Van Alstine?

Any opinions on SS amps from past or present owners?
Sorry. Misspelled the search. Found em.
I don't change amps much. For many years I had a very nice amp that had great smoothness and musicality. Over this time (about 17 years) I had tried many other amps, including a Krell of the time (which doesn't sound like the Krells of today), Moscode, Bryston, Muse, and some others. Saw no reason to change. With some changes in my system I had to look for a new amp - my old one could not be driven with long ICs. My friend owns an older FetValve and I always thought it sounded very nice. So I was able to find a FetValve EXR5, which in my system was a great step up from my older amp. More transparent, even more musical, and just overall a better sense of pace and invlovement. I upgraded it to an Ultra, and got all that plus much better articulation in the low end and improved extension in the high end. The EXR5 was great but the Ultra was that much better. I have been as happy as a clam with it and was actually not looking to do the upgrade to the current Ultra Double +, but in private discussions with owners who've already done it I was convinced to take the step. I should have it back from AVA in a couple of weeks.

If you were interested in a FetValve then some tube rolling may help optimize the match to the rest of your system. Once done you should find an amp that has excellent natural sound, great extension in both directions, a beautiful midrange and very good space. When well matched with the rest of a system it sounds like real msuic with no mushiness or cloudiness. IMO it punches way above its weight.

I've also heard the OmegaStar series on different speakers and they sounded very nice. A good choice maybe for someone with a tube front end.

Very insightful. Thank you.
There are very few recent posts concerning AVA so any additional information would be appreciated. There is also the Odyssey Audio Stratos and I am leaning towards these companies because they are designed and manufactured in the USA. If the quality is the same and the design is sound it is my preference. I am using Bel Canto M300 monoblocks which are also designed and built domestically and am thinking of a change. Thanks for any advice you can offer.
If you haven't done so already you should check out Both AVA and Odyssey users are well represented there.
A few years back, I was running a Pioneer AVR in my combo HT/2-channel system, and had a Rotel RMB-1066 amp, run bridged, for the front three channels. With my old speakers (Vandersteen 1C), this was a bright-sounding combination. I decided to upgrade to a new three channel amp, but limited myself to brands I could try at home. It came down to the Omegastar three channel amp and the Odyssey Audio HT3. The Van Alstine was somewheat less money, so I had high hopes, but was dissappointed. I found the V.A. sounded even brighter than the the Rotel. It was especially highlighted in the brightness range (~4-8kHz). I returned it to Van Alstine. Frank was gracious, but somewhat miffed that I did not like his amp (he really tries to make a high-value product that pleases customers). The Odyssey Audio HT3 (with cap upgrade) was completely different. It is super smooth throughout the audio band, including that crucial brightness range. Even so, it offers up plenty of fine detail and decay. Good dynamics, soundstage width (less so on depth, IME). I did have a cap go bad a few months in. Other than the hefty shipping fees, the repair was painless and it has been fine in the five years since. Note also that ground hum was an issue at first. Klaus of Odyssey had me remove an internal ground wire, which helped a lot. A later addition of a PS Audio Quintet made yet another improvement, and I no longer consider this an issue.
Hi, Bondmanp. I'm sure you did hear an increased brightness with the Van Alstine: I don't question your data. I do, however, question the conclusions that you draw from the data. Van Alstine amps are not "voiced" to have an emphasis in any particular frequency range, and they measure flat across the audible frequency range and beyond. (Some of the older reviews have test bench data in them, and AVA hasn't diverted from their design goals over the years).

Since the AVA is passing all frequencies cleanly through, without emphasis (as a test bench verifies) I would suggest that if an AVA amp in your system leads to a "bright" sound then you are getting an honest look at some part of your system that is out of whack. What room treatments are you using to control reflections that can accentuate the high frequencies?
Cedunlap - I wouldn't dispute your claims regarding the flat frequency response of AVA amps. Nor would I claim that my room measures flat in the brightness range. I simply do not know. But I don't listen to test bench gear, I listen to music. I know what I heard. Without changing any other part of my system (I must stress this fact), the results I posted above were clearly apparent to me, in my room, with my associated gear and speakers. Since nothing was changed other than the three amps involved, room treatments or other system elements were a constant. The sound of each of the three amps was strictly relative to the others.

