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Gryphon Diablo 300

Reviewers' ChoiceAs soon as Doug Schneider approached me about my reviewing Constellation Audio’s Revelation Andromeda phono stage, I hopped on their website and snooped around.

You gotta love these guys. They offer two -- count 'em -- phono stages, and not just because LPs are now big on Instagram. No, Constellation Audio is spreading analog love around, like soft butter on toast.

Lament box

The Constellation Audio Revelation Andromeda is an ambitious phono stage with an ambitious price: $19,900 USD. Its RIAA circuit was designed by hi-fi visionary and legend John Curl.

Constellation Audio

The Revelation Andromeda comprises two enclosures. The larger, control box measures 17”W x 5.25”H x 15”D and weighs 45 pounds; the power supply is 17”W x 2.75”H x 14.5”D and 22 pounds. They’re connected with three umbilicals, one each for the left and right channels and the control circuitry. Each umbilical is fed by a dedicated transformer. For greater purity of power, Constellation offers an optional DC power filter ($6000).

The case’s panels are machined from billet aluminum to an exceedingly high standard. They fit together with an air-tight, tomb-like precision that evokes the Hellraiser cube. According to Constellation, the panels slide together, tongue in groove, and are reinforced by steel buttresses.

Constellation suspends the circuit board via a rubbery, Sorbothane-like material. While I wasn’t up to disassembling the review sample to peek inside, I could easily feel the compliance when I pushed on the rear-panel connectors.

Constellation Audio

With one small exception, the Revelation Andromeda was a pleasure to use. The connectors are solid and clearly marked, with left inputs on the left and right inputs on the right, as befits a fully balanced design. However, that means you need to be able to stretch the two connectors of your phono cable quite far apart. On the flip side, if you’re slapping down 20 large on a phono stage, what’s another thou for a new cable? In for a penny . . .

The LCD screen is activated by the leftmost of a series of buttons on the underside of the front panel -- if the display is dark, they’re findable only by feel. The far-left button wakes the Andromeda, after which the screen displays the functions of the remaining three buttons. From left to right after that wakey-wakey button are Power, Setup (for screen timeouts, brightness, etc.), and Mute. Once I’d familiarized myself with the layout, it felt natural and well thought out.

All selections of gain and input are handled via the screen. You can choose high or low output, and stereo or mono for both the moving-coil and moving-magnet sections. Around back are DIP switches for adjusting the capacitive and resistive loading of MM cartridges. Also on the back is the dial for adjusting the loading of MCs.

Constellation Audio

Here’s the inelegant part: The front-panel display shows the load for each channel (it’s dual-mono), but in order to adjust the load, you have to reach around to the rear panel, find that little dial by feel, then slowly turn it to get the desired value. The dial is sensitive, and it is not stepped -- you must contort your arm and hand while keeping an eye glued to the display. Each channel has its own dial, one on each side of the rear panel, so you then have to repeat this process for the other channel. If your equipment rack is tight for space, you won’t enjoy this process.

But I’m a set-it-and-forget-it guy -- I found the setting the Andromeda’s loading mildly annoying, but it didn’t bother me much. My good friend Rich, however, is an inveterate knob twiddler -- he likes to use MC loading as a kind of tone control, and he’s always screwing with it. Rich is not the Andromeda’s target customer.

I think I could live with the Andromeda -- it’s a sexy, brutally solid phono stage that looks, feels, and sounds like the state of the art, and it deserves an easier way of adjusting an MC’s load.

The Andromeda has four discrete inputs, and can accommodate up to three turntables. The breakdown is as follows. There are two MC inputs, RCA and XLR -- you can hook up a ’table to either or both. Of course, being fully balanced, the XLR input is best, and it’s accessed via the MC1 selector on the LCD panel. (I used only the balanced inputs.) If you hook up through the RCA input, you’ll need to use the MC2 input.

The dual MM inputs are mirrored, but only one can be in use at any time. So there’s only one MM option on the front panel.

I fed the Andromeda signals from three record players. First, using only the Constellation’s balanced inputs, I alternated between a VPI Prime Signature turntable with freshly rebuilt Roksan Shiraz cartridge, and a Pro-Ject RPM 10 Carbon turntable with Top Wing Blue Dragon cartridge. The Top Wing seemed happiest at a surprisingly high 190 ohms; the Shiraz was able to deal with 125 ohms.

Constellation Audio

Fresh in for review was Dr. Feickert Analogue’s Volare turntable, with Origin Live Silver tonearm and MoFi Master Tracker MM cartridge. Since the Silver arm is hardwired with a single-ended cable, that’s what I plugged into the Andromeda’s MM input (RCA). After futzing around with the capacitance and impedance DIPs for a while, I concluded that the Andromeda’s default settings worked best, and left them there for the duration of the review.

