Home Electronics: Switching Channels

  • Ken Kessler

In audio circles, Jeff Rowland Design Group is to two-channel hi-fi as Brooks Brothers is to button-down collars. Now, however, the Colorado Springs, Colo., company is venturing into home theater territory, which, to extend the analogy, is equivalent to Brooks Brothers releasing an haute couture line. It is out of character—or, at first glance, appears to be.

For nearly 30 years, company founder Jeff Rowland has been dedicated to building amplifiers that maintain the integrity of the original music signal. His lofty standards dictated that JRDG build only mono and two-channel amps; home theater configurations and their challenges were never a concern. “The company is built on Jeff’s preference for classic, two-channel analog sound,” says Rich Maez, technical services director at JRDG, adding that Rowland is less interested in, say, reproducing multichannel sound from Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio than he is with extracting the maximum performance from stereo sources. “But the high end has moved so far into custom installation that traditional amps presented too many problems because of high heat and low power.”

Without compromising Rowland’s commitment to faithful sound reproduction, JRDG addresses these issues with two new lines of amplifiers, the 200 and 300 Series. By employing new power-supply technology, JRDG has made its latest amps more compact, electrically efficient, and cooler-running than their predecessors, and thus more conducive to multichannel and home theater applications. The 250-watt Model 201 monoblock ($2,350), JRDG’s smallest product, is about the size of a telephone book. A stack of five Model 201s stands only about 13 inches high, 81¼2 inches wide, and a foot deep. The two-channel, 300-watt Model 302 ($15,200) features similar circuitry, but it isolates its power supply from the home’s electrical system, thereby operating with greater immunity from regular spikes and surges. “This circuitry also removes the tiniest layer of haze or noise that separates you from your favorite music or soundtrack, allowing you to hear exactly what the artist intended, rather than what the audio designer inadvertently imposed on the recording,” says Maez.

The Model 304 ($16,600) contains four separate amplifiers to feed a four-channel system. When it is coupled with a Model 302, a home theater enthusiast has the six channels necessary to reproduce a 6.1 Dolby or DTS film soundtrack.

By increasing the amplifiers’ efficiency (the ratio of the signal’s output to the power input), JRDG was able to reduce unwanted heat greatly. This pleases home theater designers, because a separate cooling system is not required for a multichannel setup, and the amplifiers can operate safely within a cabinet. Traditional amplifiers operate at an efficiency rate ranging from 10 percent to 30 percent; Maez says the 200s are 90 percent efficient, and the 300s are 94 percent efficient. “If an amp pulls 1,200 watts [of power] out of your wall but produces only 250 watts [of power], more energy is being used to create heat rather than sound,” he explains. “If a Model 302 pulls 315 watts out of the wall and produces 300 watts of power, almost all of the energy is being used to create sound—and it gets no warmer than a clock radio.”  
 
Jeff Rowland Design Group, 719.473.1181, www.jeffrowland.com

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