SS integrated recommendations - the final piece to my system


Hi everyone,

I hope you're all safe and healthy.  As the heading says, I am looking for a solid state integrated to complete my system.  Things have come together nicely recently, and my (vinyl-only) system is currently:

-Acoustic Signature Wow XL turntable with Grado Sonata III cartridge
-Don Sachs phono preamp (amazing!)
-ATC SCM 11 v2 speakers

The only thing that I'm lacking is a quality integrated amp to drive the ATCs.  Right now I'm using the amp from my office system - a Yamaha A-S701.  It very good for the price, but I'd like to find something much more refined that is more appropriate for the quality of the rest of the system.  The Yamaha is 100wpc, and that's enough power for the ATCs in my room - 15x13ft, but a bit more wouldn't hurt.  I listen at moderate volume levels - peaks in the low/mid 80 dbs. on the rare occasions that I turn it up loud.  The Yamaha sounds a bit brittle/hard in the treble, and overall it is slightly thin and artificial sounding.  So, I'm looking for something with the following characteristics:  

-at least 100 wpc. 
-smooth, non-fatiguing treble
-good soundstage
-good separation 

I'm less concerned about extreme dynamics and deep bass.  Looking in the range of units priced at around $3,000 new, but I hope to buy used/demo and spend closer to $2-2.5k.  The shortlist at this point:

-Exposure 3010s2D - I have liked the Exposure SS amps that I've heard.

-Dayens Ecstasy III - I had the Menuetto, and it was phenomenal in terms of sound quality - one of the most enjoyable amps I've ever heard.  However, there were significant quality control issues with both units that I tried, so I'm somewhat hesitant to spend even more money on the Ecstasy III.

-Musical Fidelity M5si or M6si - I had the M6si about a year ago, paired with Revel M105 speakers.  Very high quality amp.  They only criticism I had was that it didn't sound full at low/moderate volume, at least with the Revels. Perhaps the ATCs would be a better pairing.

-Parasound Hint 6 - For some reason I've generally overlooked this unit.  It seems like I'd be paying for many features I don't need.  Also, the majority of the reviews understandably focus on how the various connections sound - the DAC, the phono stage, the subwoofer outputs, etc.  I don't get a sense of what the unit sounds like through the analog inputs, and that's all I'd use it for.

-Yamaha A-S2100 - it's only 90 wpc, but I've heard so many positive comments about it, and the review descriptions of the smooth mosfet sound appeal to me.  Plus, you know, meters :)

The only real dealbreaker for me is any harshness, grain, sibilance, glare, etc. in the high frequencies.  

I appreciate any suggestions that you might have!

Very sincerely,Scott

smrex13
Scott, have you considered a hybrid integrated? I was looking for a SS integrated to drive the Shahinian Obelisks in my living room. I found a great deal on a used BAT VK-300x SE amp. Tube preamp section, SS amp, remote. Shocked me at how good it sounds. IMO there is no substitute for tube preamps.

@br3098 Thanks for the idea.  I hadn't really thought about a hybrid since I have a tubed phono stage.  I generally like to leave the amp powered up, so I was thinking all solid state.  However, I will read a few reviews on hybrid integrate amps to get an idea of what's out there.

Thanks!
Any of the integrateds in the Marantz Reference Series would check off all the boxes in what you are looking for.  Don't let the conservative 90 wpc power rating fool you.
hegel

thank me later :)

seriously...
Hi @smrex13 , I have SCM20s and have demoed the SCM11s, which are also really great and sound extremely similar. I value natural timbre most of all, and also hate thin upper mids and bright treble.

My take: ATCs don’t mate well with Class D - just not my kind of sound - and do better with good old Class AB and tube hybrids. Then again, I think $3k is kind of on the higher side of a budget for the SCM11s (the closer you get to SIA2-150 prices, the less most other options make sense).

New, I’d consider the something like the Rega Elex or Marantz PM8006, which I think can be trialed with the option to return. If used, the Naim XS2/3 is also a very good match I can vouch for. I preferred Simaudio Moon to Exposure, personally, but they’re kind of pricey with all the digital module options. I'm not a fan of Musical Fidelity or Yamaha. If shortlisting hybrids, I'd look at Unison Research.
Given your tastes I’d consider a hybrid as well.  There’s a new Unison Unico Due available here for $2250 ($3695 retail) that I think would tick all your boxes and sound fantastic in the context of your system.  Tubes should have long life as they’re only in the pre section and likely cheap to replace anyway.  Best of luck. 
Thanks for the recommendations so far. I’ve tried a couple of Hegel integrated amps, and they didn’t work at all in either system that I tried them in. I hadn’t thought about Marantz, but I know they are supposed to have a warmer sound.

@motokokusanagi - good to hear from an ATC owner. I’m not a big class D fan anyway, so I’m looking for good class A/B sound. Do you think that 70-80 watts is enough for the SCM 11s?

