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
So that everyone here understands WHY my opinion changes.

I wasn't saying your opinion couldn't change, or you couldn't like something else better. I just meant that some things you say now are the exact opposite of things you originally said about the .8 line.

I had an x250.5 and traded that in for a pair of xa60.8s and was happy in pretty much every way. I only sold because I needed to downsize. (I don't mention that to try to defend Pass or anything, but you have said people should only comment if they have actually owned the amps)
understood skoot58. Hey, i haven't heard the 60.8, but i owned the 160.8 and 200.5s. 
@skootb 

There are so many contradictions in this thread I wouldn't worry too much.  It's a fun read, but between contradictions, people basing opinions on equipment they have not owned, and multiple profiles people use to pump up their own opinions (and help sell equipment)... probably best to not believe everything you read on the internet.

The differences are pretty slight among most of the high end amps. 

Same equipment, including source, cabling, conditioning, speakers, room, etc.  Change amp and listen again.  That is really the only true way to make a determination of this sort.  A/B comparison with changing only one thing. 

Otherwise, the difference in sound could be attributable to any number of things that were changed.  no way to get around that.

In WC's case, he has not only changed amps, he has changed, pre-amps, cables, speakers, etc.  It would probably be physically impossible for him to change only one thing. So, we are taking his impressions on the move as life goes on.

I have no problem with that. 

My issue (if it really is one) is that most of the equipment he has tried has actually been quite nice.  So, I would be very careful saying that something is bad.  It just may not have worked well in that particular setup with some of the equipment used at that time.

Pass labs makes outstanding equipment. period.

With the system WC has now as his "reference".  Amps, speakers, cables, source, pre-amp.  If he were to go back (I know it is impossible, so don't kill me here) and re-evaluate the pieces he has tried previously, only replacing that one piece, I can believe that he would hear differences.  But keeping within price points on equipment, I can say that I don't think there will be jaw dropping differences between equipment in the same price point category.

Like I said earlier.  For example, Parasound make quite decent equipment.  Place them with Martin Logan Neolith speakers and they will sound quite nice.  If they didn't it may be because of many reasons.  1) room, 2) cables, 3) power condition, 4) terrible music (have experienced this at shows), 4) any number of things. 

I am appreciating WC's journey through the "high-end" audio world. It is quite fascinating.  But, people should take this with a grain of salt.  It is quite fun, but, other than taking someone's word for it, what is the best ways to judge equipment?

1) take it home and place that piece in your system, changing only that piece, match levels and listen.  Do A/B vs the original piece and have fun.

2) go to a friend's house and listen to his/her system with that particular piece and judge.  Understanding that if you buy that piece and take it home, most times it will perform quite differently in your system than in your friends.

3) go to shows and hear a piece in the set-up presented at the show.  With the understanding that Number 2 above will also apply.

WC is giving (in my opinion) an honest view of how certain pieces sound in his system.  I like that.  But, I do understand and acknowledge that along the way, he has changed many things.  So, direct comparisons were not possible in some cases. in others, like now, there can be direct A/B comparisons.

So, my point (finally) is that I wouldn't be so quick to say that previous equipment tested was inferior or bad or lacking.  It was and is an evolutionary process, not direct A/B comparisons.  so memory plays into this in a very real way.  But, that memory has to also consider that it was more than one piece, or room, that changed.

Still great fun and I'm enjoying this greatly.

Tell you what I would really like now. 

Audio Research REF 10 pre amp vs Atmosphere top of the line pre, vs CAT, etc.  Changing only the pre-amp.  I know, hard to do, but wouldn't that be fun also?

enjoy

The only WAY to get REAL ANSWERS is for people to BUY all the gear they want to try rather than reading reviews from magazines or the HE/SHE SAID mentality. You all wanna know the issue? most people dont have the money or time to try all the gear i go through so what else can they do? follow my journey....that is all they can do... end of story..