Good starter amp recommendation


Was lurking for a while, decided to post.

I have an old system with Energy RC-30 speakers and currently using a Denon x3400h to drive them. The system is used mostly 80/20 for music/movies, and uses an Energy RC-LCR center for movies.

Would like to add a simple 2/3 channel amp for around $1000 to improve the sound and was looking at some more recommendations. Want it to be a good part of the system, but since the speakers are pretty basic, don't look for anything too fancy, but good enough to upgrade the speakers later on.

Looking around the forum, the following is my short list:
van Alstine SET 120 or Synergy 240/3
Odyssey Khartago (or used Stratos)
Anthem PVA or MCA (used is all I can afford, probably)
Parasound A23

Would like to hear any suggestions.
camradal
The one suggestion that will make by far, nothing else even comes close, the biggest difference in sound quality, is to just totally drop all thought of multi-channel or Home Theater or anything even remotely suggestive of those. HT is a wasteland of crap, and dreck, and awfulness, none of which no matter how much money you throw at it is any good at all. If you have any doubt whatsoever I strongly urge you to go and listen and compare. Its not even close.

The next most important thing you can do, which I lied this one is almost equally important, is ignore everything everyone here says and go and listen and figure it out for yourself. Even me. Yes ignore me. Except when I say to go and listen.

That is all. 
Odyssey Khartago. Call Klaus. 
I’ve got a pair of Energy RC-30 speakers and got great results with a humble NAD 3020i 30 WPC integrated amp at first. In stage II, I got another NAD integrated amp (3225PE) (40 WPC) and  bi-amped the same speakers - result was even better. Just goes to show how a really good audiophile amplifier can give great results. 

Next, stage III, I am replacing the integrated amps with a NAD 1600 preamp/ tuner and a pair of NAD 2700 amps in a vertical bi-amp setup with the same Energy RC-30 speakers. The second amp arrives this week, and I’m stoked! Will report the results ASAP. 

Stage IV will be Energy RC-70 speakers with the same amps and preamp. Just need to save up a few dollars.... 
B&K ST 140 ( the first version one with gold handles ...not later versions ). Sweet warm musical sound ...used onlt about $200-250.
Owned a B&K ST140 as mentioned above and agree it’s great little amp; they don’t get much simpler than this goes as far as parts go. Never owned a NAD 2700A but did the previous 2600A which not sure it changed much but feel the B&K was a much nicer amp; the 2600A was ok. Look inside a NAD 2700 and try to count the parts.

Back to the list the OP had. Never had the pleasure to listen to an Odyssey amp so can’t comment but they receive great press. Not a huge SS Anthem fan; much preferred the old SF tube Anthem gear. Van Alstine always good, and lastly for the money Parasound is hard to beat.

As mentioned earlier it’s always best to listen at home, but unlikely you have a friend or a store with every amp your interested in so it doesn’t hurt to ask. Buy used and right and if you don’t like resale. Part of the fun of this hobby is trying out lots of gear and often they’ll be equipment you will not like, and even if you like it today your taste may change later.
Do away with 3 channel since most your listening is music.. I've got a used Adcom 545v2 that sounds pretty darn good.. Nelson Pass design I believe.. Its my back up amp.. When I get the itch to upgrade my main amp, I sell it first before I buy my new one.. In the mean time I use the Adcom.. I never feel I have to rush my new amp in.. I have a $4500 preamp in front of it.. and a $4000 DAC.. Adcom can be had for about $400.. I've heard real good things about Alstine stuff.. 
if you feel you need to spend the whole $1000 get the Adcom then buy one of Alstine's preamps.. 
Good research . You are to be commended !  
As the AKC judge said "Okay I want them in that order"
You nailed it. VA & OD may be a dead heat. Who has the 
better service record and longer warranty??

Thanks for advice, all. Will cross out Anthem and multi-channel amps, and will either try out Van Alstine, Odyssey or, if lucky, any of the other amps suggested (B&K, Adcom).

Definitely a challenge to audition with internet direct or used, so trying out and seeing if it works seems like a good idea, nothing beats listening at home anyway. If anything, can use them for a secondary office setup too.
Another amp to research would be a McCormack DNA 1. Don’t see one on this site but these guys sale on here a lot so hopefully safe to pass this on.

https://tmraudio.com/components/power-amplifiers/mccormack-power-drive-dna-1-stereo-power-amplifier-...


I wouldn’t knock out all multichannel amps without hearing a few first. Unless you are good with going only 2ch.  The center really does add a lot if you are into movies, but there is something to be said about the simplicity of 2ch.

