Need some more info here - what's the rest of your system especially the preamp and speakers - both are going to play a significant role in matching a new amp...
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We do need more info to make a recommendation however, if it works for your situation buy a Rogue 88 for about $750 used and when you have the money (and especially if you need tubes) upgrade it to Magnum status. That is what I did and was really happy, it is a very lucid and detailed amp top to bottom. I sold mine because it did not have enough power to drive my Maggies though :(
Sorry forgot to mention this before. Im currently starting from the ground up. Right now I am looking into the adcom gfp-750 pre-amp, rega planet CD player and Vandersteen 3A signature speakers. Unfortunately these were all picked based on things i've read from a number of different sources. Most importantly, they fit my budget.
I agree with the McCormack recommendation. What I would do though is buy a DNA-0.5 and put the rest back towards a revision A upgrade for the amp from SMC Audio. If you opt to go with the DNA-0.5, you can take the rest of the money and apply it towards a better pre-amp. I personally like what a tube pre-amp does between a CDP and SS amp. I use a Cary Audio SLP-50B.
If you want to take some of the "edge" off, try the Counterpoint SA-20 or SA-220. (The 220 is the later version with a couple of minor updates.) 220 WPC of hybrid bliss. There is one for sale now at $700. Go for it.
Your next upgrade might be a pre-amp. A good tube model like the Audible Illusions M3A (around $1100 used) might be a good choice. Even the older Audible Illusions pre's would smoke the Adcom and they can be had for well under $500.
I would think that the SA-20/AI/Vanderstein combo would be great, depending on your taste in music. The Planet is about all you'd need in a CD player, but you could upgrade to an outboard DAC later if you get the bug. What are your plans for analog? (FYI- the AI pre has a fairly good MM phono section. Some even came with a great MC phono section.)
When I owned Vandersteen 2CE's I drove them with Quicksilver Silver 90 mono's. I have heard these amps drive Vandersteen 3's and they will work well. I don't know if you can get them used for $1000. I sold mine for $1100 easily. Subsequently, I needed to go to a stereo tube amp and I bought an AMC CVT2100as from retrodaze audio for around $700 and it is very close to the Quicksilver in sound quality. It does have 10 wpc less than the Quicksilver (80 vs 90) but that may not make much difference. I don't think you can use the 60 watt Quicksilvers with the Vandersteen 3's as they need some power to work effectively.
In response to some of the questions presented in the wonderful replies:
As of now, I have no intention of getting into analog. This may be attributed to the fact that I was born in the late 70's and have never purchased a record. From what I have heard, the sound has some "differences" but I may not be sophisticated enough yet to appreciate them. Neither have I had the privelege of listening to a record without the annoying "pops" and "cracks" (fathers record collection is quite old). I also do not know how widely available records are for some of todays bands that I listen to.
I listen to mostly rock/alternative. Enjoy classical as well.
Judging by the equipment that you listed, it would appear that you are striving for a system that is somewhat on the warm and smooth side rather than the ruthlessly revealing / ultra- detailed side. If that is the case, i would personally pick up the used Forte' 3 that is listed here on Agon for $350.
The Forte' 3 is a relatively richly biased Class AB amp that is rated at 200 wpc @ 8 ohms and 350 wpc @ 4 ohms. I know it to be an admirable performer and capable of driving low impedance ( 2 ohm ) loads without much of a fuss. If it is running properly, it will run pretty warm even at idle. It was built and designed by Nelson Pass when he owned / operated Threshold and would be classified as sounding very "sweet, delicate and airy" when everything is dialed in properly.
The low price of this unit leaves you plenty of money to replace the bridge rectifiers with better diodes, install additional filter caps and have a better power cord installed. If you are handy at all, you can do all of the above, including parts and the cost of the amp, for under $500. You will not find an amp that would touch this unit in terms of air, depth / width of soundstage, clarity and focus of image, harmonic "rightness" and just an overall sense of "musicality" in terms of the money invested.
