The Flying Mole DAD-M100 pro HT monoblock amplifiers
|The Flying Mole DAD-M100 pro HT monoblock amplifiers|
The Miraculous Miniature Digital Amplifier
Looks as if 2004’s going to be The Year of the Digital Amplifier. The last time I counted there were nearly a half-dozen digitally designed amplifiers burning in nicely in my dining room. With each touting a unique design concept, circuit topology and sonic signature, they all have one thing in common—they all sound like single-ended triodes on steroids. In terms of dollars-per-watts, all are affordable—which should serve as a breath of fresh air for folks on real budgets in particular and the industry in general. Of all in the group, the 500- watt dual-golden-chassis’d Chateau Research Anaco MK II stands out as the most attractive, while the Acoustic Signature looks the most exotic. But if there were a category for Unbelievable, my choice would be the Flying Mole DAD-M100 22-ounce monoblock amplifiers. That’s no typo either. Here you’ve got the smallest amplifiers, I believe, in existence that weighs about 1.8 lbs. and are no bigger than your favorite paperback novel. Most astonishing is their rated watts per channel purported at a staggering 100 watts each (160 at 4 Ohm)!
Unless you’ve seen a flying mole, you are aware there’s no such thing (if you did happen to see one, please keep it a secret). Flying Mole, says Jim Johns “implies accomplishing the impossible through tireless experimentation and a multitude of innovative technologies joined together to create a new type of digital amplifier.” The creators of the Flying Mole Amps are all ex-Yamaha engineers who were behind Yamaha’s initial exploration into digital amplification throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. Unfortunately, Yamaha was not interested in pursuing the direction that the (now) Flying Mole engineers had hoped, so they left and started the Flying Mole Corp., in order to push the performance envelope for digital amplification.
Flying Mole engineers’ influences are consistent with the prevailing
trends in Japanese high end–among which are high-efficiency horn speakers driven by high-purity, low-wattage single-ended tube amps. Flying Mole believes that a sound system must make wide dynamic range, tonal purity, and palpable imaging absolute priorities in order to faithfully recreate the live musical experience. They realized that due to the proprietary power supply of their digital amps, they could not only increase efficiency, but simultaneously increase the amp’s dynamic power reserves. Thus, dynamics are much more lifelike, similar to those produced by high efficiency horn speakers. Furthermore, with the combination of their power supply and digital amplification technology, Flying Mole was able to create a purity of tone, and palpability of image that bridges the gap between transistor amps and classic single ended triodes. Added benefits are that the amps are extremely small and lightweight, yet run very cool since they use such little power. Having achieved their goals of superior sound reproduction, Flying Mole is now focused on implementing their technologies into multiple consumer,
professional, and OEM products and applications.
The secret to the Flying Mole’s sound is not only its circuit design, but the influence behind the circuit design. Mole’s engineers are influenced by the single-ended triode amplifier/high efficiency horn combination that as been in vogue in Japan over the last decade or so. Specifically, the Mole was voiced to sound great on a high-efficiency horn speaker–which means it is especially dynamic, yet completely non-fatiguing. Like the triode amps, the Mole was designed to have extraordinary palpability and colorful harmonic textures when paired with the right [read: efficient] loudspeaker. In a word—the Mole was designed to sound Organic.
The circuit of the Mole is unique–even when compared to other digital amps (or quasi digital amps since only the Tact Millennium and 2150 amplifiers accept true SPDIF digital inputs that I am aware of). Duly noted, the Mole DAD-M100 not only features single bit digital amplification, but it combines a radical power supply technology. The net result is not only an amplifier that is extremely energy efficient and cool running, but one that is more capable of leveraging the full power coming from an electrical outlet. The Mole’s Infinite Power Supply converts the 60 Hz AC sinewave into a more efficient ultra high frequency wave—without having to convert the AC signal to DC. These ultra high frequency AC waves are purported to be much smaller in length, and require much smaller value capacitors and transformers—which creates a much shorter signal path. This high frequency power is then utilized throughout the circuit to its output. This way, not only is the amp more efficient at its output, but it simply requires much less energy to provide its output. Since it is using less energy from the AC outlet to produce its wattage and the AC power does not have to be converted to DC, it has greater relative reserves for music’s dynamic peaks and it can respond to these peaks much quicker. This phenomenon is responsible for the Mole’s lively rhythm and pace, but is especially apparent on deep bass—which typically pushes conventional amp to their limits due the sudden power requirements necessary to reproduce such bass. With the Mole’s Infinite Power Supply(, bass does not stress or even slow the Mole; it easily reproduces the deepest bass with surprising pitch definition, agility and visceral power.
