SS Amp for natural vocals

I would like to find a solid state amp that does vocals really well. One that gives you that real sounding, in the room sound. I have a c-j 17LS2 preamp and Dali Helicon 400 speakers, which can do this reasonably well. Now I need an amp that can bring vocalists into my room. Thanks.
Class A is the only solid state circuitry that will do it, IMO. Pass Labs or Clayton Audio.

Some Class A/B designs come close, but they don't quite get there.
cj ss amp
nother great solid state company that bests clayton and pass is karan acoustics but they are more money. I think those are the best cost no object solid state design. They are class a and are quite remarkable and I own the clayton m-300's.
Bat vk-200
Try a Luxman.
Linar Audio is fantastic with vocals...I own a Linar 250i as well as the Linar Class A. (oh, and btw, the class a does not run hot at all.)
symphonic line amps--rich
Had CJ MF-2250A, had ARC 100.2 (exceptional), listened to BAT Vk500 (w/bat pak) extensively (ARC 100.2 was tops), had ARC VT100mkii, had many McCormacks, now have Pass x250.5...the Pass is the closest to the VT100mkii on vocals as any other, but beats that tube amp on treble definition, bass drive, dynamic swing, speed, detail retrieval, to name a few... nothing but a top tube amp yields that intoxicating vocal delivery..but then again you need to examine your trade space--what are you willing to sacrifice for the ultimate vocals?
Conrad Johnson, how much power do you need for those speakers?

This is one quality I really, really like about my Belles
Reference 150A, projecting voices with greater nuance and immediacy than other amps I have had the pleasure of trying.
It's not main stream but the TRL D-225 will do it for you. Even though it is made by Tube Research Labs it is a solid state design.
I would agree with Pass and would recommend them hands down for price performance, but another is Dartzeel. The Dartzeel is outstanding all around and has become either the daily tube amp alternative, to save on tubes, or an all out replacement for some die hard tube amp fans.
When it comes to high-dollar audio gear, I like the idea of buying products built in the USA that have excellent customer support.
Audio Research 100.2

Picked it over 50 or 60 other amps for getting as the best fit of organic transparency to the soul of the music.
I'd put the Nuforce SE-V2 Class D amps right at the top of any list.

Thanks Everyone, Lots of good amps to choose from, as always. The Dalis are not hard to drive, efficiency and impedance wise, so that should not be a factor in choosing an amp.

The ARC 100.2 looks like a strong contender but I'd like to stay away from tubes for ease of use and being able to just leave the amp on and not have to worry about it.

Pass, Clayton and c-j each got a couple of mentions. I was told that Clayton paired well with Dalis when I bought mine so I'll keep my open for a Clayton on Audiogon.

I'm glad to see Pass get mentioned because they are beautiful amps, are supposed to sound great and are usually available here. Since Class A operation is best for the sound I'm looking for, would I need a 250.5 to have enough class A watts or would a 150.5 do the trick? I see that Pass is still making the 150. Is it a 150.5 without the meter, as I've read?

I've read that Belles sound really nice and I like the prices being asked. Has anyone been able to compare them to the Pass amps?

I'll look into the smaller name amps too. I know that there are advantages to a smaller operation run by a passionate audio designer.

I know it would be better to listen to the amps before buying but I don't have access to a lot of gear and I find that the more gear I listen to the higher the cost of the gear I need goes. Also I can't really tell what a component will sound like in my home by listening to it at a dealer. So thanks for the suggesstions and I'd appreciate any further advice.
Dartzeel gets my vote.These have 99% of the midrange magic that my Tenors olt's have without the heat. I finally put my Tenors up for sale. Also I recently moved and lost a rubber foot for the amp, Herve sent extra feet to me in 3 days at no charge. I believe this qualifies for good service.
03-30-08: Stehno
I'd put the Nuforce SE-V2 Class D amps right at the top of any list.

While quite good, the NuForce Ref9SE V2 didn't measure up to my Belles 150A Reference monoblocks, which were bested by a Pass Labs XA-30.5 Class A amp. The NuForce amps lacked punch and drive in the mids compared to the Belles and Pass Labs (on Silverline Sonata III). The highs were very nice, and the image was large. Bass was about equal to the Belles, and lacked the last bit of control of the Pass Labs.

Aren't you a dealer for NuForce, Stehno?
Tvad, How did your Belles compare to the Pass amps? How did the midrange including vocals compare? I would like to own a Pass XA.5 but the Belles would fit my budget a lot better.
Yes, I am Tvad. Thanks for blowing my cover. :)

In fact, I only became a dealer as a result of auditioning the original Nuforce Ref 9s several years ago when within the first 80 hours they met or exceeded the musicality, refinement, and bass control of my old McCormack DNA 2 Revision A amp.