The one drawback to this amp is that it must be left on 24 hrs a day if you want to get max performance / best sonics out of it. This is true of most amps that run warm during normal operation. It will sound best after a 48 - 72 hour "warm-up" period. It is also load sensitive, so if you were to go with some type of highly capacitive speaker cables like Goertz, Chris VH's CAT 5 design or a long run of Kimber 8TC, etc..., you would need to make use of a Zobel ( impedance compensation ) network. This should not scare you ( or anybody else ) from trying this combo, as most of them work very nicely together in my experience. Sean
This response is in regard to Sean's last posting about the statement "Judging by the equipment that you listed, it would appear that you are striving for a system that is somewhat on the warm and smooth side rather than the ruthlessly revealing / ultra- detailed side." I was wondering how you were able to know that. I am relatively new audiophile and have much to learn. I just wanted to know if there was some obvious piece of information that you used to determine this. For example, are Vandersteen speakers generally aimed at providing that "warm" sound vs. another brand. Quite frankly, the reason I am asking this is because I do not really know the definition of "warm" in context to sound. Im trying to learn a little about myself as well. I am guessing that I do like the warm sound more since I prefer the sound of Sonus Faber speakers compared to equivalently priced B&W's. Unfortunately, I do not know how big a role amplifiers play in this since the system I heard the Sonus Fabers with was comprised of Rotel equipment and the B&W's were hooked up to Classe equipment.
Sean, I'm not familiar with the Forte' other than the 4's. When these were new the rags kinda ragged on the other than 4 models. I had no idea they were that stable into lower impedances. In as much as I liked the 4's and they certainly sounded more powerful than their 50 watt rating, I really needed more power. Perhaps I've been missing out on a top quality bargain with the other models. Would you us a more detailed descritption of them from your perspective? Sorry for going off thread everyone.
Krazeeyk: I "passed judgment" on your end goals by looking at the equipment that you mentioned as being on your list of things to check out. If you look at them individually, you might better understand why i said what i did.
Rega Planet: This player is typically known for being on the warm and smooth side, some even call it "dark". While any / all of those comments MIGHT apply, it would depend on what you were comparing the Planet to and your particular likes and dislikes. Having said that, i don't think that anyone that has ever heard a Planet would consider it to be bright and / or etched sounding.
Adcom gfp-750 pre-amp: Can be used in either passive or active mode. Most line sections when run in passive mode are typically on the warm and smooth side. That is, unless you run into impedance loading problems. Given that the Adcom can be switched into active mode with a transistor gain stage, it is actually a "dual personality" unit. When going active, this piece is more agressive sounding with added treble brilliance and a more pronounced or "forward" upper midrange. This gives you the opportunity to somewhat alter tonal balance without having tone controls. Just make sure that you compensate for the differences in gain when flipping from passive to active : )
Vandy's: In general, Vandy's are considered to be "warm and smooth" sounding rather than bright and etched sounding. Many people think of Vandy's as "sugar coating" the sound i.e. they are not overly revealing and tend to hide flaws due to what some would consider a lack of high frequency output. Personally, i think that Vandy's ARE on the warm and smooth side. BUT, i also think that they are fully capable of showing the difference in components / system changes IF properly set-up. They are a little more room placement sensitive than some other speakers and can tend to sound "tubby" or somewhat "bloated" if one is not careful. I would not situate Vandy's anywhere near a room boundary ( rear wall, corner, etc... ) if you wanted to maintain a relatively even tonal balance.
So, as you can see, the majority of gear that you listed is known for being "smooth" sounding rather than "etched" or "extremely revealing". As such, one could end up with a system that was a bit "too warm" if you weren't careful i.e. lacking in brilliance and / or "open-ness". The Adcom active / passive unit would allow a bit of tonal flexibility in this respect while keeping the system simple without the need for "gadgets" ( tone controls, equalizers, etc... ). As such, the selection of amp & cables used in such a system could be a bit of a make it or break it point.
With that in mind, i don't know what you've been reading, but i don't think that you've done a bad job at all of selecting gear, especially if you have just walked into this "hobby".
As to being able to understand many of the terms that you have / will read about here, try this link. It is a shortcut to J. Gordon Holt's Audio terminology. Just bare in mind that some people can use the same term and still have a different understanding of that term or be trying to make a slightly different point.
