Jerie; great post. I've never seen this point of view expressed better. Cheers. Craig
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I'm going to venture out on a limb here and agree with everyone. Now, before you hit me over the head let me qualify that statement. I think it is really all about what turns you on and off and how the whole system blends together. Just as some have a passion for tube amps and dislike solid state. I love dipole ribbon panels and electrostatic speakers. Box speakers with dynamic drivers bug the hell out of me. I owned a pair of Apogee Stages for years. Great speaker with fabulous mids and a very challenging load to drive. Tube gear sounded great at low volumes but when you turned it up the mids seemed bloated and the dynamics went flat. Perhaps it was due to the 1-2 ohm load at times and the tubes ran out of steam. Yeah, I know, maybe I just didn't find the right tube amp or maybe it was something else in the audio chain. My point here is that both tubes and solid state have an equally valued place in this hobby. Both can sound really good or really bad depending on what you have in your system, what you can afford, what your musical preference is, your room and a host of other things. We don't need King Henry or rolling heads. What we do need is both tube and solid state gear.
Hi Rosebud. I never wanted to become a tube guy. But I got to the stage where I felt I had put together about as good a system as I could, but when I went to live events I was always gobsmacked by the fact that there was a kind of beauty to voices and mid-range instruments that was not present in my system.. and, believe me I had gone through a large number of what are supposed to be the best solid state amps. So in desperation I ventured into tubes. My conclusions were that I did not in fact like tube preamps much, because they were all colored in some way and I was not looking for coloration. But when I heard what a good tube power amp could do, I suddenly heard some of that mid-range beauty, and it sounded like the real thing, not a coloration. So my quest for tube amps started there and I have never looked back. Now, when I hear any solid state amp I hear things badly wrong in the midrange, that I had never heard before. Previously I must have been filtering them out. I now hear a kind of wiry or grainy distortion with solid state amps that also (I suspect) bleeds natural color from the midrange. I recently debated this very thing with a friend. We were trying out the latest Naim power amp and the Classe 400 in his system. I could hear both amps screwing up the mids and he could not. So I drove back to my house and put my tube amps in the car and made him listen to them for two hours before we put the solid state amps back in place. I think I changed his life. I know tube amps are not perfect, and I hate the hassles, but I want a system to get as close to live music as I can, and tubes is what does this for me. I certainly do not agree that this is because I like coloration. It may be that the beauty is lost before the signal gets to the power amp and tubes add an artificial version, but I have tubes because I want that sound I hear when I hear live music.
Neutral, Mechanical, Sweet distortion, and tubey are not the sounds of music. I do not know what tube amps Rosebud has listened to but the "unnatural" sound he mentions is what I hear in SS. Why do so many think that tube amps can't reproduce base as well as SS. Just like SS amps, tubes can be warm and rich or lean and mean. I always hear a less livley sound with SS. A soundfield with flat images and a dullness that seem to always creep in after a short time of listening. Tubes give me the life and energy along with a much better 3D effect than the best SS. I agree with Red kiwi, once you listen to a good tube amp, I do not see how you could go back to the colorations of ss.
I don't want to start a quarrel here either, but my vote goes with Redkiwi. Obviously I am a tube guy and I think that rather than having Henry Vlll settle the score, (besides, he chops off women's heads) it would be better for each Audiogon member to listen to both types of amps on their own speakers and decide for themselves. If you really believe that tubes are distorted, then you probably have not heard a system that had everything working right. Tubes were around for decades before transistors arrived, and although both types of equipment have evolved greatly, tubes continue hold a major position in the high end audio market. The reason is not because they are inexpensive or low maintenance, its the music.
Redkiwi, I agree with your views on nearly all your posts, but not this one. It's tubes that impart an "unnatural" sound. That's why they sound "tubey." Solid state amps are much more apt to give you a neutral signature, which you call "mechanical." That's why some folks, you included, don't like SS. They prefer the "sweet distortion" that valves provide. I don't mean to start a quarrel here. To each his own. After lots of reading and little participation, however, I have to believe that the tubes virsus SS debate is a lot like choosing between Roman Catholicsm and the Anglican Church. Perhaps we will need to call in Henry VIII again to settle the score.