I’ve heard differing opinions on the Elex-R - some say it’s thin sounding and can be bright, while others says it’s warm. The Marantz PM 8006 is also interesting, but again I’d be a little worried about the lower wpc. But, as you say, they can be returned if they don’t work out. I like Simaudio, too, but it’s a bit out of my price range at this point.
Yes, 70w (e.g. the Naim XS2/3 which I heard with the SCM11) or above would be sufficient, unless you’re listening at max volume levels in a big room, which you’re not. FWIW, there are several Elex / PM8006 + ATC (11, 40) vids on youtube that seem to pass a sanity check. I even found a couple Unison Research  / Naim XS + ATC vids; that’s pretty obscure.

The best way to go is home demo, cause you’re also testing compatibility with your phono amp and most importantly your listening room. Most internet hifi vendors allow returns. The Elex and PM8006 are on Amazon, which allows returns no questions asked, so you could go that way to demo, but personally I’d rather find a proper hi fi vendor and work out an arrangement, find out their return policy. They should be open to negotiating the price and possibly have good value demo units, too.
For a period of time I had Proac Studio 3’s which share the same drivers as the SCM 50 (sans the ATC tweeter).

I tried several integrated amps in your price range with them and liked Hegel and Peachtree Nova 150 the least.  My top three were Wells Audio Majestic, Vincent sv 237 and Primare I30. Primare was my favorite. Other amps I liked were Kinki Studio ex-m1 and Yamaha A-S2100. I can understand why you feel the Yamaha sound has some hardness in the upper midrange, I heard that as well.

However, I now have Meadowlark Herron I’s in a small room paired with a Yamaha RN 803d and it sounds fantastic. 



 
That Unico listing looks tempting, and should be a grade above the Elex and Marantz -- rather competing with the Elicit - but I’ve not heard it. Perhaps contact fidelis and see if they are open to some kind of trial. There’s also a P1 power amp listing - I use that with my SCM20s - these are a perfect match (but then you’d need a preamp so would exceed your budget).
The newest 2020 version of the Kinki EX-M1 for $2398.  200 wpc into 8 ohms and 400 into 4 ohms.  Smooth and extended on both ends of the spectrum with effortless power.

https://www.kinki-studio.com/ex-m1
You must really be in love with those speakers, to put up with all the problems they're giving you finding a good 200 watt amp to drive their inefficient 85dB output. Its a shame because what you want- smooth non-fatiguing sound, great soundstage- is a piece of cake with any of several really good tube integrated amps. But they won't have the power your hard to drive speakers require. So you must really be in love with them.
Who said anything about a 200 watt amp? While the OP’s speakers can handle quite a bit of current, they are not very difficult to drive. If you had read his post, he wants to be able to leave his amp on all the time so tube amps are not an option.
@smrex13 Check also canuckaudiomart where I see some good prices (in CAD) for used Elex, Elicits and another Unico Due.
In that price range, consider a Vincent Audio SV-237MK.  Plenty of power, with the first 10 watts in Class A.  They hybrid design gives you some flexibility to shape the sound with tube rolling.
I have ATC SCM11v2s also.

I've been running them with my Musical Fidelity A5 integrated and it's a really good pairing.  Lots of grip down low, but still very neutral balanced to the top.  Plenty of grunt to go to higher volumes but still maintain a very clean and open soundstage.

MF and ATC is a good pairing, imo.
The newest 2020 version of the Kinki EX-M1 for $2398. 200 wpc into 8 ohms and 400 into 4 ohms. Smooth and extended on both ends of the spectrum with effortless power.
The Kinki Studio integrated has replaceable op amps.  This means you can plug in some Burson discrete opamps and get a significant improvement for not much money.



I really appreciate all the recommendations.  A few comments...

1.  The ATC SCM 11 v2 was tested at 85.5 db sensitivity, which is very much consistent with other bookshelf speakers (the actual sensitivity, not the manufacturers specs).  100 wpc is fine - no need for 200 wpc.

2.  I imagine that Musical Fidelity would be a good match with the ATCs.

3.  I looked at the Kinki but was confused by the extremely low input sensitivity.  It's listed at more than 2.25-3.6 volts, when most integrated amps are around 200-300 mV.  

4.  The Unico looks really interesting..

Thanks, Scott  
You can probably find a luxman 505uXII for around 3000 bucks used. Luxman are know for a refined sound. Will have plenty of power.

https://www.musicdirect.com/integrated-amp/Luxman-L-505uXII-Integrated-Amplifier
3.  I looked at the Kinki but was confused by the extremely low input sensitivity.  It's listed at more than 2.25-3.6 volts, when most integrated amps are around 200-300 mV.

