanosaur, post: 1488471, member: 86393
Your logic is skewed. Whether or not a measurement falls into the category of audibility here is irrelevant. The value proposition of such measurements is up to the buyer, educated or not, to determine applicability to their usage scenario whether it be a passable design at a budget price or a SOTA design at a luxury price (or any of the multitude of options in between). To not report them in a review would be both inaccurate and potentially misleading.

At the end of the day, many of us here do tend to agree that those extra decimal places may be irrelevant, but it speaks volumes to the care and attention to detail of the designer and their capabilities regardless of use case scenario.
It then falls on the buyer to determine their level of commitment whether to pursue such or not.
Some of us may well consider it pointless, considering that in many instances a double blind test may well prove there is little difference between what may be considered a luxury device or that which costs 1/10th the price.
Personally, I think it would be a great disservice for a reviewer to arbitrarily decide that they should just give a pass/fail grade for THD+N, rather than type out 5 or 6 decimal places because they (or most/all) would never be able to hear it.

I don't think my logic is skewed.

I assume that if you asked most people in this hobby what their primary purpose would be in purchasing new gear it would be to try and improve the sound quality of their system. Now, I did not suggest getting rid of the measurements. I believe they do provide value. They can help people make reasoned assumptions as to whether or not a piece of gear will yield an audible improvement. However, they still do often leave a degree of uncertainty for many people. Blind testing is a way to get us closer to that level of certainty.
ryanosaur posts on June 09, 2021 14:45
buckchester, post: 1488465, member: 78944
Well, I do agree that the purpose of a review is to determine how a product performs. I think my suggestion was to precisely determine just that. After all, if a superior measurement is inaudible, then it should be considered irrelevant.

But if what you're saying is if the reviewer can or cannot hear an audible difference, that same conclusion may not hold true for someone else, with different speakers, a different size room, different listening habits? If so, then I would say yes, that is a good point. But I think blind testing could still provide an enormous benefit.
Your logic is skewed. Whether or not a measurement falls into the category of audibility here is irrelevant. The value proposition of such measurements is up to the buyer, educated or not, to determine applicability to their usage scenario whether it be a passable design at a budget price or a SOTA design at a luxury price (or any of the multitude of options in between). To not report them in a review would be both inaccurate and potentially misleading.

At the end of the day, many of us here do tend to agree that those extra decimal places may be irrelevant, but it speaks volumes to the care and attention to detail of the designer and their capabilities regardless of use case scenario.
It then falls on the buyer to determine their level of commitment whether to pursue such or not.
Some of us may well consider it pointless, considering that in many instances a double blind test may well prove there is little difference between what may be considered a luxury device or that which costs 1/10th the price.
Personally, I think it would be a great disservice for a reviewer to arbitrarily decide that they should just give a pass/fail grade for THD+N, rather than type out 5 or 6 decimal places because they (or most/all) would never be able to hear it.
buckchester posts on June 09, 2021 13:52
panteragstk, post: 1488456, member: 61217
Well, the real purpose of a review is to see how a product performs, not whether or not people “need” the product. I don't “need” anything that is reviewed on here or any other site, but I want it and I like seeing new products that do things their own way to accomplish excellent results. I don't care if it's an amp, blender, or turbo kit for my diesel. I probably won't ever buy any of it, but it's neat to see.

Then there's the crowd that 100% would buy this amp because of how well it reviewed. They may actually need all the power on tap.

Well, I do agree that the purpose of a review is to determine how a product performs. I think my suggestion was to precisely determine just that. After all, if a superior measurement is inaudible, then it should be considered irrelevant.

But if what you're saying is if the reviewer can or cannot hear an audible difference, that same conclusion may not hold true for someone else, with different speakers, a different size room, different listening habits? If so, then I would say yes, that is a good point. But I think blind testing could still provide an enormous benefit.
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