Thoughts on Amplification - Requesting feedback

OK. Here it is. I am new to these forums and was perusing the "what do you think" sections of "Speakers" and "Amps Preamps" here. One very common concept in the threads there is the existence of our (audiophiles') overwhelming upgrade compulsion. I am not immune, and I amused myself recalling all my various antics in that regard.

This brings me to my point. My amplifier is utterly immune to my overwhelming desire to upgrade. It is not as if I have a hum-dinger of an amp, either (I highly doubt it). I own a Parasound HCA-600. This amp has been discontinued for quite a while, but I purchased it around '95 for the full retail of $400. It is a 60-watt per channel amp about an inch and three quarters tall.

When I first realized my amp was immune to our notorious upgrade addiction, I was quite amazed. I checked my memory for a reason and, once I expended a little effort, it was glaringly obvious why it was immune.

I remember that, sometime in '97 I think, I had to take my parents car to the car dealer and the car dealer said it would take all day to finish. I knew this and planed ahead. I just walked a block or two down the street and listened for 7 hours to a single system setup at a nearby audio dealer with material I brought from home. I LOVED it. The system:

Marantz single disc CDP (retailed for around $650 - can't remember the model)
Audio Research LS-8 (2k tube pre)
" VT60 (3k tube amp)
Hales Concept 2 (2.4k two-way floor stander)

(It occurs to me that this may not be the exact model name of the Audio Research amp, but it was a 60-watt per channel tube amp of the time period by that manufacturer selling for 3k)

For reference, my system of the time:

Sony CDP-CE435 (remote variable line-out CDP - retail $230)
Parasound HCA-600 (60 WPC amp - retail $400)
Paradigm Titans (two-way bookshelf - retail $200)

About an hour before the car repair shop called me at the audio shop to tell me my parents' car was ready, I made it through all the CDs that I brought with me. At that point I wanted to experiment. I asked salesmen with nothing to do at the moment if he would be willing to replace the Audio Research VT60 with a Parasound HCA-600 they had in another demo room. He said sure, and I started to listen.

The first thing I noticed was a much stronger bass impact. The next thing I noticed was that the "definition", "attack", or "impact" was stronger throughout the whole frequency range. Everything was so much better defined. The amp seemed to demonstrate much greater control over the speakers during sudden dynamic events such as symbols, high-frequency plucked guitar, drumbeats etc. By contrast the Audio Research was almost sloppy. Only by direct comparison, remember. I loved the original system while I listened to it.

The final thing I noticed was what could justify the Audio Research's 3k price tag. More resolution, no doubt about it. The HCA-600 had a "grunge" sounding like an "electronic haze" that obscured detail.

I found myself still coming to, what to me anyway, was an amazing conclusion. I preferred the HCA-600 overall, regardless of price. The reason was simple. The improved "definition", "attack", or "impact" (whatever you want to call it) displayed by the HCA-600 was dramatic as a percentage increase. The amount of detail that the Audio Research VT60 picked up that the HCA-600's "grunge" masked was, as a percentage improvement, comparatively small. A lot smaller. A whole lot smaller. I did not care in the least if I lost that much resolution to pick up so much definition.

I unearthed, with that little bit of effort earlier, the cause of an unconscious decision I had made: To leave the amp in my system alone. One quick note. In my then (and current) listening room, 60 watts per channel is actually over kill. With 88 to 90 db 1 watt/1 meter bookshelf speakers, that is.

What I Want From the Community:

Who has listened to the Audio Research VT60? Were they just on a bad point of the Audio Research line up of tube amps, the very bottom? My HCA-600 was at the bottom of the Parasound lineup when I bought it, though. I don't understand.

I also think I have been unconsciously scared to do a comparison like that to another amp, fearing a similar outcome and the conclusion that these kilo-buck amps we all dream of (Halcro's 22k solid-state amp in stereophile a little while back is my dream amp, based solely on that review) fall flat on their metaphorical face in the real world. Read "real world" as unbiased outside observer's conclusion after addition and comparison to well constructed, much-cheaper alternatives.

Other's thoughts, comments? Someone tell me I am not going to loose my religion here.

I know this should have read more like "Rambling Thoughts on Amplification", or at least come with a length advisory, but I felt that I should post my thoughts or not post at all.


