In search of the right SS integrated amp

My audiophile friend Greg brought over new Accuphase pre and power amps, successfully demonstrated that my GamuT D3 / D200 Mark III (which have served well) are no longer state of the art. But in my high-rise apartment I’m spatially challenged; what I’d really like is a top quality integrated, 2 channel, solid state (tubes/valves are intimidating), with at least 2 pairs balanced (XLR) inputs (for phono stage, CDP). Nowadays, happily, such exist. Here are some I’ve read about:

TOP TIER (no obvious drawbacks)
-- Boulder 865 – generally admired, beautiful square wave (how often do I listen to square waves?)
-- Chord CPM 3350 – heard Chord system once, much impressed; M. Fremer critical, but of older model
-- Pass Labs INT-150 – right features; high praise, low price; can it really sound as good as the others?

SECOND TIER (sound reportedly all right, but with superfluous features like tone controls)
-- Accuphase E550 – should sound about as good as Greg’s two boxes
-- Burmester 032 – gorgeous cosmetics, but more expensive than others; maybe not worth it?

THIRD TIER (technically proficient, but found emotionally lacking by reviewers)
-- GamuT Si 100 – descendant of my present amplifiers
-- Jeff Rowland Continuum 500 – reviewer may have used unsuitable speakers

Grateful for any comparisons, comments, recommendations.
Suggest you also consider the Luxman integrateds, especially their top of line model L-590A2.
McIntosh MA7000 - another one to throw into the bucket. I honestly enjoyed this amp more than the Gamut, Rowland, Pass, and Boulder. These comparisons were done on large floorstanders, monitors, and a set of hybrid electrostatics.

This is just my opinion of course.. but I think McIntosh gets an unfair rap by some of the esoteric audiophile crowd.

I also liked the Burmester integrate. Great stuff.
Krell has a big bad integrated also. I think it's called the Full Power Balanced maybe? If money was of no concern I'd grab the Boulder.
BAT VK-300X Special Edition.That will hit the ball out of the park.
They fly WAY under the radar here in the U.S., but you might also want to consider Coda’s CSi-B integrated. It’s 5,800 factory direct and compares favorably to units costing multiples of its asking price. In fact, my friends and I compared it to the Pass INT-150, and we all agreed that the Coda was the better amp. A buddy also compared it to his Boulder 865 and said it was VERY close, the Boulder perhaps slightly besting the Coda in overall resolution but the Coda sounding more engaging. It’s very smooth and fluid in its presentation—almost tube-like in that regard—but it’s got gobs of power in reserve. So much, in fact, that it loafs along with almost any speaker it’s paired with. Coda will even up the Class A bias upon request. That’s pretty good attention to the customer.
Odyssey Audio offers the cyclops direct to the consumer for a real bargain. Check it out online....use the savings for another upgrade or music:O)
I'll second the Mac suggestion and also add the MA6600. A friend just picked up the 6600 with the optional tuner module, making it a receiver, where he replaced his Bel Canto separates, separates that stood the test against others that came and went. He is as pleased with the Mac as he ever has with any gear.

The MA7000 is their top dog, but it lacks a couple niceties of the MA6600, such as the alpha numeric display, silky smooth digital volume control and the ability to add the tuner module. It all depends on how important those things are to you.
Regarding Rowland Continuum 500, we do not have a completely authoritative review of this device yet. If I recall correctly, the unit was in the reviewer's possession for a very limited time the first time the review was prepared. . . one or 2 days perhaps. Unit was rereviewed later on, and some more time was allowed for the unit to settle in. Unfortunately, class D amps like the Continuum 500 are notorious bears to break in, often requiring more than 700 hours to settle down.
From a purely technical point of view, Continuum 500 is very advanced, as its power supply is front ended by an AC2DC converter that utilizes both Power Factor Correction and a capacitor bank to feed 185V DC to the system. The idea is similar to what Bel canto has recently adopted. . . the Virtual Battery. . . the idea is that if a device is compatible, DC provides much cleaner energy to the circuit than AC, and improves efficiency and linearity.
If memory serves, all inputs are transformer coupled for isolation, and te output circuits are augmented by a capacitor bank to maximize authority.