I cannot see how you are going to be happy with solid state after having had tubes Dan - once the thrill of the bass is over. Wolcott sounds ideal and a good match for your speakers. I have heard a good number of the solid state power amps you have listed and could not get past the mechanical nature of the midrange. Sure some are warm and even syrupy, but it sounds like artificial sweetener to me.
Cornfedboy, I have visited both the Boulder and Accuphase web sites to have a look at the amps you mentioned. I am considering moving to solid state again (tired of retubing and rebiasing at a small fortune). I am almost ready to start the search. While my budget is not small, it is certainly not limitless. I am almost afraid to ask, but how much would one have to spend to aquire one of these amps. For now I am listening to my old Threshold Stasis amp. Thank you in advance.
Wait! Here's one last recommendation! I own both Rowland and Classe products and it's hard for me to imagine you going wrong with either. The Classe CAM-350 MONAURAL amps have the guts and glory to drive your impedance loads with sweetness and authority. I've heard these amps with the ML Prodigy on three separate occasions and was totally impressed. Insofar as methodology goes, I would start with what you know, Rowland and Classe and go from there. Personally I would start with the CAM-350's and audition them first. I believe they are well within your price range brand new.
I will certainly try to report my findings here. This leaves me with a conundrum. I wish I could just go down to my local dealers and start auditioning all these amps. But I have a hard time "wasting" a dealer's time if I know I am auditioning an amp that I can't afford new - for example Lamm. Should I start with the amps I can afford new and go from there? This was one of the reasons I was trying to narrow the list down. I think that I might drop the Plinius and the Bryston amps from the list though. As far as Krell is concerned I have heard a Krell 300C at great length through my exact setup at a local dealer (except it was a Krell Transport) and I thought the setup sounded a little dry, but it was very dynamic and the bass was excellent. While I have not heard Classe, I have had others tell me that some Classe amps tend to be warm. So now that I have a great list to start from - where do I start?
dan...i agree totally with snook.if you will read lars fredell's article in the latest issue of ultimate audio you will see that he likes the aloia amps as good or in some cases BETTER then his lamms. as a former owner of arc vt100mkII/ls15 gear i changed about 8 months ago and have never looked back. they are better then any of the gear you have mentioned and at their cost you could afford to biamp your gear get the preamp also buying used and still have $ left over. email lars at ultimate audio..he will give it to you straight. the inductive power supply that the aloias use is the key to their greatness.
dan: you've gotten some excelent advice already but i'd like to pick up the invitation you issued to sagger to "go outside your list." the impedence curve of the 802's seem quite clearly to auger in favor of high output/high current amps. those in this categorey of which i'm familiar, and i am seriously considering to replace my rowland 8ti, are the boulder 1060 (300w/side stereo into 8, 4 or 2 ohms) or a pair of accuphase a-50v's (400w per, bridged into 4 ohms). i've not heard either of these amps on b&w nautilus speakers but have listened to them extensively on avalon eidolons, my present speakers. both the boulder and accuphases drive the eidolons (nominal 4 ohm imp.) effortlessly. moreover, both are very "fast" and allow the eidolons to show their strengths exquisitely in the mid's and highs, while powering the bass range in a controlled yet "ballsy" manner. the boulder eats up power, sounding best in its switchable 220 amp mode (requiring, of course, a powered 220 outlet behind the amp). i've not listened to wolcotts on eidolons, tho i'd love to do so. for me, tho, both the boulder and accuphase provide the sort of mid-range liquidity one would expect of the very best tube amps and the bottom-end power and control best accomplished ordinarilly by solid state. i applaud you for having already considered a rather long list of very good choices. i hope you get the chance to audition those i recommend you add to that list. good hunting. -kelly
Albert, You always have positive constructive feedback - thank you. I hope I didn't come off as being anti-tube. The Golden Tube stuff was great gear considering its price point and they have served me well over the years. But my point of view of tube amps is only from the SE40's (could be good or bad). I guess it kind of like wondering what a Mercedes-Benz is like when all you drive is a Honda Accord (please no car flames). Dan
Dan, all of the amps you are considering are excellent quality. If Wolcott is not for you, then the Lamm would be my first choice. I have heard most of these products, and although the Rowland is terrific, particularly considering your speakers problematic load, Rowlands do not afford the same level of midrange and staging you so fondly speak of from your current tube amplifiers. If this parallel is of any value to you, Andrew Litton, one of last years Grammy award winners in music and recording artist for Delos, just choose Wolcott amps for his reference system. His system consists of a Conrad Johnson ART preamp, B&W 800 speakers, all Purist Audio interconnect and speaker wire, and a master DAT transport for listening to the original tapes from his recording sessions. He previously owned some of the products we are discussing, and arrived at the decision to buy Wolcott after the first hour of listening here at my home, during one of my Tuesday night sessions. I realize you do not know Andrew, but he has a keen ear, and shares your same concern for accurately driving his large B&W speakers. Considering the parallel in your needs, you should at least audition the Wolcott before making your final decision.
