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 50 responses by klh007

I second viber6, I own an earlier GTAW speaker and I've heard their rooms at CAF for years and each year they have been better and in my top 3 rooms of the show. The GTA 3.2R's performance is right there with the best cost no object and paired with 3 12" OB servo subs per side are sublime, certainly my end game speaker system that checks all my boxes. Now I'm wondering what new (or bring back a previous amp-Block or Pass) amp will be brought in to make the DAWs sing for you?
It comes down to a matter of taste. A friend owns 2 AQUA DACs, Formula and LaScala, Formula allows more information and LaScala wins in soundstage being bigger/deeper. I prefer the bigger stage and he prefers the Formula, nobody is wrong just different tastes/priorities.
I agree with viber6 about speakers, both Roger Sanders electrostatics and Greg Takesh's GTA planars/OB servo subs have mated cone woofers to panels better than ML.
I'm still enjoying my GTA 2.5s, an older design that remains sensational. I'll be getting them updated and retrofitted by GTA as they can apply new construction advances to my older design, obsolescent proof, thanks Greg!
whitecameross, Please consider the AQUA La Scala II or Formula, and Denafrips Terminator in your DAC search.
whitecameross, Consider contacting Leif Swanson about MasterBuilt cables, and Ozan Turan about Ansuz cables, both in the uber-fi category. Also consider Cerious Tech's new Graphene Matrix cables, new tech but not wildly expensive.
Boulder 2010 for the matching synergy!

And the game changing mystery item is......?
Should we start guessing? Devialet?
220 Volt line?
Dan D'Agostino Momentum Monoblocks?
Solution?
Audionet?
 Get the Black back, sacrifice the Pass amps, keep the Ref 10.
Matt, Please consider calling Bill Parish at GTT and see about getting a loaner Audionet pre/power combo to audition. You are searching for the very best and reviewer Greg Weaver can't praise the gear enough, he's using Audionet for his VSA Aktive 55s and will be using the Audionet pair on the VSA Ultra 9s when they get to his home. Worth a call,   908.850.3092.
I would certainly include Constellation and Audionet.
@muzikmann, I'm still hoping on another shot with 2 Adcom GFA 585 SEs in mono for an affordable alternative, c'mon Larry- loan 2 585s to him..
You should try the Ref 10 and 925 combo, just to hear what synergy they have.
Dag integrated, or Rowland Daemon?

WCSS, Good move, I've only heard Personas at shows but I was not impressed. If you stay with Wilson look for Daryl designed models, Alexia II is a winner.

The used market is flooded with Alexia 1s, get a great deal.
WCSS, Please give the Neolith/Ref 10/Krell system a go!
Overloading the room with bass is the primary reason big speakers in small rooms can falter. The Neolith has 4 and 8dB shelving switches so you get some adjustability. Perhaps consult ML and GIK and get their thoughts on room size and treatments? I believe the stat screens will be fine and image properly, maybe consult Ted at Synergistic Research about room treatments that would be beneficial? Please keep up your good work and letting us tag along vicariously with you! I applaud your ability to sell gear you've called "Best" ie Rowland amps and Ref 10 pre and move on, maybe you'll get them back if you feel the pull strong enough. Keep going at your pace, enjoy the hobby as well as your family, and continue to have fun.
Bring the Neoliths in and strap the Krell to them, sounds exciting!
My money is on the Ref10/Krell.
Like Guido I have heard Luxman driving Vivids at RMAF in Philip O'Hanlon's rooms, transparent, sensational imaging/soundstage/depth, nice tonally, dynamically alive, and packing weight and wallop in the bass range, great choice.
I think Lyngdorf calls it RoomPerfect TM.
WCSS, I know it might be slumming, but don't discount the Direct Digital approach Lyngdorf and also Exogal have accomplished, the TDAI-3400 is new and has the power to juice difficult loads as well as Room Perfect.
WCSS, Here is a standalone Room Perfect for sale, FYI;  https://www.ebay.com/itm/232858283808?ul_noapp=true
The last 2 hours were with Magico or Focal?
@grey9hound & @viber6, The larger Tektons using 15 tweeters are able to crossover the midrange at 300 Hz to the tweeter array and using cones only up to that point, a frequency very close to where the ML Monoliths crossover is to their electrostatic element. I have a pair of DIs in my system which cross the 7 tweeter array in at 600 Hz,  and in 2 minutes the increase in vocal detail was noticeable to me and my wife compared to our previous speakers, a great buy at $3000 and a market disruptor at that price point IMHO.
WCSS, I wonder if tube rolling in the BHK monos would provide a more extended top end?
I listened to Constellation monos in Irv's room with Rockports @ $38K, sat next to John Curl with Harry Belafonte Live at Carnegie Hall, great sounding system. I can't remember the model but Irv said they were downsized from last year's RMAF.
M3 was the number I was thinking also, good luck negotiating your way up the ladder WCSS!

