“Headphones now rule – period,” affirms Ken Kessler in the latest issue of Hi-Fi News. And when it comes to headphone amps, few can claim to stand head and shoulders above the rest quite like the Metaxas Marquis ‘Memento Mori’.
When Kessler writes that the Marquis “marries form with function,” he isn’t talking about any old form. The Marquis’ most striking feature is that it looks like a human skull. A skull that just happens to be available in a choice of finishes: opt for one of ten aluminium colours or automotive painted finishes. “It’s ‘eyes’ are level meters that light up red, and I have to admit, it looks so cool on my desk that I’m more than tempted to feed it material from The Grateful Dead or Iron Maiden,” says Kessler.
If the question on your lips right now is ‘why’ (as in, why a skull), consider that ‘Memento Mori’ is the name of the design: a Latin expression meaning ‘remember that you must die.’ Far from being dark or maudlin, however, designer Kostas Metaxas is inviting us to meditate on what it means to live a full life. In most cultures throughout the history of mankind, “death is seen as a motivator to live a good, meaningful, and virtuous life,” he explains.
“The design also emphasises the fact that life’s too short to listen to expensive headphones through a boring headphone amplifier!” he adds with a glint in his eye that gives away his own taste for the good life.
Kessler, meanwhile, applauds the bold design. “The world of headphone-users-in-the-home now embraces everyone from audio enthusiasts to Millennials who have never used speakers and to every stripe in between.” Add to that the rather crowded supply end of the chain and you begin to see why a high-end headphone amp “has to have the sort of appeal that’s sells high-end watches, cookers, sunglasses and other luxury items where the tactility is as important as functionality.”
The Marquis does so in spades, believes Kessler, and is “without question an objet d’art, so cool, so desirable that there are probably people who will buy one even if they never listen to it.”
That, however, would be a terrible shame since the Marquis is designed for music-loving audiophiles who want more than just good looks and who insist on the purest sound. Kessler agrees: “it boasts performance worthy of the best headphones.”
Listening to Billy Joel’s Piano Man, “you feel the full essence of the wee hours in a bar. If you’ve never felt the alienation, desolation or loneliness of, say, the diners in Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’, this will paint it inside your cranium.”
“But it was [The Beatles’] Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds that took my breath away. The stellar bass and drums continued in equal measure, but the upper frequencies were stretched by the delicate tingling of the harpsichord/vibraharp that open the piece.” Meanwhile, a sax solo in Rusty Young’s Heaven Tonight sent “chills down one’s spine.”
Clearly the Marquis is a superior headphone amp “with plenty of delicacy, power and grip,” though essentially the decision to purchase one will inevitably come down to the design. “You’d buy it because you want it,” writes Kessler. “And I want it.”
Read Ken Kessler’s full review in the December 2017 issue of Hi-Fi News
You can also read an earlier (July 2017) review published online in The Telegraph
Discover more about the Metaxas Marquis at www.metaxas.uk