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

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!


Showing 50 responses by keithr

Have you thought about the Ref 10 (or its replacement) for the Mephisto?

There are just so few, good sounding SS preamps. I've heard the Dag (non-HD) vs the Ref 10 and it wasn't much of a contest. 

Mikey misses everything about MSB. And I’ve heard Playback for a decade which is just “good digital” like Aqua and the rest. Sure, it’s warm and smooth but it sounds like digital. Somewhat homogenized digital at that.

What MSB singularly does now since the Select is flow and continuousness that competes with my Brinkmann rig. In fact, analog only guys who visit my room say it’s the only digital they would own and their mind relaxes like on a piece of vinyl. I’ve actually done this comparison with folks.

and the Ref dac is $49k now; includes the same clock as Select but with a single power supply.

If you want an interesting set of amps to compare with the mega $ stuff, buy a pair of Ampzilla 2000, 2nd edition. Bongiorno designed, massive transformer to control difficult loads. 
Can you disclose what gear is on loan from a dealer or manufacturer vs. bought and paid for?

that Dido track isn't a particularly good recording. i wouldn't be judging anything on it.

Ancient is relative - as some people will prefer Luxman Class A amps over the newer A/B only versions. Just a different direction for Luxman. 

The m900 sounded entirely average on my YGs with bass in absentia. It was bested by a pair of $5k Ampzillas (which WCSS should review). Perhaps monos would fare better, no clue. 
I’m looking to the Rowland 625mk2 or Lamm Class AB hybrids next but content for now. 
Philip O'Hanlon is one of the good guys in this industry, RIAA. You're in the wrong to be so critical. But keeping taking pot shots on the internet.

I'm just saying that amps aren't so universal like you believe(d?) with the m900 to the detriment of others.

And in that same thread you reference, another guy had the exact same problem as me: no grunt nor bass. I did enjoy its midrange texture and slightly soft, but inherently musical top end. But the amp doesn't sound like its power rating and needs a more efficient speaker to succeed, that's all. My Luxman dealer doesn't prefer it on Wilson (which he also sells), and 4425 just moved to D'Agostino coincidently which he happens to recommend.

Focals are easier to drive, so hopefully that's a great match. I still think tubes sound probably best on those speakers, but hopefully WCSS can experiment and let us know.
You might try tubes with the Focals, historically a great match. Have not heard the Evo though, only the prior two series.
It's funny this thread is all about Viberg's preferences when he hasn't tried anything. 

Sorry if this has been answered before, but what is the recording chain for the videos ?
Are you using an iPhone to record these videos or a professional video recorder?
Back in the day, Dave Wilson himself would do shows and exhibit a big system that appeared to be running on huge monoblocks that was actually running off a hidden $1k Parasound. One year he did the same running off an iPod lol. People raved about the sound.

I agree that speakers are by far the dominant source for good sound, coupled appropriately to the room with the correct amplifier driving them (ie. not SETs on MLs). The people who spend 10s of thousands on cables, power cords, and tweaks to drive a 20k pair of speakers have it backwards. The mega-$ cables are for people who have mega speakers already. Most cables and power cords are just parametric tone controls anyways.

WCSS, my only suggestion is on amp compares that you use stock cords. it really complicates things not to do so. i realize you are a bit of a cable junky, but that would be more apples to apples. 

congrats on the Wilson/Gryphon combo - will be curious how it runs in a few weeks.

one cool thing to try for your second system would be a higher efficiency speaker so you can demo low powered, simple amps. even amps like Dart (which unfortunately isn't good on low impedance speakers like the Alexia). Maybe Fyne is a good way to do that, Devore Xs another option. that would add more value to your channel to cover both ends of the amp spectrum.

Power is different depending on where you live and your situation - you can't ascribe differences between filtering vs. regeneration vs. iso transformers without trying them in your own house.
great video showing your journey wcss. i remember my gear swapping days :)

btw, what amp would you recommend for YG Hailey 2.2s? I've tried:

ARC 160m
Luxman m900
m2tech Crosby monos (Class D)
Ampzilla 2000 Second Edition
PS Audio BHK 300s

I’m searching for the best amps <$15k. Wanted to try various types on YG, so far landing on Class AB SS as my favorite. The Ampzillas punch way above their weight. 
Nordost is artificial, hifi sound. All that “detail” is fake as you’ll discover and comes at the expense of natural tone and timbre. Then again, just one mans opinion. 

Whitecamaro, I’ve heard Nordost cables since they introduced Valhalla 20 years ago. Many of my friends have tried and ultimately moved on from them. They have a distinct audio signature, which even like your comments unknowingly describe, is unnatural to my ears. All that “detail” and speed, black background, etc comes at a cost. 

I would pick up a $20 Ching Cheng from David Karmeli as your baseline though this power cord adventure. It’s relatively neutral and takes a lot more than you expect to beat them. 

