Which Super Integrated Amp to drive planars?

So, i've narrowed down my shortlist to the below amplifiers to drive my LFT 8B Planar speakers. These are all big powerful integrated amps - having a preference of integrateds at this pricepoint. My source is an Esoteric SA60. I play nearly all music genre.

Can any forum members share their views / experience with any of the below mentioned amps - preferably where driving difficult / low sensitivity (84dB or less) full range speakers? Comments on the synergy between the above and below mentioned products also deeply appreciated.

Super Integrateds (High Power products only)

BAT VK-300X SE -------------------[150w 8ohm, 300w 4 ohm]
Coda Continuum CSI ltd edition --[220w 8ohm, 440w 4 ohm]
Krell 400xi --------------------------[200w 8ohm, 400w 4 ohm]
Pass Labs INT-150 ----------------[150w 8ohm, 300w 4 ohm]
Unison Research Unico 200 -------[200w 8ohm, 350w 4 ohm]
Boulder 865 Integrated -----------[150w 8ohm, 300w 4 ohm]
Sim Audio Moon i-7 ---------------[150w 8ohm, 250w 4 ohm]

Which of your selections are class A?
Musical Fidelity KW500 if i am not mistaken.
Add to your list the Plinius 9200. High Current 300 plus at 4ohm.
PS Audio GCC 250. Differentially balanced, full function remote includes L/R balance, input selection AND polarity- designated as "PHASE" on the remote.
Here's something different for you; take a look at the twin Pathos Classic One MkIII tube hybrid integrateds that I'm using. 270w into four ohms bridged, super-clean signal path as you run directly from source into the integrateds. You lose a preamp and one set of IC's, but you gain mono block operation for channel separation and power with a tube pre stage and SS output stage.

I have been using this set up with the LFT-8B's for months, and it is a superb combination! In fact, I used these amps in the review I did for these speakers. see link:



They're Class A in bridged mode, and you won't spend a ton on tubes! They have one set of balanced inputs, and three or four single ended. Last I looked they were $5,500/pair. I have found them very competitive with pre/amp separates up to $10k.

There was a guy I sold my MkII units to as I was upgrading to the MkIII's. He had Boulder separates, and he tried the Pathi. When speaking with him after they arrived, he was quite surprised at the quality of the sound compared to the Boulder separates. But the MkIII's are much better.

On top of all that, they look seriously sweet too! It is an unusual set up, but I have superb results with it.
Which spkrs are you driving? It helps to know -- otherwise, how can one recommend a specific amp?

As things stand, any of the amps you've listed (and I would add the Plinius, as above) will give you +20-25dB spl over the spkrs' ref level...
mac 6900 or 7000 with autoformers
Which spkrs are you driving? It helps to know -- otherwise, how can one recommend a specific amp?

My speakers are Eminent Technology LFT 8B.
03-14-08: Douglas_schroeder
Here's something different for you; take a look at the twin Pathos Classic One MkIII tube hybrid integrateds that I'm using. 270w into four ohms bridged, super-clean signal path as you run directly from source into the integrateds. You lose a preamp and one set of IC's, but you gain mono block operation for channel separation and power with a tube pre stage and SS output stage.

Wow Doug, that is something different. Thanks for the insight. Does this mean you have two volume controls to set each time?
Kiwi, Ah, I got your attention, did I? It is a most unusual, and excellent performing set up! I like trying alternative methods as they sometimes yield wonderful results.

If the two units are within three feet or so of each other you will have no issues with running them in lockstep via the remote control. It is uncanny how perfectly the two work in synchony, almost like there is a physical link between them.

Other good aspects include the availability of running one stereo if some other component in a diffeent system craps out. You also have a second remote handy in case the first dies. And the fantastic looks! (If I said that before, it's worth repeating!) :)

I also use the Pathi with Legacy Audio Focus HD's, which are 96dB sensitivity, and that also is a fantastic sounding combo.

