I think your observations have a lot of merit. Think of power in terms of control, capability, depth, instrument delineation, soundstaging...not just raw volume. Crazy as it seems, I liken it to watching an elephant picking up something like a log (effortless, smooth, completely capable)...compare that to 12 guys picking it up (the job gets done, but a bit wobbly, a lot of strain).
When you drive a system with a powerful amp (not just watts...but CURRENT), all else being equal, even at low volumes you oftentimes will hear the difference in effortlessness, bass power/drive, better rhythm because the bass passages have snap, and sometimes better instrument separation/detail.
As for options below $1K, are you up for buying 2nd hand...because there are a lot of good options at that price point. Older small Krell KSA50, Forte 4...not 100 watts...but very high current and known for delivery a lot of high quality power.
I have heard great things about the JOB225 amp...remarkable things from guys who own serious SOTA systems. Not sure about current pricing.
Thanks Lloydelee. That makes sense and I made a decision. Coincidentally, I went to use the system this morning and the B&K bit the dust (a subtle hiss and squeal followed by garbled sound), making the decision to do something a bit more pressing. I ordered the Peachtree220 power amp based on some reviews saying that this is a pretty solid pairing with the Nova. I like the idea of Peachtree's dedicated preamp but the Nova provides more latitude for hookups and the front end on this amp seems very good. When get the amp, I'll provide some info on how this worked out because reviews for this combo, otherwise, are pretty sparse.
My system is: Shanling S-100 CD player, Peachtree Audio Nova and Martin Logan Odyssey speakers.
Congrats and good luck! Please update us all when everything is back in place with the new equipment. Very exciting!
Ok, I got the Peachtree 220 this morning and have been using it for about 4 hours. The improvement is amazing. There are certain things that I expected to hear such as tighter bass but the sound is better throughout the entire frequency range; vocals are definitely more pleasing.
Because solo guitar is what I listen to most that's where I have been concentrating my comparison listening and where I feel most competent expressing an opinion regarding quality of reproduction. I won't go where I'm not that comfortable with audio terminology but suffice it to say that it is simply better and likely to have been the best single change I've made in years.
Anyway, my question is answered; more power does apparently improve low volume listening. My present system is: Shanling S100 CD player, Peachtree Nova as a preamp, Peachtree 220 power amp and Martin Logan Odyssey speakers.
I'm happy that you are better off after the change . So many are not .
The efficiency and design of your speakers has a lot to do with how they sound with different amounts of power .
Using the analogy of the logs ... the difference would be a
log 20" in diameter compared to one 2" in diameter .
Not imagination, its science. Speaker manufacture always rated their speaker 50 - 500 Watt etc... If you use a 50w amp you get 20% of the sound and require a lot of tweaking to sound better. Or if your amp is 500w or more. Music will sound at its best, enjoy listening at any volume.
Thanks Saki and Beewax. I'm providing a short history regarding my attempt at resolving the issue of high fidelity low volume listening and it's relationship to/dependency on adequate power, if for no other reason than to provide a possible shortcut for others who may be as clueless as I.
In the beginning, as I have already stated, I didn't consider more power as a solution because of my relatively low volume listening. The only thing I didn't change in the process of searching for a solution, was the speaker pair I've used for the last 10 years. I believe the amplifier that best served my purpose was the 100wpc Rogue Audio Sphinx which, IMO, is a superior amplifier, but I felt I was still missing what I was looking for. In a multi item trade I acquired an 80wpc Peachtree Audio Nova integrated amp which has a great front end but the overall performance with my speakers was an even greater disappointment.
At one point I had a pair of Jamo Concert eights which were probably the best sounding speakers I've ever had in my home so put my Odysseys up for sale in hopes of finding another Concert 8 pair or Canalis Animas which I auditioned but couldn't afford w/o offing something else; thank goodness they didn't sell. At the suggestion of serious local hobbyist I decided to at least try using higher wattage and bought the Peachtree 220 power amp keeping the Nova as a preamp.
As I said, the system has come alive and I am enjoying music that I had stopped listening to quite a long time ago. I'm not in any way trying to imply that Peachtree is the answer or that more power is necessarily going to improve listening for all speaker types and brands. It's just that I hit on a fortunate combination of components that worked well for me.
My present system is Shanling S100 CD player, Peachtree Nova, Peachtree 220 and Martin Logan Odysseys speakers with various, not necessarily special, interconnects and speaker wires.
I get the premise here, that all things being equal, 500 watts will sound better than 50, through the same speakers, but all things are not equal. Power costs money, particularly with tubes and even 100 tube watts are going to cost a lot more than 50, for the same quality. With tubes as well, absolute power is not as important as output transformer quality and current.
The other consideration is the speaker, does it have high sensitivity and impedance, if so, low power may sound better. Take my speakers, Daedalus, they offer high sensitivity and impedance and can be driven from say 8, to 400 watts. Lou the designer, likes power and demos them at shows with 100 to 200 watt Modwright amps. Now I have'nt done a side to side comparison, but I am sure they would sound better to me, with my Audio Research ref 75 power amp and sounded pretty good with a 20 watt SET. The amp I liked least, if that makes sense, in my system, was the most powerful, a Karan K180 integrated..
So, as so often with this hobby, they is no right or wrong answer. It always seems to end up, on the one hand...., but on the other.....
Yes, there is a problem with the "all things being equal" concept--that is merely a theoretical concept and is never actually the case. In order to get more power out of an amp, multiple output devices are used and this adds another factor that makes any comparison unequal. Something is changed and sacrificed to get more power. If a particular setup truly needs such power then the sacrifice is justified, but if not, then the power reserve is wasted at the expense of some other aspect of sound quality.
Some manufacturers have gone to extremes to keep the number of output devices down for this reason (e.g., DarTzeel). Perhaps, the choice of output devices that deliver more power will also adversely affect sound quality (e.g., picking a 300b tube over a 45 tube).
I recall auditioning several Rowland amps many years ago and preferring their smaller and cheaper amp over the larger ones with speakers that did not need a lot of power. The sound of the larger amps loafing along sounded flat and lifeless. A number of factors could be at play in this case, but, comparing similar amps from the same manufacturer at least gives a clearer picture on this issue.
While I have heard only a few high powered amps on my speakers, none, tube or solid state, compared favorably with lower powered amps on my fairly efficient system (99 db/w). That has been the case with other higher efficiency systems I have heard. I find many very high powered tube amps with lots of pentode or tetrode tubes in parallel to be particularly bad sounding (brittle sounding with a lot of "glare").
In short, I would caution against a generalization that higher power will improve sound.