High end amp - my last step

I would like some opinions on buying an amp.

I have some unusual constraints, but a pretty healthy budget.

The constraints:

1) I'm in the UK - 230/240 volts must be available - even if a second hand model has to be sent back to the manufacturer.

2) The amp / amps must live in a space in a well ventilated cabinet, open back and full grill to front plus much ventilation above and below. Space is about 24 inches wide, 30 inches deep and 14 inches high for a mono. Height can be doubled for a stereo amp, e.g. a VTL s-400 will fit but Seigfried Monos will not. Heat should *not* been seen as much of an issue, size should - eg a Krell MRA would drop straight through the floor into the utility room.

3) Power should be enough for a dynamic sound in my 89dB efficient Sophias, but just enough is good enough as these will probably be replaced in the future.

4) Aggravation free, long warranties are good and local dealer support good too - so would demonstrations.

I don't mind tubes, solid state or hybrids. I mostly listen to jazz, indie and pop - actually anything apart from opera.

The budget:

$30,000 - I will consider second hand and I will consider cheaper if I can find it :o)

My own suggestions:

VTL s-400 or 450 monos. (UK distributor - DCS - is less than 5 miles away and will be able to demo at home during April)
Lamm 1.2 ref (No representation in uk :-( )
Audio Research 600's
Dartzeel - (My Wilson dealer carries them, and they look like they won't break, I should get a demo)
Other ideas MBL, Boulder, CAT

I'm not in a rush, probably want to buy in June, but I want to sort out some listening sessions. I *do not* intend to ever buy another amp, so it should be good for (or servicable) for next 20 years!
With that kind of budget you are out of the realm of my knowledge.
I envy the fun you will be having doing the "in search of" thing.
Good luck.

Don't hesitate to contact Gilbert at Blue Circle (www.bluecircle.com) to discuss the specfic needs your set-up requires.
He's very accomodating.
And makes a darn fine amplifier.
I'd bet he can come up with something that will knock your socks off (yank saying :)).
You have some very fine candidates, but I bet once you start listening, you are going to be confronted with the tubes vs. solid state issue. You will have to make that decision at that point. Then go back and re-listen to everything in your camp of choice.

Nsgarch - you might be right, the constraints remain. Truth be known I love both for their respective qualities!
Well you wouldn't be the first person to own multiple amps (and speakers, and cartridges, etc.) for different listening modes.
I bought a pair of Lamm 1.2 reference for 10K only 6 months old. They are amazing but they do get warm. They are so good I chnaged my cabinet design. Mine were in a similar location and the sound was so wonderful that I bought a pair of Silent Running Audio amp stands since I have vintage tuners in the same cabinet and did not like the heat. These cost me another 2K used. They are also amazing and I highly recommend these as well. So I only spent 12K (funny huh)and would not trade these for any amp I have ever had the opportunity to audiotion. While these may not be fit your criteria, I encourage you to try them at least.
Get a pair of BEL 1001 Mk-Vs and don't look back.
Around $8000 US for a pair of monos.
I would like to suggest the new Ayre mono-blocks. Size will not be a problem.

I only heard these at the CES but I have owned Ayre amps for the last 4 1/2 yrs. When you buy an Ayre product you also get fantastic product support.

Though I am not able to purchase anything remotely near that $$ range. I have been through a few amps. I hybrid Llano, a solid state CJ, a McCormack, and lastly a Pass X-150 amp which is the best amp I have owned and I can live with for a very long time. I would suggest a Pass labs X150.5 (which are suppose to be better than mine - a little more tube like) or better yet a Pass Labs XA amps which is straight Class A. It would be good to know what preamp and speakers you are running to get good synergy.
Happy hunting and God Bless!
Gryphon, Lamm, and Essence are brands to consider. Essence would have to be second hand, if you can even find anyone willing to sell one. You may want to contact Dale Pitcher (www.intuitiveaudio.com) and see what he may have planned as upcoming offerings in the Intuitive Design Line, if you're really in no huge hurry. The Bear Labs amp that retails for 14,000 may be a consideration also, but I don't know for sure--it just looked good to me on paper.

Also, for that kind of money, you could probably almost COMMISSION a designer to build a pair of custom monoblocks for you.

It would seem that your choices should be abundant. Have fun.

With that kind of dough.. Goldmund, FM acoustics, Tube Research Labs maybe?? wish I had that problem.
Have you heard the new Chapter Audio Couplet mono's?Give Duncan a call.They are in Kingshill,Kent.
Preamp (processor actually) is the Meridian 861 v4.2
Speakers are Wilson Sophia, these will be upgraded further down the road, but not for a year at least. The amp will never be upgraded - at least that's the plan. I may consider a seperate pre-amp - but all the demos I've heard, the Meridian holds it's own against some of the best line preamps out there.

