Integrated amp -- Pass Labs vs Luxman vs McIntosh


I posted a similar query earlier but did not get a lot of responses unfortunately. As mentioned before, my speakers are Sonus Faber Olympica II, currently driven by Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II, in a 20x15 dedicated media room. As an aside, I’m already working with GIK acoustics to treat the room. As much as I love the Cronus Magnum II, it’s clearly struggling with the speakers and room dimensions. I have been doing some research and narrowed my choices to the following (Note: mostly looking for used since my budget is $5 - 6k max)

Pass Labs INT-60 -- love the fact that the first 30 watts are all Class A; these don’t come up for sale often though. I’ve heard that these are as close to the tube sound one can get without compromising what makes SS great. I listened to INT-150 a couple of years ago and was really impressed. From what I’ve read, the 60s are clearly a step up in every way. Besides, I’ve always been fascinated by Pass Labs.

Luxman 590AXII -- I have yet to read anything negative about these. I like the fact that they are a class A design. Unfortunately, the only Luxmans I’ve listened to were 20+ years old and did not leave much of an impression (polite to a fault).

McIntosh MA352 -- A friend has the smaller brother, MA252, which I really like but not sure if they have enough juice to drive my speakers. None of the dealers near me carry the MA352 so I have to rely on feedback alone. I like the fact that this is a hybrid.

Another suggestion from a dealer is Naim SuperNait 3, but honestly I don’t know if it competes in the same playground as the aforementioned amps.

My goal is to find a nice balance between the strengths of tubes and SS -- retain good 3D soundstage, instrument separation, midrange magic, but not at the expense of bass and dynamics. I do understand that I cannot expect an SS, regardless of class A or not, to have the same lush, holographic presentation of tube amps, but want something that gets as close as possible.

I would love to listen from owners or people who have heard the amps before. Since I’m buying used, I will not have the opportunity to return them so due diligence is necessary.




arafiq
The new CODA integrated I believe has similar tech as the CODA #8 amp that lot of people are raving about. You should check them out since I think they are giving you a lot bang for the buck. The PASS guy(s) and CODA guy(s) came from the same company.

https://destinationhifi.com/collections/coda-technologies/products/coda-csib-integrated-amplifier?va...

I have SF and believe they sound best with tubes. If you can get your hands on Audio research integrated tube amp you will not regret it. Stay away from hybrid, there is nothing tube like to their sound, just pretty lights. MACs are a good match with SF, but those tube amps are above your budget. I'd stay away from less known amps, they are harder to re-sell. 
I am currently using Luxman 590AXII in my system since 6 months or so. I am very happy with it and highly recommend. The class A from this amp is very musical and tube like. I was looking for most of the characters you desired and I think all my boxes are checked. I cannot recommend this amp more. Of course, try to listen them before you buy, but you will have no regrets, even if you buy it blindly. The build, looks, the VU meters, multiple tone controls, and ability to use 2 speakers sets are just an added bonus. I usually change gears a lot, but I think, this will stay for long (unless I get a very good deal on their separates, C900 and M900, which is less likely). Good luck. 
Thanks for the feedback everyone.

@yyzsantabarbara Surprisingly, I had never heard of the CODA amps up until now. Thanks for the suggestion, will definitely look into it. Wondering how the one you mentioned compares to the Pass Labs INT-60. The biggest difference, at least on paper, is that the CODA does 5 watts in class A, whereas the 60 does 30. Second concern is resale value. 

@ei001h -- Audio Research is definitely something I would love to get in my system, but I'm not sure if there is anything (used) that falls within my price range. Do you mind sharing which one you had in mind?
@romney80 -- appreciate the feedback! The Luxman is definitely a top contender alongside with the Pass Labs INT-60. I hope one shows up used in the classifieds some time soon. I was just wondering if you bought it new, and if so, were you able to get a discount from your dealer. You can PM me directly if you don't wish to share the information publicly.
@arafiq  The guy to go on the CODA gear is teajay. He has stirred the pot up pretty good around here getting the word out on the new CODA gear, specifically the #8 and #16.

I was actually thinking of the #8 to pair with my new Thiel CS3.7s + Benchmark HPA4/LA4 preamp. However, the Benchmark guys convinced me that their AHB2 amp in mono will work on my 2 Ohm load so I will try another AHB2 (home trial it) before I try the perfectly matched CODA #8 with the Thiels.
Definitely Luxman (what I'd pick) or Pass of the three you listed in title.  But try to hear all of them and choose what you like.
OP - what do you hear/mean when you say that the Magnum is 'clearly struggling with the speakers and room dimensions'?

