anthem 225 integrated...
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I have been raiding the pawn shops, Audio Advisor blowouts, and used gear at my local hi-fi stores for decades now. I have helped friends and neighbors get into good systems for good prices. I have direct experience with integrated amps from Creek and Cambridge Audio (put them into friends' and neighbors' systems), and Musical Fidelity. I currently use or have recently used the Parasound ZAmp, Adcom GFA 535 II, the Adcom 50channel GFA 7500, and a Carver 175 wpc pro audio amp. I have extensively used the highly touted '80s power amps, the Amber Series 70 and VSP Labs TransMOS 150, plus I bought and auditioned an Outlaw RR2150 receiver at home for a month before sending it back.
After all that, I have found that one very affordable integrated amp trumps them all--the Onkyo A-9555. Although it lists at $799 and is competitive at that price point, it can still be found online for under $500. It absolutely walks away from all the above named amps (except, perhaps, the wide bandwidth Adcom multichannel) in every way--speed, bandwidth, current delivery, frequency extension, low level detail, microdynamics, smoothness--everything you want an amp to do. It sounds more powerful than it is; rated at 85/170 wpc into 8/4 ohms, it also delivers up to 80 amp peaks of current. The noise floor is subterranean.
Furthermore, it's a particularly good match with ported Canadian speakers such as your Paradigms. I play mine into a pair of mirage OMD-15s and it's a superb match.
Make no mistake, I can say from direct experience that this Onkyo destroys the Outlaw and betters all but the most expensive Cambridge in smoothness and musicality. I haven't heard the NADs from the BEE series, but I'll venture that the Onkyo matches their overall gestalt and one-ups them in power and current delivery.
The line stage of this unit is nothing to sniff at, either. Although I primarily got it for my turntable (the built-in MM phono stage is also excellent), I found that its lower noise floor and speed delivered more ambience and detail from digital sources than I'd ever heard at home before.
Onkyo also makes a compatible iPod base that comes with its own remote, but which also works with the one that comes with the A-9555.
For a disc player to stay in budget with this amp, it's the Oppo DV-980H at $169. Smooth and organic on its own, it also plays DVD-A and SACD, and is well-regarded as a transport. You can upgrade later with an outboard V-DAC or DacMagic, but the Oppo sounds pretty good as-is.
Thanks for the extensive and detailed response Johnnyb53. I will check out the Onkyo. Funnily enough, I have an Integra DTR 4.5 in my HT system, but haven't really considered neither Integra nor Onkyo, partially for aesthetic reasons. I would prefer something low-profile and understated, even though my wife favors the big, bold, shiny black receivers, like the Marantz SR 7000 that I had in this system.
Any other ideas for receivers or integrated amps that look like the NADs or Cambridge Audio or Rotel? I like clean design but sound trumps.
I have very little experience with McIntosh, but I've always liked the way they sound.
Given that the McIntosh 4100 is from about 25 years ago I'd venture that the Onkyo is faster and more articulate. It also has more power (at least on paper) into a 4-ohm load. That doesn't say which one you'd enjoy more. If you pay fair market value or less for a Mac, you'll usually get your money back (or more) when you sell it later.
Any other ideas for receivers or integrated amps that look like the NADs or Cambridge Audio or Rotel? I like clean design but sound trumps.At $500 or below, the Cambridge 640A v2 would get you a nice combination of sound and sleek looks. I would still give the nod sonically to the Onkyo. It's more relaxed in the midrange. It has the speed, more current delivery, and the ability to drive bass out of floorstanding speakers easily. From a layout and features standpoint I like the Cambridge better--better speaker terminals and it has preamp outputs.
But for sheer sound quality and musical enjoyment, I like the Onkyo better, and to do better than the Onkyo AND get sleek looks, you have to move up to the Nuforce or PS Audio Trio, either of which goes for around $1500.