Goldmund could be a consideration - they appear to be a Swiss Boulder from what I've seen (but not heard). I did have tube research on my list, but they looked too big.
Lamm are not off the radar - I originally designed the cabinet specifically for them including the vents in the base directly below where the cooling fins are on the 1.2 Ref. It's just very diffucult as they are not represented in the UK (to my knowledge).

Pass Labs XA-160/200 are a consideration - I saw a thread about A/B with a Dartzeel - distribution of Pass in the UK does exist too!
My recommendation for that kind of money would be McIntosh´s MC501 monoblocks, which would be even less than your budget, but sonically at the top, not running hot, being servicable in the long run
I've had some limited experience trying yr spkrs (2-3 yrs old, mind you) with a few amps (mostly stereo). I'll also assume that you'll be staying with dynamic spkrs... and...

here's what I liked (in no order):
Goldmund mimesis 18(?)* (monos -- not very heavy)
Symphonic Line Kraft 250 class a (stereo -- heavy & bulky)
YBA passion 600 (stereo -- heavy & bulky)
CAT s/thing or other* (stereo -- heavy & bulky)
Symphonic Line RG 4(?)* (mono -- not bulky, not very heavy)
(*sorry -- don't remember the model numbers/ could find out if interested)

-What I liked was the portrayal of music (energy, power, dynamics if you will).
-We listened to large orchestral passages, opera, and some R&B.
- I think that most of the above products are well within yr budget (the Symphonic Line monos & the YBA are probably 1/2 )
- Most of the above run v. hot (but that's OK as you note)
- Some need a good power line(YBA for example)
- We enjoyed ourselves immensely

p.s. someone mentioned FM acoustics. I did listen to a set(pre+amp). Sound: exquisite. Price: never learnt to count that far.
Have you had a listen to Chord Electronics? They are made in the UK. I'm running a pair of the SPM 6000 monoblocks driven by their CPA4000.Speakers are a tough load,B&W800. The amps once warmed up are glorious.All the detail and soundstage without grain delivered with a tubelike smoothness. Build quality to survive world war three and georgeous to look at.
Another vote for Pass Labs. They work well with Wilson speakers. The Vienna Philharmonic use this combo. If you like classical music the sound is amazing.
I think you should seriously consider OTL amps in the form of Atma-Sphere MA-2 Mk. IIIs. They'll deliver 220 Watts per chassis into 4-, 8-, or 16-Ohm loads and are VERY transparent, being without output transformers or output-coupling caps. US$30K per pair. http://www.atma-sphere.com/products/ma2.html

Another OTL to consider is the Berning ZH270. It'll deliver 70WPC into 8 Ohms and slightly more into 4. Its channels are parallelable to make an at-least-140-Watt mono amp with lower output impedance. I believe they're priced at around U$5500 per amp with high-end options. http://www.davidberning.com/zh270.htm

Personally, I believe my amplifier quest stopped at a pair of new Antique Sound Lab Hurricane monoamps, 200Watts per mono chassis in ultralinear (or, as a wag on the Audio Asylums calls it, ultraNONlinear) or c. 120 Watts in triode. US$5K per pair. . http://www.divertech.com/aslhurricane200dt.html . Equipment reviewers as different as Harry Pearson of 'The Absolute Sound' and Arthur Salvatore of high-endaudio.com love this amp. http://www.high-endaudio.com/RC-Amplifiers.html

Response Audio in New York is an ASL dealer and offers a seriously upgraded version for, I think, US$11,000. http://www.responseaudio.com/extreme%20asl%20hurricane.htm

I'm upgrading mine gradually and have replaced the 20 coupling caps, with positive results.

Enjoy your quest.
yep abundant choices alright.

I tried to do a little research on the FM acoustics, but it would appear almost no-one has ever heard them, and those who have would probably not want to sell them. If they're good enough for U2, they're good enough for me!


Bill - I don't think my budget would quite stretch that far - plus I'd have no fall back if it broke!

I am trying to follow up on those amps mentioned in this thread - but it is growing quite quick (quicker than I had imagined)!
i recommend trying Jadis and FM Acoustics. by the way, Meridian DSP8000 digital active loudspeakers with your 861 make an awesome setup. enjoy!
Get the Boulder 1050 Monos and be done with poweramps. IMO, you shouldn't consider any others
I've heard the DSP 7000, but not the 8000 - I preferred the sound of analogue to digital speakers (just) and it gave me more flexibility to upgrade a bit at a time.

