High-end amplifier clarification?


At what point do you consider an amplifier high-end? And, why? What is a good example of a non-high end amp that just misses being high-end? Also, what is an example of an amplifier that just makes it into your high-end rankings?
ska_man
Funny question. You must know that the answers you will get are based on an individual's subjective opinion, so what is your point?
I am not sure about your motives but I will bite.Ok, in my opinion a good example of non high-end amp would be the Rotel Michi series RHT----.
A borderline high-end would be a Bryston.A high-end amp would be a Pass labs or Mark Levinson,ARC,Cary e.t.c.
George
Are you looking to buy one that just "makes it" and avoid one that just "falls short"? For the most part it is marketing speak, since most equipment performs pretty well today, or better said, you don't need to spend a lot of money to have "high-end" sound. I suspect folks would think that $500-$750 integrated from companies like NAD, Rotel, Cambridge...are truly high-end, but they sure do capture an awfully large % of what is possible from 60-100 watts SS amps.
I suspect that all amplifiers here:

http://www.higherfi.com/amplist/amplist.htm

might be high end.
If the editors and columnists of TAS or Stereophile refer to the designer of the amp by first name, the amp is high-end. ;)
The amp must have at least one end 3 feet off the floor; this classification method is as accurate as any other you are likely to find. High End is in the ear of the beholder and nowhere else.
Well said.
Pretty well anything found in a "high end" (fancy) audio shop.
How long is a piece of string? I really beleive it comes down to a relativity answer. To some it is a Marantz, to other is its FM Acoustics. I think it is one that is bought at a good stereo store not at Best Buy. One that has a price tag that is just at the crest of your budget.
For me it is "brand X' that is in my system. I omit the brand to avoid the criticism that usually occompanies the mere mention of the brand. Buy what trips your trigger.
Kijanki, that list made the Solution monos almost seem like a deal!
If it has an 8-track player attached to it, it's not high end.

General rule of thumb.
If I correctly understood the link that Kijanki so kindly provided, the$650K/pr. Pivetta mono amps provide 20,000 WPC. This is just a bit over $30 per watt/ch. I'm not sure that this is costly enough to qualify as true "high end". Many a bargain priced 100 WPC amp (equivalent pricing is +/- $3200) would be denied admission to the purist high end club - so I don't know why the Pivetta gets a free ride.

So, Kijanki, maybe not ALL the amps on that list ;-).

Marty
Oops, upon closer inspection the Pivetta is 20K watts TOTAL, to be divided among 1 or more channels via some user setting.

(Bait and switch tactics, if you ask me).

On the other hand, HigherFi does offer a nice discount on the unit (asking only $490K). Nevertheless, this bumps us up closer to $50 per wpc and should comfortably assure quick admission to the club.

Apologies Kijanki for questioning your assertion in the first place.

Marty
Non-high-ends are the following:

No tubes.
Class D or T.
Less than 90lB.
Has cooling fan.
Less than $5k new.
Does not have detachable powercord(limited upgrade possibilities).
Have non-glossy and/or industrially looking chassis.
Not present in Stereophile or similar audio magazines.
Michael Fremer did not write anything about it...
Does not have gold-plated speaker terminals and RCA/XLR sockets.
A truly high-end amplifier is the one you want, but cannot afford. Once you can afford it and actually buy the thing, the high end moves up a notch. And on and on -- forever.
I would say that amps purchased before marriage would be high end, after, mid to low fi.

Larry
Roxy54: It's a subjective hobby. Lots of questions here get subjective opinion answers. I asked the question(s) because I am curious as to what those opinions are.

Pubul57: I am not looking to buy anything at this time.

The question came to mind while reading the post by Kitegod "what speakers demand high end electronics". The term "high-end" is used on a regular basis and I just wondered what it means to members willing to respond.