Going the opposite way with power with your short list seems counter productive.
Audio research Gsi75 integrated is superb, but not cheap. It was about 16k new, now can probably get for around 10k. 

I second Luxman, they're amazing amps. Id take the Luxman 590AXII over pass, and definitely over MAC. I own Mac system as well, it sounds great with SF, but way too romantic and lush. 

I'd still recommend tubes with SF. Audio research Ref 75 is superb, but you'd need a preamp. You can get this amp for about 4-5k used and get a decent tube preamp for around 1-2k. Tubes make SF sound absolutely sublime. Once you hear tubes, its hard going back to SS. 
i would suggest what you are really looking for is a big hegel -- if it is indeed the sound that matters... h360 h390 or h590

no affiliation ...
What jjss49 said. The big Hegel’s really shine!
If you buy a Coda directly from Coda,  they will bias the amp differently if requested.  It comes in 3 versions, v1 is 400 watts per channel, v2 is 250 watts per channel and v3 is 150 watts per channel.  It is all the same amp, the difference is how the amp is biased to produce more class A output.  
@erikt You're right, I should have been more clear in my original post. First of all, I want to make sure that I absolutely loved the Cronus Magnum II when it was in my home office driving the Harbeth P3esr's. I had rolled some tubes to tailor it to my liking and was completely satisfied with the sound. Hope nobody interprets this post as a knock on the Cronus Magnum II. In fact, once I get another amplifier for the media room, the Cronus will be back in my home office and stay there for a very long time.

Now, when using the same amp in the media room with the Sonus Fabers, it does get plenty loud, in fact I've never gone above the 11'o clock position on the dial. The issues that I am having (some of them have been mitigated to some extent though, I'll tell you why later) are ...

Bass is not as tight or punchy -- I'm working with GIK acoustics so let's see if that helps. But I can tell the amp does not have as much control on those woofers.

Soundstage depth and imaging -- not as good as I was expecting. Definitely the nice 3D holographic image that I was getting in the study is missing, imaging or placement of instruments is not as precise or locked in. Also, the sound is less fleshed out.

Vocals -- not as centered or forward as before. On some recordings, I expect the singer to be standing a few feet ahead of the rest of the musicians, but right now it's rather 2D. BTW, this is one area where I miss the harbeth sound sooo much!

Refinement -- there is just a general lack of refinement and liquid sound. Instruments suddenly jump at you out of nowhere, and not in a good way if you know what I mean. 

So in summary, it's not necessarily the lack of volume that's bothering me, but all the other aspects that I mentioned above.


@jjss49 Thanks for the recommendation. I had heard a Hegel (I think it was a 360) a few years ago at someone's house, and felt that it was a bit boring. Of course, that could have been his setup as well. But I've been told that the sound characteristics are quite a bit different than say a Luxman or Mac. I found it to be a bit too neutral for my taste.

The other thing is the looks. I know this is somewhat superficial, and in the ideal world sound should trump everything else. But boy, do they go out of their way to make it look as plain and nondescript as possible. I guess the scandinavian, utilitarian look is not my cup of tea. However, I am going to reach out to my dealer and see if I can arrange a demo (H390) before scratching it off my list.
@jjss49 Having said that, you're one of the few posters here whose opinion I value very highly. If you like Hegel, there has to be something about it that I missed earlier. I will definitely ask my dealer for a demo if possible.
@arafiq

thank you, you are nice to say that

yes please demo an h390 or 590... i have been through sooooo many amps... to me, the big hegels do something extraordinarily right, the top ones are voiced with a touch of warmth along with the tight tuneful full bass control they are famous for, and not the slightest trace of solid state hash or edge - all the detail and air is there but without any artificial emphasis

at the end of the day, their sound and their styling may not work for you, but i highly recommend you should experience it for yourself and decide
There seems to be so much confusion around Hegel and Roon readiness. If I'm buying used, say H390, it has to be able to act as a Roon endpoint without any hassle. I'm surprised a company of this size is still struggling with Roon.
Third the Luxman L-590AXII. All good recommendations which include the top Hegel integrated and top Pass Labs.

