Best Digital Amps

Out of Spectron, Tact, CarverPro, Bel Canto etc.
and Jeff Rowlands new ice power amp are two good candidates.
Acoustic Reality. Do a search and you'll find some people who are using the amp over some major brand name amps.
In addition to other companies like Bel Canto that will likely be around in 10 years and have world class real support, there are offerings from Audio Research: model 150.2 (not their 5 channel capable 150-M, but a new 2 channel listed at $2495)see
and Jeff Rowland see
Does "best" take price into account?

Can anyone provide a list of "steet" prices for the units in question. I paid $840 for my Carver 1600s.
I have heard Bel Canto on HE 2003 in SF with Grand Utpias and was very disappointed, two years ago heard GU with Lamm and dCS and electronics it was another league.
One side is a great potential to get more power due to the high efficiency but in my listening experience I only heard the lack of one despite even of power ratings.
I also heard about reliability issues with digital amps where the clocking circuitry may often go down taking away the output stage.
Marakanetz...My experience suggests that digital equipment tends to be much more reliable than analog. The Carver executes an automatic self-test every time it turns on, and has various other self-protection features. On top of this, the Warantee is five years. I sleep peacefully!
5 years warrantee can also be a pain when you should send your unit back to manufacturer for repairs or replacement(s).
It realy matters how many units had to be returned for a warranty service within given term of a such...
My experience was directly with servicing and repairing a digital amplifier.
I got to go with the Spectron Musician 2 Amp. I heard this Amp on the JM Lab Electra 946 speakers. This Amp sounded so smooth and sweet. The build quality on this Spectron Amp looks average, but man did this Amp sound great.
On most digital Amps the build quality is ok. The Tact Millenium I think is built the best. That weighs 60 pounds. I'v not heard the amp, but the Spectron Amp was as good as any Amp i'v heard.
I hear tell StereoTimes is coming out with a review of the Acoustic Reality EAR II amp. Suppose to be real good. The Bel Canto, Tact, newest Spectron and Rowland are all very good amplifiers. The appear to be well engineered and don't require replacment exotic power cords, new capacitors and other circuitry changes, etc to sound decent. I like a well engineered product.
I also heard the Acoustic Reality EAR II amp was about to receive a good review. I can't see how StereoTimes
could give it more of a "rave review," then they already gave the MII and Tact 2150, but hey, that was last month.

I've heard the MII and Tact 2150 and they're both excellent. The MII excels at dynamics, the Tact is more detailed. The Tact also allows you to eliminate a preamp & dac from your system.
Nealhood, the PSA amp stock sounded better to the Bel Canto and Spectron amps I've had in my system. No $1000 pc, no fancy caps, no smoke and mirrors, just clearly superior sound reproduction in my system. Try it before you trash talk it....
Stereo Times reviewed the EVO very recently too. They are going to regret using up so many superlatives on the other reviewed digitals.

I've hear all but the PS, and that is not in the same power league I need. IMO The eAR is hands down the very best amp ever produced.

I've run some of the best solid state amps, and tube amps too, and using the eAR improves on the sound in all categories. It's mids and highs sound like tubes, except with total clarity into the musician. The Bass is as powerful as with the biggest Krells, but natural at all frequencies. What's more, the eAR exudes power like you've never witnessed.

The ICE module has greater potential than the TacT and TRI Path modules. Only Rowland, and Acoustic Reality has produced home audio amps with ICE. The Rowland uses digital switching in its power supply, while the AR uses analogue. The difference is easily heard.

I have not heard any other digital amp other than
Spectron, but have owned many great amps in the
past such as McCormack DNA-2 Deluxe JR Model 7
mono blocks, and many many others and I have gone
back to the Spectron twice, and believe it's the best
amp I have owned (and it's the older D-1).
If I ever go to another amp, it will be a new Spectron.

It makes my Green Mountain Europas sing!!
Muralman1, when you say Ear, are you talking about the Tube amps Tim Paravicini designed.
Which model number for the Ears.
Little Milton, don't get too excited. Some here just like taking pot shots at the HCA-2.

