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Apollon AS1200 - Review and teardown

VintageFlanker

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#1
20191010_183938.jpg


Disclaimer: What goes next comes with: a) My not so great English b) Unprofessional pictures shot with my phone c) Not that much of technical knowledge!;)

Hi folks,

I just received my new power amp and thought there was a lot to say about it. The aforementioned is the Apollon AS1200.

For those who don't know, Apollon Audio is based in Austria, and registered on ASR as @Apollon Audio (though not very active!). They custom-make power amps based on NCores, ICEpower and (recently) Purifi modules. All amps are built on order and may be customised on demand. Mine took almost 4 weeks to be delivered. For my concern, price of the unit is listed at 890€ (without VAT). In reality, you will have to pay a total of 1113€ for the unit shipped to EU and $1110 to US. From what I know, that is still the cheapest offering for an integration of this amp module (Rouge Audio comes next, then Nord).

Speaking of which, the module is the top of the line 1200AS2 from ICEpower. The 1200AS2 is supposed to provide up to 1200W/8Ω (one channel driven). Both channel driven, it could deliver 620W/8Ω or 700W/4Ω. Yep. That is an incredible amount of power. Usually, I would have taken these specs with a grain of salt. But in fact, specs from ICEpower datasheets often match with tier-measurements. Nonetheless, please consider this rated power for two channels is given during only 90 seconds before the module shut down. I would guess the continuous power must be more likely around 400-500W/8Ω. Still insanely strong.

Distortion-wise, we are not in State Of The Art performance territory, like Purifi or Benchmark. However, for my use with 8Ω-rated speakers, here is what I could expect:
Screenshot_20191011-104113_Drive.jpg


Note that the majority of power would be available around 0.005% THD+N. Seems like the module starts clipping at around 450W or so. I come from much better measuring NCores (NC250MP), but honestly I don't think this is quite an audible concern (we'll see that later). Also, this module doesn't have the rise in HF we saw recently in @amirm review for the 300AS1:
Screenshot_20191013-142442_Drive.jpg



External build:

Back to the assembled amp itself, here is how it looks:

20191012_104447.jpg

20191012_103905.jpg
A massive 10mm aluminium frontplate, a power button in the logo area and that's it. Feets are massive and the unit is stable. Sides are kind of heat-sink style. Overall, a very simple industrial design, but I'd say I enjoy it.

20191012_104327.jpg

On the rear side, it is still very simple with only 2 XLR inputs from Neutrik (RCAs on demand) and WBT 0307Cu binding posts. The IEC inlet is from Furutech. So all premium parts here. A bit disappointed to not see a serial number.

Apollon usually make this amp 292mm deep. I asked specifically for a "shorter" enclosure: 185mm deep, without binding posts:

20191012_104114.jpg

20191012_104409.jpg

I'm very satisfied with this specific form-factor. First, it stacks perfectly with my RME ADI-2 DAC, then I may put it wherever I want. I wanted something this deep on purpose: to be portable. And yes... we're talking about a 620W power amp that can fill in my Eastpak bag!:eek:

Well, that seems all good... but in fact I really do have something to complain here: External build quality does NOT feel good in hands.

The top and rear plates are to blame. I have no idea about the metal used, but it is clearly not rigid/solid enough. Put a pressure with your finger on the center of either the rear or the top and the plates will bend (temporally, of course). Then, you will hear the top plate scraping against the front one. Good news here is you won't hear some rattle noise while massive bass music is playing (...hopefully). Also, it doesn't feel "fragile" either: I don't think it is going to break anytime soon . Nothing to complain about the front and the sides, both feel really thick and solid.

Overall, I would say that is more a concern about choice of material rather than the assembly itself. I also checked everywhere, there is no loose/untight screw to mention. So in short: I'm not that happy but not a deal-breaker situation either.

20191010_184351.jpg

A little word about the LED: It appears to be blue on pictures, but it does really look white IRL. You may ask to Apollon if you want another specific color. The entire logo is glossy plastic. It does feel neither "premium" or "cheap" to me.

These being said, you have to know the 1200AS2 module won't run totally quiet. Once you turn the unit on, you will hear some kind of buzz/hum noise out of the amplifier. That is not an electronic noise which bleeds to the speakers... Unless you turn the amp on BEFORE your preamp/DAC. In that case, you will hear that same noise put to audible levels straight in your tweeters. All turns back dead silent while I switched on my ADI-2 DAC, but the noise from the enclosure remained. In real usage, I don't hear the noise from my listening position, and in most cases it is still under my room ambient spl. Again, not a dramatic issue, but it deserve to be mentioned.

Edit: I recorded it, with my phone stick to the amp:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1UUX7UvKA4f2NdbCoXwhxHstHlsTrRn8Z/view?usp=drivesdk
I turn on the AS1200 at 00:04.