The Luxman will give its best if you use balanced connections (interconnects) and quality power cord. It’s quite sensitive to cabling and will sound better with high quality cables. A smooth sound with a grain and sibilance free presentation of Class A and dynamics and slam of Class AB. The best of both worlds at reasonable cost in comparison to costlier alternatives from the likes of Vitus etc. Highly recommended.
@arafiq 

you are correct, hegel for some reason has a problem with implementing roon endpoint capability on their gear

i am not a roon user so it hasn't affected me... i don't even use their dac section - just the amp

but i totally get that this may be a deterrent, or even a deal breaker, for some who are roon users
I'm thinking of a slightly different strategy, not sure if this makes sense. But hear me out, and tell me if this might be a better approach ...

I realized that I still have my Cambridge Audio Azur 851D DAC that can act as a preamplifer (volume control). So my plan is as follows: Buy a really nice used power amp (SS Class A by the likes of Luxman, Pass Labs, Audio Research, or anything else that you guys suggest), and drive it with the Cambridge Audio for a few months. When funds become available, buy a tube preamp to replace the CA.

What do you guys think?
A less expensive option, especially given the strong Hegel support here, and triggered by your mention of the Cambridge Audio just now.

You could go with a Cambridge Audio Edge A integrated amp at $6k US. The mag HiFi news reviewed both the top-of-line $11k Hegel H590 and the Edge A, and concluded that sonically there is very little difference between the two, despite the Edge A costing just over half as much.

Here’s the full article, much more detailed than my synopsis:
https://www.cambridgeaudio.com/sites/default/files/revies/pdf/HiFi%20News%20Edge%20A%20Review_2018.p...

I own the Edge W stereo power amp and it is very good, fwiw.
If I am not mistaken, the CODA integrated does use the developments from the 8 and 16 amplifier, but uses the older 6 for its preamp section, not the newer and lauded 7.
Before I purchased my Luxman 590AXII, I was thinking similar to your approach. Some DAC are good enough pre-amp, but unless you have very good DAC/player (worthy of Luxman, pass or Hegel), you will eventually end up buying a separate pre-amp. I suggest you make that decision now (amp and preamp or int amp). As I mentioned earlier, the 590AXII sounds so good, I am thinking of upgrading to separates (it is just evolution in this journey). So, if you are thinking of separates, go for it, but it can get expensive and usually lasts long. 
@romney80 -- I agree about getting a good preamp, and that's what I intend to do down the line. The Cambridge Audio will be a temporary fix until I get a proper preamp. Anyways, I will most likely end up getting an integrated after all.
Good luck. Let us know, which one you choose and your listening experience. 
Finally decided to pull the trigger on a used Audio Research GSi75. I demoed a few amps at a local dealer and sellers in my city -- Hegel H390, Luxman 509x, Moon Audio 340i, Rega Aethos, and Audio Research. In the end, the sound of valves was too intoxicating to give them up. Of the other amps I auditioned, Luxman was a very, very close second. I'll post my impressions once I get the unit and let it settle in.
Good to hear you have settled with the Audio Research GSi75. At a list price of $16,000 and glowing reviews everywhere, I’m sure it’s something special. Since the GSi75 is a tube amp, it will sound quite different from most solid-state amps which include Class A types.

The L-509X will sound rather different from the Audio Research GSi75. I believe the L-590AXII will sound closer to it.

Enjoy ~
@ryder Sorry I meant to type 590axii not 509x. The dealer hooked up both 590 and 509 to the same speakers, but honestly I couldn't tell the difference during the audition. Both sounded fantastic!

And I completely agree with you that it was a very, very close second to the ARC. In fact, it was a tough decision to pick one or the other. To be honest, I would have been happy with either one. What tipped the scales in the ARC's favor was that not only does it have a much more expansive soundstage, but the built-in DAC is truly reference level. According to some reviews, the DAC is pretty much the same as ARC DAC9 which retails for $7500. The level of detail and clarity was something I had never heard before (admittedly, I had never heard any DACs > $3500 prior to this). 

Having said that, I felt that the Luxman had more slam and looked much nicer ... those VU meters! But the soundstage and clarity of the ARC was at a much higher level. I suspect that was mostly due to the built-in DAC.
I'm a bit late to the discussion, but the Ayre Acoustics AX-5 Twenty is the most tube-like integrated that I have heard, and seems to check off your other boxes as well. 
They can be found used in the $6200-6800 range.  Good luck!
OP, which speakers were used to compare the ARC versus the Luxman?
@kren0006 -- The dealer demoed both brands with Sonus Faber Olympica Nova II. Since I have the previous version (Olympica II), we thought it would be a reasonable match. It was really a toss up between the ARC and Luxman. Like I said, I would have been happy with either.