My Long List of Amplifiers and My Personal Review of Each!


So I have been in a long journey looking to find the best amplifiers for my martin logan montis. As you know, the match between an amplifier and speakers has to be a good "marriage" and needs to be blend exquisitely. Right now, I think I might have found the best sounding amplifier for martin logan. I have gone through approximately 34-36 amplifiers in the past 12 months. Some of these are:

Bryston ST, SST, SST2 series
NAD M25
PARASOUND HALO
PARASOUND CLASSIC
KRELL TAS
KRELL KAV 500
KRELL CHORUS
ROTEL RMB 1095
CLASSE CT 5300
CLASSE CA 2200
CLASSE CA 5200
MCINTOSH MC 205
CARY AUDIO CINEMA 7
OUTLAW AUDIO 755
LEXICON RX7
PASS LABS XA 30.8
BUTLER AUDIO 5150
ATI SIGNATURE SERIES 6005

With all that said, the amplifiers I mentioned above are the ones that in my opinion are worth mentioning. To make a long story short, there is NO 5 CHANNEL POWER AMP that sounds as good as a 3ch and 2ch amplifier combination. i have done both experiments and the truth is that YOU DO lose details and more channel separation,etc when you select a 5 channel power amplifier of any manufacturer.
My recollection of what each amp sounded like is as follows:

ATI SIGNATURE SERIES 6005 (great power and amazing soundstage. Very low noise floor, BUT this amplifiers NEEDS TO BE cranked up in order to fully enjoy it. If you like listening at low volume levels or somewhat moderate, you are wasting your time here. This amp won’t sound any different than many other brands out there at this volume. The bass is great, good highs although they are a bit bright for my taste)

NAD M25 (very smooth, powerful, but somewhat thin sounding as far as bass goes)
Bryston sst2(detailed, good soundstage, good power, but can be a little forward with certain speakers which could make them ear fatiguing at loud volumes)

Krell (fast sounding, nice bass attack, nice highs, but some detail does get lost with certain speakers)

rotel (good amp for the money, but too bright in my opinion)

cary audio (good sound overall, very musical, but it didn’t have enough oomph)

parasound halo (good detail, great bass, but it still holds back some background detail that i can hear in others)

lexicon (very laid back and smooth. huge power, but if you like more detail or crisper highs, this amp will disappoint you)

McIntosh mc205 (probably the worst multichannel amp given its price point. it was too thin sounding, had detail but lacked bass.

butler audio (good amplifier. very warm and smooth sweet sounding. i think for the money, this is a better amp than the parasound a51)

pass labs (very VERY musical with excellent bass control. You can listen to this for hours and hours without getting ear fatigue. however, it DOES NOT do well in home theater applications if all you have is a 2 channel set up for movies. The midrange gets somewhat "muddy" or very weak sounding that you find yourself trying to turn it up.

classe audio (best amplifier for multi channel applications. i simply COULDNT FIND a better multi channel amplifier PERIOD. IT has amazing smoothness, amazing power and good bass control although i would say krell has much better bass control)

Update: The reviews above were done in January 2015. Below is my newest update as of October 2016:



