This equipment review consists of a full subjective evaluation of the Aragon 8008 Power Amplifier written by Greg Borrowman together with a complete set of independent laboratory tests conducted by Newport Test Labs and a test report written by Steve Holding.
The full review text is below, but the downloadable pdf is an exact replica of the original pages, including all images, test results and graphs from Australian Hi-Fi Magazine.
Don’t you just love it when a beautiful form is also functional? Or, to put it the other way around, when a functional form is also beautiful? That’s what Indy Audio Labs has achieved with the Aragon 8008. That distinctive ‘V’ slashed though the front panel is a very clever section of custom heatsinking that allows the heat generated by this 200-watt per channel amplifier (into 8Ω, it’s rated at 400-watts per channel into 4Ω) to dissipate into the atmosphere without the need for fan assistance, even when the amplifier is mounted in an equipment rack.
One thing you should know right away is that the Aragon 8008 that’s available on the shelves in Australia now is not quite the same as the Aragon 8008 that was sold in the late 90s. It’s a different beast entirely… or if not ‘entirely different’ then ‘mostly different. According to Rick Santiago, CEO of Indy Audio Labs, which now builds the Aragon 8008 (in the USA, I should add, but see our breakout box ‘Company History’ for more information), the ‘original’ Aragon 8008 was a redesigned Aragon 4004 with updated transistors, an updated balanced input and improved heat dissipation. It had a single power transformer, with independent windings around a common core and eight output devices per channel. It was known as the ‘ST’ (‘Single Transformer’) model. There was later a ‘BB’ version of the 8008 that had two separate transformers, and could be ordered with either balanced or unbalanced inputs, and which had 12 output devices per channel.
The ST and BB were sold concurrently. After Klipsch purchased Mondial, it brought out a Mark II dual-transformer version of the 8008 with upgraded cosmetics, over-temp protection, and balanced and unbalanced inputs, designed by Mike Kusiak who, with Adam Gershon, had been responsible for the original design. This new version of the 8008 from Indy Audio Labs was developed by IAL’s chief engineer, Joe Land (who won the 2012 Eaton Award for Design Excellence from Purdue University).
One of the main differences between Land’s new design and that of Kusiak’s is that whereas Kusiak still used Toshiba 2SA1302/2SC3281 transistor pairs in the output, Land uses MJL3281A/MJL1302AG transistor pairs, which are ultra-modern, high-current NPN/PNP gain-matched devices with an exceptional safe operating area. The MJL devices are made by ON Semiconductor.
(Given the history of the 8008, I think Indy Audio Labs could have prevented a lot of model number confusion by naming the 8008 something else entirely, but I guess it wanted to capitalise on the popularity of the different 8008 variants.)
The new 8008 has a 12V remote trigger circuit, an RS232 DB9 connector so the amplifier can be remotely controlled by an external system controller (Crestron etc) and an Ethernet port that allows the amplifier to connect to a network, after which it can be controlled using Aragon’s proprietary Enhanced Ethernet Control technology (E2C). Basically, once the 8008 is connected via Ethernet to a network, you can use any device connected to the network—computer, tablet, Smartphone, etc—to control and monitor it. So you can, using a standard browser, switch the 8008 on or off, mute and un-mute the speaker outputs, and monitor the temperature of each channel’s heatsink. The muting circuitry is completely unusual (I’ve never seen its type before), in that you can mute the left and right channel outputs simultaneously or individually, which Aragon suggests could be ‘useful for simple troubleshooting and set-up of individual channels, particularly in a multichannel surround set-up.’ The other application for E2C is to allow remote monitoring and diagnostics by Aragon itself or, if your Aragon is part of a custom home install system, by the systems integrator who installed it in your home.
Remove the external casing from the 8008 (though I would advise that you do not do this, because there are some dangerously high voltages inside—and will be even for a considerable length of time after the amplifier has been switched off and disconnected from the mains power—but also because the casing itself is also very difficult to re-fit) will reveal two, two massive 0.5kVA bifilarwound toroidal transformers, stacked one atop the other, that feed pairs of 35-amp diode bridge rectifiers and then 140,000μF of capacitance in the shape of four huge 35,000μF electrolytic capacitors (unmarked).
The output devices are six MJL3281A/ MJL1302AG pairs, as mentioned previously. There are no monolithic integrated circuits in the signal path, which is d.c.-coupled from input to output, and zero-offset is maintained by a Land-designed servo circuit. The control and monitoring sub-systems are integrated to provide thermal, short-circuit and overcurrent protection and do not impact on the signal path. The speaker outputs are bespoke paralleled high-current, 60-amp gold-plated binding posts that accept banana plugs, stripped wire, pins or spade connectors. The posts are mounted on 19mm centres, so you can use dual Pomona plugs if you prefer.
Aragon provides insulated gold-plated RCA inputs for the unbalanced inputs, and professional-grade XLR connectors for the balanced inputs. Two aluminium finishes are available: brushed alloy and anodised black. I was very happy with the bright finish of our review loaner until I saw a photograph of the black anodised version, after which I changed allegiances!
