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 ron17

@thieliste

Thanks for posting the link to the Gryphon Mephisto paired with CH Precision linestage. Very precise and detailed presentation. What I found most interesting though was the 4 (2 stacked in each corner of the front wall) traps. What I believe those to be are AVAA C20 Active Bass Traps.

https://www.psiaudio.swiss/avaa-c20-active-bass-trap/

Very interesting technology for controlling and absorbing room modes (excessive bass) between 15 and 150hz. I am currently researching these units for my listening room.....Anybody know anything about these units?
I have the same CM shelf for my amp. I remember it taking at least a week to settle in. During that week it would sound bright one day and a little bassy the next, so it's too early to critically listen. If it sounds too bassy it could also be the Dragon HC PC's. Compared to Odin1 they have less top end energy and more bottom end energy.
@viber6

Posting "Guido and almarg (sadly deceased)" was perfectly clear to me. I had heard almarg had passed and even posted it myself on this thread. But to hear that Guido had also passed was quite disturbing. Being a doctor I sure hope you have more clarity when writing medical prescriptions....just sayin.
Well that's the best my computer has ever sounded....can I come over?
Shut you up once and for all....yeah right.
whitecamaross, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all of your detailed amp reviews. I have a Classe CA-5100 paired with Proac D30R's (89 sensitivity and 8 ohms) easy to drive speakers. I listen (75% 2 channel music and 25% HT). I'm looking to upgrade my 2 channel music listening by purchasing a 2 channel amp for my Proac's and keeping the 5100 for center and surrounds. I have done a lot of reading on the Pass X150.8, X250.8 and the Classe CA-2200. I think the Pass amps might run a little too hot for my application plus size and warm up time I have heard my also be an issue. I love the sound of my 5100 but would like to improve on it if possible. Your thoughts on the CA-2200 would be much appreciated. Thank you, Ron 
whitecamaross,
I am going to take your good advice and demo a Pass X150.8. I emailed Pass Labs and they directed me to Mark @ Reno HiFi for an in home demo. I know your views on the X250.8 and the X350.8 but do you have any experience with the X150.8? Anyone's input on the X150.8 would be appreciated. Thanks, Ron
jafant, whitecamaross & thezaks,

Whoops I guess I misread whitecamaross' statement.... " 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!" ... I now understand his statement was made prior to any evaluation of the X350.8.... Thank you all for your help and discussions on these fine amps. I can't wait to demo one in my home with my equipment. I will post my impressions. Ron
@WCSS

So let me get this straight. You said  

"If you can’t tell a difference at all then this means I should keep the cheapest PC out of the 3 and sell the rest."

So if we (listening over the internet with our computers) can't tell the difference between the 3 PC's, you will keep the cheapest? Seriously? Are you really going to rely on the sound quality of our computers?

When I evaluate an aftermarket PC on my system I listen for detail, clarity, tonal balance and a deep, tight tuneful bass.
 
On your last 'cable shootout' I could hear (somewhat) detail, tonal balance (down to upper bass only) and decay (reverberation time). I wouldn't buy or sell anything based on listeners voting after listening over the internet through their computers.....just saying.
@viber6

Not being able to hear if the bass is muddy, bloated, full sounding, tight, tuneful etc....would be a deal breaker for me....regardless what the midrange and top end are doing.

I do understand this is just for fun though, and the OP would never buy something based on what posters request or whine about.....well except the Wilson DAW speaker.
@viber6

Of course the bass material was audible in the OP’s room. My point was that you cannot hear the differences in deep bass over most computer systems. Bass (below 100hz) is so important in a system.

"With the Gryphon, if the mids/HF are clearer than the Constellation, the odds are that the bass is clearer, tighter and more tuneful as well."

Maybe maybe not. I’ve heard cables and components that sounded wonderful from the midrange up but had a muddy, too prominent or too little bass. You won’t be able to hear that on a standard computer.
Not a great song to judge a power cord shootout over computer speakers. A bass guitar or stand up bass, piano and maybe one less drum kit would have been better. In order of best to good...#3 Odin1, #2 Audioquest Dragon and #1  Audiomica.
@viber6

"Perhaps the most expensive will be shown to not be the best."

Don't you mean 'best match' for his current components and speakers?
I thought the 'power cable shootout' was a good way to take our minds off of the coronavirus crisis.....thank you WCSS!

On my computer the Audiomica #3 sounded the most detailed, had the longest reverberation time and (to me) sounded the brightest...then the AQ Dragon #2 followed by Odin1 #1. In fact #1 Odin1 sounded a little rolled off on the top end (over my computer). I was perplexed to hear the OP say that Odin1 was sometimes too bright for his system and felt the need to tame the sound with Cardas IC's.
 
