Sunday, September 25, 2016

Merrill Audio Taranis Power Amplifier


The Taranis is Merrill Audio's most affordable amplifier. I seldom mention price at the very beginning of a review, but I'll make an exception for this one. The Taranis retails for USD 2,500. It is based on a Hypex Ncore NC500 module, and puts out 400 watts of power into 8 ohms, and 600 watts into 4 ohms. Oh, and it is built in a chassis that does not look flimsy, cheap nor home made. Taranis is the Celtic god of thunder. It didn't bring loud fearsome noises into my system, so the thunder is probably Merrill Audio striking fear into hearts of competitors. At this level of performance for the silly budget money that Merrill Audio is asking for, they had better be running scared.


The Taranis is rather striking in appearance. The black steel chassis used contrasts nicely with the mirror polished silver front panel. No, it's not some laser cut or massive aluminum panel with decorative finish fit for a master craftsmen from horology's finest in Switzerland, but it looks really nice and classy.

Picture courtesy of Merrill Audio. Apologies for not taking my own pictures this time - my review sample came well protected with plastic film on it's faceplate and made quite an unsightly photoshoot model !

The Taranis has a fully differential input stage with a high input impedance of 100k ohm and can swing up to 13.5V with 300 mA of current to the output stage. High input impedance is useful for users pairing the Taranis with source equipment (with a volume control), or preamps with highish output impedance, e.g. tube output stages, or passive preamps. Gain is specified at 26 db which should be more than enough for most users. Lastly, a peak current of 26A should allow the Taranis to keep unruly loads in check.

The power supply used is the same as Merrill Audio's flagship Veritas monoblock amps (according to their website, they use a Hypex SMPS1200A700 power supply). Internal wiring is Teflon insulated silver plated copper, while Cardas XLR input jacks and Furutech gold plated IEC are used. Speaker binding posts are made from pure copper with rhodium plating. The only thing cheap about the Taranis is it's price. 

Rather unusual for an audiophile product, is the power meter display on the front panel. A series of LEDs indicate output, with green, yellow and red LEDs corresponding to level (-60 to -21 db for green LEDs, -18 to -12 db for yellow LEDs, and -9 db to 0 db for red LEDs). Call me a wimp, but given my modest listening levels, I never saw the red LEDs light up in the time I had the Taranis.

The footers used in my review set were wooden cones. However, you can upgrade to Stillpoints Ultra Mini Risers for a premium. My review set came equipped with a Synergistic Reserach Red fuse. 

The Taranis does not really have a power switch. Plugging the Taranis into the mains supply puts it into standby mode. A small toggle switch on the bottom of the chassis, near the front panel, takes the Taranis out of standby mode. Another toggle switch allows you to switch off the front panel, while a small knob nearby controls the brightness of the LED indicators. 

Personally, I would have liked a more robust part for the standby toggle switch. It will see a lot of use over it's lifetime - not too sure how it would hold up over the long term.

In standby mode, the Taranis is slightly warm to the touch. From experience, the amplifier is always ready to go from standby mode - one or two tracks are good enough for the Taranis to sound good. 

Sound Quality

The Taranis made its rounds in both my bedroom and main system. As the Taranis only has balanced inputs, I opted to pair it with balanced sources and the only preamp in the house with balanced inputs / outputs - the VAC Signature IIa. My balanced sources, the Totaldac d1-dual DAC, and Antelope Zodiac Platinum both have volume controls which were run direct into the Taranis. The Totaldac uses a digital domain volume control, while the Antelope has a high quality relay-controlled resistor network volume control.

While direct drive sounded quite good, it was the pairing with the VAC that really allowed the Taranis to perform at it's best. No sane audiophile would pair the Taranis with a preamp that cost many multiples of it's own price tag though, but it was nice to see how well the Taranis could scale with equipment upgrades.

After some experimentation, the two best matches in my home were the Totaldac / Taranis pair powering the Vivid Giya G4, and the Antelope / VAC / Taranis matched with the Thiel CS 2.7. 

The Taranis is a powerful brute, and exhibited vice-like grip over the woofers of both speakers. Bass quality had both visceral impact and a nice level of articulation. In fact, while listening to my usual test tracks, some of the objects in the room started to rattle - I never had this problem previously ! Bass had a nice bloom to it, and apart from low end extension, there was a noticeable fullness in the mid-bass. This gave both my Vivid and Thiel speakers a warmer tone compared to usual. In the case of the Thiel, this was a very welcome development , as the Thiel can sometimes sound a little bit too lean otherwise.

Midrange presentation was slightly on the laidback side, with velvety smooth vocals albeit with reasonably good clarity. Some fine detail was smoothed over, but this also flattered sibilant recordings. 

The top-end was quite extended, but very well-behaved too. The treble had a airy, open and yet soft quality to it. Listeners are unlikely to find the Taranis harsh or bright. 

Listening to a variety of music, I found the Taranis to be adept at both large scale works that required dynamics, impact and scale, as well as delicate violin and piano solo pieces. It's richer tone and softer approach would mean that it sounded more comfortable and relaxed. Listeners that like their music with a bit more edge may not warm up to the Taranis.

Spatially, the Taranis cannot resolve to the extent of either my recently departed Gryphon Diablo (hopefully happy in it's new home), or my Conrad Johnson ART monoblocks. While staging and imaging were accurate, instruments and voices were reproduced in a flatter manner, with less sense of the acoustic space around them. Neither could it resolve low-level detail to the same ability as the aforesaid giants. Inserting a top-notch preamp like the VAC narrowed the gap considerably, but there was still a comfortable gap in performance, as well and even wider gap in terms of the price difference.

From a value perspective, I would be hard-pressed to find better performance at this price level. This makes the Taranis an absolute steal !


The Taranis is not about loud noises despite it's name. It makes beautiful music, has plenty of power on tap, and plenty of refinement - all for a silly price tag. Highly Recommended and Best Buy.

A big thanks goes to Merrill Wetasinghe of Merrill Audio for arranging for this review and K.M. Poon of Horizon Acoustics for providing the review sample.

Merrill Audio Taranis Power Amp 
Power at 8Ω: 400W
Power at 4Ω: 600W
Input Impedance: 100 kilohms
Output Impedance: 1.5 milliohms
Frequency Response: 0Hz to 50kHz, 0/-3db
Gain: 26dB
S/N: 130dB
Maximum output: +/- 80V
Maximum output: 26A
THD: 0.005% at 200W
Price : USD 2,500 or SGD 3,500 (Singapore)
Website : http://

Horizon Acoustics
144 Upper Bukit Timah Road

#03-15 Beauty World Centre
Singapore 588177
Telephone : 91259149
Website :

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