Raysonic M100 Mono Amplifiers
by Marc Mickelson
||"'Tubey' is not a
word I would use to describe the sound of the Raysonic M100s. While they do exhibit some bloom
in the bass, their perspective is up front, giving the music an immediacy and vividness that
can be thrilling, even as it pushes into forwardness with some recordings. Their sound is
lively, open and crisp, not syrupy, euphonic and soft." "Well-recorded classical
music takes on a grand sense of scale, sounding pellucid into the farthest reaches of the
soundstage" though "rock fared less well."
||"Raysonic's M100 is
a mono amplifier that delivers a reported 100 watts from an octet of 5881 output tubes.... The
5881 is an interesting choice. It's a beam tetrode that is often used in modern guitar
amplifiers for its clear, powerful tone." "Each M100 also uses a single 6SN7 and
12AX7, neither of which is exotic or expensive." "The M100 has a single RCA jack for
input and outputs for 4-, 6- and 8-ohm loads."
wrinkle, and one that I unfortunately couldn't test, is that EL34s can be substituted for the
5881s. The EL34 is a lovely sounding pentode tube. What it lacks in bass kick it makes up for
with its sumptuous midrange and sweet treble."
||"The M100s would be
an interesting alternative to a solid-state amp in their sub-$10,000 price range, with the
option of using different output tubes adding some sonic flexibility and intrigue."
As the infiltration of high-end-audio components
from China continues, a hierarchy has developed, with certain Chinese companies earning
some respect for the performance and reliability of their products, as well as the
relative longevity of the brand names, and others still striving for brand recognition and
equity. Raysonic is surely among the former and one of the best-known Chinese audio
makers, perhaps because the company is actually headquartered in North America -- Toronto,
to be exact -- with manufacturing carried out in China at a facility the company owns.
Raysonic's product line includes 14 separate units, half of them integrated amplifiers. As
with essentially all high-end brands manufactured in China, Raysonic products offer
notable design and user features at surprisingly low prices. Take the CD168, for instance.
It's a nicely built, fully balanced CD player that uses four 6922 tubes in its output
stage and costs a little over $2500 USD. The CD228 is also a fully balanced tube CD
player, but its beefed-up power supply is housed in a separate chassis -- all for around
In keeping with this purist-yet-affordable
mindset, Raysonic's M100 is a mono amplifier that delivers a reported 100 watts from an
octet of 5881 output tubes and costs $7850 per pair. The 5881 is an interesting choice.
It's a beam tetrode that is often used in modern guitar amplifiers for its clear, powerful
tone. The earliest version of the Mesa Baron power amplifier, which I reviewed over a
decade ago, used 5881s and was made by a company known mostly for its guitar amplifiers.
An interesting wrinkle, and one that I unfortunately couldn't test, is that with the
Raysonic amp EL34s can be substituted for the 5881s. The EL34 is a lovely sounding pentode
tube. What it lacks in bass kick it makes up for with its sumptuous midrange and sweet
treble. Each M100 also uses a single 6SN7 and 12AX7, neither of which is exotic or
The M100 has a single RCA jack for input and
outputs for 4-, 6- and 8-ohm loads. All are around back. The front has only the on/off
knob, which doubles as a power indicator, glowing a soft blue when the amp is on. With its
hideous-looking protective tube scaffolding removed and that switch as well as the tubes
casting their light, the M100 is a very handsome amplifier. It comes in both silver and
black; the silver looks a little brassy to my eyes, but I suspect the black finish would
Each amplifier measures 12 1/4"W x 8
3/8"H x 20 1/2"D and weighs just under 60 pounds. The shelves of your equipment
rack will have to be extra wide and deep to accommodate a pair of M100s, although
amplifier stands or the floor itself, providing you don't have plush carpet, would work
fine as well. The amps don't give off a great amount of heat, so if you have a small room
that has prevented you from considering tube monoblocks, the M100s won't turn your
listening space into a sauna.
