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 thezaks

rsf507,
So what series of Audiomica did you get?  You mentioned you could not afford the Consequence series.
So are the lower series (Ultra Reference and Excellence) worth it for their price?

Dave
Hi whitecamaross,

Thanks for all of your very helpful information on amplifiers you've had in your system!   In my past, I've had some Pass Labs in my home (X350, X5, X1), and I absolutely enjoyed that equipment and I can understand why you think Pass Labs is top notch. 

On the budget side of things, you had really nice things to say about the Emotiva SA250.   Based upon performance (ignoring price :-), where would the Emotiva rank among your amp list?  Is it anywhere near the neighborhood of the Pass Labs or Parasound or even the Plinius Odeon?

Emotiva now has their new Class H XPA Gen 3 amps, and after talking on the phone with the Emotiva folks, they claim that these new amps are actually being preferred over the SA250.   So, if the SA250 was really good and the Gen 3 XPA's are better, then it might be a great amp to get into for a lower price.

I'm also looking into a Plinius, since you mentioned it's the best multichannel amp you've tried.  Basically, for a 7 channel amp, I'm looking at the Plinius Odeon vs the new Emotiva XPA Gen 3. 

Finally, if I do decide to go separate amps, I think I would do a 2 channel Pass Labs amp, plus a 5 channel amp.  Just wondering which 5 channel amp would match up well with the Pass Labs?

Thanks in advance,
Dave
Thanks to both posts from ottablue and whitecamaross!  I agree that the best way to evaluate anything is in your own system.  However, it's also really helpful to hear other's experiences, and so I find this thread very helpful.

For whitecamaross, I'm wondering about the Plinius Odeon 7. Is it anywhere near the ballpark of performing like the Pass Labs or the Parasound JC1?  Also, does it run hotter than the Pass Labs amps?   I have a chance to get the Plinius.  The dealer suggested converting and running it at 220V, but says I can probably get away with 110V, which is how I would run it.

Thanks in advance!
Dave
I've ordered a 7 channel Gen 3  amp from Emotiva, so I 'm going to try it out while I wait for the availability of the Plinius Odeon (available for me in about a month).  Fun stuff!

Dave

Cool!  I have a furman as well.


Thanks,

Dave

Quick question for whitecamaross (and everyone else too):

Do you plug your amplifiers straight into the wall or into a power conditioner.  If the latter, what conditioner do you use?

Thanks,
Dave
I was wondering if you'd come back to the Neoliths - especially to try in the new room.

This is purely curiosity, but I wonder how a speaker like a JTR NOESIS 215RT would sound with all of your electronics and cabling.  It's certainly a big boy, and it would be a chance to try something with a compression driver in your room.   Using your analogy, it looks like it would be a 4X4 truck.
Dave
What are you using instead of the Parasound?

Dave
WC - how about Rockports?
Dave
Thanks 213runnin for your posts - I appreciate any/all comparisons.

I sent whitecamaross a PM asking about the second best 7 channel amp he's experienced.  I was thinking of getting the Plinius Odeon, but I am concerned with heat and the shutdown of the amp.  Unfortunately, the amp slot in my entertainment center is closed on the sides.  With the 10" amp height, it will have 6" of space on top, and the front and rear of the shelf is open.   I'm thinking that the 6" is not enough and the sides being closed is a deal breaker.   I read the instructions for the Odeon, and it requires nearly 16" of clearance on all sides, and not being closed in.  Perhaps second best will be the best for me.

So, looking for whitecamaross (or anyone else) to comment on what might be the second best multichannel amp (in your subjective experience, of course :-)

Thanks in advance,
Dave

By the way, I have the Gen 3 Emotiva 7 channel amp, and I'm giving it some time.  Dynamics are great, the bass is really good, treble is good and it's never too bright.  It is absolutely terrific with action movies - whether lower volume or cranked up.  It does not seem to run out of juice.  It's definitely a tremendous value.   I'm going to give it a few days more and see if it improves further.   So far, I'm really wanting a bit more in the midrange -- I'd like it to be more 3D.

Dave
@213runnin - yes, Emotiva claims that the SA250 was better than their XPA series, but they now claim with the Gen 3 that it is better than the SA250.

@whitecamaross - that is good to know about the system matching and that the Odeon did not go well with the bryson sp3.   I have a Theta CBIV w/Xtreme 3 dacs - so far, the best processor that I've had.  It's hard to know if an Odeon would go well with my CBIV.  And, unfortunately, there's not a 30 day trial period. :-)

Dave
@whitecamaross - that's awesome, by the way, that you are enjoying your speakers and the mc275s!  What happened with the Pass Labs X250.8?   Are you finding that the tubes of the mc275s are a better synergy with your speakers?