Current system:

Sony ES SCD-C555ES CDP/SACDP (Stereophile class A)
Sony ES TA-P9000ES Multichannel pre (Stereophile class A)
Outlaw Audio ICBM-1 Multichannel x-over
Parasound HCA-600 60 WPC amp (mains)
Adcom GFA-7300 60 watt by 5 (others) - not impressed with build quality
AudioSource AMP 5.3 250 watt by 1 into 4 ohm (Sub)
Home built 12-inch sub enclosure
B&W CDM 2SE (currently mains - at this time I have no other speakers besides sub. Looking at either used B&W CDM 2SEs by 6 or purchase of CDM 1NT and CDM CNT shortly. Can afford either, recommendations? Mix and match front and rear, or go with slightly less good, completely matched speakers?)

I am a HUGE hi resolution music fan, and I am an even more huge fan of hi resolution mutichannel music (when done right). Long live source in the speaker vs. source argument ;>)

My experience is that once you have a great source and a very good preamplifier an upgrade to a much better amp will bring life and realism out of your speakers that you never believed they were capable of.

What you experienced in the dealer showroom was the difference between tubes and solid state as most would define it. It's difficult to get the superb midrange and inner detail out of solid state and equally difficult to get the lower frequency slam and impact out of tubes.

You can have it all with either solid state or tubes but it takes a lot of time and money.


I'm going to suggest you try a Pass Aleph amp. I own a Aleph 3, Aleph 30 & a pair of Aleph 2 monoblocs. They are discontinued but readily available. I remember when I had a Parasound HCA 1200II. It was the end of my upgade path for some time.
The Alephs have a coloration or romantic sound not found often in solid state. You might like it in your system!
I sure do.

*Make sure you hear it in your system, that will give you a measurable reference.
Some people don't like tubes, the tradeoffs just don't work for them, which I can appreciate. However, I have no doubt that you will loose your religion with another solid state amp. I've owned and heard many of the Parasound amps, and other then the new JC-1 monoblocks ($6K/pair) they all had very obvious flaws that one could pick out immediately. In the Parasound line, the HCA2200II is probably the best next to the JC-1's, and though you may think it is too much power you'll be amazed at how much better it will be then your 600. If you step outside of Parasound, Musical Fidelity, Pass, Odyssey, Belles and many other highly regarded amps that can be had for $800-900 used will amaze you. As you can resell most any amp for what you paid use, give the upgrade bug fix, you have nothing to loose but a little time, which isn't really a loss if you have fun, which you will!
i'm curious what others think of jonathan's post, because in my very limited experience, switching from SS to tubes was mind blowing. and that was with mid-fi source.

i don't know how to describe the sound that tubes made in my system, but it was immediately and so significantly better.

I think his was an honest post because during a reasonably short comparison, the bass will be more pronounced when solid state is inserted. I think it takes a more seasoned ear to appreciate the glorious, detailed mid-range that tubes provide. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that all tube based systems are rolled off in the lower end but most are. It takes a lot of care to put together a tube system that has bass output that approximates live music.

Just so I don't get a lot of criticism from the tube crowd, let it be known that I will soon put my active solid state system up for sale here and make the move to tubes. I'll do whatever it takes to get the same slam and impact in the lower registers that I now enjoy.

There is no one system that does it all. I do not think it is possible to truly appreciate what tubed elctronics can do in a limited (several hour?) listening session. The type of music you enjoy the most will have a definitive impact on your choice of amp. Music with a strong repetitive bass line or percussive line will be best reproduced with a good solid state amp. Selections with vocals and natural instruments will be favored by good tubed amps. That said, I own tube systems and solid state and enjoy both according to mood and music.
To reiterate what I heard, the effect was not limited to low-frequency impact. It was the definition of all notes through out the frequency range. If the had a sudden onset the Parasound would relay that in its entirety, and the Audio Research would dull or in some way reduce the impact of the note. Just wanted to mention that although it was most noticeable in the bass region, probably because I was expecting it, it was an effect through out the frequency range.
Hey Jonathan... I was wondering what you meant by "definition", because you also said the Audio Research sounded more "detailed" --- these two things sound almost like the same thing.

By definition you mean attack and control?

Also, do others think Audio Research is an accurate representative of the tube sound? I have heard it tends to be lean/dry in comparison to other tube amps. (but then again, I also heard my VTL, which I immediately fell in love with, described as "neutral"... when I felt it was actually kind of warm.)

It sounds like you prefer SS... and if so, maybe you can audition some better SS amps and then report back to see if you think $$ invested in amplification is worth it?

After my speakers, I feel like the amp gave me the most immediate and obvious jump in sound quality. (followed by cables and NOS tubes, believe it or not!)


Yes, attack and controll would be other, accurate descriptions of the characteristic I heard.