I did not mean in any way to suggest that Frank has engineered a response hump in that amplifier. I apologize if that's the way my comments came across. I was only sharing my personal experience with AVA with the OP, who was looking for experiences with this manufacturer. I am sure there are many happy AVA owners out there.

In any case, AVA's generous return option allows each consumer to judge for themselves, as they always should.
I came across an older review of a Van Alstine Omega IV DAC as examined by engineer David Rich--go here to read it for examples of some truly heinous audio engineering:

Permanently turned me off of Alstine stuff. I always thought it a bit Mickey Mouse anyway. When someone has been doing something as long as Van Alstine has, they become pretty set in their ways.
Kristian, I haven't heard any of Franks DACs so I can't comment. I'm also not a fanboy. But I'm wondering if in 1999/2000 AVA was probably just starting to produce DACs. While that doesn't necessarily excuse anything, it may be an indication of why this early design was what it was.

If you want a different indication of build quality I can tell you that his FetValve amps (going back to the HC which my friend has) are VERY well built. It may not be entirely fair to base a conclusion on all of a manufacturer's products on an early design effort for something they hadn't really done before. (Again doesn't excuse the outcome.)

AVA amps and preamps have been around way longer, and there has been that much time to expose any shortcomings in those efforts. I haven't seen much in that regard for this end of their product line.
I wish this was so, but read the review--it's quite unbelievable, and evidences a seriously lax approach to basic audio engineering that would have little to do with whether you're building a DAC or an amp. I sure hope Van Alstine is better than that--Van Alstine's whole schtick is one of calling BS on the high-end's values while offering "real" values, and that much of what is done is unnnecessary. That Omega DAC was a rip-off.
Kristian, I read it when it first came out, and again with the link provided. I'm not discounting it for what it was. Only providing a view based on his amplifiers and preamps.
Kristian85 - I was wholely unimpressed with the linked article to The Audio Critic. The review on the DAC didn't even comment on how it sounded. Other articles in that issue show him to be a strict objectivist who judges a component's value based solely on measured performance and parts cost. To me, he is a Julian Hirsch wanna be. I wouldn't worry too much about what he has to say. I especially thought his criticizing Van Alstine for hand-wiring and hand-soldering his products was foolish. Some of the finest high end gear is assembled in this way, not to save money, but to insure that the production units will be the equal of the prototype.
Boy, you have *no idea* who you're criticizing, do you? Have you looked at David Rich's audio credentials (M.Sc., Ph.D. EE)? Are you really not familiar with The Audio Critic? Peter Aczel? Nothing? No bells?

If actual, objective proof of a component's terrible build quality isn't enough to sway a true believer, well, then, nothing will. That DAC was a Yugo being sold as a BMW. No need to drive it.

Let us know when you can distinguish between two different amplifiers that measure the same--or even differently. This has never been debunked:
Kristian, you're right, all my McIntosh, Wyred 4 Sound, and Pass amps sound exactly the same.

For someone so quick to criticize, you have to admit, that without listening one has at best 1/2 the story. The biggest blowhard on audio is the Amazing Randi, the "measurements are all crowd" seem pointed in the same direction. Pity he's right on many other things, like religious and psychic charlatans. He just doesn't listen.
Well, anytime you fellers want to prove it by conducting any type of a/b test, go right ahead. It's been done countless times before, all with the same result.

By the bye, noone ever said all amplifiers sound the same.

Note carefully: Not everything sounds the same, but whatever audible differences exist as shown by a/b, x/a/b, a/b/x, or another valid protocol testing are easily explained by measurements and design.

As it is none of you fellers can say anything about that fun Stereo Review test, can you? None of the golden ears who participated could reliably identify differences between the cheap receiver and the $12K Futtermans--and that was a high output Z tube amp....
Go to Audio Circle if you want AVA no shortage whatsoever
Any body criticizing,really hasnt a clue,which if i have to explain simply would be a waste of my time.
Kristian85 I know what you mean. Luckily in New York City I can walk into Best Buy and go directly to Sound by SInger, and you know what the systems in those stores sound exactly the same.

