Auditioning amplifier gear: simultaneous auditions, online retailers you trust?


Hi folks,
I'm in the process of choosing speakers and amps. First, I get the speakers and try them out against another pair I'll buy here in Denver. Then, I'll return the pair I like least.

The next stage is to choose an amp which has the right character and power for the speakers I choose. I've never owned a truly hi-fi amp. state or solid state.

Some parameters:
* purpose is two-channel music listening
* budget $3k max; be nice to hit below that, say $1.5k
* exploring whether to go separates or integrated, hybrid tube/solid
* preliminary brands which have caught my eye: PS Audio, Schiit, Parasound, Rogue, Vincent, Peachtree
* present stable of gear (vintage): Adcom separates (535L 60w/ch. with GTP 400 preamp), Rotel RX-830 receiver (20w/ch)

QUESTION: My question is about how to narrow down choices. Some gear I can audition locally. Other stuff, I'll need to buy on the internet. So, some questions.

1. Hybrid/Solid State — Do you think I'll get a good basic sense for "tubes vs. solid state" by listening to any decent tube and any comparable solid state? For example, let's say I'm interested in Vincent vs. PS Audio but can only compare, say, Rogue vs. Parasound. I know these amps will have their own signature, but will I at least glean the basic difference between tubes/non-tubes?

2. Number of simultaneous comparisons. How much gear have you profitably compared at once? I am thinking I'll try 2 at once. I could put three on my card but then it starts to feel a bit ridiculous. Or maybe not?

3. Which internet retailers do you trust. I've seen good comments on Audio Advisor and Music Direct, mixed comments on Upscale Audio, Uptown Audio. If I were to have some gear from online dealers for a trial, who would be good?

Advice appreciated, including any direction to previous threads about this topic. I do search before posting my questions, but there's a lot of threads and some are old or not quite relevant to my question.
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The next stage is to choose an amp which has the right character and power for the speakers I choose.

I can't recommend this approach. The exception would be maybe if you find speakers you fall in love with and just can't live without. Even then its like the babe with all the right curves. Once you get married the bloom goes off the rose and the upkeep is killing you. You can only take so much Nordstrom and Dior.
Your idea will get a lot of support here, but it can kill you in the long run. If the speakers are too inefficient it ties you into high power amps, and this is a killer because it rules out a whole long list of magical but low powered tube amps.If you go weird impedance, even worse. In short its possible your approach winds up putting you in a spot where hardly any amplifiers will run them well.What I'm saying, based on my 30+ years experience, do yourself a favor and cross off anything you don't think will work really well with a 30 to 60 watt tube amp. Not necessarily because you want a tube amp like that. But because if that will work, anything will work. You find good speakers like that and you'll have complete freedom to use whatever amp you like. Your odds of success just went up by an order of magnitude.
Make sense?


That does make sense. Don’t box myself in.

So, some more specifics. The speakers currently on my shortlist are bookshelves -- Salk Wow1 and Dynaudio Evoke 10. Both are 84db sensitivity; Salks are 8 ohms and Dyns are 6 ohms. While they’re not the most efficient speakers on the planet, they don’t seem like bears to drive.

Still, what’s your view of these speakers, given your advice: do these relatively small bookshelves seem like they’d be boxing me in? Neither is purchased nor committed to. I could go other directions.

What is also true, though, is that if I purchased more modest amps that would limit my speaker choices. And I heard "choose speakers first" about 1000x. (I take it that you dispute that wisdom.)
* budget $3k max; be nice to hit below that, say $1.5k
QUESTION: My question is about how to narrow down choices.
And I heard "choose speakers first" about 1000x. (I take it that you dispute that wisdom.)
Absolutely. Keep in mind, what you hear about 1000x is all BS. Here’s how you can tell. Every time someone says that you ask them, "And how many complete systems have you personally put together and set up and burned in using this approach?" And the answer, if they are honest, will be, "Zero."
If they are honest. Which they will not be. Just watch as they bob and weave and dodge that one like Ali in his prime.
In stark contrast to that, you are in a price range where I have actually done that for people three times now. Three complete systems. Three very happy customers. (I’m not a pro. I’m not in the business. I am too good for that.)
What you do if you are smart is something completely different. First you start with your requirements, which you have stated to be 2 channel stereo for music, and $1500 to $3000 total cost all-in. You haven’t said if that has to be CD or LP, so we will just call it Source for now.
Next you make a list of all the required components. They are:Source, Speakers, Amp, Wire- Interconnect, Power cord, Speaker Cable- and Tweaks (effectively limited to BDR Cones at this budget level)
Now the next step is conceptually the hardest, and that is to realize the speakers are NOT the most important, nor is the amp, nor anything else. Everything matters and therefore everything must be attended to and balanced. You can spend everything on speakers and hook them up to your cell phone and see how it sounds if you don’t believe me.
For budgeting purposes and at your $1500 to $3k level we are gonna call that 4 items and as they are all equally important that means you will be looking at $375 to $750 each.
Now I want you to stop for a minute and consider the power of this approach, in order to understand just how superior it is to everything else you will hear.
At $375 to $750 you just ruled out separates. Not only because that means splitting that already tiny amount into pre-amp and amp, but because it also means adding an interconnect and power cord, something you simply cannot afford to do. Its just nuts and you can see that now I’m sure.

