Old Amp vs. New Amp


Hi All!

I'm in search of a new amplifier and I am looking at new amps as well as older used amps.  There is some really great older gear out there for very reasonable prices, and of course the new stuff is considerably more expensive.

Is newer stuff really any better than some of the great older gear from the 90's and early 00's?

Opinions?
petrela
Just to make sure, you are talking about amps specifically and not receivers, right?  I only ask because I see this become a misunderstanding too often!

That said, it all depends on what 90's models you are eyeing, the 90's had big changes as some manufacturers started production in China.  Generally speaking though, a good quality amplifier from the 90's could be a viable option today.  Just remember, an amp that has 20 years under its belt could develop issues.
Yep, Specifically power amps such as the older Krell's, Mark Levinson, PS Audio, Moon, etc.

I have a mid 90's Acurus A250 and a 2013 NAD 375BEE and I would consider them pretty much equal.

My feelings on technology in general is that technology can be great for some things, and not so good for others.  Technology generally makes things easier, faster and cheaper to manufacture.  But when it comes to sound quality, I'm not convinced.

Tubes for example.  When solid state came around, tubes largely disappeared but eventually people figured out that Solid State can't do what tubes do.

Also, IMO, the best recordings I have ever heard are from the 60's, 70's and 80's all done on analog gear.

And then there's vinyl...
The "Magazines" seem to indicate that the "New" version is better than the "Old" version, but I'm not sure if I'm buying it.

Of course magazines are reliant on advertising, and advertising is relying on selling you the "latest and greatest"
Okay, I have no direct experience with those brands you mentioned, but since they are top line brands, I think you'd be pretty safe with them.  My own experience with Nad is with the 326 and C356BEE.  The 356 is better at higher volumes, but when I compared it with a Parasound A21/P7 combo, the Parasounds kept their composure when the Nad was reaching its limits, and were only slightly better at lower volumes. This has made me curious about the Nad C375BEE.

Anyway, these brands are always suggesting that they've improved and have something better, but I agree that it's probably more marketing than anything else.  I am a believer in good cables, however!


At about 20 years old some amps will have capacitors that will need replacing, but that usually isn't too expensive or difficult. Tube amps obviously might need retubing at almost any age, but even if you just look at inflation and depreciation, the math quickly tells you that older amps can offer tremendous value. For the same money as new "entry level" amps you can be looking at older near SOTA amps that will perform at a much higher level. Cheers,
Spencer
I have been pretty happy with the NAD C375BEE.  I think it is a very good integrated for it's price range.  I don't really have much to compare it to though.  I recently purchased a Parasound P5 pre-amp and it seems to do very nicely.  Now I'm looking for a good amp to pair it with.

So I guess what I'm pondering is...  If I spend $3000-$5000 on an amp, am I better off with a new amp in that price range, or an older amp.  Given that a 3k-5k older amp may have originally sold for about 6k-12k, it seems like the older amp may be the better choice.

As for cables, I'm not completely sold on that yet.  While I do  believe that quality cables suitable for the amount of current being applied is a must, I think that the thought of spending $1000, $5000, etc for a cable is ridiculous and most likely way overpriced and over hyped.
I would venture to guess that the used $5k amp would even surpass the P5 in capability and you would be set for a long while with the amp.

A cable conversation could take your whole life to read the history. There are some inexpensive ones that work great for many of us, but I'd suggest discussing that in another thread or by first looking at cables in some posted systems you like. Cheers,
Spencer
I should probably qualify my cable comments.  Personally I'd never spend $1000 for a cable.  I currently have 2 pairs of IC's that cost about $300 for both.  My Wireworld speaker cables cost about the same.  These both brought improved sonics for me and I'm happy there.  

As far as amps go, I'd concur that you could get more value in a used one while not losing out on sound quality.  Amps are a mature technology and as long as you get a well built one, I'd suggest you'd be fine.  

