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A Factory Tour In The Enchanting Foothills Of Arizona - D'Agostino Master Audio Systems

04-20-2015 | By Robert S. Youman | Issue 78

D'Agostino Master Audio Systems

Petra and Dan D'Agostino are two of the rare ones. Yes, Dan's legacy is firmly locked in place after Krell Industries and now his Dan D'Agostino Master Audio product lines. To say the least, Dan is an industry Icon, but he is much more than this and has much more to do. I think he would agree with me that he is very fortunate to find such a wonderful personal and talented business partner as his wife Petra.

These two make for quite the formable team with a fantastic complement of design, manufacturing, and marketing skills. Not only do they have a creative vision, they are already proving to the industry that they can execute that vision. Even more importantly, they care! They care about their suppliers, their dealers and their end customers! To some this may sound like boilerplate hyperbole, but this came through loud and clear throughout the day as they talked about current products and future plans. Not always the case in this crazy business. With this in mind, all I can say is look out world!

I was invited out to tour the D'Agostino factory in Carefree Arizona. It took me about two seconds to agree to make the journey. Talk about an incredible environment to live and work! In the foothills of the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, you are surrounded by elevated panoramic desert views with miles and miles of cactus and natural terrain. Average high temperatures that week were between 70 and 80 degrees. I could be very comfortable in Carefree. Makes me think twice about my home town of Chicago and the 15 inches of snow in my front yard that I left behind.

As Dan showed me the ropes, I was very impressed with the organization, flow and discipline of the manufacturing process. It was clear that everything had its place and that very shortly they were going to outgrow the current facility. There were three distinct areas of production: Design, Circuit Board Assembly and Unit Line Assembly.


Several CAD and EDA like systems with multiple LCD monitors per work station greeted us as we entered the Design area. Bill Hughes was working on the new Momentum phono preamp planned for rollout this year. Bill is an interesting guy with an incredible background of engineering experience and knowledge. As Chief Engineer with Fender Guitar for over 30 years, he is responsible for multiple patents for both solid state and tube amplifier designs.

Bill was utilizing some very powerful software that allowed him to tweak the circuit board design and layout. His monitor was saturated with ground planes, power planes, vias (plated holes), pads, and copper tracks from what seemed like every direction - very complicated stuff. Bill explained to me how the level of sophistication provided by circuit board design tools continues to evolve. Not only can he now more efficiently layout the physical tracks, he can also simulate and improve noise specifications and provide both functional and physical verification. I was tempted to ask Bill if he ever dreamed of such tools back in the day with his Fender tube amplifiers (I distinctly remember the addictive sound of my friend's Fender Blue Devil amp and Fender Stratocaster guitar), but I could see he was just having too much fun with what was on the screen.

Next, Dan settled down at his own work station and pulled up some three dimensional illustrations of his new Helios dual monoblock amplifiers—also targeted for 2015. Dan has been thinking about and refining his thoughts for the Helios design for over ten years but was never able to bring it to production until now. Preliminary specifications include 1500 watts into 8 ohms and 12,000 watts into 1 ohm and a total weight of over 700 lbs for each chassis. The estimated MSRP will be $250,000.

The Helios reminds me of the Krell Master Reference Audio amplifiers from back in the day. Quite powerful beasts of tremendous size, weight and power, but of course the Helios is an entirely different animal. This is another out of the box effort with a truly balanced circuit and no op-amps providing identical dual positive and negative channels within each monoblock—very unique to the audio industry. Dan feels that there will be significant sales in the USA and around the world, but the Asia market is where there seems to be the most demand.

We also took a look at the design of the new phono preamp. It will match the aesthetics of the Momentum line. The goal is to provide state of the art performance that can compete with virtually anything in the market place. Circuit design will be similar to the output section of the Momentum preamp and the input section of the Momentum amplifiers.

Without spilling the beans, let's just say that the ergonomics are cutting edge. There will be plenty of user friendly flexibility and opportunities to tweak the sound to your heart's content. Vinyl enthusiasts will be drooling. Load and gain options will be plentiful and easy to adjust on the fly. One unique feature will be the availability of multiple equalization curves including RIAA and several more. I did not push for a definitive list, but my guess is that if you ever wondered how your old school DECCA, Columbia and BBC records might sound with correct equalization, you may now have the chance.