Being a music lover, with only a slight tendency toward
(non-nervosa type) audiophilia, I agree with Stanwal's comment about being in the ear of the beholder. But, my opinion is just as subjective as anyone else's.
OK, I'll bite too but apologize in advance to anyone I may offend. I use an Aragon 4004MkII amp for 2 channel and front mains for HT. While I am very satisfied with it's performance, I wouldn't classify it as high-end. It's definitely atleast one more rung up the ladder toward high-end than my previous Adcom 555 amp.
I would compare the Aragon to a AAA baseball player trying to make the big leagues; he hits for average, with good power,has good speed and a good glove, but plays right field and has an arm like a wet noodle. Good enough for some line-ups but not an allstar. I think this amp might improve it's chances of making the 'show' if it was pure class A, rather than class AB, but it would probably then be piced much higher, too. New I think it was only $1,800 and I bought it used for half that. I think in amps, much like this forum, you get what you pay for. When I think of high-end ss amps, I think of brands like Pass, Levinson, McCormack, CJ and McIntosh. For tube amps, I think of Atmosphere,CJ, McIntosh, VTL and VAS. I probably missed a few brands but would love to try all of these in my system. In the end, though, I think you should only use your own ears in determining what's truly 'high-end' for yourself and ignore any thoughts of status. Happy hunting.
I’m going to take a different tack and suggest that what makes a system high-end, is more the dedication and care put into it by it’s builder than the equipment itself. If the user is aware of, and his system achieves, some measure of those audio characteristics that we all seek, it is high-end.
To me, "High End" always preceded the word "Audio" and not a specific component. You could take one of those half million dollar amps, hide it behind the curtains, and hook it up to a pair of $200 speakers and feed it from a consumer CD player and I'll guarantee that the music coming out of it will be anything that will make anyone notice the amplifier. Much like putting Pirellis on a minivan. It's still a minivan.
Then there is the definition that it's not high end if it's not hand-built.
Yep, Agree with hodu.
Hi-End is the one you can't afford, or perhaps breaks the bank when you DO.
Personally, I've been fixating on the soundstage and the sonic image created. If the amp gives you a very natural, realistic sound with great placing of individual instruments in their appropriate places on the sonic "stage", such that you are fooled into thinking you're "there" in a live event, that's getting into high end.

Others may fixate on other aspects of sound reproduction and will have their own criteria. That's what makes this audiophile world such a jungle and rightly so. Its what keeps it exciting. If there were set definitions to everything, we'd eventually have all the answers. Who wants that?

Anything more than my wifes engagment ring.
Lrsky, you win. Pass Labs before marriage, receiver after.
High End is any gear 99 out of 100 people haven't heard of.
Leave out the 'end', just state it as 'hi fool', which is anything over $1K.
Any amp that sounds great. It includes a $ 250.00 Adcom Carver, Luxman, Tandberg or $ 10,000.00 VTL's, ARC CJ's.

High end doe not have to mean high priced.
Piece of cake, high end solid state amps share these physical characteristics:

1. rows of external heat sinks
2. tiffany style gold connectors
3. torodial tranformer(s)
4. large can, screw-top, computer grade capacitors
5. at least four power devices per channel
5. weighs 50 pounds or more.

and this electronic characteristic:

a. a four Ohm RMS power rating that is double its 8 Ohm rating

For tube amps? No clue.
It might be easier for you to list the amps you may be considering;then I think you will see responses from people.I would not concentrate on what is high end but more on what mates the best with the speakers you are considering driving.
My shot at answering your question would be;High end solid state; Pass,Roland,gryphon,Plinius,MBL,Spectron,Levision.
Tubes- Atmasphere,VAC,VTL,Manley,Joule Electra,EAR,Cary,Audio Research
These are the amps I consider class A high end there are more I am sure.
If it makes me sit up and take notice, repeatedly, then it sounds like 'high end' to me.
If I find myself stuck to my couch while never intending to do so, then it sounds like 'high end' to me.
If I end up forgetting about the equipment, then its 'high end' enough for me.
Weiserb,
I kind of like your attitude. Too bad it is uncommon. You see dozens of posts like::
'Help me spend 10,000$ on an amp'.
No mention of anything else. Just a $ amount.
Adcom and early Parasound amps I don't consider high end. A high-end amp will provide a spacious soundstage, float the airiest highs, deliver a full but sparkling midrange, and has excellent dynamics/bass without sounding boomy. It should do all this and still sound musically involving & refined. Given that & without an equally high-end preamp you will fall short of your goals.
Figuring out what makes any product a 'high end audio' product has long been a vexxing subject. In thinking about this over the last 20 years, the best answer I have ever been able to come up with is 'intention'. So in this regard I think I agree with Phaelon the most, although most everyone here has made points that I consider valid.

