Also throw on the heap a BAT vk-250 or vk600(se). I have a vk-250 and love it. Make sure when you listen to a unit that has ALLOT of breakin.
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Philefreak, I have listened to the Ayre and McCormack which are quite good, but I think the Pass Labs-X250.5 is even better sounding. I wrote a review on my Pass Labs-350.5 which will give you more details regarding the sonics of the X.5 series you might find helpful. Many "tube" guys I know love the X.5 amps because they have the musicality/warmth of tubes with the power and dynamics of SS. Hope this helps.
A Plinius amp purchased two months four months ago has made me not really miss my tube amps (mostly SETs) of the last 19 years. Just last night I was marvelling at the sheer musicality of the SA-50 MKIII and the fact that I have no desire to get back to a tube amp any time soon. However, I do have a Joule Electra LA-150 II pre-amp which I think is beautifully musical, and also have Harbeth speakers which need quite a bit of drive.
On the other hand, I do miss seeing the glowing tubes and even looking at the trannies. And I've got a flawless Ait Tight ATM300 just setting here looking gorgeous. I can't seem to get up the nerve to place it on the market.
Of the amps you have listed, with your existing preamp, the Ayer and BC make the most sense. The BC 8 is one of my favorite amps. Then the Pass and McCormack. The Sim is very accurate, maybe a little dry. Since the door was opened for digital amps, look at the Channel Island DM 200 (or the 100 if you do not need the power). It mates with the SE9 extremely well and will outperform most amps more expensive. It is musical and accurate without dryness or being analytical. It is a sleeper, clearly light years ahead of the Nuforce and others in its class.
But, it all comes down to your ears, room and overall tolerances.
Yo; philfreak--In a thread I started and went nowhere and within another thread I asked about the Pass 350.5 we seem to be in the same boat. I have looked at ads for the same amps you mention. I nearly bid on the dutch auction for 350.5's last week. I have had in the past,2 dif.845 amps.I just weren't to happy with the overall presentation--(I NEED bass) I now have Wilson Sophia. I just paid 1600 to retube my CJ8's. I listen way to much. Sometimes my stuff is on 24 hrs a day. Between the cost of tubes and the summer-time-heat,I just think a decent SS is the way to go;saving the CJ for special sessions. The Lamb M1.1 / 2.1 and such are just a bit more than I want to spend right now. Does the 350.5 run hot??
Go odyssey, maybe the extreme dual mono, I went from several tube units, Rogue, Cary, love the odyssey, I heard and liked a Ayre for about 1500.00 used, and Threshold, Sunfire, mcCormack, forget it the odyssey takes the cake, especially with the low risk of money... The extreme gives you 120 amps of current per channel, 180,000 mf of capacitance, and built with Plinith transformers, and WBT binding posts standard,,, none of these amps for anywhere near the price get you that close, The sim audio I think will only get to 30 amps per channel peak, And most other manufacturers do not even give you those specs. In my experiance the Higher current Solid state design you can get the more liquid and tube quality(closer) you can obtain. Plus You can try an odyssey for an audition and no questions asked return, but they take a nasty amount of breakin time just like the rest of the Transistor based units.
I too have had a long held bias (no pun intended) for tubes, but there are some very nice SS amps out there. I respect Ayre and Sim Audio but they are not quite my cup of tea. I think the McCormack is very good. My favorite, though, enough so that it will soon be a new addition to my household, is the Hovland Radia.
My experence and recent desires are just like yours. I just sold my Wright Sound 3.5 SET tube monoblock amps for a 400 watt/channel SS amp. I tried many.
I purchased a Mcintosh MC401 SS amp. It is wonderful. I also suggest these,
Blue Circle SS amps - any of them!
Belles 350 or 150 reference
The Mac is the best of this group in my home, but these are all what your looking for.
Wow! Thanks for the many responses. My system is a little fat and soft so, I don't want an amp that is trying to be tubey. I'll keep my Joule and 300B for that. What I want is balls to the wall volume and ultra-revealing. The Pass X series just might be the trick. I know ealier in this journey I tried a pair of Clayton 100 Monos and loved them the best of any solid state I've tried. If I could get a pair of those,I'd swipe them up in a heart beat!
Thanks Grannyring---For reinforcing me on my purchase of the Belles 150,reference. I've had this amp for about a month,in conjunction with my new speakers.At first I was thinking; 'gonna have to dump this amp. Well things have changed for the better. This is one musical amp with great--;--- Well,great everything,top to bottom. These don't come up that often and can be sold for the same as you paid. Like I said I have almost bought 2/3 different amps since the Wilson's got here; glad I waited it out.---I'm not saying this Belles is better than any of these other amps---all of which I've never heard.--I'm just happy with the music---Then I'm happy with the price they sell for-used.
Philefreak: Fat and a bit soft? Is that because of the speakers? I have heard your pre and that is one heck of a pre, but not fat in my eyes. Droplet is supposed to be smooth and detailed but not described as lush or tubey. I have used McCormack's old DNA series that was moddified by Steve and that was very nice, but the Bel Canto digital amps I have used are much better. Fantastic control on the low end and clean open mids and highs.
Curious, what else did you consider prior to picking up the Droplet? Also, no mention of cabling.
Bixby, Yes it's the speakers. The Droplet is a killer piece and so is the preamp behind it. My Joule Electra VZN 160s are also great. I just want some lean and transparent sound for a change up. Not that the Joules are not transparent, I just want a little solid state sound. I can always hook up the Joules or my 845 monos for some tube sweetness. I'm also an in home dealer and have dealt and listened to solely SET or OTL amps for the last 5 years. I'm wanting to change that a little.