My Final Amplifier Purchase - What Would You Buy?


I'm a lifelong audiophile/music lover and earlier this week, I had a life changing event. As a result, I am now in the position of purchasing what is almost certainly my last power amplifier.

To quickly explain, I was just notified that my entire department will be outsourced, effective September, following the completion of a transition. The buyout is not great, but they do extend my service time for an additional period, allowing me to begin receiving my full pension in September. So essentially I'll be okay financially, but certainly not enough to buy this level of audio gear down the road.

So, what this leads up to is that I was in the market to buy a quality used power amplifier (up to $4000.00 budget)to upgrade my system. I can still manage to do that, but clearly need to do it soon while the paychecks are still coming in. In the future, I simply won't have the financial means for a purchase like this.

Thankfully, the rest of my system is solid, and this should essentially complete things for the future. I'm very happy with the preamp, but I suppose that could "possibly" change one day, maybe to tubes,in a break even trade, but beyond that,if it even happens, the system should remain what it is.

Current system:

Meridian G02 Preamp
Meridian G08 cd player
Olive D4 Music Server
Silveline 17.5 speakers
Marantz SA8004 SACD player
Bryston BDA-1 DAC

and the power amplifier that I will be replacing:

Atma-Sphere S30 MK III.1

I truly love the S30, but a friend recently upset my satisfied audio world when he brought over his new Plinius SA-103 amp and that changed everything. Even more than the sound of that amplifier, which was superb, it became readily apparent that the Silverline 17.5's really only open up and fly when given that kind of power (100 wpc or more.) I also tested it further with a second amplifier and verified that the power is key to really getting the most out of the speakers.

I have long been an avowed tube lover, but there simply are not many options with the kind of power I am in need of, that fall within my budget. I've included a few as options below that put out 75wpc, because in my experience, thats roughly the equivalent of 100 wpc in solid state.

In a perfect world, I would just move up to the Atma-Sphere MA Series, but my budget is far insufficient. Also, a key factor is that I have a small room, even the M60's which (might) have enough power, would create a literally sweltering environment. Trust me on this, I've even talked to Ralph Karsten about it previously, and he agreed.

Based on that, some earlier suggestions here in the forum, and a massive amount of research, I have narrowed things down to a number of choices, which are, from my perspective, likely the best options. What I am truly in need of are any thoughts, expertise and experience you might have had, especially with multiple amplifiers on the list. I have not actually heard any of these. Also, if there are better options that I've missed, please mention them.

Lastly, remember that I would be buying used to maximize my options and value. Thanks in advance for any assistance in helping me choose my best path here. The help is greatly appreciated.

What I have identified as good possible options:

Parasound JC-1's

Pass X250.5

Pass XA 30.5

Jeff Rowland Model 6 Mono's -(I fear these only appear extremely rarely though, and given their age, may need servicing and new caps,etc. possibly putting them out of reach)

BAT VK-75

Modwright KWA 100SE

Primaluna Dialogue 7 Monoblocks

An old Threshold S series thats been refurbished? - These have always fascinated me, but would it last another 20 years?

nightfall
Hello. Congrats on retirement. A very important decision then. I would recommend a Bryston 4bsst2. This amp is world class and if you buy from someone that has the receipt, the warranty is good for 20 years. That's worth something in your position. The bass is amazing on this amp. Good luck!
Sorry to add to your dilemna, but I would add Spectral, Classe and McIntosh to your list of possibles. Your power needs and budget will dictate the particular model. All of these companies are still in business so you should be able to have them repaired or updated if the need should arise.
Oops, I forget to mention a Plinius SA-102 as an obvious contender.
Please consider the cayin 100, great sound, great value. Also, you are no audiophile if you will surrender to such a notion as a 'last' anything.
I will play along your pessimistic line. None of us may last for another twenty years. Get what you really want today.
You liked Plinius so it can be a very simple decision. Some older Rowlands have a cult following and for good reasons. With luck they will last for another fifty years.
Definetely MC2 audio (MC-1250 or MC-750) both much better than Parasound JC-1's & extremely cheap!
But if budget is no object than undoubtly Reyaudio or FM acoustics.