In Use and Listening Sessions?
The excellent heat management means that positioning the Aragon 8008 isn’t as critical as it would be with some other high-power, non-fan-assisted power amplifiers, but you should still exercise the usual cautions, and make certain the bottom of the amplifier is sitting well clear of whatever it’s sitting on, to ensure a constant flow of air under the amplifier and then up through the ‘chimneys’ created by the V-shaped heatsink.
The in-rush current into the Aragon’s power supply is so great that I think I’d be recommending you put in a separate 240V power circuit for it, if you haven’t done so already. Even the internal circuits feel the load, with the amplifier switching on with an almost-physical ‘crump’. Aragon makes significant mention in its manual that you should switch all components connected to the 8008 on first, and then turn the amplifier on last of all. Heed this sensible advice!
However, the amplifier does not instantly spring into life. There’s around a six second pause while the amplifier checks its own internals, and that the speaker terminals are not short-circuited, during which time the light around the power button flashes orange. Once everything has been checked and the internal circuitry is stable, the amplifier becomes fully operational, which is indicated by the light around the power button glowing a steady blue colour.
I started listening at low volume, because low volume levels are typically the Achilles’ heel of very high-power amplifiers, because in order to be able to deliver high power output, some of the subtle niceties are lost at the lowest listening levels. The good news is that this paradigm turned out not to be the case with the Aragon 8008. At low levels, the sound was so sweet and pure that I could have been listening to a low-powered Class-A amplifier. Equally important, the ‘flow’ of the music was still exactly right, as was evidenced to me by listening to the Kreutzer Quartet’s new album, Unfold, now available on the Move Label. On it, the quartet plays confronting music from modernist Australian composers Don Banks, Nigel Butterley, Richard Meale and Felix Werder. All the compositions depend on perfect timing, yet timing that is mostly organic rather than dictated by the music… as evidenced by Butterley’s String Quartet (1965) where in the second movement, there are no bar lines, and the players are directed that ‘the upper parts are independent of each other, but each player should relate his part fairly closely to the cello part. But it isn’t only the organic timing that the Aragon 8008 delivers perfectly: the very low-level sounds of single strings dying away into the acoustic — particularly on Meale’s String Quartet No 1 (1974). This is in no small part aided by the absolutely superb recording by Johnathan Haskell (Astounding Sounds) who used the Aldbury Parish Church in Hertfordshire for the purpose. All my listening was on 16-bit/44.1kHz CD (Move 3371) but apparently a 192/24 version is also available from Move, and includes Banks’ Sequence (for solo cello). If you listen to the samples of this disc that are available on Move’s website (www.move.com.au) I would recommend that you persevere, because once you get ‘into’ what the composers are getting at, you’ll be mesmerised and haunted by all the tracks… and, as I said, the sound capture achieved by Haskell is brilliant!
For a bit of oomph, so that I could give the power capabilities of the Aragon 8008 a real try-out, I really wound the wick up on Louisa Rose Allen’s debut album ‘Glorious’ (which cataloguing programs seem to want to label as Synthpop) and began to fear for my bass drivers, so overblown are the kick drums and synth bass notes. (If you’re looking for this album, for some reason Allen calls herself Foxes, so the album is known as ‘Foxes Glorious’—or, rather, the three albums are collectively known as this, since there’s a standard CD, a deluxe CD (signed) and a limited edition vinyl version…or I should say ‘was’ because it appears the deluxe and vinyl versions are sold out…). I can see why they sold out, because despite the (IMO) completely over-the-top engineering and production, the songs (all written by Louisa with various collaborators) are totally engaging. It became a regular spinner for me, even after I’d returned the Aragon, so much so that I’d spend the money all over again for an ‘unplugged’ version of exactly the same album.
Back with some of my totally familiar well-recorded CDs of acoustic instruments I was able to judge that unlike some solid-state amps, this new version of the 8008 is not ‘clinical’ at all, but instead comes across as almost totally neutral in sonic character… though I say ‘almost totally neutral’ because I often detected a hint of mellow softness, as if the Aragon was thinking about being a valve amp, but couldn’t commit. And why should it, considering the tremendous resolving power it exhibited, both in terms of dynamics and pacing, but also in terms of soundstaging. It’s clearly superior-sounding in all these important musical factors. It also imbues in the highest frequencies that almost ethereal sense of ‘air’ that frees music from any circuit-bound shackles, so it sits perfectly in the environs of your listening room. No doubt about it, this new Aragon 8008 is a wonderfully musical amplifier.
Indy Audio Labs’ newly re-vamped Aragon 8008 is everything you could possibly wish for in a two-channel audiophile power amplifier… plus you’re getting true high-end performance at a distinctly unhigh-end price which is no mean feat when you consider how much high-tech interfacing has been built in, and also that the amplifier is made entirely in the good ol’ USA. greg borrowman
Aragon 8008 Dual Mono Power Amplifier
- Front-panel controls, Switch-on thump, Volume control
Warranty: Five Years
Product page: Powermove Distribution