PS AUDIO BHK 300 MONOBLOCKS: Amazing amps. Tons of detail and really amazing midrange. the bass is amazing too, but the one thing i will say is that those of you with speakers efficiency of 87db and below you will not have all the "loudness" that you may want from time to time. These amps go into protection mode when using a speaker such as the Salon, but only at very loud levels. Maybe 97db and above. If you don’t listen to extreme crazy levels, these amps will please you in every way.
Plinius Odeon 7 channel amp: This is THE BEST multichannel amp i have ever owned. Far , but FAR SUPERIOR to any other multichannel amp i have owned. In my opinion it destroyed all of the multichannel amps i mentioned above and below. The Odeon is an amp that is in a different tier group and it is in a league of its own. Amazing bass, treble and it made my center channel sound more articulate than ever before. The voices where never scrambled with the action scenes. It just separated everything very nicely.
Theta Dreadnaught D: Good detailed amp. Looks very elegant, has a pleasant sound, but i found it a tad too bright for my taste. I thought it was also somewhat "thin" sounding lacking body to the music. could be that it is because it is class d?
Krell Duo 300: Good amp. Nice and detailed with enough power to handle most speakers out there. I found that it does have a very nice "3d" sound through my electrostatics. Nothing to fault here on this amp.
Mark Levinson 532H: Great 2 channel amp. Lots of detail, amazing midrange which is what Mark Levinson is known for. It sounds very holographic and will please those of you looking for more detail and a better midrange. As far as bass, it is there, but it is not going to give you the slam of a pass labs 350.5 or JC1s for example. It is great for those that appreciate classical music, instrumental, etc, but not those of you who love tons of deep bass. It is articulate sounding too
Krell 7200: Plenty of detail and enough power for most people. i found that my rear speakers contained more information after installed this amp. One thing that i hated is that you must use xlr cables with this amp or else you lose most of its sound performance when using RCA’s.
Krell 402e: Great amp. Very powerful and will handle any speaker you wish. Power is incredible and with great detail. That said, i didn’t get all the bass that most reviewers mentioned. I thought it was "ok" in regards to bass. It was there, but it didn’t slam me to my listening chair.
Bryston 4B3: Good amp with a complete sound. I think this amp is more laid back than the SST2 version. I think those of you who found the SST2 version of this amp a little too forward with your speakers will definitely benefit from this amp’s warmth. Bryston has gone towards the "warm" side in my opinion with their new SST3 series. As always, they are built like tanks. I wouldn’t call this amp tube-like, but rather closer to what the classe audio delta 2 series sound like which is on the warm side of things.
Parasound JC1s: Good powerful amps. Amazing low end punch (far superior bass than the 402e). This amp is the amp that i consider complete from top to bottom in regards to sound. Nothing is lacking other than perhaps a nicer chassis. Parasound needs to rework their external appearance when they introduce new amps. This amp would sell much more if it had a revised external appearance because the sound is a great bang for the money. It made my 800 Nautilus scream and slam. Again, amazing low end punch.
Simaudio W7: Good detailed amp. This amp reminds me a lot of the Mark Levinson 532h. Great detail and very articulate. I think this amp will go well with bookshelves that are ported in order to compensate for what it lacks when it comes to the bass. That doesn’t mean it has no bass, but when it is no Parasound JC1 either.
Pass labs 350.5: Wow, where do i begin? maybe my first time around with the xa30.8 wasn’t as special as it was with this monster 350.5. It is just SPECTACULAR sounding with my electrostatics. The bass was THE BEST BASS i have ever heard from ANY amp period. The only amp that comes close would be the jC1s. It made me check my settings to make sure the bass was not boosted and kept making my jaw drop each time i heard it. It totally destroyed the krell 402e in every regard. The krell sounded too "flat" when compared to this amp. This amp had amazing mirange with great detail up top. In my opinion, this amp is the best bang for the money. i loved this amp so much that i ended up buying the amp that follows below.
Pass labs 250.8: What can i say here. This is THE BEST STEREO AMP i have ever heard. This amp destroys all the amps i have listed above today to include the pass labs 350.5. It is a refined 350.5 amp. It has more 3d sound which is something the 350.5 lacked. It has a level of detail that i really have never experienced before and the bass was amazing as well. I really thought it was the most complete power amplifier i have ever heard HANDS DOWN. To me, this is a benchmark of an amplifier. This is the amp that others should be judged by. NOTHING is lacking and right now it is the #1 amplifier that i have ever owned.
My current amps are Mcintosh MC601s: i decided to give these 601s a try and they don’t disappoint. They have great detail, HUGE soundstage, MASSIVE power and great midrange/highs. The bass is great, but it is no pass labs 250.8 or 350.5. As far as looks, these are the best looking amps i have ever owned. No contest there. i gotta be honest with you all, i never bought mcintosh monos before because i wasn’t really "wowed" by the mc452, but it could have been also because at that time i was using a processor as a preamp which i no longer do. Today, i own the Mcintosh C1100 2 chassis tube preamp which sounds unbelievable. All the amps i just described above have been amps that i auditioned with the C1100 as a preamp. The MC601s sound great without a doubt, but i will say that if you are looking for THE BEST sound for the money, these would not be it. However, Mcintosh remains UNMATCHED when it comes to looks and also resale value. Every other amp above depreciates much faster than Mcintosh.