The Parasound gear I have has a slightly warm sound, with the top end probably rolled off a little, and I suspect the P5 might have the same characteristics.  I've read that the Nad's sound is similar, so when amp shopping, you may want to avoid amps with a warm sound, and go for neutral or forward sounding instead.  Unless of course you prefer a warmer sound.
That's pretty much what I was thinking on the older amps.  I feel like I would get a better amp for the same money.  As for my P5, I could end up wanting to upgrade that later, but for now, I feel like that is going to be a very good pre for the money.

I agree with your thoughts on the cables.  I think the moderately priced cables are the way to go.  Although I think they are also pretty overpriced.  But I think cables particularly speaker and power cables need to fit the application.  For example, I don't think you would want to use the same cables for a 50wpc amp into bookshelf speakers as you would pushing 1000wpc into giant speakers.
some newer amps have newer circuit designs - e.g. for SS, the rise of MOSFETs (some time ago); Class D (nad M22 and others) and the Benchmark (one of the newest designs I've seen)

for tubes, ARC continues to refine their sound & maybe others have too

whatever you have now, I'd buy something I could listen to for 2 to 4 weeks and return 

start working on a list of test music now

your amp exists to drive your speakers - what are they?  and what is their impedance vs. freq. curve like??
The "Magazines" seem to indicate that the "New" version is better than the "Old" version, but I'm not sure if I'm buying it.

That is their job, pushing new merchandise. Audio magazines are part of the audio industry, just another arm of marketing.

That said, older amps are probably just as good, if not abetter value for the $$$ than newer amps. As long as you realize that there is a little bit of maintenance that comes with older amps. Generally speaking, the main power supply capacitors should be checked and/or replaced every 15-30 years, depending on how hot the amp runs and usage.
As stated above, tubes will also need to be replaced as needed.
The speakers I have now are Klipsch KG2's.  A fairly moderate speaker from about 1990.  They sound pretty good though and are rather efficient (I believe).  I am in the process of building some new speakers that will hopefully be done soon.  The new ones are 2way stand speakers using Scanspeak drivers, they will also be fairly efficient and are 4ohm.  Once I finish those, I will be starting on some more elaborate 3way floor standing speakers with dual woofers.  So I am looking for an amp suitable for those, not so much what I have now.

How do you know when the capacitors are in need of replacing?  Is it subtle loss of fidelity?  Or more of a drastic drop off?

I've experienced bad tubes (in guitar amps) that is a fairly drastic drop off at least mine was.


petrela,

     I think you need to make a distinction between the older tube and class A amps and the older class A/B amps.     

     Good quality older tube and class A amps would likely offer the best bargains.  These amps offer great sound quality at reduced prices as long as you're aware that some of them may require extra expenses to keep them functioning at optimum levels.

     The performance of good quality older class A/B amps, however, are equaled or bettered by numerous modern amps using newer technology.  In my experience, there are absolutely no advantages to be gained by using class A/B amps rather than good class D amps.  
     
      Older class A/B amps can be bought at lower prices but the true bargains are the numerous reasonably priced class D amps that currently outperform them on all important audio criteria while also being a fraction of the size and weight, more efficient and cooler running.

     I honestly cannot think of a single advantage you would gain by buying an older class A/B amp.  Unless your budget is $10k or more, I believe you'd be better served eliminating all class A/B amps, older and current models, from consideration.

Just my opinion based on experience,
   Tim
Thanks for your input.  Honestly I am a little skeptical about class D.  I don't really have a reason to be though.

I believe for the most part the ones I am looking at are class A at least to a certain point.  It's a little hard to tell sometimes.  The specs aren't always very clear about that.

I am kind of leaning towards some of the older Mark Levinson models (300 series mainly).
IMHO, Class D is not yet ready for prime time.
stereo5977 posts02-15-2017 8:14amIMHO, Class D is not yet ready for prime time.
+1
Not until technology advances enough for the switching frequency of Class-D to be at least >5 x higher, then their switching noise output filters can do their job without any detrimental effects on the audio band.

