There's always a certain amount of jockeying for position at the very top of the High End. Every few months, a new star burns brightly, getting all the attention. While the constant turnover at the cutting edge helps to define the state of the art, audiophiles should keep their eyes on the longer term. It's a company's track record—examined over a period of years—which defines its position in the market and the credibility of its products.
Some readers may feel that it is pushing poetic license beyond reasonable limits to call the Krell KSA-50 a "new-wave" amplifier. It has, after all, been around for several years. The Krell KSA-50 is new-wave enough, however, to be an incredibly stiff class-A design, rather than a pseudo–class-A circuit, and its 50 watts per channel are supported by enough of a power supply to drive an arc welder. You get about 70 watts of RMS power with 8 ohms, 150 watts with 4 ohms, and sufficient watts into 2 ohms to threaten my load resistors. There is almost enough power to drive a pair of Apogee Scintillas at their ohm setting—though I'd prefer at least the Krell KSA-100.
I still have fond memories of my first Krell amplifier, a KSA-50. Back in those days (date purposely omitted), my principal source of audio equipment reviews, aside from Stereophile and The Absolute Sound, was Hi-Fi News & Record Review, which I read voraciously from cover to cover every month. One fateful day while sitting by our community swimming pool, I happened upon an enlightening review of the KSA-50 written by none other than our own John Atkinson, editor of HFN/RRat the time. His words describing "the steamroller-like inevitability of the bass with this amplifier" haunted me for weeks, until I got up the nerve to audition, and ultimately purchase, my first Krell product.
"A high-quality amplifier must be capable of passing rigid laboratory measurements, meet all listening requirements, and be simple and straightforward in design in the interest of minimizing performance degradation..."—Cdr. Charles W. Harrison Jr., Audio, January 1956 (footnote 1)
Rumor had it that if the MF2500 amplifier had gotten any better in development, Conrad-Johnson would have had to include it in their "Premier" series. However, C-J's intention was to hold to the lower price of their established MF series, and so they have. Rated at 240Wpc and retailing for $3495, the '2500 is the core model of Conrad-Johnson's current range of "MF" power amplifiers. Its companion MF2250 offers 120Wpc, while the MF5600 delivers 120Wx5 for multichannel home-theater applications.
Good things come in threes, they say. Well, three-channel power amps suit me just fine. My main component rack is at the back of the room, so I split power duties between a two-channel amp under the rack to drive my rear-channel B&W 804S speakers and, way at the front, either three monoblocks or a three-channel amp for the front three B&W 802Ds. I do this to ensure that the timbre of the front three channels is consistent. The outstanding performance of the Simaudio Moon W-8 dual-mono power amp (Stereophile, March 2006) almost tempted me to go with a stereo amp and a monoblock, but voicing and balancing a multichannel system with equanimity makes me want as much simplicity as possible. I guess manufacturers and users see it the same way; many new three-channel amps are coming on the market.
On January 1, 1990, Canadian electronics manufacturer Bryston instituted a remarkable warranty program that covered each of their products for a full 20 years. This warranty includes all audio products ever manufactured and sold under the Bryston name. Besides covering parts and labor costs, the company will also pay shipping costs one way. This is all the more significant for their 4B NRB amplifier, which has been in production since 1976. The amp's $2k price, while not cheap, is at the lower end of what well-heeled audiophiles typically pay for amplifiers.
The $1200 Counterpoint SA-100 amplifier came up to bat fourth in my listening sessions, behind (in order of appearance) the Adcom GFA-555 II (not reviewed here, but sent along by JA for comparison purposes), the VTL Tiny Triode monoblocks, and the Muse Model One Hundred. Thus, my progression went from bipolar solid-state to tube to MOSFET, with a wide spread of sonic characteristics between them: stygian bass from the Adcom; uncanny spatial presentation and vocal reproduction from the VTLs; and an overall superior sound from the Muse. I was therefore eager to see where the tube/MOSFET hybrid Counterpoint would fall in this group of very different-sounding amplifiers.
What's in a name? Quite a bit, when you stop and think about it. Would you rather have prostate surgery by Dr. Steadyhand or Dr. Whoops? Names imply a lot, even if we don't consciously make the connection; that's why your Polo shirt was made by Ralph Lauren instead of Ralph Lipshitz.
Recently, on the StereophileWeb forum, reader Natal commented on Robert J. Reina's review of the Creek Audio Destiny integrated amplifier in the January 2007 issue: "Maybe it's just me but I've never found any piece of electronic equipment sexy."
"I've know I've seen this amp before," I thought to myself when I lifted the $1200 Muse Model One Hundred out of the box, and I wasn't thinking of Robert Harley's review of the identical-looking Muse Model One Hundred Fifty reviewed in January 1990, either. No, I'd seen this amp before, somewhere else, in some other magazine, but with a different manufacturer's name.
As a reviewer who has focused on seeking out high-quality audiophile gear for cost-constrained readers, I'm embarrassed to say that the flagship RB-991 stereo amplifier is the first Rotel product I've had in my house. (To be fair to myself, this 38-year-old family-owned company did not develop a large US market presence until this last decade.)
The last Classé power amplifier I reviewed, back in November 2004, was the imposing Omega Omicron monoblock ($20,000/pair), which made glorious sound with the Revel Ultima Studio speakers. But things change. First, my reference speakers are now B&W 802Ds. Second, my system now has three front speakers, supplemented by two B&W 804S speakers for surround sound. While a quintet of Omicrons would undoubtedly be dandy, five such monoliths would take up so much space that I'd be wondering about their effects on the room's sound. With so many channels, it seemed time to investigate whether a multichannel amp could carry the load.
Canadian manufacturers enjoy a special relationship with the US market. Though technically their products are "imports," a high level of trade harmony, plus a common continental location, mean that Canadian designs tend to be equably priced in contrast to those exported to the States from overseas.