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?
When I first heard the Eagle 2 at the 1985 Winter CES I knew this amplifier was a winner. I was eager for a chance to get my hands on it, but I also knew that J. Gordon Holt was champing at the bit to do the same. So it came as both a surprise and a delight when ye Gracious Editor gave me first crack at the Eagle 2. I wasn't disappointed; the little Eagle more than lived up to expectations. It's not the best power amplifier I've ever heard, but it's damn good. It is, in fact, better than its big brother, the Eagle 7A, in significant ways; in view of the 2's reasonable price, that's saying a lot.
Musical Fidelity's founder, Antony Michaelson, arrived at my house to help me set up the two chassis of his sleek, limited-edition, $30,000 Titan power amplifier. (The task requires at least two people.) A week later, a representative of Musical Fidelity's US importer, KEF America, dropped by to listen and to deliver three of Musical Fidelity's new V-series products: a phono preamp, a DAC, and a headphone amp. All three fit comfortably into a small paper bag; the price of the three was $700.
The first time I ever heard stereo sound, it was in a shop on Manhattan's Radio Row. In addition to the Studer staggered-head tape deck, the system consisted of pairs of McIntosh C8 preamps, MC60 power amps, and monster Bozak B-310 speakers. I can still picture the room and almost hear the sound. I was then an impecunious high-schooler, and while I always strived to buy the best equipment I could afford, I unfortunately was never able to own any of these iconic products. However, when I saw McIntosh's new MC303 three-channel power amp glowing brightly on silent display at the 2008 CEDIA Expo, a light bulb went on over my head: I'd been assessing a series of three-channel and monoblock amps, and the MC303 would fit nicely into my New York City system.
When I reviewed the Moon Evolution P-7 preamplifier ($6900) from Canadian manufacturer Simaudio in March 2009, I was impressed by the qualities of both the audio engineering and the sound. It was a no-brainer, therefore, to follow that report with a review of the matching power amplifier, the Moon Evolution W-7. In March 2006 Kalman Rubinson reviewed Simaudio's Moon Evolution W-8, which offered at least 250Wpc into 8 ohms (I measured 310Wpc at clipping). The W-7 looks identical to the W-8, but is 10 lbs lighter, offers 150Wpc into 8 ohms, and retails for $8900 compared with the W-8's $13,500.
Over the course of his 30-plus years in high-end audio, Nelson Pass's designs have never been far from the leading edge. In his first Threshold amplifiers he pioneered the use of dynamically adjusting bias and cascode circuitry; then, in the later Stasis models, he switched gears to the simpler approach of pure class-A. All were innovative designs, and among the very best-sounding amps of their time, but were just warmups for what was to come. In 1991, Pass Labs introduced the Aleph 0, a class-A amplifier that was a startling departure from conventional solid-state designs and combined design elements generally thought mutually exclusive: transistors, single-ended operation, and the ability to output 75Wpc into an 8-ohm load. Not surprisingly, the Aleph 0 sounded like nothing else, and became the basis for the widely acclaimed series of Pass Labs amplifiers that evolved over the next decade.
The No.331 is the latest iteration in a series of Mark Levinson 100Wpc, solid-state, stereo power amplifiers. Extensive cosmetic alterations, internal structural changes, and new circuit designs make it quite different from the No.27 and No.27.5 models that preceded it. These design refinements emanate from Madrigal Audio Laboratories' latest flagship amplifier, the $32,000/pair, 300W RMS Mark Levinson No.33 Reference.
What is it about a component that makes the blasé High Ender sit up and say, "Hey, this is special!"? What elements of its reproduction reach out to you and won't let go? How does the intrepid audio reviewer find a way to describe these hopefully recurring moments of musical discovery which define the high-end experience? How many times, after all, can you say, "Ooooo, ahhhhh, that's the best [insert some part of the frequency range here]," ad nauseam? How much difference is there, anyway? Therein lies the tale...
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.
High-tech, compact, and lightweight, Chord's entry-level SPM 650 power amplifier ($4995) promises robust power output, low distortion and noise, flat and ultra-wideband frequency response, and bulletproof reliabilityall in what seems an impossibly small package measuring 16.4" wide by 3.4" high by 13.8" deep and weighing only 22 lbs.
Musical Fidelity's "Supercharger" concept is simple, which is perhaps why no one had thought of it before: If you love the sound of your low-powered amplifier but your speakers are insensitive, or you just need more loudness, you insert the high-power Supercharger amplifier between your low-powered amp and speakers. The Supercharger loads the small amplifier with an easy-to-drive 50 ohms, and, in theory, has so little sonic signature itself that it passes on the sonic signature of the small amp unchanged, but louder.