Unsound: I have owned the Forte' 1A, 3, 4, 6 and 6A. The 1 and 3 sound somewhat similar and the 4 and 6 sound somewhat similar. The 1 and 4 are "Class A" and the 3 and 6 are AB versions. All of these amps run quite warm and should be powered up 24 hrs a day if looking for optimum sonics.
One could consider the 4 as being a newer version of the 1 and the same can be said for the 6 being the "replacement" for the 3. In my opinion, the 1 & 3 are slightly leaner sounding than either the 4 or 6. I also think that the 1 & 3 have a little bit more "air" but can be somewhat lacking in "punch" due to the lack of bass "weight". The 4 & 6 both sound fuller but are not quite as "airy" or "sweet" sounding. Personally, i think that the 3 is the "sweetest & airiest" of the bunch. All of them will drive low impedance, low sensitivity loads but may not do so with the most authority. I base this comment on the fact that i have used all of these amps on speakers that are 82 - 83 db's "efficient" ( HA, is that a contradiction of terms or what ?!?! ) and measure 2 - 3 ohms over most of their range. I have used other amps rated for similar or greater power output and not been able to achieve the same sound pressure levels with as much ease or clarity.
As you probably know, the Forte's started out as the "budget" product line of Nelson Pass' Threshold. As such, the first thing to go in any "budget" power amp is the power supply. A smaller transformer with less filter capacitance is the typical result of "cost cutting". Hence my comments about being able to drive low impedance loads, but not in the same fashion as some of the other products that came out of the same manufacturer.
As to why some reviewers and "audio laypersons" might have had less than stellar or very different results with these amps, the reason is quite simple. The amps are "chameleons" and change sonic characteristics as the load changes. As load impedance, inductance, capacitance, etc... is varied, so will the tonal balance of the amp. Don't ask me why this is so, but it has been documented in more than a few earlier Threshold designs. As such, one could change speaker cables and not only hear a difference due to the cables, they would also hear the amp change due to the variance in the total load that the amp sees. If this sounds "confusing", i guess it could be. An amp that sounds "lean and slightly bright" could come across as "bloated and dull" in another system due to the various loads presented to the amp.
Some will say that this is "crazy" as it throws a major variable into the equation, but i've not had a problem with it ever. Then again, i have a lot of different equipment, cabling and speakers at my disposal to try and make things work. The other side of that is that i have not run into a situation where i was NOT pleased with the outcome so long as "some" attention was paid to how things were set-up. I have used a Forte' 3 as a "loaner" amp to some of my friends a few times and they have all REALLY liked it. All of the comments have been something to the effect of "VERY sweet sounding, delicate and airy but lacking bottom end". As such, i agree whole-heartedly. Given the amount of apparent "warmth" that Krazeeyk had built into the system he was looking to build, i thought that a slightly lean yet very open and delicate sounding amp would work very well.
With all of the above in mind, one can REALLY hear a big difference with speaker cables when using one of these amps. However, one can't put all the sonic "differences" on the cables alone and would have to realize that the amp was also partially responsible for what one was hearing / recognizing as "different". So long as one can find a suitable "total load" ( speakers and cables ) that these amps "like", they are capable of very good sonics for pennies on the dollar. With some simple upgrades as mentioned above ( increased power supply reserve, upgraded rectifiers, etc... ), one can have a VERY nice sounding amp that competes with current designs costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars more. Sean
PS... The 4 and 6 make use of IGBT output devices that are no longer in production. One can find a source for these should something ever go wrong with the amp though.
PPS... Another friend of mine lives out of State ( Ohio ). He ran across a good deal on a Forte' 6, so he picked it up for me to keep as a spare. He ended up hooking the amp up and running it on his big Acoustat's. As you know, Acoustat's are not easy loads to drive. He ended up liking the amp so much that he kept it, which was fine with me. In fact, i was glad that he did so as i had been trying to push him in that direction for quite some time. For sake of comparison, he had been running and still owns two different NYAL Moscode 600's ( one modified, one stock ), a modified Hafler DH-500, a custom built amp made by John Hillig of Musical Concepts, a Robertson 6010 ( which i ended up with ), etc...