Prior to CES 2004 both Jim Johns Flying Mole’s US strategist and Y. Yamada paid a visit to my New Jersey home bringing with them their new (D)igital (A)udio (D)river-M100 pro HT monoblock amplifiers. Y. Yamada is their chief designer and though he could hardly speak English Johns served as an excellent interpreter since he speaks fluent Japanese. It’s still a surprise to see these lightweight miniatures in the flesh since first witnessing them at last years CEDIA though I did not have a chance to hear them since they showed only a static display. Further, I was not interested in doing a review on these amplifiers because 99.9% of you out there, like me I’m sure, once you lay your eyes on these amplifiers you just would not believe them capable of performance like your typical good “high end” amp should. They’re simply too small and lightweight, not to mention their cosmetics are not top tier. The rear sports standard binding posts and a IEC plug that you’d see on any mass marketed product (but don’t laugh, LAMM says the binding posts are the best available). You can see that no “extra” money was spent unnecessarily on building the chassis. No hard feelings to you folks at Flying Mole, but when you come to the US, be sure to bring something that sports substantial weight. okay? Measuring a mere 8 ¼” long by 5” wide and 1 ¾” tall, I don’t know about you, but you ain’t looking for anything that. I admit, my ego won’t allow it (I had a tough time getting used the lightweight Bel Canto and Tact amps).
After some ego-inflating exercises I placed the DAD-M100’s with the modestly inefficient (86 dB) ELAC 310 I Jet mini-monitors to put them through an audio stress test. Using a pair of Analysis Plus Oval 8 speaker cable and their interconnects (though Banana is the preferred connection), and using the Zanden modified JubiLaeum CD player, I was immediately impressed with tonality and harmonic integrity they presented when driven at regular listening levels. I credit this high-level of sonic integrity, in part, to the fact the DAD-M100’s require no preamp since they have their own volume attenuator and of course, a super small signal path. There exists a quality and rightness to the sound of this mini-monsters that stood out almost immediately and only became more convincing the more I listened with different components. I believe that rightness that comes from the DAD-M100’s Technology, which simply employs less parts in its signal path thus, these miniature monos very high purity quotient.
But they certainly didn’t like being pushed and began to come apart at the seams; sounding hard and bright when they were pushed past their limits. It became apparent on that the ELAC’s 86dB efficiency and ribbon tweeter were not too kind on the DAD-M100s due to their uneasy load. Ironically, when strapped to the much larger Isophon Europa, the DAD-M100’s seemed to handle this much larger (six-drivers per enclosure) loudspeaker like a piece of cake. Go figure.
For example, driving the Isophon Europa, I was surprised to find that these little amps showed greater control and musicality than I could have ever thought possible based on their size and character driving the ELACs. Ditto pairing the DAD-M100’s with the Xavian Mia mini-monitors. In this configuration these small two-ways seemed like the perfect match for the DAD-M100’s. These little Engines that Could took the Xavian Mia’s on a musical ride NO ONE here believed upon on first inspection. Listening to Clark Terry’s SACD hybrid reissue CD entitled Portraits [Chesky SACD267] gave a glimpse into what this amp/loudspeaker was capable of. This quartet’s rendition of “Autumn Leaves” is quite nice and very well recorded here. Sonic spacing is well done in this recording, as with a lot of Chesky CD’s, and here is another great illustration of their technique. The DAD-M100’s didn’t miss a beat revealing this discs naturally rendered sonic landscape and actually only rendered it on a smaller, albeit, less wide soundstage than with the Isophon Europas.