I have a McIntosh MC7106. It’s a pretty old 6 channel amp which can be bridged into 3 more powerful channels.  Man this thing is impressive and powerful.  I just bridged two of the channels to drive my Martin Logan 11As for fun and was really impressed with the clarity.  Sure it’s not in the same as a $10K amp but that’s not what you are going for.  I can say though it is crisper sounding than my $8.5K MC452 amp with my ML speakers (which is good for movies).  These can be found in your budget especially on Craigslist, but just make sure to the history of the unit.

May I also recommend looking at integrated amplifiers if you are thinking 2ch.  The preamp is really important and mid-to-low end receivers aren’t in the same league as some dedicated 2ch preamps for music.  Integrated amps have best of both worlds.  Toss in home-theater bypass and you can add your Denon in to the mix without issue.
I concur with bigwave1. I have a Nuforce STA200 amp I'm using as a "transition" amp to try out some other components and speakers. The Nuforce is all about swiss precision--accuracy and dynamics before warmth or tone, and so, very useful for my purposes. It's a very good amp, much better than expected, and an amazing bargain at the current discounted price of $444. After about 100 hours of play a lovely, precise and deep bass started to appear.
I can only speak about NAD amps. The original 3020 was a ground breaker in it's day. No longer available except in the used market. If you can find one in good or refurbished shape then...good for you. The NAD 326BEE is an excellent amp. Don't know what the newer model 326 V2 sounds like.
Most important...............
Whatever amp you decide on make sure whatever you choose there is an opportunity to audition it with the speakers you plan to use. My NAD amp sounded horrible with top of the line Klipsch speakers but sounds great with PSB speakers. Amp/speaker synergy is paramount.
I have a NAD 375BEE integrated amp. 150W that can handle almost any speaker load. Lists for around $1500 new but can be found used for a bit less. Don't be fooled by watts/channel. The NAD amps are high current and can handle heavy loads. Just my opinion.

Don't count out the Anthem amps, they are very solidly built and will last a long time.I have been using an Anthem P2 for years and never a problem.There is a listing here on agon for a new in the box MCA-225 2 channel for $1,095.00 which is a great deal. Anthem MCA-225 two channel amplifier | Multi-Channel Amps | Des Peres, Missouri 63131 | Audiogon Check them out online they get really good reviews.
millercarbon, maybe the fellow just likes movies. I set up incredible theater systems all the time. The last one used Magico speakers, Pass electronics, a Trinnov Altitude 16 an SME 30/12, Kuzma 4 pt 14 with a Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum, Mac Mini w/ 6 TB hard drive X 2

Camradel, go for the Parasound!
I don’t like idea about home theater with 5+1 channels and so on. We must choose between bigger area of stereo effect and small area at the very center of the room with saround effect inside. It is a system for one listener. Another point is that we need rather small saround speakers to place them in the proper places inside our room. Such speakers work effectively beginning from, say, 250-300Hz. So, we will have problems with subwoofer. I mean, we’ll lose about 1 octave in upper bass and men’s voices will look "castrated".
As mentioned before, call Klaus at Odyssey. He will ask the right questions and get you squared away.
Might consider Vincent, and also a + for NuForce.
Own both.
They sound very nice to me.
Happy hunting!

Tom
I will not make a recommendation on what to buy, but I will make recommendations ( cautions ) on what not to buy. Early B & K ST 140s. By todays standards, very dark, very muddy, very soft, no dynamics. 20 plus year old McCormack amps. Ready for rebuilds, new front end boards, etc., but if you find one that has been rebuilt recently, a great choice. Nuforce STA200. I have 2, and think they are sleepers ( excellent ), but are finicky with associated gear in front of them. Tubes ( and this is my opinion ). Colored, noisy, microphonic, and expensive to re-tube. They do some magical things, but no longer for me. Odyssey, good in some systems and not so good in others ( same with Nad, ime ).Try returning an Odyssey product for a refund, Klaus will have a fit, but after some cooling down, will credit a refund ( again, ime ). Set up 2 different systems, if possible. Any screen will mess up the center image when listening to 2 channel music. Also, in my experience, all the other speakers in a multichannel set up, when listening in 2 channel mode, will be playing along, as the woofers vibrate along from the spl in the room. Biggest recommendation, try and listen for yourself. Or, as millercarbon says, ignore anything I am saying to you. Enjoy ! MrD.
camradal
Good starter amp recommendation

Get a Schiit Vidar poweramp, it will drive just about anything, and mate it with a Schiit Saga preamp, or for a couple more hundred a Schiit Freya preamp. https://www.schiit.com/products/vidar

For your money these are rather keepers not starter amps. And come with 15 day trial period.

Cheers George
Owned a B&K ST140 with a ModWright SWL 9.0 SE w/Apogee Centaur speakers and far from muddy and dark or too soft. Maybe it was just great Synergy or I was lucky.... not. Was using Clear Day Cables throughout at the time. Was it as good as the ARC 100.2 that replaced it? Nope, but I only paid $150 dollars for it and the ARC was nearly 8X’s the price. ARC 100.2 is another dang good amp too, regardless of age.

