Grizz Archer at Soundstream had mentioned he felt the sonics of this amplifier were very good, and that he’d personally heard some details and nuances in music that had previously been missed thanks to the clarity and performance of the Ref 4.760. As always, I listened to his observations and then made up my own mind based on what I hear inside the listening room.
What I heard, was in fact very good! The Ref 4.760 is a very natural and uncolored amplifier. The music it reproduces sounds real and all the detail and subtleties of the recording are there, as they should be. As usual my listening evaluation comprised all kinds of music, with the only commonality being excellence in recordings. From James Newton Howard’s “Amuseum” to “Limehouse Blues” from Jazz at the Pawnshop, to more contemporary tunes like Dire Straits “So Far Away” or Bruce Hornsby’s classic “Mandolin Rain,” the Soundstream amplifier sounded terrific! With ample power to drive my system well into the loud category, I noted no sign of straining, even on difficult tracks like Neil Peart’s “The Rhythm Method” drum solo.
I played with the Hawkins control, and I can certainly understand its purpose and value when tuning a high performance system. This is one of those “why didn’t I think of that” kind of features.
When I have the pleasure of auditioning a truly good sounding product, I usually spend more time than normal with it, and I’ll confess to stretching my listening to the Ref 4.760 well into most of the evening. After about 4 hours of pretty intense listening, I did note that the amp was very warm, but I had been driving it fairly vigorously for a long time, I suppose it’s to be expected. In a car, you’ll simply want to pay attention to good installation practices, and make sure the amp has adequate ventilation to minimize any possible thermal issues.
On the bench, it was more of the same. My technical evaluation of the performance parameters of the amp pretty much supported what I had heard earlier. Overall, the Soundstream Ref 4.760 is a good design, and very well built. Stereo power measurements were almost exactly as specified, and the amp also exceeded the published signal to noise spec. Distortion measured well across the frequency range, with stereo separation, and overall power efficiency faring good as well, and a bit better than I see on many four channel designs. The turn-on delay measured a bit long at a full 4 seconds, but that will pretty much guarantee that any device upstream will have normalized before the amp begins to pass signal. This results in quiet turn on, without pop noise.
I dead shorted the outputs to check the protection, and it snapped on instantly, and required the amp to be turned off and back on to establish a re-set. Some folks believe this is an inconvenience, but it can actually make you realize there is a problem and hopefully do something about it, before something lets all the magic smoke out.
One of my favorite things about having the HD tuner included, is you also get iTunes tagging, so when you hear a song you like, a simple press of a button will save that songs “tag” to memory, or if your iPod is connected, it will send the tag directly to the iPod. The next time you sync your iPod with iTunes, the tagged songs are displayed in iTunes for preview or purchase.
Although this isn’t a very cheap piece of gear, this is one of those times when you certainly get what you pay for! Performance costs money, and $559.00 is a very reasonable price to pay for a well made, thoughtfully designed and powerful amplifier. If you have an appreciation for sound quality, high performance design, and like to tweak your system until it’s spot on, you’re going to love this amp. And if you are a fan of the classic old school look and enjoy the nostalgia of the glory days of car audio, so much the better!