No matter which of the three brands you will take, your search will be over
I was in the same position as the op two years ago. I took my money and bought a Bryston 4B-SST2 new.
20 year warranty meant a lot.
I auditioned the 4B-SST2 with the speakers i also bought Magnepan 3.6 at my local dealer for more than a few hours, twice.
The Bryston is better than my former amp a Forte' 4a (which had glowing reviews and is a real classic amp. I used mine for 17 years)

And did I mention the 20 year warranty?
Just make certain you buy from someone who can furnish the original receipt, and name the dealer they bought it from to insure the warranty.

I thought about other amps, and only bought the Bryston after auditioning it thoroughly. I am happy yet, two year on down the line.
It runs cool, just warm to the touch left on 24/7.
Hi,
I just retired and bought my amps for life. I invested in CODA amps and preamp. CODA was formed by Doug Dale and a group of engineers who worked for Threshold along with Nelson Pass when it went under. Pass formed Pass Labs the rest formed CODA. Both companies use similar high quality circuits and design. I had both the Coda CP Preamp and the Pass XP 20 to evaluate. I would give a slight nod to the Pass I build quality but nothing sonically. Price Pass $9000, Coda $3500.
The CODA CSX amp has 25 watts class A and will not heat up your room at all. It runs cool to the touch even when pushed to the max. The Coda electronics have been found to be superior to the following amps and my system.
JC1 and the JC2
Krell Ksa 250
Krell mda 500
Levinson's 436
Pass xp 20
Levinson's 32 and 380s
Arc ref 3
Give it a listen. I don't think you'll be dissapointed.
Available at Coda direct sales or through Legacy Audio in Springfield.
The Pass XA30.5 is my choice, but the Modwright will operate a lot cooler and also sound nice. The Parasound monos are huge and get warm plus do you need that much power? The Pass X250.5 is good up to the 15 watt Class A rating, but then transitions to AB so that's why I like the XA30 better. Also only about 1/2 the people know the Pass XA30.5 will not clip above 30 watts, rather it transitions to AB over 30 watts, up to 120 watts, and then clips.

Good luck on your choice. Also, please keep us posted as there are a lot of members looking for good amps in your price range and your listening experience and research can help a lot.
I will be in a position like yours soon, so I thank you for the inspiration. I haven't heard all the amps others have mentioned but I have heard some and I can't think of any that would IMHO beat a SimAudio Moon W-5LE. It would be hard to find but worth it.
The amplifier-speaker match is always key. You said:
but a friend recently upset my satisfied audio world when he brought over his new Plinius SA-103 amp and that changed everything.
You had a chance to audition a Plinius amp with your speakers and really enjoyed the combination. It appears that is a good match with your speakers. I would place a high value on that. Unless you have the ability to audition the other amplifiers up for consideration in your system with your speakers, the SA-103, if you can afford it, or an SA-102, have the advantage. Auditioning the amp at home is the trump card. For your final amplifier, my suggestion is that you audition it with your speakers in your setup. This is the best way to be satisfied in the long run.
I owned and enjoyed the Plinius SA-102 for several years... and while I liked it, there's still no substitute for a good tube amp. Therefore, I would be looking for a reputable, higher power tube amp in the 80 to 120 WPC range.

The McIntosh MC275 MKV can be found used for about $3,200. This is a gutsy, well designed amp that has withstood the test of time and would be reasonable to retube. I highly recommend this amp... it's a tremendous value.

Also consider KT88 based designs from Quicksilver and VAC. These can also be found used in your price range, are made in the USA, are reputable and well supported.

Stick with tubes!
I expect you've thought of this already, but if resources will be an issue in the future, service and reliability might deserve special emphasis.

No direct experience, but when I was considering Parasound, I read some unnerving reports on reliability, as here:

http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?aamps&1209979488&read&keyw&zzparasound+jc-1

Pass seems to have a good reputation for reliability, and if you don't have a local dealer, Mark at Reno HIFi inspires confidence; I'd expect good service. That said, if your speakers really want 100 plus watts, I'm not sure the XA-30 are what you want. I use it's cousin, the INT-30A, on 92/4 speakers, and while I think it very well suits the small acoustic music, I'm giving up grunt from the 180wpc A/AB it replaced. My hunch is that you should favor the X-250.5, even if it's less tooby, as 100 watts in the XA series is $.

