Wow, with those speakers, a digital amp seems like a mistake, but of the amps you list, and based on the attributes you desire, I'd choose the CI Audio D200. It's considerable overkill for the Sonata, though. You could easily get by with the D100.
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I directly compared the Bel Canto, CI 200 and the Ref 9s on my Audio Physic Virgos. After serious auditioning, I bought the Ref 9s for their overall musicality, smooth mids and incredible transparency.
However, I have a tube pre in the system - not sure if you'll get the same results running direct from your Wadia -my guess is you'll miss some of the presence brought to the table by a good tube pre.
Enjoy the music!
I would not recommend any of the following you have listed, under your criteria you are looking for a "warm..." natured amp. Of the ones you list none would be classified "warm" IMHO.
If you are seeking the type D amplifier, you should also add to your list the H2o.
Almost all class D type amps pride themselves on linearity, clean power, and neutrality. Thus why I mentioned I wouldn't term any of those you listed as "warm."
The H2o has been reviewed against other amps of this type and found to have the qualities you are seeking over other amps of similar type. You can read this for yourself in the
H2o Audio Website
Good luck on your search!
The CI Audio D200 (or D100) and the H2O have similar designs in that they both use toroidal transformers rather than SMPS. They use different digital modules, however.
Having heard the D200 versus the NuForce, I would characterize the D200 as having a somewhat softer top end, which contributes to a sense of it being "warmer".
Actually, I may stand corrected.
I have not heard the Channel Islands yet, and have heard from people whom's opinion I respect they are a decent contender.
Of the others you listed, I stand by my comments. Others I have auditioned prior to my H2o purchase were the Rowland 201's & 501's, Bel Canto Evo 2's... I wouldn't add them to your audition list over the H2o's.
I'm in general agreement with what Tvad and Slaw3 have posted. The CI may be less bright and a little warmer sounding than the NuForce or AR amps. With any of these amps, going straight in from the Wadia could yield a bright presentation from the Sonatas.
I think James was on the right track. What I recommend is buying a Monarchy M24 tube DAC/Linestage and using the Wadia as a transport to feed the M24's DAC stage. Put a pair of Siemens E88CC gold-pin tubes in the DAC stage. You'll need to use the Monarchy's tube linestage to get volume control and you can play with the two tubes in the linestage as well. The stock military Russian 6DJ8s are not at all bad.
In my view, you'd move a lot closer to the sound you've described by using a tube DAC or a tube linestage -- rather than changing amplifiers.
If you go to a good tube unit and still want a little more dynamic pop and slam, the NuForce Reference 9.02's should fill that bill nicely.
What I recommend is buying a Monarchy M24 tube DAC/Linestage and using the Wadia as a transport to feed the M24's DAC stage. Put a pair of Siemens E88CC gold-pin tubes in the DAC stage.That's an exceptional idea! Personally, I'd opt for Mullard tubes over Siemens, but from what I've read of the Monarchy M24 DAC, that would certainly get you toward warm, smooth mids.
I had a similar reaction to James when I compared the NuForce Reference9.02, CI 200, and the Mark Levinson 431 amplifiers with my Audio Physic Scorpios. Both the CI and the NuForce were a better match with the speakers than the Levinson which retailed for more than twice the retail price of either the NuForce or CI amplifiers. The Levinson was slow and dark compared to either of them.
I chose the NuForce because to me they were more dynamic and bottom heavy. I found the treble in both to be essentially the same, though others who have posted here feel that the NuForce amplifiers are brighter. That was not my experience when I auditioned them. Without question, they are both real world giant killers in my opinion.
A friend tried several (all of the ones you mentioned plus a few more) in his system (modwright pre and cdP with B&W 803N's) and didn't purchase any of them. He too was looking for the same type of sound your described. I was there for all the A/B comparisons and reached the same conclusion...that Class D's show promise but not today, not now in the system we plugged them into. Hopefully in the near future they will blossom. Of all the ones we tried, the Hypex /UcD designed based ones were winners over the ICE and in-house based amps.
YMMV so you will need to audition them in your system to see if they have synergy with the Sonata's. All the post above indicate this.
Good luck riding the merry-go-round of audio equipment change.
I think you would benefit by calling Ric Schultz, most well known for his Ultimate Attenuators, and Millennium DAC's, all of which are no longer in production.
He has converted all of his efforts to optimizing his only current product, the
"EVS Custom UCD Amp" which comes in a few customized variations, so that your stated sound goals might more easily be met, compared to the many contenders listed in the discussion.
His website is tweakaudio.com, and his telephone number is 408-399-9708.
30 Day money-back guarantee on any amp you purchase from him. No chance to have buyer's remorse. And, Ric really takes pride in his ability to get things right for the buyer, or he takes it back.
I have only his other products, and he certainly got those right, as I, along with many other happy owners can attest.
Thanks guys. I did have a Bat VK3i while the Wadia was in place, and the amount of bottom end lost with the BAT was unacceptable. The Wadia literally sounded like being in the room, while partnered with the BAT was like being in the room next to the sound. I believe BAT makes good preamps, and thus assume that is not a good route to take. I have a large-ish room at 15 x 33 x 8, and the Bel Cantos certainly do not seem like way to much, and do sound nice. Are any other of the amps on the list more toward the sound I seek compared to the Bel Cantos?
Thanks again for all the suggestions, I will be working on them as well.
I have the Nuforce 9.02's and would consider these to be transparent and dynamic throwing a very good stage. Nuforce did not build these to be warm. You can get the warmth by following plato's comments. The Nuforce can also be upgraded to there SE amp down the road for about $1500 a pair. You might even want to try the Paul Speltz anti ic's with the Nuforce, I am currently using them and think they are a great combination. You keep all the great qualities of the Nuforce plus add some body to the sound. Not a typical $150 ic for sure.