I always loved the early ST-140. I also liked the 442. If you know how to tune up these amps they’re something special. Also for mono blocks look into the Marantz MA700 (killer sounding amp). And if I may let me tell you about another sleeper, the Luxman M-113. This Luxman is so under rated it’s crazy. I take the top off, take off the feet and put it up on Tuning Blocks and this is one sweet sounding amp.

I should also add I have earlier Rotel integrated amps and Stereo amps (old transformer design), and some older Parasound, very nice amps.

MG

My comment on the B&K ST 140, was stated by me " by todays standards ". Yes, I agree, back then it was a good amplifier, and especially for the price. But not today, and this, is ime, and, imo. Sorry to have hurt some feelings here. But even back then, there were many competing amplifiers that did not sound the way I described, as this is how I remembered them sounding. I sold them, and liked the ex 442 and Pro 600. But the ST 140 was good with small bookshelf type speakers, and if anyone thought they were lucky, well, that would not be my take on it. Let me move on.
What about looking at Parasound's 5 channel amp?  
camradal
I can speak to 2 components mentioned here, the NAD C326 BEE and the Nuforce STA-200. I own both and the Nuforce is by far the more articulate sounding amp. After listening to the NAD for so long it was like someone lifted a blanket over my speakers. Combine the Nuforce with a Schiit Saga and you’ll be surprised by the sound for the money!
The NAD is an integrated amp and the Nuforce is only a power amp. Going from an integrated to a separate pre/power opens up a whole new discussion.
The OP is currently using a Denon AVR receiver. I don't know if the Denon has pre-out capability to enable use of a separate power amp and if the OP has that intention? Or, to completely replace the Denon?
You can find a Rotel RMB976mk2 for under $200.  It bridges to 150x3 and sounds good with Denon.  You can use your preouts on the x3400 to get solid power to your left, center, and right speakers.   
I recently  got a 2nd set for my 5th wheel camper. NuPrime IDA 16 with Dynaudio Emit 10. Very impressed with this hybrid A+D integrated amp.
For the price $2000 CAD this performs better than may other amps I tried that cost many times more. I had limitation on the size of the speaker for my camper  that's the reason I got the Emit 10. I also own the Sopra N3 for my main system , tested the IDA 16. It was able to drive it very easily. IMHO I like the IDA 16 better than the Devialet 200 which cost $12000 CAD.Nuprime gives you 45 days many back policy. 
I concur, multi-channel is full of compromises. A quality 2 channel will through ghost images of miultichannel when so recorded

I have a Audio Alchemy DDP-1 + PS 5 and a DPA-1. These are excellent and can be purchased for at about 50%, which is a huge steal
Since you are willing to go with a 2-channel system, a wise decision IMO, purchase a quality 2-channel integrated amplifier and save any funds from the remainder of the $1000 for speaker upgrade. 

Consider using digital PCM output from TV for movies.

Unless I have missed it, you have not said what music sources you are using. Yamaha makes a A-S701 integrated amp with phonostage, DAC, and  subwoofer output. It outputs 100wpc. I believe this is a good option, though not the only one. 

Vincent makes a SV-500 integrated, which has internal DAC at Audio Advisor sells for $1000. Outputs 50wpc. 

Please advise as to the sources you are using (considering).


I don’t think you’re gonna get the gains you are hoping for by simply adding an amplifier. I think your best bet would be an integrated with an HT bypass. Get the receiver out of the chain completely for music. There’s a Naim Nait 5si on Agon right now for your budget. It should be great for what you’re wanting to do.
PS Audio Stellar Stereo or MonoBlocks M700..
To update the thread, I found a good deal on a used McCormack DNA-HT1 Deluxe. Will try it out and see how it works in the system. From what I've read it's basically a dual DNA 0.5 with a bridged center. Also, seems like a lot of people had a success upgrading the amp through smcaudio later on if needed.
If that is anything like the DNA .5 then you lucked out, as that is one of the best sounding SS amps on the market. Very involving, full-bodied and dimensional, with a sound to rival even a lot of really good tube amps. 
Don’t know the other amps but I can vouch for the Parasound A23. It is a real power amp. I was surprised when I first got it, I hooked it up to Dynaudio Focus 340s which are usually hooked up to a Simaudio power amp. The a23 had absolutely no problem dealing with the 340s, they just sang.

The a23 is now hooked up to Focus 160s on a different system. It is very musical and sounds great.

You will need a preamp though, since it not an integrated amp. Maybe your denon has a preamp out feature.

The a23 does run a little warm even if it is not active. I leave it on all the time. It needs a bit of space to breath. 

If you are looking for a good inexpensive power amp, the a23 is exactly that. And its physical size is also impressive. Given  what it can do, it is quite small.