Cheers George
Class D to me feels like one of those things that makes it cheaper, easier and faster to manufacture, but may be lacking in "listening pleasure".  But I have not heard any of the newer "High End" class D offerings.

I know PS Audio Stellar line uses some sort of hybrid of Class D technology.  I would be curious to compare those to other high end products.
Also, some manufacturers like SMc Audio (McCormack), Atma-Sphere (tubes)and Ayre update their older models. So, you wouldn't have to worry about not being able to get either repairs or getting the most up to date version.
Regarding cables, it would simplify a lot if you went with balanced connections which aren't as fussy as RCA. Even an inexpensive cable will give you plenty of dynamics.
Class D amps intrigue me, but it seems the jury is out. Some swear by them, other less so. Though the prices are attractive.
Bob
I'm kinda partial to the big old tanks myself.  They look like beasts because they are!

A 10 lb amp that sits 2" high just doesn't look very imposing.
I do plan on using balanced cables.  I have heard a lot of good things about those, and my preamp supports them.
" Thanks for your input.  Honestly I am a little skeptical about class D.  I don't really have a reason to be though."  

   
   petrela,

     Very normal and healthy to be skeptical.  I was initially skeptical, too.  

      About 3 yrs ago, my older class A/B Aragon 4004 MKII died of old age due to leaking caps in the power supply.  I didn't want to spend $1,000 to repair an almost 20 yr old amp so I bought a classDaudio SDS-440CS amp for $630.   I thought this would be a temporary solution until I bought another good quality class A/B amp for considerably more money.  I figured there was little risk since it came with a money back guarantee for 3 weeks.

     I was still skeptical when I was inserting this little amp into my system.  I thought: How could an amp that was 1/3rd the size, weight and price of my former Aragon match its performance? But this amp outperformed my old amp in every quality most of us care about; better bass control and response, much lower noise floor, better dynamics,more detailed while having a similar sound staging and smooth mid-range and treble response that never approached harshness.  It was the best amp I ever used in my system up to that point.

     I've noticed frequent skeptical posts from audio forum members about class D amps but rarely are they from actual users and it's typically fairly obvious from their comments that they've never even auditioned a good class D amp in their own system or any other system.

      Regardless,  I definitely think you'd be happy with an older tube or class A amp and possibly even with one that predominately operated in class A if you're willing to pay a steep price.
                    
Hope this helped you,
     Tim
Interesting!  Thanks Tim.  

I had never heard of Classdaudio.  I just looked at their website.

Certainly something to consider.
petrela just curious you mention tubes a few times and your speakers are certainly tube friendly but you're not interested in a  tubed power amp? To me a lot of tubed circuits are timeless and well designed point to point wired tubed stuff is relatively easy and cheap to fix. Just a thought.
Since the OP has an NAD BEE amp I will say this--I used an NAD BEE integrated amp for years and then switched to a tube pre-amp/class D power amp integrated (made by Rogue).  To my ear it's definitely an upgrade from the NAD solid-state integrated.   As much the Rogue pleases me I expect that many higher-priced rigs will sound even better--I'm just not operating with that kind of budget right now.  At any rate, in this zone I think class D is a fine alternative.
the nad M22 is Class D and seems quite ready for prime time

there are newer designs such as Class G etc. - one should investigate and use listening tests even if ignorant of advances in electronics in the last decade or two

I do find it useful to buy things used and a few years after the fad crowd has moved on to newer stuff...
I own a Lafayette tube amp form way back when.  I have not found anything really out there that can compete with this beast.  Probably because of the transformers used back in the day.  I have heard very nice hybrid class D amps that sound pretty good also.  It all depends on the old amp and the new amp.  I would like to have my Krell 50 amp back also.  Hearing differences also to me depends on the source.  I personally would rather upgrade my source then my amp.  To me that brings a higher reward in sonic improvement.

Happy Listening.