One can lead a hear to music, but one can't make it hear.

Deering, pretty silly and pointless analog, don't you think? Can you tell the class why that is so?

Again, you're still not able to come up with any valid reason why the golden-ears who partook in the Stereo Review test couldn't tell differences. You simply stating that you can is obviously invalid and sufficient only for self delusion.

Note how the golden ears in sighted testing noted all sorts of major differences, using typical audiophile gobbledigook, and once unsighted, they completely lost it. I LOVE that aspect of the test.
Tried an Insight 440H and was disappointed with the SQ.

Returned it for a refund.

Can you give me a list or several pairs of currently manufactured amps that measure the same. I'd like to see if I can set something up. Or is this just some airey-fairey postur? If it's true it can be repeated.
No need; it has been proven time and again that folks can't even tell differences between vastly different amplifiers, exactly like the Stereo Review test. Not even the self-proclaimed golden ears. Have you read the test yet? It's not going to bite you.

If you're newish to hi-fi, say within the last ten years, you wouldn't know about the exhaustive research done into this by all sorts of degreed folks and audiophiles throughout the 70s and 80s. We have forgotten about it in the never ending barrage of subjective reviewing by reviewers who can't hear all sorts of measured problems as proven in Stereophile, and hokey advertising by profit-driven vendors about the VAST differences their silly trinkets will make.

For your own test, take any recent mass-market receiver and compare it blind with with your amp; difficult to do without a switcher, but it can be done with a friend. The results are NEVER pleasing to folks who proclaim to be able to hear all sorts of differences.
When was the last time you compared an amp from the 70's to a high end amp made recently? It's no surprise they couldn't distinguish a cheap receiver from a high end amp back them.
Face, you have a point. I would love to see the same testing done today. Today the solid state is better, the tube amps are better, and now there are T-amps and class D. It would be very time consuming but entertaining. I had to swap out my Bel Canto M300s and place Outlaw Audio M200s in their stead for 3 weeks. The difference was very clear and persisted until I replaced the BC M300s. I could have picked out those two from each other, but I'm not sure about any others. I was so used to the BCs that any change would have been noticeable. I think it would be more fair to say that if one stays in the same topography, be it solid state or tube or IC, the differences are slight. For me it is much easier to tell the difference between SS vs tube, or tube vs tripath or IcePower.

So, you actually bring nothing to the table. In addition you have proven my analogy with your insistence that mass market amps sound exactly like high end audio amps. Thank you.
There are issues with blind A/B tests. I'm not an expert, but Robert Harley has written extensively on this over the years. In any case, without claiming that the AVA, Rotel and Odyssey amps I compared are anywhere near identical in specs, I know what I heard, in my room, with my gear, with my music. In the end, for each individual, that's what counts. To paraphrase Einstein: "Not everything that counts can be measured, and not everything that can be measured counts."
Personally, I love my delusions and I stand behind them 100%. I KNOW I can hear the differences between DACs and CDPs, even when I can't. Let's let this discussion of differences in solid state amps rest and get back to the original issue, which was "any opinions on AVA amps?". If not, carry on. Maybe one amp is the same as any other. If you have a comparison between AVA amps and another SS amp, please let me know. Thank you.
I believe double-blind tests for music reproduction equipment evaluation is the only method which might produce reliable, believable, and convincing evidence for differences in sound.
However, I know that I have perceived differences in, for instance, amplifiers in my own system. I have perceived differences also in cables, tubes, and some tweaks. I do not and cannot know for certain whether my perceptions are reflective of real differences in the equipment or instead are internal constructs of my biases, expectations, hopes, beliefs, and maybe even aural inadequacies all combined with the fact that I always know when I have changed something in the system. Looking at a gorgeous Plinius amp, all bright silvery power and style, knowing it is playing, and then looking at the non-descript kind of cheap-looking Van Alstine amp I have compared it with, I know my internal, maybe non-conscious, preference is that I really want the Plinius to sound better.
I would love to participate in a double blind test because I wish to know if I am wasting $9000 on my amp when I could get the same thing for $2000 with the VA.
I intend, in fact, to set up the best thing I can in my listening room, which would be a single blind test (the one doing the switching will know which amp is playing but I will not). I will be comparing my pair of Plinius SA100MkIII's to a Sunfire Signature 600. If I can't decide which amp is which after some serious listening and switching, I will be satisfied that I-- and thousands of other perfectly decent, honest people-- have been expensively self-deluded.