But even with the idea of intention, products occasionally appear in the mainstream that are so good they qualify despite their humble origins. Radio Shack has produced a few of these, for example their Linaeum speakers from about 10-15 years ago. They were inexpensive but got good reviews. But for the most part, the intention of the designer will be the primary aspect we are looking for.
Hello ,

In regards to amplifiers: If you can't drive a 2 ohm load, you are mid-fi IMO .

regards,

Adcom and early Parasound amps I don't consider high end. A high-end amp will provide a spacious soundstage, float the airiest highs, deliver a full but sparkling midrange, and has excellent dynamics/bass without sounding boomy. It should do all this and still sound musically involving & refined. Given that & without an equally high-end preamp you will fall short of your goals - 02-28-11: Phd

I have seen them send off many a so called hi-end amps, the magic is in the load ..

regards,
Weseixas, so if an amplifier that can't drive 2 ohms but otherwise sounds better than one that can, its still mid-fi? So sound has nothing to do with high end or mid fi?
Atmasphere, Weseixas answer is very vague plus his statement that an amplifier should have the ability to drive a 2 ohm load otherwise he considers it midfi, is misleading. But if you do some searching under his user name you will see that his statement reflects his frustration to find an amp that will drive ribbon speakers.
I listened to some Boulder amps today...I think if an amp weighs more than your car, it's high end.
Wolf garcia, you are correct, Boulder amps are high-end. The Adcom 565 mono blocks also are heavy with very large power supplies but they do not sound high-end. Just a case in point.
Atmasphere, Weseixas answer is very vague plus his statement that an amplifier should have the ability to drive a 2 ohm load otherwise he considers it midfi, is misleading. But if you do some searching under his user name you will see that his statement reflects his frustration to find an amp that will drive ribbon speakers. -Phd

No frustration ,

I can build my own ( i have) or buy what i want ( done so 2 ) A true high end amp should be a perfect voltage source IMO, end of story.

Atmasphere:
Sound is very subjective, one man's euphoria is another' anathema. An amplifiers job is that of an voltage source, expensive high end amplifiers that cannot replicate such, is well ................

A Pretender.

Regards,
Wolf garcia, you are correct, Boulder amps are high-end. The Adcom 565 mono blocks also are heavy with very large power supplies but they do not sound high-end. Just a case in point.
-Phd

Agree the sound is , well, but they do not cost high end money and will see off many pretenders IMO, maybe even one of your favorites..

regards,
Weseixas what amps do you feel are hi end and which are not in your experience?
Is the 2 ohm load spec you mention your current speaker load?
One of the above posters mentioned Levinson being hi end . I would not consider my Levinson #431 hi end . In fact I would not consider any of my system high end , ( see my system link ) . It used to be if you spent $10,000 on a single component you were in that elite group but now with six figure gear the bar has been raised , not that price is what matters .
03-02-11:
Weseixas what amps do you feel are hi end and which are not in your experience?
Is the 2 ohm load spec you mention your current speaker load?

-Rleff

No, i have multiple speakers, currently using not 2 ohm, my speakers have nothing to do with my statement , try and understand that .

A true hi-end amp would be a perfect voltage source, there are available, Krell,levinson, Classe, Audia flight, MBL,et al, it is the basic premise of making a true hi-end amplifier after which other parameters fall into place.

