Taiwan is a small but beautiful country with extremely potent electronics industry. Over the decades, a very strong high end audio community evolved there and Taiwanese audiophiles possessing extreme state of the art setups are known worldwide. From this country comes Arte Forma Audio, an audio company involved in manufacturing of both, solid state and tube amplification and which is becoming more and more recognized in the high end audio circles all around the globe.
Arte Forma Mezzo is a class A/B solid state power amplifier of the following specs: power into 8 oHms is roughly 200W per channel, the frequency response is stated as: 5 Hz – 65 kHz and the weight of the unit is 20 kg. If used as a mono unit (presumably in the bridged mode) the power is stated as 500W @ 8 oHms.
Looking inside, a big toroidal transformer seems to occupy much of the available space and on each side we can see the neatly designed power amp modules containing four output transistors (Toshiba 2SC5200/2SA1943) and a capacitor bank totaling 40.000 µF per channel. The interior and layout of the amp is very tidy and well organized and the electronic parts seem to be of good quality.
On the outside, the amp can be the best described as simple and elegant. On the back, four gold plated speaker terminals are positioned centrally, with gold plated RCA connectors on each side and one XLR connector in between (for mono operation).
The quality of the workmanship seems excellent and certainly evokes confidence in the product.
Fresh, out of the box, the power amp was slightly closed-in sounding but improved much after some burn-in period. I have briefly tried driving the Mezzo with the Accustic Arts Tube Preamp II MKII which is an excellent solid state/tube hybrid preamplifier design that uses IC`s for the driving stages and a tube buffer working only to “spice-up” the timbre a bit. This pairing proved quite successful in musical terms and gave good dynamics and firm control of the lower bass spectrum. However, I also noticed a somewhat lean lower midrange/upper bass region but this only in the absolute terms. The instruments had slightly less body than I am accustomed to and especially compared to the sound of live, unamplified instruments. Compared to other power amps of this price region, this behavior was kind of expected, but I got a feeling a pure tube preamp (non-hybrid) might be a better partner than a solid state one. I always look for tonal accuracy first and all other parameters afterwards because quite simply, with music, the tone comes first and foremost. Music does not begin with “transparency” or “pin-point-focus” and it certainly does not end with “details” or “stage depth”.
True, all of the above are certainly important parameters (OK, except “pin-point-focus” which is an artificial substitute for the lifelike holographic precision), but in the order of importance all of them (among other parameters) come...after the TONE. Why do we recognize, for instance, that the reproduced guitar uses nylon strings? Because it sounds transparent? No. Because it`s properly placed on the miniaturized soundstage? Nope, we recognize it by its tonal color. Take away the instruments` tonal colors and what you get won`t be a reminiscent of the real thing. Of course, the real thing has other important parameters like micro dynamics, for instance. With good micro dynamics the reproduced music becomes alive and vibrant, same could be said for macro dynamics and yes, sooner or later we come to terms like transparency, coherence, resolution, etc but the impression of a reproduced instrument`s sound being lifelike, predominantly comes from proper tonal colors, followed by good micro dynamics.
Moving on, to test the true potential of this interesting power amp, I have used the extraordinary Thrax Dionysos preamplifier which uses the double triode 6N6P for the the amplification and the volume control is handled by autoformers. As I see it now, this was a lucky coincidence....
Judging from my experience, the quality of preamplifier makes one power amp stand or fall. Of course, there are things like sensitivity/impedance matching and needed gain, but even when all these required conditions are met, the resulting sound quality is still not predictable. I have observed many times how great power amps sounded fantastic with preamplifier X and totally lousy with preamplifier Y. Some middle class power amps that I thought I knew very well, showed enormous sound quality leaps with top preamplifiers driving them and this is a testament to importance of having as good as it gets preamp in the system. On the other hand there are power amps which are inherently limited, sound-wise. For whatever reasons some amps are limiting themselves and using better sources and preamps doesn`t help them much. Luckily, there are also power amps which are only limited by the quality of the components in front of them.
The good news: in the past few weeks I have used the Mezzo power amp extensively with the the aforementioned Thrax Dionysos and the results were simply more than delightful. In this combination the Mezzo showed amazing see-through transparency, good bass dynamics and control of the lower frequency spectrum and very believable, open sounding vocals, to name just a few parameters that come to my mind first.
The (conditionally speaking) bad news: the lower midrange area was still somewhat subdued, but again: only in absolute terms. The authority, the subjective weight, the “meaty” character, you name it, was only good, but not up to the level Mezzo achieved in other disciplines.
OK, I need to make a confession: after being spoiled with some really high class monoblocks` performance (Accustic Arts, Parasound) which show lifelike control and authority of this most important (50 - 500 Hz) region, I find it very difficult not noticing the deficit or ignoring it. But yes, again I`m speaking in kind of absolute terms, not relative (price).
