Is the color in the amp , the preamp, the souce?

I'm sure I have seen this discussed at different points in time, but seeing that I just bought a new for me 5 channel ATI 1505, it got me wondering again, especially when I read this can be a "Cool" sounding amp.

Sorry in advance if I am ignorant on this subject, I am trying to learn. If I don't ask, how will I know???

My interpretation was that power amps were supposed to simply amplify the sound, with the better amps having lower distortion and higher actual power. I also understood the more neutral the amp the better. Now I realize tube amps are a different animal altogether, so my focus is on solid state only here.

Would it not be preferable to add any coloration (if one so chooses), warm, cool, what have you via the source and/or the preamp? This being said, and if true... what makes say a Bryston, Krell, Mac, or any multitude of expensive amps better, all things being equal? Let's say all the amps we are considering all put the same #'s up, same wattage, same low distortion, and they all use a large torroidal transformer, so they all have plenty off juice. Would you get seriously different sound if all the other components were the same, and if so Why? Obviously differing the power changes things, but lets go hypothetical here for comparison sake.
I have a hard time understanding (all specifications being equal) how an amplifier can sound different. Isn't all the signal processing done in the pre, the source, or both?

Again, sorry for my ignorance. Sometimes a little knowledge is more dangerous than none :)
Baxter178 - Lots and lots of issues are raised by your post. It's obvious you have asked these questions in earnest, so I hope fellow A'goners will keep that in mind when responding (I've noticed things have been a bit volatile around here lately).

By way of response, I can recommend that you take a look at this thread. It has a long and detailed discussion of coloration, neutrality, accuracy, and other concepts relevant to your questions. As you will see from even a brief perusal, this is a complicated subject with widely diverging points of view.
1)There's no such thing as neutrality - all components render a sonic signature of some sort, and every one is different. The only thing that sounds the same is all of those doubting Thomas's who say that "all __x__ sound the same". Many devices may sound the same to the untrained ear, and not all listeners are as sensitive to these sonic differences. This is where the argument can certainly become ugly.

2)The trick to this is to find a desirable synergy between all of your componentry, that which matches up with your sonic preferences. So that signature which you prefer doesn't necessarily match up with one that I, or anyone else, would prefer. You have to please yourself, and nothing else really matters. The colorations of componentry, cabling, and speakers all combine into the overall sonic signature which you hear. Your goal is to find the characteristics that you like, then combine (synergize) them into your overall perferred sound. This is not easy.

3)"Better" is what sounds better to YOU alone. So even if the front end is all the same, speakers are the same, cabling is the same, and the listening room is the same, then simply changing the amp alone will indeed result in a different overall signature. Why? Many contributing factors go into these variables such as design, component variations, and the interaction between the reactive characteristics of upline cabling, the component in question, and the downline cabling.

4)Ignore the specifications; that has little to do with it. Much componentry, cabling, and speakers are all well designed & built in the present state of the art. Power output levels are not so much of a contributing factor either, except at the extremes where headroom and clipping come into play.

5)It will take you years to understand all of this, and even then you'll only have a clue. No one knows all the answers, and the more you know the more questions you'll have. Read these forums often, and do avail yourself of the multitude of knowledge found in the forum archives. That is what they are there for and you will learn a lot therein. Enjoy it: it is a lot of fun, it is at times confusing, and everyone has differeing views so keep that in mind. It's all about opinions, and everybody's got one.
I have a hard time understanding (all specifications being equal) how an amplifier can sound different.
First let me say that I second and applaud Bryon’s admonition to others who may respond.

Here are some reasons that come to mind as to why similarly spec’d amplifiers may sound different. There are undoubtedly a great many others, both known and generally understood, and unknown/unexplainable:

1)Amplifier specs are generally based on the assumption that the speaker has a resistive 8 ohm or 4 ohm impedance. Real-world speakers have significant reactive (inductive and capacitive) impedance components, which vary widely among different speakers, and, for a given speaker, vary widely with frequency. Loads having significant reactive impedance components are more difficult to drive than purely resistive loads, and different amplifiers will have differing degrees of success doing so.

2)Harmonic distortion created by an amplifier is commonly spec’d in the form of TOTAL harmonic distortion (THD). However, the audible significance of THD is highly dependent on WHICH harmonics are present in the distortion spectrum, and to what degree.

