Amplifier reviews from Hardesty's

The current issue of Richard Hardesty's quarterly publication, "Audio Perfectionist Journal", is devoted to reviews of some of the best high-end audio amps available. The following amps that fell generally in the top ranking are: ARC V100 Mk3; Ayre V-5x; Parasound Halo JC1 monoblocks; Nagra VPA; Theta Citadel monoblocks; Theta Dreadnaught II; and VTL 450 monoblocks.

The second group of amps that fell in the very good but not outstanding category were: Anthem PVA7 (MSRP: $1500); Arcam P7; BAT VK-6200; Linn Klimax Solo 500; and Classe CAV-500.

Also mentioned were the following amps that were NOT recommended: B&K 7250; Integra Research RDA-7; and Linn AV5125.

The amps were tested and evaluated by Hardesty and Shane Buettner, who also reviews gear for TAS. The two amps which garnered the highest praise were the Ayre V-5X (a 150 wpc stereo model that sells for $4500), and the Theta Citadel monoblocks (rated at 400 watts, and priced at $15,000 for the pair).

Some sample comments (which I've summarized to save space):
1. The V-5x: "Simply an awesome amplifier, although a bit light in the bass compared to the other amps. Plush, dead quiet background, outstanding image focus and dimensionality, and a highly resolved mid-range. One of the best amplifiers I've ever heard with regard to focusing musicians in space convincingly. The V-5x has a pure and liquid sound that's less "hi-fi" than is typical of solid state. The Theta Citadels, at nearly $16,000, are the only solid-state amps I've heard that match, and slightly exceed, the V-5x's combination of liquid musicality and resolving power. At its price point, the V-5X is a revelation. The V-5x is one of the best power amps available at any price. I've never heard anything with more midrange resolution or better image focus. It's quiet and refined, and exceptionally clean, pure and musical. You have to spend a lot more to get only slightly better performance."
2. Theta Citadel monoblocks: "A no-holds-barred monoblock. The Citadels, by comparison to the Dreadnaught, have better bass, improved midrange resolution, and an airier, more extended top end. They have layers of front to back depth, resolution, and utterly convincing image focus and dimensionality. The sound is also as pure and musical as I've heard from a solid state amp, with the natural, liquid, non-fatiguing sound of tube gear. As excellent as the other amps in this survey are, the Citadels are a cut above them all." Richard Hardesty adds his own footnote to the review, saying: "The Citadels are the best amplifiers I've heard. The provided deal silent backgrounds like the Ayre, holographic imaging that used to be strictly the province of tubes, and bass control and impact that you could never get from tubes..."

The Parasound Halo JC 1's and the Theta Dreadnaught also drew very positive comments, finishing very close to the the Ayre and the Citadels.

I invite our members to add their own reactions and comments to those of Hardesty and Buettner.
I have owned the Dreadnaught and can concur with the findings above- a superb SS amp- would love to hear the Citadels one day though...
. . .devoted to reviews of some the best high-end audio amps available. . .

Unless you've heard them all, of course, and concur.