Also there’s a bazillion speaker cables and interconnects but with only $375 to $750 for all of them you just ruled out every single one that is more than about $100. You still need them, you do NOT want to be using the freebie rubber crap, but you now have a realistic number on what you can afford to do. Which you did not have before. Which you never will have with everyone else’s method.
For $375 to $750 on the other hand you can find some pretty decent speakers, and a totally decent integrated. Which combined with the right wire and sitting on BDR Cones will sound a whole lot better than you ever heard from anyone’s system not costing three to four times as much. Because you did it right, and built a whole system. Nobody with freebie wire will ever touch you.
I’ll make it even easier for you. BDR Cones under everything, at $20 ea that’s 12 for $240. Subtract that from your $750 wire budget leaves $500 and so you go and buy the best Synergistic Research interconnect, speaker cable, and power cord you can find for under $200 each. And you are done with that.

Now all you need is Source, integrated amp, and speakers.
At this point you need to decide do you want CD or LP? LP is better for music but my opinion doesn’t mean squat its your system. What does matter though is if you want LP then you need a phono stage. Which can be built into the table or into the integrated. You just have to know which.
So, do you want CD or LP?




I'm sorry. I mean $3k max for amplification. Not total budget. My apologies. I'm still interested in what you wrote. 
@OP, 
I don't know any great dealers in your area, but recommend trying to find one.
If you are truly serious about going 'high end', auditioning equipment-lots of equipment- is the only way you are going to be sure you are buying what you love. Unfortunately, this takes time, but it does save you money in the long run.
There are plenty of bookshelf speakers out there. I would make time to listen to them before buying.
A quick Google shows Audio Alternatives. Why not call them?
Bob
Thanks, Bob. I have done a bunch of listening to speakers and will continue. Same with the amplifiers.

@millercarbon I went to look at Synergistic Research about cables and it’s very hard to find a price list which simply tells the cost of the cables in an ascending way. I see many cables for $1k and more. That’s beyond my budget and comprehension at this point, and way overkill for the rest of my system. I know a lot of folks have $30k or more in their systems and I’m not heading there, yet. I may need to find another source of cables that are good but not mind-boggling.

Oh, and I'm not going toward LPs. I'm going CDs and streaming.
Take a look at Cullen and Silnote cables.

You're in Denver. For cables, check out Audio Envy in Ft. Collins.
Thanks -- noted those cable folks along with what millercarbon suggested. Once I make the bigger decisions regarding amplification, I’ll seek out those cables. In general, I’ve found learned some things from Youtubes Hans Beekhuyzen Channel: (a) Why my new audiophile cable won’t sound better: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kA_n3NKu_iQ&list=PLMbsmejHnP8EEUs-s11MJqPvA5E-sRHPD&index=3 (b) Audio Hygiene 1: Power cables https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lHPjcXhK4c&list=PLMbsmejHnP8EEUs-s11MJqPvA5E-sRHPD&index=2 (c) Why audiophile cables might sound better https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8EXu61bQY0

But cables are down the road for me right now. I need to think about the amps and auditioning.
Hide45, You might want to include Anthem in your list. Also, I have purchased several items from Galen Carol Audio.  https://www.gcaudio.com/products/category/computer-audio/
He is down in Texas and I am up in New Hampshire. Of all the on line dealers I have dealt with he is the only one who managed to provide personal treatment and attention at a distance. Check out his web site and ask a few questions. I guarantee he will answer you personally himself. 

Mike 
Good advice, Mike. Thank you!
Suncoast Audio in Sarasota, Florida. They don’t come any better. Top notch dealer in all aspects. Very highly recommended.