Boutique amp maker Metaxas & Sins has given its highly-regarded dual-mono Marquis preamplifier something of a macabre refresh. The Memento mori preamp/headphone amp takes the outer form of a human skull – reflecting the meaning of the Latin phrase used for its name – and has been designed for modern audiophiles who care more about pure sound than having a vast array of functions at their fingertips.

The Marquis "Memento mori" is the brainchild of Australian-born artist, designer, electrical engineer and recording engineer Kostas Metaxas. His inspiration for the device's sculpted design is said to be the result of looking at what was currently being offered in the headphone space and deciding to create something more inspiring.

"This last collection has had the benefit of my concert recording work which has given me a library of over 300 'references' to finally finish my work," Metaxas told us. "I needed a very serious headphone amplifier to be able to hear where to place my microphones as well as balance the mix [all done in-situ in concert] – headphones were critical. The new Marquis was essentially refined for this duty as well as being a very serious preamplifier."

Looking like something an audiophile version of Captain Jack Sparrow might use aboard the Black Pearl, the CNC machined head is home to a dedicated headphone amplifier that's promised to deliver "unparalleled transparency and effortless realism." It also doubles as a stand for between playback headphone storage.

Each eye socket is given over to the same kind of level meter found in the Ikarus power amplifier, with adjustment undertaken using the dials under the cheekbones. The listener's headphones are plugged into a 0.25 inch locking input jack to the front.

The Memento mori can serve as a minimalist preamp, too, sporting three line-level inputs and RCA outputs for connection to a power amplifier driving some high end speakers.

The audio specs show a reported DC frequency response of 5 MHz (-3dB), a voltage output of 15 V RMS per channel into 50 Ohms (with no more than 0.05 percent total harmonic distortion over 20 Hz to 20 kHz), signal-to-noise ratio of -117 dBV, sensitivity of 26 dB and input impedance of 100 kOhms. The power supply is enclosed in the base to help protect low-level signal stages from interference and noise, though an optional battery pack is available for up to 5 hours of use between charges.

Macabre and scary though the Marquis "Memento mori" might look, its aesthetic is not nearly as frightening as the price. The recommended retail for a CNC Aluminum black finish (up to 10 bead-blasted colors are available) is a refreshingly expensive US$4,950. But that's nothing to the version boasting a polished titanium finish, which is pitched at a heart-stopping $13,500.

View gallery - 9 images