Most resolving, transparent amps.

What has your experience been in amplifiers?

The most transparent, detailed amps you've encountered.
I like to hear everything that's going on and follow the different lines and instruments but it does need to come together musically.
Dead quiet, black background, dimesnional, layered, imaging, open, extended top end - all qualities of top amps, I think. Let the music come through as it was put on the disc - no editorializing.

What have you found?
NuForce Reference 8. The most resolving, transparent amps I ever heard.

I friggin' hated them.
Amta-Sphere MA-2 MkIII -- this remarkable OTL (class A, zero feedback, triode tube, 220w) monoblock amp continues to impress me beyond all others I've heard for its ability to step out of the way of the music. Yes, it hits all the points you mention.
I have been pretty impressed with the TEAD Linear A amp. You need to respect it's power restrictions with proper speaker matching but within it's cpabilities it is excellent.
Nuforce Ref 9

I friggin' love them.
LEt me also include the ability to portray space, decay and ambience - which to me are all signs of getting the frequency extremes correct and a very high signal to noise ratio.
NuForce Reference 9SE gets my vote so far, and it's a very musically satisfying amp, as well. I'm having mine upgraded to the Version 2 model, which is supposed to be noticeably better... Hard to believe, but I guess I'll know in a couple of weeks!
TRL D225 stereo amp. Monoblock version is available as well.
The BAT 150SE was the one for me. I currently added the VK52SE and even without the break in period complete, I am very impressed with the combo.
I've had a couple digital amps lately and frankly I'm still trying to come to grips with them,sure they sound good,have good bass,good clarity.Now I'm listening to a Tandberg 3012 well if you have ever heard one of these ,lets just say way back when, they created something magic,it has just been serviced all switches cleaned,upgraded caps,better speaker relay put in.Which is better ?You didnt really think i was going to answer that one now did you.Give me a couple months and i will see what i come up with.
The finest amplification I ever head was the dartzeel amp and pre-amp combo. Nothing I have ever head compares. Keep in mind that I am partial to tubes and dartzeel is transistors.
Karan 270 so neutral that you only hear the music and the environment it's played in.
Nuforce ref 9se. soon to be V2, these amps are as holographic as any one could expect.
I have not heard an amp that equals, or even approaches the Dartzeel in this regard. Combined with a beautifully sweet midrange, it is really quite special.
I love both Nuforce Ref 9SE and OTL amps (Navison or Atmasphere), they are both very detailled and transparent.
Nuforce works very nicely on hard to drive speakers but if the speaker are easy to drive the air, image and layering of the OTL amps have no equal.

The preamp also is very important to get a good result.
amps are generally at the mercy of your loudspeakers and source. there are an unlimited supply of tranparent choices, but matching with speakers is the most important step.
My H2O Signature monos, which have kept pace with cap and module upgrades are fully transparent, detailed, and equal in decay properties of the finest tube amps. No amp can do that alone. The H2O is a slave to upstream components. All the beauty, depth, and naturalness can be attributed to the AN DAC I use.
Nuforce Reference 9SE Mark XII Limited Edition with the Platinum mods and Li-ion battery pack with pure silver jimmies on top and Whore-Hose power cord. I friggin'...oh noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo, it's Mr. Bill! Say, have you seen my green pal, Gunbei? He hasn't been round here much lately. Don't all you claymation dudes stick together? Sorry, just yankin' your Play-Dough™ chain.

I've got a love/hate relationship with transparency. I'm ambivalent. Jury's still out, but I think I like some meat on the bones...a bit of color. But then again, that transparency stuff is like breathing in fresh country air. Can I have both?

Good thread, especially since I've been curious about both OTL and Class D (very limited and positive exposure to the former, and none to the latter).

When I consider it, I don't think I've really heard any amps that I'd consider really transparent. Parasound Halo HC1's might have come close, but in doing so, they really bored me, sounding almost 'sterile'. I don't think that would necessarily be the case with other amps being discussed here (entirely different topology), though I have not heard any of them to comment.

I will add that the most transparent pre-amp I've ever heard excels in transparency, IMO, and is very affordable: Placette passive. It's like putting nothing between your source and your amp. I'd suggest that, in this discussion, the interface of not only the speakers, but the preamp as well (perhaps even more so) would have a strong bearing on overall transparency. But, for that matter, so would all the components in the chain of the system.

Got a dumb question. How can I tell (without actually listening and evaluating synergy, especially with speakers) if an amp is in fact going to be 'transparent'? Are amps universal in application? If, when I hear a system, I judge to be less than transparent how do I know it's the amp as opposed to the IC's, cables, line stage, etc, that I'm using with it. Is there an absolute reference?

