Mola-Mola Kaluga Ncore-based Monos: An impression

Interested as I am in trending and promising advances in high power amplification, I sought at RMAF new amplifier designs based on new class D modules like Ncore NC1200 technology and its derivates… Hence my specific interest in listening to the soon to be released Mola Mola Kaluga monoblocks for the first time.

The amps, driving a pair of YG speakers, were in a nice double sized room... 535(?), I believe... This room has no bizarre acoustic interactions, so systems can perform under good conditions.

The differentially balanced Kaluga monoblocks are based on a version of the Hypex Ncore modules, which have been customized by Bruno Putzeys for these devices. Mr. Putzeys is both creator of the underlying Ncore technology, as well as the lead designer of the Kaluga amps. I do not have detailed specs yet, but Kalugas should output approximately 400W/8, 700W/4, and close to 1KW/2 Ohms. Peak current should be in the general neighborhood of 40A. Each half width chassis feature two sets of Furutech binding posts for biwiring, an XLR and an RCA input connector, and a 15A Furutech IEC connector. A small temporary contact switch for standby/operating is in the middle of the front plate.

In case you wondered what the Mola-Mola name comes from… Mola-Mola is a sunfish… The largest bony fish in the world... A lovely oceanic swimmer that can weigh over 1500 Lbs. Hmm, but what about Kaluga? The mighty Kaluga instead is a majorly large sturgeon fish native to the frigid Amur River… Fact is that Kaluga may be the largest fresh-water fish in the world. So, it was not a total surprise when I realized that the shape of the half width chassis of the compact Kaluga amp, seamlessly assembled from thick slabs of complexly machined aluminum slabs, is very much in keeping with the Neptunian theme... The top is broadly wavy, and starts to sweep downwards towards the front of the unit... Where it meets the front faceplate, which is gracefully concave instead... The whole gives the impression of a stylized breaking oceanic wave... Intentional or serendipity? I do not know... Must ask Bruno about it.

The unusually looking Kalugas may be compact, yet they sound as mighty as they feel solidly hefty. The amps drive the big YG with elegant musicality, firm ease, and loads of resolving harmonic richness that extends from deep bass to high treble without obvious constrictions... In the best Ncore tradition, Kalugas never break a sweat with the demanding YGs, and have no problem reproducing bowed 7th cords in my test string sextet (introduction to Dvorak Op. 87) with enchanting finesse and without obvious cross-modulating distortion... a feat that is sadly so painfully difficult to accomplish by many SS and tube amps of classic topologies.

The Kaluga monoblock amps by Mola-Mola are expected to be released by CES 2014... At $15.9K, my highly preliminary impression is that they will prove very strong music performers, congruent with my general goldilockian sonic goals… Definitely worth examinin them in much greater detail.

Here is the US distributor:

On A Higher Note
(949) 544-1990
Contact: Philip O’Hanlon

Saluti, Guido
My nCore 400s are mounted on a nice piece of rock Maple. Enamored by the DIY factor and their low cost a friend just completed a pair housed in very nice thick aluminum casework.

His wire choice is different from mine which may account for the slight but noticeable difference in sound. We compared the two versions and the wood or the wire I used sounds better.

I'm still stunned by the magnificent asking price for both the Mola/ Kalugas and the Merrill iteration. Aside from physical assembly and a minimum of by hand soldering there isn't much to these amps.

I'm all for these guys making a profit. I'm reminded of the first time I saw the inside of a Rowland amplifier, the cost is right there in front of you. I guess I should be lucky that I don't need all that extra power to drive my little Avalon Monitors and just shut up about it.

Hi Vicdamone, thank you for joining... 'Twas getting lonely 'round here *grins!*

Your mention of the NC400 in your homegrown monos reminds me that I should ask Mr. Putzeys about circuit differences between the DIY and OEM version of the Ncore modules. The Kaluga circuit is designed around modules that are apparently enhanced versions of the NC1200 created for OEMs.
I must reply to the above.

Regardless to what even Bruno Putzeys has said about the Differences in the NC400 and the NC1200 I can assure everyone that the differences in their sound are easily heard from system to system. It is so much more then just more power. The NC1200, done right, just sounds better over the NC400.
This is not just my observation but many others.

Vic, sometimes less is more. Sometimes knowing what to add and not add, to touch and not to touch is worth a lot more then adding just to add.
What matters is the end result, how well does it sound against its peers. To me and MANY others the Veritas sounds mighty fine. And just like ice cream, Both Vanilla and Chocolate taste great but one might like one over the other.

Also, NOT all NC1200 builds will sound the same. There are things that one should NOT do that will have an impact on the sound.