Good luck!

John
A refurbished Threshold S series should last another 20 years.
correction to my prior post

REGA OSIRIS demo units listed here in Audiogon for $4999
(regular $8995)

Rega Osiris. TAS Golden Ear Award 2010

http://www.avguide.com/review/rega-isis-cd-player-osiris-integrated-amplifier-tas-213?utm_campaign=Weekly%20Email&utm_medium=email&utm_source=email-165
Consider a used pair of Cary 500 monoblocks. They are the closest thing to tubes that I have heard in a SS amp, will drive most any speaker out there, and sound great. They are put up for sale every now and then (one pair on audiogon now) and can be had for around $3,200.

Bryston too might be a good choice; the 20 year warranty is a great deal.
Tony,

Thanks very much for your thoughts. I've done some research and it does not seem likely that any Spectral amps could be had within my budget. I have heard they are tremendous, though, but the requirements for very expensive MIT cables, by itself, would eliminate my options even if one somehow appeared at a price I could afford.

I will do further research on your Classe and McIntosh recommendations though.

"02-04-12: Tonykay
Sorry to add to your dilemna, but I would add Spectral, Classe and McIntosh to your list of possibles. Your power needs and budget will dictate the particular model. All of these companies are still in business so you should be able to have them repaired or updated if the need should arise."
John,

I greatly appreciate your thoughts on the matter. I've come very close to jumping on the Pass bandwagon, because I greatly admire what Nelson has done. I've especially targeted the 30.5's because they have tested out at 140wpc A/B. However, I have the same concerns you do.

Pass seems to have a good reputation for reliability, and if you don't have a local dealer, Mark at Reno HIFi inspires confidence; I'd expect good service. That said, if your speakers really want 100 plus watts, I'm not sure the XA-30 are what you want. I use it's cousin, the INT-30A, on 92/4 speakers, and while I think it very well suits the small acoustic music, I'm giving up grunt from the 180wpc A/AB it replaced. My hunch is that you should favor the X-250.5, even if it's less tooby, as 100 watts in the XA series is $.

Good luck!

John
Great selections here but what about Audio Research HD220 which is hybrid
or for tubes Audio Research Classic 150.

Modwright 150SE will provide better extenstion and dynamics as well as
Rowland 300 series.

IMO for SS amp look at 200 watt min or amps with high current. Also, the
MC275 is a great amp and if you replace the tubes with higher rating you can
get close to 95 watts instead of 75 watts.

Good luck.
Didn't read all the posts; my gut reaction - Don't buy another amp, buy another set of speakers.

Run two diferent types/technologies of speakers and I believe you will find far more enjoyment than simply alternative amplification. :)

No other change long term in audio (and there have been very many for me) has yielded as much satisfaction holistically as running two types of speakers. I strongly suggest that if at all possible you do so, especially if you cannot afford major upgrades down the road.
A sensible question and sensible replies. For what it's worth, I think it would be a mistake to abandon tubes. Having been down that road a couple times in the past, I ended up unhappy and eventually returned to tubes. I also happen to think that tubes are the better choice for a "lifetime" amp in that a properly designed tube amp has the potential to be more reliable than solid state, plus the tube gear will always be fixable whereas the solid state may not be. Transistors get replaced by new models and equipment using the older transistors may end up obsolete. It's one of life's ironies but it seems that the supply of popular tubes will continue for the rest of our lives with no concern about obsolesence.

If I were you, I would consider two options: a higher-powered tube amp that can drive your present speakers or a change in speakers that will be a better match with your tube gear.

