REVIEW: METAXAS & SINS MARQUIS HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER
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Marquis “Memento mori”
Metaxas & Sins is an energetic and enthusiastic audio manufacturer with striking designs and “out there” implementation.
Many may remember the name. Metaxas Audio started in Melbourne back in 1981, and after a noted absence over the last decade, recently re-emerged with unique eye catching designs, unrelenting performance, and exotic price tags to match.
Capturing the imagination of enthusiasts worldwide, ground-breaking designs have come to life - ranging from the unusually organic curves of the SOLILOQUY amplifier, to the downright unconventional exposed-aesthetic of the IRAKLIS series.
It’s not just about physical aesthetics, however. Metaxas are also known for their ingenuity when it comes to electronic design, and their creations are now many years refined.
Kostas Metaxas, founder and head designer of the company, together with his sons (or ‘sins’ as he affectionally refers to them), carefully hand-craft each and every Metaxas & Sins product that enters the market.
If you’ve been wondering where Metaxas had been focusing his energy:
Kostas Metaxas is an award-winning artist-designer as well as a Luxury-Lifestyle Magazine Editor/Publisher [1986-1998] and more recently a Film-maker/Broadcast TV producer with over 1000 interviews covering fashion, design, gastronomy and the arts]. This has allowed him to be exposed to the cutting edge of design throughout his 30-year career.
The Marquis “Memento mori” is the latest piece from Metaxas & Sins. It’s a solid-state pre-amplifier and headphone amplifier combination, and unsurprisingly, features bold aesthetics. It also doubles as probably one of the most unique headphone stands we have ever dealt with.
In Latin, according to Kostas, Memento mori means “remember that you must die”. No one could argue that it’s not a fitting name.
Since reading about the prototype on StereoNET back in November ’16, I’d been very enthusiastic about having a listen. Kostas personally delivered the Marquis and we wasted no time getting it warm.
What can I say? The Marquis is probably the most breathtaking design that’s ever landed on my desk. It’s one solid block of CNC-machined aluminium, that weighs in around 4kg (without cabling).
Our review model is a sleek matte black colour, although I’m told Metaxas offers it in ten different colours of automotive paint finishes.
The entire unit is handmade - either by Kostas himself, or by one of his sons.
There are three sets of line level outputs on the back, two sets of inputs at the base of the skull, and one set of pre-amp outs coming straight out of the back of the head, which for us, brought back fond memories of the movie “The Matrix”.
Upon plugging in the power and switching the unit on, the “eyes” of the skull glow a furious orange. The red stalks are analog VU meters, which are measured from the output of the headphone amplifier stage.
Inputs are selected by twisting the red knob to the left - and volume is adjusted on the right. Both have a solid and tight feel when twisting, and have a premium finish.
Packaging and materials
The product turned up in a Pelican-style black case, complete with very sturdy handmade RCA and IEC cables. It wasn’t a retail package by any means, as is often the case with production samples, but the Marquis was well protected.
Internally, the Marquis is equally as unique as the bold exterior. Each and every component is carefully and individually selected and tested by Kostas.
Highlighting Metaxas’ electronics design flair, it uses a modular design solid state amplifier, with a removable amplifier card (connected via 9-pin DIN connector).
Metaxas uses what he refers to as a “no-wire design”. Every single component is soldered directly onto the PCB, and from input to output, no signal runs through more than 150mm of track.
Worthy of note is the thought process behind the power supply implementation. Metaxas boasts they have chosen to prioritise ‘speed’, criticising the usual conversion methods of AC to DC voltages in audio use.
We replace the slow DC rectifier with ultra-high speed diodes wired in parallel with switching times in ‘nanoseconds’. When converted to audio frequencies they have a frequency response from DC – 10Mhz. High and low frequency currents can be drawn from the power supply more effortlessly.
The user manual goes into intricate depth about the research and implementation of the power design inside the amplifier. As the Metaxas roots are planted firmly in both the design and electrical engineering fields, the manual becomes a very lengthy and number heavy read.
Having a solid CNC-machined aluminium base also protects the power supply from RFI and any external noise. The Marquis also has the option of an optional battery pack with a five-hour battery life.
All of this is well and good, but at the end of the day, it’s the sound that matters most … let’s play.
Grado SR80i (modified)
The Marquis effortlessly drives the lightweight Grado drivers, with a ton of headroom to boot.
There is also a slight amount of added warmth to the token Grado signature. As we’re not entirely sure of the output impedance of the Marquis, I can’t say for sure if this was intentional or not, given that the Grado is a 32ohm dynamic headphone.
Soundstage is healthy and wide, and there are no detectable issues with crosstalk or volume imbalance.
Even deep rumbly synth bass, and high-reaching string orchestra performances are reproduced as well as the Grado’s are capable of.
This was an adequate pairing, but I couldn’t help but feel we may not be showing off the full potential of the Marquis.
Audeze LCD 2.2
Using a planar magnetic headphone is a good opportunity to test the scaling ability of an amplifier, which is demonstrated well here. The Marquis faithfully retains the visceral signature thump of the LCD 2, whilst still delivering detail in the midrange.
Once again, there is plenty of headroom for these thirsty monsters.
Bass extends and reaches far down into sub territory with ease, and there is absolute shedloads of power to draw from.
When listening to drum and bass, or high energy music, just twist the knob and enjoy watching the analog VU meters try to keep up. Cool!
With softer, more dynamic tracks, the amp has plenty of dynamic range prowess, and can handle more subtle details with ease. When reproducing the finer moments of a string orchestra, there are no issues with congestion or muddiness.
Matching amplifiers with Sennheiser’s flagship headphones is no easy task. Many manufacturers have stepped up to the plate to attempt to tame these hungry beasts, and not all of them are entirely successful.
Once again, this mysterious skull shows off its scaling ability, and happily rises to meet the challenge.
There are no awkward dips or humps in frequency response, and the detail retrieval is extraordinary. The HD800S is amplified with pinpoint accuracy and excellence.
It’s worth mentioning that the gain is probably a little too high for my personal taste, and there isn’t a huge amount of volume range to select from when listening to these. Using a DAC with adjustable volume levels will likely help here.
Reviewing the Metaxas Marquis was an interesting experience.
It’s certainly a design masterpiece, with amazing audio abilities. It’s a very accurate and powerful amplifier.
It’s also unusual and eerie, perhaps even a statement piece.
But let’s be honest with ourselves. How many times can we admit that we have been so intrigued by an audio product that we just stare at it in awe?
Some final words from Kostas:
Research the breathtaking work of others, and wait until your idea exceeds that standard, otherwise it has no reason to exist. Do your absolute best. If you’re not motivated, don’t do it.
Give life to an object which never existed before.
- Frequency Response: DC - 5.0MHz (-3dB)
- Voltage Output: 15VRMS per channel into 50 Ohms with no more than 0.05% T.H.D.
- Slew Rate: Greater than 1000V/us small and large signal
- T.H.D: Less than 0.05% 20Hz-20KHz
- I.M.D.(S.M.P.T.E.): Less than 0.05%
- Signal/Noise: -117DBV unweighed input shorted
- Sensitivity: 26dB
- Input Impedance: 100kOhms
For more information visit Metaxas & Sins
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.