inexpensive, musical, and solid state are mutually exclusive terms ;-)
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Nsgarch needs to 'get out' more. Newer (used) Rotels are quite good for the money as well as the NAD units that I have heard. Also, Audio Research made a D200 solid state unit that performed admirably well in my primary system for a time. I have also come to respect the EAD componets which are incredible bargains at this point.
Bottom-line is that very musical solid state power amps do exist under $1K in the used market and really do not have to apologize about any aspect of performance.
The only person I agree with is Sit -- buy preowned equipment. Remember, it's going to be used when you sell it; so it might as well be used when you buy it!
Now, bearing in mind you own a pair of Von Schweikert VR4 SE's, along with some other very sophisticated equipment (in case the previous posters forgot to to check ;-) my response to the amplifier suggestions so far would be (at best) courteous disdain!
Your reaction to hooking up your NAD is typical. We all respond favorably to changes like that -- FOR A MINUTE, because human beings are stimulation junkies. Big deal! My first suggestion would be to give that lovely Audio Research VT-100 MkII a big hug, and get some great tubes. BTW, how do you know it needs re-tubing? Is the bass getting mushy? That's usually the first sign if you're running the speakers full range and the power tubes are getting really old. If you need 6550's, the very best on the planet would be vintage Tung Sol black plates (which will cost you about a grand for 4 pairs but will be worth every penny!) or Winged "C"'s (the REAL Svetlana's ;-) which (when I had ARC amps) I bought here http://www.conusaudio.com/ and which will cost you under $300 for 4 matched pairs. It is important to remember however, that the actual "sound" of that particular amp is more governed by the eight 6922 input-and-driver tubes. These tubes tend to last a long time though, and so people (unfortunately) don't often consider trying different ones (tube rolling) which you definitely should do, if you ever expect to tailor the sound of your amp to your liking. What 6922's are you using now? If you answer "The ones that came with the amp", then there is a LOT of room for improvement and joyful experimentation. I can say from personal experience that none of the previous amplifier suggestions can come even CLOSE to outclassing a properly set up VT100 MkII, even though I currently prefer my McIntosh ;-)
I do 'get out' often enough, thank you very much, although I tend to avoid places like Audio Advisor!
I'll agree w the Forte' recommendation although I've owned the 4a, not the 3. Also for something with an upgrade path, a McCormack DNA 0.5 would be very strong recommendation. IIRC, the VS-4s are pretty efficient and the 0.5s are better sounding than the more powerful 1.0s (I've owned them both). They seem be selling for about $5-600. If you could get an SMc-mod for $1k, definitely jump on it.
Although I haven't heard them myself, I think that if you research user comments here and elsewhere on the McCormack DNA 0.5, you will conclude that Swampwalker has made an excellent suggestion.
Your reaction to hooking up your NAD is typical. We all respond favorably to changes like that -- FOR A MINUTE, because human beings are stimulation junkies.
Excellent observation, Neil.
Biggest value in price/performance ratio and there still in business and thats important is Musical Design. Hand crafted in the U.S. by John Hillig. The Musical Design D 75, D 140 or D 150 more than will fit your requirements, and all can be upgraded to a higher level of performance as time and resources dictate. Just not found that often as they do not come up for resale that often. People that get them, tend to keep them. I used a D140i for quite sometime and later it was upgraded to Signature service. To this day regret selling that amp to move on am amp I initally thought was better, it was not. That amp was a Musical Fidelity which just never made it for me.
Now using a PS Audio HCA 2, which is a damn fine amp and that one fits into your price category. Later this summer will have Rick Cullen do the upgrades and I am set for a very long time.
You can buy a brand new SET INTEGRATED AMP 84C ZEN from DECWARE. A Pentode strapped in Triode mode. Can drive down to a 1 ohm load ,But only puts out a WONDERFUL 1.8 watts of pure class A BLISS. i'M NOT SURE HOW EFFECIENT your speakers are though. This is the amp I have now paid $299.00 for th kit. I think fully assembled by the designer its $800.00. You should type in 84c ZEN and see how many hits u get. I just love this little baby. It needs to be mated with the proper speakers to come to full usage.
Thanks for bringing me back to reality. Your probably right, the VT100 MkII is probably heads and shoulders of everything else suggested. I guess the NAD just, as you put it, stimulated me.
How do I know that it needs tubes? Well, the bottom is mushy, way overly ripe, and the mids and top end sound really flat and edgy if I push the amp too hard (and I'm not talking rediculous levels here). I've also lost that magic 'air' that the amp is capable of.
Now, I don't know if you've had any experience with the VT100, MkII, but it's a, excuse my language here, bitch to set up properly. Too many people have advised me to send it to ARC for retubing. Thant's about $700 (with the Winged C's) +, probably $200 for shipping.
One more to consider. I've really enjoyed the Aloia 13.01i amp, which can be found close to your price range (used). It's only rated at 30 watts, but puts out much more and with the hefty inductive power supply can drive most speakers with reasonable impedance.
This amp originally retailed for $4K and was considered a bargain at the time by many (including one reviewer who thought it competed with his Lamm monos).
I have a McCormack DNA 125 and love it, in fact it replaced an Anthem AMP 1 which was a nice sounding 40w tube amp. The DNA 125 is a great amp that you can find used for around $800. FWIW I paid $1600 for mine new and felt it was well worth the money, a mint used one for half that is truely a bargain.