I would love it if more manufacturers produced integrateds which were switchable to mono block. Since this integrated is designed well enough to be run as a mono block amp the results are impressive. From my experience the benefit of losing an additonal component and set of IC's allows for this more modest integrated to perform at a higher level than expected. In my opinion it is the best of separates and integrateds, with virtually no downside. You even get the potential to tube roll at a very minimal cost!
I guess I accidentally put a double link for the LFT-8B above; meant to put the link to the twin Pathos amps article there. Here it is:

I have been using the CODA CSi Limited Edition since last June and love it from top to bottom. It drives my Tyler Woodmere 2's with ease (4 ohm load, occasionally dropping to 2 ohms; 87db claimed sensitivity). The CODA CSi Limited Edition has never flinched, even when delivering the most demanding source material at high volume.

All fully remote controlled, the CODA has no knobs. It plays wonderfully sweet, full-sounding music at all frequencies, and the amp is dead quiet even at high volume. Not the slightest hum or hiss. I cannot compare it to your other considerations, but I can attest to this amp's musical truth and power. In addition, the folks at CODA were a pleasure to deal with.

Please feel free to ask any specific questions you like, and I will try to answer them.
Blue Circle BmPH (160w - 8 ohm)(260w - 4 ohm).
03-14-08: Douglas_schroeder
Kiwi, Ah, I got your attention, did I? It is a most unusual, and excellent performing set up! I like trying alternative methods as they sometimes yield wonderful results.

Yes, it certainly caught my attention. Thank you!

I've had a read of your Classic One MKIII review and of course i've read your LFT review several times. A couple of questions if i may?

1) I take it that it is definately confirmed that the MKIII can accept up to 5 volts input from the source? Reason i ask is that its not uncommon for balanced XLR signals to be >=3dB higher than unbalanced which is usually around 2 volts.

2) I went to the Pathos site and could not find dimensions for the MKIII. Do you have them? If you sit them side by side on the shelf - what width is required?

3) Your article quotes power (bridged) at 170 watts into 8 ohm. I dont see that quoted on Pathos site. Did the manufacturer provide you with that particular spec?

4) In your earlier LFT review you also tried Channel Island D200 monoblocks. Do i take it you prefer the bridged Pathos over the CI product?

5) If you were to pick just one highlight of the synergy between the Pathos and the LFT's - what would that be?
03-14-08: Rtilden
I have been using the CODA CSi Limited Edition since last June and love it from top to bottom.

I don't understand why Coda don't spend more time on promotion. Doug Dale maintains that mainstream magazines review iPods and have no impact on sales when they review product. I'm not so sure.

On my shortlist which Douglas Schroeder has now extended nothing can touch the Coda for outright power. Indeed its fair to say the CSi would shame the majority of pre-pwr combo's out there. I mean did you check out the power supply - there's a freakin 2 kVA terriod in there! Of course its not just about power - so i do have a couple of questions

1. Why did you select this amp? What was compelling for you?

2. I thought it odd that the amp didn't offer balanced connectivity. I assume your source is unbalanced? What is it?

3. Could you describe the sound of this amp? I have noted some comment that its MOSFETS give the sound some body and warmth. Is that your experience?

I will be trying this amp with my planars in a couple of weeks time.
Kiwi, Answers:
#1 From the Pathos website: (If you are still worried over it, email Pathos and they'll get you an answer. The original Classic One had potential issues of oversaturation of the volume input with cdp's having more than 2V volume output. Not this unit.)

Innovations about the new Classic One MKIII :
1-we use an high quality op-amp to drive the MosFet power amplifier. It is an ultra low noise, high
linearity and very low distorsion op-amp. More definition on the sound and clearer. You'll immediately
appreciate its superior sound.
2-we use a new volume control with Burr-Brown ic which is more linear and it can accept up to +/-12V audio
signal. In this way we avoid the input saturation when the cd player has high voltage output (5V). There is also
a new power supply.
3-we added a particular electronic stage to protect the power amplifiers against short-circuit on the speaker
connectors. This particular network is an high impedence stage that feels the current and save the output stage
when a short circuit happens.
4-we use a new high quality speaker connectors that are completely protected with a transparent plastic, in order
to avoid short circuit.
5-use a new stainless steel cover for the power transformer
6-new power transformer which can work up to 130Vac , so it is less sensitive to the different voltages in the US
we also supply an addictional set of spare fuses.
We use chromium plated knobs and wood of front panel is paduk (red).