Please help me understand. To the benefit of a lot of merchants I've never been able to figure this out. :-)
05-21-07: Jax2
I've got a love/hate relationship with transparency...I think I like some meat on the bones...a bit of color. But then again, that transparency stuff is like breathing in fresh country air.
Essentially, this is my position as well, although I have less problem choosing color over transparency.

Transparency leads to accurate reproduction of the source material, but beacuse of the mechanical nature of recording reproduction, it is my belief that transparency does not lead to reproduction of music in the listening space. IMO, music requires color, which why I react so negatively to digital amplifiers and other uncolored amplifiers.

There is no way to tell how transparent a given amp may be without listening to it with familiar recordings (so you have some basis for comparison.

If the amp is in an unfamiliar system you must consider the system as a whole. The sonic characteristics can not be attributed to any particular piece contained therein. The only way to get an idea of the amp's capabilities in an unfamiliar system is to change to a different amp and see what gets better, or worse...
Newbee, I can only speak for my system. I mentioned the source. Somebody also brought out the importance of the preamp, if any. I would add that with class D amps, the cabling is critical as well. I have found only three that work well, Shunyata, Anti-cable, and Cerious. There are no doubt more, but they will not be box or hose cables.
Second the atma-sphere MA2 MkIII. And it's not just "sounds", I have actually heard individual notes that were previously obscured. Little things, like a ghosted guitar note. Also, the ability to follow the musical lines, especially in the bass. I would stress this the most: the bass lines are the most clear and disticnt I have ever heard, better (to my ears) than the Dart's, BAT, and Halcro.

How can I tell (without actually listening and evaluating synergy, especially with speakers) if an amp is in fact going to be 'transparent'? Are amps universal in application? If, when I hear a system, I judge to be less than transparent how do I know it's the amp as opposed to the IC's, cables, line stage, etc, that I'm using with it. Is there an absolute reference?

You make a good point, Newbee. I guess I'm judging by some direct comparisons within a single system using familiar music, but that doesn't take into account synergy with speakers, and there most certainly is no absolute reference. Then again, how do any of us judge any of this stuff given that it is always attached to a chain of other components, which may or may not have synergy for whatever reasons. A good reason to take everything you read with a pound'o'salt and make your own judgments in your own system. I guess this is just input and a point of departure, but I find it interesting in this discussion that Class D and OTL comes up over and over. There have been very few mentions of tube amps here.

"How do any of us judge...."

Marco, I simply use one of those old forked sticks used to find water wells. Amazing devices! :-)

Don't take my post personal, it had more to do with the premise of the thread than anything else. In your system that amp that lets you hear the sound you want to hear IS, IMHO, the most transparent. If it reminds you of live music more than anything else its more transparent. Notice I didn't say detailed in the sense of an increase in high frequency information used enhance a feeling of expanded sound stage or sonic minutia you would never hear unless you were sitting next to the instrumentalist.

Personally I think Tvad has taken the right path at the fork in this road. Now I'm just curious about the amp he is getting to replace his Moscode. :-)

BTW, I've read quite a bit about both D amps and OTL's. I would love to hear the OTL's on some good electrostats.......
I guess for me "transparency" is not necessarily the sound of live music, per se, but the lack of a presence of some distortion, coloration, static, noise, grunge, etc. between the recorded music and the listener. How well the music is mixed and recorded then becomes a critical criteria as to whether or not it sounds like "Live" music. No amount of transparency is going to make a poor recording sound "live". I've heard recordings where what otherwise might be wonderful nuance of detail, becomes an annoying distraction - this is where a very revealing system arguably becomes a liability.


PS I wasn't taking your post as a personal, Newbee, I did think you made a good point.
Marco, I think that is a fair definition of 'transparency' in fact it is probably the most appropriate one. I always get confused about the difference between transparency to the recorded sound and transparency to the sound live, except when I've just gone to a concert. I need to get out more! :-)
Lamm M1.2 Ref. does it for me. (110watt class A hybred). Clairty/Resolution with an organic realism.

Marco is right. That is why I stressed system synergy. The fact is, however, their is no getting all the, " Dead quiet, black background, dimensional, layered, imaging, open, extended top end...," without an amp that can disappear with the best wires, front end, and speakers.

