2000-2500 USD budget for an integrated amplifier. Do amplifiers sound the same? :)
My first post here! Great community here!
I recently bought a pair of Klipsch Forte III and I’m thinking about upgrading my current budget amplifier Cambridge CXA60. My budget is around 2500 USD. I hope you guys can give me a few insights. Cheers!
Network streamer + DAC: Chord Mojo + Poly
Amplifier: Cambridge CXA60 (60 watt)
Speakers: Klipsch Forte III, 99db sensitivity
Subwoofer: Klipsch R-115SW
The room is pretty small: 4*6 meters (roughly 13*19 ft) but very well acoustically treated (I covered all the power corners with GIK acoustics bass Tritraps and Soffit + complete acoustic treatment on early reflection points
The Cambridge amp sounds nice with the Fortes but I feel like I’m missing out on something. I don’t know what "something" actually, since I haven’t paired the Fortes with anything yet but the Cambridge.
So the crucial question is: should I upgrade?
I’ve been considering integrated amps like the Rotel RA 1592 and the Peachtree nova300.
I know that it’s kind of an overkill to drive the Forte III with respectively 200 watts (Rotel) and 300 watts (Peachtree).
However knowing myself, I might upgrade the whole system (speakers included) in like 4-5 years or so. And it might be nice to have a capable high powered amp around (with lots of power headroom) so I won’t need to spend further capital again on a new amplifier in a few years.
On the other hand, I feel like I’m wasting quite a bit of money buying a powerful integrated amplifier right now. At the end of the day the Cambridge CXA60’s got 60 watt and it is more than sufficient to drive the Forte III.
This leads to another thing that’s bugging me… The sound quality of an amplifier! People like Ethan Wiener argue in a very convincing way that when compared evenly, the sonic differences between amplifiers operated below clipping are below the audible threshold of human hearing.
Furthermore I’ll most probably have Sonarworks room digital EQ correction toggled on all the time to remove all the equipment unwanted colorations. These colorations might sound nice, but I’m more of a "I want to hear what the artist intended" type of a listener.
(((To me Sonarworks was an eye opener when I first used it to calibrate my Sennheiser HD800.
It made me think about the extreme amount of the self delusion nature in the audiophile community. Many audiophiles rave about the alleged flat response of the HD800 when there are indisputable peaks at 5,5kHz and 11kHz, plus very very weak bass. Without correction they’re almost annoying to me and they definitely do not deliver what the artist/sound engineers intended. However, these cans are very often just described as extremely revealing, clinical, unforgiving… which eventually led to the claim that the HD800 is picky regarding the amp…)))
So considering that I’ll most probably have Sonarworks room digital EQ correction toggled on all the time to remove all the equipment unwanted colorations, do you guys still think that I might be able to get a "better" sound by upgrading the Cambridge to a more powerful amp, like the the Rotel RA 1592 and the Peachtree nova300?
Is it worth to spend 2000-2500 USD more for this? Or should I use this money for a better DAC or a network streamer?
What's most important really is not what theorists, or romanticists say, but what you hear.
Ultimately, your own empirical evidence is the main reason to spend any money at all in this hobby. I can argue that most measurements are stuck in the 1970s and use overly simplistic models for amplifier behavior. I might be right, or I could say to you that I really like my integrated amp enough to have spent the money for it (a point which cannot be false).
I mean, lets say I hear a difference between a $500 amp and a $5,000 amp. How does that ultimately matter to you, if you can't?
Everything else is interesting, research, fun to chat about.
The other thing to point out, and caution you, is that this hobby is like the abyss which stares back. You can learn to discern a lot, because your ear/brain mechanism is capable of tremendous discrimination and adaptation, but knowing what brings you joy to begin with is important. Don't train yourself to hear things that ultimately aren't important.
My dealer recently had his annual spring audio show. He had the Forte III's hooked up to a new Primaluna EVO 100 integrated an EAT C-Sharp TT w/a Jos.No5 cart and a Luxman E-250 phono. They played some Stevie Ray Vaughn and this system really rocked. Tubes and Forte III's go together like BBQ and a Ice Cold Beer.
Not knowing your gear, I’d like to make a few general remarks that may (or may not) be helpful.