I find it hilarious that many of the amps that are often compared to the HCA-2 are 2 to 3 times more expensive than the HCA-2. And if modding a product means the product wasn't "well-engineered" to begin with, then virtually every component ever discussed here has to be considered poorly engineered because they all get modded searching for better performance. Not to mention the manufacturer mods (upgrades) to their own products, i.e the Spectron I, II, and now III or the Bel Canto 2002.x or xx, xxx. I can't even keep up with all of the Bel Canto changes. I am shocked, in fact, that Spectron and Bel Canto had to come out with so many upgrades to their products since Nealhood annointed them as "well engineered". And the ironic thing is that the HCA-2 upgrades I did to the HCA-2 cost $75 vs. the Spectron and Bel Canto upgrades which cost several hundreds more!

I think you get my point.

Spend $75 in premium parts on a $1,700 amp and I suspect it will compete with any of the amps mentioned here. Oh, and BTW, in its stock form it kicks the crap out of the Bel Canto based on virtually every post I have read comparing the two.

Click on the Review section at AA and read the HCA-2 reviews and the follow-up threads. There is much good information there from posters who have actually done direct comparisons of the HCA-2 to other "well-engineered" amps. Either the balance of the opinions at AA are correct about the HCA-2 or the "drive-by" HCA-2 posters at the 'Gon are correct. Take your pick.
Muralman1 -"The ICE module has greater potential than the TacT and TRI Path modules" What potential?

And how do you compare the Tact which needs no premap or
dac to the eAR which needs both?
Kana, I use my hearing to compare the two. There is no contest, the eAR is decidedly better. In fact, I can think of a lot of tube and solid state amps I would choose over the TacT. Same goes for the EVO.

Fiddler, all mediocre equipment needs is some fiddling, and they turn to gold, right?

The PSA is a cheapo eye opener, showing just what can be done on the cheap with these class D modules. The eAR Enigma sells for a little more than a thousand dollars, and it is a class act, in need of no fiddling.
Muralman1- "I use my hearing to compare the two."

You must have remarkable hearing to filter out/factor in the combined effect of a diferent preamp,dac,and different sytems(no dealer I'm aware handles the all these digital amps and eAR has no dealers), but hey, to each his own.

For a grand, maybe I'll pick on up as a back-up amp.

I look forward to reading the rave review on StereoTimes.
You know the TacT is a system, pre and amp. Knowing the speakers the TacT was playing on intimately, gives me a good clue what they are doing to the overall sound. Several of us heard the Llano 300 and the TacT on the same system. It was a toss up, according to likes and dislikes which one was like better. In the case of the eAR, there is no doubt about it's supremacy over those two amps.

Enjoy the review.
Kana, you have to take Muralman with a grain of salt. Not 6 or 7 months ago the Pass X600 was the best amp on the planet, just like the Scintillas he owns are the best speakers in the world (by his own words). It seems whatever equipment he owns at the moment is the BEST ever made! Maybe he can sub for Sam Tellig or H.P. if they get sick. It will be fun to see what next month's flavor is.
WELL SAID FIDDLER! In this world we all have biases and preferences and are free to make recommendations but when we start using "BEST" then there is always some second guessing going on. I have had my HCA-2 for a while now (always tired of people ripping this amp off) and find that for the money (even without the mods) is extremely musical and powerful (driving a pair of power hungry Martin Logans). All I can say is that as HCA-2 owners, we are very blessed and it is nice to be able to see that digital amps are carving a nice niche in the high end industry today.

Zen (Jason)

Martin Logan Club
Well, we all need to take anything we say with a grain of salt. We can only comment on what we have personally witnessed. I'm always willing to admit I am wrong.

Said that, I still believe the X600 is the best solid state amp on this planet. I never believed it would trump the best tubed amps. They just weren't suitable for my speaker's needs.

As for class D amps, they are new to the field. The first digital amps, early EVOs and TacTs, did nothing to move me away from tubes and solid state.

The HCA2 is a marvelous amp. It has been tested by several members in our Apogee group. Certainly it has opened their eyes to the digital revolution.

Now we are talking about degrees of digital advancement. In my experience, the eAR surpasses all competition in construction, parts, and, to these ears, sound.