Unfortunately I have listened to C500 only for a few minutes at RMAF in a noisy room, with tracks I am not familiar with, not enough to form a personal opinion of its musical prowess.

So, in the end, I suggest that rather than C500 being a tier 3 device, its tierage should probably be unassigned. . . a question mark of some kind. Knowing the designer personally, I suspect C500 is a device worth investigating at some length.

Thanks to all for these interesting posts! I have followed each of them up to the extent of checking the specs and reading what reviews I could find of the products mentioned.

The Luxman I had overlooked; it is indeed a contender. McIntosh I have never taken seriously, I suppose because of its appearance, but the reviewers indicate that the MA 7000 outclasses any of its predecessors. The brand is well distributed even here in the wilds of Western Canada; I should contrive to give it an audition (eyes closed, of course).

The Krell FBI, though clearly impressive, reputedly works best with own-brand front ends, and also lacks the second set of balanced inputs that I think would be sonically desirable. To my regret, because it would please me considerably to own a high-performance amp that none of my friends knew existed, Coda and Odyssey also lack additional, or any, balanced inputs. (So, alas, do many other excellent brands like Chapter Audio, Gryphon . . . .)

BAT is another brand I had overlooked but which offers the right facilities; I may be able to hear it locally.

The further information about the Rowland Continuum 500 is particularly welcome, there was some question in my mind about its review and your advice that I should not categorize it too hastily is totally convincing.

Favourable mentions of Burmester and Boulder noted. Instinctively – I can’t justify this – I suspect that Boulder is the one to beat. I hope more A’goners will contribute their expertise to this discussion. Incidentally, my speakers are Accentus 101s, a rather successful Chinese assault on the high end, large floorstanders but not difficult to drive.
Nwickend, on October 1st I might have the opportunity of listening to the Continuum 500 and the Boulder 865 in the same room/system. This will be in Denver at Soundings Hifi. I will post my observations if the A/B comparison materializes. If the house sound of the 2 companies is any indication, I suspect the Rowland may come up ahead in musicality, harmonic coherence, and microdynamics, while the Boulder is likely to come up ahead in staging and instrument placement. We'll see if my hunch proves anything more than the figment of my imagination.

Hooper knows what he's talking about. I have owned my CODA CSi for about 2 years now, and it lacks for nothing in any department. Search this product and see my previous comments. If you are interested, Call Doug Dale at the factory and start a dialog directly with him. He is one of the design engineers and is a straight shooter.
Nwickend, what accuphase model pre/power amp your friend greg have?

CODA's latest version of the CSi does indeed have balanced inputs. A phone call to the CODA factory will be an inexpensive way to answer your technical questions in the most direct way possible. Sonically, this unit is very, very impressive.
i am not sure, but the best integrated i have heard so far would be a musical fidelity a5.5.

i am not sure how it would stack up against some of the ones mentioned in this thread, which are obviously a great deal more expensive.

good luck in your search!
In response to Xmetal: the preamp is a C-245, the power amp a P-370. I see these have been in the Accuphase Product Museum for some time; no wonder Greg would like to see them go. But they do offer fine sound. It makes me wonder: doffing my hair-shirt audio principles (just for a moment, while no-one's looking), there might be something to be said for a loudness-contour adjustment, and certainly for two sets of speaker outputs (very convenient, as my speakers expect bi-wiring). The Accuphase and the Luxman models have a lot in common, and both have received good reports; can anyone assess their sound quality comparatively?

In response to Rtilden: I've sent off an e-mail inquiry to the Coda information address. I'll post what I find out.

In response to Johnzm: I'll look into it. Thanks, to you and to all who've posted. It's enlightening.

Update: Coda, Musical Fidelity, Chord and more

Doug Dale of Coda sent a courteous response to my inquiry, stating that the present Coda has, and the next model will continue to have, just one balanced and one RCA input. This would not only rule out taking full advantage of balanced connections but also exclude using my tuner -- not that I listen to the radio a great deal, but I like to be able to do so on occasion. Regrettable.

