What amps do Electrical Engineers own...why?

Not being an engineer, I would like to know what the electrical engineers in the crowd own for amps and what engineering features made them choose that amp? As a lay person, I don't know enough to be able to differentiate good engineering from good marketing.
Interesting question.

"As a lay person, I don't know enough to be able to differentiate good engineering from good marketing."

You really don't have to. Listen to some amps and pick the one you like best. Also, just because someone is an electrical engineer doesn't make them right. Its a matter of what you like, not what someone else likes.

Another option you may want to consider is working with a good dealer. They can assist you in making the right choice. Thats what they're for. I know some really good ones. If you post the area you live in, I may be able to recommend a good store for you.
I am an electrical engineer and I don't believe being one as had any effect on what I have used as equipment. I basically by equipment based on how they sound, not on any design principles. I have had many tube amps and only 2 ss amps but now have a pair of switching monoblocks because they sound better then any other amp I have owned. I also was a recording enginner for many years and what we did in the studio was based on our ears
Which ever amps have the BEST specs.
As an EE, it's definitely about the specs. I own Ayre MX-Rs. First of all because they sound unbelievable paired with my Nagra PLL and WP7s, second because they provide more than ample power reserves (yeah I know that's a spec) and third because they're aesthetically pleasing to look at.
I actually own a pair of amps that I absolutely love and can't imagine ever giving them up and they are a fraction of the cost of my last amp. Clearly there isn't always a correlation with price and synergy (or quality) and I'm trying to educate myself on how the electrical engineers approach the decision making process. I'm not in the market for new amps but am trying to demystify some of the hobby if that's even possible.
Which ever amps have the BEST specs.
Not in the case of this EE. IMO the proper (and necessary) role of specs is to allow one to identify and RULE OUT from consideration candidates that would be poor matches to either the surrounding components (for example, due to impedance incompatibilities, gain and sensitivity mismatches, etc.) or to the user's requirements (for example, how much power is needed to support desired peak volumes).

I chose my VAC Renaissance 70/70 MkIII amplifier because of VAC's reputation for outstanding sonics and exceptional build quality; their exemplary approach to dealing with and supporting their customers; because my previous amplifier experiences had me convinced that the kind of sonic richness and dimensionality I was looking for tends to be a forte of well designed tube amplification; and because of what I perceived to be a recognition among many listeners whose opinions I particularly respect that well implemented zero feedback designs utilizing directly heated triodes such as the 300B tend to have a certain magic about them.

Also, the cost of this particular amplifier, purchased used, was comfortably within the bounds of what I wanted to spend. Its physical configuration and appearance were significant factors as well, especially given that my system is in my living room.

-- Al
Another interesting item in this same vein. Back in the day, one of the Big Three Audio magazines ran a monthly article, interviewing and showing the Stereo systems owned by major world class musicians. I guess nowadays it would be called 'Systems of the Stars' Now that was an eye opener!
"Which ever amps have the BEST specs."

How do you define best specs? Specs on audio equipment are notoriously inaccurate. There's no accepted standards by which to rate components. One companies 50 watts is another companies 100 watts. Going just by specs, a Sony receiver from best buy has better printed specs than most high end equipment.
"what we did in the studio was based on our ears"

Well, that explains a lot.
"Going just by specs, a Sony receiver from best buy has better printed specs than most high end equipment."

WOW!!! Never thought I would live to see this admission. You better ask for witness protection!
Almarg has the best answer...
12-21-12: Elizabeth
Almarg has the best answer...

As usual....thanks Al.
My best friend is an EE, and he uses a 25 year old Harmon Kardon receiver. He is into music, but he is very objective, and listens with his meters.
I am an electrical engineer and very,very few other EE's that I know have much interest in high end audio, they are mostly skeptical of improvement over brand name audio. They are not wealthy and would not spend big bucks on audio. Newer EE's are digital educated unlike those from the analog era. Only ancient EE's know tubes.