1v = 1000mv

@mboldda1  Right, so the input sensitivity of the Kinki is about ten times that of most integrated amps?
Input sensitivity is the maximum voltage strength of an input signal that an amplifier can handle and still produce unclipped full output. This is important to understand because not all audio signals have the same voltage. And, when a signal’s voltage exceeds the input sensitivity of an amp clipping and distortion can occur.
I may be wrong but the input sensitivity of a preamp or preamp stage in an integrated may be given as a minimum or maximum, whereas for an amplifier it is usually provided as the amount of power to drive the unit to maximum volume prior to clipping. 
In that size room I doubt very much that you need a 100 watt amp. This Belles Aria is 75 watts into 8 ohms and 125 watts into 4 ohms. The difference between 100 and 75 watts is less than 2 DB. Take a look!
http://www.powermodules.com/products/aria-integrated.html
I have a Marantz PM 8006. iIt is detailed and just slightly warm on some music not like the old Marantz sound of the 70s, more neutral than anything. I run it with a variety of speakers including Kef Ref 300s which have the same UniQ tweeter as the LS50. Some amps make that driver sound bright but the Marantz does not. It does not lack for power or current so would it would be a decent match for your ATC speakers. A Belles Aria would be an even better match as it has similar characteristics to the Marantz but is a better all around amp. There is one on Audiogon right now. I would buy it myself but my SO would freak. The Belles gets very good reviews from users on Agon and Audiokarma. It is a under the radar winner. 
@joekapahulu @yogiboy 

The praise for the Belles Aria has been so strong that I've tried it twice over the last couple of years, with results so poor that I still don't understand what happened.  The first unit was paired with Harbeth C7s, and it sounded distant, thin, tinny, and flat.  Absolutely no dynamics and it seemed terribly underpowered. I sold it.  Later, with a more efficient pair of speakers, I bought a used, one-owner unit through a dealer.  Over the course of two shipping trips, the volume knob came off twice, more than a dozen screws came loose (including three internal screws on one of the circuit boards), and finally the toroidal transformer came loose and damaged the inside of the unit.  So, I've spent more than $3,000 on trying the Belles Aria with nothing to show for it. 
@smrex13
Thanks for the information. I’ll stay far away from that amp!
Big mistake not to follow through with the Aria a volume nob even a 6 th grader could find a proper size Allen wrench and tighten it.
i remember an older non digital  Primare amp shipped 
in a weak box and the transformer
moving around damaging the unit
back then it was still a great piece
and worth getting fixed
with-the Belles its all easy to replace modules and self fix and I am pretty confident a double boxed unit is
going to be hard to next to impossible to beat with great sounding speakers.
JohnnyR
@audioconnection I did fix the volume knob and tightened up the screws.  The unit sounded like the first one - thin, distant, lacking dynamics, etc.  It was a vinyl-only system, and I tried both the phono input and an external phono stage through the line-level inputs.  They both resulted in the same disappointing sound.  There must have been some kind of electrical/impedance mismatch - there's no way that anyone would have been impressed by the sound I was getting.  I know that others love the unit, and Mr. Belles is a brilliant designer.  I'm just disappointed that I never got to hear what all the fuss was about...
Scott I get you but never here like that. Perhaps Ac voltage wise Do you have a home run for your  gear in your home or is it shared with other devices?

I don't have a dedicated line, but I've run a lot of different amps without difficulty.  Just an odd situation with the Aria.  
smrex13,

I have no suggestion, but am curious how did you find out about Dayen in the first place.
Kinki EX-M1+ or the Denafrips Hestia/Thallo stack, amazing for the money and on a whole other level from the Marantz under discussion, although at the extreme end of your budget.
Glupson - just came across it while browsing the forums.  The Ampino had gotten some good press.  When I checked out their website, I found a few good reviews for the Menuetto. I was looking for a small integrated, so I took a chance on it.  Glad I did - it sounded great.  I only sold it because I wanted a bit more power after I changed speakers.
I really like the Ayre A7e integrated.  It was A rated in Stereophile, and used can be found for less than $2K.  I use mine with KEF LS50s, hardly high-efficiency speakers.  One caveat is that you want to use it with balanced connections.  I use balanced input from an Ayre QB-9 DSD DAC.  You'd want the phono-stage to have balanced output.
i have very good luck with the belles aria - lovely sounding amp, clean top to bottom, some midrange warm where solid state often too thin, treble maybe ever so slightly tilted up... gives a nice sense of life to the sound....  

...guess it is proof that YMMV... some tried it think it is a dog

me i think it is lovely
I second the opinion on Belles Aria.  Wonderful integrated. Non fatiguing sound with great dynamics and soundstage 

Just thought I'd close the loop on this discussion.  I had the chance to listen to three amps in my system - the Marantz PM15s2, the Creek Evolution 100A, and the Unison Research Unico Due.  My favorite, by a significant margin, was the Unico Due.  I'm loving everything I hear and it's just getting better as it burns in.  Thank you for the recommendation, as I wouldn't have considered it otherwise.

Cheers, Scott