Attack of the Clone Amplifiers

Great article.
Seanheis1, thank you for sharing, very interesting article.  

Anyone considering Class D, should check out Red Dragon Audio.  IMO, their amps offers the best value and aesthetics.
Wow those red dragon amps could launch their open baffle speakers into space.
I bought a set of ICEpower 250's from Parts Express, I traded all my Parasound A23's out after listening.  I couldn't hear a difference and the ICEPower units cost a lot less to run in a smaller space.  I think that spoke well for Parasound AND ICE. :)

If you are interested in buying nCore from Hypex which is also being heavily used you can buy a kit directly from them at their webshop.  The 400 watt model is 650 euro's including everything you need to build a monoblock.

Also, you can buy very nice aluminum cases from Ghent Audio.  Pleasure to deal with them, but don't expect overnight arrivals!


The article is about how you can sell same thing for different dollar using different names and marketing strategies. It does not imply that the sound is the same on all described ones. 
I compared Bel Canto vs. Wyred and Bel Canto certainly is winner: Less fatigue, warmer sound and more clear high frequencies, but still uses nearly same 'ingredients' to build.
Well the connectors are different....The housing is also different but that shouldn't impact the sound. The author does comment on Bel Canto "hacking" the input impedance. There really is nothing to build. It's a complete amp that needs input connectors and a house. A 5 minute DIY project.  

" Anyway you slice it, we’re knee deep in a clone war with no hope for a cease fire anytime soon. Sure these cloners are clever. They move their connectors around, anodize their chassis in different colors and even slap a ferrite bead on the power cable in an attempt to be different. Others simply add an input resistor to increase the input impedance of the amplifier. In the case of Bel Canto, they claim that increasing the amp’s input impedance to 100K-ohm reduces noise, and makes it easier to drive, thus improving performance. While an ideal amplifier would have an infinite input impedance and zero output impedance, noise and distortion, this is not an ideal world. It’s the real world. Increasing the input impedance to too high a value only provides a better path for RF pickup from attached devices or nearby radiating sources. What the manufacturer may also fail to realize is that increasing input resistance will also increase thermal noise, also known as Johnson Noise. It may decrease current noise, but likely not enough to compensate for the increase in thermal noise, which is unavoidable with higher input impedances. Thus I see no benefit to increasing the input impedance from a nominal 20 K-ohm to 100K-ohm. It’s almost as if the manufacturer is expecting a esoteric pre-amp to drive it. Let’s be honest. Anyone spending $5k per channel on a mono block amplifier isn’t driving it with a preamp that can’t produce 2Vrms into a 20kohm load. I know $500 receivers that can meet this minimum requirement! Jeff Rowland takes it up a notch by giving you the most fancy speaker connectors I’ve seen, and a selectable gain of 26dB or 32dB, which I feel is useful - but not at a $4,700 price tag.
I’m not sure it’s an input resistor or a 2:1 isolation transformer actually. The latter makes more sense and is more likely to warm up the sound. Good one’s are around $75 each from Jensen Transformers. I believe this is similar to what JR was doing. I’m not at all sure what Bel Canto is doing.

Also, galvanic isolation of the input signal is a beautiful thing. It can get rid of issues you didn’t even know you had. In addition, ICEPower and Hypex amps expect a truly differential input.  If you want to offer XLR and RCA inputs including an input transformer is a natural way to do it, and if it warms up the sound, bonus!

I thought about adding them to my custom ICEPower builds, but never got around to it.



This article is from 2009 and deals with a few ICE module amps. What he has found is interesting, but I’m not sure that it means much except for the amps mentioned. I’m sure there are many other examples of off-the-shelf parts being put in a fancy case and sold at a high markup, but I don’t think it’s how high-end gear is made in general.

We should always do our homework before buying any component, as we all know (or will find out) that more money does not necessarily equal better sound.

The most important test, how does it sound to me, in my system, over an extended period of time, can only be done by buying the component and putting it in our system. I wish there was a shortcut, but I’m not aware of one available to most Audiogoners.

I saw articles of similar nature since times back even before this article and even had chance to compare Bel Canto to Wyred4Sound. 
Wyred4Sound did not do better job vs. my Sunfire 300 amp, but Bel Canto amp substantially did, but was outside of my budget.
BEl Canto ref1000m amps  are  not the same as stock Icepower or Wyred.

They use Icepower modules in a a proprietary Bel Canto architecture with proprietary integrated power supply and input boards.

Older  ref1000 amps were essentially Icepower in a nice box as far as I know.

Lots of vendors tehse days beef up their own designs around stock Icepower and other class D amp modules as they see fit to improve the sound and charge accordingly.