Now, I will give my impressions of the Van Alstine 550, current version, as compared to Plinius, Sunfire, Wyred-4-Sound.
I was powering a pair of Shahinian Hawks, a difficult load, when I did the comparison. My PERCEPTIONS were as follows:
In all cases (VA vs. Plinius, VA vs. Wyred, VA vs. Sunfire) the Van Alstine sounded dry, a bit anemic and thin, reproducing strings, for instance, without much sparkle or sheen. There was a lack of bass dynamics and punch. Voices were clear and clean but lacked personality and some presence. There was overall more grain (less immediacy) than on any of the other amps. Somehow, the amp seemed much less powerful than any of the others. Therefore, I "believe" the Van Alstine 550 is a mediocre piece of equipment. But--what would blind testing show???
I don't know and neither do you.
What I do know is that it is certainly possible that it would reveal not differences in amps but flaws in my perceptive acuity.
Now, I will give my impressions of the Van Alstine 550, current version, as compared to Plinius, Sunfire, Wyred-4-Sound.
I was powering a pair of Shahinian Hawks, a difficult load, when I did the comparison. My PERCEPTIONS were as follows:

Rp, this is ironic. I am using my AVA for my Shahinian Diapason speakers. Are you sure in your listening it was the latest version? The current is the Double+, which improved upon the Ultra. I am currently running a 550 Double+ but have been running the same amp since it was an EXR5. I agree the Shahinians of any type are a difficult load, but in my listening the AVA has never been anemic or thin (even back to the EXR5). Funny how things sound in different systems. What preamp did you use at the time?

I've heard both the Hawks and Diapasons driven by Plinius amps, and while admittedly they do sound great, IME a Plinius of the same power characteristics as an AVA 550 will set you back a lot more money. Part of the reason why I never got one. On the flip side, my friend had used his 550 on his Hawks for many many years and I had never heard anything of the type you've described through his system (he's since moved up the Shahinian line). I'm not doubting you in the least; just funny how putting a whole system together may not always yield predictable results.
I was commenting on the Van Alstine (yes, the current model, undoubled) vis a vis three other amplifiers in the same setup. Nothing was changed except the amps, themselves. My whole point had to do with whether or not the differences I perceived are real or imagined.
The Van Alstine sounded appreciably more drab and lifeless than any of the other amps, to my taste and to my ears. All this means is that in an unblinded trial, I felt the VA came up behind the other amps for the reasons I gave in my last post.


Every time I listened to the Van Alstine or one of the other amps, I knew which amp was playing and I could look right at it. Is it a coincidence that the amp with the cosmetics of a homemade kit sounded less desirable than the ones that looked prettier? (Maybe this isn't true for the W4S, with a garage-built look of its own.)
I'd like to be sure for the very reason you mention: If the VA fails to differentiate itself from one of the more expensive amps in a blind A/B test, I save thousands of dollars.
And I would know I need to do similar checks on my expensive cables.
Not much in carefully controlled listening tests from me, I'm afraid. My Linn LK1 preamp died of a control board fault after about 18 years of service and I replaced it with an Audio by Van Alstine OmegaStar PAT-5 (purchased used directly from AVA). Music was just as enjoyable (LP12/Ittok/LK2/Saras were the other components), which I couldn't say when pressing an NAD 1020B preamp into service when the LK1 was on the fritz.

