Red Dragon M1000 MkII and M500 MkII Setup
About a week after Ryan and I spoke, I received a large box from UPS. Considering its size, the box wasn’t all that heavy. Inside were four plain, smaller boxes. Each box, clearly labeled, contained a single amp that was suspended in the middle of the box by a sturdy, good quality Styrofoam holder.
The Red Dragon amplifiers came very well packaged
Overall, the packing was excellent. You would need significant shipping damage to affect the amps the way they were packed. The amps themselves were well-wrapped in thick plastic. Each amplifier came packaged with a 2-meter trigger cable and a thick, 2-meter shielded power cable. Those were thoughtful extras. If you’re going to make a significant investment in your audio equipment, there is nothing more frustrating than not having something as simple as a high quality power cord or trigger cable. I appreciated that attention to detail with the accessories.
The two amplifier models have exactly the same physical dimensions and are smaller than a shoe box. The M1000s and M500s have both balanced and unbalanced inputs on the rear of the chassis. With the flick of a switch, you select whether you want the balanced or unbalanced input to be active.
The Red Dragon amplifiers feature high quality binding posts, your choice of balanced or unbalanced inputs and a trigger in and out for daisy chaining amplifiers together.
Each amplifier can be powered on manually or automatically via a trigger input. There is also a trigger input and output located on the back of each amplifier, making it extremely simple to daisy-chain any number of amplifiers from a single trigger output on the back of your receiver or pre-pro.
The amplifiers come in either either silver or black brushed aluminum
In terms of their craftsmanship, my review pair of M1000 MkIIs came in a brushed black aluminum finish and the M500 MkIIs came in silver-colored brushed aluminum. It was simple and easy for me to tell them apart. Both were great looking and I slightly preferred the black look to the silver. You can order either amp in either finish.
Laser-etched on the front of each amplifier is the Red Dragon logo that glows with a red LED when the units are powered up. You cannot defeat the LED light or change its color (after all, the company is called Red Dragon) so you will need to cover the logo if you want to hide the glow of the light. Overall, I found the fit and finish of the amplifiers to be excellent and the red LED light of the logo to be a nice touch.
A note of caution: if you decide to purchase or audition either of the Red Dragon amplifiers, the M1000 MkIIs come internally set from the factory as either 115v (US) or 230v (European). You must order them pre-set for either one or the other.
The M500 MkIIs are user switchable with a 115/230v switch on the rear of the unit. They are set to 230V by default at the factory. This is done, Ryan told me, to prevent a very rare situation where running the amp in Europe while running it set to 115v can potentially cause some issues. Ryan is planning to incorporate Power Factor Correction into future models so they will operate on any common worldwide voltage/frequency. Thus, down the road, switching between 230v and 115v won't be necessary. In any event, If you are going to use them in the USA, it's simple enough to switch them to 115v.
I wanted to get the brute testing out of the way first and identify any performance issues. So, as Gene and I had discussed, I brought M1000s and M500s over to a setup centered around the Revel Ultima2 Salons to give them a thorough workout. Thankfully, the Red Dragon amps are incredibly light. Moving them from one physical location to another was easy.
First up were the M1000s. To put it bluntly, I didn’t like what I heard. Something sounded off and it was fatiguing to listen to. The oddity seemed to be confined to the upper frequencies and not so much the low end. Center images in particular sounded recessed and blurred.
The experience was similar to an eye doctor’s office where they have you trying on different prescription lenses. It was like looking at a not quite correct lens just before you get to the right one. Things are mostly clear but just blurry enough to frustrate you. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t snap it into focus. That’s what the audio experience was like. It was maddening.
The M500 MkII amplifiers did not exhibit any problems with either the Revel Ultima2 Salons or the SVS Ultra Towers.
I switched to the M500 MkIIs and the problem disappeared completely. They sounded really good on the Salon2s. I then brought the amplifiers back and set them up with the SVS Ultra Towers and had no audible problems with either amplifier. Both amps sounded just fine on the SVS speakers.
To confirm I wasn’t imagining what I heard, I called upon a good audiophile friend of mine named Paul. Paul has a background in electrical engineering and he was so passionate about audio that he took physics courses in college on audio and acoustics. He interned and later worked at a large radio station in Philadelphia where he served as their assistant engineer.
Paul and I arranged an evening audition where I once again brought the Red Dragon amplifiers to the setup with the Salon2s and we sat down to listen. That evening we set things up with the two Red Dragon amps models and a Lexicon 140wpc amp. I didn’t tip him off as to why we were going to listen to three amps on a setup with Salon2s. As we listened to a variety of music and genres, I asked him general, open-ended questions about what he heard.
I wouldn’t tell him which amp was the 140wpc (Lexicon), which was the 250w (M500 MkII), and which was the 500w (M1000 MkII) during our listening. In the end, I didn’t need to. Even though the amps were level-matched, he easily picked out the more powerful M1000 pair from their overall control and bass authority. While it was easy to discern which of the three amps had more power and control, that didn’t overshadow the imaging oddity when the M1000s were connected.
