Constellation Centaur II Stereo Power Amplifier Page 2

With all the connections in place, firing up the Centaur II Stereo is a matter of flipping the master power switch at the rear, at which point an orange LED will show on the front-panel control bar. Press and hold this fascia bar for around three seconds and the LED will flash green for a minute or so while the amp warms up, then turn a solid blue. Tap the bar and the amp mutes, with a flashing blue tell-tale, while another three-second press will shut it down into standby, after a minute or so of flashing orange in cool-down mode.

sqnote Easy Does It
And that's about it: there's nothing tweaky or fiddly about the Centaur II, but rather an innate feeling of fuss-free operation and just getting on with the job at hand. It's something the HFN team has experienced at length while using other Centaur amplifiers in PM's listening room, where they're employed as a reference fed from a dCS Vivaldi One APEX player/DAC, which also acts as the system preamp.

As those Constellation Audio models have proved over time, they fully live up to the instruction manual's claim that 'the Centaur II produces sufficient voltage and current to drive practically any loudspeaker made, regardless of the speaker's impedance, sensitivity or power rating'. Indeed, it's likely your speakers will give up the fight long before this amplifier runs out of ability to drive loud and clean. And while the Centaur II Stereo is very much the junior model in the range, the prodigious power PM notes in his Lab Report means it will deliver all that most users will ever need. Even better, this performance comes from a (relatively) compact design – well, at least by comparison with some more obviously massive super-amplifiers.

In other words, this is very much a 'rational choice' amplifier, as it has proved with a range of speakers over the last few months – including DALI's KORE [HFN Dec '22] and the Audiovector R 8 Arreté floorstanders reviewed this issue.

Arguably the Centaur II's key quality is its absence of a 'sound'. It refrains from imposing any of its own character on the music, making it simple to hear what the speakers are doing and letting the music breathe. Does that make it soulless? No, because all the spirit and drama of what's being played shines through.

Iron Fist, Velvet Glove
With one of my favourite test-pieces, the Kansas City Symphony/Michael Stern recording of Britten's 'Young Person's Guide...' [Britten's Orchestra; Reference Recordings RR-120SACD], the Centaur II easily conveyed the tonalities of each section of the ensemble. There were delicate touches of woodwind and riotously blaring brass, and the closing fugue climaxed as the Purcell theme re-emerged triumphantly. It's a subtle yet marvellous sound, sufficient to have the listener sitting in silence as the last note fades.


There are two balanced (XLR) inputs per channel – one high gain, the other 'Direct' lower gain – and one single-ended (RCA) input, selected by a small toggle switch. The beefy speaker cable terminals are best suited to spades

Effortlessly dramatic, yet so good at the 'iron fist in a velvet glove' thing, the Centaur II is at home with the gentle jazz of the Espen Eriksen Trio's In The Mountains [Rune Grammofon RCD2227]. The measured playing of piano, drums and bass were perfectly offset by the breathy tonality of Andy Sheppard's sax, each instrument given real weight and definition.

With the good-time boogie of Status Quo's 2022 re-recording of 'Caroline' [Quo'ing In – The Best Of The Noughties; Ear Music/Edel 0218192EMU], the amp delivered just the right kind of 'turn it up to 11' joyous power. Meanwhile, the acoustic version of another track, 'Down Down', took on a real rockabilly feel as the Centaur II powered it out from the speakers. Audiophile music? Why bother when you can have this much fun!

The same goes with the lavish remastered set of Queen's The Miracle [EMI 00602508911330]. Bob Ludwig's overhaul of the album sounds magnificent, from the drive of 'Breakthrough' to the funk of 'The Invisible Man', and via Constellation's amp, Roger Taylor's drums sounded punchy, big and rich, John Deacon's bass bubbled away, and Brian May's celebrated Red Special was unleashed in shards of screaming solo. As I realised having sat through most of the boxset, this is no analytical amplifier, even though it has served that purpose well – it's also a complete blast when you just want to kick back and play some favourite music.

Does that sound like the ideal amp? I reckon so: not only can it do all the clever hi-fi stuff, it also always remains a consistently enjoyable listen. Even when running hard it stays physically cool and sounds like it's well within its capabilities. Or to put it another way, the Centaur II is always ready to give even more should you want it!

Hi-Fi News Verdict
All the amplifier you could ever want? With its assured yet often breathtaking sound, clean lines and massive speaker-driving ability, the Centaur II Stereo is as close to ideal as most of us are ever going to get. It has power to challenge the pricier Centaur II 500 model, is entirely fuss-free in use, and always has more in reserve to meet the demands of your speakers or over-enthusiastic listening levels. Magnificent!

Constellation Audio
Newbury Park, CA, USA
Supplied by: Absolute Sounds Ltd
0208 971 3909