Boulder are on the list!
I owned Lamm M1.1's with my WP7's and they were amazing in the mids but the low low bass was missing or the mid bass was exaggerated. They are extremely musical. The give off tons of heat, the would heat my room 10 degree F in about 10 minutes. Not good when you live in the desert here in Phoenix, AZ. Plus when I sent them back for a checkup they only accept air so $1000 in shipping two crates was great fun!
I listened to the S400 on WP7's and WOW it's pretty amazing and suddenly my lamms sounded dark on the top end because of the air of the VTL's. My dealer had a pair of Theta Citadel (tall long monoblocks with tons of current) and I was asking about the S400 and eventually going to the Maxx's. He said that the S400 would run out of steam if I went with maxxes and that I should listen to the Theta (I already listened to the rowland 201,501,301's, 9t's modified). Wow suddenly I had the air of the VTL and amazing bass authority but with a more realistic midrange (I miss that warmth no matter how wrong it was for the presentation!) Theta has a 5 year warranty and the transformer (or other parts) are modulelar so they can be shipped back wtithout sending the whole amp. The VTL has that also, plus you can hook a computer to the VTL to see the hours on each tube..and the autobias is computer controlled (good or bad, since I work with computers a ton).

So I went with the Theta Citadels as the best compromise that allowed me to listen to limitless dynamics and the soft touch of depth and soundstage. Plus as an Added bonus they run idle 80watt so they are always hot, no more warmup for my system, just click and listen! I'm rediscovering my music collection.

The Lamm's only took 30-40 minutes for full warm up which is really short. I also owned Lamm M2.1 and i would probably gone M2.2's for the extra power, because my system completely opened up with dynamics after inserting the Theta Citadels in after having the Lamms.

Lamms are not fully balanced so save your money and use Single ended, the Theta is fully balanced and did benifit from using balanced connections.

I just recieved a Pass X350.5.
Minutes after...
Out of the box, brand new, WOW!!!
I've had Amps that are rated high power, but with the Pass Amps you can feel the effortless power.
Deep soundstage and vocals that are so natural. The bass sounds exellent, clean and defined and the treble is great !.
Everything sounds so right !
And this is again right out of the box !!!
Thanks for the responses again.

Cyctocycle - I didn't realise the Lamm's were not fully balanced. I can output all balanced or unbalanced in 7.1 if need be (I have the all the cards too!) but single ended has proven to be susceptible to hum in the past - this might be the case with the Lamm, but it was with my Krell.

I'll look into the Thetas - but think if thst was my route, I'd be better off as earlier suggested with DSP 8000's.
If you're looking for an amp w/ balanced circuitry all the way through, have a look at Balanced Audio Technology (BAT)
Dmurfet: I ran balanced cables to the Lamm but it was a waste, if you read his litature he doesn't believe balanced is required. I tried using a CJ pre single ended and ended up with a ground hum, but with the balanced cables and my Rowland or placette active there was no groundhum (was run single ended) they were grounded pretty good.

I've heard the high end Meridian's and make sure you can go get a listen as I thought they were amazingly dynamic (incredible for movies) but left me a little sterile and missing emotion.
Hi Dmurfet:
I too use the Meridian 861 with WP 5.1(the WP7.1 coming late spring) drive by Lamm 1.1s.
I do agree with Cytocycle on the Lamm but I had the VTL S400 in my system before with Ayre K1 and I like the sound with Meridian 861 and Lamm much better. Maybe the WP 5.1 is brighter then the WP 7.1. But I just got the MBL 9010C and it put the system into the next level, given all the missing lower bass and the extended high. Yes, the Lamm is the fully balanced but I used the balanced out from the 861 anyway. You can try a pair MBL 9008 or 9011 if you need power but I think a pair of 9008 is already overkill for Sophia. BTW, I don't care about hte DSP8000. I had them in my system in NY for sometime. Let us know how you end up with. Stephen
*None* of the Meridian dealers carry dsp-8000 as a demo item, the UK market - I think - is not really the main focus for M.

I have an internet acquaintence who has a pair, I hope he will invite me round - I've sent him a message! If not I will have to go to the factory! (Only 30 miles, but they are not keen - that said I've already bought their most expensive processor, I will buy the 800 when they sort out which format to use = so they should give me the time of day!)

Homefuture - did you experience any hum when you ran unbalanced? Is it just my Krell? MBL are on my list, but don't figure very high - simply on availability!

I was posting on the Hikers site about 8000s they would really make life very easy - no cable worries, no amp worries, local support everything. Just last time I compared 7000 vs Sophia I preferred Wilson.

