HoltMods Review of Aragon 8008x3
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Some solid state home theater amps are bright enough to strip the tattoos right off Ani DiFranco while she’s singing "32 Flavors" on the Sessions at West 54th Avenue DVD. Is this a risk you’re willing to run?

If not, the Aragon 8008x3 is one possible amp for you. Those geometric tattoos – thankfully – stay right where they belong.

This is a three-channel amplifier designed for use in home theater systems with an existing two-channel amp. Thus, by itself this amp is not a solution to the need for 5 channels of amplification in the home theater. It is to be combined with a two channel amp. In my set up, it is used with the older Aragon 4004mkII two-channel amp, which drives the rear channels. Price is $2,500 list.

The 8008x3 provides 200 watts per channel into 8 ohms, and doubles its power into 4 ohms. It does not have the "v-notch" in the top cabinet that most Aragon amps do; it has a flat top. Heat sinks are on all three sides of the amp (left, right and rear) for each of the three channels. The amp is heavily biased into class A, and thus runs quite warm (almost hot). It uses no fan, but needs lots of breathing room around it for ventilation. This is not an amp that should be placed in a sealed cabinet without fan cooling.

It’s heavy (68 lbs.) and well-built, with a single toroidal transformer and a generous supply of filter capacitance per channel.

A complaint: although overall parts and build quality is excellent, the output binding posts are disappointing for an amp of this price and class. They are small plastic-knurled, gold-plated jobbers similar to those found on much less expensive amps. Use of plastic binding posts like this is, unfortunately, a common practice among amplifier manufacturers. These posts are a bit small to easily accept large spade lugs, and the plastic lugs cannot be tightened down as much as I like without risking stripping the plastic. My practice has been to replace inexpensive plastic output connectors like these with better quality connectors – such as the excellent pure copper Edison Price Music Posts or the Cardas Rhodium plated posts. Changing the output posts typically makes a worthwhile improvement in the amp’s sound. This review is of the stock 8008x3 with the manufacturer supplied stock binding posts.

This amp has been well reviewed elsewhere, receiving the highest AAA rating from Stereophile Guide to Home Theater. The only other amp to receive this rating from Stereophile is the Krell 5 channel home theater amp.

I must agree. This amp was impressive enough that I bought it for use in my own home theater.

As noted from my other reviews, my bias is in favor of the tube amp sound, which offers a musicality that few solid state amps can match. Most solid state amps sound bright, harsh and flat to me by comparison with tubes. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to run tube amps in a home theater. To get the power required for the dynamics you would need three high power tube amps costing a ton of money, and then you’d have a very hot room with all those multi-tube amps running simultaneously. Tube amps are not so practical for home theater, unfortunately.

The Aragon, however, is actually one solid state amp that has many tube sonic virtues, while at the same time offering the benefits of solid state amplification. Namely, it is smooth, musical, images well, has good micro-dynamic contrasts, and also is fast, detailed, and offers superb bass control. Don’t get me wrong: it doesn’t have the purity and musicality of a 300B single ended amp. But then, try running a 9 watt triode in your home theater and you’d have more clipping going on than a salon giving Barbra Streisand a "G.I. Jane do."

Playing the stunning Sessions at West 54th Avenue Vol. I DVD, (which contains well recorded live music performances by Ani DiFranco (with tattoos intact), Rickie Lee Jones, Sinead O’Connor, Shawn Colvin, Patti Smith, and many others), one feels present in the studio while the performances took place.

On well recorded movie soundtracks such as Amadeus, the amp disappears and allows one to hear the remarkable performances and recordings of Neville Marriner conducting the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Orchestra (unfortunately, there aren’t any contemporary conductors – or orchestras – of that caliber today).

On excellent sounding (artistic merits aside) demo movies such as Air Force One and The Fifth Element, the Aragon’s neutrality and transparency allows it to get out the way and puts you more into the movie experience. This is one of the Aragon’s real strengths: the ability not to call attention to itself, but to pass through whatever was recorded on the soundtrack, for better or (sometimes, with poor recordings) worse. On an excellent (both from a dramatic and technical standpoint) film like Glory, which has a top notch James Horner score and great sound effects that complement the film rather than call attention to themselves, the Aragon became part of the dramatic performance, enhancing the emotional content of the film.

If you’re willing to spend the bucks, this amp offers top performance. And keeps the world safe from flying tattoos.

Les Holt

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