MERRILL AUDIO VERITAS MONOBLOCK AMPLIFIERS
$12,000 per Pair
It was the late 1970s and I was happily listening to Steely Dan’s Aja through a way cool Pioneer receiver, with its gorgeous blue backlit meters, driving my equally good looking JBL wood veneered speakers. Life was good, so I thought. Then it happened. A buddy of mine was talking one day about his tube amplifiers and how they soft clipped and sounded “sweet”. Conventional wisdom at the time held that tubes were passé, so I thought he was crazy, but I stopped at his house anyway for a listen. To say that I was awestruck at what I heard is like saying that Marilyn Monroe was pretty. The palpable, harmonically compelling midrange pouring out of his ESS speakers, powered by Dynaco Mark VI tube monoblocks, made an instant convert out of me, starting me on my life-long fascination with tube gear and high end audio.
Fast forward to 2014; the Merrill Audio Veritas monoblock amplifiers (named after the Greek Goddess of Truth) have arrived to take up temporary residence along side of my Audio Research VT 100 Mk II amplifier. Frankly, I was non-plussed by these rather plain looking aluminum blocks. Why on earth would publisher James Darby send this thermionic disciple a solid state amplifier, and a Class D design at that? Because I heard them at two different shows and was impressed enough to award them a Best of Show Award and I knew, even though like me, you are a tube maven, you would be honest despite your bias ~ publisher. Ho-hum, I thought; let’s get this over with, and soon. Well, guess what- history repeats itself. But rather than get ahead of myself, indulge me as I set the stage for one incredible experience with the Veritas.
First of all, I had to convince myself that a Class D amplifier could sound at least good, if not great. After all, if you mention Class D in audio discourse, stand back and watch the sparks fly. Opinions run the gamut, with most of them decidedly negative. On the positive side, Class D is efficient, cost effective, and has a place in pro audio, particularly in amplifying sub-woofers where plenty of tidy and clean power is required. Move on to the negative side and Class D has been accused of sounding clinical, threadbare, two-dimensional, and just plain weird. Happily, it didn’t take long for me to disavow my preconceptions about Class D.
Of course, the audio geneticist will tell you that Class D is not inherently amusicial. Music lies somewhere in its DNA, awaiting discovery and exploitation by some mad audio engineers working into the wee hours of the morning in a castle atop Mount Darby. In our flick, the cast of inimitable characters includes Bruno Putzey of Hypex Audio and Merrill Wettasinghe of Merrill Audio. Bruno and his associates are the progenitors of the Hypex NCore 1200 Module, an amplification device that has jettisoned Class D’s problems and created quite a buzz of late. Merrill, an audio engineer and inveterate audiophile, has taken Bruno’s creation and exploited it to a fare-the-well in the Veritas, a 400 watt mono block that has been turning heads and giving pause to the Class D naysayers.
Impressive as it is, Merrill rightly insists that the 1200 module is only part of the picture. In his quixotic pursuit of “audio purity”, Merrill has invested a number of features in the Veritas that shout out, “neutrality uber alles”: signal paths are kept as short as possible, using point to point wiring; a fully balanced differential circuit is employed for low noise, which adds greatly to the cost of any amp; Cardas litz wire is used throughout (the strands are decidedly more expensive and difficult to work with than solid core, but are far more linear); Cardas copper/rhodium binding posts and gold plated XLR inputs provide superior connectivity; and Synergistic Research Quantum tunneling fuses help keep the noise floor down and improve resolution.
Usually, class D amps are lightweight, weighing in at 20 pounds or less, sometimes even for stereo amps. The Veritas weighs 33 pounds.
But wait, there is more! The electronics are encased in a one inch thick solid billet of aircraft grade aluminum with machined chambers, to minimize internal vibrations and intra component interference. On the back, two sets of Cardas binding posts allow for bi-wiring. The Cardas post is a clever device that uses a clamp to secure both ends of your cables at once, and it is an absolute delight to use - if you have spade connectors or bare wire. Bayonet style ends are more problematic but still usable with a little patience. On the other hand, the miniscule plastic wrench that tightens the supplied Stillpoint Ultramini footers is anything but, and you will need the patience of Job to tighten them. Still, the presence of the Stillpoints rather than typical rubber footers as well as the Cardas which are considered by most to be the best sounding connectors in the industry (and not cheap) are other indicators that Merrill is aiming for top-of-the-heap performance.