I own Pass Labs XA60.5's mono blocks.
No NFB and DHT tubes is a very solid foundation to build with. Has it meet your expectations?
Hi, there, I'm an AE and I have a Bada Hybrid SET tube headphone amp with NOS Sylvania and RCA 6SN7s driving naked Sennheiser 600s, having previously owned a hot rodded Fisher 500 C with Bendix aircraft output tubes and other innovations driving Fultons. The Bada hybrid SET design gives you the best of both worlds when driving 600s - purity of signal and dynamics.
My father is an EE, and has traditionally preferred solid state amplification. He's of the generation that led the migration in that direction as well as a devout objectivist.

However, over the past decade, he's once again embraced tubes, though not completely. He's had the benefit of seeing how things have evolved since the 1950s when he was coming up, and concluded that over the very long haul, the longevity of a tube amplifier eclipses that of solid state. Most surprising to me, he espouses tube rectification and the absence of negative feedback; with logical justification, of course. And, though one "has to always get back to the numbers", he feels the sonic benefits in certain regards also provides justification for tubes.
12-22-12: Charles1dad
No NFB and DHT tubes is a very solid foundation to build with. Has it meet your expectations?
Yes, I continue to be delighted with the amp, particularly since I upgraded the stock 6SN7's to Sophia Electrics. Some vintage Sylvanias I tried were also excellent, slightly less revealing although perhaps a bit more euphonic with some recordings. I have no plans to upgrade the VAC-supplied Chinese 300B's, especially considering that there are 8 of them :-)
12-22-12: Don_c55
I am an electrical engineer and very,very few other EE's that I know have much interest in high end audio, they are mostly skeptical of improvement over brand name audio. They are not wealthy and would not spend big bucks on audio.
A point worth keeping in mind is that the same could be said of the general population.
Newer EE's are digital educated unlike those from the analog era. Only ancient EE's know tubes.
Very true IME. My perception has been that most EE's coming out of school in the past couple of decades or so, and who work as circuit designers, usually have very little knowledge of any kind of analog design, much less tubes.

-- Al
Hi Al,
Glad to hear the VAC REN amplifier is making you happy.When I first heard those VAC amplifiers about 16-17 years ago I was immediately struck by the sheer 'natural' sound they produced,really close to live acoustical instruments.Up until then my exposure to tube amps were pentode type PP class AB designs,ARC,VTL,CJ etc. These were pretty good but the VAC REN series was just a new level of realism.At that time I did`nt even know what a 300b tube was.

In those days I had very little awareness(actually none) of DHT tube,class A and no NFB vs the alternative(and dominant) pentode/ultra linear mode with feedback.All I knew is that I was hearing something very different more organic and quite honestly, better.I know your amplifier gets you to the core and emotion of your music.
Well, what a faux pas!! I omitted the word "not" from my post totally changing the intent.
Lenny, I went back and re-read your post and put the "NOT" in the appropriate place and it made much more scents.
You made Lenny's post smelly? Scents... you couldn't have meant since....ok sense... unless you were talking about money, cents, no, I think it made more sense.
I must admit I'm a bit disappointed by the number of EE's willing to share their experience/expertise. Thank you to those that did.
Oh.... please forgive me for my spelling error.
I'm not perfect like you.
Well my AE is one of the best AE's in the Southern Hemisphere & designs and builds his own tube and solid state amps. Check him out - http://www.clarkeaudio.com/
For Solid State mostly my own designs :-) for Tubes I use Canary Audio presently great build quality and sound.

Check out my system for more information.

As Always Good Listening

Since Schw06 says not enough EEs so here is my 1st post on Agon. Specs is necessary but not sufficient for good sound. The Ears are better at deciding than the specs. My wife is not an audiophile but can tell me which one is better. Of course she don't like both for the pocket.

At the higher end electronics, most brands have similar specs like +/- 0.1dB or 0.01%....but I think its all down to preference and matching to other electro-mechanical pieces, i.e. turntable/arm/cartridge and speakers. I think this is where tires meet the road. I went from vinyl to CD to SACD and back to vinyl 1 year ago and found vinyl is more musical and fun to tweak. Who actually tweak their resistors, capacitors and ...etc on their preamp or amp PCBs..? Except those with tubes.