The takeaway for me is I don't think you can really hear what's going on through computer speakers over the internet....A couple of weeks ago I decided to record (with my iphone XS) one of my favorite demo songs through my system. I immediately transferred it to my computer and listened. The sound was so different, not even close....of course. It's a fun exercise, but not to be taken too seriously.

BTW my cables are all Odin1 with the exception of speaker cables and USB which are both Valhalla2. My computer is a MacBook Air.
Whoops....what I meant was #3 AQ Dragon sounded the most detailed with the longest decay time (and brightest) followed by #2 Audiomica then #1 Odin....at least on my computer.

Thanks again WCSS for your time putting this together.
Hi fi palace must be stucked with the Block amp, so most probably it’s time again to deploy a little audiogon thread marketing...

"stucked".....really?
I was bored....fish in a barrel kinda thing
And now back to audio talk
I have always had a preamp in my system and never tried the direct from DAC to amp route. I listen at low to moderate levels so detail and resolution are at the top of my list of fun things....however if going direct from DAC to amp robs the natural warmth and richness, I will choose a less detailed but warmer, richer presentation every time. From what I could hear in the video the preamp added a more natural 'you are there sound' rather than a detailed hi-fi sound. Listening in person might change my mind because deep, tight focused bass is very important to me also and there was no bass to be heard in that track. I vote for the preamp in. There are ways of tightening things up when using a tubed preamp like isolation and a slightly lean power cord...that's what I would try. Thanks for the video!
@WCSS

Great to hear that you've dialed in your Focal Scala speakers. Preamp or no preamp?
I have been keeping up with this thread almost since it's inception. There are not many places you can get an unbiased review of so many different types and brands of audio equipment on a weekly basis from the same reviewer! I have been looking to upgrade my amp for quite a while but have found it impossible to find a dealer who has the amps I'm interested in, much less my speakers to play them through. I had 4 amps I was interested in and thought would mate well with my system, room and musical tastes. I only found 1 dealer who would ship me (at my cost if I didn't purchase the amp) one of the amps I was interested in for an in home demo..... I finally decided to PM whitecamaross and ask for his advice. I (in detail) described my system, room, musical tastes, listening levels and what I would like to improve on over my current amp. I gave him my list of amps I was interested in (all of which he has reviewed in his system). After talking (email and phone) with him MANY times he told me because I listen at low volume levels, the amps I thought would sound good in my home would have to be turned up loud to sound their best. He suggested the Plinius SB-301 mk2 for my application. He had recently had that amp in his system, loved it and was ready to sell it. BTW he had a couple of the other amps I was interested in but didn't think they would be a good match for my needs.....I ended up purchasing the Plinius from him and couldn't be happier. It is clean, powerful, detailed and has control in the bass that I didn't think was possible with my speakers, and all at low to moderate listening levels.... Exactly what I wanted!  Thanks whitecamaross for your help and advice.
Thanks riaa, I always find your responses sweet, bright, euphonic and sparkling....well maybe not bright but definitely sweet, euphonic and sparkling! 
So is this thread going to morph into  "My Long List of Cables and My Personal Review of Each!"  ?
You are wasting your breath with this guy....I have never owned an amp that I just plugged into my system that didn't need some kind of tuning of the system to get the most out of it. Whether it was power cords, IC's. SC's, preamp and even speakers and subs. At the Mephisto's level it's going to take way more time and testing...obviously.  
@ricevs 

I agree with you on this one. There are a few posters on this thread who take things way too seriously. Audio is supposed to be fun. The videos are fun, this thread is fun.....most of the time.
@guyl

Seems like my journey has been a little different than yours. I have had dozens of systems over the years.  Earlier systems (that were nowhere near as resolving) as my current system, took only a week or two to dial in. In my current system there is much more information to be heard which takes me months of fine tuning to get it just right. Adding a new component or cable now seems to really change tonal balance, bass, soundstage and always integration to my subs.....maybe it's just me being more obsessive about it....lol
How about getting the Canadians in the mix with their 870a / 740p combo?
So you can play a 'cover' of a song on youtube without any copyright problems?  Is that correct?  I know the OP was having problems playing demo songs that posters were requesting.
@WCSS

Some people think no power conditioner is best. A while back I experimented with a few conditioners and found them restricting in one way or another. I haven't had the pleasure of trying highly praised models like the Denali though....Since you seemed to enjoy the Nordost line of cables have you ever thought of trying their Qbase distribution strip?  