Considering the DNA 2 Rev. A was rated 600 wpc into 4ohm loads and my speakers at that time were rated at 86db @4ohms, I found the original Ref9 quite impressive. It might be worth mentioning that the Nuforce amps aren't even fully burned in until about 140 hours.

The SE-V2 versions are only about 40% better than the original Ref 9s and have tremendous bass authority.

I heard the DALI Helicon 400Mk.2 a few days ago with the Jeff Rowland Design Group 501 monoblocks, driven by the Rowland Capri. This is a truly smooth and revealing combination. I listened to Karrin Allyson, Rebecca Pidgeon, Livingston Taylor, Kenny Rankin, Chicago Symphony, Dallas Wind Symphony and the DALIs really shone well.

Prior to plugging in the 501s were tried a Primare integrated, which did a very poor job of controlling the DALI's woofers, yielding a bloated, bloomy bass. Next, we put in a Rowland stereo 102 and things improved a bunch, but the 501 really took hold of the Helicons and made them sound smooth, deep, detailed and lush, all at once. Those speakers evidently love a bunch of power and high damping.


04-01-08: Tomcy6
Tvad, How did your Belles compare to the Pass amps? How did the midrange including vocals compare?
No one would believe me if I said the Belles and the Pass were close, but they are...particularly when the Belles are used as monoblocks. It's a matter of degree. Overall, the Pass sounds more natural and refined, but then they are Class A and they cost $10k for a 60wpc pair, versus $6k for 500wpc pair.

The differences between them are more pronounced when comparing them as stereo amplifiers. IMO, running the Belles as monoblocks is the best way to go, and reviews support this conclusion.

Alana Yun, builder of Silverline Audio loudspeakers recommended both Belles and Pass Labs to me, and I have to say he was absolutely correct on both counts.
Tomcy6, the ARC is a solid state amp. check out the ARC web for more info.
Regarding Pass and Belles, I haven't owned the specific Pass amps you mentioned, but I did own the Pass Aleph 3 for years - while a great amp, I prefered the Belles Reference 150A by a pretty big margin and with several different sets of speakers.
I prefered the Belles Reference 150A by a pretty big margin and with several different sets of speakers.
Fly_fish_nz (Threads | Answers)
The 150A Reference is a darned fine amplifier...underrated and overlooked by many audiophiles.

Disclosure - I have a pair of 150A Reference for sale. They are being replaced by Pass Labs XA-60.5.
I'm new to this hobby, ok habit... but have read many of your opinions stating that the pre amp and speakers play a large role.
I am using a cj met1 6 channel tube preamp with dali 800s and 400s along with an avr ss amp ( denon 5803) and vocals sound outstanding. Granted I may not have the trained ears of yall but the preamp has unveiled the ss amp to where vocals sound great. I am looking into replacing my denon with dedicated power amp because of what i read here, but wonder if the gain will be marginal because the sound is pretty great already. Perhaps he should consider moving up to the 800s or cabling choices?
The DALI 400s benefit giantly from a great amp with lots of power and damping. I heard it with three amps and was blown away with the 400s driven by Rowland 501s. I think you'll experience night and day difference.

The first I heard the DALIs with was a nice mid-priced intergrated with just under 100 WPC, then I heard it with the Rowland 102 stereo amp and finally with the 501s. The little integrated had out of control bass, such that it was unacceptable to me. The 102 cleaned things up nicely, but the 501 really controlled and deepened the bass and cleaned the mids and really made the ribbon tweeters sing. It was a wonderful combination. The gain was NOT marginal.

"The DALI 400s benefit giantly from a great amp with lots of power and damping"

If so then there is only one amplifier here below $10k price - Spectron Musician III SE - amp which can control this speaker with grace and reproduce voices "to die for"

All The Best
Well Rafael, not exactly.

The Jeff Rowland Design Group Continuum 500 integrated amp is only $8800, with 1000 watts into 4 ohms. It handles the DALI's very nicely. (I literally just walked in the door from listening to the Continuum driving the DALI 400s and the Vienna Beethoven Baby Grands, for about the last 3-hours).

I should say that I'm having second thoughts about the DALIs. I was disturbed that the DALIs don't really handle low bass as well as the Vienna Acoustics, losing the harmonic richness in a Johnny one-bass-note kind of response below a certain frequency. Given the price and size I'd expect much better bass resolution.