I’d wager that few people will buy a Revelation Andromeda for use with a moving-magnet cartridge. That Constellation has included such an input is admirable, though, and it sure made my work on the Volare review easier. The sound with the Feickert-MoFi combo was great -- however, in this review I discuss only the Andromeda’s performance with the two MC cartridges I had on hand, the sound of both of which I know well.

In my time with the Revelation Andromeda, it never burped: no hum, pops, or other noises; no control hiccups; its display was precise and easy to understand; its relays clicked with military precision; its MC impedance never wavered. The Andromeda is expensive, but it feels unbelievably solid, and radiates an air of professionalism. If I were dangling over a gorge, the Andromeda would be the audio component I’d want anchoring me at the other end of that rope.

Fire it up

I can generally get the measure of a pair of speakers within minutes, but high-quality source components always take at least a few days for me to even begin to understand what I’m hearing. Not with this phono stage, which costs as much as a base Honda Civic.

Cold out of the box. Without having read the owner’s manual. As my ass touched my listening seat for the first time. Within ten seconds of starting to play the first record. In that frozen moment, I realized I would rue the day this phono stage departed my system. This kind of instantaneous response to a source component doesn’t often happen. While a coherent, insightful review obviously would take a bit longer to write, I felt that already, in those first few moments, I largely had the measure of Constellation Audio’s Revelation Andromeda.

Constellation Audio

That first record was the green Record Store Day edition of Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage (LP, Blue Note 84195). The opening piano-and-bass riff of the title track immediately spoke volumes about what the next few months of listening would feel like. Ron Carter’s double bass combined with Hancock’s piano in a manner utterly unlike any I’d heard before from this recording. The bass was far deeper and more pronounced than I’d experienced before, but it wasn’t just more bass. The bass level did seem higher than through my Aqvox Phono 2CI and other phono stages, but it was accompanied by a monstrous sense of bass impact, instrumental delineation, and clarity. Here I was, sucked down the rabbit hole by just the first few seconds’ worth of low-frequency minutiae.

I got up, lifted the stylus out of the groove, sat back down in my listening seat, and had another instantaneous observation: Silence. Deep, pitch-black silence. With the bottom-feeder Top Wing Blue Dragon cartridge (0.2mV output) and the gain set to High, the Andromeda shot forth a midnight background: no hiss, no interference. Then, with the record playing again, somehow the Andromeda managed to retain a huge portion of that deep calm. Surface noise is produced by the stylus’s physical interaction with the record groove. The tonearm and turntable affect this greatly, a solid match reducing induced bearing noise and rumble. But how the hell can a phono stage reduce surface noise? It can’t, really -- what the Andromeda did was to increase dynamic contrasts by adding a wonderful dose of snap to transients.

Constellation Audio

In my mid-teens, I wore a denim jacket with an iron-on transfer of the Rush logo on the back -- the naked Hemispheres guy, with the Rush pentagram superimposed. I thought I was cool as all get-out in my tight jeans and my hair feathered back. Hemispheres was the first Rush album I bought -- I now have four vinyl editions of it in my record rack. The one I still listen to is a reissue from 2015 (200gm LP, Anthem B0022378-01). It sounds marvelous, and for a while, when I was suffering from insomnia, I found myself playing it over in my mind, note by note. This album has soothed me for 40 years now.

Listening to Hemispheres through the Blue Dragon, VPI Prime Signature, and Revelation Andromeda was a . . . revelation. From Alex Lifeson’s opening slashing guitar riffs through Geddy Lee’s juicy bass lines and Neil Peart’s snappy drumming, right into the main themes, I could hear far back into the soundstage, and pick out each instrument at will. That’s half the fun with Rush -- listening to the constant mixing and blending of instruments, as well as the individual contribution of each player. Through the Andromeda, Lee’s bass, which has a distinct midrange bite, took on a deeper growl, a rounder body, a more physical presence. It was right where I want it to be: an instrument in space. Peart plays the most unrealistic-sounding drum kit you can imagine -- it’s spread across the entire soundstage -- but that’s fine by me. His machine-gun drumming gained that dynamic attack just mentioned -- the feeling of wood hitting drumhead leapt out at me.

I moved on to something that more readers might be able to relate to: a reissue of Chet Baker’s Chet (LP, Riverside/Analogue Productions APJ 016). The wettest-, tubiest-, juiciest-sounding album I own, it sounds as if it were processed through two paralleled single-ended 300B amplifiers. This lovely music is full of harmonic overtones on trumpet (Baker), baritone sax (Pepper Adams), and cymbals (Philly Joe Jones, Connie Kay), and it doesn’t tip over the line and turn into mush.

