"Warm Sounding" Solid State Amplifiers


As a Canadian I am naturally a huge fan of Bryston products but not long ago I switched things up for a NAD C355BEE integrated amp and instantly realized what I had been missing in terms of warmth, sweetness and overall pleasant sound.

I'm interested in moving up from there into some Class A or A/B amps but I don't know of any other warm sounding Solid State amps other than Pass Labs which are out of my price range at the moment.

Tubes are obviously "where it's at" as they would say but the maintenance factor is somewhat of a deterrent for me. Should I just go for an M series NAD amp or is there another intermediate product between that and Pass Labs??
pontifex
Yes, just go with the better NAD series if you like the NAD sound. And I very much like the NAD sound, too!

-RW-
Jeff Rowland products have the attributes of tubes without the liabilities. Rowland components are also manufactured from bar stock aluminum and use very high grade internal circuitry. I know of no other high end company that produces products that are truly 'set it and forget it' for decades of hassle free SOTA performance.
Price range? Other constraints?

The usual suspects. Most Class A, plus Ayre, Hegel, etc. Since you're in Canada, you should definitely check out Sugden.

I hear M series NADs sound good, but bear in mind that the digital technology is going to have a different sound signature as compared to what you've been listening to.

I'm starting to hear good things about Sony's latest Class A amp, the TA-A1ES.
"04-19-15: Brauser
Jeff Rowland products have the attributes of tubes without the liabilities. Rowland components are also manufactured from bar stock aluminum and use very high grade internal circuitry. I know of no other high end company that produces products that are truly 'set it and forget it' for decades of hassle free SOTA performance."

Have you ever heard any of their products? The imaging on my Rowland amp falls way short of what's currently available. Also, the build quality is good, but not the best. My Ayre amps are definitely better made. I'm not sure what you mean by set and forget, either. Its a power amp. You plug it in and turn it on.
I've compared the JR M525 to an Ayre VX-5 and purchased the JR 525. To my ears, in my system the JR M525 has a better soundstage and separation of instruments. I had many amps and the JR M525 is the best that I've ever had in my system. As a matter of fact I was thinking about going up to the JR 625.
Stick with nad.
NAD is a good choice and also Plinius
My friend has access to several companies and really likes the NAD Masters series
I have found that, in general but not always, solid state amps with MOSFET outputs sound somewhat warmer althought slightly less transparent than bipolar output transistors. One relatively inexpensive power amp with bipolar output transistors that I think leans just a bit to the warmer side is the Cambridge 851w stereo power amp. And it mainains that transparancy and detail that I like. Naturally your system's MMV. Crutchfield and other retailers that sell this amp offer 30 or 60 day in-home trials. Don't wait for one to come up for sale used. I have looked since December and have not seen a single one for sale on any of the US preowned equipment sites.
Pontiflex-

the best solid-state right now is, Pass labs. Otherwise,
look into Parasound, Threshold, Theta and Classe' for openers. Keep me posted & Happy Listening!
The NAD is the great sounding Amplifier. Just replace stock jumpers with the Cardas jumpers. It will sound a way better
then any Simaudio Int.Amplifier from NEO Series.
The NAD C356DAC with the Cardas jumpers is what you looking
for. It sounds better then then Bryston B60. At least with
the Focal Speakers.
I am going to disagree with NAD Master series. I have owned the M2 Direct Digital Amplifier and I would not classify it as a warm sounding amp but more technical. I had it with my PSB Synchrony Ones speakers (it was a nice match) and then with Tetra 606's speakers (absolutely amazing). I think the M2 is a great integrated and I wish I had not sold it. But to answer your question, as others have suggested Class A may get you closer to what you are looking for. For Class A/B what about Naim?
Thanks everyone. I will likely stick with NAD then but I plan to look into the other brands mentioned to gain a bit of knowledge.