Regards,
03-03-11:
One of the above posters mentioned Levinson being hi end . I would not consider my Levinson #431 hi end . In fact I would not consider any of my system high end , ( see my system link ) . It used to be if you spent $10,000 on a single component you were in that elite group but now with six figure gear the bar has been raised , not that price is what matters .
-Tmsorosk

Tmsorosk, i would consider Levinson hi-end , absolutely not mid-fi...

regards,
Sound is very subjective, one man's euphoria is another' anathema. An amplifiers job is that of an voltage source, expensive high end amplifiers that cannot replicate such, is well ................

A Pretender.

Weseixas, so you exclude Nelson Pass?? Gamut?? Shindo?? Kondo?? Lamm?? VAC?? Sorry. Your model does not hold up. BTW, you might be interested in this;

http://vintagefisher.com/vintage-fisher-55-a-tube-power-amp-monobloc-55a/

What we see is a Fisher 55-A mono amplifier. The knob on the lower right hand side is the Z-Matic knob, which is a variable feedback control. It is labeled: "Constant Voltage" on the fully counterclockwise position, "Constant Power" at 12 o'clock, and "Constant Current" at fully clockwise.

You seemed to accuse me of 'pseudo science' on another thread recently; I just thought you should see this so that you would know that I did not make something up. And also, you can see that tube amplifiers are capable of being voltage sources. The Wolcott is an example of that.

However now that you see that I *did not* make this up, and that a feedback control is having something to do with this on the Fisher, then you will see that my comments about negative feedback being something that is often part of the Voltage Paradigm (http://www.atma-sphere.com/papers/paradigm_paper2.html ) is not made up either.

And it is a fact, borne out of real science, that there is a price paid for the inclusion of negative feedback in most amplifiers- that of increased odd ordered harmonic distortion, which is shown to be unpleasant to the human ear.

So the bottom line is that it is **intention** that defines what a high end amplifier is. It is certainly not the ability to drive 2 ohms, as quite often that ability means that the amplifier might not sound like real music, and therefore neither can the speaker being thus driven. Some designers want to see their equipment sound better than that. You see? Its intention, and nothing else.

Now just so we are clear, it may be the intention of the designer that the amp *should* drive a 2 ohm load as a voltage source. That's fine- it still falls under the definition of intention.
Ralph,

You are right, my apologies, I will take back my opinion.

regards,
Ohhh,

Audio playback is not static, ever thought what you are considering to be good or bad audio has more to do with the dynamic application involved than it's distortion derivative.

regards,
So the bottom line is that it is **intention** that defines what a high end amplifier is. It is certainly not the ability to drive 2 ohms, as quite often that ability means that the amplifier might not sound like real music, and therefore neither can the speaker being thus driven. Some designers want to see their equipment sound better than that. You see? Its intention, and nothing else. - Atmasphere

So who determines when the amplifier sounds like real music Ralph, Stereophile, Absolute sound, you, me? ........

Any and all hi -end amplfiers IMO, should be :

* True Voltage source
* Have Low THD/TIM
* Wide bandwidth 10-100K.

as the basic's, how can an amplifier that can't even pass a proper 10,20, 20K, 50K or 100K squarewave even be considered accurate, musical? Maybe, anything can be musical, it depends on the ears, accurate to the input signal .... NAH !

The dynamic function involved in reproducing music is very complex AND in the absolute world an amplifier's role is not to have any sonic signature, regardless of load, nothing to do with pleasant THD vs Bad THD, that's absurd and as a designer why would you not want a true voltage source, why because yours can't?

Please !!!!

It's time we started discussing in absolute terms Ralph it's not by coincidence that a lot of top rated amplifiers are True voltage source type or close to it. I do fully understand you feel you have to defend your topology, OK, but maybe you need to step away from these type of discussions instead of turning this into another tube vs SS thing we always seem to get into.

Now does this mean an amp that is not a true voltage source will sound bad, Absolutely not!! but it will be limited to it's "intended" 8 ohm purpose, forget about SOTA ...

Also some of the amplifiers mentioned by you do suffer tonal coloration with load change, they work best at 8/4 ohms IMO.

Unfortunately and If one's intent is a SOTA system, with the intent to sound like live music, there is no 8 ohm speaker to do so and invariably 4 and below will creep in.

Regards,