That said, my future purchase (when i can find a steal of a deal) will be the Pass labs 350.8. I am tempted to make a preliminary statement which is that i feel this amp could be THE BEST stereo amp under 30k dollars. Again, i will be able to say more and confirm once i own it. I hope this update can help you all in your buying decisions!


whitecamaross

Showing 27 responses by goodsource

@whitecamaross 

WC
great video. as usual you have stuck gold mine in performance leap.
feets and isolation bases do take the performance to the next level
try changing the feets on dcs   and put it on a isolation base and iam sure that will improve the overall performance as well.

@whitecamaross 

WC
Did you get a chance while testing to connect 860A V2 directly to the dcs rossini dac and do you have any thoughts and comments on dac direct to power amp where dcs was used as a pre-amp.
is dac direct performance adequate or good by any chance?
@zprr excellent thoughts and very well summarized. so ref10 is 15% better than 740p where 740p is 9k and ref10 is 30k in price
850P is 33k in price.since you said ref 10 and 850p were very close in performance would you say that 850P is 15% better than 740P or more.
the price difference is enormous not only between the premaps but even both ref10 and 850P cost way more than 860A V2 which is just 18K.
WC
 thanks for the suggestion. now we know why you were pairing the setup with momentum HD  :) 
@speedbump6 I fully agree with you. we can never be satisfied and thats the fun part or sometimes the curse part of this hobby.once you listened to something better its hard to go back to the lower end gear.
wanted to find a good performance sweet spot and thats what i was trying to gauge.
like in dac to choose between bartok ,rossini ,vivaldi i chose rossini.
my 860A v2 is ordered and on its way.
iam trying to figure out what would be the best segment appropriate preamp or the performance sweet spot or do i not need the pre-amp at all
@4425 i heard that speaker they used to pair and test the amp while developing the dag progression integrated was sasha daw.so for sasha daw prospects and owners its going to be great synergy
@fastfreight agree with you.
wow , great you have the space to afford two systems and you can get varying flavors and problem  is solved for you.
WC,
one suggestion. since you have tasted what a good rack can do to the sound quality, may be you can move your source, preamp and even power conditioner to the rack and iam sure you will hear good improvements overall.
WC,

artesania seem to have have good full size and adjustable racks where you can get a full rack instead of getting a separate amp stand.that would save you money and also give a consistent level playing field for all your components in the signal chain.
their pricing is not as crazy or high as critical mass systems or silent running audio or HRS rack plus isolation base combo
I am in the dynamic and revealing camp favoring details and resolution.
many of the musical instruments do NOT sound inherently and naturally sweet at all. and i think making it sound sweet for non fatiguing reasons goes against the grain of the music that the artist created . similarly for the warmth and lushness which are not natural at all.
thats why it's very important for an amplifier to be neutral.
@viber6 will keep you posted on 860A V2.
fully agree with you stands and feet play an important role like cables do.
would be great to listen to merill ,gryphon 
@whitecamaross
WC
like you  used C900U with M900U, do you plan to use a simaudio 740P with simaudio 860A V2 to see if its the best option.??
@techno__dude
also luxman has a sweet sound and as preamp does play a role in sound signature who knows c900u and 860Av2 may be a bad idea and may be 860Av2 would start sounding sweeter and not as dynamic then.

also its hard to say c900u and 740p are in the same level or not.they are priced in the same segment although 740p is a dual mono design where as c900 is not.

to add one scenario, also soundstage when they did  a review of m900u had tested with 740p along with c900u had said it was equally good.

also 740p can be massively upgraded by a separate power supply 820S which c900u cannot even dream of as it has no such upgrade path.

