AXPONA 2017: Merrill Audio’s Christine preamp is ultra quiet, ultra cool

Merrill Wettasinghe, owner of Merrill Audio Advanced Technology Labs, is one of those guys in the high-end who seems able to coax a bit more performance out of his components than the average talented designer.

I’ve heard Merrill (we’re going to use his first name here, as it’s easier to type) demo his electronics with a wide range of speakers — everything from horns to cones. In addition, I was so impressed with his Class D Thor monoblocks that I bought the review pair and am getting great results whether I’m running my Revel Studios or Martin-Logan Prodigy electrostatics.

No matter what the transducer, no matter how challenging the acoustics of a show hotel, no matter the associated gear, Merrill always manages to produce a sound that grabs your attention.

It was that way again in Chicago at AXPONA. Merrill was showing his Christine reference preamp ($12,400), Veritas monoblocks ($12,000 a pair), Jens phono stage ($15,449), ANAP XLR interconnects ($1,049) and ANAP speaker wire ($1,049).

Also in the system was a VPI Reference Avenger turntable with magnetic drive ($23,000), JMW 12-inch 3-D printed tonearm ($1,500) with a Lyra Delos cartridge ($1,995), Aurender A10 server with 8TB drive ($8,500) and EMM Labs DAC2x ($15,500). Supporting everything was a Solid-Tech Rack of Silence ($3,195).

There also was a Studer 810 reel-to-reel deck. Speakers were another unconventional model: a pair of German Physiks Borderland Mk. IVs ($36,500).

As with previous shows, Merrill’s gear and the associated equipment melded together to produce an alluring presentation. A common quality of any Merrill-based rig is excellent tonal balance, very black backgrounds, outstanding pace, liquidity and refinement.

The Christine preamp takes his “house sound” to a new level. The noise floor of the balanced design is remarkably low, macro- and microdynamics are first-rate, bass is deep and well-controlled, and highs are extended. Overall, there’s an ease to the music that makes listening a pleasure, even at audio-show volume levels.

“My goal with the Christine was to achieve ultra-low distortion and ultra-wide bandwidth,” Merrill told me.

A trained engineer, Merrill designs with both his ears and his test equipment.

Using the latter, he tested Christine prototypes until he could see a good-looking square wave far above the limits of human hearing. And using the former, he tweaked his design until the music had remarkable speed and resolution.

For some people, listening to the lightning-quick transients and clean leading edges of music through the Christine may take some getting used to.

“People are used to hearing distortion,” he said.

The Christine, combined with his equally uncolored, impressively fast amplifiers, gives Merrill a formidable one-two punch at the top of his product line. Prepare to be knocked out.

AXPONA coverage generously provided by NOBLE AUDIO.