To answer the question, I am using ML 326S/334. Power amp is because I thought if it can do double the power at 4 ohms and quad the power at 2 ohms, it will have drive/dynamics. I always thought preamp is not significant for CD but was proven wrong. I went through 5 preamps in like 10+ years. Which specs matter? Have not figure out and stop trying after the 3rd one. I use two phono stages, the ML326s phono boards and a VTL6.5. Currently on the journey to find the one phono stage for both arms/cartridges.

Merry Christmas and happy new year. Here's to enjoy the music and the hobby too.

PS. I did built an int amp back in college days and found it meet specs but does not sound like brand names in the shop.
A more tantalizing question might be "what wire do EEs own or recommend and why"? :)
I am an Electrical Engineer also. I have designed, built and modified many amplifiers, crossovers, speakers, and other equipment. My criteria for purchasing amps are:
1. Cost. It must be within my price range.
2. Sound quality in my system (not in the store).
3. design and construction quality. It must be designed and constructed well.
4. Specs in the sense that the amp must be able to not only drive my speakers well, it must also match with my pre-amp, operate at the correct voltage and current ratings, be stable over frequency and power range (not oscillate under strange loads) and most important to me, the amp must not color the sound. I try hard to find equipment that minimizes coloration. I want my music to sound as it was intended to sound.

This logic applyies to tube amps as well as solid state amps. I am a music lover. I was a classical violinist (also played sax, clarinet, basoon, oboe, and other instruments). I know what instruments are supposed to sound like (taking into account variations between instrument sounds and quality of contruction).

I equally appreciated a well designed/contructed solid state amp and a tube amp. In my opinion and decades of musical and technical experience, I see nor hear any distinction between two well designed and constructed solid state or tube amps. Yes,yes, third harmonic vs second harmonics. I know. But as an experienced designer, I can tell you that any really good circuit designer worth his/her salt takes many specifications and criteria into account in the design and construction of their equipment, and unless the amps in question are cost no object amps, there are and has to be compromises in the designs and contruction. Has to be. The Engineer has to do the best he/she can under the limitations imposed on them. Also, and really important is that when comparing amps, I believe that a fair comparison must be apples to apples comparison. In other words, the comparison must be on equal basis.

1. Specs must be close or match. Power output ratings for example. You can't compare fairly a 250 wpc amp with a 10 wpc amp and call that fair.
2. price point must be close or equal. You can't fairly compare a $60,000 amp with a $2500 amp and actually call that a fair comparison. But, establish a price point and spec range and go for it. just about every time I see people complaining about solid state amps vs tube amps, I notice that the amps in question are not even close in price or specs.

That is equivalent to comparing the sound of the top of the line piano to the cheap walmart on sale piano. Yes, the pianist will still do wonders, but they and I can both easily tell one is inferior.

So, tube or solid state? I'll take either. As I have stated several times in my previous posts, I have listened to excellent tube and solid state amps. But, (always the but), the speakers the amp must drive has a lot to do with what amp I obtain. Highly efficient speakers? Oh yeah, tube baby. or a low power but really clean solid state amp. But no way do I need 250 watts to drive stupidly efficient speakers. Unfortunately, my speakers are definitely not stupidly efficient and therefore I needed amps that can drive difficult loads and are very clean.

enjoy and Happy Holidays to you all.
hi arh:

as a an owner of tube amps, why did you go to a non-tube amp?

is it a class d ?? if so, what is the brand name ? i have listened to several non tube amps , i.e., class d and analog switching amps, and i found that they did not sound like a tube amp. I was not impressed. I even heard a hybrid class d, and still preferred tubes.
Role of Specs in purchasing decisions of EE
I agree with Almarg. The poor specs indicate the amplifier which probably will perform poorly in one or another areas of the amplifier performance. On the contrary, good specs indicate only the POTENTIAL of amplifier to sound nice under desired conditions (e.g. difficult to drive speakers). Will it be so or not - one must hear it to decidefor himself if designer has realized these potentials
As an EE, I like good specs but at the same time I recognize that the way we humans perceive sound is something that cannot be ignored! So instead of going for the usual bench specs (which were mostly created 40-some years ago and mostly ignore human hearing rules) I look for that which might allow the gear to more closely obey human hearing rules.