Oh yes, the Apogee... yes, the best ;)
These new Cl.D amps are going to give all those that are looking for quality a taste of hiend for under $1K I think.

The best will cost due to parts used,but you will get quality sound for under $1K. I just bought the Panasonic SA-XR45 and cannot beleive the sound I am getting from the unit. Most of the reviewers are not changing out the PC which is a big mistake. Only after that does it sound like a good product rather than a mid-fi piece of junk.

Another drawback is the Binding post and the analog section,but the digital is better than anything I have had in my system for only $300.

Good luck!
For what it's worth, I love my Acoustic Reality eAR Two. I don’t claim that it’s the absolute “best” because that’s an impossible claim. I don’t pretend to have heard every digital amp on the planet, although I did hear the EVO 200.2 and liked it, though not enough to put my money on it. However, the eAR is IMO a truly outstanding amp. Having said that, I had a very long correspondence about a year ago with an owner of an Odyssey Stratos dual-mono who was doing an in-home audition of the eAR Two. He and I swapped much information about our impressions of the amp, but in the end he decided to keep his Stratos because although he thought the eAR was better in some ways, in his mind the improvement wasn’t enough to justify giving up the Stratos. I was happy for the guy that he made the best choice *for himself*. I didn’t froth at the mouth and insist that he was crazy for “dissing” my amp of choice. In the end, we’re just voicing our own opinions on these forums, nothing more. There’s no need to get defensive just because someone doesn’t share your opinion.
Re. Modifying amps.

Given the talk about making modifications to existing amplifiers, this brings up an important point. It’s not intended as a knock against the HCA-2 specifically, but it’s just a fact about the difference between traditional manufacturers versus manufacturers that sell factory-direct. For any given price point, the “bill of materials” or parts cost will almost certainly be greater for a factory-direct component because, unlike the traditional manufacturer, they don’t need to worry about dealer markups. The dealer markup is significant, and can easily double the cost of a component, if not more. Consequently, the factory-direct manufacturer can either charge less or re-invest the savings into design improvements, including (but not limited to) better parts. That’s why manufacturers like Acoustic Reality (and others like VMPS, BPT, Bent Audio, Don Morrison Audio, etc.) have an advantage -- their cost structure allows them to compromise less on basic things like component quality so consequently they can get away with using superior parts while keeping prices reasonable. Finally, since they don’t scrimp on parts quality, you won’t see aftermarket modders fiddling with their innards.
Oxia is right. Mods can help a lot of components, and not others. To Oxia's list I would add Pass Labs, a whole seller. Through building a great reputation, they have been able to enjoy steady sales that support a lot of research and development. Changing a single item in their X amps would spell disaster for their clean solid state sound.
Oxia, I think you are missing the point. Virtually every product can be improved. Case in point; your eAr amp. Acoustic Reality has improved their circuit or so they say.

I guess Peter has been fiddling around with his own design and improved it.

If you check the Acoustic Reality website you can see if you have the latest upgrade. If you don't, you can send it back for the "modded" circuit upgrade.

Although from the customer sevice nightmares many have experienced from Peter and Acoustic Reality you might be better off keeping the lesser eAR version.

And give it time, modders somewhere will probably find a way to even improve the eAR. Progress and perfomance never stand still.

I see your point, but I think you've missed mine. I don't doubt that there will be design improvements in the future for even the most accomplished of components. After all, the "best" never sit on their laurels. And I'm also aware of the eAR upgrade too. What I was trying to say in my earlier post is:

1. For a given price point, factory-direct offerings tend to have higher value for the dollar, because money that's saved by avoiding dealer markups can be put into higher quality parts.

2. Straight-forward parts swapping may yield benefits when the quality of the parts were compromised in order to meet a price point. However, this wouldn't be necessary (and may even have negative results) if the parts quality wasn't compromised to begin with.

As a consequence of these two beliefs, I've tended to seek out factory-direct alternatives to the usual gear found in brick-and-mortar shops. I'm not advocating it for everyone. It's certainly safer to take the road that's more travelled, but it's my choice and it has served me well.

