"Neutral/Clear Amp vs. Dark Amp"

It seems that of the many reviews I read about amps within my price range (under $5,000 new) they always end with some reference to a "dark" sound. That is exactly what I am NOT looking for. I'm looking for a clear, neutral sounding amp that won't add anything other that a clear representation of the music. I'm thinking maybe Classe, Ayre, Pass, Sim Audio? I'd like to hear other recommendations. I'd also like to stick with SS, as I have a deHavilland preamp and it mates well with SS amps. Speakers are Von Schweikert 4.5's and I use silver wire throughout. Listen to digital and analog, all types of music. That's the key. It has to sound like music, otherwise why bother? Currently using a McCormack DNA-1. It's a good amp, just looking for a significant upgrade. Another choice is to send the amp back to McCormack and have them do some significant upgrades.
Have a look at Oddessey audio amps
Also the Cambridge Audio 840W - definitely not "dark"
Bryston keeps things very neutral while staying quite musical to my ears. SST series is very good, and SST2 is even better.

What's best for $5k depends on preferences and power needs IMO.
"I'm looking for a clear, neutral sounding amp that won't add anything other that a clear representation of the music."

There isn't an amp built that "won't add anything" , but there are many that don't leave as much a noticable signature than others regarding the subjective term neutral and what each individual percieves that as. What you may call sounds like music the guy recommending may have a very differant view of that with his ears. Many would even go as far as recommending some tube amps that don't play dark and play quite detailed and clear with a hint of warm which to them sounds natural ie musical. What is it thats lacking in sound with the DNA-1 to your ears that makes you want to change would help.

What you want is an amplifier that can produce a "Live" sound, the way real instruments and music sound in person. I've been looking for that sound too. Of course the other components in your system must support that "Live" sound too, especially the source. It's not an easy thing, at least in my experience. And, I want that sound without any leanness in the mid-range and low end. It seems that sometimes "neutral with clarity" comes at the expense of "bass weight" or bass impact.
The four brands you mention are all very fine and among them you will hear
some of the best available, do you really want to muddy the waters with another
12 brands that will be mentioned? You are already on the right track with the
four you have identified, they are all first-rate and listening is the only way to
make your pick - of the four, Pass was my favorite, but that was the Class A
series - Aleph, XA.5. SIM, Ayre, Pass, Classe --- I don't think any of these can
be considered "dark", if you don't find an amp you like from these, you might
want to consider tubes.

By the way, the amp you have is already pretty darn good - a McCormack
upgrade might not be a bad idea at all.
Pass and Sugden are not Dark.
Never heard classe but I have owned the others. I think pass is the best of this bunch personally. I did not care for the ayre v5xe it definitely is not dark sounding in my systems. I do love the k1x preamp though. Sim audio is also very sparkling on top if not a little bright and maybe just a little light in the bass to my ear but still really good, this is based on the sound of the i5.3 integrated. I think your choices are great just wait for a good deal to come along on any of them and I would bet you will be happy. Though I personally did not care for the ayre amp much.
Consider H2O for your price range. Henry utilizes massive power supply build on ICE modules to get a stunningly good sound. Very liquid and effortless. Other great options in this thread, but felt these were worth a listen as well.
I have not heard the H20, but it has a very good reputation among audiophiles.

I am using the Wyred 4 Sound STI-500 (integrated) the basic version is the ST-500 and these amps also use the B&O ICE modules. I'd consider mine dead neutral and musically satisfying. It's done everything I've asked for and then some. The w4s amps definitely mate well with tube preamps as they have a high (for solid-state) 60k input impedance.

I don't know what cables you use, but a very good combination I recently found are the DH Labs Revelation interconnects with the DH Labs Q-10 speaker cables. I think they are very neutral, musical and fast, while also being smooth and musical (not many cables can manage all these qualities at once).

Happy Holidays!
You might want to try the Sanders Sound Systems Magtech amplifier. I have previously owned the McIntosh MC-402, Krell FPB200, Spectral DMA-200, Edge M8M and a few other great amps that I just can't think of right now. You can try it for 30 days at no cost as Sanders pays the shipping to you and the return shipping in the event that you don't keep it. I drive the big Duntech Sovereigns with this amp (by big I mean 74" H X 18" W X 33" deep and weigh in at 375lbs each) The sound is magnificient. I have owned these speakers for 24 years. And by the way, all Sanders Sound Systems products carry a lifetime guarantee. Happy listening no matter what path you choose. I'll guarantee you the Magtech amp will make your Von Schweikert's walk and talk.
Go Ravens!
Yessir! You in bmore?
Next to Hopkins.
I currently use DH Labs Revelation interconnects and Clear Day Cables Shotgun double runs (4 sets bi-wired) for speaker cables. Both these cables made a huge difference. I'm also considering a Parasound A21, Mark Levinson (No. 27, ML-3 or ML-9), or Edge. Tough to say without being able to demo any of these amps in my house. I'd say I'm leaning towards a used Classe (CA-200 or 201) or Pass (X-150 or X-3) or new Odyssey Stratos Stereo Extreme. Yes, I'm always looking for that 'live' sound. I currently get that in my system, just looking for an upgrade to better sound in the amplifier stage. I have found that the VR 4.5's need some serious current/power to make them come alive. I used to use a VTL-ST85 but it literally ran out of gas, even though the 4.5's are spec'd at 90dB efficient. The DNA-1 I have puts out 185 watts per channel and that seems about right. I am going to find out more about getting it upgraded as well. Don't think I am ready for clsss D amps. I'm not knocking their sound, just that I want a more classic system. I don't know the H20 or Sugden amps but I want a one-box amp and the Sugden SPA-4 is only 50 watts (yes, I read all class A, but still only 50 clean watts). I could bi-amp with SS on the bottom and tubes on the top -- I've had that before. Just don't want the complexity of that right now.
Very nice Pubul57, I'm in Howard Co. Go Ravens!
I have heard Ayre in multiple systems. Most of them sounded veiled or dark. Not that they are bad amps but they are certainly not the most neutral.
I think you would be happy with a Musical Design 100 amp. Musical Design/Musical Concepts builds amps with several levels of upgradablity. All of the resources they put into their products goes into electrical components that actually create the sound. The 'box' is just a rectangular, basic black box.

I have the highest iteration, the MD hybrid Elite, which has a tubed output. The sound is a wonderfully smooth, musical and neutral to my ears. I find that all of your requirements could be met by this amp. The solid state version is 'only' $2000 new.
Also consider the parasound JC 1 if you can deal with te size and heat. They were very good sounding with my Von schweikert vr 4 sr speakers.
Also consider the parasound JC 1 if you can deal with te size and heat. They were very good sounding with my Von schweikert vr 4 sr speakers.
I've read a lot of good things about the JC 1's. They just take up too much real estate for me to consider, and the heat in the summer might be a bit much. Regarding Musical Concepts, many moons ago I had them modify my Adcom 555 to very good effect. Still was a bit harsh, but sounded better after their mod. Good to see they are still around. Anyone want to weigh in on a used Threshold amp, possibly with an update? I remember from memory that they could sound quite good.