Being pragmatic, I am of the opinion that if we did not have ears we would not mess with audio equipment. IOW, the human ear is the most important thing in audio. All too frequently though I see its requirements swept under the carpet in favor of the Emperor's New Clothes, the bench spec.

So I run tubes as much as I can. And no feedback, as much as I can. But I run into a lot of EEs that don't seem to understand how important the human hearing rules are; they seem to quite often have a $600 solid state amp that sounds terrible. You can be an EE and still be fooled by made-up stories!
Sspecs were once very important in audio, and still are in EVERYTHING else. I remember back in day when brands like McIntosh were considered high-end. If memory serves me, they would send techs around to your home every so many years, to bring the amps back up to factory SPEC, for the life of the amp. This was back when this was a REAL hobby. NOW, it's just a status thingy to a lot of people and the sellers / makers are just meeting a demand in the market. Just make it look a certain way and cost enough to keep the lower classes out, then declare specs irreverent! It's how it sounds that matters. And they don't even have to make any claims as to how their stuff sounds, the marks, errrr , I mean, the buyers do that for them. It's the perfect setup!! Only in audio!!!!.
Are you suggesting these EEs with bad sounding amplifiers can`t 'hear' that they`re bad or that they don`t care as long as the specs are good?How can anyone buy audio components(presumably to enjoy music) and not judge them based on how they sound? Or is what`s horrid to you may be good sound to them?
monoblock design, fully balanced circuit, massive horsepower, Heavy build and heat generating capability. All of these criteria just happened to end up being designed into a very musical sounding and beautiful casing. The key is patience to find it at a good price.
Do all E.E.'s here claim everything sounds the same? Whether it be wires, amps, and CD players? That's the general consensus from E.E.'s over at AVS Forum, not sure if the same applies here on the Gon.

No, on the contrary, there are very significant differences. When I was auditioning electronics, I rejected a CJ system that sounded brittle to my ears. I found this rather surprising given the supposed euphonic distortions produced by tube equipment.
Are you suggesting these EEs with bad sounding amplifiers can`t 'hear' that they`re bad or that they don`t care as long as the specs are good?How can anyone buy audio components(presumably to enjoy music) and not judge them based on how they sound? Or is what`s horrid to you may be good sound to them?

Honestly Charles1dad, it does indeed seem to me that many engineers do buy and listen on specs (although there are plenty of people who do that, not just engineers). I regard this as an example of how humans can run their lives around a made up story, in this case the story being 'this is what good sound must be like because this equipment has good specs'.

I think there is an education thing going on; that is to say that many people just never sort out how good things can really sound.

'Horrid' to me is usually 'bright' the kind of bright and harsh that forces me to leave the room to avoid a headache. IMO/IME, a stereo should not cause physical pain, but you know, to each his own :)
Gfcf, EE's are a diverse lot, just like the general population. As can be seen in many of the responses that have been posted in this thread, the answer to your question is clearly no.

However, it would probably be fair to say that the EE's at A'gon tend to be, on average, somewhat more likely than others to challenge what they perceive to be hype and misinformation, which the field of audio is certainly not without its share of.

-- Al
I have an EE doctorate. I own BAT VK-120s, which I have modified extensively. I am currently building a preamp based on the Vacuum State RTP-3D (judicious modifications).
Shouldn't we be influenced more by engineers, than by 'audiophiles' when it comes to electronics? That's the trouble with getting away from science. Then EVERYONE's opinion is equally valid. In the world of magic and mysticism, anything is possible. Effect without cause. I would like for someone to name ONE Amp with horrible specs, that sounds good.
Could it be that this hobby has become more about art than engineering? Just a question mind you.
"Could it be that this hobby has become more about art than engineering"