If you are into garden hose size cables, you will be glad to know that the Veritas is shipped with some hefty, cryo treated power cords from Triode Wire Labs. An additional $800.00 will get you even bigger (and longer) power cords from Less-Loss. Both cords were provided with the review units, and I preferred the Less-Loss for its slightly greater speed and tauter bass. The power cords are inserted into a sturdy, gold plated Furtech IEC connector.
The Veritas’ plain appearance won’t appeal to those into audio jewelry. Not that it is ugly, but one can imagine it being pulled from a vault at Fort Knox and given a coat of paint. The only attempt at aesthetics is the engraved lettering and replica of pure sine wave, the latter serving as a visual reminder of what the Veritas is all about. The Veritas comes wrapped in a satin pouch, a nice touch, but one that does not make you forget that what you are paying for is its extraordinary performance, not its looks.
The Veritas boasts some pretty impressive specifications, including an extremely low output impedance of 3 milliohm, which promises high efficiency and outstanding linearity into complex speaker loads, such as the electrostatic speakers that Merrill uses as a reference. Electrostatic and Class D are considered an insane combination because most Class D amps will simply self destruct attempting to traverse the sometimes wild and low (below 4 Ohms) impedance of such speakers. Clearly that is not the case here. In operation, the Veritas was one cool cat and performed without any annoying quirks. It has a standby button located underneath the chassis which is illuminated by a blue light when in active mode (another nice touch but nothing like those gorgeous blue lit Pioneer meters). The Veritas is protected from fault damage by a microprocessor that monitors the power supply and shuts it down until the fault condition is cleared.
All I Want is the Truth---
---and it is been handed to me in an aluminum billet.
In his own words, Merrill wants to “hear music as it was intended by the recording engineer, without alteration or smoothing”. He predicts that the Veritas will be at the forefront of amplification for a good 5-10 years because of its speed, dynamic range, accuracy, and low noise floor. Moreover, he believes that the Veritas will become increasingly relevant as improvements are realized in recording and playback technology.
One cannot help but admire Merrill’s passionate pursuit of the absolute. After all, isn’t that the ultimate dream of an audiophile? Well, not so fast! As we all know, audio is replete with factional adherents who swear that their particular flavor of reality is the way to go - analog, digital, tube, solid state, Class A, vinyl, high res (DSD, 24/192) downloads, single ended, reel to reel - all have their vocal (and sometimes rabid) proponents. This is what makes this hobby so utterly fascinating - and frustrating! But that is precisely why Stereomojo exists - to illuminate and educate our readers, often shattering many pre-conceived notions and myths that are the fodder of our hobby. Take a product like the Class D Veritas and insert into this mix, and it is bound to be controversial.
I submitted the Veritas to a battery of tests to determine if it is indeed the “truth teller” that it is touted to be. For good or for bad, I can tell you without hesitation (or moral reservation) that Merrill’s vision of audio purity has been realized in breathtaking fashion. His fanatical attention to every conceivable detail has resulted in an amplifier with virtually no sound of its own, at least in the context of my system - no euphony, no colorations, no dynamic constrictions - only pure, unadulterated sound true to the source. His predictions for the Veritas are bold indeed, but I have no doubt it will garner more than a few adherents.
What struck me first about the Veritas is its preternaturally low noise floor. I have never encountered an amplifier this quiet. There is absolutely no noise, fog, or haze---only deep space silence. When you factor in its incredible resolving capabilities, which we will get to momentarily, you come face to face with a formidable amplifier that can go the distance with the heavy weights out there in our Constellation. Only be prepared to get everything else right in your system or you will swear that the Veritas is nothing more than an insanely expensive piece of aluminum. Thus, VTA adjustments are no longer optional. Cable matching becomes hyper-critical (as I learned switching between three sets of power cables). Inferior components have no where to hide. The Veritas is extremely transparent, not only with music, but everything else that flows to and from it. This is not an amplifier for the faint of heart.