PS: My service experience with Acoustic Reality so far has been exemplary. I had my eAR upgraded from MKI to MKII specs last year (the change allowed me to use conventionally terminated speaker cables rather than SPEAKON plugs), and the amp was turned around without a hitch.
Oxia, you and I are in complete agreement. I have purchased most of my gear factory-direct online for two reasons. The first being that I agree with your assessment that factory-direct companies are better bang-for-the-buck.

Secondly, I live on Maui and there are zero brick & mortar audio shops here. But even if there were, I would still probably prefer factory direct.

I have not heard the Acoustic Reality amps, but I am sure they are very good. I believe digital is certainly the wave of the future. I said that the minute I listened to the HCA-2 stock.

I also believe digital is in it's infancy, including the Acoustic Reality products. I suspect in a few years we may possibly hear things from digital products we didn't think possible. But having said that, I anticipate in early '05 I will be auditioning equipment to overhaul my entire system. At that time I plan on auditioning Tenors, Berning, Goldmund, etc., so I haven't completely written off tubes as evidenced by the Tenors and Berning.

As good as Spectron & Acoustic Reality may be (and I would love to compare both to my modded HCA-2), I suspect that the likes of the amps that I mentioned above are still in a different league. Five years from now, as digital really begins to mature, it may be a different story. But currently I still believe (admittedly, without hearing them) that digital amps may still be bettered with high-end conventional designs. I will find out in a year or so.
Check out this Yamaha digital amp. It looks impressive.
I hope its at the Stereophile show in 2004. I'll be there.
I just saw this mod for PS Audio Amps.

Audiophile Sound innovations has just introduced a reference style Modification package for the PS Audio HCA-2 Digital amplifier.
This a great sounding amplifier stock, it is a STEREOPHILE CLASS A rated amp, and has alot of hidden potential. We take it to a much further level than one would expect. So much more realism, wider soundstages, blacker backgrounds, emotion, resolution, refined bass, attack, etc etc etc... You'll enjoy the natural presentation.

Why upgrade to a better amp when we can to your HCA-2 to a whole different level?

The mod package-

-Jensen 4-pole Electrolytic Capacitors-
We replace the main power supply caps with the Jensen 4-pole versions. Talk about fast and natural and neutral sounding as well as bass refinements and dynamics to die for. What else can we say, these caps rock! Major improvement in total tonal character and resolution.

-Blackgate capacitors-
We replace specific critical rail voltage and critical signal path capacitors with Top of the Line BlackGate N & FK series caps!! Major improvement! The background becomes blacker, and instruments emerge like they are so real. A definite change in total sonic tonality and character over the stock caps!

-Audio Consulting 99.99% silver wire & Natural Unbleached Cotton Tubing-
We use various lengths of Audio Consulting Silver Wire and Natural Cotton Tubing to act as damping. This is used to connect the Jensen Capacitors together or to the PCB. This wire is the best we have heard to use in circuits. No Teflon or Plastic is found on this wire but rather than a Polymenstride enamel coating so it will not muffle the sound.

-ASi Custom made Exotic Diode Bridge-
We handmake custom diode bridges from exotic diodes to further better the sound and even further reduce any glare, grain or such in the stock design. These test out to sound better than the Harris/Fred types. These take approx. 20-30 minutes to handmake.

-Our Quick Review-
The amplifer sounds really good stock. We definitely admit it! Kudos to Paul McGowan!! After this modification, this amplifier sounded so much more neutral and natural and filled with emotion, much more bass refinement and attack, resolution galore and authority and control of speakers in a different league. We did some comparisons against some other amps on hand costing in the $3-4K+ region and we were surprised the difference the modified HCA-2 made against these amps! The best part about it is that is doesnt get warm and it sounds as good as many much higher costing amps on the market. Best of all, electricity bills will be great since this unit pulls nill a from the wall!!! Get one, mod it and be surpised in the emotion department!