Even 4 year old amps have often become very much a good value - why go back 20 years? And Class D's such as Nuprime are ready for prime time
jond - Yes, I am interested in tube amps, but for some reason (not really sure why) I tend to lean towards Solid State.  I would certainly like to try tubes at some time.  I own a few guitar amps, and I wouldn't even consider a solid state guitar amp.

There are SOOOOO many amps out there, it's really difficult to decide which one is best.  I guess I just gotta take the plunge and hope for the best.

So... I did just that.  I just purchased a Mark Levinson No 333.  I sure hope it turns out to be all that I hope it is.  I guess I'll see.

Thanks for the great discussion!
Hello petrela
The Mark Levinson 3 series are great amps for the money now. I have owned several and still use one today. Just plan to make sure its been full re capped  with in 2-3 years from the time you purchase it. Or plan on getting it done your self at a certified Mark Levension repair shop. Well worth the money after its done.   The sound will not let you down.
Enjoy Pete
" I had never heard of Classdaudio.  I just looked at their website.

Certainly something to consider."

     petrela,

      The good news is that classDaudio is only one of many companies offering very good class D amps.  My initial very good experience with a class D amp impressed me so much that I did a lot of internet research about the history of class D amps, from the 1st proposal in 1958 and the 1st commercially available amp in 1964 to the best current examples of class D using power modules from companies like Hypex and Anaview/Abletec. 

       But this fascination with class D only inspired me to want to try some of the latest examples in my own system. Fortunately, my limited budget also limited my subsequent class D amp purchases to the more reasonably priced versions.  

       My 2nd class D amp was an Emerald Physics EP-102 stereo amp (bought on sale for $600) and my last amp purchase was a pair of D-Sonic M3-600-M mono-blocks (just under $2,000/pr.).  

     All 3 of my class D amps share some similar sonic qualities: very good bass control and response, very low noise floors, powerful dynamics,exceptionally neutral, high levels of detail, solid and stable sound staging and smooth mid-range and treble response that never seems too bright. 

     From reports  from numerous class D amp owners using a wide variety of good class D amp brands and models on this and other audio forums,  they typically mention the same  sonic qualities that I mentioned above.  However, I still try to resist claiming all good class D amps sound the same because I've only personally listened to a small sample of them.

     If you'd like to explore some other good class D amps, I'd suggest a google search of 'class D home audio amps'.

      Tim
I have owned Pass amps for the past 15 years...I have found each new generation to be significantly better than the previous...
add Odyssey to the list of manufacturers who upgrade both their newer and older units...even new they make excellent value amps...
Thanks for the note Pete.

I'm hoping that this ML amp will be my "Reference", therefore, if I want to experiment with class D or tubes or whatever in the future I'll be able to evaluate based on that.  For now at least (and maybe I'm wrong) I consider Class D as the "imitator" trying to do what the big amps do with less size, less energy and less cost.  Of course solid state is still trying to do what tubes do (to some extent).  And I guess tubes are trying to do what solid state does (mainly in the low end).  So I guess there's always a trade off.

Pass is another that I was really interested in, but more so their newer stuff, which of course is still pretty pricey.
My 1961 Fender Deluxe amp needed maintenance for leaking caps after only 40 years…damn…the amp worked fine before the new caps were put in but still, who needs that sort of hastle every 40 years?
Class D amps are great right here and now. Amazing power and sound that thrills even a tube diehard like me. 
I used to own a pair of Kenwood L-07's that I'd steal back in a heartbeat.  Beauty and Power in a substantial package, and still highly regarded from what I gather.  But, wishes 'n fishes....;)
L-o7's were a great sounding amp, very wide bandwidth, fast and dynamic. Had today's sound yesterday. But weren't very stable, could oscillate at the drop of a hat with capacitive loading like ESL speakers give.

Cheers George   

I know nothing about Class D amps, but I know new high end amps are too expensive, and people like CJ cost too much to repair now. (I know because I own CJ). If you're not on a loose budget, you're between a rock and a hard spot when it comes to the "high end".
orpheus10

what CJ gear is in your system?
I too think a lot of the older gear was great stuff!  Much of which probably can't be (or isn't) duplicated today in pure listening pleasure.