3)Different amplifier designs use differing amounts of feedback. Feedback can reduce THD, improve linearity, and lower output impedance. However, it can introduce or worsen Transient Intermodulation Distortion (TIM), which is not generally specified and which subjectively can be more objectionable than the effects that are helped by feedback. A high quality design will need little or no feedback to minimize those effects, and will therefore have minimal TIM, but will tend to be more expensive.

4)Amplifier output impedance (equal to “damping factor” divided into 8 ohms) is a parameter that is fundamental to the interaction of amplifier and speaker. Although damping factor is usually specified, the specs for different amplifiers vary widely, and precise prediction of what combination of output impedance and speaker will be most synergistic is generally not possible.

5)Different amplifier classes are subject to differing kinds of distortion.

6)Amplifier power supplies generate high frequency noise, due to an effect known as “rectifier commutation,” which, depending on its frequency components and amplitude, can radiate or couple into circuit points in other parts of the system, with unpredictable results.

7)Ultrasonic or rf spurii that may be fed into or picked up by the amplifier can intermodulate with the audio signal, resulting in effects within the audible spectrum. The degree to which that happens will be dependent on the bandwidth, the circuit topology, the physical layout, and other characteristics of the amplifier.

8)Unspecified stray capacitances in the amplifier’s power transformer will affect sensitivity of the system to ground loop-related hum and buzz (subjectively affecting background “blackness”).

9)The behavior of different amplifiers when over-driven or clipped will vary significantly, particularly when comparing tube and solid state designs.

10)Amplifiers have differing amounts of “dynamic headroom,” meaning the ability to deliver greater amounts of power than their continuous power rating, for limited amounts of time. Dynamic headroom may or may not be specified, but even if it is, amplifiers with similar amounts of specified headroom will vary widely in terms of how long that increased power level can be supplied for.

11)Parts quality will affect sonics in ways that are not readily specifiable or predictable.

As I said, there are many more known and unknown reasons for sonic differences between similarly specified amplifiers, but hopefully these will give you a general flavor.

-- Al
I think it is safe to say that no two manufacturers of amps produce identical products. This should be obvious even if they use similar circuits.
t is common knowledge that the measurement parameters despite obeying the laws of physics are not neccesarily meaningful as percieved by the listener. This fact is perplexing but I am sure you will agree if you listen to a variety of amps with "good" measurments, You might even find that some with the most power and lowest distortion are not the ones you prefer.
Not just to be a contrarian -there are indeed, "low" power SS amps that garner much praise. Thus the assumption that high a power amplifier,is a "better" one, should probably dismissed while exploring, what as Bob_bundus aptly elaborated, is the best total system that suits your preferences.
I am of the school that believes that " high fidelity" as in closely resembling the actual music played is only a matter of approximating the original. The rest is highly subjective. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I agree with your basic premise. I've always attempted that the Power Amp should primarily be matched to the requirements of the speaker, and, it should be as close to a "neutral" sound as possible. of course "Neutral" is in the ear of the listener.

I then have tailored the overall system character by using specific upstream gear, primarily Preamp and Interconnects.

I myself lean toward large solid state power amps driving in my case my long time preference of Planar speakers.

I then dial in the overall sound with a "CJ or CJ Like" tube based preamp and of course cables.

Obviously, depending on the power amp's "neutral-ness" or lack thereof, upstream choices are affected.

Once I become very familiar with the preamp/poweramp/speakers overall sound, it's pretty easy to experiment with source gear and determine how a given DAC/CDPlayer etc. affects the "base" system sound provided by the preamp/poweramp/speakers combo.

Just my 2cents, YMMV, Don't try this at home, yadda yadda yadda.
Don't worry about what color,find the color you like,sit back and enjoy your music.
I like Almargs explanation - clear, concise, and responsive. But, for a broader view, I really like Bob Bundus comments. For me, they represent a seasoned view on the subject of system synergy, i.e. getting it to sound as you would like it.

FWIW I hung out with the spec's crowd when I used SS stuff. But it was clear (and frustrating) that all similar spec'd amps don't sound the same when you put them in use, if for no reason other than how it interfaced with your speakers and how they interfaced with your room. Eventually I learned that the best starting point in selecting an amp was to contact the speaker manufacturer and ID the amp he used in the speaker design process. I figured that was as close to 'neutral' as I could expect to get, assuming the speaker designer had neutrality in mind when the speakers were created.