I have heard top dollar OTL systems, built for synergy. I love them. It takes a whole lot more power to bring out the best of my speakers, more akin to electrostats. The way I have, I prefer mine.
there are a lot of terms used in our hobby.
the determining factor is your ears and your room.
this is what makes this forum so loaded with terms and gives us all of this info.
until you hear componentes, sources, and wires in your own music room then you will know for your self how it sounds.
i am guilty in the fact of advising gear as much as anyone. but in the end i guess thats why we are here on the gon.
and it goes on and on.
music cant live without it. yea
I define transparency as a simple increase in gain from the source to the speakers. The magic is translating the medium, be it analog or digital, into electrical signals and sending them to the transducers, be they boxes or electrostats. My Bel Canto M300s are not perfect. They will not transform bad digital sources into music, nor correct bad recordings or mixes or pressings. What they will do is translate very accurately the source to the speaker. The problem can be with the source and source material. If it is well recorded, well mixed and well pressed, the Bel Cantos are excellent at presenting it. This assumes that the speakers match and there is synergy with the pre-amplifier. If the source has faults, the Bel Cantos will display them. If you believe even-ordered harmonics bring to life true music, then you need a tube pre-amp or a tubed amp. The Bel Cantos are very real and transparent, warts and all. With my tubed output CDP, and vinyl LPs, I have real music. They are life-like and transparent. I recommend that you try them out and see for yourself, before you take my word or the words of anyone else.
I think I like some meat on the bones...

If you miss the meat then you don't have a transparent system, just a lean one.
Real transparency includes the meat.
If you miss the meat then you don't have a transparent system, just a lean one.
Real transparency includes the meat.

OK, alright, you sussed me out; it's the pudding I'm after. I want pudding! I promise that I'll eat my meat, but I want my pudding too!

I've found that I tend to prefer systems that have a bit of a midrange boost, which is commonly associated with "warmth", and not so much with transparency. I wonder if both can coexist in a happy, healthy know, one without the alcoholic amplifier who comes home and beats up the preamp because he had a bad day at work. The speakers always end up in therapy, and probably end up in some other disfunctional system later on down the line. So the same sad circle is perpetuated from system to system. For God's sake, we ought to lock em' all up and throw away the keys!

I think a good analogy of the term transparency would be the difference between looking through a dirty window as opposed to one that is extremely clean. In audio, I believe transparency is when the music's natural acoustics, ambience/reverberations along with the original signal are mostly preserved when the sound reaches your speakers. This is usually accomplished through components that have a very short signal path with good engineering & quality parts. It was mentioned above that passives are very successful in being very transparent which I find to be true. It doesn't take an audio engineer to figure why this is so since a passive has very few internal parts. In keeping with solid state amps, I think ARCs 100.2, Bat VK200 are very transparent. But it should also be mentioned as it was that a recording should be of sufficient quality, containing enough information for transparency to be present in varying degrees as well.
The better Krell amps! In my opinion for a power amp to be truly transparent it almost has to be a non-tubed design. I have never heard (which does not mean that they don't exist) a tubed amp that one could truly call transparent. For the most part, tube amps will add their footprint to the sonic signature of the music, whether that be considered warmth, distortion, smoothness?

In my opinion a transparent amp does not impart any sonic signature of its own, it just conveys the music from the source, cable and preamp as it is delivered to it. It does not add or detract anything. I have not heard all of the amps mentioned herein, but my Krell FPB does this better than any other amp I have owned or heard in my system. It doesn't take or add life, veil or add musicality, create or reduce grain or grit. It does seem to have excellent control of the music and not run out of power in my set-up/room. I can hear the ambience in different recording, the decay and leading edge transients in different records and clearly conveys the footprint of changes in cables. Additionally, it is built like the proverbial tank by a company that has been around quite some time.

All this being said, I don't know if this is what everybody wants in an amplifier?
I also vote for atmasphere's line up of OTL amps; they seem to be in another league: resolution,imaging and proper timbre is where these amps excell in my opinion.
Boulder 2060
Edge NL Reference
Halcro DM 68
Gryphon Antellion Solo Signatures
I humbly submit Italy's Delta Sigma - simply the most transparently pure I have ever heard with shocking, lightning fast dynamics and extension to 3Mhz.

After visiting them last fall, I decided to distribute after hearing the first note. Amazing how it handles piano and voice. Honorable and ethical people, too.

Jim Ricketts/tmh audio
And you just happen to sell that amp Ricketts?