Looked into the Musical Fidelity A5.5. Seems like a fine amp, but only RCA inputs. Also regrettable.

To Calgary on Friday, where I auditioned Chord amplification. The demo took place under difficulties. It used (I write from memory) a CPA 3000 and an SPM 1050 pre and power amp rather than the integrated CPM 3350, but that should have made little difference. The dealer's favourite speaker cables were out on loan and his preferred speakers not in stock.

My first reaction was to notice the excellent speed and definition of the sound. The sound stage receded a bit from what I am used to but was none the worse for that. When, however, we came to listen to female vocal (the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson) it became obvious that there was a disagreeable hardening of the sound in the upper treble at higher volumes, which once I had heard it was noticeable also on piano and other instruments. A different cable helped somewhat but did not cure the condition completely.

My conclusion is that Chord may still offer fine amplification but is very sensitive to partnering equipment. The actual demonstration was frankly a great disappointment; I had hoped for much better. Kent after all is the county of my ancestors and I should be supporting its economy, shouldn't I? Not at the moment, apparently.

The Accuphase pre and power pair lent by my friend Greg has now gone home and I have hitched up my old GamuTs; still pleasant, but missing something in the high frequencies, and therefore in harmonic richness. At the same time, the Accuphase combination could sound a bit bright. I don't yet know if the E550 shares such a trait.

I plan to attend the RMAF in Denver. Denver in its mining days led many an incomer to stray from the path of virtue. Will the allure of pure Class A (Accuphase, Luxman) seduce me from stern accuracy (Boulder, Rowland)? Or will some so far unheard siren song divert me to an unexpected landfall? Watch this thread!

In my list appears the Boulder, Vitus, Burmester and Gryphon amps in SS mode. But you can also try a power amp driven thru a passive preamp (small footprint) like the Axiom - it worked for my for a long time.
Update: Rowland, Luxman, and an inconclusive conclusion

Now back from the RMAF. While in Denver was able to hear a demonstration of the Rowland Continuum (thanks to Guido and David who shepherded me there and Rod who did the demo). An impressively convincing amplifier, seamless sound throughout the frequency range, neutral, quick, very competent at sound staging, all the right qualities. Those who had heard both all preferred it to the Boulder. Not even unduly expensive.

Not to leave any possibility unexplored, visited the Accuphase and Luxman rooms. They were demonstrating monoblocks, not their integrateds, but I got a distinct impression of the character of their sound insofar as I sensed the same slight brightness from Accuphase that I had encountered at home and found the Luxman sound natural and pleasing.

But then ....

At one point out of curiosity I dropped in to listen to the SoundSmith strain gauge cartridge and was enchanted. There is a good deal to be said in favour of using Peter Ledermann's phono stage-cum-preamp along with (because they don't need to take up rack space) monoblock power amps. That raises a whole unexpected set of possibilities and prospects. Back to a new beginning! Thanks to all who contributed to this thread, I've learnt a lot, sorry not to have come to a decision yet, but life is full of surprises.


Have you considered the Simaudio i-7 integrated?
The amps you've mentioned are very, very good, to excellent.
A more telling conversation would be, 'what flavor' do you look for in music.
Virtually every designer will tell you that his design has 'no sound of it's own', and I'm sure they're being's just that all have a 'flavor.'
Knowing, your speakers, listening preferences, volume preferences, all play into any good, well thought out recommendation.The problem with recommendations is that everyone 'loves' what they happen to sell, or frankly may not have a wide berth of experience with the 'sounds' that the unit's offer.
Example, a Chord, with a pair of THIEL CS 2.4's would not be to my personal liking...slghtly dry plus slightly dry equals too much of one characteristic. The MAC may be better, (but you may think the MAC sounds a little rolled off, or 'slow'. Note I say, 'you might think.'
That's not to criticize either, just making the point that too much of one particular sound characteristic can be bothersome, (TO ME).
If you're lucky enough to have a B&M store with several models, ask for long term, (week end borrowing priv). If he's/she's nice enough to accommodate, don't consider, (assuming you find what you like) buying elswhere.
Or, if you'd like private advice on basic sound characteristics,(just email me) I'd be happy to acquaint you with my perceptions. This business is so subjective, having additional ears to assist can sometimes be very helpful.