Sean, thank you very much for your thorough post. I'm surprised that Threshold products in particular would be so sensitive to thier given load(?). I now have more rather than less to ponder as I didn't realize these products were so system dependent. Am I correct in my assumption that they are a bit more dependant than most others? BTW, while I agree with you that the Rega Planet is on the dark side, I seem to hear (it has been a while) a small band of bightness with this player that can be some what irritating. This is not meant to be a knock on this superb value player.
Unsound: I am not familiar with Coda products other than knowing that some former Threshold employees now work there. I have wanted to check out some of their power amps, just never had the opportunity to.
As to some of the Threshold products being "somewhat unstable" or changing sound with different loads, Moncrieff mentions this in some of his reviews but states that he basically likes the sonics of them when well matched. He is one of the few reviewers that actually checks for "load imperturbability" ( boy, is that a mouthful !!! ). John Atkinson has also mentioned this to some extent, even going so far as to say that some amps change tonal balance as the volume is altered ( Rotel ). I think that many amps / preamps are somewhat sensitive in this area and that is why cable selection is so system dependent. Sean
I bought a Legacy 4/3/2 (manufactured by Coda) for under $1k. I use it in 2 channel mode which operates in class A mode up to about 25 wpc then gracefully transitions to class A/B up to 450 wpc into 4 ohms. It sounds as good as anything I've ever heard. The class A mode provides low distortion and wonderful detail at low volume while the 450 watts frees the sound from the speakers. Nothing seems to come directly from my speakers (Infinity Prelude MTS) unless the source was recorded that way. I've experimented with the 4 channel mode which provides 225 wpc into 4 ohms and you can definitely tell the difference, even at moderate levels. Power is good.
Nice choice when you say that you are "looking" into getting an Adcom GFP-750 Preamplifier. Nice piece if you ask me. I own one myself, and so far, I haven't been nothing but happy with mine. And if you were born in the 1970's, then that's well and okay too. Because then, more than likely, you are probably going to go digital all the way (don't know to say whether that is good or bad...... but my advice to you is don't write off analog just yet..... I thought exactly the same way like you when I was spending years and thousands of dollars evolving my system.... but now, I wish I would've been into analog years ago..... I'm just getting into analog this year..... so my heads up advice is "don't knock it until you try it"...... it may very well change your mind). I was born into the early 60's and thought the same way you did. But that until I have heard a kick ass analog system at my local high-end audio emporium a few months back. Since then, I've been hooked. So write it off altogether. You'll never know when you'll take that plunge as well. I mainly listen to R&B, Rap and Hip-Hop, and Jazz and Fusion as well. But I listen to classics and oldies too, which explains my sudden interest in analog. My father has got a nice collection of oldies down there at his house, and when and if he should pass away (which I hope that would never happen), I would like to inherit that collection. There is a lot of good music in that collection of his.
But anyway, back to the subject that is at hand here, you want to know that if I were in your position, and if I am putting together a system that is similar to yours (and I believe I do have one like that, save for the speakers and the CD players), what power amplifier would I buy if I had only $1,000.00 to spend on one??? Well, I have my choices as well. And those choices would be:
(01). McCormack Power-Drive DNA-0.5 (Special Edition..... if at all possible)
(02). Bryston 3B
(03). Adcom GFA-5500 (which is a bigger and newer version of my GFA-545 MkII)
I'm sure there are others that exist as well, and if I was able to do so, I would try to audition them with your setup before I make a final decision and either put my plastic onto the counter, or part with some serious green. But the three listed above would be the ones I would start with. Keep in mind that when it comes to cables, I would use a neutral cable like the MITerminator 2 with either the McCormack DNA-0.5, or the Bryston 3B, and I would use a bright sounding cable like Kimber Kable if I were to choose the Adcom GFA-5500 (which is a MOSFET amp, and being that Vanderteens are also warm and smooth sounding creatures, using two warm sounding components together could result in something that I would call too much of a good thing..... and therefore, I am going to need a bright sounding cable, and a bright and open sounding front-end to open things up a little bit)
Anyway, that should help you just a little bit more. Good luck searching for your amp. I think your amp is out there somewhere.