First, I think that Ethan W. overstates his case. Amplifiers do affect the sound, to my ears. Still, I hear far more important differences among speakers than among amplifiers. So the question is, are you missing "something" because of the amplifier or the speakers or the combination (or something else entirely)? If you can set up some comparison listening, it should help answer that question.
I am a long-time user of correction. I hear a wide variation in quality among room correction algorithms, and an improvement lately. Many, if not most, systems can flatten or harden the sound a little, something that becomes more important as your system becomes more revealing. I am not criticizing Sonarworks; I know nothing about it.
I agree with @erik_squires that the only way of knowing whether an "upgrade" is an upgrade is to hear it in your own system. That might involve borrowing both speakers and a recommended amp at the same time to see what you think.
Audio can be a difficult hobby, not because it is particularly intellectually challenging (though it can be), but because a lot of time and focused listening are required to make changes that are real improvements. For example, there are guidelines for speaker positioning, but in the end, trial and error are what get you there. Have fun!
Please at least try tubes. I just got a t-shirt that reads "I asked God to send me a second wife and he sent me a tube amplifier." There is so much truth packed into this humor. Once you hear your Forte III's with tubes you will never go back.
This whole sub-section of Audiogon forums would be pretty useless if all amps sounded exactly the same, wouldn't it?
About you question a very sensitive speaker should probably not be driven by a strong amp since those may sound worse in low levels unless they are very expensive. I would recommend getting the best amp you can find for _your_ speakers. If you need to change in five years then you can change both amp and speakers.
Please read through this discussion for proof that some people think that all amps don't sound the same.
You already know it is the speakers and room interactions; or headphones which are speakers without room interactions.
Digital: I agree, properly matched to other gear and the speaker's impedance and very importantly to the speaker's efficiency, nearly anything will do, differences imperceptible.
Analog: does sound different than Digital and can be heard by nearly anyone.
Analog equipment varies piece by piece: by intended design, quality, tube selection, adjustments, alignments, differences exist and can be heard.
Analog or Digital: Receivers: the manufacturer has properly matched everything. Separates: you or experienced dealer/adviser need to avoid potential problems.
Analog is generally lower powered, thus efficient speakers are analog's best friend. ..........................................
.After 50 years of listening, I prefer Analog, both source material and reproduction.
I sum it up as: 'Analog gets the Overtones Right'.
Now we add the difference of words to describe those real audible differences. It's Pandora's box.
My recommendation is to try analog. Your Klipsch speakers are highly efficient. Low power tube amps can easily drive them. As you say, smart to buy higher wattage if you can, for future speakers that may not be as efficient.
Then you will want to try analog source material, audible differences exist there for sure.
If you want to stay with solid state, I'd take a look at a Hegel H160. You should find one in your price range.... Why the Hegel, Sounds different than your Cambridge or the Rotel. For my test, better with your Klipsch.
I own the Forte IIIs. I’ve mated them with both SS and vacuum tubes. They reveal differences in amplification and source well.
On the solid state end, they sounded way better TO ME with a musical and powerful Creek Evolution 100, but a bit boring with the revered NAD M22. I chalked that up to synergy and musicality of the amp. The Creek is Class A for the first 20 or so watts and then has Class G up to 170 watts into 4 ohm (can’t recall its 8 ohm figure).
On the tube end, I pair them with a PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium HP, Elekit 300B, and an EL34 kit amp. I have a large room and enjoy the power of the PrimaLuna with the Fortes. But if I’m heading off to the audiophile desert island and could take one tube amp it would be the Elekit 300B.
Your your sounds perfect fir the Elekit but that amp, while capable of spectacular things, is not laden with features and to get the best from it you need to do the upgrade options for transformers and caps.
If if I were you I’d be prepared for unexpected results with SS. That doesn’t mean you can’t get great sound with SS. Would you believe the low end slam from an 8 watt amp sounds better and more realistic than when I pushed hundreds of clean watts at the Fortes with the NAD M22? And boy that M22 is a great amp!
The good news is you have a fun journey ahead that only your ears in your room can be the jury!
For my ears, I can’t run the Fortes without tubes in the chain somewhere. A SS amp can be great but I need a tube DAC or tube phono to get to Oz.
