A couple months ago I finally had a chance to listen to a pair of SF Cremona Ms. The experience blew me away. Although I wasn't able to source it from vinyl, the Diana Krall CD (with which I was very familiar) sounded rich, nuanced, detailed, but most of all engaging and compellingly musical. As familiar as I am with this recording (even on vinyl), I was stunned at the retrieval of recording ambience and low level detail. On "All or Nothing At All" this setup tracked Christian McBride's opening bass solo perfectly, clean, fast, harmonically rich, unfailingly musical, and yet completely neutral with no overhang, bloat, or unevenness.
What amp managed to control the Cremona Ms and convey so much dynamics, soundstage, imaging, and low level detail in complete service to the music?
It was a $999 Marantz PM8004 integrated amp. If you think I'm off my nut, check out the TAS review
of this amp, which cites the same strengths I mentioned. It also became a 2011 TAS Product of the Year. I was shocked that this amp would do this with a $12.5K speaker. But good sound is where you find it. Given the amps you're considering, I know this amp is probably a little underpowered for what you want, but if the PM8004 worked this well with the Cremona Ms, then something further up Marantz's food chain might be an ideal match, such as the MA-9S2 monoblocks
. For a frame of reference, check out Stereophile's review of the now discontinued Marantz SM-11s1 power amp
. Particularly pay attention to this amp's square wave response
, which is textbook perfect, with near vertical rise time, no overshoot, now rounding of corners, no ripple or settling in.
And that's just what I heard with the modest PM-8004--very low noise floor, excellent speed that didn't call attention to itself, neutrality without sterility, wide bandwidth and excellent dynamics.
I'm used to hearing crazy expensive electronics in demo setups to bring out the best in speakers. I would never have thought a $1K integrated could make $12.5K speakers sound so good had I not heard it for myself, was drawn into the music, and have been haunted by that sound ever since the audition.