Halcro is an Australian manufacturer of high-end electronic components. Until very recently, it was owned by Minelab Electronics, makers of land-mine detection equipment. If you figured that people who make land-mine detectors, which require extremely accurate and reliable performance (because lives literally depend on it), would design and produce incredible audiophile products, you’d be right. Halcro’s Reference line of amplifiers has been widely praised for their accuracy.
The subject of this review is the Halcro Logic MC70 seven-channel power amplifier. Halcro Logic is the home theater line of Halcro products. The MC series amplifiers come in two, three, five and seven channel configurations (designated the MC20, MC30, MC50, and MC70). The MC70 lists for $7,000, but compared to the Halcro Reference DM88 monoblocks, which will set you back more than $40,000 per pair, the MC70 is quite the bargain. So what kind of amp do you get for a kilobuck per channel?
- Design: Class D (Switching)
- Power: 200 Watts RMS x 7 into 8 Ohms, 350 Watts into 4 Ohms
- MFR: 5 Hz – 45 kHz, -3 dB
- THD+N: 0.007% at 1 kHz upt to 350 Watts into 4 Ohms
- Input Impedance: 10 kOhms
- Inputs: XLR and RCA
- Dimensions: 7″ H x 17″ W x 16″ D
- Weight: 55 Pounds
- MSRP: $7,000 USA
The MC70 is a Class D, switching amplifier design. Class D does not mean digital, although the waveform produced by a class D amp shares one characteristic with a true digital design in that the signal is produced by turning a switch on or off. In the more traditional Class A/B design, an output device is carrying at least some amount of current at all times, which is inefficient and results in dissipation, generating heat. A Class D amp converts the input signal into a series of pulses, so the output device is either “on” or “off.” The pulse signal operates at a much higher frequency than the original signal (such as 500 kHz). The length of time that the signal is “on” results in a triangular waveform, from which the amplitude and frequency of the original signal can be derived.
So far, so good. But switching amplifiers tend to produce high levels of distortion, due to timing errors in the on/off switching which mathematically generate distortion in the form of phase shift (this occurs even with “perfect electronic components,” according to Halcro). The distortion is typically dealt with via various types of negative feedback systems. Because this distortion increases at higher frequencies, switching amplifiers are most often used only in subwoofers, where the lower frequencies and higher tolerances for distortion mitigate the problem.
Halcro created a technology called Lyrus, which uses patented distortion canceling circuitry to eliminate the phase shift caused by timing errors. The Lyrus circuit sends a compensating timing signal to the clock which adjusts when the output signal switches, and that eliminates the phase errors. Halcro claims that the Lyrus amplifiers produce 1/5 to 1/10th the distortion of well-designed competitive products at higher amplitude, with performance on par with other Class A, A/B or B amplifiers.
Assuming that you can design around the distortion-inducing phase shift, there are obvious benefits from the efficiency of a Class D design, include drastically reduced heat from the unit and significantly lighter weight than similar powered amps using traditional Class A/B designs. Halcro claims that the MC 70 is 94% efficient at full load (350 watts at 4 ohms), throwing off less than 22 watts of heat. The Halcro weighs in at a svelte 55 pounds, and lacks any obvious external heat sinks or fins. The top cover grill is well ventilated, but I never felt it get even slightly warm.
The Halcro can be ordered in two, three, five and seven channel configurations, each one having its own separate slot modules. If one channel becomes defective, the offending module can be replaced.
In fact, the MC70 includes something called HRAS, Halcro Reliability Assurance Service. Using software installed on your PC, the Halcro is monitored through an Ethernet connection to your computer. In the event one or more channels develops a fault, HRAS will automatically send an e-mail to either Halcro or your local dealer, who will contact you to arrange replacing the defective channel. Kind of like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey telling you that your AE35 unit is about to fail, but without the sinister overtimes.
The aesthetics of the amp follow a minimalist design. The front panel contains only a power button (standby/on) and seven blue LED’s, one for each channel, which glow in a turquoise (almost McIntosh) blue to tell you that the amp channel is working properly. The amp channel light will turn red if the module is overheating, or flash red if it is receiving too much current. The LED’s are rather bright, and not dimmable, so you’ll want to hide the Halcro in an equipment closet if lights bother you.
Setup consists of connecting the interconnects from your SSP to the balanced or unbalanced inputs on the Halcro (and flipping the toggle switch to the appropriate setting), connecting the speaker cables, plugging it in, switching on the master power on the back panel, and then triggering it from standby using your control or the standby switch on the front panel. The LED panel flashes for about a second, after which the blue amp module lights come on, accompanied by a quiet but surprisingly audible snap through all the speakers. Then it was time to settle in and see what Class D could do.
Music (primarily DVD-A and SACD) was sourced from my Oppo DV-980H player. DVDs were also played on the Oppo, and hi-def movies via the Toshiba HD-A2, all using Wireworld Starlight HDMI cables. The Halcro was mated with an Anthem Statement D2 processor, although I also experimented with using an Integra DTR 7.8 receiver’s pre-out section.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a Class D amp that aspired to be compared to its more pedigreed Class A/B counterparts. I knew it could play loud, but would it sound strident, grainy, or, heaven forbid, harsh with demanding material? Well, if you read my review of the Integra, you’ll recall my reaction when I first hooked up the Halcro: “Wow!” Herbert von Karajan’s 1962 interpretation of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony No. 6 with the Berlin Philharmonic (SACD) is the subject of debate, but the recording itself is top-notch. Plus, it is a two-channel SACD, and I wanted to focus initially on the Halcro’s ability to reproduce details and transients without having my attention pulled in six different directions. The first movement (yes it is faster than usual) contains wonderful layering of strings and woodwinds, and the Halcro handled the dynamics without glare or stridency. Switching to contemporary multi-channel, I cranked up the title track from Roxie Music’s Avalon (SACD). It is a dense arrangement of vocals, synths, guitars and saxophone, making ample use of all five channels. The Halcro managed to squeeze subtle nuances out of the mix that had gone overlooked, especially in the surround channels.
Aeon Flux was a mixed bag as a film, but had plenty of ear candy on the HD DVD. The scene where Charlize Theron whistles for a parade of marble-like balls to help her escape from her cell is a popular trade show demo, with lots of panning across the soundstage. Again, where the Halcro really excelled was the consistent clarity and definition across every channel.
American Gangster, the fact-based drama of a New York drug lord and the cop who eventually brought him down (along with most of the NYPD narcotics department), uses all five channels to re-create the life-like sounds of the big city. The HC70 did a magnificent job of putting me right in the middle of the action, so that I found myself immersed in the experience rather than noticing it.
The bottom line on the sound was that I thought it might turn out to be harsh because switching amplifiers can be harsh, but it was not. In fact, it was terrific.
The Halcro HC70 might be a Class D design, but it gets an A for accurate reproduction of music and soundtracks. From a subjective perspective, it held its own against the traditional Class A/B-designed amps in its price range.
At $7,000, it is certainly not an amplifier for everyone. But the Halcro’s modular design, lightweight chassis, and top-notch performance make the whole seem greater than the sum of its parts.