I think that's is the HUGE challenge most of us face...  How to build a great system on limited funds.  I feel like A LOT of the new stuff is WAY overpriced.  Some of it may be great, but I think a lot of it is overpriced, over hyped and probably not any better than some of the good stuff made 10, 20, 40 years ago.
Lots of new and slightly used stuff is inexpensive if you have the patience to look around. Ebay and Audiogon listings can be your friend.
Ha, good one Wolf! I love the Fender Deluxe, probably my all-time favorite guitar amp. Dwight Twilley's guitarist Bill Pitcock plugged (R.I.P., lung cancer) his Gibson 335 into a pair of them, with an MXR digital delay between the two, to get his signature sound. Evan Johns plugs his Tele into a blackface Deluxe Reverb, cranked to 10, though when I recorded with him the studio provided him with a blackface Super Reverb, which he also played on 10. Damn that was loud! But in a good way, unlike the nasty Twin Reverb, which I really dislike. A Strat into a Twin is my idea of Hell on Earth.

Jafant, I am glad you asked what I have, and not what I had. CJ "Was" my favorite high end name, I own a PV-10, and a PV-12.

The PV-10A is up and running, it's probably the best buy in all of the high end. The PV-12 needs repair, but it wont get it; I decided CJ repair was too high, and consulted a shop in Canada; he told me that CJ parts were too expensive, and his advice was to forget it. CJ is history for me.
he told me that CJ parts were too expensive, and his advice was to forget it. CJ is history for me. 


I don't buy that.
you may send me a pm if you would like one more option. 


Petrela, I agree, provided you avoid SS unless you can replace the electrolytic caps yourself, and make sure they are available. Old "tube" equipment might be the best buy, but when you take into consideration high priced repair, that might not be a good idea either.

I recently bought an amp for the bedroom from "Parts Express", and was quite pleasantly surprised. For the main listening room I have PrimaLuna mono blocks, and I love them. People on a budget are between a rock and a hard spot when it comes to the "high end".

Those prices are the result of this hobby being invaded by too many people who know why they don't show prices anymore on a lot of gear; "If you have to ask, you can not afford it".
orpheus10...  What amp did you buy from Parts Express?  I had a little Dayton amp that I used for desktop speakers.  It did pretty good until it got fried.  Now I'm using a NAD 3020 for my desktop speakers.  I'm very happy with that.

I've considered the PrimaLuna stuff.  When I do get some tubes, I will certainly look into those (as well as Rogue, BAT, VTL and MAC).
Not sure where "high repair costs" of older tubed gear are coming from. Point to point wired tubed gear is pretty easy for a competent tech to repair, to me its one of the bonuses of running tubes. My amp is 17 years old, I've owned it for 10, in that time I've recapped it for $500 and replaced a burned out resistors I think twice both times less than $100 for the repair. Other than retubing the overall cost of ownership has been modest in my experience. But again I am talking about a simple Class A , PP,  triode and point to point wired tubed amp, no fancy circuits here.

Jond, what you say is true "most" of the time. My pre-amp needs a transformer; that's something that never goes out on most gear.

Petrela, I bought two of those and a drop of water can fry one of those because the top is used for ventilation, and a drop of water caused one of mine to fry.

The other one is combined with the PV-10A, and it sounds good; primarily because SS mates good with CJ tube.

Since I have "all" high end in the listening room, if any of it goes bad and I can't fix it; I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

I can't say enough good things about PrimaLuna, and I highly recommend it.

I think "newbees" should only buy "new" equipment they can afford. It takes experience to even know what's wrong; why start out taking that chance? Parasound use to be an affordable name that offered good gear. Just because I can no longer afford all those names that represent the "high end" doesn't mean you can't; but after all is said and done, used has more of a downside if you are not at least a "Half A--" technician.