Jazz recordings made in the late 1950s -- this one was taped in December 1958 and January 1959 -- often shortchange the bass and piano, but on Chet all instruments get equal treatment. Tadd Dameron’s rich ballad “If You Could See Me Now” is taken slowly, the music appearing out of a well-organized studio setting. Paul Chambers’s double bass felt huge as the Andromeda did its thing -- giving the bass real body, a deep reach that anchored the music. Same with Bill Evans’s piano, which sits at the back of the soundstage, to the left, but without that played-in-the-bathroom sound that afflicts so many older small-combo jazz sessions. Again, the Andromeda precisely positioned that piano, gave it a corporeal presence that encouraged me to focus on it -- when the mood took me. Otherwise, I could easily let it sink into the musical background.

Constellation Audio

There was no ignoring Baker’s ripe trumpet sound, which just dripped spit and feeling. While I’ve spent a fair bit of phosphorus talking about the Andromeda’s low-frequency performance, it was just as accomplished higher in the audioband. I could literally feel the sound emanating from the bell of Baker’s horn. Up through the midrange and into the lower treble, the Andromeda drew crisp, accurate aural images without the slightest sense of distortion or edge. I’d like to say that its sound sparkled in the upper midrange through lower treble, but I’m not certain that’s the right term. I think sparkle implies something added to the signal, and the Andromeda added nothing in this range. Rather, I feel that it reproduced high-frequency signals more purely than I’m used to.

Before inserting the Andromeda in my system, I’d spent some time perusing its specifications. Constellation Audio claims that the Andromeda outputs a maximum of 65dB with its gain set to High. I was a touch concerned that this wouldn’t be enough for the 0.2mV-output Top Wing Blue Dragon. While I was using this cartridge with the EAT E-Glo S tubed phono preamp, I found that the EAT’s claimed 70dB of gain was just barely enough for me to make use of the middle range of my Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 preamp’s volume control -- and along with that High gain setting came a good dose of hiss and RFI. JE Audio’s HP10 phono stage also chugs out 70dB, and it’s a fair bit quieter than the EAT. Still, I could hear the noise floor through the JEA -- which is just how it goes with ultra-low-output cartridges. At 5dB less gain, I was skeptical about whether the Andromeda would play nice with the Blue Dragon.

I needn’t have worried. I think Constellation’s 65dB spec is a bit self-effacing. It sounded higher to me -- I can’t imagine a cartridge out there that this preamp couldn’t handle.

And regarding Chet Baker’s trumpet, that clear, soaring tone -- as Baker pressurizes the instrument, the initial attack rockets out of that jet-black background. Here it’s dynamic snap, low noise floor, and clarity in the upper midrange and treble, all coalesced to form a realistic aural image.

I’m not one of those zealots who think that LPs sound more accurate than CDs. I think LPs sound better. I enjoy LPs more, but with vinyl I think there’s too much variation in manufacturing standards, too many pieces of the puzzle that can add their own flavor to the signal chain for me to proclaim that it’s accurate. I’m happy to have my phono stage pass along the signal without adding its own sonic signature -- there are tubes in my preamp, and I can adjust the sonic seasoning with my choice of cartridge. I’m good with a pure-sounding gain stage.

Although I stated earlier that the Andromeda seemed to jack up the bass, I don’t think this was a coloration. Rather, I think it was passing along more of what’s lurked in those tiny signals all along. The same for the midrange, where it presented music with unadulterated purity. At a recent local record show, I picked up a magnificent first Japanese pressing of Supertramp’s Breakfast in America (LP, A&M AMP-6034). The record was in near-mint condition -- nonetheless, I gave it the full spa treatment, using VPI’s Cyclone record-cleaning machine. It played absolutely dead quiet, and I sat down to luxuriate in this guilty pleasure from the late ’70s. Breakfast in America is an exercise in jamming as much information into the midrange as possible. Piano, synthesizers, drums, guitar, voice -- it’s all squeezed into about the same middle band. With the help of the Andromeda, Roger Hodgson’s voice in “Take the Long Way Home” didn’t have to fight with the piano and drums, and his voice in the intro of “Lord Is It Mine,” paired with piano, had a level of clarity that verged on the holographic -- a giant voice and a giant piano, perfectly placed within an acoustic that stretched back for miles. The Andromeda didn’t bleach the midrange, didn’t augment it with additional body, didn’t recess it -- instead, it passed along to me that signal with strength, realism, and majesty.

Constellation Audio

The Constellation Audio Andromeda is the most expensive phono stage I’ve had in my system. It’s also the best phono stage I’ve had in my system. Before its arrival, the next most expensive preamp I’d had in my analog system was the Simaudio Moon Evolution 610LP, which had been a significant step up in sound quality from my Aqvox Phono 2CI, and well worth its asking price of $7500 -- but, mother of twelve bastards, it didn’t smack me in the chops the way the Andromeda has. Throwing another 12 large at the problem should net some gains in sound quality, but when dealing with what are essentially cost-no-object designs, any audible improvements are usually small.

