$500. Especially if that's a used amp for $500, original retail $1300 or so...
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The rule of thumb? There aint no rule of thumb. Very person, as S7Horton said. Me? I've never heard a $500 amp that I could live with. Make that a $1k. Oops, I could live with a YBA integre. Have to buy used, though to get in at about $1k. You can go crazy with this thread. It all depends upon your tympanics....
What Warren said... 'There ain't no rule of thumb.'
You want 'imaging, depth and timbre?' Get a $39 Sonic Impact class T amp and go nuts. It may not impress your friends, but it will sound amazing paired with an efficient transducer. Or how about a nice pair of Wavac SH-833s @ $350,000? I haven't heard these, but for that money, I would guess they probably sound pretty good.
One man's trash is another man's treasure. Listen and judge for yourself.
I'm currently listening to a Rotel RB-960 Dual mono 60w amp (two transformers and 4o,ooo storage capacitance) that sounds VERY respectable. An absolute audio steal. Used around $200-280. Sounds "right" to my ears. Very recently owned two very fine amps which retailed for 1K and 2.5k and honestly I'm really impressed by this Rotel amp. Does not have the deep bass of th 250w per ch. amp, but, it does some things better. I've heard the Rotel RB-990 is one heck of an amp as well. These can be found under $500 used. Happy Holidays, Bill.
had a denon that got killed by a hafler. the hafler got wasted by a levinson. the levinson sounded two-dimensional compared to a (newer-tech) krell. the krell sounded somewhat unnatural compared to a rowland. the rowland lacked the dynamic authority of levinson monoblocks. each changeover was equally matched by a significant price increase. do i now wonder what dartzeel's sound like (or the new VTL's)? yes, but i'm fairly satisfied at this point (thank goodness!).
if i had to choose a "cheap" amp that makes beautiful music, the pass aleph-3 (only 30W/ch though) is AMAZING (i heard it).
about $1,000 used.
You can get any number of David Berning models like the EA-230 now on the Gon for 700, or the large EA-2100 for 1,000.00. and these amps do extremely well...
You can buy Musical Design (John Hillig) D-75B's for way less than 1K and you are getting big league sound.
The same can be said for Monarchy SM-70's and so on...Besides personal experience, so amps are almost guranteed to sound great if mated to reasonably good speakers.
Oh, and Also David Belles plethora of amps for less than 1K..
For 1,000, you can get Peter Daniel's to build an integrated amp/pre-amp with around 35 watts/channel that is basically a refinement of a gainclone amp. As long as your speakers are relatively efficient, it is a great value. I run one with some older audio physic tempos and I really like it alot. Sometimes I prefer it to my "big rig". You can research it by googling audio sector, or look for the six moons review of the audio sector patek amps. 1000 bucks, brand new, made by a perfectionist with good ears.