Within a 30 day trial with Van Alstine SET 400; seeking comparisons

I’m in the process of auditioning the AVA SET 400 from Frank Van Alstine. This is not meant as a replacement for my tube amps, which I love, but an alternative to listen to and, if I get more demanding speakers or start a second system, a solid state amp would be the nucleus. I am using a tube preamp (Quicksilver line stage) and an R2R DAC (MHDT Orchid) and either a streamer or CD transport as the front end. Speakers are Salk SS6Ms (8 ohm, 87 db, stand mounts). I am auditioning mostly without my REL sub on.

Impressions: so far I like it; it has plenty of power, is nicely, simply finished. It apparently runs in Class A for the first 10 watts or so and delivers 225 wpc into 8 ohms.The ability to bring out a very clearly defined bass is outstanding; mids and highs are accurate without being edgy. I thought there might be a bit more warmth in the midrange. The soundstage is good from left to right; depth-wise, it’s narrower than my tubes and as for the 3-D quality of instruments in the soundstage, well, that’s pretty much been reduced. It’s like the difference between looking at an amazing image on an OLED TV vs. looking at a statue with a spotlight on it (with the tubes).

I’ve never had the chance to listen to a really good solid state amp — a Sugden or Pass or Belles, etc. As you can tell, I’m not expecting to replicate the sound of tubes with the solid state, but I know they can have very different flavors. I’m not sure what that range of flavors is like; maybe there is no greener grass, but I want to probe that, now.

So, my question — has anyone had the chance to compare the AVA SET amps (or other AVA solid state amps) with other, warmish solid state amps? Any impressions you can share?

I suppose I might go as high as about $3k on the amp. The reason I went with AVA was because my suspicion is that at this price point (roughly $2.2k) it’s very hard to beat.

I’m more inclined to keep than jump ship on this amp. But that is also the easiest path -- to just talk myself into it. I am going to continue to listen, let it get some playtime, accommodate myself to its sound, etc. The reason I’m asking now is that there is a window of time here to consider other possibilities and once that window is closed, I’ll be a married man. (Until an expensive divorce.)
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Check over on audiocircle.com. There was a review a while back from a guy (I.Greyhound Fan) who owns Pass Labs amp and I believe he compared the two. Not sure if I am allowed to post that link here. But should be easy to find.
Thanks! Excellent review. That’s a great forum, though much less active. 

no doubt ava ss amps don’t image like a top notch tube amps... very few ss amps do (hegel, pass/fw in my experience come closest - but still not that close)

suggest you call frank tell him what you are hearing and get his advice on those i listed below ...


Do it!

 The AVA stuff is very good and designed very well.

   Was  all ready to drop $ on a preamp, but found a (what I think) a better sounding pre. 
  AVA is good audio, those amps your interested in are top notch.

  With me and my luck in audio, I look for customer service and warranty.
most places offer a 1 year warranty, which is a slap in the face. 
  Had an amazing Rotel rib-1090, power, bass was amazing, midrange crunchy, that was their greatest invention, but in other posts, one morning, turned on power, zzzztttttt, sizzzzzzzchkchk
  blue flash and smoke, done, not jinxing myself now with mentioning my amps I have now, if you check my previous posts, you will know what I have.
i pray a lot I will get many years from what I have now. 

    I know, I’m the moron who always details message board stuff. 
 Anyway , take the 30 day, you may love the amps!

I always wanted odyssey amps, finally I had the cash, spoke with Klaus, and we met, I picked up my amps, and he said 30 days will not offer you the full potential of these amps. Anyway, fast forward quite a while now, these are keepers! Those almost (beer can) size caps are ridiculous and the amps are wicked!

   Sorry, I’m a yapper on Modelo!

You know what my thoughts on the SET 400 are and I actually have owned one for well over a year and used it with a least a half dozen different speakers and two different tube preamps.  In your price range your only real alternative would be an Odyssey Kismet in the Khartago case and that would take months to get with Klaus' backlog.  Might also cause a gain mismatch with it's 1 volt input sensitivity.  I owned one for four years and it is a really good amp but just a slightly different flavor not better.  Neither amp will do what a really good tube amp does and that's just a fact of life though both have their own advantages.  As to the hybrid AVA amps that were linked I own the BHK 250 which is also a hybrid and much more expensive.  And just like Frank's hybrid amps it isn't necessarily better just different.  I own three tube amps and they are just different from any SS amp. Be patient and adjust to the differences and don't compare one to the other.  As to Pass amps no matter how great they may or may not be they will never fit your stated budget. 
Thanks, @jjss49  I'll take a look at that link. As I hoped to convey in my post, I don't expect the SET 400 to sound like my tube amps, and so I am trying to just record what I am hearing in the event that people have comparisons of their own to report. I don't want to contact Frank until I've done more listening. Despite some claims that it will just sound like what it sounds like, out of the box, it may change or my expectations may. I don't want to be premature with Frank in any questions or statements I make.

Thanks for your reply, @arcticdeth 

@jackd  Thanks for reflecting on my question. I also really appreciate this statement of yours,

"Be patient and adjust to the differences and don't compare one to the other. As to Pass amps no matter how great they may or may not be they will never fit your stated budget."

I was heading for this conclusion -- in other words, just settle in for a couple weeks, listening to just the SET. Like a new pair of shoes, just gotta wear them and let them wear me. We'll see if there's mutual love. Comparisons with the tube amp don't help me understand. It would be like getting Italian food and thinking, "There's a distinct lack of soy sauce and bean sprouts. Hmmm." ;-)

As for Pass, yes, this is not the level of investment in solid state for me, right now. One thing that really attracted me, and still does, about the SET amp, is that it's likely way beyond its price point for sound quality and has the capability to push whichever alternative set of speakers, including electrostatics, etc., I might want to try. I've seen some very nice deals for, e.g., Maggies, come and go, and my position was, "I don't have the power for those." With the SET 400, I would. Now, I just need to stick with your advice and see how we get along.


@jackd makes a fair point... these amps, pure ss vs hybrid vs all tube... they of course sound different and one must be the judge of which works best in their own system, in particular with the speaker load presented

that being said, it is very interesting when a proven, highly credible maker like frank makes all three! .... clearly each is trying to address deficiencies of the other topologies and bring out the best of the particular one, voiced to the best of his ability.... tubes do the tubey thing, but don’t grip speakers that need that control, ss surely grips and extends, but often fails at the ’holography’ and ’flesh on the bones’ things... so hybrids attempt to let us have our cake and eat it too...

have fun!
How would you compare the AVA to a Hegel 160 or 390?
The only Hegel I know we'll is the one who wrote phenomenology of spirit.

@jjss49  you make a good p
oint about the different topologies. In some ways I am just really trying to learn what good solid state can sound like especially as an alternative to tubes.

The fact that I am using a tube to preamp is in effect making this a hybrid system so trying a hybrid amplifier along with a tube prelamp preamplifier won't teach me very much about solid state.

 I suppose the challenge for me as a listener is to be able to identify what are the hallmarks of solid state that makes it likable. If I can understand that then I can understand whether or not this is a good alternative amplifier for me once in awhile or for a second system.

 For the very same reason I want to go into an audio store and listen to some turntables because it has been a long time since I played records and I have read a lot of posts on why analog is magic. I want to at least hear what I cannot remember as the difference. This kind of education is for me the ultimate positive aspect of being an audiophile, namely, learning more and more about sound and not necessarily just making an informed purchase although, that is often a lot of what I think about and what I read about.