-Costs and Options-
Complete package is available for $600 (return shipping is included)
(Labor & Fed-ex ground return shipping (Lower 48 US states) is included)
Return Fedex Ground Shipping is included for the lower 48 states only. The client is responsible for packaging and initial shipping charges to us. We supply fed-ex tracking numbers upon return. We can have the amplifier back to the client in about 1-2 weeks upon full initial payment.
Please email us if you want faster shipping back and we'll adjust the price.
We take certified cashiers checks/money order/Paypal (add 3%) and take the payment upfront in whole in order to purchase the parts from our suppliers. By the time your amplifier arrives here, we already have the parts and are ready to go!

-Options for Even Better Sound!!-

LeClanche Paper-In-Oil Capacitor-
We add a LeClanche Paper-in-Oil Capacitor to the main power supply to further reduce the unnecessary distortion and harmonics in the AC Signal. Talk about major! Brings more emotion and "liveliness" to the music since it takes out the impurities that cause the masking of the emotion and resolution in your valuable music.

Add $60 (installed) to the order

-Rewire Internal Speaker Output Wiring with Audio Consulting 99.99% silver wire & Natural Unbleached Cotton Tubing-

We Rewire the output speaker cabling with Audio Consulting Silver Wire. Talk about improvement and additonal sound and resolution!!!!!! The stock crappy wiring needs to go (Monster Cable, yuk!) as well as the screws and ring terminals that get oxidized very easily and degrade the sound and provide the worst signal transfer characteristics. We solder using WBT silver solders and we solder this silver wiring directly to the PCB, elmininating alot of the imperfections of the original design! This makes a great improvement and it requires over 17 feet of wire and cotton. This takes some time to do but the results are fabulous!

Add $160 (installed) to the order

Please check out our website and View our Philips DVD-963SA Mod Package. The Philips 963SA/PS Audio HCA-2 is a Super HOT Combo!!!! We were STUNNED with the two modded components.
I was stunned by the length of the post!LOL

Actually I stand by what I have posted at other BB's and that is that there shall be some truely great deals in audio now because of the material cost of these new digital amps. While prices will increase with the quality of parts used I would bet that we will see price to perfoemance ratio's to be better in the past for those searching for near sota products for affordable prices.

The Panasonic XR25\45 and Carver ZR1000 unit's have already been stated to be great for under 1 clam. We will be seeing more of this from here on out. LC Audio is another manf. that I am heraring about.

I am fooling around with a Panny XR45 at present.
Anyone try to build one of these LC Audio ZAPpulse Digital amps yet? The cost really looks enticing!

ZAPpulse is a series of PWM Amplifiers, with output power of 200 Watts in 8 Ohms. These modules can also be bridged for powers up to 800 Watts in 8 Ohms. The sound is remarkably soft and easyflowing, with a tight bass control, the resolution of micro details is almost on level with a Class A amplifier. The cost per Watt is very low, especially when you consider that these amplifiers are so energy efficient (better than 95%) that no heat sinks are required, even for the highest output power. The sound quality is comparable to what You would expect from an industry power amplifier in the price range of 2.000 - 3.000 $ or Euro. This new technology is very environment friendly, as it requires less materials to build and amplifier, than usual, and also has very low power consumption.
Solar Hi-Fi is building their digital Fusion amps using the LC Audio chipset. Check them out at Audiocircle.
Fiddler, I think you will find out even sooner. There will be an avalanche of digital module chip bearing amps out in the near future. Someone you know will have one.
After watching the posts for several weeks I decided to take the plunge and purchase the eAR mono bloc amps directly from Acoustic Reality.

In the last few years I've on owned amplifiers from Conrad Johnson, Mark Levinson (331 and 333) Rowland (Model 5), Krell (KSA 250 and FPB 600) VAC (90), VTL (225), and several others. The eAR amplifiers are by far the best I've ever had in my system. These amplifiers have phenomenal bass extension, speed, and a liquid mid-range. I am not saying that these are the best amplifiers in existence however they are the best that I have ever had in my system. These amplifiers make others sound muddy and congested, in addition they are dynamic and image like the best tube amps.

No, I'm not a distributor, dealer, or interested in becoming one. I don't know anyone at Acoustic Reality or have any stock in the company. I never post on these types of websites because listening is such a subjective and personal experience that the only way to judge a product is to listen in your own system. I am posting only because I have discovered a product that is significantly better than anything I have previously experienced. Anyone in the market for a high end amplifier needs to know that there is a product that may be an order of magnitude better than anything currently on the market.