But at least this one read less like a paid advert for Vandersteen and Ayre.
The Audio Perfectionist is a interesting publication, and draws interesting comments. Many people interested in building a stereo system would like to have a source for information that will help them make decisions and not go through the expense, like most of us have, of trial and error and constant upgrades. A source that isn't influenced by advertiseing dollars and is willing to state what works and what doesn't.
The Audio Perfectionist fits that bill. The only source of income is from the readers, no adds. The trade off is not every manufacturer is willing to supply a demo product, and there is only the two guys with limited time doing the demos. On the plus side they both listen to the product so it isn't just one persons opinion and between them they have plently of experience.
Do they have bias toward certain products. Absolutly but, the bias is based on their likes and dislikes not advertisement dollars. And the bias toward certain products is stated right out front and logical arguements made for the bias.
The series is designed for the budding audiophile, not for someone that has been doing this for decades and has already worked their way through the audiophile maze and pitfalls. Personally, I think that it is a very good series that anybody can benifit from.
Very interesting thread. It would be nice to see where the Tenor 150HP, the Rowland 302 and the Dartzeel would fit into their rankings.
I used the Theta Dreadnaught I 4-ch for a while with my Vandersteen 3a Sigs. I found it to be a good overall amp but a trifle soft in the bottom and lacking in the "Jump" factor. Mids and highs were excellent although I felt a touch off in dynamic impact.
I have since switched to a Belles 350a and found it to be the ideal amp for the Vandersteen's in the solid state world. It sounds as holographic with a wide soundstage and true depth and height as the Theta but better dynamically(I'm not talking sock it to the wall, it allows the flow of the music to be alive more) It also sounds more powerful.
I know Hardesty has a distaste for a mosfet output amp but this one sounds as good as any I have heard. Belles use Jfet input, bipolar drivers and mosfet output devices. It is also the simplest looking amp inside with no caps in the signal path.
I'm going to try an Ayre V5x for a comparison. I have tried the JC1's and while they are very good amps, with the 3a Sigs, a giant case of overkill. I agree with hardesty that the depth of these amps are not quite up to the others. Of course a very extended breakin may change that. I do know they're built like a brick house.
i believe that richard hardesty and the apj, truly care about enthusiasts. he always answers my e-mails very,very quickly and honestly. while some may not agree with his views, i appreciate his desire to provide us with information that is free from ulterior motivation. whether or not you subscribe to his vision of high-end audio, you must give him credit for giving us the opportunity to learn about our hobby from a different base. i think of him as the finacial advisor who tells you to buy mutual funds vs. the stock broker trying to rake in commissions.

bigtee: i would be very interested in your comparison of the belles/ayre. please post your impressions. they are always appreciated.

aloha keith
Sdcampbell, do you know if they also reviewed the Theta Enterprise monoblocks? I know that it came out after the Citadel, and is slotted between the Citadels and the Dreadnaught II. I own a pair, and many of the characteristics which Hardesty applies to the Citadel seem to ring true to my experience with the Enterprises. I also own a Theta Intrepid, which I use for HT, and it is quite impressive in its own regard.
Atagi, I ordered the Ayre today. I had to search around for a dealer since there's not one in this state. Anyway, it is being drop shipped and should be here within a week. Once I get it run in, I certainly post a thread on my impressions of it. Hopefully, one day i'll find that perfect synergy or maybe I'm already close.
One other amp that I heard was a good match is the ARC VS55. It's only 50/ch but according to some reports, it drives the 3A sigs easily in a moderately sized room. It was reported that the "Big man" himself likes these.
tombowlus, audio perfectionist didn't review the enterprise.

bigtee, cool. the dealer i bought my 3a's from has the ayre v-5x, and i'll probably also demo the arc vs-110. not exactly sure when i'll do this because it's a 3 hour round trip. fyi, i sometimes use a jolida 302b 50 watt tube integrated with the vandies in my 14x18 room. no problem.
also ayre has excellent customer service.

sdcampbell, sorry to hijack your thread.

aloha keith
keith, i'm going to listen to the arc-vs110 during the 2cd week in july and the vs55. Should be interesting. i had a dealer tell me that the vs55 was a match made in heaven. he gives private auditions and you can listen till your hearts content. he also said converting them to a balanced input makes them even more special. i went sorta against his advice in getting the ayre but i'm a ss kind of guy but i'll kep an open mind. i just hate the thought of retubing amps periodically. kind of expensive.
It's interesting that the Ayre V-1X did not get mentioned in the review while the Ayre V-5x did. The issue seemed to indicate that while the Theta Dreadnaught 2 was more powerful and dynamic for movies, the Dreadnauhgt 1 still had it beat for two channel music. Hope they are right as I just bit the bullet and bought a used Dread 1 off of Audiogon..the perfectionist has been very helpful and is far and away my favorite audio publication. I'll be a subscriber for many years to come...