I did get an Onkyo A-9555 from accessories4less.com. Unfortunately, there seems to be something wrong with it. I only used it as an amp, and when doing so, it only produces sound with the "pure direct" on. This is with using an mp3 player connected to tape, line, or MD; or a DVD/CD player connected to CD.
I spoke to Onkyo and they seemed to think it was defective, so it is going back.
With the "pure direct" engaged, it sounded good, but I wasn't blown away, compared to the Marantz SR-7000 that was in there before. This could be partly due to the fact that the defect biased me against the amp. I listened to some old school rap, Public Enemy, and the power of the bass lines was pretty evident. Also listened to some Bruce Cockburn and the sound was great, but again, I probably wouldn't have been able to distinguish it from the Marantz. Granted, the sources being a Sansadisk mp3 player and a standard JVC DVD player (borrowed from my HT room) likely didn't provide very discriminating inputs.
04-21-09: VivaslbWhat, you were expecting it to have a DAC inside as well? The Cambridge 340A doesn't have that either.
If that's what you are looking for, you should get the Peachtree Audio Decco. Not only does it have a built-in DAC, it's superb.
BTW, you'll never hear what the Onkyo can do if you feed it low-rez mp3s. I used mine with LP, SACD, and upsampled CD. Also, the Onkyo takes 100 hours to break in and should never be turned off. Use the standby switch instead. In standby the Onkyo only draws 1/4 watt.
Out of the box, the Onkyo sounds brittle and edgy until it has been on and playing music for at least 100 hours. But if you turn it off between playings even after break-in, it will sound flat and ordinary until it has warmed up again for four to ten hours. I doubt you heard it at its best, and it was definitely defective.
The defective Onkyo is going back, and I don't think I want another refurbished one which is all that accessories4less has. Correct re Cambridge 340A not having digital inputs either.
This particular Onkyo had been factory reconditioned, so I don't know if it had been "broken in" for the 100 hrs. you suggest, but it must have had some use, for it to have reached the factory reconditioned stage, no?
Let's see how the Cambridge does. Haven't been able to do any serious listening, but the Public Enemy (on CD) sounded good.
Listened to Suzanne Vega, Sarah Vaughn, and Madredeus today, and the Cambridge Audio is looking like a keeper so far. The defective Onkyo went to the UPS store today.
Now, I need a CD player that is twice the height of the slim consumer DVD/CD players. Any ideas? I know height isn't the best reason to choose a component, but we have a certain aesthetic goal in terms of filling the space, and I'd want one also about the same size as the Cambridge Audio. Not allowed to recommend Cambridge Audio, too obvious.
Thanks Johnnyb53 for sticking with this adventure. For aesthetic reasons, chose the Onix CD-5 from av123. It has the size I was looking for, and is hefty enough to support the Cambridge Audio Azur 340A on top of it. It also seems to be well regarded. Looking forward to testing it. Of possible interest, is the JVC-XVN650 DVD player that I've been using as a source has been having occasional skips and breaks with some CDs that are pretty new. Looking forward to getting the Onix and hooking it up. I was pretty pleased that Mark, the guy I spoke to, and owner/founder of av123 and Audio Alchemy was complimentary about the Paradigm Studio 20 speakers I have. I'm pretty mid fi but good to see that my random lucky buy off of Craigslist is well regarded. My ears did not fail me. Hard for a long-time Klipsch fan to admit it, but the Paradigm Studio 20's are a lot better. I'd say better than the B&W 685 I auditioned at a hifi store.
So, 6 months down the line, and I'm not really digging the Cambridge Audio for brash alternative rock (REM's latest album Accelerate, for example). I ordered a 15w/channel Sansui AU-101 from ebay just for fun and because I think it looks cool, and now have opportunities to get the Cambridge Audio 640 used for $265 or the Onkyo A-9555 (also used) for $360. Johnnyb53, I know you're all over the Onkyo, so wanted to check if that was still the case?