The Forte IIIs ate wonderful. If you feel something’s missing I think experiment until you find it. I heard a ton of stuff at Axpona and in my view the Fortes can sound spellbinding with the right setup.
Regarding tube amps: unless they have an output impedance BELOW 1 ohm they will have a non-flat response when coupled to a speaker with a non-flat impedance curve (most of them). Ohm's Law applies here - not the untutored blather of the typical "golden ears" audiophiles!
I'm not claiming that all the amps sound the same. From my understanding, amps do sound
different. However different doesn't mean better. Given certain circumstances
(for instance, a sufficient wattage, no distortion, flat response, etc.) many
many amps sound RIGHT/CORRECT for a certain set of speakers. And furthermore we
need to consider my intention of using digital EQ room correction which will
probably reduce the difference between amps even more. So here's the heart of
Does it make sense to spend
2500 USD for a sound that's slightly different (and not necessarily
better) switching from a "right/correct" Cambridge CXA60 sound
to another "right/correct" Rotel RA 1592 or Hegel H160 sound? I
honestly think that might not be totally worth it. And hence my decisional
process of getting an overkill amplifier for my current Forte III, so that
this amp will be futureproof as well. Does this thinking make sense to you?
I noticed that many of you
suggested me to get a tube amplifier. I'm not sure if this would be what I
need most. I don't doubt that tube amplifiers might be more ear pleasing.
But… Me and my brother produce music. He's got a set of studio monitors
but often we need to check our work on this Klipsch Forte III hifi
system. So it'd be good for us to have a system with the lowest distortion
and flattest response possible. So considering this, should I still keep
tube amplifiers in my evaluation?
Wiener claims tube amplifiers have higher distortions:
"Myth: Amplifiers based on vacuum tubes sound better
than solid state designs, and a good tube preamp can even restore clarity and
warmth that has been lost in the digital recording process.
Fact: Both types of amplifiers can have a frequency
response flat enough for audio reproduction. But modern solid state amplifiers
have measurably lower distortion than any tube-based design. Most tube-based
power amplifiers also require an output transformer, which increases distortion
- especially at the frequency extremes. Further, solid state power amps always
have a better damping factor"
I think all of this theory is pretty useless at this stage.
It reminds me a great deal of a friend who spent 2 years fantasizing about buying a Harley. I kept telling him to get his license and buy any motorcycle first, so he'd have some time in the saddle and figure out what mattered to him. Instead he got married, started a family. Never got the bike.
I strongly suggest you get off this forum and go listen for a while.
It sounds as though not wasting money is your priority at this point and I totally agree. Questions:
1. Do you live too far from an upscale retailer to test equipment? 2. Stop reading all the (generally) garbage and just listen. 3. You seem pleased with the horns and why not? Have you ever heard electrostatics or Planars? 4. Power headroom is a very valid consideration. When you listen at db over say 80, your amp and most other peoples amps are clipping. Perhaps you may want to consider an Active Crossover such as the DBA Venue 360 (about $700). It will show you in real time the clipping. 5. You could buy a used Antique Sound labs amp for $500 and get aquatinted with tube sound. In your shoes spending $2,500 on an amp upgrade without knowing what your next speakers might be is very possibly wasted money unless you buy right.
As you have already well researched setup, a good room acoustically as well as good equipment, focus on "musicality". By that I mean on which sound "moves" you with magic moments.
I agree with Erik, it seems like Egoq would benefit from gaining some more experience by trying several different integrated amps, of various amp types, with his Forte IIIs. This will enable him to discover for himself whether amps sound different while also discovering which he prefers. Many of us know that a tubed integrated will sound different than a solid state integrated and even different solid state integrated amps will sound different based on the types of amp stages (class A, AB and class D) utilized. We also know that the type of preamp stage (class A tube or solid state) utilized will influence the sound. Lastly, we know that there's more than just the specific preamp and amp stage utilized in an integrated amp that determines its overall sound, it's the complete integrated amp design implementation as a whole that's important. My main point being that we know this through years of listening experience and accumulated knowledge that Egoq currently lacks. While I think it's useful for this young newbie to rely on us older and more experienced members for advice and suggestions, it's also a very good time for him to begin developing his own knowledge and experience. I'd suggest looking for a local dealer that will let you audition a few different integrated amps in your system and with your speakers before purchase.