I have only had two times to hear the Kaluga. That was at the NY Audio Show. Not the most ideal place. So I will need to make a trip my local dealer.
Al, you are absolutely correct... The underlying module is but one component out of a myriad of factors that affect the final sound... Otherwise, by extension, just about every KT-88 amp would sound the same, wouldn't it *grins!*

At RMAF, room 537 suggested that Kalugas sound is quite intriguing... There exists a general family trait shared with the sonics of other Ncore NC1200 amps that have graced my system... Like the Merrill Veritas, and my Rowland M925 reference.

of course, a couple of hours of listening in a system with unfamiliar ancillary electronics, speakers, wires, acoustics, and undefined break-in state of any components, cannot yield much more than... "I am intrigued" and hope to assess the potential of Kaluga in my own system!

Until now, all Kaluga amplifiers shown in the US have been prototypes... Either with temporary metalwork, or engineering-level innerds, or... Both. The device(s) at RMAF may have been the very first samples with finalized innerds and metalwork to reach the US. Hopefully, around CES 2014, the creature will be off to the races.


Al, I agree. As I said my nC400 sounds better than my friends by simply using a different wire were possible.

Don't get me wrong I'm not bitching about their retail price. In the end its all about what you want.

Looking at the larger SMPS1200 it's not a huge difference in build than the 400. They're still surface mounted components, I'm guessing, with a minimum of hand soldering.

From what I've read of this years demonstrations of the 1200s they must be at least another order over what the nC400 is compared to the older uSD which says a lot to me. My nC400s replaced a pair of NuForce v3s which themselves fooled all my audio hobbyist friends thinking it was my big SS amp.
VicDamone, the SMPS1200 and its 400 counterpart use machine-controlled surface mounts to minimize circuit path lengthand optimize QC. I am not sure if Kaluga utilizes the basic SMPS1200 like Veritas, or a more sophisticated SMPS1200 derived implementation specific to Kaluga... I will eventually find out.

The build seems to be very important to NCores. I borrowed a friend’s NC400s for a couple of months and they seemed comparable to my current amp. I then built my own NC400s and used machined Aluminati cases. They sound a couple of levels better than my old amps. I thought the machined cases might make a slight difference in sound as that is why I paid a premium for them. However, I was unprepared for the total change in sound that the cases made. I guess I got lucky.

Hi Bob, I am not terribly surprised about the sonic enhancements that you experienced with the implementation of heavier chassis for your amps...

Case in point... The half width Mola-Mola chassis weigh a bit over 20 Lbs each... They are not made from a single block because of the complexity of the shape and the different textures that Putzeys wanted to impart... The chassis is instead formed by a small number of assembled slabs. Bruno Putzeys appears to believe in mechanical isolation by fastening the modules inside a solid non resonant mass... So does Merrill with Veritas... Rowland has been segregating electronic circuits into pockets carved inside milled chassis probably for the last 15 years.... Including the M925 monos in my system.

But the benefit may not be only one of mechanical isolation... According to Rowland and Merrill, the benefit is also one of RF isolation from/to the outside, as well as minimization of RF / EM contamination among various internal chassis pockets.

Guido, I agree with you. Mechanical and RFI isolation is a good goal. The Aluminati cases have separate machined pockets for the amp and power supply too. I suspect that is one of the main reasons they sound so good. From the 6 Moon’s pictures, Bruno’s NC1200 demo units seem to use the power supply’s heat sink as a RF shield between the power supply and the amp board.

Good point Bob... Are you talking about the Ncore NC1200 engineering demonstrator amp that Hypex circulates among interested OEMs?

Apologies for appearing dense... I am blind and my JAWS screen reader cannot decypher photos.

Yes Guido, that is the one that I am talking about. The power supply board is mounted so that it's heatsink is left of the board. The Amp board is mounted left of that so it there is probably some RF shielding effect.

Hi Bob, the internal construction of the Kaluga may differ considerably from the HYPEX Ncore engineering demo for OEMs... I have not had the opportunity of opening up a Kaluga, but I suspect there might be more internal segregation and RF isolation than on the technology demonstrator. Guido
Am demoing a pair of Kaluga right now. The transparency and detail is the first thing that hits you. Very neutral, with controlled articulate bass, slam and power on tap to drive my Gauder Akoustik speakers in a large room. Not fatiguing after four hours of listening last night. These power amps are very impressive.
Roberts1897, thank you for sharing. Please keep up the listening impressions. would like to hear more as you have more time with them.

Some suggestions.

1) Keep the amps on All the time, do not turn them off. Give them at least 48 hours of warm up once you turn them on as they will slowly improve during that time.
Also make sure they have plenty of demo hours on them.

2) They will most likely sound best plugged straight into the wall, not into a power conditioner.

3) Many amps play well with some power cords vs others so if you can try several. But once you change PC give it some time to settle before any critical listening.

4) If possible keep them off the floor or use amp stands or put them on a self and if you have them anti-vibration footers. I use Stillpoints Ultra SS with great success.

You may already know some all of the above.