There was never any sense of strain or stridency coming from these super lightweight [ch]amps, which is exactly what I would expect from such a small and lightweight package. Contrarily, the sound remained warm, rich and detailed, literally mimicking the sound of the larger and more expensive Acoustic Signature monos and Bel Canto eVoII’s residing right next to them. Surprised? Imagine the look on my face.
It has become obvious that the DAD-M100s are good amplifiers that have a niche audience out there especially where space is of utmost importance. Their size-to-power ratio is the highest I’ve seen. I still can’t believe that the DAD-M100s can produce the power, and control they remarkably possess WITH THE RIGHT LOUDSPEAKERS. I cannot reiterate the importance of having the right loudspeaker and would hope they will offer a 30-day in-house trail of these amazing miniature transducers. I’ve had the review samples for months and they’re soundings as good as when they first arrived. They never get warmer than room temperature and still manage to steal the show whenever I show visitors all the new and exciting new digital products slated to make their way into the marketplace.
Since my time with DAD–M100 was positive (except for the poor stress test score when driven hard by the ELAC 310 I JETs), I chose once again to put them through the paces with different reviewers. The next stop for the DAD-M100’s were with Regina Carter’s sideman (drummer) musician/audiophile and ST contributor Alvester Garnett. His well documented findings mirrored mine…. (click below).
Thank you Alvester and Clement for such kind words. We agree with just about everything you said, but some points deserve clarification from us. The circuit created by Flying Mole is inherently stable and capable of driving loads below half of an Ohm–if it is set that way by the factory. However, for the M100 we instead we chose to bias it for optimum sound for the vast majority of speakers–which is 4-8 ohms. So, the net result is that the 100 watts that the M100 produces, along with the quality of those watts, makes it ideal for probably more than 90% of the speakers out in the field. Besides, the low price of the amp actually makes biamplification a realistic option for those needing more power. For those who need even more power, please stay tuned for an upcoming Flying Mole amplifier that will be several hundred watts.
For better or for worse, we have found that the M100 is dramatically affected by line conditioning. Even an inexpensive Monster Cable conditioner can have a dramatic affect on the amp’s performance across the board. We can’t help but wonder how the M100s could have sounded in Alvester’s second system if he would have used some line conditioning.
A bit if clarification is necessary; the Flying Mole circuit does convert its power from AC to DC, but your characterization of this complex, proprietary circuit design is otherwise accurate.
It should also be noted that the latest production version of the amplifier includes a slight fine tuning of the circuit design that results in even greater image focus within its voluminous soundstage. However, this change does not affect the amplifier’s rich harmonic textures or impactful bass.
What we are most proud of about the M100 is that the amp is the best foundation available to build a system around; an audiophile simply cannot find a higher performance amp priced appropriately for a budget system. Yet, the amp can hold its own with components at even twenty times its cost. Indeed most purchasers will never realize the amp’s full potential unless it is heard in systems approaching cost-no-object (kind of like yours, Mr. Perry!)
Gentlemen, thanks again for your kind words.
Flying Mole USA
Rated output 160-watts / 4 ohm, 100-watts / 8 ohm Frequency Response 5Hz-25kHz / 4 ohm, 5Hz-50kHz / 8 ohm Distortion rate (THD) 0.03% (8 ohm, 1kHz, 50watts), 0.05% (4 ohm, 1kHz, 50watts) S-N ratio 120dB (400Hz-3kHz) Input Impedance 1V/10k ohm Damping Factor 200(8 ohm,1kHz) Power Consumption 20 watts(8 ohm), 30 watts(4 ohm) Stand-by Power 6-watts(no signal input) Power Supply AC120V 60Hz (U,C), AC230V 50Hz (E) Dimensions 130(W) x 210(D) x 41(H) mm / 5.1(W) x 8.3(D) x 1.6(H) in. Weight 650g (3 lb)/pair
Address: Flying Mole Corporation
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