Good luck and good listening.

Or I should say, have you considered the NEW Simaudio 700i integrated? I'm trading in mine for the new model.
Interesting thread. Until recently, I had a GamuT D3/D200 Mk3 combo and am now considering integrateds, so I am interested in your journey, Nwickend.

I want two balanced inputs, so it's a shame that Simaudio only provides one, even in the new 700i (which appears to be a replacement for the i-7).
Drubin...I agree...why only 1 balanced input? Two would seem better with analog and digital balanced sources. Definite show stopper for me.
I'm going to fly in the face of convention and suggest that you listen to an amp that is not on your list: the Atoll IN 100 (or the IN 200 if you need more power).

It's a very simple unit w/ a remote. Provides a wonderfully detailed and sweet sound with the right speakers. No XLR input, but do you really need that? I have not found that XLR adds anything (nor detracts, to be fair) to the equation unless you have very long cable runs.

The Simaudio i7 would also be a great choice, albeit much more expensive.
The Boulder doesn't hold up in comparison to the Rowland Continuum 500, driving the same speakers. At RMAF, several of us heard the 2060 driving Vienna Acoustic Die Muzik speakers, pushed by a Boulder preamp and Boulder CDP. The Boulder had bloated bass that muddied the mids and left the highs dry and slightly acrid. The Rowland 312 was substituted and cleaned up the bass and added richness and detail to the mids and highs that was very apparent.

For grins, we then put the C-500 in the chain, fed directly by the Boulder CDP and it still maintained the bass control and interior richness.

In a separate room heard GamuT's large monoblocks driving their large, tower speakers. I preferred that sound to the Boulder driving Die Muziks, but since the system was completely different it hard to say, other than the GamuT is top tier and by no means behind Boulder.

I think this "tierage" concept is very flawed, but, if you're going to do it, then Rowland would not be a couple of tiers below the Boulder unit.

I disagree with Guido about the C500's break in time. It runs warm compared to most Class-D amps and seems fully broken in at around 200-hours.

For full disclosure, I DO own the C500, but most in the room for the Boulder/Rowland comparison owned neither.

You can fly to Soundings in Greenwood Village, CO and hear the Boulder and Rowland side-by-side for yourself. A Southwest Airlines, weekend fare ticket is a small price when considering an investment like this.

I defer to Dave on C500 break-in. . . he owns one, and I do not. I was with Dave and several other people at Soundings when C500 was contrasted with Boulder 2060 + 2010. . driving the big Vienna Die Muzick flagships. the impressions Dave reported above seemed to be shared by all and sundry. G.
Guido said:
"the impressions Dave reported above seemed to be shared by all and sundry."

Particularly the "sundry." Notice that G is keeping his mouth shut, ever the cautious reviewer. I have no "standards" to live up to, so I say what I heard.

Please do check out the CJ CA200; it has ended my search for the ideal integrated.
I've got a CJ CA200, which is very good, but not in the league with the Rowland C500, the Boulder stereo and the GamuT mono-blocks that I heard.

It's much less expensive and a very good value. It's got a slightly "golden" sound, it's not quite as deeply quiet and not as dynamic (understandable given the lesser power). The degree of difference at this level is very small.

Without knowing what speakers are attached to the amplifier the recommendation exercise is futile.

That said, i think an alternative "Top Tier" could read

Krell FBI
ASR Emitter
Gryphon Diablo
DarTZeel CTH-8550

Some folks might add the AN Ongaku to the list - but one would need very efficient speakers to consider that.
Ayon makes some tasty integrateds, including the orion for under $3k.
For many years, the Rowland has offered very detailed sound, but without that etched, annoyingly sterile sound that sometimes accompanies that description in some amps. Smooth, detailed, and while not as musical, ( but do not assume I am implying colored)as some other amps VERY, VERY good. He's a brilliant designer with an enormously impressive body of work. With some of the prices on used gear these days, a well taken care of Rowland would be a good prospect to consider. I consider him to be one of the select few who knows how to voice an amp for maximum musical pleasure.
Good, listening,