My system consists of a Mark Levinson 37 transport, ML 38S preamp, ML 360S DAC and Piega C-10 Limited speakers. I use Chang and PS Audio conditioners and Straight Wire Crescendo cable.
I recently bought a Carver 1600 and sold my Classe 400 after hearing more bass, dynamics, volume, and details out of my Mirage m3 (86db) which were always hard to drive. In fact, I am buying another 1600 as I got more than enough from the Classe to run the 1600s in mono. Can't wait to hear the M3s finally sing.
Boy, have you dredged up an old thread, Zapper. Times have marched on. IMO the greatest digital wreath now goes to the start up company, H2O.

The stereo H20 sells for 2k, a reasonable price, considering it's competition.

Buyers are jettisoning their Bel Canto Evos, eAR amps, PS Audios, and scores of others, to make way for their new ICE powered H2O amps.... Including me, of course.
Digital Amp ?? Maybe i'm missing something here, but how does an amp, amplify a digital amp. Is it just an amp with a dac built in or what ?? Sorry about my ignorance on this subject, but i've just never heard of anything referred to as a digital amp.
The fellow who started the thread, a long time ago, used the term, "digital," loosely. Generally, the discussion has been about class D amps. The ICE based amps are actually analogue, due to their method of signal modulation.
The H2O site isn't up yet. The site builder is waiting for pictures. The amp builder, Henry Ho, has been too busy with getting amps out to take pictures. As of now, there is only his temporary email address, which you will need to email me for.

Henry lives in Virginia.

I have pictures of the prototype amp Henry sent me four months ago. Soon I will have the monos and I will post pictures of them in a review.

Hope this helps,

Muralman1...I think that we call an amplifier "digital" if its output stage is pulse-width-modulated (high speed switching transistors ON or OFF) rather than a proportional conduction device (transistor or tube). The control module, ICE, Tripath, or whatever, is a (perhaps important) detail.

What makes the H20 amp good? Raves don't carry much weight without some backup facts. The $2000 price (but it isn't really for sale yet) is no great deal. My three (3) CarverPro amps cost me $2517. That's $0.69 per watt!

CarverPro not only has a web site with specs on their product, but also offers the schematic diagram for techies like me. When will H20 lay their cards on the table?
Eldarford, TacT owners will scold you for that summation. ;) Carver is a long time company with lots of employees. H2O is a start up company that is run solely, with the help of his friends, by the builder, Henry Ho. The H2O is for sale. What makes you think it isn't? Have you ever heard an ICE powered amp?

If amp quality is based on price per watt, then I've been barking up the wrong tree. Yes, I'd rather the H2O company had their site up, before selling amps. I have owned a number of great amps, and have heard far more. The H2O is unmistakingly the finest I have ever heard.

Stats are not very germain when comparing class D amps. The ICE module amps all have about a 117 s/n, 93% efficiency, 250 watts per channel, etc... What separates out the H2O is it's 150,000 micro farads of power capacitance, a 1 kw transformer, and a very strong analog power source. It's not all that that makes an amp wonderful, but how it is implemented. Hearing is the proof.

So far, owners of well reviewed eAR, Bel Canto, and PS Audio amps, to name a few of the "digital" amps, have bought H2O amps as replacements.

Do you know any owners of the above to switch their amps for a Carver?
Muralman1- You're corect about TacT users. They know that the MII and 2150s, unlike other so-called digital amplifiers, have no analog feedback or analog signal processing or amplification involved at any stage. The system is a high-power DAC device that translates digital information directly into sound.

The these units allow you to eliminate a preamp, DAC and
speaker crossovers with their programable digital crossover filters.

They recent won a award,and TacT just lowered their pricing.

"I have owned a number of great amps, and have heard far more. The H2O is unmistakingly the finest I have ever heard."

High praise, but I looked at your list of amps in the “Personal amp evolution” thread and don’t see any of classic great ones(I posted my short list there also).

Good luck with your ICED H2O. Hope I get a chance to give it stir somtime. A hui hou.