Dave

@ron17 - does whitecamaross have any experience yet with the X350.8?  I missed it, if that's the case...

Dave

Dave
@ron17 - when I spoke to the folks at Pass Labs, they mentioned that the X150.8 is a little more "just the facts", and the X250.8 is a little more like the X350 I used to have - a little more of that tube 3D like sound.

@whitecamaross - It will be very interesting to see what you think of the XA200.8 vs. the X250.8!!

Dave
Ron,

There's a fairly good priced X350.8 on Audiogon right now  :-)

Dave
That’s why I mentioned "fairly good" and not "good" or "great" price :-)   I definitely agree with you whitecamaross on all points.   Even though I had an X350 before, I think I’d go with the X250.8 as well, especially for the lower height.

Dave
Returning the Emotiva 7 channel Gen 3 series today, since it's near the end of the 30 day eval.  For someone looking to go separates and needing a 7 channel amp in that price range, I really cannot imagine a better amplifier.   

Dave
@whitecamaross -  I'm trying to recall, but I don't think you've reviewed any of the McIntosh 7 channel amps (MC8207/MC207).   I wonder how well those would do on the solid state side of things.

I think you've found that tubes are the ultimate way to go for 2 channel, and the best solid state for 2ch is the Pass Labs.  It would be interesting if you could try the Pass Labs XA160.8 or XA200.8 to see how it compares with the McIntosh tube amps.

Regarding multi-channel amps, I believe you had Plinius way ahead of anything else.  As I mentioned above, just wondering how the McIntosh amps (MC8207/MC207) would compare?

Thanks,
Dave
Thanks whitecamaross!   Great info!!

Dave
I've heard that the ATI Class D amps have a bit more energy than the Theta Dreadnaught D.  A lot of folks really seem to like both of these amps.   I had the Theta DD for a while.

Dave
If I could have a mono for each channel of my home theater setup and price did not matter, the XS amps from Pass Labs would be my dream setup.  I'd have to get a different room/house too :-)   However, since I'm going with a multi-channel amp, I'm still thinking about the Plinius Odeon might some day/year make it to my system.

Dave

@jrunr - my guess is that it's good sonics

@whitecamaross - I'm going to speak for myself, but perhaps others might agree - I absolutely enjoy your journey with these amps, even though I might not ever own many of them.  I was actually hoping you would try the XA200.8 before the XS series, to see how it compares to the other amps you have tried.  I'm sure it's a very big step up from the XA30.8 that you had, and may have beat the X250.8.   Of course, then I would have really been curious what you would think about the XS series, and here we are.  Congrats on the amps!

Dave
Mmmm.....simaudio has the Moon Evolution MC-8 multi-channel amp - perhaps something to consider on the multi-channel side of things?  Requires 240V though  :-)

Dave
Have you tried a recent .8 series Pass Labs in your system?  Did you buy the MA-300 from the dealer you mentioned?

Dave

@whitecamaross

You mentioned:

Pass lab class A amps tend to sound very liquid, clean, detailed, but they do lack the slam that their class ab versions have.

Is this all based upon the XA30.8? My guess is that you would probably want at least the XA100.8, if not the more powerful XA’s to make a better comparison with the X250.8 and X350.5.  I'm thinking the XA***.8 versions will fare better than the XA***.5 versions, if you are looking to compare the slam.

Dave

Is that based upon only listening to the XA30.8?   If so, then you may want to try a more powerful XA***.8 (not .5) to see if it's still the case.  I think the gap will be greatly narrowed.

Dave
Without evaluating technically, and listening at work on cheap $20 headphones connected to my laptop, the first one had my foot tapping the most. So, for musical enjoyment, I would dare to be different and pick #1. Could be a completely different verdict if I was listening on my system at home...

Dave



Should be fun to find out which is which.   Even more fun to hear your subject analysis and preference WC.
Dave
maplegrovemusic,
I thought the same thing through my $20 headphones into a laptop - #2 and #3 sounded kind of flat in comparison to #1.  Going to check it out on my home system tonight.Dave
There's no substitute for hearing it in person.  Having said that, listening on my system last night, #3 sounded much better to me than it did on my headphones.  I would still put #2 last - it was just too flat sounding and not as incisive.  However, if someone loves bass or a smooth or non-invasive type of sound, then I can see how #2 would be their top choice.  Live music, at least for me, is not smooth or non-invasive.  It's full of dynamics, not just for the lows, but also for the mids and highs.  I'd rather listen for a shorter time to something like live music, than to be able to listen for a much longer time with music that is smoother.  YMMV of course :-)
Dave
Just received an upgraded Plinius Odeon on a pallet today, and I will hook it up this weekend.  Looking forward to listening to it!

Special thanks to whitecamaross for this thread and for the PM's!