What a coincidence.
Under $20k? - Spectron Musician III SE
Tgrisham and Phd have nailed the term, "transparency" to a tee. Further- If the recordings you are listening were engineered/reproduced with an unfortunate hand/ear- The transparent amp that faithfully reproduces the shortcomings IS NOT the liability, the recording is. The ambient info Phd mentioned is usually lost in most(but the higher priced) SS amps. Again I have to agree with Phd about the BAT pieces, and for the reason he sites: less in the signal path(one reason tube circuits are better- simple topography). That's Victor Khomenko's(of BAT) design philosophy. Placette makes an excellent(all bulk-foil Vishay resistor) passive line stage, IF your sources have sufficient output. I've never used their active(with gain) unit, but it is supposed to be close in it's transparency. Don't forget- there are a multitude of cables/interconnects that will affect your signal transfer/purity as well. I've found Kimber Selects to have the least impact, in my system, after much wire-tasting.
Rodmann99999, thankyou for your response and thoughts. I think you and I agree that transparency is high on the list as a system requirement. Anyway I have not made alot of cables/interconnect changes lately so I'm going to check out your recommendation on the Kimber Selects line even though I know cabling can be system dependent.
How about that Audio Sector Patek on sale here at A-gon today?
Phd- This company:( allows you to try cables in your home, without risk, before you buy. That will eliminate any costly errors/possible system mis-matches. happy listening!!
Dead quiet, black background, dimesnional, layered, imaging, open, extended top end - all qualities of top amps, I think. Let the music come through as it was put on the disc - no editorializing.

Be careful of what you ask for! A little editorializing can be welcome with poorly mixed and compressed recordings which most of us have. I agree with Tvad and Marco that color isn't always a bad thing. But saying that Jupiter aligns with Mars and all recordings are perfect there is nothing quite like an amplifier that resolves what is on the recording to make it come alive. I doubt there is an "amp for all seasons" since there are synergy issues that can make a difference in how the top amps might sound in a given system. I own a Berning ZH270, a sort of OTL but not in the sense that a purist would define OTL, but I won't get into that discussion again, it has been argued numerous times in this forum even among the designer's. The Berning holds up well in all the criteria that you speak of. I haven't heard any ss amp rival it or any of the other OTL amps I have heard in the area that tubes excel, presence, immediacy and timbral realism, things I find essential. The Atma-sphere, Graff and Joule all provide this magic with the right speakers but that is the problem, OTL's have the limitation of the number of speakers available that they can be used with. "black background, dimesnional, layered, imaging, open, extended top end" Yes to all OTL amps I have listened to.

SS amps - I can only think of one speaker where SS made it sound close to real music and that is the Apogees. On the other hand, how many tube amps can drive these terrific speakers? Again Synergy plays a key role. I've heard excellent ss based systems but not many that were memorable in conveying the experience of listening to real music in an acoustic space, my personal criteria of what is most important. Again, we all have different priorities. I haven't heard the dartzeel which seems to be something special among ss amps in conveying what tube amps do so well.

Digital amps? I haven't heard any music from these amps but I haven't heard them with the Apogees or any other low impedance load that they might be used with good results. Maybe they have improved?

This is my experience. The consistent magic of real music reproduction is very elusive in that when you think you are getting close you hear something better or is it really just different that makes you question and re-evaluate just what in the hell is going on!
Tubegroover, I am a very happy owner of two pairs of Apogee Scintillas, the hardest speakers to drive in the world.

I have class D monos servicing these babies, and I can't imagine any SS amp approaching these class D amps in bringing the real out of 16 bits.

Since I got my second pair of Scintillas rebuilt by Richard Murry, the resolution has become so complete, I am finding CDs that need chucking. The worst of the lot are newer popular CDs.

That's Ok, because the other CDs sound sublime.

The trick with class D amps you have to know how to match them to other components. I have found naked is better in wires. Power cords must be shielded. The preamp has to be pristine. My Fire is. Most of all, the source must be vinyl, or a real good non-oversampling DAC. All oversampling CDPs and DACs sound terribly contrived and simpleton.
Based on what others have told me, Atmasphere. Based on what I have heard, CAT JL2s.
Is the end-game of the ultimate resolving system the inability to enjoy many recordings that sound poor?

Seems like an unfortunate by-product of attaining the goal.
Tvad, poor sounding CDs are few and far between in my experience. It is nothing to sweat about. What I love is when listeners come in and say, "Let's see what this really bad disc sounds like on this system. When it sounds more horrible than they imagined they blame it on the system, instead of finally tossing the crummy thing.
Do great recordings sound better on systems that make bad CDs really terrible, or those on which they to sound decent? I ezpect the answer leads to two types of systems.