The Raysonic M100s were right at home in my
system, which is overrun with tube electronics. I used the amps with a few different
preamps, noting that with the CAT SL1 Legend there was some residual hiss that I could
hear from the listening position. The hiss indicates that the M100s have a fair amount of
voltage gain, and using them with the CAT Legend -- an unlikely pairing given the great
difference in the price of the products -- would require adjusting the preamp's gain via a
switch inside the bulky main chassis. Other preamps included an Audio Research Reference 3
and Aurum Acoustics CDP, which doubles as a very good CD player. Amplifiers also in use
were Lamm M1.2 Reference and ML3 Signature monoblocks, and an Audio Research Reference 110
stereo amp. Speakers were Wilson Audio MAXX 2s and MAXX 3s, along with a pair of Raidho
Sources were both analog and digital. In terms of
the latter, I used an Ayre C-5xe universal player, the Zanden Model 5000S/Model 2000P
DAC/transport combo, the Aurum Acoustics CDP and, at the very tail end of the review
period, an Audio Research Reference CD8. I spun LPs with a TW-Acustic Raven AC turntable
outfitted with Graham B-44 Phantom and Tri-Planar Mk VII UII tonearms and Dynavector X-V1s
stereo and mono cartridges. Phono stages were a Lamm LP2 Deluxe, an Audio Research PH7,
and the built-in phono sections of the Aurum Acoustics and CAT preamps. Preamps, phono
stages, the turntable and the single-box digital players all rested on a Silent Running
Audio Craz 4 Reference equipment rack. The Lamm amps had dedicated pairs of Silent Running
Audio products underneath -- Virginia-Class platforms for the Lamm ML3s and Ohio Class XL
Plus2 platforms for the M1.2s. The Zanden digital separates rested on Harmonic
Resolution Systems M3 isolation bases. The Raysonic amps sat on ceramic tiles that rested
on the carpeted floor of my 20'W x 29'L listening room.
Interconnects and speaker cables were AudioQuest
William E. Low Signature or Shunyata Research Aurora-IC and Aurora-SP. A Shunyata Research
Hydra V-Ray and a number of Shunyata Anaconda and Python power cords -- both Alpha and Vx
versions -- handled power duties, trading time with an Essential Sound Products Essence
Reference power distributor and a number of Essence Reference power cords. I also used
Zanden's own interconnects, speaker cables and power cords with the company's electronics.
Phono cables were an AudioQuest LeoPard used with the Graham tonearm and the
Cardas-sourced cable that's integral to the Tri-Planar tonearm.
The M100s require no user adjustment. There are
no pots or contact points to futz with -- the amp sets the bias for the tubes
automatically. This generally means that replacing tubes with a matched octet is
recommended. The 5881 is inexpensive as far as output tubes go, so even factoring in the
added cost of matching, replacing two sets of eight tubes won't be too fiscally painful.
The sound of tubes -- or not
If you've been around the audio block once or
twice, you've certainly read or heard the word "tubey," an adjective that sums
up the traditional sonic traits of electronics that use vacuum tubes. Chief among these
are a sweet, forgiving treble and a warm, lush midrange that aid in imparting a laid-back
perspective to the music. Tube bass is often not up to the standards of solid-state
electronics for depth and tightness, but it counters with "bloom," the
characteristic way it develops and spreads throughout the soundstage, creating a soothing
purr that helps make up for its lack of jackhammer-like pounding.
"Tubey" is not a word I would use to
describe the sound of the Raysonic M100s. While they do exhibit some bloom in the bass,
their perspective is up front, giving the music an immediacy and vividness that can be
thrilling, even as it pushes into forwardness with some recordings. Their sound is lively,
open and crisp, not syrupy, euphonic and soft.
Well-recorded classical music takes on a grand
sense of scale, sounding pellucid into the farthest reaches of the soundstage with
exceptional recordings like those from Reference Recordings. And with smaller-scale music,
like solo acoustic guitar, the notes seem to leap from the instruments and into the
listening space. Warren Gehl of Audio Research played a cut from Mary Flowers' Bywater
Dance (Yellow Dog Records YDR 1242) for me at CES, and after returning home, I
immediately bought the CD, which could easily be mistaken for an SACD, so finely drawn are
the copious overtones of Flowers' acoustic guitar. She covers a number of well-known blues
tunes, but the few numbers she wrote shine the brightest, especially "La
Grippe," which features her expert fingerpicking. The Raysonic M100s have no problem
delineating the frenetic pace of Flowers' guitar work, conveying its energy and defining
the space in which it was recorded. This is an intimate-sounding piece, made all the more
intimate by the immediacy of the amplifiers.
Rock fared less well with the M100s. Oh,
great-sounding recordings like Keith Richards' Main Offender (Virgin 86499 2) were
clamorous and rowdy, and the bass was rhythmic and propulsive, especially the quick throbs
of the kick drum. Even busy mixes, like the LP of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's version of Pictures
at an Exhibition (Cotillion ELP 66666), recorded live at Newcastle City Hall in 1971,
were well resolved and defined. But middle-of-the-road studio recordings, like a well-worn
LP of Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms (Vertigo 824 499-T), sounded overly brilliant
-- bright and unnaturally crisp. Instrumental timbres were lighter than usual, bordering
on spot-lit. Thus, the in-your-face intensity of the M100s comes at a price with some
recordings, especially those with ample high-frequency energy. Play overprocessed '80s
rock with these amps at your peril!