The Veritas’ lack of noise, coupled with its extraordinary resolution and lack of grain, contributed to its superior “reality” rating, that is, the measure of a component’s ability to get out of the way to the “nth” degree so that you think you are listening to a live microphone feed. This can be heard on the best recordings, especially those that employ minimal microphones and eschew electronic manipulation (no pro tools please).
A superb example is the Analogue Productions 45 rpm reissue of Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. The sound at times is so spooky real that you can imagine you are at the 1959 session, listening to the fabulous quartet record their now famous jazz masterpiece at Columbia’s marvelous 30th Street Studios (alas no more). Listen to Joe Morello’s brush work towards the end of Everybody’s Jumping. You can almost visualize his movement around his kit, and the air surrounding his kit is palpable. Jump ahead to 1961; you are at the Village Vanguard, laying “earwitness” to the Bill Evans Trio recording their seminal Waltz for Debbie. If Scott LaFaro’s incisive bass playing doesn’t give you chills, something is amiss in your system. Believe me, the Veritas will not be the culprit.
What really drove home this superior reality rating was my recording of a 33 member choir performing Christmas music. The venue was a small church with linear acoustics. I recorded direct to two track to my 24/96 capable Alesis MasterLink recorder (thanks to fellow reviewer Dr. John Richardson for his assistance). With the sound of the event fresh in mind, I rushed back home and was simply bowled over when I played back the recording through the Veritas. What I heard at the venue was being reproduced with mind blowing authenticity. The precise location of the different sections of the choir; the individual vocal textures, especially of the soloists; the wide open dynamics of the chorus; the acoustic of the venue - all were present to stunning degree. Even my wife, who is not an audiophile, was taken aback by the authenticity of the sound, commenting that she preferred the recording to her second row seat!
I attribute this sense of reality in part to the absence of any background noise coming from the Veritas. Some call this a black background, as if the performance is occurring in front of a black curtain. I heard no such patina with the Veritas. In fact, I heard nothing at all when the music wasn’t playing (unless I was playing one of my party hammered LPs). When the music was playing, the acoustic of the venue was laid bare as never before in my experience, tube or no-tube. This aspect of its performance is allied to its utter lack of noise and contributes, I believe, to its ability to make the best recordings sound real and infused with the spark of life.
If you think that an amplifier no bigger than a DVD player cannot put out a credible 400 watts, think again. Don’t be fooled by the slim chassis, or the absence of protruding transformers ala Mount Rushmore: the Veritas packs a punch that will convince you that truth telling lies behind its 400 watt/channel rating. With my Wilson MAXX II speakers, it achieved a level of authority that surprised and delighted me.
This was my conclusion following an onslaught of recordings that test an amplifier’s dynamic spread and stability. As a drummer, I naturally gravitated to drum solo recordings. A particular favorite of mine is the late Joe Morello’s extended 5/4 solo in Castilian Drums, recorded live at Carnegie Hall with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Morello was not known for bombast, but he could light a fire when called for by the music. Here, his kit was closely miked, and the Veritas makes it sound that way: rim shots explode; the bass drum has weight, impact, and texture; hard struck cymbals sound scarily real, and when Morello lets loose at the end, you can physically sense the excitement swelling out of his kit and towards an appreciative audience. When Merrill’s literature speaks of the “crack of the snare drum you can feel across your chest”, I swear Merrill must have passed a lie detector test, as this is no hype.
Likewise, when Louis Bellson traverses his kit in Lester Leaps In (Count Basie Jam Session at the Montreaux Jazz Festival), you can almost feel the punctuated strokes of his sticks flying off of his snare and assorted toms, as well as the palpable force of his famous double bass drums. The Veritas’ touted “speed” was also in evidence with this recording, allowing me to better appreciate Bellson’s phenomenal technical ability. While we are still on the subject of drums, the bass drum in Wilson’s “Winds of War and Peace” will sound like it has indeed been struck by the “mallet of death”.