I`ll try to speculate: would doubling the capacitor bank from 40.000 µF to 80.000 µF, help? Probably and there certainly seems to be enough available space in the Mezzo`s enclosure, but I`m ignoring the cost issues right now and as you probably know, manufacturing costs are...khm, important. There are firm reasons why audio components carry certain price tags. Regardless, aside from this (take it as a minor) criticism, the amp performed exceedingly well.
The Arte Forma Mezzo power amplifier proved itself as an great all-around performer. It showed a good command of speakers across the whole frequency spectrum and depending on the preamp, offered a very involving sonic picture. I was completely seduced by this amps`s vocal capabilities. One of my favorite tracks that I listen to repeatedly, especially during the reviews is certainly Gianmaria Testa`s track “Na' stella”, from the “Altre latitudini” album, recorded in 2003. It starts with the piano (played by Rita Marcotulli) playing quietly in the background when suddenly, out of nowhere, Gianmaria`s voice appears very close-up and intimate. This is a slow ballad but throughout the song we experience quite intense dynamic shifts from moderately soft “mezzo-piano”, gradually growing up to a quite loud “forte” and back into moderately soft again. The Arte Forma Mezzo power amplifier reproduced this song delicately, soulfully and with a high degree of see-through transparency. The acoustics of the recording environment were kept intact, with a natural, prolonged reverberation effect that enhanced the realism very nicely. Perhaps you might think this is an easy test to pass but from my experience it`s not. The recording itself contains numerous piano mechanical noises, breathing noises, etc, which lesser amps simply “put under the rug”, so to speak or they reproduce them in an artificial, sterile way.
Another favorite track from this album is “Una lucciola d'agosto”, a beautiful song where Gianmaria accompanies himself with an acoustic folk guitar. With Mezzo it was reproduced in way that enabled the listener a complete emotional involvement and hence an overwhelming musical experience. The guitar sounded quite lively and was portrayed with proper image size on the virtual soundstage. I would strongly recommend this album to anyone interested in the Italian contemporary singer songwriter scene.
I really love to explore different beats from different parts of the world as I usually discover nothing but pure gems. Peggy Hsu is a Taiwanese singer-songwriter, music composer, and music producer. She is the founder and lead vocalist/keyboardist of the band “Le Cirque”. Since her first appearance on the Mandarin music scene in 2001 with her self-written-and-produced debut album, Balloon, written when she was only 19 on her piano, Peggy has picked up Best Songwriter, Best Newcomer, Best Lyricist and other awards from the China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia market. Her music is quite diverse and her recent works tend to be indie-pop and bossa-nova, jazz based style. Not having her albums (yet), I had to resort to youtube, some examples:
Yeah, I have immediately fallen in love with her music, the arrangements are incredibly refreshing and her voice is sooo sweet....I really recommend her music to anyone who is open minded and willing to discover something new in the realm of exciting pop music.
Of course, I don`t understand a word but I really don`t have to because music is an universal language!
Once again I got carried away by the music but...what purpose serve all these mighty audio devices if we cannot let go and dive very deep into the musical content?
And how did the Mezzo power amp serve this purpose? In a word splendidly, the separation of instruments was excellent, the extension of the high frequency spectrum was especially good and gave a feeling of total openness. Depending on the partnering preamp, the resolving power of this amp is actually surprising and certainly attention demanding.
I was very interested how it will reproduce more complex music like for instance the track “Senecio” from Tan Dun – On Taoism (recorded in 1993), an avantgarde music recording featuring some very dynamic orchestral “maneuvers”. Tan Dun is a Chinese contemporary classical composer and conductor, most widely known for his scores for the movies Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. His works often incorporate audiovisual elements; use instruments constructed from organic materials, such as paper, water, and stone; and, are often inspired by traditional Chinese theatrical and ritual performance.
The Mezzo power amp managed to reproduce all these complex sounds with aplomb and with excellent separation. On the overall, I was really encouraged by the results and kept listening to a variety of my favorite albums of all musical genres. The Mezzo power amp chew on everything I threw at it without a sweat and unhesitatingly. In the absolute terms, I wished for a more energetic and authoritative (or bold, if you will), lower midrange but then, what will be left for the reference class of amplifiers?
The Arte Forma Mezzo power amplifier represents a mature product that is under proper conditions able to show great sonic performance. It is surely not without sonic flaws, but the important question is perhaps: would I be able to live with the Mezzo power amplifier on the long term? Yes, I would. This probably sums up my feelings about this power amp and nothing more needs to be said.
Output Power Stereo : 180w @ 8 ohms
Output Power Mono : 500w @ 8 ohms
Class of Operation : Class A/B
Frequency Response : 5 Hz – 65 kHz
Inputs : 1 x Stereo RCA, 1 x Single XLR
Dimensions (W x D x H) mm : 430 x 350 x 180
Weight : 40 lbs / 20 kg
Price: 2350 EUR
Arte Forma Audio
Head Office / Show Room
No.46, Caogong Road
Fengshan District, Kaohsiung City
TEL : (+886) 7-740-7665