The improvement I heard with the Revelation Andromeda was not incremental. The Constellation’s huge portrayal of dynamic contrasts, its delicate and sparkling highs, its bottomless bass and monstrous soundstage anchored my analog front end. Took control. Polished that diamond, gazed at it under a clarifying lens.

A few months ago, I reviewed Vivid Audio’s Kaya 45 loudspeakers. The Kaya 45s are spectacular speakers that shine a bright light on all aspects of the audioband. They reveal whatever’s on the record in insane detail, with no range of frequencies highlighted at the expense of another. The Vivids could have been too ruthless, thrusting out detail at the expense of listenability. But they aren’t. These speakers are saved from themselves by their own clarity. I could listen long and loud to the Vivids, and their sound never overpowered me.

I bring up the Vivid Kaya 45s because I found that driving them with the Andromeda engendered a new way of listening for me. Before hearing these two components working together in my system, I’d have said that my first priority was listenability. Detail is nice and all, but if I can’t have a slightly recessed upper midrange and treble, I wouldn’t be able to relax into the music.

But with the Vivids driven by the Andromeda, suddenly I could hear vast swaths of musical information I hadn’t known existed. I could listen to a performance as a whole, or resolve in my mind its tiniest details and examine them at will. And I could listen loud, for long periods.

The Revelation Andromeda isn’t a component you should view in isolation. It’s a gateway. A phono preamp is a make-or-break component that deals with a microscopically small signal. My time with the Revelation Andromeda has told me that it can change the entire flavor, the character of a system.

Value judgment

Before hearing the Revelation Andromeda, I’d have been extremely skeptical about the possible value a $19,900 phono stage could offer. Now, having lived with it for several months, I’m a little in awe of it, and find myself wondering what improvements Constellation might have packed into the Performance Perseus phono stage that retails for $35,000. In the next month or so I’ll receive a sample of Constellation’s DC power filter -- maybe I’ll hear some more pleasant surprises.

Meanwhile, I’m faced with having to assess the Revelation Andromeda’s bang for those 19,900 bucks. In my time with SoundStage!, I don’t believe I’ve ever said anything like this: In terms of sound quality, I can’t think of a single thing I’d change about how the Revelation Andromeda reproduces music. I’m generally uncomfortable with praise so effusive, so I think I’d like to belabor the point that the cartridge-loading adjustment is a pain in the ass. But that’s all I’ve got.

Constellation Audio

So much information lurks in the groove of an LP. As I further explore the rich, vibrant landscape of vinyl, I discover that I haven’t come close to reaching the end of the possible improvements. And this never ceases to amaze me: it’s grooves in plastic rubbed by a stone. That LPs work at all amazes me, let alone that they sound as good as they do.

The problem is, to excavate all that delicious sound, you need some serious gear. Seriously expensive gear. You can easily assemble a great-sounding analog rig for $1000, including cartridge, tonearm, turntable, phono cable, and phono stage -- but if you want the kind of world-class sound I’m talking about here, you gotta pony up.

Constellation Audio’s Revelation Andromeda is worth every penny of $19,900.

. . . Jason Thorpe
jasont@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Analog sources -- Dr. Feickert Analogue Volare, Pro-Ject RPM 10, VPI Prime Signature turntables; MoFi Master Tracker, Ortofon Quintet Blue, Roksan Shiraz, Top Wing Blue Dragon cartridges
  • Digital source -- Logitech Squeezebox Touch
  • Phono stages -- Aqvox Phono 2CI, JE Audio HP10
  • Preamplifier -- Sonic Frontiers SFL-2
  • Power amplifier -- Bryston 4B3
  • Speakers -- Definitive Technology Mythos ST-L, Estelon YB, Focus Audio FP60 BE, Vivid Audio Kaya 45
  • Speaker cables -- Audience Au24 SX, Nordost Tyr 2
  • Interconnects -- Audience Au24 SX, Furutech Ag-16, Nordost Tyr 2
  • Power cords -- Nordost Vishnu
  • Power conditioner -- Nordost Quantum QBase QB8 Mk.II
  • Accessories -- Little Fwend tonearm lift, VPI Cyclone record-cleaning machine

Constellation Audio Revelation Andromeda Phono Stage
Price: $19,900 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.

Constellation Audio
580 St. Kilda Road, Suite 1, Level 6
Melbourne, Victoria 3004
Australia

Manufacturing facility:
Constellation Audio
3533 Old Conejo Road, Suite 107
Newbury Park, CA 91320
Phone: (805) 201-2610

Website: www.constellationaudio.com