The Veritas was adept at scaling the dynamic swings present in my reference orchestral recordings. Say what you will about the dry acoustics, but Sheffield’s direct to disc recording of excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet presents the ultimate challenge to an amplifier’s dynamic prowess. Listen to the Introduction to Act III, where hushed strings give way to a cataclysm of conjoined orchestral forces that will make what is left of your hair stand on end. Lesser amplifiers run for cover - not the Veritas. It presents the brute force of this passage without any hint of congestion, compression, or purpose of evasion. Even more compelling perhaps is the way the Veritas handled the punishment dished out by the often demonic climaxes in much of Prokofiev’s music, say, for example, those found in the Scythian Suite (Antal Dorati, LSO, Mercury Living Presence LP), and the Battle on Ice from Alexander Nevsky (Athena Productions ALSY-10003). The Veritas had no problem orbiting Mars (Holst, the Planets-Mehta 45 rpm), with its hammering 5/4 rhythm, swelling crescendos, and fist pumping conclusion. With the right speakers and recordings, the Veritas will produce SPLs that approach reality, without any sense of strain or dynamic compression. It will not be fazed by any warped attempts to unhinge it.
Moving away from the fireworks, there is more truth telling to discuss, but of a different sort. That is, truth in timbre, which gets down to resolving power, especially in the mid-band. I have been captivated by great tube gear precisely because they get the intricate harmonic structure of acoustic instruments right. So when I tell you that the Veritas does not sound like tubes, or for that matter, any other "state" gear I have spent time with, does that mean that its reproduction of timbre is askew?
The answer is a “qualified no”. Most of the time the Veritas proved its textural sophistication by allowing acoustic instruments and voices to sound real, not reproduced. I never heard Radka Toneff’s haunting vocals and Steve Dobrogosz ‘s percussive piano strokes (Fairy Tales – Odin) sound so life-like. Speaking of the piano, the Veritas provided the best reproduction of a grand piano that I have ever heard. When I put on Pictures at an Exhibition, (Hyperion Knight, Wilson Audiophile), it was one of those head (ear) turning moments that stops you dead in your tracks. It was all there - gloriously life-like tonality, expressive dynamics, speed, presence, and impressive left hand weight and authority. But more important, I was drawn into the performance as never before. I listened to the entire performance, which is something I rarely do with solo piano recordings.
The Veritas’ truth in timbre extended to the saxophones in Blues and the Abstract Truth, differentiating between Oliver Nelson’s and Eric Dolphy’s alto saxes in Teenie’s Blues (Dolphy’s has the brighter and “reedier” tone). Each of the myriad orchestral instruments in the close up and dry studio recording of Britten’s A Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra (Capitol - Felix Slatkin) retained its unique harmonic structure. In addition, vocals were well served by the Veritas, as I discovered listening to Sinatra croon away at the Village Sands, and while enjoying Ella’s tender yet bouncy rendition of jazz classics in Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie.
Now let me get to my “qualified no”. Although I would not call its presentation dry or anti-septic, the Veritas may sound that way to those used to the sound of some tube amplifiers. If you like your strings lush and velvet smooth, the Veritas is not for you. Depending on the recording, string tone can sound thinned out and slightly diaphanous compared to my Audio Research VT 100 MK II, which better fleshes out strings and other harmonically enriched instruments. VTA adjustments did not eliminate this effect, nor was this a break in phenomena as the review samples were well traveled (having come from another reviewer in Hawaii!). Perhaps it was simply a matter of the Veritas’ greater fidelity to the source, or maybe there was some curious system interaction at play. It does make me wonder if the Veritas is optimized for the impedance characteristics of the electrostatic speakers the Merrill Audio uses as a reference, even though Merrill advised me that the Veritas was tested and found to be compatible with all manner of speaker types. As expected with cutting edge components, system matching will be critical in achieving musical satisfaction. Merrill understands this, which is why they offer a 30 day money back guaranty. You can you return the Veritas if you find that “audio purity” is not for you. Some people can't handle the truth...