More recently, I replaced the LK2 poweramp with an AVA Insight 240. System configuration was a bit different, with the LP12 sharing time with a Well Tempered Record Player (Grado cartridge and phono stage) and Vandersteen 1C's replacing the Saras (driver failure; no replacement parts available). Compared to the LK2, the Insight 240 retained what the 1C's were capable of with respect to pitch relationships, rhythmic coherence, and dynamics while adding a bigger, deeper soundstage with better space between instruments and more stable and precise imaging.
Jrtrent, thank you for your thoughtful response.

Please read my posts above. Hidden in the middle is a comparison of the AVA Ultra 550 with Plinius SA100III, Plinius P8, Sunfire signature 600, and the Wyred 4 Sound ST-1000.
Unless I can establish reasonable certainty through blind testing that I am imagining rather than hearing real differences between amps, I will continue to go with the belief that that AVA model, almost the top of the line, is inferior in vitality and body to those other amps. Even the W4S, at roughly the same price, appeared to me much more exciting and realistic than the AVA.
This is dealing with two questions at once: Are there really differences?-- and, how does the AVA Ultra 550 compare to other amps?

I did gather up the information from before. And it did speak to my original question. Unless there is something spectacular about the AVA amps, then I see no reason to change. I do like my Bel Canto M300s but was interested in simplifying and going with a transitor stereo amp. On the other hand, the M300s do many things well and for now I intend to keep them. I strongly considered the W4S amps but at present it would be a lateral move and I would only do it to step up to 500W/1000W, and I most likely have no need. The W4S amps do have a higher input impedance (60,000 vs 10,000 via RCA) but my pre-amp seems to have no trouble with them. I am still learning. I am looking to simplify when I can, such as going to computer based playback. For the money, getting a W4S DAC would be a better move than a different amp. Thanks again for your info.
Rpfef, I'm surprised the W4S drove the Hawks without any real problems. As you said, and as we both know, they are a very tough load that hits under 3 Ohms for a good part of the low end. Digital amps typically don't do real well with a load like this (yes, I've heard other digital amps with similar loads).
I have owned Van Alstine equipment for 30 t years. Currently have Insight 440 Amp, Insight Preamp and DAC. Also use an older FET Vavle Pat 5 pre-amp in a different system. The stuff sounds great. The pieces are rugged as the mountains. Frank Alstine is always willing to answer questions and suffers this fool with patience. You should also be aware that upgrades are available and seems reasonably priced. Can't recommend highly enough.
I recently heard Van Alstines Latest series the Synergy series
The small one is 120 wpc anything you buy I strongly suggest
The a Double dye option 2x the heavy duty execon Mosfets.$99 upgrade well worth it it gives more power, control,dynamics, and fidelity.
I heard the 400 series that has 2x Mosfets standard it is like 240 wpc
He does not give lower ohm specs for Frank feels there are too many variables,used to loosely in the will though give you added wpc
Down lower.stable to a solid 2 ohms.
I thought this unit was Very musical , tight controlled Bass and a very full
Deep image soundstage Very tube like with better leading edge definition.
So good I just ordered the 300 double-dye around 180wpc or better into 4 ohms.since my speaker is a 4 ohm load .For $1,650 delivered a true high end bargain.if this was sold in a store $4k all day long,just on sonics alone.
I like the MOSFET character.the flagship is. $2kand another 80 wpc more.
I spoke with Frank . Over 45 years in the field he knows his electronics.
He explained a lot of guys use a lot of capacitors as a fail safe to clamp down for protection n the circuit. One thing down different here ,since
He hired a pretty progressive electrical engineer is many more regulated
Power supplies at different stages ,that would not be in the Audio path
Directly like many do with loads of capacitors.i do have to agree it sounds pretty dam clear ,and warm up time is a fraction of what I am used To.
The only down side is that I have to wait 2-3 weeks ,for each one
Is hand built tested, by Frank ,or his engineer.only then will it go out .
In the mean time I will just play around with my other 4 amps.
I must back up ,I changed my order to the Synergy 450
225 wpc into 8 ohms ,and roughly 450 into 4 ohms stable to 2ohms.
I will go on record that this will be very hard to beat even at $5k
Which it would be if working with dealers inside parts quality is first rate.
The plastic type connectors on back possibly could be improved
But the contacts are Brass then Gold plated at $2k a true hiend bargain
The preamps are also Vety good. Digital I think would rather use others
Such as the Schiit Gungnir.i owned several $4-5k dacs I love this $850 hiend bargain. Could not resist build quality excellent too !! value- no dealers.
AVA amps have been OK, have owned Omega SS amp and EC pre, then Fet Valve Hybrid 350 and Fet Valve EC pre-amp, both circa 2000, still use these in home theater system. In his owner's literature, VA always insisted his team could hear no difference between his included Chinese tubes and others, but I replaced all four, both amps, with matched Sovteks from Audio Perfection in Richfield, MN, and heard a 25% improvement right away in clarity and depth. Living a few miles from Burnsville, MN, I had been out to his house 5-6 times from '93-2000 to buy and listen in his basement assembly and demo room, and yes, he always voiced disdain for the audio salons and their expensive, over-marketed lines and that they would do anything to save a nickel. He was at that time very centered on his products as incomparable for the price, even though options brought the totals up quickly.