With respect to MBL being too much for Sophia, I recall a moment at the Heathrow Penta show 1990 where some huge Krell's were filling a large room (60' * 50') driving a pair of budget speakers (£150 max) and they sounded fantastic. As a result, this is why my budget for a power amp is so generous!
Driver...how did the new Ayre monos compare to your exp with the existing Ayre power amps? Anything quite different or just more power?
Hi Dmurfet;
I only run unbalanced to the side and rear but did not have the hum problem(Krell TAS). And I've try the BAT 6200 and the Citation 7.1 and never had any hum at all. Compare the DSP8000 and the Wilson WP 5.1 and I like the Wilson, too. I did try the digital route for speaker but still preferred analog speaker. If you can, do give MBL a good listen. A pair of 9008 or 9011 should last long time and I will put a stop for the power amp if I got pair of 9011.
Now I'm in a better position - tweeters are fixed and seem to be OK.

I spoke with my dealer about my choices and the best way to go about listening to them. He firstly suggested I should revise my list. I reason I respect his opinion is that he didn't just poo-poo anything he didn't distribute.

He did poo-poo, however - Boulder and the Meridian DSP8000.
The Meridian I have to listen to anyway given I know the guys at the factory and they are trying to help me.

He suggested out of my list that he recommended the Pass Labs, VTL, Dartzeel (which he said would be enough power for my speakers and room) and Lamm.

He also said I might consider something that was not on my list (that he does distribute) which was the Krell Evolution range. (New prices in the UK are hideously expensive - pounds=dollar price - so even with my budget I could only afford an Evolution 402 or stretch to 600)

The Evolution One costs about £50,000 or $90,000 over here!! For that I could get used MRA monos and swap the PSUs.

Has anyone heard the evolution range and how they compare with the others?

I think given the Krell import policy to the UK, I won't be getting value for money. VTL prices are comparable with the exchange rate as is the Dartzeel.
Dmurfet: Skip the Krell/Wilson Combo it's dynamic but not musical...... I've heard way to many combo's that sounded really bad.
Cytocycle - thanks for the response again - I've tried searching for a definition of "musical" but not found any. I guess that's the point though - it's the bit you can't measure that draws you into the music. Perhaps I'll have a better idea once I have heard some of the tubes on my list, but I'd ask you of your opinion of what makes an amp musical.

Also - I understand from other posts that Krell is often accused of this non-musical / sterile sound. I also read in a review that the evolution has addressed this characteristic - was your comment related to FPB series or Evolution?
Hi,My advice is to sort your preamp first because you simply can't get great sound with a really good power amp and an average preamp whereas you can get great sound with a really good preamp and an average power amp.
I know this goes against all the expectations but when you hear a really good preamp it becomes blatantly obvious.Unfortunately there are very few really good preamps around.You owe it to yourself to check out the Supratek preamps.One of these is certainly going to cost you a lot less than an equivelent quality power amp.

I think someone mentioned the CAT - a localish dealer (High End Broker) has a pair of JL-1 Signatures going for only 12500 Euros - which is a massive discount from new if I recall correctly. They might be worth an investigate!

With that I suggest my new list is:

DSP 8000 (factory organising a demo for me - my dealer hates them "comparing a Frod Escort to a Ferrari" but I have to give them a listen)
Krell Evolution - but think too expensive for me and now 2nd hand market to judge.
VTL S-400
Pass Labs - XA-160/200
Lamm 1.2 Ref
Dartzeel (which should be similar to Lamm me thinks)
MBL - if I can find an outlet to demo
Let me put it this way I don't believe there is good synergy between Wilson Speakers and Krell, both are revealing and dynamic and there can be too much of a good thing (Can make your system sound clinical). I can't speak for the Evolution series.

Lamm would be the opposite of Krell, Midrange that you can dive into, mid bass that hits you up, rolled off lower registers versus Krell SLam, and the Krell bright edgy front end. These comments are related to Wilson/Krell combo only I have heard Krell sound ok on Avalon, and I liked the older KSA-250's that were full Class A.

I agree that you would have a ultra clean system with Meridian 8000's and a digital cable. Keep in mind all of these combo's have virtues and deficiencies, and it's a matter of picking which comb will make you most happy.