There was a time when I found myself in a position similar to yours in that I thought I had settled on the Martin-Logan CLS as my speaker for life and decided to go the high-power solid state route to drive the CLS properly. I started with a Classe DR-10 and when it didn't deliver the goods I was told I needed more power so traded it in on a Classe CA-300. Both Classe amps were impressive in many ways but over the years I missed the special qualities that only tubes can deliver IMO. Ultimately I ended up with higher efficiency speakers that were easier loads for tube amps, and now I fully expect to use tube amps for the rest of my days.
Doug is correct in that the S-30 is mismatched with your Silverlines. The Silverlines are, for the most part, based on the Voltage Paradigm and the S-30 is based on the Power Paradigm. IOW the Silverlines want an amplifier that has constant voltage ability with respect to the load it is driving, and the S-30 tends to produce something more like constant power. For more information see:

http://www.atma-sphere.com/Resources/Paradigms_in_Amplifier_Design.php

In addition, the S-30 is at a disadvantage as the Silverline is not an ideal impedance for the amp. If you really want to see what it can do, it is better to seek a higher impedance speaker (and perhaps one with greater efficiency, the S-30 is only 30 watts into 8 ohms), designed with tubes in mind.

If you decide that you wish to have solid state them my vote goes to the Pass.
Naim 250 is the best I've heard (but, in the context of your system, who knows).
Ditto Salectic
.
Nightfall,

I have seen Spectral DMA-80 monoblocks (the pair) for half of your $4,000 budget here on Audiogon. If you're looking for new, then you're right, they are out of reach. Used is a different story. Afterall, you asked what I would buy.
Again, thanks to everyone for the continuing comments and recommendations. I appreciate all of the advice and perspectives being offered.

Several people have mentioned the possibility of changing speakers and thats a fair question. I do really love the sonics of Atma-Sphere S30, and higher efficiency speakers would allow it to remain. Here is the challenge of going in that direction. The Silverline 17.5 are very good speakers, though granted, not an ideal match for the S30, as Ralph so accurately pointed out.

Replacing them will not be easy, for a number of reasons.

Martin G. DeWulf, editor and publisher of (Bound for Sound in / issue #181 / Sept 2007) said this of the 17.5's:

"Let's pretend: If someone were to ask you, "If you could have any 2-way bookshelf speaker on the market today, what would it be?" What would you say? I think my response would be the Silverline 17.5, Yes, the competition is heady, and it would include the Wilson Audio TinyTot and the Magico, amongst others. But I think I would stick with the Silverline."

One of the primary reasons I chose these speakers is the fact that they can play any kind of music very well, and I listen to acoustic music, singer songwriters, rock, female vocals, and even Gregorian Chants at times.

The small room they are in, and physically unchangeable aspects of it, also requires a bookshelf speaker, and one essentially no larger than the size of the 17.5's (14” x 9” x 15) and that are very effective in a somewhat nearfield configuration. The seating position of the listener is no more than seven feet from the speakers.

I'm not aware of any speakers of high efficiency, that are this small, which would also work optimally in the described nearfield setting, with all types of music (excepting large scale classical. That does not mean there arent any, and you may know of some.

Does a suitable replacement for these exist within the budget I have that meet my needs?
Here's a thought; Since you like the Silverlines, the sound of the Atma-Spheres, and only want more power, how about getting a pair of Musical Fidelity 550kW monoblocks? They're designed to augment the power of other amplifiers while retaining the sonic signature of the source amp. Last time I checked there was a pair in the Classified's for a reasonable price. This would (if the reviews are accurate) enable you to keep the synergy you have while adding more power and dynamic range.
Here's a thought. Pick up a pair of Merlin TSM-MXe's for around $2000. These would be a much better match for your S30. Spend the rest of the budget on a SS amp that is a better match for the Silverlines. That way, as Doug suggests above, you can switch back and forth as the mood strikes you. Maybe, depending on where you live, the S30 becomes your winter amp and the solid state your summer amp.

To me that would give you the best of both worlds.

Dick
I have Simaudio Moon W-6's and W-3's. They are great sounding amps. They use very little power when not in use, like 30 watts. You very rarely see them on the used market.
Give them a look at you will not be disappointed.
Pass XA 30.5 is sublime if it mates well with your system.
If you are open to new, be sure and check out Rogue's new hybrid amp, Medusa. 200wpc

I just got in my first demo unit, and I am amazed at how good this amp sounds.

