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Melody Astro Black 50 review

Kit from down under has a distinctly classical bent

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Our Verdict

Rhythm is not its greatest strength, but if you value realistic integration between instruments highly, you will be well placed to enjoy the extended bass and stress-free presentation on offer with the Melody.

For

  • Classy design
  • Extended bass

Against

  • Weak rhythm
  • Not much punch to the music

Melody trades from Australia, but manufactures its products in China.

A fact that can't do any harm when it comes to turning out equipment with such a luxurious finish at this kind of price.

The paintwork on the chassis, transformer covers and valve cage is absolutely superb and we find this a class-looking unit, unless, of course, you've an aversion to black, which is admittedly, slightly unremitting.

Valve setup

Output is courtesy of KT88 valves, a pair per channel in tetrode connection with conditions set for 50-watt notional output.

Melody has opted for 'old-time' small-signal valves, 6SN7 in this case, but has rather overshadowed them by using a single 101D triode, a great bulbous thing, as a power supply regulator valve.

Melody has completely hard-wired this amplifier with the only circuit boards being one per channel for the bias adjustment function (accessible through the side panels in such a way as to make it for once completely obvious which adjuster relates to which valve) and one connecting input wiring to the selector switch.

Retro Unit

But in terms of retro appeal, this is a great model, as internal wiring is mostly run in fabric-insulated solid core. Inside, there are green ceramic resistors abound, while capacitors in the signal path are Jensen paper types in a metal can. Ceramic tagstrips support components and wires, too.

A balanced input is a nice luxury, coupled to the main circuit via transformers. There's even a stepped attenuator for a volume control instead of the usual potentiometer, but we found this a slight irritation: at everyday volume settings the steps are distinctly on the coarse side.

They are much smaller around full volume, but with a typical CD player you'll never have the volume up there anyway!

Lethargic rhythm

This is a likely amp to reinforce valve stereotypes. It's good at voices, good at bass extension, sweet in the treble, but a little short of bite and attack and not always fully detailed. All the same, it was quite a success in the blind listening session and was felt to be a good musical communicator.

Very complex textures are not quite so well served, however, and the multi-layered Rachmaninov score was not the Melody's biggest hit. In particular, imaging was somewhat compressed in that track and while the big picture was still pretty clear the details within it were noticeably less easy to follow.

But probably the biggest weakness is rhythm and, in particular, its relation to melody. There's a very slight laziness to the upper bass and this makes the rhythm seem to lag the melody; which is all very well for Frank Sinatra and other music from the cocktail hour, but not so great when the mood strikes for rock, high-energy pop or, indeed, quite a lot of classical music.

Yet again, we're forced to issue a qualified recommendation with distinct respect to musical taste - cocktails, classical chamber music and simple vocal tracks do suit rather charmingly.