Putting aside for the moment inherent problem in asking people about their subjective favorite, which only serves as a reflection of their arbitrary preferences and priorities. The value(in a sense the statistical power) of any single answer rests almost entirely on that persons breadth of experience. In other words just how many amps have they heard. The "N" in the experiment. But I will give it a shot by saying that, I like the amps I have now as much as any other I have heard. They are monoblocks from a non prestigious Chinese company which I am sure would automatically eliminate them from a "best of" list, Even in light of the Brutus Award they recieved a few years ago. I would say the Opera Audio Consonance Cyber 800 Mono Blocks are the best I have heard and have no plans to upgrade. Given the parameters that I have established for my own listening pleasure and lifestyle. Nevertheless I still read listen and look to see what people are raving about in the flavor of the month rantings.
I'm not sure the origin of your question. Are you interested in other amps because you don't like Pass, or because they cost more than you wish to spend.
You can arrange for a home demo if you live in the US.
I would put my Pass amps against anything SS and most things tubed, up to 2-3x its price. If someone was to offer me the Pass XA200.5 or the Boulder 2050, I would take the former. So, yes, the reviews are true. And, no, I cannot think of another amp off-hand.
I have had six different Pass Class A amps in my system. My favorite is my current XA160.5. I have not heard amps from other companies in my own system, but I have heard a few amps in friends' systems and at various dealerships. I have been very impressed with the Spectral mono blocks and to a lesser extant with the AYRE monos. I'm sorry I don't have more experience with different amps in my own system to give you a better opinion.
Let me start by saying i too love PASS equipment. however, for example Rowland amplifiers run cooler, are more efficient, and IMHO bridge the gap between tube and solid state, similar to pass (Aleph) amps, and sound quite similar to one another. the classe audio amplifiers (omega) also are known to walk the line between tube and solid state "sound". BUT i do have to say that the NEW pass amps have an elaborate (and to my eyes) somewhat heavy and non-functional faceplate design, and also a useless bias meter, all of which the owner has to end up paying for. plus they produce a considerable amount of HEAT. design-wise i far prefer the grab-handles and elegantly simple design of the classic levinson amplifiers (23.5, 27.5), the lamm 1.2 monoblocks, or even the distinctive look of the older ALEPH amps (just relocate the power switch TO THE FRONT OF THE UNIT, OKAY?!). all i am saying that EVEN WITH the well-received Sound of the XA amplifiers, there are still some trade-offs that concern me. AND one last thing- do they handle dynamics as well as the X-.5 series PASS Amps, and provide as much tight deep bass? could it come down to not only which sound you prefer, BUT on WHICH CD does one amp perform better than the other?
Compared to Pass XA200.5 - Plinius (Reference), BAT (VK600SE) and Spectron (monoblocks) - all have very similar seductive "musicality" and ability to convey power of full orchestra realsitically. Would love to audition new Mark Levinson class D amp - #53 (@ $50k/pr.)...
Everyone is listing SS amps. I have owned a couple of Pass amps and really enjoyed them but I am now driving my speakers with a really good tube amp and would have a hard time going back to SS. If you are open to tube amps there are numerous choices that will qualify for best of category.
A couple of others you might want to compare with the Pass amps include the Lamm M1.2 Reference (110wpc) and M2.2 (220wpc), both of which are monoblock hybrids with a single 6922 tube per amp in the input stage; or the Clayton M200 or M300 (monoblock SS amps with 200 and 300 wpc, respectively). The Lamms and Claytons run fully in Class A and double their power into 4 ohms. The Lamms have a bias switch for system matching, and the Clayton M300's have a bias switch so the amps can run cooler when idling, or when critical listening is not necessary.
Tvad, do you still want to hear a pair of Clayton's or is that water under the bridge already? If you do still want to hear some, I can try and hook you up. Unfortunately, the mfg is in St. Louis and the main distributor is out east. If you ever get to Michigan, you are welcome to hear mine.
Regarding sonics, IMO, my M300's are richer, more natural, and more musical sounding than my former DNA 500 (which was a very nice sounding high power AB amp); and they are more powerful (300 vs 100 wpc), more extended in the treble, and have more detailed bass than my former Lamm M1.1's, although they are a touch less dimensional than the Lamm amps (tube vs. no tube). I would like to compare them with Lamm's M1.2 Ref. amps. The Clayton's do a nice job of passing through what they are fed, with maybe just a touch of flavoring toward the warm and rich side of things. They sound good upon turn on, but best after they have been on for an hour or so, high bias sounds better than low bias, and the M300's do more of everything the M200's do (I owned both). Unfortunately, I have no direct comparison experience with the XA.5 amps.
I would say Ayre and Symphonic Line are worthy SS competitors to Pass. I'm not sure I am comfortable with the phrase "amp du jour" used to describe any Pass amp, as I think all his work merits and receives credit far beyond the temporary enthusiasms this hobby is prone to. That being said, while I loved the XA30.5, Aleph3, 2, and Js in my systems, for my taste I always return to tubes and with my gear no tube amp has bettered Atma-sphere M60s (but you will be limited to speakers that are not current hungry - "tube friendly").