Of late, I am glad AVA gave up the lamp-quality power cords. I had IECs installed on my fet valve amps a long time ago, posted photos of the mod on the AVA forum on AC and garnered many derisive comments from his followers, and I don't need to mention his ridicule of any cable costing more than $10, if that.

AVA prices have jumped considerably as AVA has rolled out new models and so many upgrades, the most fervent followers cannot get off the audio nervosa merry-go-round. The upgrade fatigue has been apparent on the threads. Seems he has brought a design team on board to move closer to wherever he wants things to be. For his costs now, one also do well with a pair of used tube amps from ARC, another MN company that was on his list of over-priced salon pieces. I have not heard his recent offerings, though, to be fair, but I do notice the same plastic nuts on the binding posts--in my experience, these do crack.

There are many happy customers there, no doubt, and the service and personal attention is a big draw. You could do a lot worse, as well.
Had I first noticed its age, I would not have commented on this thread, revived by one AVA fan, Audioman58. I wholly endorse your choice of AVA and am sure you will enjoy your AVA amps. Mine still work well for me after fourteen years.
I can say without hesitation. This new Synergy450 which I have had for a week now. Sounds Excellent under any guide lines.i have been in this hobby for well over 30 years this amplifier even at $5,000 would be a solid investment. Since Frank hired a ree thinking very good electrical engineer
These new amplifiers with 12 Regulated power supplies truly allow the amplifiers to be at their best .i have 225wpc into 8 ohms and 450 into 4 ohms it sounds excellent. These Wavetouch audio loudspeakers are great
Withthis amplifier.the amp give it 100 hours ,even though they say not needed,it does,also a good aftermarket power cord also a Nice improvement.
Hi folks,

In 2005 I purchased an AVA Omegastar dac after having read a review that resulted in a TAS golden ear award... I had been curious about the brand anyway, the price was right and it actually sounded fantastic.
I was looking for a simple improvement for a cd player in a second system and it was so good that I used it in my main system for a few months. Engaging, big, effortless, grain-less... sound you could listen to for hours. Slightly lacking in dynamic slam and wanting more resolution I decided to send it up to Steve at Empirical Audio. He was such a salesman he convinced me that his "mods" would give me an increase in everything I wanted without losing the great scale/sound-staging and wonderful musicality. When I got it back it had a little more resolution but all the humanity was gone. After a week or so of letting it "break-in" there was no change and he refused to give me my money back. I sent it back to AVA to have it put back stock... Frank was very gracious, laughed at the mods and didn't charge me much. I purchased a Benchmark dac in the meantime which overall was not as holographic or tonally right but was a tag more smooth and focused as I recall. I since sold both units along with many other things but would not hesitate to try another AVA product. That was a while back but just wanted to share the very positive experience I had dealing with AVA and being a bit blown away at the humanity that the AVA brought to my system at the time.
Have owned a Synergy 450 for 2 years, everthing Audioman58 says is so.
First time in 40 years not looking for a better amp.