D'Agostino Master Audio Systems

Bill Creating Another Circuit Board Masterpiece

D'Agostino Master Audio Systems

Francesco - Digital Engineer Par Excellence

Circuit Board Assembly

We then meandered over to the circuit board area. I was immediately struck by the sweet smell of several soldering irons at work (see back story below) as virtually everything is hand assembled. No wave soldering equipment here. I was also amazed by shelf after shelf of bins and parts. Most were Mil-Spec active devices of the highest order. I asked Dan if his choices were selected based on manufacturing standards or something else. I was pleased to hear that components were determined by an equal balance of specifications, reliability and sound performance.

Over the years Dan has built a considerable network of manufacturers and contacts who continue to keep him advised of the latest technologies and materials that should be considered for his products. Sometimes he reverses the process and dreams up some interesting challenges for his suppliers.

For his circuit board designs, Dan is a strong advocate for through-hole construction which is implemented for all Momentum circuit boards rather than modern day surface-mount construction. Many would consider this old school, as implementing through-hole construction is much more time consuming and expensive but the payoff is big. Dan feels strongly that this design choice provides a more robust solution for long term durability and most importantly better sound.

D'Agostino Master Audio Systems

Focused With An Eye On The Prize - Peter, Ty, Amen, & Jessie

D'Agostino Master Audio Systems

The Ultimate High End Electronic Store

Unit Line Assembly

Our last stop was the unit line assembly area. Again we have all hand built assemblies which takes considerable time and skills to meet Dan's standards. The transformer used for the Momentum Integrated immediately caught my attention. All of his transformers are from a local source who worked with Dan to manufacture a compact unit with the performance of something two or three times the size. This same engineering ingenuity is reflected in the silver tinned wire used throughout Dan's designs. The number of strands and the density per cable may seem excessive, but again it's all about the sound.

I noticed several Momentum Integrated Amplifiers and Momentum Preamps in production on the work benches. More audio jewelry to dazzle the eye. Please see my Positive Feedback review on the former. I asked Dan how long it would take for turn around on the Integrated Amp from a committed order date. His response was impressive: two to three weeks.

Across the aisle, there was also the new Cinema Standard Multi-Channel Amplifier in process and looking quite robust and stately. Available in three and two channel configurations, each channel delivers 250 watts into 8 ohms, 500 watts into 4 ohms and 1000 watts into 2 ohms. Three channel and two channel models are priced at $15,000 and $12,000 respectfully. I have yet to read a review, but the claim is that the circuit design is adapted directly from the Momentum amplifiers and the sound lives up to the family pedigree with plenty of power and transparency for any home theater or audio application.

It was also hard to ignore the Copper heat sinks that were on the shelf and are utilized for virtually all the D'Agostino products. This unique material choice along with the Venturi cooling channels in each make for an interesting aesthetic and functional solution. The advantage is that the heat dissipating ability of copper is several times more efficient than that of aluminum and most composites. Copper is expensive but you get what you pay for.

D'Agostino Master Audio Systems

Dan & The Cinema Master Amplifier

D'Agostino Master Audio Systems

Rachel & The Momentum Integrated Amplifier

D'Agostino Master Audio Systems

The Momentum Integrated Amplifier Transformer

D'Agostino Master Audio Systems

Amen & Harry - Sub Assembly Wizards

The Proof Is In The Pudding

I always find it intriguing to understand what audio equipment is utilized for critical listening when evaluating product design and execution. Dan has been moving up the Wilson Audio chain and now has a pair of the Alexandria speakers. He is also utilizing Transparent Audio Opus wire throughout and a new dcs Vivaldi front end. My guess is that this combination would be an excellent evaluation tool for any component. I got a rain check to experience this system sometime down the road.

At the time of the tour, there were no D'Agostino amplifiers available. I just missed my chance by a couple of days. Must be nice to have so much demand for product that you have to sell the equipment right out of your listening room to keep your customers happy! It's all good though as I have heard many of the D'Agostino products in several world class systems—that includes private homes, dealerships and at the major shows. All I can say is that the legend continues to march forward and with appropriate fanfare!