I’ve used several Klipsch horn designs. They sound best with tubes or quality class A solid state. If you can try one of those I’m positive it will erase the idea that amps don’t matter. And before you do that please pull those horns out and cover the back of them with some dynamat or other damping material. It’s very simple yet transformative. I can’t understand why manufacturers don’t do this to keep the horn from ringing. It takes that little edge off the sound that keeps many people away from horns. You may find that you don’t need an amp change at all.
I don’t think all this theory is helping you OP. You seem to be spending effort making an argument. You may want to try listening to different amps with the Fortes.
I’ve had the Fortes for nearly a year and I listen about 20 hours a week give it take. I’m not telling you what amp to get or what you’ll like. What I am saying is your speaker sounds different with different amps and does things differently with them.
I think it is nearly undisputed that the only way to know is to try things out. I’m no way an expert but one thing I know like audio gospel truth is one must explore in order to discover. Some are talking theories when you need to be talking sound.
If budget and future proof are a are a top priority I would caution against trying to get this right on the first go. I’d start with a used SS or tube amp in some palatable price—e.g. $750.
I have several thoughts on this discussion, but one thing stood out for me:
He's got a set of studio monitors
but often we need to check our work on this Klipsch Forte III hifi
You are saying that you use this system as sort of a "mastering reference' for recording and mixing. I would keep in mind that the Klipsch speakers are very excellent and sound very "live" and "lively", however the horn drivers are very forgiving and soft in the high frequencies. This means they are not as clean/clear or as ruthlessly revealing as other speakers. This may not be what you want if you are "checking the master mix". You really want to make sure your mix sounds good on an extremely revealing system as well as a budget low end system (at least that's the goal, right?).
That being said, if you switch out the speakers, you may find that the Cambridge will sound rather solid-state and sterile in comparison to what you heard with the Klipsch horn speakers. So, it may come down to replacing both the speaker and the amp. It depends on how important the "enjoyment" of the system is to you. Or if you are just using it as a "tool for master mix check". Or, you may end up liking the Cambridge just fine with new speakers. I would also agree that tube amp is not the answer as tubes will generally be even slower and warmer sounding than solid state. As a listener, the combo with Klipsch may be very nice to listen to, but keep in mind that tubes can also be very colored sounding and will not be as revealing as solid-state.
I agree a tube integrated would sound the most pleasing to most listeners, including Egoq, but he and his brother will be using his system for monitoring recordings and he stated "so it’d be good for us to have a system with the lowest distortion and flattest response possible". Meeting this goal seems to rule out the use of a tube integrated. From Egoq's description, I think class D amplification is likely his best option. From personal experience switching from good class AB amps(McCormack, Adcom and Aragon) to good class D amps(ClassD Audio, Emerald Physics and D-Sonic) in my separates system, I can definitely state with certainty that good class D amps are closer to the amplifier ideal of "a straight wire with gain" than tube or the good class AB amps I’ve previously used. The main characteristics of good class D amps are their very low distortion and very neutral sound, meaning nothing is added to or subtracted from the inputted signals except amplification to drive your speakers; like a straight wire with gain. I initially paired my beloved VTL 2.5L preamp with four expensive NOS (new old stock) Mullard tubes with my first class D amp in my system, a ClassD Audio SDS-440CS stereo amp. I was under the impression that the VTL/tubes were needed in my system to add the same warmth, bloom and dimensionality I enjoyed just like when using my VTL with my previous good class AB amps. This worked well with the influence of the VTL/tubes preamp being even more pronounced when paired with the new class D amp, probably due to its ability to just faithfully amplify the inputted signals from the VTL preamp without alteration. In an effort to streamline my combination music and ht system about a year later, I removed the VTL preamp and a Parasound AVC2500 5.1 surround sound processor from my system. I used my OPPO-105 Blu-ray player as the heart of this newly streamlined system, connecting all my amps directly to the OPPO’s analog outputs; I connected a newly purchased pair of D-Sonic M3-600-M class D mono-blocks via the OPPO’s XLR L+R stereo outputs, my ClassD Audio stereo amp via the OPPO’s RCA L+R rear surround outputs, a newly purchased Emerald Physics EP100.2EP stereo amp, run in bridged mono mode, via the OPPO’s RCA center channel output and my sub system still connected via the OPPO’s RCA sub output. I was expecting ht content, CDs and hi-res music files played back through the solid state OPPO as preamp along with all class D amps to lack the warmth, bloom and dimensionality formerly provided by the now removed VTL/tube preamp. I was pleasantry surprised to discover that most of my familiar mainly acoustic rock and jazz music still possessed the same warmth, bloom and dimensionality on good recordings. However, the "on good recordings" qualifier is important since, with