Arte Forma’s stable of electronics are made in Taiwan with the company coming together in the beginning from a group of DIY hobbyists with a passion for music reproduction. It’s a diverse group of 26 members with backgrounds ranging from computer engineer, electrical engineers and communication industry specialists. In the UK the distribution is handled by JoSound.
Arte Forma produce a handful of tube amplifiers, a tube preamplifier, plus a solid state preamp and the Mezzo solid state power amplifier we have here.
Coming in at 20KG this is a heavy beast of an amplifier which round the back sports a single XLR input (for when used in mono mode), a pair of RCA inputs, the power inlet and a good set of heavy duty speaker terminals. Round the front there’s a single toggle switch for on and off and a discrete red LED to let you know it’s powered up.
As I said this is a heavy amp and it looks very well put together. The front facia is a thick piece of brushed aluminium and the whole aesthetic is one of purposeful simplicity. I like the looks of it a great deal.
Quoted output for the Mezzo is a healthy 180 W into 8 Ohms and 500 into 8 Ohms when used in mono mode. It operates in Class A/B and has a frequency response of 5Hz to 65KHz. Looking through the top of the amp (the ventilation holes are quite large) there is a massive (and I mean huge) torroidal transformer and I guess this is where a good deal of the weight is coming from. I like this.
All listening was done using files fed from a dedicated computer running JRiver through the VAD DAC10, The Coffman Labs G-1A valve pre using a mix of cables from Tellurium Q, Chord, Computer Audio Design and Vermouth Audio. Speakers are the usual hORN Mummy.
On with Neil Young’s After The Goldrush and it is immediate that the amp has the ability to connect you emotionally with the music. Ok I know this is a bit woolly but it is often that connection that I want to feel above all else. The midband clarity is good here and I think there is a good cohesion between the Mezzo and our reference pre. There is a terrific openness to the sound I’m hearing here in the vocal range and it’s all underpinned with a nice and tight bass quality.
Popping on Madonna’s American Life there is a feeling of great slam and speed to the bass. The cat went and hid. This is not the same speed I’m used to with the Iridium reference which is Class A but there is more weight in this respect with the Mezzo. In a lot of ways this amp is preaching to the choir in the way it bangs out electronic music over and above the reference. Imaging on this type of music is rock solid with an excellent representation of the studio mix. Indeed, coming from a studio/DJ environment this is ticking a lot of boxes for me. It doesn’t have the overall finesse of the reference amp (£6 000) and overall I prefer the recently reviewed Merrill Audio Veritas amps ($12 000) but this is an amplifier costing just £1 800.
Hypnosis’ Italo monster Droid with its Moroderesque bassline sounds great and it strikes me that what we have here is an amplifier with the power and pump of a very good professional amplifier with added upper and mid refinement.
OK, I admit that this amp is really addictive playing my preferred techno, disco and house but that wouldn’t really be telling the full story and very few people play just this one kind of music and so I must tear myself away and (reluctantly) explore other genres to see where this amplifier stands in the grand scheme of things.
Smoke On The Water from Deep Purple’s Made in Japan album had that live and immediate feel to it and that bass line that I use as a reference had all the necessary power and grunt. The cat hid and growled. The amp seems to be in good control again in the bass and on Pink Floyd’s Meddle album the bass….oh no I’m doing it again Truthfully I’m not all about the bass, no treble (Meghan Trainor reference there kids) and neither is this amp.
On with Pascal Mailloux’ excellent Rain album and the feeling I get is once again of weight and authority with the double bass underpinning the piano, ensuring a solid foundation for the music to build on. This is not to say, as mentioned, that this amp is a one trick pony with a booty bass and nothing else, there is a good deal of openness and detail here too and again a good sense of the recording feeling live. Soundstaging is good if not outstanding and there is a decent, if not holographic, sense of three dimensionality. What there is again is that emotional connection to the music that is difficult to pinpoint or describe accurately.
I was interviewing Nigel and Alan from The Chord Company recently at the Bristol Sound and Vision Show and one of the things that got mentioned a lot was the “magic” that music can bring – it’s indefinable but you know when you hear it. It may not be produced by the most resolving system or the best recording, but when you hear it causes the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up. And so it was with Vladyslav Sendicki’s Solo Piano at Schloss Elmau…a connection. There isn’t the same level of insight into the recording as the reference amplifier, but there’s a lovely tone and feel to the music that lets you forget the system and get on with enjoying the tune.
On bigger orchestral pieces (regular readers will know this isn’t really my ‘bag’) such as The Russian National Orchestra and Mikhail Gembaczka playing Tchaikovsy, the Mezzo demonstrates it can do scale and subtlety as well as slam. The orchestra is laid out in front of me and the instruments hold their position in the stage. What strikes me most is that however loud I crank the volume knob there’s never a feeling of strain.
For the asking price of £1800 this is a very capable amplifier that is able to connect the listener with the music in a real and palpable way. It is enormously dynamic and allows the preamp to demonstrate its own set of skills without getting in the way too much.
On studio produced, beat driven music it excels and both Linette and I said that it would be great to be able to switch this amplifier into the system when listening to this kind of stuff. If you are a lover of this genre you really should check the Mezzo out.
The Mezzo isn’t the last word in poise or refinement (though it is far from unrefined), but what it slightly lacks in these areas it more than makes up for in sheer enjoyment factor.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this amplifier but it’s getting picked up tomorrow for the next leg of its journey!
Sound quality: 8.5/10
Value for money: 8.9/10
Recommended for listeners looking for a good value power amplifier that is hugely dynamic and brings a real sense of that indefinable magic to the listening experience.