The midrange is the money region with so many
tube amps, and with the M100s it displays an inherent linearity and honesty, no overt
warmth to be found. Voices were well rendered, and brass instruments absolutely blasted
into the soundstage. At a garage sale, I found a bunch of Sheffield Lab direct-to-disk
LPs, including a dozen titles that were still sealed. Among the open titles was a
legendary demonstration disk by a legendary trumpeter. Harry James' The King James
Version (Sheffield Lab Lab-3) is an orgy of brass instruments -- five trumpets, three
trombones, and five saxes -- recorded in staggeringly detailed sound. I can only imagine
how many amps, speakers, preamps and turntables were sold after the needle dropped on this
LP. The M100s didn't disappoint, keeping up with the blazing dynamics of the recording,
the horns cutting through the air in blatty bursts. It would be very difficult to make The
King James Version sound bad, and the M100s may elevate it, the sonic strengths of the
recording mating well with the sonic character of the amps.
Now, considering all that I've written about the
sound of the M100s and keeping in mind that they can accommodate different output tubes, I
wonder if you're thinking the same thing I am: I'd love to hear them with EL34s in
place of the 5881s. Where amps that use EL34s err is on the side of tubiness -- forgiving
turns to foggy, and lush turns to lumpy. Of course, this does not describe the M100s with
5881s, so I hold out hope -- great hope -- that these amps would sound more liquid and
even somewhat forgiving with EL34s, not turn to sonic molasses. If you have such
experience, please fill me in via e-mail.
The Audio Research Reference 110 ($9995) is a
fully balanced stereo amplifier that derives its honest 110Wpc from matched pairs of 6550C
output tubes. It's actually a hybrid amp, using direct-coupled JFETs in the input stage,
and an extraordinary one at that. The Reference 110 has XLR inputs, while the M100s are
RCA only. Comparing these two amps requires a preamp with single-ended and balanced
outputs, and preferably ones that sound very similar. The ARC Reference 3 doesn't fill
this bill, as it's truly balanced, so its XLR outputs have 6dB more gain, and it sounds
its best balanced. The Aurum CDP has both kinds of outputs, and it's pseudo balanced, so
there isn't a jump in gain via its XLR outputs, whose sound is identical to that of the
RCA outputs. It was therefore the perfect companion for both amps.
In my March 2007 review, I described the sound of
the Reference 110 as "suave, even a touch rich, and absolutely engaging" through
the mids and into the upper bass and spatially "huge -- in all dimensions." It
may be the smallest, least expensive amplifier in Audio Research's Reference range, but
I'm convinced that it would be the crown jewel in the product line of many other
companies. The M100s sound rather different. They can cast a broad, deep soundstage, but
"suave" and "rich" they are not. Their sound is lighter, brighter and
more precarious -- less able to overcome a poor recording, for instance. There is greater
density to the Reference 110's sound as well, mostly due to a more prominent, even bloomy
midbass. The Reference 110 has the purr down low that the M100s lack, sounding heavier
from the midrange down and somewhat darker from the midrange up -- more "tubey"
for sure. In utter contrast, the M100s sound fleeter into and out of each note (though
both amps resolve attack and decay equally well), but they lack much of what ultimately
gives the Reference 110 its sonic personality: the richness, weight and expansiveness of
its 6550C tubes.
I can sum up these two amps in myriad ways, but
the most telling is this one: The Reference 110 is an amp you'll want to hear when you're
shopping for a tube amplifier and will accept nothing less, while the M100s would be an
interesting alternative to a solid-state amp in their sub-$10,000 price range, with the
option of using different output tubes adding some sonic flexibility and intrigue.
Whether we like it or not, China's influence in
world economics and manufacturing is only going to increase, and as it does, brands like
Raysonic will only grow in prominence. It already has a good start, an amplifier like the
M100, with its rather untubey sound, helping to define the Raysonic personality all
the more. If vividness and excitement are what you like about listening to recorded music,
the M100 monoblocks will certainly deliver. They never sound languid or limp, always
enhancing the rhythmic qualities of the music and especially conveying the space on
well-made recordings. Don't expect forgiving euphony from these amps; their sound is far
too vivacious, and unkind to recordings with high-frequency issues.
Sturdy and good-looking, the Raysonic M100
monoblocks are uncommon tube amplifiers. If they aren't your thing when you first hear
them, go back with some EL34s and they just might be -- and let me know, will ya?
|Raysonic M100 Mono Amplifiers
Price: $7850 USD per pair.
Warranty: One year parts and labor.
P.O. Box 46565
M1T 3V8 Canada
Phone: (416) 318-6038