Internal build:

20191009_222938 (1).jpg

20191009_221749.jpg


Well... There is not much to talk about here: You can see the 1200AS2 module and... that's it.:D OK, more seriously, what matters here is how the thing is connected. From this overview, I'd say everything seems decently wired with protected and fixed cables.

20191009_222158 (2).jpg

20191009_221828.jpg

Here you can see both connections for XLR inputs and speaker outputs. @Apollon Audio used Neotech OCC wires, twisted from module to binding posts. They told me they deal with the red-red color using a multimeter to check which one is the phase. These wires are very rigid/solid and won't move from the position you see on pictures.

20191009_221934 (1).jpg

What do we have here? Ground properly screwed to the chassis and "L" on the left/top connector of IEC outlet. "Basics" are respected. I would have guessed about the Supra Lorad behind this sleeve, considering the blue-brown color... But it appears to be a standard for most power cables, while not that much used in audiophile cable industry.

20191009_222720.jpg

As you can see, there is a massive amount of thermal paste everywhere. By the way, the unit doesn't run that warm, even after hours of listening.
Edit: Thanks to members, this should be more likely silicone:
i confirm that those white blobs are made of silicone for damping vibrations and noise from the unit itself, similar solutions are used on PC PSU for the same purpose.

Subjective listening:

Alright. Sure, we're on ASR and subjective review without controlled listening is most likely irrelevant. However, I do know how a transparent amp should sound like: ... It should not "sound" in any way!

As I said earlier, we do have a decent measuring module here, though not matching the best ones. In @amirm typical SINAD test (5W/4Ω at 1Khz): datasheet claims 0.002 THD+N, which translates to ≃94db SINAD. In the same conditions, my NC250MP monoblocs would be ≃100db SINAD. Again, according to datasheets, with reference designs. I had to compare the AS1200 with these mentioned amps. No proper AB test. My only wondering is: will I lost audible transparency with the AS1200? Short answer: NO.

Note that the input for max power is rated at 5V. Fine, my AD2-DAC can go up to 19dBu (6.90V). Better set the Auto-Ref level, which provide the max SNR possible all the way to the max output. The good point with RME is: If there's something wrong, that comes from elsewhere! Well, I do hear literally nothing wrong with this amp. I simply cannot point any issue with what I heard. I do have the same feeling I had with Ncores: Very clean/stable power, up to insanely loud listening levels. The main difference here is about power. Of course, I feel like I have more physical bass, wider and deeper soundstage, more dynamics... Most probably due to psychoacoustic, again created by the feel of much more sensitive power.

For now, the Ncores are sold and the AS1200 won't go anywhere. What I got is nothing but an exceptional listening experience. Translate exceptional by: the music sounds as it should. Nothing more, nothing less. Some say everything is about power? Fine, I have tons in stock! A future-proof purchase for sure. Now I've got SOTA DAC/preamp, paired with an insanely powerful, yet transparent enough, power block... The only direction I can look at for upgrades is: speakers. Perfect situation for me.:cool:


Conclusions:

I will do this as simple as I can with "pros" and "cons" style:

Pros:

+ Stellar subjective listening experience with very clean, neutral and "big" sound.
+ Infinite power to drive literally anything.
+ Decent look. Unusual compact size considering the power.
+ Very good internal assembly with premium connectors and protected wires.
+ Cheapest 1200AS2 offering to my knowledge


Cons:

- External build quality feels rather poor once hands on it.
- Hum noise from the module itself.
- Does need 5V output preamp/DAC to reach the full power.

Bottom line: Do I recommend the Apollon AS1200?... YES! For the price, sure, you could find better measuring or better built amps, but nothing close to the monsterhorsepower this AS1200 is able to deliver! Highly recommended if you can deal with its downsides.
 
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Matias

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#2
Nice review! My top plate is also not fixed to the front, so if you press down it is loose, while the sides and back of the top plate are screwed and fixed.
 
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OP
VintageFlanker

VintageFlanker

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Thread Starter #4
Any process ....err .. progress?
There is. Sorry about that.:D I was writing something "big" with pictures and so... then I accidentally pressed the "post" button instead or "preview", wanted to delete/edit, and I lost everything. :facepalm:

Will be done tomorrow! don't expect something that much technical, but plenty of pictures and subjective impressions.
 

daftcombo

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#6
Hi Sir,
Which speakers and which DAC will you use for subjective listening test?
Focal Aria 906 & ADi-2 I guess?
What volume level on the ADI-2 for normal listening?
I guess 2 out of 100 is already loud!
 

maty

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#7
Cons:

- External build quality feels rather poor once hands on it.
- Hum noise from the module itself.
- Does need 5V output preamp/DAC to reach the full power.
Maybe it would be solved by fixing the transformer better. Try a flange.

flange-brida.png



https://hifiwigwam.com/forum/topic/132754-apollon-as1200-icepower-based-class-d-amplifier/

Apollon-1200AS-inside.jpeg


I have tweaked it a tiny bit being:
• Hi-Fi Tuning Supreme fuse
• Some dampening to the chassis as seen in the photos as well as to the output filter caps.
 
