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Red Dragon M1000 MkII and M500 MkII Sound Quality Tests


With all the debugging and the time spent with them, I got an excellent sense of the Red Dragon amps.  Generally speaking, my time with the Red Dragons underscored what raw power can do to refine your music and move listening experience.  Having more available power can tighten up the bass and increase the sense of dynamics. You’ll feel the music as much as you hear it. It gives a better, cleaner presentation at all volume levels.  With a good amp paired with good speakers, as you increase the volume, the sound will just open up.  That’s exactly what I got from the Red Dragons.


Sting: Nothing Like the SunI listened to all kinds of music—both digital and vinyl—for almost six weeks through the Red Dragons.  In general, I found that the amps’ presentation of any music I threw their way to be free of grain and come from a nearly silent background.  That gave me the impression of a nice, wide-open presentation with just about any album or track.  With well-recorded music that was engaging.  However, if I put on a lower-resolution digital file or recording that was not mixed as well, I found myself getting a bit edgy.

When I played Sting’s Nothing Like the Sun on vinyl, every track had great definition and presence.  Instruments were firmly and clearly defined in their space and there was detail galore.  “Be Still My Beating Heart”, “They Dance Alone”, and “We’ll be Together” sounded as good as I’ve heard them.  Instruments were always distinct and placed within a solid soundstage. 

In “They Dance Alone”, for example, I found it easy to focus upon individual instruments.  They bass notes were strong and the occasional wooden clapping in the song had great definition and a natural echo-decay.  Likewise, “The Lazarus Heart” highlighted the ability of the Red Dragons to control arrangements with varied instruments extremely well.  When “Sister Moon” kicked on, I was really drawn into the music and impressed at how the amps finessed the presentation of Sting’s vocals and the instruments. 

Since it was the season, I had a chance to play quite a bit of Christmas music through them.  I spun up some old vinyl of Ella Fitzgerald (courtesy of my brother-in-law), Christmas Classics through an iTunes Radio station, and new classics and releases ripped in Apple Lossless format from CD.  Once again, well recorded music sounded incredibly detailed and well presented while albums or tracks that were not as well mixed showed their flaws a bit more.  I consistently felt that the Red Dragons were honest in how they presented the audio signal fed to them and didn’t attempt to apply anything euphonic. 

Diana KrallTurning to some Jazz, I played various tracks from the “Very Best of Diana Krall”.  Bass notes on “Peel me a Grape” were solid.  Strikes on the piano keys had realistic weight and definition.  Diana’s vocals were solidly placed dead center and well controlled.  “Pick Yourself Up”, “You Go To My Head”, and “Let’s Fall in Love” were wonderfully engaging.    I continually made notes about micro-details being presented well with the amps.  I was drawn into the way the piano and bass sounded.  Sometimes, however, I felt like the presentation of Diana Krall was too analytical and matter of fact.  I felt like I was longing for a bit more warmth—especially in the vocals. 

To close out my weeks of listening, I deliberately played the the Dark Knight Rises soundtrack through the SVS Ultra Towers with the M1000s.  There’s a tension and intensity throughout the entire album.  It’s presented in bold ways on various tracks and I use this album to test an amplifier’s control and dynamics.  Well, I wanted to hear how the M1000s handled the album; and wow, I sure wasn’t disappointed. 

The M1000s just seized control of the SVS Ultra Towers.  Every instrument and sound was layered and distinct.  When an instrument started, it started.  When it was supposed to stop, it stopped dead in its tracks.  “Gotham’s Reckoning” exploded from a dead quiet backdrop.  On “Mind if I Cut In?” the decay of instruments was tight and controlled. 

Dark Knight RisesThe track “Underground Army” has a constant beat and intensity throughout.   The M1000s took complete command of the pulsating music energy from “Underground Army” and when the track faded, my whole body  felt the sound pressure in my room fade with it.  

The subterranean audio-pulses on “Imagine The Fire” shook my room like the depth charges from U571—it was my favorite track played through the M1000s.  On “The Fire Rises”, the track’s deep notes didn’t muddy or obscure other frequencies.  The music remained both authoritative and incredibly detailed. 

The way the Red Dragons handled the concluding track, “Rise” said it all: bass notes both heard and felt, delicate transitions exhibited nice refinement, and the portion of the track that accompanies the explosion of the nuclear bomb in the movie was mesmerizing. Top to bottom, the Red Dragons just nailed the emotion, impact, detail, and intensity of this track.    If nothing else, mating the Red Dragons with the Ultra Towers showed yet again how lots of good amplifier power can enhance a speaker’s control and presentation of music.


Shackleton's Adventure

Another good thing about the holiday season was the opportunity to sample a good,  broad selection of movies with the Red Dragons.  Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I fired up Shackleton’s Adventure. It’s a stunning film.  And was a documentary made for IMAX on the failed Antarctic expedition of Earnest Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance.  It is simply one of the most incredible stories of human achievement you will ever come across.   The sound presentation of this IMAX documentary is equally jaw dropping.  The large-scale dynamics will give any system a great workout and the Red Dragons conquered that challenge with ease.       