a now obviously high quality but very neutral and revealing solid state preamp section of the OPPO paired with a high quality but very neutral and revealing pair of class D mono-block amps, the quality of all recordings suddenly became clearly obvious, too. Everything was now very transparent, accurate and detailed. The warmth, bloom and realistic dimensionality, that I thought my VTL preamp with NOS tubes was providing, was all still there but only if it existed on the music itself AND the recording was good enough to allow these qualities to be evident upon playback on a good, transparent, accurate and detailed system. Unfortunately, not all of my favorite and familiar music recordings survived the scrutiny of my currently very transparent system. I found that all of my Coldplay CDs suddenly sounded considerably worse on my home system but still sounded good on my less transparent car system. On the plus side, I can now not only clearly discern the quality of recordings but also any changes made to my system, including interconnect/ speaker cabling and power cords. Sorry it’s taken me this long to get to my main point but I thought it was important that you thoroughly understand why I think a class D integrated amp, with a solid state and not a tube preamp section, would most likely be the best option to provide the qualities you desire in your system. You can google ’class D integrated amps’, ’class D integrated amps under $2,500’ or other permutations to see your options. A lot of integrated amps now have features you may or not want such as built in streaming, dacs, phono hookup capability, room control etc. I also wanted to point out that going to separates may fit your needs better now or in the future since you’re able to upgrade any specific part of your system more easily because multiple parts are not combined in one box or component. Just something else to consider weighed against the cost of additional interconnects required.
Actually, Class D amps may not be a bad suggestion for the OP. The newer Class D amps, especially the nCore models, are extremely clean clear sounding. I have heard that recording engineers love these because it allows them to hear every single instrument in the mix (because it is so damn clean, it provides excellent "separation of instruments" in music, especially when things get really busy with a ton of different types of sounds). The downside is that the Class D "sound" is not for everyone. I am particularly sensitive to the current Class D "lack of high frequency extension and air". Also, many of the Class D offerings use switching power supply. The ATI AT52x and AT54x models are one of the only nCore offerings that have a full linear power supply. There are other options, such as PS Audio or even Nord Acoustics (that use the discrete Sonic Imagery op amps for input stage). So in the end, Class D might allow egoquaro to listen critically to mixed masters, but it may not be as engaging as other Class AB amps.
community is really something.... you guys are so supportive and helpful! :D
afternoon I managed to cruise on ebay for a while and there was a new Hegel
H190 at 2600 Eur which is quite a steal here in Italy. (in Italy, hifi prices
are absurdly high compared to the ones in the US for instance..)
And so… I bought it!
:D It was a rushed decision (last piece), but I think it'll keep my upgradetis
under check for a while. It's one of the few integrated amps with Airplay and
that comes really handy to me. And it should be able to drive with authority
most speakers I might buy in the "near" future.
auxinput: "The downside is that the Class D "sound" is not for everyone. I am particularly sensitive to the current Class D "lack of high frequency extension and air". Also, many of the Class D offerings use switching power supply. The ATI AT52x and AT54x models are one of the only nCore offerings that have a full linear power supply"
I agree with you that the newer class D amps are extremely clean and clear sounding but I'm confused by what you mean when you state the downside is that the class D "sound" is not for everyone. Confused because class D's distinguishing characteristic is that it's so neutral, like a straight wire with gain, that it has no "sound" of its own. If you don't like the "sound" when listening through a good class D amp, it just means you don't like the music it's playing. How can it have a "sound" when it's just taking the inputted signals, amplifying the volume faithfully without adding or subtracting anything which is verified by extremely low distortion measurements and then passing the boosted signals along to the speakers? It's true that many class D amps use switching power supplies but I don't consider this a negative. All the class D amps I own (D-Sonic, ClassD Audio and Emerald Physics) have full linear power supplies with large toroidal transformers but I've listened to a lot of good class D amps using switching mode power supplies(SMPS) that perform very well and I'm not aware of any amps using them having any issues. Your statement that you're "particularly sensitive to the current Class D "lack of high frequency extension and air" also confuses me. This is the first time I've heard of this affliction and I hope it's rare and not contagious. It's definitely and sincerely a shame your affliction prevents you from enjoying the excellent high frequency extension and air that I and so many others enjoy on a daily basis from our good class D amps. Your misfortune is a lesson to us all to never take our class D amps excellent full frequency range performance for granted, especially the airy and extended treble response. I wish you only the best and hope you have a speedy and complete recovery.