Vision, Passion & Execution - Keys To Success

Now let's get back to Petra and Dan. After the tour, we were able to sit down and talk at length about many things—family, hobbies, travel, etc. These folks are real people with real life experiences and passions. It felt like just another informal get together with the neighbors at the corner bar or local burger joint. Audio was just one of many interesting topics. Forget the Icon thing. For me, it was fairly obvious that this down to earth perspective and real word curiosity are definitely keys to their success. They are good listeners and clearly understand what the market is demanding. Again, this is what makes for a firm connection with their dealers and end customers.

It turns out that Dan and I have at least one thing in common. Our Fathers were both major influences in our love for all things audio. When he was 11 or 12 years old, his Father became enamored with several DIY projects. This included audio kits for Klipschorn speakers and a Dynaco amplifier. As some point Dan took over the projects and worked with his high school shop teacher to understand the basics of electricity and the difficult assembly manuals. The rest is history. I also remember sitting next to my Father at his home work bench and learning the fundamentals as he worked on his Heathkit amplifiers and AR speaker kits. I will never forget the smell of the soldering irons and his Chesterfield cigarette butts piled high in the ash tray.

One topic that I found fascinating was the never ending challenge to grow the industry and attract the newest generations of music lovers to the high end. Generation Y (Millennials) and Generation Z are the new kids on the block. It seems like they are firmly committed to computer audio, streaming, headphones and having their entire library of music in their pocket (cell phone) or in their brief case (notebook). Some consider the recent splurge of upscale headphones and headphone amplifiers as an important first step, but there is so much more work to be done. Petra and Dan feel strongly that there is a need to make things simpler and allow for a more straight forward if not painless way for a music system to fit into a real world living environment and listening room. This is where their vision for a Momentum Lifestyle (MLife) portfolio of products come in.

Their first product is the MLife Integrated Amplifier ($48,000) which was introduced at CES 2015. Based on the Momentum Integrated Amplifier with 200 watts per channel at 8 ohms, it adds new streaming functionality for Bluetooth and Airplay. Android and iOS applications are available along with vTuner, Tidal, Spotify, Pandora and more. Formats such as DSD, WAV, FLAC and PCM up to 24-bits/192kHz will be supported. A five inch LCD display is provided on the faceplate for menu and music information display. This single box solution is one way to provide what Dan calls "extreme convenience" for access to music services that the kids already love but with hi-rez audiophile performance that can really provide the differentiating wow factor. Great strategy! I am very excited about what MLife product might come next from D'Agostino team. Their track record indicates that it will be something special!

D'Agostino Master Audio Systems

The MLife Integrated Amplifier

Happy Trails

As penned by Geoffrey Chaucer in his poem "Troilus and Criseyde" many centuries ago, all good things must come to an end and I was sad to leave Carefree Arizona behind. Petra, Dan and the entire D'Agostino Team were wonderful hosts and set a few bench marks for hospitality and friendliness. I learned a great deal from this little adventure and I think it provided an invaluable perspective and appreciation for me as a reviewer. I am enthusiastically looking forward to my next factory tour in the near future—think California and more warm weather! I will keep the readers advised.


I must mention that I asked Dan what Krell amp was his favorite. I thought it would be fascinating for those Krell fans who like me are always interested in this kind of insight. His response: the Krell Audio Standard (KAS) 2. I did not twist his arm to explain as I thought it would be like comparing children. I am sure he loves them all. The KAS was a pure Class A monoblock design rated at 200 watts at 8 ohms and was manufactured in the early to mid 1990s. MSRP was $22,000. When searching the Internet, I found that this is a fairly rare amplifier and it was also the favorite of many Krell aficionados who had extensive collections and/or a history of Krell ownership. Performance was described as full bodied, tremendous bass slam, effortless presentation, and deep black backgrounds. Sounds like something to keep an eye out for. Nothing like a classic that can still ring the bell!

Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems
P.O. Box 89
Cave Creek, AZ 85327