If what you said here is true, "I like to play it loud and listen more for clean delivery, soundstage and headroom than details and nuance", you've given up on the amp that was best suited for your needs. That is, the Sunfire Signature series.
Out of all of the amps that i've owned ( i currently have 20+ at this point in time ), the Sunfire's play the loudest with the least amount of "strain" or compression. I don't think that they are as refined or detailed as some other amps, but in terms of being able to deliver power on a dynamic basis, they are QUITE capable of doing so. The fact that they can do that AND present the information in a pleasant manner is even more of a bonus if high spl's are a concern. Many high powered amps will play loud, but they sound "grainy" and cause listening fatigue when doing so.
As far as Pass amps go, they typically produce excellent sonics but are not of the "brute force" variety ( in my opinion ). Bryston's are good utilitarian amps, are quite rugged and reliable but i don't think that they are well suited to driving speakers with reactive loads or impedances that drop down low.
Between the Pass and the Bryston keeping your above comments in mind, i would think that a big Bryston would work out better for you than the Pass would. Sean
Stick with the Bryston. If you buy them right and are not truly happy with the results, you could always sell them for close to what you paid.
Sean's comments on the differences between the amps rings pretty true in my experience. Being in NZ I would be looking at the Plinius Odeon or Plinius SB300. The SB300 is a fabulous buy. It has a little more going on than the Sunfire manages. I would lean towards the Sunfire if I needed something that was both very smooth and could drive difficult speakers to loud levels. But the SB300 offers a window that is wider open. Damn close to the SA250 at a lower price and in a smaller box (just no Class A). The Odeon is ideal for multi-channel but won't give you the raw power of the SB300.
Arthur, we have discusssed a ton of amps so far. From the replies I have read, I am quite confident in the level and accuracy of information my fellow A'goners are providing.
I am curious which amps you have listened to? Instore even. I much prefer home evaluations, but nontheless an instore listening session can go a long way.
As typical I agree with Sean. With your criteria not being so demanding of the details/nuances as it is the volume. I think Sunfire and Bryston are excellent choices. Since your budget has shrunk considerably, you might consider other options as well. You mentioned Aragon in this post as well as Adcom in a previous post. Both are on sale currently at Audioadvisor.com. I apologize for possibly leading you the wrong way with my "truckload of Adcoms" statement in a previous post. I was unaware of your budget change.
Audioadvisor has a big Adcom 5 channel x 300 watts for around $2200.00 I think, and a 7 x 300 for around $2500.00. They have Aragon on a 50% off sale. I have bought a few products from them and was nothing but pleased.
I would add the PS Audio HCA-2 to your list. I have big parties at my home every month or so and have lots of European friends, and that means my 87dB full range speakers blast Techno from 1:00am to 4:00am at dance-club volumes on the make-shift dance floor that once was my listening room. The HCA-2 is the ONLY amp I've owned (among many more expensive amps, some putting out 250-300wpc) that could run at full tilt all night without even breaking a sweat. I'm sure it could handle "real music" and any movie thrown at it at the same levels. It never gets warm, never shuts down, never clips, and all the while sounds highly refined, silky smooth yet impeccabley detailed and bass performance that no amp under $6K I've heard can compete with, at least in my setup. There supposedly is a multichannel version of their digital amp coming out, but haven't been following the specifics.
How weird is this. In head to head listening tonight, with me leaving the room and my freind setting up between the Sunfire Cinema Grand Signature 2 and the Bryston 4BSST and BSST, we both preferred the Sunfire when run through the current (versus voltage) speaker outputs. This was judging on detail of highs, mids and lows, strength/power, and overall soundstage. Just goes to show you no matter what you beleive, read, or are told, your ears will show you the way. Dude, I'm gettin a Sunfire!
Arthur: The Sunfire offers added versatility in the fact that it allows you to bi-wire your speakers and select the type of sound for each section of the speaker individually. In most installations, especially those with bright speakers ( metal domes ) or speakers that come across as being somewhat lean, i've found that using the current outputs for the tweeter and the voltage outputs for the woofers works best. While one might think that the "current" taps would work best for the woofers, just as i had previously thought, the names of each tap have more to do with how Mr Carver labeled them than what they are really doing. In this respect, they operate in what is somewhat of a backward fashion from what one would think.
If you do end up purchasing the Sunfire, i would encourage you to do some further experimentation and see what taps work best for your specific speakers and personal tastes.
Either way, i'm glad that you have found something that you like and actually did so trusting your own ears in a "side by side" comparison. Many people "dis" the Sunfire products due to associating them with earlier Carver and Phase Linear products, but they really are quite different in design and implimentation. Sean
PS... The Sunfire's work best in balanced mode and benefit from elevating them up off the support structure. They radiate the little bit of heat that they do generate from the bottom, so increasing the air-flow underneath them by any means possible is recommended. You might also want to call Sunfire and find out if the design revisions and upgrades that were initially only available on the 17" architectural series have been implimented into the full sized versions also. I was told by Robert at Sunfire tech support that the Architectural series originally had some new design innovations in them but i forgot to ask if these were carried over to the "full sized" versions. Prior to laying down the cash, you might also want to measure the space available in rack as the full sized versions have a hard time or simply won't fit in some racks at all due to their 19" width. Not only are the faceplates 19", the entire chassis of the amp is too. The Architectural series, which have all of the updated design revisions, are only 17" across. That does offer less heat sinking though, so if you've got the room and the full size models have been updated to the same level of performance, you might want to go that route.
Thats great Arthur, you are so right, ultimately its your ears. I am happy you found an amp and a very nice one at that. I bet a room full of Nautili and that monster amp can really jam.
The voltage/current selection is great, I love to tweak and test.
That is a 7 channel amp right, so did you biamp the N802s, I bet they really sing with 800+ watts. Whew. Sean has a great suggestion for further tweaking, biamping and switching current/voltage from high to low, or vice versa, aww man I am jealous, all that tweaking.
Ahhh yes the tweaking ahead. It'll take 2-3 weeks for delivery on the 7-channel, they're lending me a 5x425 in the meantime. They also through in a CTG III at a ridiculous price because I'm a great customer. Gonna enjoy all that setup and tweaking also. Hey, you guys have been a real help and support, thanks. I'll keep you posted on the progress.
Captain's log final entry....my neighbor found me a sealed Krell TAS that his store had special ordered and wanted off their books because the guy who ordered it bagged on them. $2500 off msrp and it sounds better than anything I've listened to. Ears and wallet in synch now....