Well, now that wasn't condescending, was it? Lol. This lack of high frequency extension and air is a common response to current Class D offerings. I have even heard this through the extremely expensive BLACK amps. It even shows up in reviews (just read the review for the ATI Class D amps). If you cannot hear this then you are one of the lucky few who do not have as sensitive hearing. But alas, just buy what you love. Like I said, there are many that love Class D.
Yes, I was messing with you just enough to not be offensive but still make my point. I am a big fan of class D but it's not a blind loyalty. If there are shortcomings I'm very interested to know about them. The frustrating aspect for me is that most of the shortcomings of class D I hear from individuals are typically just anecdotal claims without any logical theories or relevant information to support their claims. If I don't discern their claimed class D deficiency, there's no evidence that others discern the same deficiency and not even a theory explaining why this deficiency exists is offered, then I'm unable to determine whether this is an actual class D deficiency or just a false claim by someone who is unreasonably biased against class D. I suggest I have no incentive or logical reason to take such anecdotal claims seriously. For example, your claim of class D lacking an extended and airy treble is to me an anecdotal claim that you made without any logical theory or relevant information given to support your claim. I don't detect this claimed deficiency in any of my class D amps I own or those I've listened to, you claim reviewers have noticed and mentioned this same deficiency but cite no references and offer no logical theory attempting to explain why this deficiency exists, then I have difficulty determining whether this is an actual class D deficiency or just a false claim. I again suggest I have no incentive or logical reason to take the claim, that class D lacks an extended and airy treble response, seriously. Put more simply, I'm always going to trust my own perceptions of what I hear or don't hear over anecdotal claims from others. The truth is that if I don't perceive my class D amps as having a lack of an extended and airy treble, then by definition I only perceive an extended and airy treble. Of course, I realize it's a possibility that you and some others could be perceiving class D treble as not extended and airy while I and some others perceive class D treble as very extended and airy due to some currently unknown reasons that could be the result of the dynamics of class D technology itself or the differences between how individuals perceive class D reproduced sound or even some combination of the two. If this is the case, then you're right that some individuals are just lucky. Well, I think this is a diplomatic way to end our discussion. Hopefully, meaningful discoveries will be made on this subject in the near future.
In the meantime I agree with you that we should just buy what we love.
tim, wow, I would suggest to calm down on the arrogance. I'm already agreeing that Class D would be a great suggestion for the OP, yet you're taking this to the extreme and finding any reason to pound me and making you "right".
Arrogance? That's me being polite and diplomatic. I prefer to just call 'em like I see 'em, communicate in a direct and honest manner and try not to offend anyone in the process. I think, if you reread my post, you'll discover I adhered to these general principles. However, I realize none of us have control over how others perceive our communications. My intention was not to convey arrogance and it's unfortunate that you perceived this from my words that were consciously and carefully chosen in an effort not to offend you or anyone else. From a constructive thread standpoint, I think it's important that we both agree that class D could be a good option for the OP with the caution that some individuals, for currently unknown reasons, perceive deficiencies in the performance of class D amps that others do not perceive.
Except for the older klipsch models, you should team up your speakers with either tubes or a neutral or warm sounding SS amp. For tubes, the Rogue Cronus magnum II with the kt120 tubes is 1 very nice amp for < $2000 used. For neutral SS, the Hegel h300 is very good. For a warmer SS amp, check out a Classe or McIntosh. I have had each of these amps during the past 30 years. The Rogue crushes the Primaluna in power and SQ IMO.