****Rogue dealer disclaimer****
Save some money and get a custom built tube amp from Jim Nicholls from JWN amps. I've had mine for two weeks now and just can't say enough good things about it. For under two grand Jim can build you an amp that will rival and in most cases beat amps many times it's cost. His amps also come with a lifetime warranty
No one thought of an Ayre amp?? As for me, I would change the speakers
My MX-Rs may just fit the bill.
As usual, Ralph is a class act. If the OP desires to keep the speakers, he happily recommends another vendor's amplifier. If the amplifier is to be kept instead, he recommends an appropriate speaker.

All the while cheerful, professional and open with respect to the sharing of knowledge.
True Wilysnet, Ralph has always been a nice guy and a gentleman unlike certain dealers around here that will go unnamed.
Missing posts??? Ralph recommended some higher sensitivity speakers to me in a post he made in this thread on Tuesday, which I read that night. Last night, the Audiogon forums were unavailable when I checked back. Now, both that post, and at least one follow-up to it are gone. And I do not remember the speakers he was recommending.

Whats going on?
New Rogue Amp

Goldprintaudio,

I did see those amps were shown at CES and was interested in hearing what they were capable of. I greatly respect Rogue, as an American manufacturer, and especially the value they offer. I've found the character of the M180's, which I had the chance to audition, just a bit lean for my tastes, though the bass control and slam is exceptional.

What can you tell me about the new Medusa amp?

"If you are open to new, be sure and check out Rogue's new hybrid amp, Medusa. 200wpc

I just got in my first demo unit, and I am amazed at how good this amp sounds."

****Rogue dealer disclaimer****
If you are worried about a fixed income someday, start reducing your expenses now, starting with this amp. Consider Class D for cheap operation in the future. You can leave it on all the time. Go cheap and if you want to make changes in the future, sell it and try again. $4000 can cover a lot of experimentation and that's what this hobby is, lol! Also get something stable into almost any load, unless you promise never to buy another pair of speakers again. There are a few pro amps under $600 that run quiet that might work. Also you have a lot of boxes...you might consider reducing and assembling a simpler system...recommend balanced.


Hello Nightfall, I don't think I recommended a particular speaker, but if I did I would expect that Audiokinesis would have been on the short list. Duke is an outstanding designer and also easy to deal with.

Other matches with the S-30: Merlins, ZU Audio, Tonian Labs, almost any single-driver speaker like Lowther or PHY, and most horn systems. The S-30 also works very well with High Emotion Audio (they have what is easily one of the fastest yet relaxed tweeters made). We have a 16 ohm version that we play here. If you are curious about a specific speaker email me and I will tell you what we know.
Solution 700 Mono blocks sound wonderful.
I currently own Canary Audio CA-160 (switchable..100 watts triode or 140 ultralinear) tube monoblocks and they have been a favorite for years. I have seen them used on Audiogon in your price range.

I have used them with Avalon Radian speakers (similar design to the Silverlines) and while the Radians love power I was never disappointed in the output.
A vote for the JC1's. Mine are fantastic.

02-10-12: Ebm
Solution 700 Mono blocks sound wonderful.

Yep. It's amazing what $100,000 will buy these days.
What do you have slick!!
Nightfall,

The speaker Ralph mentioned was the High Emotion Audio Bella Twin speakers.
If 70 or so watts would do, compatible into any impedance then an OTL tube amp such as a used Berning ZH270 should be perfect. Plenty of power, headroom, long term reliability, stability into any impedance, the list goes on and on....you know you already like the OTL sound. Given your options and sonic preferences thats the first amp I'd consider for a long term solution. A buddy of mine has one and its a totally amazing piece of gear, definitely one for the long haul. Just my 2 cents.... If you prefer or have got to have solid state I'd go for a Pass Labs or maybe current Rowland. Peace, J.
Ebm!!, why recommend a 100 grand amp when he is looking for an amp in the 3 to 6 thousand range? Oh yeah the same reason you always recommend Magico Mini two when someone is looking for a good monitor in the $500 to $1500 range.
02-10-12: Dover
Nightfall,

"The speaker Ralph mentioned was the High Emotion Audio Bella Twin speakers"

Thank you! That was it, I knew I wasn't dreaming it happened.
02-10-12: Dover
Nightfall,

The speaker Ralph mentioned was the High Emotion Audio Bella Twin speakers.

Ralph, I believe you said that the S-30 would produce 45wpc with these?