#2 Yeah, that's one of the weird things about the site, that such basic things as dimension are not mentioned. It's right at 9"W x 20"L x 6"H You will need a slightly deeper cabinet than for normal sized components. I would recommend keeping them in the open versus putting them in a cabinet; however, there are no heat issues - they run cool enough to touch (except the tubes!) Note also that the binding posts require the speaker cables to be attached on top of the units.

#3 Gianni Borinato, the designer, gave me the 170w 8 Ohm/ 270wpc at 4 Ohm mono specs

#4 It's personal preference, but I prefer the Pathos amps to anything I have written about to date in reviews. They are reference quality amplification. There is one SS pre/amp combo which I'm reviewing that I like as well, and it does some things in terms of power - at 1,000wpc - that the Pathos amps cannot, but at twice the price. OTOH, the Pathos amps have a certain balance/richness tonally which is very engaging and sounds good with a wide variety of sources and speakers.

#5 Smooth, tube sound with enough power to drive the planars well. I have heard a lot of tube amps under 50wpc which just can't hack driving the ET's well. I have also heard them with several SS set ups which tend to accentuate the stridency of the ET's treble. (The new tweeter helps in this regard tremendously!) I have put that 1,000wpc on them, and they become fundamentally different speakers with tremendous power. However, just adding gobs of power does not guarantee to make the ET's sound their best, as they can take on a bit of an edge from SS electronics (this is a subjective evaluation; likely many others with a higher tolerance for sharp treble might see no issue with the SS electronics). The Pathos amps have a richness to them, a very engaging midrange which I have not heard on many SS amps, and enough power to keep the ET's vibrant/lively sounding.

Note: the associated electronics, i.e. source and cables make a critical difference also in the end result. I have been able to achieve a lovely blend between detail and control of potential edginess in the treble with the right source and cables. All personal preferences in this regard.

I'm glad you asked some specifics about the CODA CSi Limited Edition, since it does indeed fly under the radar of most US audiophiles. I will try to answer your questions as best I can, and explain to you my approach which led to my purchase.

My System: Tyler Acoustics Woodmere 2 Speakers
CODA CSi Limited Edition Integrated Amp
Rega Saturn CDP
Moon Audio Black Dragon Spk Wires & cables

I had selected Tyler Acoustics Woodmere 2's before anything else in my 'new' system. In my experience, the proper matching of amp to speakers is the most difficult phase of any hi-fi system building project. I did a good bit of research in contacting owners of the larger Woodmeres and asking them about their road to success in amp selection. I wanted an integrated, because I wanted full remote control functionality. Every single owner of the CODA/ Woodmere combination said that the match was perfect in power delivery and sonics. They described their previous amp choices, which in some capacity or other did not fit the bill. I was considering tubes, but it was confirmed to me numerous times that the Woodmeres really liked the more powerful SS amps. Decision made.

I contacted Mark Ward at CODA, who had just started producing the next generation integrated (the CSi), with upgraded componentry from the previous generation. He started telling me about the new amp called the CSX, which used a MOSFET gain stage to produce remarkably rich, lush sonics, while still maintaing proper imaging and depth. I was the one who pushed Mark and his engineer to put the X package into the CSi integrated and make the current version. After discussions with his CODA engineer, Mark advised me that it would be possible. After further discussions, we agreed to use newly available top-notch Black Gate capacitors, new Burr Brown, Stealth diodes, etc. Basically to max out the amp with the best current componentry. They had never done it before, and man, were they impressed in the final product. The fact that they gave me this level of personal treatment was a great selling point to me.

I don't have a balanced system, although Mark had indicated that a balanced option would be available in late 2008 or 2009. Based upon the sonics of this thing as is, I say balanced schmalanced, who cares? This thing absolutely kicks ass and takes NO prisoners. And I'm talking about overall sonics, not just brute horsepower, er... watts.

