Put the Portal Panache on your list if you don't mind being without a remote. I'm auditioning one right now and I am pretty darn impressed, and I am a tried and true tube guy, so that is saying alot for this SS integrated. There have been four or five rave reviews in the Audio rags, most of which are linked from the website
. I've read all of the comments there and you can get a pretty good idea of the strengths of this amp by reading the reviews. I have not read the TAS review but it supposed to be very positive as well. The highlights of this amp for me, so far are unexpected in my experience with SS amps: Lucious midrange and soaring, seamless, grain-free highs. Soundstaging depth like I've never heard from SS. The Pass Aleph 5 I had did demonstrate the first two qualities, but not the 3-d imaging...soundstaging was wide, but not deep. In addition, what I find one of the very strong suits of the Panache is the clarity of detail (which is a typical strength of a good SS amp), and here this works in its favor over any tube amplification I've heard where detail inevitably seems to be somewhat 'softened' out at the edges. I've been noticing occasional vocal phrases in lyrics of songs which I had not understood before, to now be crystal clear on the Panache. Dynamics are also remarkable. Am I an SS convert? Definitely my preference is still with SET tube amplification, but I'll tell you, for casual listening, and for more dynamic and textured music, this amp is really engaging and fun, and yet still very impressive to sit down in the sweet spot and take it all in. I think I can probably pin it down to one very critical factor for me that keeps tubes holding my heart: presence. There is something about tubes that comes closer for me to recreating a realistic holographic image of a performance in space. As good as this amp is, and it is very good indeed, it still strikes me as 'ampified music' rather than a live performance. My SET system is startilingly live sounding to my ears. It does not, however, posess the hyper-detailed quality, nor the ability to image tremendously complex and layered performances as this amp does. There is a roundness to the sound of tubes, for lack of a better description, that makes it occur to me as more realistic. I've not done any head-to-head comparisons with this amp yet, but it does consistently engage me in the music, and makes for long-term listening pleasure without fatigue. The only reason I'm bringing this piece up to you is that you seem to be looking at all SS components, and I do feel this is a great one, and a steal for the price. The Panache has an excellent headphone section as well. It did not best my Micro-Zotl by any means, again, with that rounder more 'real' tube vocal/midrange taking the cake, but regardless, it is a wonderful, musical and detialed head-amp as well with my Sony cans. Portal offers a 60-day home trial. If you don't like it, send it back and you are just out the shipping. Joe sells demo versions here for $1295 ($500 less than a new one). No association with Portal or Joe Abrams whatsoever. A damn fine integrated IMO. The jury is still out for me personally, but I can recommend it without any reservations as a very worthy contender among integrated amps.