if it makes you feel any better, i've heard it from other sources, don't remember where, sorry. that the dreadnaught I beats the II. also, from my contacts with richard hardesty, it seems that they listen to alot more products than they mention in the mag, and write about the best and the sometimes the worst. i'm speculating, but i would bet that they listened to the v-1x. if you're intrested, contact apj and ask richard about this.
congrats on the new amp, let us know what you think.

aloha keith


If it's any consolation, Thomas Norton tested both the Dreadnaught I and II. He felt that the Dreadnaught II offers a small sonic improvement over the Dreadnaught I.

While it's always good to check audio reviewers' opinions when compiling a short list of amps to audition, the final selection needs to be made based upon one's own personal tastes and preferences, the speakers to be used, the other components in the system, along with room acoustics. It would be a disservice to take anyone's word, even Hardesty's, as the Gospel.

For me, I prefer an amp that has body, richness, warmth, soundstaging, presence, harmonic sweetness, and impact. Dynamics for me are a little less important.

There are a number of amps Hardesty could have tested, but did not: Pass X350, McIntosh MC402, Mark Levinson 432, Ayre V1-X, BAT VK 600, Conrad Johnson Premier 140, Conrad Johnson Premier 350, Belles 350A, Classe Audio CA 301, Krell FPB300CX, Rouge Audio Zeus, Bryston 14B-SST, Simaudio W-5 Limited Edition, Plinius SA-102, and so on. As you can see, there are a huge number of amps to choose from, almost an unlimited number. One really has to think for himself when putting a system together, otherwise one will always be at the whim of current style and taste, which changes every three-to-six months.

Appreciate you taking the time to post to the amp thread. Relative to reveiwers, I would agree with you that my own ears should be the ultimate judge, however that said, I live in Charlotte and it would be at least a five hour drive to hear the Dread 2, 3 hours to hear some of the other amps you mentioned. The "highest" end multi-channel amps here that I am aware of are limited to B&K & Ingegra gear. So far for me, the direction/guidance from the Audio Perfectionist has proved to be accurate on virtually everything they commented on, although it does leave a gap on what the gear they did not comment on sounds like. Every time I buy a piece of equipment, I need to sell one and I try and keep the differential between what I sold and what I buy to under $1,000. I save about $200 a month so it allows me the opportunity to upgrade 2 to maybe three times a year..the Theta, who I actually bought from one of the Audio Perfectionist reviewers, was funded by selling the Threshold T-200 I was using for the fronts and a Proceed HPA 2 I was using for the rears. The Theta did not blow the doors off the previous amps but did provide an overall improvement in imaging depth and soundstaging. A buddy of mine made a similar swap with the Threshold and thought the Threshold was the stronger amp for two channel so to your point it really does boil down to personal preference, as well as the other components in the setup. The only other amp I have had was the Cal Lab MCA 500 and while it was easily the best of the lot for home Theatre, I found it to be the weakest of the four for two channel. Additionally, the Neutric speaker cable terminations that it employed made it very difficult to audition different cableing with it. Last but not least relative to auditioning, I always strive to buy a piece used that I can sell for 90% to 100% of what I sold it for in the event it does not end up delivering an overall improvement to my current setup....even if I did have a high end shop nearby I would never take their time auditioning a new product unless I could acutally afford to buy it from them. The Audio Perfectionist publication does provide the filter I have come to trust to decide which used pieces to audition. (I also take the Absolute Sound & Widescreen Review.)
The Ayre is not an amp that wil grab you by the throat. When I first heard it, to be truthful, I was a little disappointed. FOr myself, it reresented a very subtle improvement over my threshold S300 (really, a testament to the threshold). Yet when I sit down and analyze it, it is better almost in every way. However the one area it excels is the noise floor. In hindsight, the threshold sounds a little like solid state. The Ayre sounds like music.