The list you posted is quite diverse...I would recommend that you not consider the Plinius, as they are from the syrup family of amps. I have owned the Wolcotts and they are great but go back to the first issue of TAS from 2000 and read a very disturbing story concerning Hank Wolcott and the evolution of his amps. I would worry about tech. support and the fact that Wolcott is still a cottage business. Rowland makes great amps but I would agree with one of the other respondents that you stick with tubes. Check out the Balanced Audio Technology VK 75 stereo amp. Great price for an outstanding amp. Also by BAT, the VK 500 with BATPAK or the VK 1000 monos...all great amps with the attributes you desire.
Thanks Albert. I was hoping to hear from you. I know that you own the Wolcott amps with the Soundlabs but wasn't sure if you had settled on them yet. I have also talked to Henry at length about the Wolcott. He is very nice man and he has sent me all kinds of information. There is a dealer about two hours away from me in Sacramento and he also has Soundlabs - for which this amp seems to be the perfect match. I guess with Golden Tube stuff I am little gun shy about tubes - probably unjustifiably so. I have never heard the like of the Atma-Sphere MA 1 or the Wollcot so it is hard for me to imagine that a tube amp can perform at the extremes (high and low) with a difficult impedance load like the 802. I am willing to be enlightened though - after all I did buy two SE40's. :-)
I am for the Wolcott mono blocs as well. Not only does this amp have the midrange that you want, the control of the bass is adjustable with a switch and dial on the rear. This is not black magic, but rather a direct intervention into the feedback circuit of these amps. As you rotate the control, you actually "read" the amp, speaker, and the connecting cable, changing the amount of control the amp exercises over the entire chain! By increasing this slowly, you can eliminate sagging, ringing or loss in the connection, until you reach a firmness or warmth that is perfect for your speaker and wire combination. If you read Dick Olshers report at the Enjoy the Music site, he discusses this control and how he has chosen this amp as his reference standard too. By the way, if you do choose the Wolcott, I have been experimenting with both the controls and the tubes for many months now . If you find that there is something lacking or objectionable in the bandwidth, resolution or tonality of the music, I am willing to share my experience so you can try some other combinations to get the results you want. Best wishes!
Buy a Jeff Rowland amp. All of the models you list are spectacular(have not heard all of them). Whatever one you find the best combination of value/seller/etc. From your likes/dislikes list, those amps are tailor made to your desires. One of the best solid state brands out there. Will not sound a LOT like tubes, but I think you will quite pleased.
Sagger, Don't feel you have to stay within the list. If I have missed something, then please say so. Philefreak, the 802's low end impedance is similar but not identical to the 801's. I TEF'd them myself, but the chart is at home. I can give the actual numbers later, but for know please look at the impedance curve for the 801's at http://www.stereophile.com/showarchives.cgi?207:8 If I remember correctly the dip caused by the vented enclosure sits around 30 Hz on the 802 and not 20Hz like the 801. The midrange and the highs for the 802 are identical to the 801 though. – Dan