The DALIs excell at highs. They're incredible with things like fingers on strings and air in voices. The mids are also very good, but I prefer the VAs, that's without regard to price. If you consider price, then the VAs are an overwhelming choice for me.


" ...I was disturbed that the DALIs don't really handle low bass as well as the Vienna Acoustics, losing the harmonic richness in a Johnny one-bass-note kind of response below a certain frequency. Given the price and size I'd expect much better bass resolution."

Are you sure that it is the speakers fault? Given their price and size and REPUTATION, I would suggest to investigate if they were properly controlled to begin with.

I read on Spectron web site that rms power is very misleading number because in "rms" sort of mode you really need 1-5 per cent of this power ONLY. However, when push come to you know what.... amplifier must handle it and it may be hundreds times greater them "rms"..
Spectron claim that their amp is stable up to 0.1 Ohm and during the "stress" can deliver 3500 watts over 500 msec.

Next, and it may (or may not be important) that peak voltage even for medium efficiency speakers is more then 100 volts and all solid state and class D amplifiers that I know (except Spectron and Mackintosh) have rail voltage of about 65 volts - thus if signal is 100 volts then its clipped.

It could be that you have incredible speakers which are very sensitive to the signal they are asked to reproduced... and they are simply doing that whereas other speakers mask it

All The Best
I do know that the DALIs are very amp sensitive. I've now heard them with four amps and they sounded very different with each one.

My friend, are you suggesting that the DALIs may drop below 1 ohm in the low frequencies? I'll ask Jeff Rowland of the stress limits of the Continuum. He suggests using it with speakers with a nominal impedance of 3 ohms or higher. I suspect that it'll handle loads down below 2 ohms easily, but I haven't seen any test data of that kind of stress.

Since I'm buying the Rowland, the DALIs will certainly not be on my shopping list.

Oh, Rafael, overnight I thought about your comment that RMS power ratings can be misleading and then you go on to quote some amp's ability to put out 3500 watts into .1 ohm for 500msec. Well, I'm thinking that instantaneous power is interesting to know, but at what purpose? .1 ohm is next to shorting. Do any actual speakers present such a load? What musical event is going to occur from 500 msec, right before your amp fries or shuts down?

I DO agree that RMS can't possibly tell the whole story; however, I think that it's a good starting point. Yes, you only use 1 to 5% of that power continually, but I hear a correlation between power and control of the woofers in large speaker systems. I think that RMS is a good place to start in understanding an amp's ability to handle large, inefficient speakers.

BTW, the Continuum's two built in Power Factor Correction modules each deliver 385V DC, so I don't think that's a limiting factor.

"Well, I'm thinking that instantaneous power is interesting to know, but at what purpose?"

Let me quote from Spectron Web Site again as its very educational, for me at least:

Stereo Times reviews Spectron Musician III SE
"Power and Finesse" by Donald Shaulis

"I have never heard Moussorgsky: Night on Bald Mountain/Pictures at an Exhibition [Telarc B000003CSH] before. Oh, I have owned the CD for years but I never really “heard it” before. The Spectron presented the softer passages with such inner detail they became seductive but the real surprise came in the crescendos. The peaks reached were a revelation. It wasn’t that the Spectron could play loud, it was that I wanted the music louder. For the first time the crescendos were reproduced with full fury but no smearing or harsh edge that demanded the volume be reduced. Now, after many years, I finally “get” this fine recording..."

I am not professional reviewer and I can't say it so eloquently.

Good Luck with your choices.
Well, that recording has been a favorite of mine since the 1980s. I "get it" and it will set you back in you seat, even with my old Bryston or my current Conrad Johnson CA200. I'll pull it out this weekend as part of my initial testing of the Continuum in my system.

Another great recording is Atlanta Symphony doing Firebird on Telarc. The sudden peaks actually shock me (I jump in the chair), even though I expect them.

My former Pass X350 had wonderful, fleshed-out, liquid,
rounded, alive vocals.

It replaced an Aragon 8008, with no other
changes in the system (in fact I A-B'd them back and forth), and found the difference in vocals dramatic.
The speakers were Aerial 10T's. They sounded like new speakers. This was both for male & female singers (John Lennon, Jim Croce, Diana Ross, Carly Simon).
The Pass runs very hot, though.

I now use an Edge NL12.1 which I am very happy with for vocals (and has much better bass than the Pass).
I never heard the Pass X350.1, but people here say the bass has improved.