Over the next several weeks we played Monsters’ University, Man of Steel, The Hobbit, Fellowship of the Ring, and Batman Begins on Blu-ray.  On every single movie, the theme was the same: dynamics and detail reigned.  While I found myself sometimes wanting a warmer presentation with music—especially vocals—I never once longed for it with movies. 

I really started to like that detail and open presentation on movies since I felt it not only enhanced the overall presentation of the film but it allowed you to sift through the nuances and complexities that can often fog a movie’s soundtrack. I felt that the Red Dragons were a perfect match with larger-scale action flicks like Man of Steel, Fellowship of the Ring and Batman Begins.

Movie auditions


Specific Kinds of Users Who May Benefit from the Red Dragon Amps

In addition to how an amplifier sounds when paired with the rest of your system, there will also be a niche group of users who find the small footprint of Class D amplifiers like the Red Dragons extremely appealing for a variety of real-world scenarios. 

In particular would be Individuals who are:

  • Particular about the size of components due to aesthetics or space constraints.
  • In a confined space like a studio or small apartment.
  • Going to put the amps in a poorly or unventilated rack or cabinet.
  • Forced to move their amplifiers with some regularity.
  • Conscious about  electrical use and their carbon footprint.

If any of the above applies to you, then pay particular attention to these amps.  They may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Red Dragon Side view-smaller than shoebox 

The Red Dragon amplifiers are smaller than a shoe box.

Additional Observations

Matching the components in your system’s chain is important.   As I mentioned in detail above, the M1000s were simply not a good match for the Revel Ultima2 Salons.  Ironically, the lower-powered M500s were fine with the Salons and the SVS Ultras were a good match with both amps.  Whether or not these amps (or any amp) will mate well with your system will depend on a number of factors—the most important of which is the load of your speakers at particular frequencies. 

Ryan mentioned to me that he is planning on adding Power Factor Correction to future models so they will operate on any common worldwide voltage/frequency without the need for a switch.  That will be a nice addition.  Until those updates are made, I simply would recommend that the Red Dragons have a sticker on the back of the M500s to highlight that switch for the user. 

There isn’t much I’d change in terms of the aesthetics or build quality of the amplifiers except for two things: First, I’d prefer to see better feet on the amps instead of the current translucent stick-on feet. I can see the feet peeling off over time.  Second, a minority of users may want the ability to turn the front “Red Dragon” logo off.  It’s a minor point, but I should mention it.  Nevertheless, the LED is very easy to cover given the front of the amp is a completely flat surface.


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Recent Forum Posts:

TheoN posts on January 28, 2014 23:48
AcuDefTechGuy, post: 1013828
All I can say is, that dragon picture on the front of the amp looks timid and it isn't even red.

I know! Trying to capture the actual color of the “red” in the Red dragons just was beyond the capabilities of the camera. The red LED either came out magenta or a light red. I borrowed an SLR digital camera and that was the best I could capture. I can vouch that it is red
AcuDefTechGuy posts on January 28, 2014 21:29
All I can say is, that dragon picture on the front of the amp looks timid and it isn't even red.
jliedeka posts on January 28, 2014 16:37
+1 for Power Cube, it makes the performance easy to see at a glance.

I live in a medium sized city. We used to have at least three specialty audio shops. Now we're down to one.

RichB posts on January 28, 2014 14:07
Hi Theo,

Thanks for the reply.
I would love to see AH measure the M500 or the M1000s.

I like the PowerCube (or something like it) that gives an insight into an amp ability to drive speakers with difficult impedance and phase angle loads.
If an amp can drive difficult loads, has sufficient power and low distortion, then I would think pairing is less complicated.

I have the Salon1's which appear to be a bit more difficult to drive than the Salon2's.
Trying amps is no simple task, but at least the new Class-D amps are easier to handle.

Unfortunately, high-end audio shops are endangered species.
I went into one on Saturday, and all the salesmen appeared to be in their 60's
It makes me wonder if it will be there 10 years from now. It is in a location where the real estate is valuable.
At some point, the labor of love may end…

- Rich
TheoN posts on January 28, 2014 12:36
Hi Rich,

I can't say for sure, but if those were 400wpc into 4ohms then those were probably older ICEpower modules. The newer ICEpower modules in the Mk500s had no problems with the Salon2s.

Now here's the interesting thing. The M1000s are rated into 2ohm loads and the M500s are rated into 3ohm loads. The real issue, as Gene had pointed out in our many conversations, was really the load at a specific frequency or frequencies.

Based on my experience with these amps and that two sets of speakers—one of which was a Salon2—my hunch would be that if you tried the current M500 MkIIs you'd have no issue with your Salons—I don't know whether you have the Ultima1 or Ultima2, but I don't think it would make a difference.

Talking about amps always seems to stir up some great, healthy conversation. But one of the take-aways continues to be how important listening, pairing, and measuring all are. To me personally, that pairing is really important and sometimes you really need to see how a particular amp will react to a particular set of speakers. The SVS Ultra Towers are by no means slouchy speakers and they loved both amps and I found them to be a very capable match.

Thanks for your comments! It's much appreciated.

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