start off with a cliché, that small is beautiful, in talking about the very
fine new M300 monoblock amplifiers from iQ Audio. It is worth examining that
cliché just for a moment. I know I have read it or its equivalent in other
reviews, evaluations that are very positive and complimentary. But, and maybe I
am revealing my own biases here, I often read into those compliments a
qualifier; "the Supersonic MTX-8000 is a superb component,
in spite of not being very big at all". As though big were a virtue,
and a sine qua non of quality, all
Most of the great amplifiers one might signal
right now are pretty large, and heavy, and imposing (with the exception of some
ultra-luxe SETs). There are good reasons for that, and as we know, they have
mostly to do with the inefficiencies of most designs and the need to get rid of
excess heat. I lust after many of those amps as do most card-carrying
audiophiles. I like big toys, especially ones that are beautifully made.
Good Things Come...
The M300s are compact, well-machined, neat squares with
rounded corners. They are about 7 3/4" square and 4" high with their supplied
rubber feet. The feet were perfect on the hard floor of my listening room. While
they are tall enough for a flat rug, those with deep carpeting might want them
on stands or supports to raise them a bit higher. And because they are almost
totally without any perceptible vibration, placement on the floor seems to work
quite well. I also placed them on my Grand Prix Audio amplifier stand and did
not hear any difference at all. One nice touch is that there is a very
attractive and cool blue light on the front panel indicating when the amp is
Like many switching amps, the M300s are very light. Without any heavy transformers or heat sinks, they weigh only seven pounds each. But lest one think that this makes for a "lightweight" unit, one has only to look at the connectors. The "iQKord" power cords are hospital grade connectors made for iQ, very robust with good RFI/EMI blocking, and make a very solid connection at the rear of the unit. Even more impressive are the binding posts (called "iQ Torque"). These are heavy-duty posts that accept only a spade lug, and have solid wing-nuts for tightening. That appeals to me on both counts: I prefer spade lugs for the secure connection, and the wing-nuts make it very easy to get things tight. The models, or targets, for the design of the binding posts were Boulder and Pass, neither of which is in the same general price range.
Finally, the M300s allow for either single-ended or balanced
connections. I used single ended, as that fits my system. The RCA connectors are
from Cardas and as solid as one would expect. I did not have the opportunity to
audition the balanced side but do not doubt the quality.
IQ's high standards for the M300s were not limited to the component parts. Bruce Weisberg, one of the two founders of iQ Audio, said that they wanted to build an efficient, compact and affordable amplifier that could have some of the musical characteristics of Spectral and Pass Labs at the high end.
A look at the iQ web site will show how much the desire to
have a stable and powerful amplifier in the real world was a major goal for the
M300s. There is a healthy amount of discussion of power ratings and what they
mean for the consumer. IQ did a lot of testing in the development of the M300 to
ensure that the amps could work with difficult loads. While the power ratings
specify what they can do at 8 and 4 ohms, the testing involved loads down to 2
ohms, into Quads, Martin-Logans, Magnepans and more. The FTC tests are not easy
for Class D amplifiers but the M300s passed quite well, with an FTC power rating
at 4 ohms that doubles the 8 ohm specification.
Class D amplifiers measure very well in many characteristics
and the iQ is no exception. The extremely fast switch mode power supply
refreshes every 1/100,000th of a second. Such a power supply can be
both quiet and powerful if well made, as well as very reliable. The proof of the
pudding is indeed in the eating: the M300s run very quietly, and are quite clean
and refined, without gobbling up tons of power.
A Little Listening
The RM9 is worlds away from the IQ amps in design, execution,
weight, size. . . you name it. And it is not a solid-state unit like those that
iQ used to voice the M300s. But it is a very good and fairly neutral amplifier
that does a good job on all genres of music, from any source, be it analog or
So unfair it may have been, but here goes. Please note that
most of my listening was done with my brand-new VPI Classic 3 turntable (more
later, but it is quite wonderful). I did also listen to digital recordings via
my usual Squeezebox/Wyred 4 Sound setup.
Steamin' with the Miles
Davis Quintet (Acoustic Sounds reissue). I started with the RM-9.
Everything was crisp, clear, and round with all kinds of precision: the trumpet
notes with the mute are sharp and fluid, both piercing and smooth, The bass is
very solid and has lots of ambiance. One can hear both depth and a solid center
image – the sax is rich and upfront.
I heard great left to right placement, wherein the instruments
were all terribly precise in placement. It was almost too good. After reviewing
for years, one becomes wary of such great images or rendition; it is nonetheless
a hallmark of accurate reproduction.
I then listened to a great album that came to me courtesy of a
friend. "The Great Ray Charles" a Rhino re-release of Atlantic
1259, gives us Ray on piano alone. No lyrics; just Ray Charles playing piano.
The first cut, Doodlin', is typical, which is to say beyond good.
It is most pleasing that the amps fill the silent part of the
space as well as anything I heard. Possibly, there is slightly greater precision
in the harmonic structure of a given tone via the tube amp than with the iQ.
Though entirely different amps, they share a certain measure (a quality I find
admirable). Overall, my sense is that the harmonics of the tubes are more
complete, even if in the bargain, there may be less "rigor" in the bottom end.
I listened to what is now an audiophile warhorse – Rickie
Lee Jones' debut album. Via the iQ monoblocks, there was a good flow of the
musical line that allowed for some unplanned toe-tapping. Though I am not a "PRAT"
fanatic, I do value the ability of any component to follow the music, which
often becomes an issue only when it is lacking. The M300s were clean, clear and
still musical. I questioned whether or not they were a bit light on the bottom.
Or were they just lacking in an extra weight in the bass? It was close enough
that I couldn't tell straight away.
On the Rickie Lee Jones via the RM-9s, her voice is fuller and
more lifelike. The progression and musical line are very good, with more
continuity. Even the quiet sections are just a little more palpable. They pass a
corollary of the open-window test – even at a remove, one knows that these
recordings are being rendered very closely to the original.
While my RM-9 had generally "won" the comparisons up to now, I
sensed that the strong point of the M300s – their precision and clarity –
might shine with certain types of music. I had not listened to anything but jazz
and classical to that point. A perusal of my LP collection led me to the
Sundazed reissue of the Byrds' "Mr.
Tambourine Man". The recoding is fine if a little thin, and the
pressing pretty good. I had suspected that the iQs might shine and I put "Feel a
Whole Lot Better" on my new VPI Classic 3.
And shine they did. There was clarity and separation in a
recording with a compact space (some might say congested?). This is still a nice
pressing of one of (IMHO) the most perfect pop-rock songs ever made. The iQs did
everything right. With clean separation of the spaces between the instruments,
and no congestion at all, they carried the tune, and could be played way
louder!! The M300s fairly excelled. Only in the guitar solo did my RM-9 sound
better, and not by much.
With amplified music, they are superb, thanks to inherent musicality, a very quiet background, and a clear delineation of the soundstage that helps to overcome the crowding typical of so much popular music. Along with tremendous power, a robust build, and ease of operation, it is hard to see why music lovers would not be attracted to these amplifiers. They are a great value in the under-$2500 segment and worth a careful audition. On that note, since iQ is a direct seller, there is a 30-day free trial period, which means you will have at the very least a month of very fine music.
We at IQ wish your readers many hours of good listening.