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OP
VintageFlanker

VintageFlanker

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Thread Starter #9
Which speakers and which DAC will you use for subjective listening test?
Focal Aria 906 & ADi-2 I guess?
Yep. Aria 906s (overkill power) and MA Silver 10s just before I sold them. This put the MA to insanely loud listening level, yet very clean.
What volume level on the ADI-2 for normal listening?
I guess 2 out of 100 is already loud!
Nope. I put my ADI-2 DAC in Auto-Ref level. Very precise volume adjustment with max SNR possible. I can go up to -15db with the Arias (VERY loud, probably maximum they can handle), which equals to 4dBu (1.22V) using XLR. That is "only" 1.22V over the 5V max input of the module. So, still plenty of power in stock.
 
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Matias

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I think a customer buying an Apollon or Nord amplifier needs to have its expectations set that these are not big manufacturers. They are small manufacturers building with almost all parts available in retail. Little customization (printed graphics, sticker) and few proprietary parts (buffer boards and aux power supplies on NCore amps). It really is a step above DIY but one step below an all customized, big manufacturer.

I knew this beforehand and am totally fine with this, but still is good letting people know.
 
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VintageFlanker

VintageFlanker

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Thread Starter #13
I think a customer buying an Apollon or Nord amplifier need to have its expectations set that these are not a big manufacturers. They are small manufacturers building with almost all parts available in retail. Little customization (printed graphics, sticker) and few proprietary parts (buffer boards and aux power supplies on NCore amps). It really is a step above DIY but one step below an all customized, big manufacturer.

I knew this beforehand and am totally fine with this, but still is good letting people know.
Couldn't agree more. Neither Apollon, Nord or Rouge do have the "industrial capacity" to produce something on par with leader manufacturers. That was I meant on PS Audio S300 thread:
Sure, this is still $1,5K for simple 300AS1s in a fancy case. But you won't have this level of build from either Nord, Rouge Audio, or Apollon.
Speaking of the 1200AS2: This same module is in the $3400 Peachtree Nova 500. Wouldn't be surprised to see even pricier amps in the future, considering the High-end specs of the module.

I would say though, that Rouge Audio could be the exception. Their Alauda range looks really premium with massive machined aluminium... at least on pictures. About internal build tho, I'm still thinking Apollon does the better job.
 
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Matias

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Peachtree Nova 500 has a DAC, preamp, etc and the fanciest chassis. But I get your point.
In the extreme you could argue that a Bel Canto Black system also has NCore modules inside and costs tens of thousands of US dollars hehe. :D
 
OP
VintageFlanker

VintageFlanker

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Thread Starter #15
Peachtree Nova 500 has a DAC, preamp, etc and the fanciest chassis. But I get your point.
;) (Wouldn't be that positive about Peachtree. My past Nova 300 wasn't that well built either: loose buttons, non-symmetrical front plate, scratches-magnet... and digital inputs died after few weeks... :facepalm:)

But sure, the main point is: Everybody can get the exact same audible performance for far less money!
 
OP
VintageFlanker

VintageFlanker

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@VintageFlanker, are you sure that's thermal compound? I'd understand something like silicone for structure/damping, but huge globs of thermal goo between caps?
Good point. In fact, I didn't touch it so I can't be sure.
It immediately reminded me about thermal compound, as mine (for my computer) looks very similar. I first thought Apollon added it, but finally, it appears on whatever 1200AS2 picture on Google. :confused:

I won't open it again, so I will ask Apollon about that!
 
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#18
@VintageFlanker, are you sure that's thermal compound? I'd understand something like silicone for structure/damping, but huge globs of thermal goo between caps?
Good point. In fact, I didn't touch it so I can't be sure.
It immediately reminded me about thermal compound, as mine (for my computer) looks very similar. I first thought Apollon added it, but finally, it appears on whatever 1200AS2 picture on Google. :confused:

I won't open it again, so I will ask Apollon about that!
i confirm that those white blobs are made of silicone for damping vibrations and noise from the unit itself, similar solutions are used on PC PSU for the same purpose.

the hum/buzz you hear is probably coil whine o vibrations for the coils, you can try dampening but it's something "natural" with some kind of electronic products
 

gwh

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#19
Just registered here today.
Incidentally, I just received my as1200 from Apollon today as well :)
They are powering a pair of MA PL300 mk1, fed from a cambridge cxn streamer.
I am very happy with them after a few hours of listening with different kinds of music as well as watching a movie right now.
My 15year old son who has the best "golden ears" in the family claims bigger dynamic range and control than before (Plinius SA250 MKII), which is a testament to how good they work here :) Looking forward to a good future with them.
Thinking about putting a dac in between there, will see if it will become a Topping D70 or a SMSL500.

Also, I have no hum/buzz in my unit :)
 

Matias

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#20
@VintageFlanker maybe you have DC offset in your mains power? This could cause transformer hum.
 

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