Find some used Parasound Halo JC-1 Monoblocks.There are a couple listed on Audiogon.com.
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Pass Labs amps are on my current short list, too. I agree that they are a bit pricey, but they are one of the few amps which I have yet to hear any real unfavorable reviews of. In addition to Pass, I am considering Theta, McCormack, Classe', Bryston, and Krell. Possibly the Parasound Halo JC 1's, but I do hear some widely conflicting reviews.
Harry, I'm curious if the Parasound JC-1's you auditioned were broken in? They go through phases during break-in, including bright and dull. If anything they err slightly on the sweet side of neutral, although they are revealing of other equipment in the chain.
Disclaimer: I'm a Parasound Halo dealer. That said, I purchased my JC-1's as a consumer, so maybe my comments are sprinkled with a few less grains of salt.
Symphony line gear does not come cheap, even used.
I second the notion of getting something affordable meanwhile, while you pinch your pennies towards the real deal. There is nothing like the real thing, others will try, but will never do. This is a lesson I have learned while hunting for amps. Went through about 6 amps, just to return or to purchase a pair of amps I was eyeing since before the gold egg hunt. Finally, I have gotten my Final Music 6s...after wasting a lot of money in different amps and set ups.
Yes, Pass' are pricey amps, but what is more expensive? To try to attain the Pass sound through a different brand. In the end, it will come out more expensive than you might think.
My take on this whole issue.
Now, if you do not forsee yourself getting money for a Pass in the near future, get the best amp you can get at the current budget regardless of brand and how close it sounds to a Pass.
FWIW, I never did get a chance to audition a Pass Labs amp, but last week I was able to audition a number of amps from McCormack, Theta and Edge with my Thiel CS3.6's, and my favorites were the Theta Enterprise monoblocks. The Edge NL-10 also sounded very nice, but was not as musical as Theta. Even the "little" Intrepid 5-channel sounded much better than it had a right to with my Thiels, so from what I can tell, Theta is really creating some amps worth considering at their various price points.
I think that I am going to go with Enterprises on the 3.6's, and an Intrepid for center and surrounds.
Nelson Pass worked for a company called N.E.W. They are out of business, but they were a tremendous value. Class A operation, push-pull bi-polar amps. They had a ten watt, twenty and a sixty I believe. They also had a battery operated dc amp at 60 watts. I've had all but the latest pass amps and love them all. For my set-up I ended going back to the Aleph series. Pass is a great amp, but the NEW amps are not far behind. Especially if you are in the lower watt range...the push-pull NEW will give a better bass response at the very bottom. The alephs need to be run at almost full volume and they will still miss that last bottom end. I've always used a subwoofer with mine. You may also look at the
threshold line although tey aren't cheap or small. Good Luck.
Innersound ESL-300 is a very good alternative to Pass. Grainless, smooth and dynamic. It seems to impart a slightly stronger foundation to the music and is very homogenous. Perhaps slightly less light'ish sounding too. But that takes nothing away from the Pass because they are very good amps too. The Pass X-series is slightly more incisive through the midrange and treble area. This is an advantage on strings. Aleph series is a little too soft in this respect.
Someone above mentioned the Monarchy and, this is also a cost competitive alternative. They sound very similar to the Aleph series with just a touch more incisivness.
I still think the Innersound ESL strikes the best balance between solid state and tubes. But, if you listen to a lot of strings and chamber music, the pure honesty of the Pass X-series (or Aleph for that matter) is hard to beat.