Now, some details about the sound. I will not go into a real, comprehensive review today. Those who have been around a while know that overall system synergy is more important than having a single, world-class component in an otherwise OK system. I cannot say with any certainty that my descriptions are a direct result of any single component, but my years of experience give me some inkling. Sorry I haven't substituted multiple amps/speakers/sources/cables to give everyone all possible choices and opinions. My only real A/Bing is to compare with my vinyl rig, which is not fair to either system, mostly since the Woodmere 2's aren't stats and the Quads just don't rock. Then there's the vinyl thing, which, in my opinion, beats CD's in every area except convenience. To quote Fast Freddie Spencer (former GP motorcycle world champ), to win races you must go slow in the slow parts and fast in the fast parts (of the track). This is waaay oversimplified but also holds true in my assessment of system satisfaction. The system must sound great in slow, quiet pieces, and equally good in jazzier pieces as well as in full-out attack pieces. The high frequencies are smooth and natural, the midrange is the sweetest this side of tubes, and the bass will knock your socks off (although the Woodmere 2's are not bass heavy). And, all the time, it sounds like MUSIC. Although some CD's sound downright 'Hi-Fi spectacular', this system sounds like music all the time, which is crucial to me. One day I will add a phono amp and a turntable, which, I expect, will sound even more musical.

Now to CODA's mode of operation in the US. I will try to paraphrase my recollections, but please don't take any of them as a direct quote from CODA. First, the French and some other Europeans just love the CODA sound. I will not use the word 'warm' to describe it; I prefer 'lush.' It is certainly lush compared to my Spectral amp/preamp in my vinyl rig. Yes, I have had tubes before, and I know what lush sounds like. They are doing a great business in Europe, and they sell every piece they can make to the Europeans, making a perfect market niche for them. CODA basically stopped spending much effort in pursuing magazine praise in America, when the authors of some hi-fi mags expected CODA to 'donate' them the equipment after their reviews (without coming forth and saying it). CODA sells their pieces for a reasonable price, and I suspect that they want to make a buck on each piece, as any businessman would. When the magazines were slow to return the tested pieces, it was discovered that the reviewers had circulated the pieces to their friends and basically expected the manufacurer to write off the piece in exchange for a good review. This tasted sour to CODA, who believe that each piece stands on its merits, without any schmoozing being necessary.

So, in the US, CODA relies largely upon satisfied folks like me who spread the word. Come and join the club!

I had the Krell 300iL driving my Maggies 3.6. I'm know driving the Maggies with a Spectron Musician III Signature Edition and the difference is night and day. There is nothing like a powerful and refined amp to drive speakers with low sensitivities. I thought 400w into 4 ohms were ok to drive the Maggies until I tried 800w into 4 ohms. There is a lot more control over the decay and solidity of the musical notes that weren't simply there with the Krell.

I've used this amp via the volume control on the Benchmark DAC1 and using Promitheus Audio C-core Reference TVC. The best sound comes with the TVC. The sound is taut, well controlled and very articulate. Imaging is simply world class. This amp is extremely transparent and will expose the strength of your system, but will also display the iniquity of any component in your system.

BTW, this combination is about the same price as the up-marked components in the list.



Thanks for your detailed response.

Its deeply disappointing to hear (again) about the poor ethics demonstrated by some reviewing magazines. As any marketer will tell you word of mouth is the frequently the best form of promotion, albeit one that's effectiveness can be constrained with limited circulation.

That Coda were willing to modify product is remarkable.

If Coda is coming out with a new integrated i'd be surprised they would call it the CSX - since a CSX product already exists in the form of a stereo power amp?

A number of the products on my shortlist (i.e. BAT, Unico, Pathos) are in fact a marriage between valves and SS. Its clear to me that after trying a number of valve power amps (including some big VTL's) whilst the sing in the mid-range they can't, at least to my satisfaction, control the bass. So SS is required for the PA stage to control the LFT-8's.

I have no doubt that the CSi will exercise full authority over the planars and so the only question that now remains is how well the inter-product synergy works and whether the character of the CSi's sound meets my personal taste. For that i need an audition and i'll be doing that soon.

Please keep us posted as to how your system sounds with the CSi. As I recall, CODA determined that the higher wattage taps on the transformer (same as used in the CX amp) were not advisable for the integrated; thus they used the lower taps and kept the wattage at 220 (into 8 ohms). One benefit of the 220W version is that it goes higher in Class A (up to about 50W), whereas the higher taps yield about 25W Class A before switching seamlessly to Class AB.

If this is important to you technically, I suggest that you ask CODA directly, as both my recollection and technical knowledge are less than perfect.
03-14-08: Sugarbrie
Blue Circle BmPH (160w - 8 ohm)(260w - 4 ohm).

Do you own one? Do you know how big (VA) the terriod is?