A friend of mine owns a NAD M3. He loves it but he's had to send it out for repairs 2 or 3 times and was not terribly impressed with their service department. Can anyone comment on that?
Did you list your system? I didn't see in any of your posts?
you have not really listed a price range. so this might not be a choice for you. but I would suggest trying to listen to a used darTZeel NHB-108.....which can be purchased in the $10k-$13k price range. they are $25k new. 10 years ago I switched from tubed Tenor to darTZeel (I now have the dart 458 monoblocks) since it had the breath-of-life of tubes, that always listenable smooth extended treble, and the low noise and amplifier grip of solid state. read about the darTZeel and you will find legendary swiss build quality, but mostly about it's lack of global feedback and low parts count in the signal path. and it's full bodied sweet midrange and great micro dynamics and lively sound. no grain, or etch, or brightness. just music.

best wishes in finding the right amp and I hope you get a chance to listen to the dart.
I always liked B&K,McCormack DNA series and Belles for sounding tube like to me.
If you get a chance give them a listen if you can; what speakers are you driving?
Conrad Johnson makes warm sounding solid state amplifiers.
Hi, also from Canada.

Well, although my recommendation may not be a solid state amp, it is one...almost!

Pathos Logos. It has 100 watts / channel solid state power section with a pair of 6922 tubes in the preamp section.

Call it the beauty and the beast! Wonderfull, sweet sound with no maintenance needed.

I may unfortunately have to sell it soon due to system change and lack of use.
With no mention of price range I'm at a loss.
We can't really compare NAD with Bryston, imho. NAD is wonderful gear, but not in the same league as Bryston.
Then someone suggested Rowland. Rowland is magical gear, but the price of entry may be, again, prohibitive.
A used McIntosh SS would have a smooth sweet midrange.
Where to start, price wise.
Larry
ZD , What do you like about your Ayre amps ? What speakers are you driving ? What preamp do you use ? What Ayre model do you have ?
Modwright
Just a thought here. If you covet Pass Labs but find even the used ones to be out of your price range, see if you can snag a good used Forte model 4 or 1a for cheap. I owned a model 1a for a short time before I went all in on a new Pass and I was very impressed by the Forte amp. It was a sweet sounding little amp. But since they would be quite old you need to get it for a good price to allow for recapping if it needs it.
I second the recommendation for Conrad Johnson solid state amps leaning towards a warmer sound, not to mention they sound superb especially when paired with a good tube preamp. One reviewer questioned as to why buy a Conrad Johnson tube amp when their solid state sounds every bit as good but with more power.
Right now in my main system I have a Wadia 861SE going directly to 2 Ayre V-5's vertically bi-amped driving a pair of Vandersteen Model 2's. AQ IC's and Speaker cables. ESP Essence power cords. And a Furutech e-TP 80. I have other components I sometimes put in the system, but what I just listed is what I use most of the time.
I was in the same quest as a Canadian looking for some warmth in solid state amps. I found a great option in the Parasound Halo line. Gorgeous midrange with amazing vocals and not hot on the top end as so many are. The Halo A21 single handedly turned my Paradigm Signature S6 into a different league.

After I got it I experimented with something for a good preamp. Long story short, I tried the NAD C372 after having purchased the C326BEE for the bedroom. Both are integrateds, but have a pre out for a separate amp. I actually preferred the newer 326, but in the end stayed away from the NAD C165BEE preamp.

I ended up with the Halo P7 and I've never looked back. Parasound is not marketed in Canada though you can find it on canuckaudiomart from time to time.
Please tell us more about the rest of your system.I like Conrad Johnson Solid state ,have not heard the latest from CJ ,but they seem very interesting.I enjoyed my MF-2500A and am sorry that I sold it.
You might want to check into a Vincent Audio integrated amp.
You may find that finding a transistor amplifier that has the warmth associated with real music (and tubes) to be harder than replacing the occasional tube.

IOW, if you seek the musicality of tubes, why not just get a tube amp and be done?
Mike Lavigne, the Dartzeel gear is in a different league than what is mentioned here. If he is talking about Bryston or NAD he's not going to spring for Dartzeel. Even if it is used.
Hegel H200 seems pretty warm to me.
With all due respect Ralph, I am not aware of a 'warmth associated with real music(and tubes)' consensus. My take on it is simply a subjective preference over accuracy. I find real music to resemble a good, fast, flat frequency response of ss much more than typical tube sound. A no holds barred, pull no punches sound, right? Regardless of whether I prefer it or not. Which incidentally I do. It just can't have any detectable IMD/TIM. For example like my LSR&D amps. Very extended but also sweet. Nothing cold about them, just very linear. To each his own.
IMP the Clayton amps are never brittle, or hard sounding. I've heard them in a variety of systems and they combine the best qualities of SS and tubes. Compared to many SS offerings I suppose that makes them a "warmer" amp. They're expensive, but are better than most others that are more expensive.
There is usually nothing particularly "warm" about live music.