WCSS, Why not try a speaker you haven’t already owned, I say go for Focal Scala Evo or Wilso Alexias.
viber6, I'm going to pull a quote from your post, " A nearly massless stat driver will have an inherent advantage over a more massive dynamic driver", please consider that the Tekton Encore and Ulfbert have an array of 15 tweeters that allow them to be crossed over at 300 Hz, 100 Hz lower than the Neolith and I bet the moving mass of 15 tweeter domes is much less than the weight of a Neolith diaphragm.
viber 6 and kw6, thanks for mentioning the AlsyVox magnetic planars. viber6, please be careful with your use of the word "ribbon", the AlsyVox speakers do not use ribbon drivers, but utilize a planar-magnetic method like Magnepan except they are push-pull employing neodymium magnets on both sides of the diaphragm for fast response and high efficiency. Their room at RMAF was one of the best at any price, percussion was particularly real sounding, and they made a big band sound believable right in the room, stellar achievement! I'm sorry WCSS didn't get to Denver to hear the AlsyVox, maybe he'll come up to Maryland for the Capital Audiofest, many wonderful speakers to hear including a similar planar magnetic at 1/8th the cost of AlsyVox, the GT Audio Works Reference 3 full range planar, just for reference to what he has at home.
viber6, Even the 5mm wide tweeter in the Alsyvox is a push-pull planar magnetic, unlike the true ribbon tweeters in the better Maggies and the GT Audio Works designs. The Botticelli Alsyvox at RMAF would sell for $87K if a distributor can be found.
     You may not be aware of another stellar electrostatic design from Conifer, CO, Roger Sanders' Model 10 hybrid shown at RMAF. Honed over 3 decades of improvements his stats are as or more transparent than ML and have beat ML at the woofer integration equation, play with more dynamic excitement, play very loud, but exhibit the narrow sweet spot flat planars come with. The Sanders are $17K/pr but that includes a Magtech amp for the stats @900 WPC, a 10" woofer in a transmission line loading, and DSP room correction. You need to supply an amp for the woofers and you're done.  Every year his room sounds like a breath of fresh air, startlingly transparent, big dynamic swings, intimate vocals, seamless woofer integration coupled with crushing deep bass when called for, a real value.
WCSS, We are all waiting for your reveal! What did Friday bring?
WCSS, Be sure to pick an amp that can drive 0.43 Ohm load as the Neoliths droop to that impedance @20KHz. I'd bet above 5 to 8KHz the impedance is close to 1 Ohm or below, very tough load for even a powerful amp, I'm thinking the Dag Int is up to the task.

@dracule 1, I’m sorry but I think  you are wrong about the Alsyvox mid and tweeter, all their drivers are push-pull planar magnetic. They use the term "ribbon" too loosely to describe any planar driver, but a true ribbon does not operate in a push-pull manner with magnets in front and behind. A planar magnetic uses a mylar (or similar) sheet as a carrier and has a "voice coil" glued or etched onto it and magnets in front and/or behind. A true ribbon, see RAAL, uses just an aluminum diaphragm and side magnets. I asked the designer, Daniele Coen about the Botticelli in Denver at RMAF and he said all his drivers were planar magnetic. Look closely at all the Alsyvox drivers, they look the same just narrower. Now look at the GTA 3R, the tweeter is smooth and is a true ribbon. With the language difference, I could be wrong, but I believe the Alsyvox drivers are all push-pull planar magnetic. I also think the Botticelli speakers I heard in Denver are sensational and if I could afford them, I’d own them! They decimated most other mid-sized rooms at RMAF and really brought a big band into the room, huge dynamics, drum kit had live impact and believability, very transparent, beautiful tonal color, a speaker to die for!
@minorl, WCSS buys from the used marketplace so sometimes there is no "dealer" to rely on for assistance.  The Block monos  he's getting to try on the neoliths are a loaner pair from a dealer friend. I'm interested in the Block/Neolith combo to see how good the amps are and will there be any synergy. I'm hoping WCSS can wring every last drop of performance from the Neoliths so we can find out if they are keepers, or another step along the path.
WCSS, You can also use a software based DSP program to contour the Neoliths to your liking and use any preamp/amp combo.
WCSS, I know you love the Ref 10, and it might have some advantages over an all D'Agostino solution, but without the ability to boost the highs you may like the all Dag system more. The SA103/Ref 10 audition will give you some feedback on how much the Ref 10 adds to a Tube/SS combo. Looking forward to today's listening results.
WCSS, If you want to try @viber6's thin wire theory, the ultimate retail version would be from Mapleshade and their Clearview Double Helix, http://www.mapleshadestore.com/speakerwires.php    These minimal "skinny" wires surprisingly produce great deep bass, very wide (startling) dynamics, and get the beginning of notes better than almost any competitor.
@viber6 and @mrdecibel, Mapleshade also offers no speaker cables shorter than 8 feet, based on listening tests. Their cables are real giant slayers but must be tried before being dissed.
WCSS, You have not slowed down in spite of the Holidays! Keep trying new kit and keep us guessing. Any hints on a new front end, analog or digital? Server? 
Thanks for your report on today's listening session, very informative especially the Blocks reclaiming the top rung.
WCSS, Keep on your path of trying out gear in your system, it is the only real way to judge. I underestimated Neoliths based on 4 "Show" auditions, I'm glad you forged ahead and gave them a try. Good luck on your quest and I hope you can maybe find and end-all system.
I heard the new Krell Pre & power amp driving Wilson Alexx speakers at the 2018 Capital Audiofest in the VPI room, very impressed, but no comparison available.