860A V2 is a power house compared to luxman. other than the pretty build quality of luxman, its not an even comparison

Luxman M-900U
Power (8/4ohms) : 150/300w
Gain : 29 dB
Power Supply Capacitance uF : 100,000
Transformer : One 1.2 KVA

SimAudio
Power (8/4ohms) : 225/450w
Gain : 31 dB
Power Supply Capacitance uF : 240,000
Transformer : Two of 1.2 KVA

simaudio is a dual mono design and has plenty of current reserve to drive demanding loads
look at the transformer and capacitance both of them are double/twice in simaudio 860A V2.

IMO its a no contest, other than the fact if some one wants a sweet amplifier like luxman.
also simaudio is not colored and extremely neutral which is a plus over sweet sounding luxman

iam sure speakers like sasha daw will benefit from the extra power.also for many folks when monoblocks is not an option plus an extra power cable, having good powerful single power amp is more practical and viable option than using monoblocks which would require 20A circuits or dedicated power outlet.you can still run 860A V2 out of a 15A socket.
@whitecamaross
WC

no worries.i understand you that have to spend  cash wisely on your next components.
based on what you listened so far with 860A V2, do you have any thoughts on matches/synergy with pre-amps like 740P, pass labs xp-22 or c900u or something else
@techno__dude 
you are missing the point.c900u may be a great preamp.but its a question of synergy.like the c900u/m900u have great match and synergy, it cud very well be possible for 740P/860A V2 to extract the best performance
IMO ,the bass and slam comes from the power supply capacitance which can take care of the surge needed during spike of transients in music for slam and attack and that is 240,000 micro farads in simaudio 860A v2  and its double of whats there in luxman m900u and d'augustino momentum s250 power amps.
@viber6  well said and i fully agree with you
@ron17  you can make simaudio amp sound more warmer by adding warmer cables like transparent audio but i doubt you can do the opposite where  you can make a sweeter sounding amp like luxman to have more dynamics or slam.
@whitecamaross
WC - great step and initiative for you to get into developing a coherent ranking system for amps. appreciate your time, effort and thinking towards this.

do you have any thoughts on using diff preamps with 860A V2.
last time i heard d’agustino preamp power amp combo the overall output was still warm and slightly sweet.
are you saying connecting d’agustino pre amp with 860A v2 still gives a dynamic output?
@whitecamaross 
WC looking forward to it.
if possible can you pick &  make more price and segment appropriate comparison.
momentum HD preamp is 40k. can you a pick a preamp in the 9 to 20k USD to mate with simaudio 860A2
@zprr  haha. point taken.fully agree. great summary on your preamp comparison and appreciate it.
wish these audiogon forums get upgraded to new roon or dcs or ps audio types community forums where people could like,love and vote on comments.
@viber6  fully agree with you, i wish the review had a bit more comparisons for 860A v2 and preamp pairings.
the reviewer uses a new  townshend allegri reference, a new breed of passive preamp which iam hearing good things and is gaining some popularity. 
wish he had compared with 740P as well
+1 
 @speedbump6
same question
WC,
thank you for all your hard work and efforts. committing to these much different equipment and changing for reviewing is no easy task.
thank you for taking the risks for us and sharing your frank thoughts on it.
WC,
great video and you described all pro's and cons of each amplifier very well.
i agree with you on almost all of them but one.
I agree with your comparisons about sweetness, dynamics , neutrality etc.
but i beg to differ on your description calling one amp musical and not the other.
what exactly musical is? true to source, true to timber.?
defining musicality and the term musical can be very wide open and subjective as well.