Its more a technical artifact of hi fi reproduction when there is an emphasis in the 100-300 hz or so frequency range (upper bass).

I can find it inviting at first but eventually wears out its welcome in comparison to more balanced timbres.
"04-21-15: Csontos
With all due respect Ralph, I am not aware of a 'warmth associated with real music(and tubes)' consensus. My take on it is simply a subjective preference over accuracy."

I don't see how you can say one component is more accurate than another. How do you know the "warm" amp isn't more accurate? There's no reason why it can't be.
I'm surprised you haven't taken Ralph to task with this premise. Or should I say I'm not? Fact is their is consensus that tubes are distortion for the most part. Also that the best of both converge sonically...to neutrality. Enter LSR&D. How do YOU define neutrality as it applies to audio? Btw, I do have ears and do come to my own conclusions but affirmation is sometimes also rewarding. Again, to each his own. Have fun.

Its all semantics but warm can only refer to an exaggeration at certain frequencies which by definition is not accurate.

If one uses the term warm to describe something that isn't, well, then all bets are off. Its just words.
Csontos, I play in a band and have played sting bass in orchestras since I was in 7th grade. Not that that makes me an expert, but I do attend a lot of concerts. I agree that concerts with amplification are anything but warm.

But if I go to an unamplified concert, I like to close my eyes and imagine listening to a stereo. Try it sometime- and critique what you hear- is it too bright, too warm? What I find is that warmth is more often the thing I hear rather than bright and harsh, the latter being a common hallmark of solid state, hence the existence of this thread :)

Tubes BTW do not have an emphasis on a certain range of frequencies. A lot depends on the amp!! What is commonly associated with the 'tube sound' is the 2nd harmonic, which does not have to exist in a tube amp as the harmonic distortion signature is highly dependent on the topology of the amplifier circuit. This is true whether tube or solid state. If you recall, triodes are universally regarded as highly linear; moreso than most semiconductors, so where does that 2nd harmonic come from? It comes from the topology.

For example if you design to be fully differential and balanced, the primary harmonic product will be the 3rd harmonic, not the 2nd.

Transistors have a non-linear capacitive aspect that is multiplied by the current through the device at their junctions. This property is well-known, for example there is a device that is used for tuning FM radios known as a varactor diode that takes advantage of this capacitance.

This aspect makes it difficult to avoid odd ordered harmonic distortion and despite large amounts of negative feedback, will remain present in solid state amps where it is absent in a tube amp. Because our ears use those harmonics as loudness cues, they are more sensitive to them than state of the art test equipment- we can hear their presence quite easily while they are hard to measure with test gear.

So as I see it, the point of this thread is what amps are lacking this particular distortion while also being solid state? The answer is 'none' and is part of the reason the tubes/transistor debate has raged in the audiophile world longer than the existence of the Internet.

Audio is often a set of compromises, in engineering parlance certain aspects are sometimes deemed 'negligible' when actually they are not. Trace amounts of odd ordered harmonic distortions are an example.

So again- to Pontifex, consider a tube amp- they are not as unreliable as you suggest in your initial post. You are going to be chasing the Holy Grail for a long time in the solid state world if you do not. So if you really can't do a tube amp, just accept that such will be the case and Good Luck!
Ralph, thank you for your response. There is never a time I don't learn from you or Al. I haven't mentioned the issue of reliability. But I do remember a recent post on another thread where you pay respect to a particular ss amp. I expressed my opinion on how I believe tubes set themselves apart, namely heat. I could very well be wrong. It appears the capacitance issue can be overcome to a satisfactory degree,'different strokes' as the saying goes. However, you've pointed out that tubes are far more versatile in arriving at one's design goals. If I can arrive at life like spl, speed/transient performance, extension, bass definition, ultra flat FR/linearity, etc., iow perfect neutrality more so with tubes, then that's what I would prefer. I'm still kicking myself for having second thoughts long enough to miss out on acquiring one of your OTLs on CAM recently for very reasonable cost. I'm certainly not averse to considering tubes in order to take advantage of sota sq. I have as I've mentioned two pairs of tubed monos I really like. But more so as a novelty rather than serious long term listening just because their short comings are too blatant. They are fun but not exciting. I wish I could afford to put your designs through the wringer!
"What I find is that warmth is more often the thing I hear rather than bright and harsh, the latter being a common hallmark of solid state, hence the existence of this thread :)"

The other possibility is neither warm nor bright and harsh. I'd call that more "neutral".

