On the face of it, the power amplifier has the simplest conceptual task of any audio component. Fed an audio signal at its input, all it has to do to satisfy the demands for current made by the loudspeaker is to modulate a high-voltage voltage supply with that signal. Yet power amplifiers vary enormously in their ability to perform that task without editorializing. As a result, when I find an amplifier that appears to step out of the way of the music in the manner I desire, I make the commitment, I buy it, and I stick with it.
When Philip O'Hanlon of On a Higher Note, Luxman's US distributor, delivered the B-1000F monoblocks, it took three of us to wrestle their shipping crates into my house and then into the listening room. Once they were unpacked, it still took two of us to maneuver each of them into positionat 141 lbs and 16.9" wide by 11.6" high by 23.3" deep, the B-1000F is far from easy to shift. Fortunately, O'Hanlon had also brought along a pair of Stillpoint stands specifically made for the Luxmans; the B-1000Fs certainly wouldn't have fit into my equipment racks. (The Stillpoints are lovely things. I recommend 'em if you go for the B-1000Fs.)
When O'Hanlon told me the price of the stands$2500/pairI asked what the amps cost.
"Fifty-five," he said.
"You mean the stands are 45% of the price of the amps?"
It was a dark and stormy night. A biting, cold wind cut through Sam's skimpy jacket; ice crystals clung tenaciously to his bushy moustache. As he approached his front door, visions of a toasty-warm, Krell-heated listening room softened the chill. He could feel the glow already; his Krell amp had been on all day, awaiting his return.
One of my favorite parental duties is dispensing advice that's calculated to make me sound wiser than I am. Among those pearls: Every so often you should change your point of viewyour philosophiesjust to see if your opinions can stand the strain. In doing so, you may discover a few things that are better than you expected them to be!
James Bongiorno, the engineer behind the Sumo Andromeda, has enjoyed a long and colorful career as an audio amplifier designer. He has cast himself at times as an enfant terrible, exploding at audio critics and running scandalous advertisements (footnote 1). His best-known amplifier is the Ampzilla, produced by Great American Sound, but he also designed the Dyna 400. Currently Jim is living on a boat and serving as part-time consultant to the Sumo Company.
I've been enthusiastically tracking the development of Bel Canto's class-D amplifiers, from their original TriPath-based models to their more recent designs based on Bang & Olufsen's ICEpower modules. With each step, Bel Canto has improved their amps' sound quality and reliability.
A decade ago, many predicted that amplifiers with switching or class-D1 output stages would come to dominate high-end audio. In a postPeak Oil world in which the price of energy would always continue to rise, a class-D amplifier's very high efficiency in converting AC from the wall outlet into speaker-driving power would be a killer benefit. Although a conventional push-pull class-B amplifier has a theoretical efficiency of 78.5%, which would seem usefully high, this efficiency is obtained only at the onset of clipping; the need for the output devices to carry a standing bias current reduces that efficiency considerably, typically to around 50%. Class-A amplifiers are even less efficient, with a maximum of 25%; ie, three times as much power is dissipated by the amplifier as waste heat as is used to drive the loudspeaker (see "Sam's Space" in this issue).
Some time ago in these pages, Anthony H. Cordesman observed rather ungraciously that the whole line of Hafler electronics "could do with reworking." This was interpreted by many readersincluding the good people at the David Hafler Companyas meaning that AHC felt the entire Hafler line to be mediocre. In fact, he does not. (He had given a Hafler product a positive review a few issues previously.) Tony's comment, however, did express a sentiment that most of us at Stereophile have shared for some time: a feeling that Hafler products had slipped from the position of sonic preeminence which they enjoyed during the 1960s and '70s to one of mere excellence in a field where only preeminence is acclaimed.
Hang around long enough, and your reward is often to be taken for granted or ignored. Canadian electronics manufacturer Bryston Ltd. has been around since the mid-1970s, and whileif coverage by Stereophile is any indicationthe company has hardly been ignored, it's often taken for granted.
In Greek mythology, Atlas was the Titan who supported the heavensalthough he's more commonly shown supporting Earth itself. (Funny thing, that: the globe he was always shown supporting actually did once represent the cosmos, but at some point became the Earth.) According to Hygenus, Atlas was the son of Aether, the personification of the sky and heaven, and Gaia, the personification of the Earth. Atlas was brother to Prometheus (foresight), Epithemius (hindsight), and Menoetius (a warrior whose insolence got him smitten by a lightning bolt from Zeus, resulting in a name synonymous with "ruined strength").
When I first laid eyes on the Paravicini M100A monoblock power amplifiers at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2001, an audiophile in the room squinted at my badge and cried out, "Hey, J-10, these amps have your name written all over 'em!"
Okay, here you are: You're a Real World music lover trying to sling together a Real World hi-fi rig. You gotcha budget-king NAD/Rotel/JVC/Pioneer CD player, your SOTA Comet/Sumiko Blue Point analog rig, and your cool-man NHT/PSB/Definitive Technology entry-level speakers. Hell, you've even gone out and bought a few pairs of Kimber PBJ interconnects to hook it all up. This ain't no dog and pony showyou want that High-End High, not just some cheap'n'cheerful, low-rez rig to stick in the rumpus room so the kids can listen to that weak-ass, faux-grunge, watered-down Hendrix-howl that modern-day wimp-boys like Pearl Jam dish out to anyone under 30 who doesn't know any better.
It seems as if I came of audiophile age in the George Kaye era. The first truly high-end system I ever heard contained a pair of Julius Futterman OTL monoblocks that Kaye had "finished" after Futterman's death in 1979 (footnote 1). In the mid-1980s, I owned both an New York Audio Labs (NYAL) Superit phono section and a Moscode 300 amplifiertwo lovely examples of high-value high-end. Both components were far from perfect, but they were funand, unlike most of the other components that were then highly regarded by magazines and listeners, I could afford them.
Sometimes products are too cheap for their own good, and people don't take them seriously: the Superphon Revelation Basic Dual Mono preamp, Rega RB300 arm, AR ES-1 turntable, Shure V15-V MR cartridge, and the B&K ST-140 power amp. They can't be any good because they cost so little, right?