Dave
WC,
Our conclusions were pretty much the same, and I also think the Dragon was a good middle ground between the Nordost and the Audiomica.

I like that you will be comparing the Hurricane vs the Dragon.   It would be also interesting some day to hear you compare Odin 1 vs Odin 2.  Of course, we're talking $'s.

Dave
Are you doing 2 channel with the 205 or just using hdmi?

Dave
@whitecamaross,

Exciting news about the Luxman gear!   I'm still curious though what you would think of the higher powered Pass Labs XA gear in your system, especially with a Pass Labs preamp.  Loving the journey!

By the way, I have my Plinius Odeon new, and I can tell it is something special.  It's like a new amp though, since they did an upgrade to it, so I'm giving it some more time.  More to come...

Dave
@riaa_award_collectors_on_facebook

You will like your new Odeon - I received one too with the Ultimate Upgrade about a month or two ago.  Dynamics like you would not believe and great transparency.  It will make you rethink your cables and other equipment, because it is more revealing of differences. 

Dave
I just heard that Classe Audio closed their doors...

Dave
@fsonicsmith  - Look at 4 and 5 posts above your post  :-)

Dave
Well said!  It's unfortunate that you have to explain yourself.  I don't understand why lalitk felt like the comment was necessary.  I think most other folks here appreciate your comparisons and experiences that you've shared.  Plus, you've even given advice to some (me included!)

Thanks for the fun and the information - I'm truly enjoying it!

Dave
I'm curious as well about the ATI AT5X...  class d amps as well.  I'm hearing great things about them.  The ATI AT54X... amps are rated for 500 watts/channel, while the AT52X...  amps are 200 watts/channel.  I'm thinking about trying an ATA AT543... to see how it does for the front three channels of my HT.

Dave

@whitecamaross  - have you had a Theta Casablanca IV or IVa?

@corvette01 - the Theta CB IV is my favorite processor (have not tried the IVa), and the McIntosh is my second favorite.  I've also had Krell, Arcam, Marantz, Onkyo for HT.   Back when I did 2 channel, I loved my Pass Labs X1 (SS) and the Cary SLP-05 (Tube).

Dave
By the way, ATI/Theta now also owns Datasat.

Dave
@auxinput:

I'll keep this short, since this is whitecamaross' amp thread.  I had the Krell S1200U 3D, and it was my second favorite processor for both movies and 2ch, when no EQ is applied.   First would still have to be the Theta CBIV.  With RoomPerfect, the McIntosh jumps slightly ahead of the Krell (in my room).  With Xtreme D-2 dacs, the CBIV is actually a touch smoother than the Krell - kind of the opposite of what you found.   I now have the Xtreme D-3  DAC, which does make it more dynamic. 

I did not find the Krell or the Theta shouty or bright or thin or harsh solid state in my room/setup. If anything, I found the XMC1 (which I also owned for a period of time) a little bit thinner and not as smooth sounding.

The SP3 is liked by a lot of folks, and I have not seen it described as you have described it.  Perhaps there's something different with the rest of your system and/or room that is contibuting - so, getting back to the subject of this thread - what amps are you running with your setup?

Dave
Has anyone tried the Gen 3 of the Emotiva XPA amps? I had the XPA-7 Gen 3 for a while, and it was a nice amp. Plenty of power for sure, but not as full sounding as I like. I now have a Plinius Odeon (thanks to the recommendation from whitecamaross :-),  and it is working out very nicely.

Dave
@whitecamaross - I agree about the Plinius - I'm not looking for another amp.  I just mentioned the XPA 3, because I had it at one time and I was wondering if others hard heard the amp - especially since Emotiva amps entered the discussion.

Dave
Honestly, I'd try the JR 925's instead of the Black.  Or, try both - one at a time :-)   I'm sure the belcanto black would have tremendous bass.  What I would worry about - is the bass dry, how are the highs - are they too tight - not providing enough air, decay, extension, etc??   Trying it out would be the way to find out for sure, but those would be my concerns going into it.

Dave

I'm not sure that Oppo touted itself to be a reference redbook player, as much as reviewers and/or users were touting it.  Nevertheless, the main point, as pointed out by whitecamaross, is that it cannot compare to many dedicated cd players.  Yes, there is a price difference, but that was the point - the Oppo was touted to be reference for a lower price.

Dave
@whitecamaross - I'm sure the xa200.5s will be nice amps - I just wish it could have been the xa200.8s instead.  Some day perhaps :-)

Dave

I'm sure he will answer, but I think he had the JL Gotham and then went to the Rel G1 or G2.  The Rel 212/SE looks interesting as well.

Dave

@whitecamaross  - thanks for sharing your comparison of .5 vs .8.  However, are you comparing XAxxx.5 with Xxxx.8?

Dave