He noticed it too. We both felt that the audible issues were especially pronounced in the upper frequencies—almost like some of the upper frequencies were out of phase while the rest of the audible spectrum was fine.
After all that tracking back and forth between locations and speakers, talking with Ryan, doing additional debugging, and even trying to determine if I had a faulty M1000 MkII amp, what we finally concluded was the following pattern:
PAIRING RESULTS OF RED DRAGON AMPS AND SPEAKERS
|M1000 MkII||Ultima2 Salon||Didn’t Pair Well|
|M1000 MkII||SVS Ultra Tower||No problem|
|M500 MkII||Ultima2 Salon||No problem|
|M500 MkII||SVS Ultra Tower||No problem|
As you can see from the table above, it was only the M1000 MkIIs that had problems when paired with the Salon2s.
We feel like we finally got to the bottom of the issue: It wasn’t due to a faulty amp or the speakers being wired out of phase. Rather, Gene, Paul, Ryan, and I all concluded that the audible problems had to do with the ability of the M1000ASP B&O ICEpower modules to handle the load that the Salon2s presented at those more difficult to handle frequencies that the Salon2s had shown in their measurements. Gene also reminded me that some ICEpower modules we've previously measured at Audiohoics struggled with speakers that dipped into 4 ohms at higher frequencies.
To be clear, all of this was subjective listening. However, each time we listened to the M1000s the anomaly was present. I anticipate that if we had measured the amps on the bench, we would have confirmed it with raw data.
While both amplifiers are built using the most current B&O ICEpower modules, the M500 MkIIs are based on the 125ASX2 modules. The 125ASX2 is actually a more updated design of the ICEpower technology. Although the 1000ASP modules are the most current model, they are a slightly older ICEpower design.
Whatever changes B&O made to the 125ASX2 module seems to have addressed the load problems previous generations may have been having. Unfortunately, B&O hasn’t released a comparable update for the core 1000ASP amplifier modules under the hood of the M1000s. Consequently, the M1000s just didn’t mate well with the Salon2s.
Similarities and Differences between the M1000 MkII and M500 MkII
What will more power in an amplifier give me? That’s an oft-asked question, and you may hear that more power is simply about being able to play your audio cleaner, at louder volumes, and without distortion. While that will certainly hold true, having more power available in an amplifier isn’t just about the ability play loudly.
In both my experience and listening preference, the need for more power is all about speaker control. Putting that "control" into words is difficult. A simple analogy might be the difference you see between different TV screen resolutions. The higher the definition, the clearer and more refined the picture will seem. The M1000’s and M500’s provided an opportunity to test that directly.
Remember, the M1000 MkII is spec’d out at double the power of the M500 MkII (doubling the power of an amp will only translate into a +3db boost in volume). In the listening tests I conducted, the M1000 always called attention to itself by its iron grip on the bottom end and overall dynamics. As I mentioned previously, when conducting a listening session with my audiophile buddy Paul and the three different amps (the two Red Dragons and a 140wpc Lexicon—all leveled in each session) he was instantly able to discern that the M1000 was the more powerful amp of the three. I didn’t at any time reveal to him the power ratings of the amps. Every single time I connected the M1000s, the bass was not only a more controlled, but you could feel it in your chest. In that respect, the experience with the M1000s was more like listening to live music. It was incredibly addictive.
The other thing Paul and I both noticed going from the M1000 to the M500 and finally to the Lexicon was that the Lexicon sounded different than either the M1000 or M500 (you can read our article on "The Sound of Amplifiers: Can you hear a difference between Amps?") I’m cautious anytime I’m doing a comparison like this because it’s always a subjective and relative comparison. You don’t have a truly objective marker. You’re just comparing one thing to another.
Detail of the 125ASX2 ICEpower module
Depending on your listening preference, I’d say that the Lexicon sounded comparatively warmer. Some might even characterize it as slightly darker. Conversely, you could also argue that the Red Dragons were dryer or perhaps leaned a bit to the brighter side. Again, comparatively speaking, I felt that the M1000 and M500’s gave a more analytical and detailed presentation of any content we threw at them.
Because the Salons and SVS Ultra Towers are both considered full range speakers they really allowed that extra power to shine. Personally, I felt that the Salon’s benefited from the extra power more than the Ultra Towers.
You didn't just hear tighter bass with the Salons, but you really felt the sound pressure hit you more with the M1000. I’ll confess that even with the maddening issues the M1000’s presented with the Salons, there was something incredibly seductive in the way they controlled the lower midrange and bass. Aside from dynamics and control, both amplifiers sounded similar.
I didn’t want my anomalous experience with the M1000s and the Salons to present me with any negative bias during the review period. As such, I chose to use the M500 MkIIs for the majority of my listening. Unless specifically noted, my listening test comments below were done on the M500s but the conclusions would likely be applicable to both amplifiers.
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Recent Forum Posts:
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
I live in a medium sized city. We used to have at least three specialty audio shops. Now we're down to one.
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…
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 speakersone of which was a Salon2my hunch would be that if you tried the current M500 MkIIs you'd have no issue with your SalonsI 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.