A lot of people would like to think so. Reason being, The Mona Lisa is art, so is some guy throwing buckets of paint at a canvas in NYC. Some people feel comfortable with that situation. Everything is Valid.
I believe the truth is sort of like what the Russians said when they were accused of stealing the plans for the space shuttle (which I am sure they did ). They answered by saying, when you solve the problems, the shuttle is where the physics and engineering takes you.
Yea Rok2id. Everyone's but yours. I'd also like an answer to your challenge. Oh oh, we're skirting absolutes now, aren't we.
12-27-12: Rok2id
I would like for someone to name ONE Amp with horrible specs, that sounds good.
Actually, that's an easy question. Just about any high end tube amplifier will have specs for Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) that are vastly worse than the corresponding specs of pretty much any inexpensive mass market-oriented solid state receiver. And likewise for damping factor specs, if the comparison is based on the commonly held (but oversimplified and essentially mistaken) belief that the higher the damping factor the better. The high quality tube amplifier, nevertheless, will sound vastly better than the inexpensive solid state receiver, assuming at least that the tube amp's technical characteristics are not grossly mismatched to the requirements of the speaker that is being used.

Why? Because the low THD and high damping factor numbers of inexpensive solid state equipment typically result from the use of large amounts of negative feedback, which in turn reduces relatively unobjectionable distortion components, while resulting in higher levels of those distortion components which our hearing mechanisms find most offensive. A point that Atmasphere has frequently made. And because the low THD comes at the expense of increased Transient Intermodulation Distortion (TIM), for which standardized specifications (or even any specifications) do not exist as far as I am aware. And because very high damping factors will result in mismatches to many speakers, and will most likely be overkill for all other speakers.

As I indicated in my earlier post specs can serve useful purposes. And ignoring specs altogether can be expected to often lead to expensive mistakes, resulting from mismatches with other components and/or the user's requirements. But specs need to be considered with care and understanding.

-- Al
Actually, The last sentenced I typed was, 'Please no Tubes', but I deleted it before I posted. Dang!
BTW, Almarg, I know you to be the most informed and knowledgeable person on the 'gon, So you know exactly what my statement / question / challenge was about. Bringing up tubes is avoiding the issue. :)
Thanks, Rok2id. I wasn't intending to avoid the issue.

If we restrict the question to solid state amps, offhand I can't think of any having really poor specs that nevertheless provide top-notch sonics, but there are many renowned high quality amps whose THD and damping factor specs are not **as good** as those of many inexpensive mass market-oriented receivers and amplifiers. Ayre and Pass Labs are just a couple of the many such manufacturers that could be named. Those amplifiers typically use minimal or no feedback, and are able to avoid the use of greater amounts of feedback as a result of the use of high quality parts, and design approaches that are less constrained by cost considerations than in the case of the inexpensive equipment I referred to.

-- Al
Thanks for your well written lucid explication. You have sent me back to the books. :) I am beginning to understand the downside of negative feedback. I always knew it was required to control distortion, but there seems to be a better (more expensive) way. I have found some good internet sites that go into detail as to why lesser amounts of feedback is desirable.
Your post is one of the few that has explained WHY high-end amps cost more and should sound better. Now all I need to do is find an 'affordable' amp that meets that criteria.
Thanks for the reply.
As pertains to all my previous posts: never mind.
You and Atmasphere do a very good job of expalining the potenial detrimental effects of NFB and superfluous damping factor.I don`t have the engineering back ground to discuss this as you two, but I sure can hear it often enough.I realize there`re those with equal knowledge and training as you two who will disagree.In reality I don`t find their stance(advocating NFB and very high damping factor as positives) as compelling if you acually rely on listening.
A lot of people would like to think so. Reason being, The Mona Lisa is art, so is some guy throwing buckets of paint at a canvas in NYC. Some people feel comfortable with that situation. Everything is Valid.

The term "everything is valid" could easily be substituted with "everything is subjective" and opinion based, which it is in art and as we see quite often in this hobby. Where I think things tend to get confused is when some of the creative marketing of audio products (not to mention that in other industries) foresakes the very obvious technical and engineering explanations in favor of "audiophile approved" superlatives, adjectives, and general marketing spin.

We saw a good example of this earlier in the thread when transformers were positioned to create a tube like sound. Turns out there was a very good technical explanation of this. However, would that technical explanation be considered a good marketing move when promoting a product?

I'll get to the negative feedback thing later. Suffice it to say I think there is a place for it and it does show up in tube designs as well from some very reputable manufacturers.