Good luck! 

You might buy a Sony pro recorder (not expensive) and sync up the audio with your videos.

Would be night and day vs your Samsung.
WC- you might search out a pair of CAT monoblocks for the big Neoliths - that could be an outstanding combo as they are built to drive such loads. 

@ghasley Amen. I'll add that Nils Lofgren is the new Diana Krall of hifi. 
Thought it was interesting JA said the JC1+ was the more tubelike between the two.
Well, I’ve tried around 15+ since 2011 or so, but don’t focus on large SS mono blocks since I’ve always had efficient, dynamic driver speakers (now Devore Gibbon X). Many SETs, P/P tubes, Class A SS, etc.

My favorite SS amp is Dartzeel , tube is currently ARC Ref 75SE with fond memories of a baby Mastersound Due Venti for value. I also miss my Mc601s from back in the day.

I generally prefer simple circuits with minimal tubes or transistors as they sound better. The amp I need to scoop up one day for fun is the Viva Solista even though it’s not a perfect speaker match- total hifi jewelry.


Since amps are your thing, you really should try some high efficiency speakers next (don't have to sell your Neoliths). Then the world is your oyster.

I've compared the Dart vs Dag integrateds at my dealer - I prefer the Dart. But yes, Dart is better on speakers without huge impedance swings or dipping into 2 ohms.

Unpopular opinion: your new room should be 2-channel or HT but not both. It will be a compromise to either.

Personally I’d go 2-channel and use your older, smaller room for HT.
I got rid of my M&K/SVS HT system with JVC projector and 110" Stewart screen years ago and never returned. Big plasmas and 2.0 HT replaced it, and honestly, turned out better as I watch more football than movies and still go to the theater once a month when I want to see James Bond in 40 channel surround sound with 100 subs. The issue with huge screens is it limits your speaker location. Logans might have more directional challenges than dynamic drivers requiring a center channel though. 

You should definitely hire a 2ch/HT acoustics guy if going this route-  check out Nyal Mellor, Chris Huston, etc.

My guess is a lot has to do with the use of the amount of negative feedback in these two amps (hence the bass explosion on the Blocks ala Soulution - another high negative feedback amp). I've yet to hear a convincing Constellation demo at a dealer or show (or Soulution), but just goes to show you that speaker/amp synergy is wildly different for people (and I've never heard Neoliths on Constellation nor the Series 2 which apparently is much better). 

I also think what some don't realize is that while reading about WCSS's adventures is entertaining, he's always had very difficult to drive speakers (even the Wilsons he had are difficult impedance-wise). That drives amp comparison significantly - people relying on them might be disappointed on their own gear. Just as an example, I had the $10k Luxman 590AX, 30W pure Class A integrated on my Zu Definitions back in the day and it sounded like cream - on a YG at my dealer the m900 is quite the opposite.

The most important thing is speaker/amp synergy and that's what WCSS seems to be focused on and is quite honest about that it's his system in his room to do these experiments.

Speaking of, did he ever hire an acoustician for his new room? 

Are there any other amps coming in? Wasn’t someone sending Benchmarks?  
I offered my Ampzillas but didn’t read any takers. 
@grey9hound He's a gear swapper after all lol

Although I'm surprised knowing the dealers involved he hasn't just gone MSB and be done. 
Love this thread is turning into cables, fuses, and footers vs. room acoustics for a new room.

Blue Jeans Cable in an optimized room will sound better than a full loom of Odin in a regular one. Once the room is taken care of, the rest can actually make sense. And its far cheaper than any of the cables 

Interesting SS amplifiers to me (vs the high end, mostly overrated stuff with a zillion parts and watts):

DarTZeel 108
Nagra Classic
Valvet A4e 
Vitus (Class A only)
Accuphase A75

and then FirstWatt of course for low power stuff.

Only if you have inefficient speakers. A Dart 108 sounds better than all of these behemoths in this thread on a 90db+/8ohm one. Bass isn't an issue and it's far more transparent with real decay.

I say this as someone who currently has YG speakers and has tried a half dozen amps so far. None of them beat my old Dart (or probably even my ARC Ref 75SE which is a simple tube design). You have to make a decision on which speaker/amp path you prefer. The path for good sounding high powered SS is very slim.

Focals really sound best on tubes (and have for years imo). Most recently I had a La Scala audition at a local dealer on full D'agostino Momentum setup, but that of course is not Pass XS. I was going to come back and hear them on McIntosh (he doesn't sell tubed gear) but never did - same dealer is now the SoCal Boulder dealer and that sounds like a dreadful combo.

I heard ARC Ref 250s w/ KT150s on the Allnic importer's Grande Utopia EM in his listening room and it sounded great. He has since switched to Allnic amps and prefers them. You might give him a ring.