Some SS amps are more neutral or less bright than others. Same true with tube amps. I don't think either wins categorically anymore these days in general though perhaps that used to be true to a greater extent. The technology on the other side of the fence from tubes is anything but stagnant.

Also neutral may be considered better technically but not all like the same sound best, even neutral. Just like most people but not all like vanilla ice cream and some prefer others with more distinct flavor.

When it comes to sound, I am in the camp that thinks neutral is always better, however it is achieved.
Mapman wrote,

"Its all semantics but warm can only refer to an exaggeration at certain frequencies which by definition is not accurate."

Well, not really the definition. Presence is close as a synonym. Cold and distant and uninvolving are related and are antonyms of warm. IMHO opinion of course.
Clones.
Regarding SS amps, ones that use MOSFETs are often cited as having a warmer sound. My limited experience with these supports that I think. Tandberg gear was known for MOSFET use I believe and the Tandberg sound was always a tad towards being warm sounding. Tandberg tr2080 was the warmest sounding amp I have owned personally. It was very sweet sounding as older SS gear goes.
Csontos,

"Fact is their is consensus that tubes are distortion for the most part."

Is this a secret consensus? Where can I look something like that up for myself?
Tubes are less distorted when you listen to them. That's my consensus.
Quite the discussion I have sparked!

I'm looking at a budget of around $2000 CDN but if I find a smoking hot deal on a Pass Labs piece I could see myself breaking the bank perhaps up to $4000 or so.

My speakers are Monitor Audio RX6's and before those I had some Axiom M80's. I replaced my Bryston 7B SST2's with the NAD C355bee but I still use my BP25 as a preamp. My transport is a Cambridge 751BD and my DAC is a Bryston BDA-1.

The reason for switching up my amps and speakers was because I moved across the country and downsizing was ultimately inevitable- though I quite welcomed the opportunity to try something different.

I absolutely love the RX6's and for that reason I can see myself moving further up the line to the Gold GX300's in the somewhat near future. So, I should definitely take that into consideration when selecting an amp. Thanks for all the feedback!
I've owned a Perreaux 2150B and several Acoustat TNT200 and 120. All pure mosfet so I have some insight into the warm/tubey/mosfet sound and imo it's nothing more than a softening of leading edge transients. In effect resulting in what to me sounds like a bit of IMD or TIM. Imo BJTs sound better because they're effectively faster even though the device itself may not be. Whether this is deliberate or not, I don't know but I find BJTs to have better, more refined low level resolution. I think once you reach a sufficiently high level of fidelity, the novelty effects disappear as a matter of course. If the goal is reproduction of the signal, then the last thing you want is to be able to pinpoint the topology of the amp, no?
What is LSR&D ? I have to agree with Ralph that live unamplified music does have warmth.Depends on variables,as to the degree of warmth.I do love harmonics as well.I don't give a hoot as long as it sounds good. If loving you is wrong,,,I dont wanna be right,,,
Pontifex,I like your speakers,from what I remember going up to the Golds you will have more detail and treble will be extended,so an amp with a bit of warmth may be just what the doctor ordered . At your budget,you have some great choices,that should keep you happy for a long time.As I said ,i am still kicking myself for selling my Conrad Johnson SS amp,it did the 3-D ,depth,room filling soundstage,and warmth like no other amp i have had.It is like you can reach out and touch the notes as they float in the air around you.Only time I've had that silly happy grin. I may get one of the newer SS amps they came out with,when budget allows.Whatever you decide ,I hope it makes listening a joy.
A lot of musical instruments produce music in the 100-300 hz range or so typically identified as the general range for "warmth" so it is not a surprise to hear that in live music or in a good hifi reproduction. The devil is all in the details. Some music may have little or no warmth at all and that is perfectly natural.