Once that level of neutrality was obtained I got my color upstream. Then I found tubes ......:-)
the room and the speakers.
Neutrality is simply a fiction. Since no device is perfectly neutral, we tend to purchase those devices that are colored in ways that we personally find to be consonant with the fabric of the music.

As an example, amp A may have .2% second harmonic distortion and amp B might have seventh harmonic distortion that is an order of magnitude less. Yet I might still say that the amp with the much greater level of second harmonic is more neutral, as the distortion is less jarring to my ear. Unfortunately, we are all just picking the distortion spectra that we can live with.
Is the color in the amp, the preamp, the source?

To add to my earlier post, and to address the OP more directly: I think there is a general consensus among audiophiles that colorations exist in every component in the system. Perhaps the greatest contributors to coloration are the two things you didn't mention - the speakers and the room. Regardless, some audiophiles conclude from the fact that every component is colored that neutrality does not exist.

I, for one, believe that neutrality exists, in the sense of ‘degree of absence of coloration.’ Although every component is colored, not every component is equally colored. Some components are more colored than others. Components that are less colored are more neutral, in the sense of ‘degree of absence of coloration.’ This issue was debated at great length in the thread I mentioned in my earlier post, so I will not belabor it here. I mention it only by way of addressing your question…

Would it not be preferable to add any coloration (if one so chooses), warm, cool, what have you via the source and/or the preamp?

As I understand it, you are asking whether there are any generalizations about selecting components for neutrality or coloration based upon their function in the system. For example, is it better to have neutral speakers and a colored source, or a neutral source and colored speakers? Answering those kinds of questions would be helpful for achieving the kind of system synergy that several other posters have (rightly) emphasized. Unfortunately, my suspicion is that there few, or possibly no, generalizations about these questions that hold true across a wide variety of systems.

Having said that, I do believe that, when assembling a system, it is valuable for an audiophile to ask himself how each components is colored (i.e. deviates from neutrality). The answer will always be speculative to some extent, since we can listen to components only in the context of a whole system. But it is valuable nonetheless, because, even if we get it only approximately right, understanding how each component is colored will help us get closer to the sound we are looking for. This is particularly true when the colorations in question are not euphonic. As for the best place to deliberately add euphonic colorations to a system, I suspect that that is a question that can be answered only through experimentation, and even then it will be a matter of taste.
Guys, I want to thank you all very much. I feel I've gleaned a bit of information from all of you. Some (OK, a LOT of) technical, and quite a bit of perceptive info, but all appreciated. It must be really nice to either work in an audio shop that sells quality gear, or have an excess of play money and time to try different pieces. Perhaps when I retire I can play more :)

This discussion helps me stop worrying about what the name on the case says, and use my ears as the real judge. I have been feeling like I'm sure a lot of people feel, that if you can just take that one step higher up the dollar ladder, you can achieve greater musical satisfaction. I see now this may or may not the case (based on far too many variables), and in fact something that may coat much less might in fact sound better to my own ears.

The one down side to all this information, is that it makes it almost impossible to get an answer as to which xyz is better. I guess the best one can do in this regard is to ask a question in poll form, then weed through and try the most popular first.

Anyways, thank you all for your thoughts and time. I will bookmark this, an refer to it anytime I get nametagitis again :)
I got to thinking, and I hope my last post didn't go off topic onto name plates. What I meant was that you guys had more than satisfactorily answered my question on coloration, and at the same time gave me a better overall view of using a brand name as a guide to getting better sound. Other peoples descriptions of perceived sound qualities will vary widely, and obviously a system as a whole will be of utmost importance. Thank you all again for the very in depth information and opinions.
no two devices operate or sound the same because well they are designed and built differently. almarg hits upon many of the technical reasons nicely.

how to sort through it all and decide what will work best though?

my advice is always to do your homework before taking a plunge. an amp must interact directly with speakers and pre-amp or source. published specs can provide guidelines to help estimate how well these will work or synergize as they say together. remember that an amp alone produces no sound, only signal. how the signal is transferred effectively or not frompiece to piece largely determines end results. good pieces matched well to each other and the room will almost always sound good. a lot of the rest is a matter of personal taste and preference.