If you haven't ever owned tubes, make sure you have a good dealer to deal with for help, the nice thing about the VTL is it is modular so if you had a problem you can plug a computer into the serial port and find out what it is, plus everything you want to know about each of the tubes. The powersupplies can be disconnected and shipped separate so should never have to crate the monster up to send back for repairs. The reason I say this is I had to send my Lamm's back in their crates and they only accept air shipment and you can image how much that cost to overnight crates! Something I factored in my next purchase. I've heard the VTL150 stereo on Sophia's and it as magical. I've heard the S400 on WP7's but it was out of my reach $$$ (and would power the Maxx II's my next goal) and so I went with the Theta's. The S400 does automatic tube biasing while you listen so it will be the least possible tube maintenance of any tube amp.

I've heard good things about the Dartzeel, and the new pass models.
I like the whole easy to work with tubiness of the s-400.

So apart from the Evolution (which I probably can't afford) you would concur with my cheat sheet?
Dmurfet, don't forget the Acoustic Reality Thauma Turge class D super amps from Denmark (ICEpower design). Look at the AR site. There is a report by Peter Thompsen (owner of AR) about a Chicago based audiophile who replaced his 3 pairs of WAVAC 833 amps (!) with 3 pairs of the Thauma Turges. Impressive! I own the lesser eAR amps (the eAR 1001's) which sound surprisingly good and are comparable with the almost 10 times more expensive Accuphase A-50V which I also own. What do you think of Accuphase btw (used M-2000 mono's)?

I now recognise the brand as EAR - which I have heard of. I'll give them a call this week.

Seperately I got an email from FM acoustics today - they don't distribute in the UK and don't have any 2nd hand kit (they invite you to ask on their site). I sent a reply but I'm not hopeful as I am not a rock star!
Dmurfet, the brand is not EAR, that is Tim de Paravicini's company (Esoteric Audio Research), but Acoustic Reality (eAR).


Other contestants are Accuphase and the Symphonic Line (German high end brand).

I recommend CAT with wilson, synergy is very good.
A friend of mine is waiting for his CAT JL2 he's going to use with a WP5.1e.
I can't believe your dealer "poo-poo" Boulder. LOL, either he doesn't sell Boulders or never listened them. If you have to buy the amps from him, that's another story. IMO all the others are a class below Boulder except FM Acoustics but they are way too expensive.
I have had a word with the UK distributor for Lamm. He suggested that even a ML2.1 may work with my speakers - well we'll see!

He also thought, as many would, a Lamm pre-amp would be beneficial. I'm not ready for that though - doesn't mean it will never happen. Using my 861, means I could have a nice crossover point and use my sub to help out a lower powered amp.
Dmurfet-there are some incredible amps listed tus far.However,please forgive me if I repeat myself.Since you already live in the UK,I am sure you have heard of Hi-FiNews(not that I would buy an amp just because of a review, but might audition one).Here is what they say about Chapter Audio Couplet and Preface+:

"Listening to these amps was a revelation-their performance was quite staggering in important areas of no-noise,low distrortion and jaw dropping power delivery.The sound is different to traditional technology with it's familiar colorations.If you have the budget you simly must hear what these products can offer."

I have exchanged a couple of email with Duncan and spoke with him today. I'll listen to the stereo couplet and if I like it, I may consider a home demo of the mono couplets (which I don;t think are on their website yet.)

Relative to the other amps I'm considering, they are far less expensive (half) because of lack of distribution costs in the UK so could be a bargain - but they do have to be good too!
Before you drop a big chunk of change, do yourself a favor and at least listen to the Classe CAM-400s. They may only cost $10K, but they're absolutely stunning.
I would go Gryphon or MBL, they do are magical!
Dmurfet-Glad to know!I eagerly await your response/reaction to the Chapter Couplet and Preface+.I think you will be shocked to how good they are.I am using mine with JM Labs Alto Be.
Crazy idea...With that kind of budget, I would spend only $ 10,000 on the amp and preamp. Just for fun, I browsed what is available right here on the 'Gon. How about this, Tenor Audio Classic monoblocks for $ 7,550 (original retail over $ 27,000) and a Sonic Frontiers Line 3se preamplifier for $ 3,300 (original price of $ 6,000). Total price: Around $ 10,000 once this is all ''negociated''.This is a no-hype, supremely musical system with incredible build quality and features.

I would THEN spend the remaining of your $ 30,000 budget (meaning $ 20,000) on tickets to hear your favorite fine orchestras or bands LIVE (and a few nice after-show restaurants) for a lifetime of memories....How about it ?

By the way, I once heard the Tenor / Line 3 combination, and beleive me, it is something to experience - then the path would be wide open for a speaker upgrade, as your Wilson's will definitely be the weakest link in your system if you go with the above combo. You can do much better than the Sophias in my humble opinion, for the price. All is subjective of course here, and someone's music may be another's noise. Who says ''upgrading'' must be done ''by the book'' ?