From Nordost's website:
"The essence of the QBASE-Mark II concept is a straight-line AC distribution path, combined with star-earthed topology for connection to a clean ground. By eliminating any form of in-line filtering or active circuitry we maintain the lowest possible AC supply impedance, while a tiny lift in the earth impedance of all but one of the output sockets routes the signal grounds directly to the center of the star and the clean earth terminal."

I have used one for years and have experienced no restrictive issues of any kind. The idea (as probably with most AC devices) is to use you best cable to power the Qbase giving the benefit / flavor of that cable to everything plugged into the unit.

It would be interesting to throw this type of unit in the mix of power conditioners for comparison.....conditioner shootout!

Keep up the good work, very interesting.
@WCSS
Between your day job, your family, this thread and your YouTube channel, surely you have time to modify a pair of Tektons.
The Boulder 2060..... Oh no what about your back!
I disagree.....  "Louder = Better"

Once you damage your hearing permanently the contest is over!
Speaker #1 sounds more detailed and accurate. #2 is smoother and probably less fatiguing. I'm guessing #1 is the Wilson and #2 Dynaudio.

Could it be the 1st speaker clip is really DAC direct to amp and #2 is through the preamp same speakers? lol
@bill_k 
Oh...got it thx.  Not familiar with Luxman gear.  
With a degree in music performance and playing live music for years in my teens, 20's and 30's I have played / heard a lot of loud music. I damaged my left ear around 20 years ago and now have to be carful of the volume I listen to now. I built a low distortion very detailed system that sounds great at low levels. I listen daily to levels in the 60's with peaks into the low 70's. I learned that the ear adjusts to the level listened to daily.  

So many musicians have acquired tinnitus, hyperacusis and have gone deaf from the constant exposure to high volume / levels of music.....Have fun and be safe.
Speakers 8.5' wide and I sit 9.5' away from them.
It would be pretty difficult getting closer however I had them 9.5' wide for a long time but I felt the vocals and instruments within the soundstage where not defined enough so I moved them in to 8.5'. Everything sharpened up and became more clearly defined....I also point the speakers almost directly at the listener....so a big toe-in.
whitecamaross,

I am very happy with my new amp purchase (thanks to you and your very informative forum posts). This year I’m planning on upgrading my source. Have you had the chance to compare the Lumin to the PS Audio to the Sim 650D (if you still have it)? Thanks, Ron
@WCSS

Around a year ago we had a heated discussion about the 'rule of thumb' that states 50% of total money spent on a system should be spent on speakers.....you were in favor of that rule and I was not. In the last year with your system consisting of an Aurender / dCS front end, Audio Research ref 6&10 and Luxman preamps, amps....(insert amp name here) and Nordost Odin cables. Just wondering if you still feel the same way? I am completely aware that a fantastic system can be built using that rule.....just not the kind you've been listening to lately.
Hmmm....room corrected bass might be the best bass you've had in your new room.  At what frequency does the bass cross over to the panels?
whitecamaross,

Do you still have the Sim 740p to try with the 860a?  Curious to know how that pair sounds with your Salon 2's or the PL 500's.

That combo with a really good single malt scotch whiskey is all you need!
I think the black system would be great for evaluating speakers but you are reviewing amps so I say keep the Ref 10 and a couple different types of speakers and review amps. I like the idea that maplegrovemusic had of throwing in a lesser priced amp now and again...that would be very informative for audiophiles on a budget. Also I know this is a solid state amp thread but to review a tube amp now and then would but fun to hear how they compare to the solid state amps you reviewed.
I have read the entire thread....I’m just saying every 10-15 solid state amps reviewed throw in a tube amp.
 @thieliste

Thank you for expanding on what you heard. The Mephisto sounds like one very special amp....still like to hear the Essence. I wonder how the Essence compares to the now discontinued Colosseum? Jay, I know you don't like to comment on something without firsthand knowledge but have you heard comparison talk between the two?  
Thx riaa, I will check it out
@keithr

"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."

I do respect your opinion and even though the OP 'Agreed' with your statement it is not what he has been doing for the last year. The Wilson DAW retails for $37,900. The Focal Scala EVO retails for $51,990. If you add up the retail costs of JUST the Nordost cables (parametric tone controls) he has been using, those alone far exceed the cost of each speaker. And the latest thing I heard the OP say was that he was going to save and look for a deal on Nordost Odin2 speaker cables which are  more $ than Odin1 speaker cables.....'anyways'.
So it took 2 Hegel H 30's (15k each) to best the Bel Canto Black system....I wonder how 2 Simaudio 860a's (15k each) would fair?
This amp thread just got too big league for me!
Not going anywhere...I just get more excited reading about equipment I can afford.
I think the OP has pretty much figured out what to buy and what not to at this point of his journey.