Until now, the discussion has been about the Veritas’ phenomenal ability to sound real with the best recordings. However, unless your collection contains only hand-picked gems from HP’s list, you are right to ask if your lesser recordings (sonically, that is), will have to be taken out with the trash. After all, Merrill does not hide the fact that he wants his amplifier to act as a “sonic lie detector”, snobbishly weeding out the great from everything else. I have hundreds of LPs that fall into the latter category, and no way are they going to a landfill where Michael Fremer can get his nitty-gritty hands on them.
Exacting though it is, the Veritas is no miserly curmudgeon, and it does have a heart. It adores music, and if it has a propensity to expose warts, it will at the same time find the music, like a prospector sifting for gold. Sometimes it finds fools gold, but more often than not, it will find the merit (sonic-wise) in your recordings.
When Merrill sent me the Veritas, he dared me to have fun; so I did--- running amuck in my collection and randomly pulling recordings left and right like a giddy LP buff shopping at Jerry’s fabulous used record store in “Terrible Towel City”, aka Pittsburg PA. Rock, jazz, classical, folk, you name it, they all hit the platter. Much to my surprise, I found that, as before, I was able to enjoy (or at least listen around the failings of) recordings that are bright or shrill (e.g. Meloydia), or are otherwise indifferently recorded or pressed (e.g.,Dynaflex). By adding very little to the signal (except gain of course), the Veritas will not add heat to your overcooked recordings, nor will it exaggerate its other flaws. They are there be there to be heard, but unlike some (forgiving) amplifiers, they are not “smoothed over”.
In the end, the Veritas sailed through my battery of truth telling tests and proved itself to be one formidable amplifier. It shines with its breathtaking detail, transparency, lack of noise, lightning speed, and dynamic alacrity. I suspect it will be a game changer for those who still have lingering doubts about Class D. It was for me, just like my first encounter with tubes those many years ago. At the same time, its unstinting refusal to beautify recordings may not appeal to those who like their sound more “real” than life.
A high performing vehicle owes as much to its chassis as its does its engine. Merrill has taken a high performing musical engine (the Hypex NCore 1200 module) and inserted it into a masterfully conceived 1" thick aircraft chassis with ultra high performance speaker connectors, footers and even a way above standard power cable to create an amplifier that took me on one exhilarating musical journey. I listened anew to familiar recordings and was mesmerized by how it took me more than a few steps closer to reality. But like a high performing vehicle, it requires care and feeding, and it will not give of its best unless you tend to such matters. Even then, it may balk at going down your chosen road to musical satisfaction if you prefer a more romantic, lush coloration. In that case, matching them with an excellent tube preamp would be a good choice for perhaps the best of both worlds.
If your goal is to get as close to the source as possible, and the rest of your system is up to the task, the Veritas is an excellent choice and should be on your short list of amplifiers. Although $12,000/pr is not chump change, you would have to look long and hard to find this much truth telling at this price or even far above. Forget its Class D heritage and marvel at its ability to bring the performers into your listening room.
Be aware that transparency at this level is a two-edged sword as the Veritas will reveal the true sound of your preamp, sources and cables.
At 400 watts, it should drive about any speaker and it has proven that it can handle the low impedance demands of even electrostatic speakers or perhaps Magnepans. In fact, the Veritas is rated at 1,200 watts at TWO Ohms! Most class D amps, even in commercial grade, have warnings not to use them below 4 Ohms. Merrill offers a 30 day money back return policy and a 5 year transferable warranty.
The Merrill Veritas has earned our rare...
Congratulations to Merrill Audio!
VPI Classic 2 turntable; Benz Micro SM and Grado Reference cartridges; Denon DVD 2910 SACD/CD Player; Anedio D1 DAC; Alexis ML 9600 Masterlink High Resolution Recorder; Audio Research LS 25 Mk II Linestage Preamplifier; Audio Research PH3 SE Phono Preamplifier; Wilson Audio MAXX speakers; Cabling - Nordost and Transparent.